Step Eight – “Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.”
Morning Prayer on this Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus can be found here.
The beginning of the end of isolation
The closing words of Step Eight, in which we begin to move from our newfound peace of mind into action, are particularly fitting for today’s feast.
We shall want to hold ourselves to the course of admitting the things we have done, meanwhile forgiving the wrongs done us, real or fancied. We should avoid extreme judgments, both of ourselves and of others involved. We must not exaggerate our defects or theirs. A quiet, objective view will be our steadfast aim.
Whenever our pencil falters, we can fortify and cheer ourselves by remembering what A.A. experience in this Step has meant to others. It is the beginning of the end of isolation from our fellows and from God. (81-82)
In Step Eight, we resolve to admit — not just to ourselves, but to the ones we have harmed — and apologize for the harm we have done to others.
This kind of admission is costly and difficult, because it is something that is not encouraged at all in the society we live in.
Here there should be no deflecting, no blaming, no misdirection.
“I hurt you in this way, and I am sorry” is the starting point, and in Step Eight we commit ourselves to naming (and listing in black and white) everyone against whom we have sinned.
The power of names
The prophet Isaiah tells the Jewish people exiled in Babylon that their long distress will soon be over, and he uses names to signal the change in their circumstance.
The nations shall see your vindication, and all the kings your glory; and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will give. You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the LORD delights in you, and your land shall be married.
Say to daughter Zion, “See, your salvation comes; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.” They shall be called, “The Holy People, The Redeemed of the LORD” and you shall be called, “Sought Out, A City Not Forsaken.” Isaiah 62:2-4, 11-12)
From forsaken and desolate to “my delight is in her” and “married.” From exiles to “holy people, redeemed”; from cast out to “sought out.”
Names have power to communicate reality, and here is where Step Eight is so critical.
I must name myself as the one who has harmed others, rather than as the victim of circumstances. I must name others as the recipients of my misbehavior, rather than blaming them as the cause.
The Name above all names
In the Christian story, the “beginning of the end of isolation” from God has a name: Jesus.
Matthew’s gospel account of his birth, from which we will read at Evening Prayer today, tells the story of Joseph hearing his name spoken by an angel in a dream.
“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” (Matt. 1:20-23)
The name of Jesus speaks across the ages about people being set free from bondage to sin, and his other name “Emmanuel” speaks of his presence with all people in our struggles.
Today we begin the hard work of naming our sins against specific people, people like us whom Jesus desires to set free, people like us with whom he is present.
In Step Nine we will begin the process of reaching across the divide we have made, offering to make amends as a beginning of reconciliation with those we have harmed.
A Prayer for Mission
Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name. Amen.