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Center for Action and Contemplation

Steps Six and Seven

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Twelve-Step Spirituality: Week 2

Steps Six and Seven
Sunday, June 5, 2016

Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

Humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings. [1]

Here again we see how Alcoholics Anonymous is aware of the power of powerlessness. All we can really do is be “entirely ready” to have God do the work. A. A. knows the limits of human willpower. For example, you don’t become loving by saying to yourself, “Be loving!” Instead, you recognize your “shortcomings,” the moments when you were totally unloving, and you weep over them. That doesn’t feel like power at all, does it? No one wants to go there. But it is actually a negative capability that creates space, desire, and momentum, like a stretched rubber band.

You might say to yourself, “I just did it again! I treated that person as if they were inferior to me. Where does that come from inside of me? What is the part of me that needs to do that—that needs to control other people and think of myself as superior?” Until you catch yourself being unloving, I don’t think you will change.

Unfortunately, most of us have been trained to strive for perfection by willpower and determination. In men’s work we call this the heroic journey. Self-assertion and striving characterize the young male, and this is the shape his ego takes. Yet all spiritual traditions at their more mature levels teach that the soul must be receptive before God and simply accept love, without heroic effort. It is a path of descent more than ascent, unlearning more than learning, letting go more than any performance principle. It takes a long time to believe this.

If we try to fix ourselves, we’ll do it with the same energy that caused the problem in the first place—which only strengthens our ego style. Instead, the Twelve Steps ask God to do the work that only God can do. To reverse an old aphorism: We must pray as if it all depends on us, and work as if it all depends on God (yes, you read that correctly)! God is humble and never comes if not first invited, but God will find some clever way to get invited.

Gateway to Silence:
Thy will be done.

[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 Little Way: A Spirituality of Imperfection (CAC: 2007), MP3 download; and
Richard Rohr, Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps (Franciscan Media: 2011), 56.

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