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Center for Action and Contemplation

Step Five

Friday, June 3, 2016

Twelve-Step Spirituality: Week 1

Step Five
Friday, June 3, 2016

Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs. [1]

“All of A. A.’s Twelve Steps ask us to go contrary to our natural desires . . . they all deflate our egos. When it comes to ego deflation, few Steps are harder to take than Step Five. But scarcely any Step is more necessary to longtime sobriety and peace of mind than this one.” [2]

Accountability and healing from “another human being” was deemed so necessary in the history of Christianity that it became an official and designated role in the community, and even a “Sacrament.” Someone had to be trained and prepared for the dumping, ventilating, releasing, and forgiving that humans always need. Someone had to be prepared to sit in the “mercy seat” (Exodus 25:17-22) and declare with authority that what God forgives, they dare not hold against themselves or one another. There often needs to be a human mirror to reflect the unseeable divine gaze, especially if our heads and body are bowed in shame.

Step Five returned the mystery of confession to where Jesus first offered it—the larger group called “the disciples,” not only the smaller group called “the twelve apostles” (see John 20:19-23 and Matthew 18:1, 18). The use of peer confession and peer counseling is a major strength of Alcoholics Anonymous. Sharing “the exact nature of our wrongs” restores some notion of peer accountability and personal responsibility for our mistakes and failures.

Twelve-Step programs understand that true Gospel authority, the authority to heal and renew people, is not finally found in a hierarchical office, a theological argument, a perfect law, or a rational explanation. The crucified has revealed that the real authority that “authors” people and changes the world is an inner authority which comes from people who have lost, let go, and are refound on a new level.

I am very happy to see that the new group of cardinals gathered around Pope Francis has used the term authority in precisely this way. They are saying that Church authority is the ability to “author” life in others, not the mere exercise of juridical power, or holding an office, which is secular authority. Confessing to the person we actually wounded and receiving their forgiveness demands true spiritual authority—on both sides.

Gateway to Silence:
Let go and let God.

[1] “J,” A Simple Program: A Contemporary Translation of the Book “Alcoholics Anonymous” (Hyperion: 1996), 55.

[2] Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions (Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc.: 1952), 55.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps (Franciscan Media: 2011), 43, 47; and
Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi (Franciscan Media: 2014), 19, 272.

Image Credit: Image by jclk8888
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