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Center for Action and Contemplation

A Vital Spiritual Experience

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Twelve-Step Spirituality: Week 1

A Vital Spiritual Experience
Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Twelve Step program helps people see that addiction is an illness which requires understanding and spiritual healing—much more than a moral failure which deserves condemnation. This is a gigantic breakthrough. Pope Francis gets this when he says that the church should be “a field hospital on the edge of the battlefield.” Neither the healing of addiction nor the overcoming of sin will happen by mere willpower, by just gritting your teeth and doing it. According to Bill W., a “vital spiritual experience” is necessary for addicts to wake up and begin the process of recovery. Paralleling the teaching of Jesus, Bill saw that it is only vulnerability, surrender, and powerlessness that keep us open to ongoing healing and love from God, not grandiosity. This is also how human love relationships work: in a dance of mutual honesty and vulnerability, grace and forgiveness.

I am convinced that what we now call addiction is what the Gospels illustrated with stories of demonic possession. Our modern sensibilities are rather embarrassed by these frequent stories in the Gospels, but in this light they now make sense. Once you understand the nature of addiction—an inability to do what is in your own best interest—the language of “the devil made me do it” is actually fairly accurate. Such “demons” must indeed be “exorcised” by a positive encounter with a much more powerful Source. Jesus enters the situation, and the demons are both exposed and disempowered. In moments of sincere divine communion, your addictions show themselves to be false and temporary solutions to your very real loneliness and emptiness.

Most addictions are not substance addictions (alcohol, drugs, food, consumer objects, etc.), but process addictions (patterns of thinking and reacting). Spiritual traditions at their higher levels discovered that the primary addiction for all humans is addiction to our own way of thinking. That should be obvious. Contemplation teaches you how to observe your small mind and, frankly, to see how inadequate it is to the task in front of you. As Eckhart Tolle now says, 98% of human thought is “repetitive and useless.” How humiliating is that? When you see how self-serving, how petty, how narcissistic, and how compulsive your thinking is, you realize that you, too, are trapped and unfree. [1] You might even call it “possessed.”

Some time ago I counseled a young father who was very discouraged with himself. He could not stop being irritated at others, biting off people’s heads, resenting every little thing. In desperation and anguish he said, “How can I change this? I don’t know how to be different!” He sounded like Paul: “What a wretched man I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24). Then I asked him if he was that way with his two little children, and without any hesitation he said, “No, not at all; hardly ever.”

You see the point, I am sure. The only way to be delivered from our “body of death” as Paul calls it (Romans 7:24), or what Tolle calls the “pain body,” is to find oneself inside of a “body of resurrection” (1 Corinthians 15:20ff, Romans 6:4). In other words, experience of a deeper love entanglement absorbs all our negativity and nameless dread of life and the future. Paul’s code phrase for this positive, realigned place is en Cristo, which is to live by choice and embodiment within the force field of the Risen Christ.

You see, the only cure for possession is repossession—by Something Greater. Until we have found our own ground and connection to the Whole, we are unsettled, grouchy, and on the edge of falling apart. That man’s children help him realign; that is what a “vital spiritual experience” does for all of us. Afterward, you know you rightly belong in this world, and that you are being held by some Larger Force. For some seemingly illogical reason life then feels okay and even good and right and purposeful. [2] This is what it feels like to be “saved.”

Gateway to Silence:
Breathing in—receiving mercy; breathing out—letting go

[1] Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Little Way: A Spirituality of Imperfection (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2007), MP3 download.

[2] Adapted from Richard Rohr, Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps (Franciscan Media: 2011), 113.

Image Credit: Two Women Sitting at a Bar (detail), Pablo Picasso, 1902, Blue Period, Royal Academy of Arts, London, UK
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