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Center for Action and Contemplation

Step One

Monday, May 30, 2016

Twelve-Step Spirituality: Week 1

Step 1
Monday, May 30, 2016

We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable. [1]

The Twelve-Step program makes spirituality more palatable for many who have not had good experiences with religion. It avoids all the metaphysical, super religious language and just describes the journey itself. It could be called a rather clear and simple phenomenology of the process of transformation. (Phenomenology is the study of the direct objects of experience, as opposed to any metaphysical theory.)

The first step of the journey is the admission of powerlessness. It is where no one wants to go and no one will go voluntarily. We have to be led there through our own failure and experience of death. In men’s work, we call it the Great Defeat. Franciscans call it poverty. The Carmelites call it nothingness. The Buddhists call it emptiness. The Jews call it the desert. Jesus calls it the sign of Jonah. The New Testament calls it the Way of the Cross. We’re all talking about the same necessary step.

Powerlessness is an experience we all share anyway, if we are sincere. But Bill Wilson found we are not very good at such humble honesty; it’s much easier to live in denial. It seems we are not that free to be honest, or even aware, because most of our garbage is buried in the unconscious. So it is absolutely necessary that we find a spirituality that reaches to that hidden level. If not, nothing really changes.

It is not necessarily bad will or even conscious denial on our part. We just can’t see what we are not told to look for. Amazing really. As Jesus put it, we see the splinter in our brother’s or sister’s eye and miss the log in our own (see Matthew 7:3-5). The whole deceptive game of projection is revealed in that one brilliant line. For many people, the only thing strong enough to make us look at our log is some experience of addiction, some moral failure, or some falling over which we are powerless.

If you’ve done the first step, if grace and God have been able to lead you to a place where you admit you’re powerless, then your spiritual journey has begun. Until that point, it’s all just information, words, dogma, and doctrine. Ironically and paradoxically, you go must go through the place of powerlessness to discover your inner source of Power and Life. In fact, the only people whose power you can trust are those who’ve made journeys through powerlessness.

Gateway to Silence:
Let go and let God.

[1] “J,” A Simple Program: A Contemporary Translation of the Book “Alcoholics Anonymous” (Hyperion: 1996), 55. (A Simple Program is a gender-neutral translation of the original Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous.)

Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Authority of Those Who Have Suffered (CAC: 2005), MP3 download;
Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps (Franciscan Media: 2011), xviii; and
How Do We Breathe Under Water? The Gospel and 12-Step Spirituality (CAC: 2005), disc 1 (CD, DVD, MP3 download).

Image Credit: Image by jclk8888
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