Helping Others

Twelve-Step Spirituality: Part Two

Helping Others
Thursday, December 19, 2019

Step Twelve: Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs. [1]

Step Twelve tells addicts that they will never really come to appropriate the power and importance of the first eleven steps until and unless they personally take it upon themselves to give it away to other people in need. This necessary reciprocity, a pattern of outflow and inflow, is one that many Christians have never committed to, and the whole religion has suffered because of it. I am convinced that in neglecting the need to serve and to pay back, many Christians lose whatever they might have gained in their private devotions; in fact, they live inside a false peace (pax perniciosa, the Desert Fathers and Mothers called it), which is often a very well-disguised narcissism.

If I have grown at all in my decades of being a priest, it’s in part through this role of being a preacher and teacher. I have had to stand before crowds for years and describe what I thought I believed, and then I often had to ask myself, “Do I really believe that myself?” In my attempt to communicate something, I usually found that I’d only scratched the surface of understanding it myself. In sharing, in giving it away, you really own it for yourself and appreciate its value more fully, beyond what you ever imagined.

The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous says, “Helping others is the foundation stone of your recovery. A kindly act once in a while isn’t enough. You have to act the Good Samaritan every day, if need be. It may mean the loss of many nights’ sleep, great interference with your pleasures, interruptions to your business. It may mean sharing your money and your home, counseling frantic spouses and relatives, innumerable trips to court, hospitals, jails and asylums.” [2] A little later the Big Book says, “Your job now is to be at the place where you may be of maximum helpfulness to others.” [3]

This reminds me of Pope Francis’ description of the Church as a field hospital: “a Church that moves toward those who are ‘wounded,’ who are in need of an attentive ear, understanding, forgiveness, and love.” [4] It does not wait for people in pain to come to us.

Bill Wilson ends his own story with this: “There is, however, a vast amount of fun about it all. I suppose some would be shocked at our seeming worldliness and levity. But just underneath there is deadly earnestness. Faith has to work twenty-four hours a day in and through us, or we perish.” [5]

I have often said that the Twelve-Step programs are the best at helping people achieve sobriety from an addictive substance. But if people do not seriously practice all the steps in their daily lives, especially Step Eleven (prayer and meditation) and Step Twelve (action and service) they will not progress. We can be very grateful for Bill Wilson and his friend Dr. Bob Smith for cooperating with the Spirit and designing a practical program for suffering humanity.

References:
[1] “J,” A Simple Program: A Contemporary Translation of the Book “Alcoholics Anonymous” (Hyperion: 1996), 56.

[2] Ibid., 89.

[3] Ibid., 94.

[4] Pope Francis, The Name of God Is Mercy: A Conversation with Andrea Tornielli (Random House: 2016), 53.

[5] “J,” A Simple Program, 15.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Dancing Standing Still: Healing the World from a Place of Prayer (Paulist Press: 2014), 12-13; and

Christ, Cosmology, and Consciousness: A Reframing of How We See (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2010), MP3 download.

Image credit: La Soupe (detail), Pablo Picasso, 1902-03, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, Canada.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: These were moments when it all made sense and we knew we were good, God was good, it was all good. We were in touch with our true source of power, our spiritual desire, the indwelling Holy Spirit. —Richard Rohr
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