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Center for Action and Contemplation

Step: 6: Undergoing God

Friday, November 27, 2015

Twelve-Step Spirituality: Week 2

Step: 6: Undergoing God
Friday, November 27, 2015

We were entirely ready to have God remove all of these defects of character. —Step 6 of the Twelve Steps

I like to say that we must “undergo God.” Yes, God is pure and free gift, but there is a necessary undergoing to surrender to this Momentous Encounter. As others have put it, and it works well in English, to fully understand is always to stand under and let things have their way with you. It is strangely a giving up of control to receive a free gift and find a new kind of “control.” Try it and you will believe the paradox for yourself.

The connection point is perhaps clarified by a statement from photographer Ansel Adams who would wait days and hours for the perfect circumstances and ideal light to take his iconic photos. Adams said, “Chance favors the prepared mind.” Gifted people know this to be true. They look like geniuses to the outsider, and often they are, but there is a method behind their holy madness. They have learned to wait for and fully expect what Hungarian psychology professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi brilliantly calls “flow.” It is no surprise that our common metaphors for the Holy Spirit all honor and point to a kind of flow experience: living water, blowing wind, descending flames, and alighting doves.

So the waiting, the preparing of the mind for “chance,” the softening of the heart, the deepening of intention and desire, the readiness to really let go, the recognition that I really do not want to let go, the actual willingness to change—our readiness is the work of weeks, months, and years of opening ourselves to God. [1] The key is to be willing rather than willful. I learned that from Thérèse of Lisieux and my friend and mentor, now deceased, Gerald May.

Gerald pointed out in his marvelous book, The Dark Night of the Soul, that you must be willing to endure dark periods of feeling that God isn’t here, that nothing is happening, that God has given up on you. Gerald makes it very clear that if God wants to work in you, God has to do it secretly, in darkness. God can’t let you know what’s going on, because you’re likely to get in the way! You may try to engineer the process yourself and thereby destroy it; or you may try to stop it altogether because you are afraid of the immense freedom and spaciousness God is leading you toward. [2] It’s only the wise, broken ones who allow themselves to “undergo God” and to trustingly “let go and let God.”

Gateway to Silence:
Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.

[1] Adapted from Richard Rohr, Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps (Franciscan Media: 2011), 54-55.

[2] Adapted from Richard Rohr, How Do We Breathe Under Water?: The Gospel and 12-Step Spirituality (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2005), CD, DVD, MP3 download.

Image Credit: Femme assise (Melancholy Woman, detail), Pablo Picasso, 1902-03, The Detroit Museum of Art.
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