Tag Archives: 12 Steps

12 Steps of Christmas | Wednesday

Step Six – “Were entirely ready to have God remove these defects of character.”

The service of Morning Prayer for this Wednesday after the First Sunday in Christmas can be found here.

Once you start, you just can’t stop

Having been granted a perfect release from alcoholism, why then shouldn’t we be able to achieve by the same means a perfect release from every other difficulty or defect? This is a riddle of our existence, the full answer to which may be only in the mind of God. (64)

As I wrote recently on the blog of Recovery Ministries of the Episcopal Church, I carry with me two talismans of recovery.

The first is a medallion celebrating my sobriety; the second is a bracelet that was one of the last things I bought without telling my wife. It arrived in the mail the day I recognized my alcoholism.

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I am fortunate that the desire to drink was lifted from me right away. What Step Six helped me understand — and what the bracelet helps me to remember — is how important it is to practice the principles of recovery in all areas of my life.

In truth, I’m working two recovery programs right now. The harder of the two, really, is controlling my spending — and understanding the compulsions that drive it.

Making a beginning

Step Six notes that, “As [alcoholics] are humbled by the terrific beating administered by alcohol, the grace of God can enter them and expel their obsession …. But most of our other difficulties don’t fall under such a category at all” (64).

The trouble with applying recovery principles to our other character defects is that we still have to do many of them in the course of normal living. We still need to eat, to buy things, to strive for success at work, to be in relationship with others, and so on.

Unlike stopping drinking, we can’t really stop everything else.

Two other problems arise at this point, as Step Six explains. First, we actually love some of our defects; and second, eliminating all of our character defects would be perfection, and no one’s capable of that.

Help me, but not yet

According to Wikipedia,

As a youth [St.] Augustine lived a hedonistic lifestyle for a time, associating with young men who boasted of their sexual exploits. The need to gain their acceptance forced inexperienced boys like Augustine to seek or make up stories about sexual experiences.

It was during this period that he uttered his famous prayer, “Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet.”

Step Six puts it slightly differently in a long passage, but the wisdom is the same. How do these observations tally with your experience?

What we must recognize now is that we exult in some of our defects. We really love them. Who, for example, doesn’t like to feel just a little superior to the next fellow, or even quite a lot superior? Isn’t it true that we like to let greed masquerade as ambition? ….

Self-righteous anger also can be very enjoyable. In a perverse way we can actually take satisfaction from the fact that many people annoy us, for it brings a comfortable feeling of superiority. Gossip barbed with our anger, a polite form of murder by character assassination, has its satisfactions for us, too. Here we are not trying to help those we criticize; we are trying to proclaim our own righteousness.

When gluttony is less than ruinous, we have a milder word for that, too; we call it “taking our comfort.” We live in a world riddled with envy. To a greater or less degree, everybody is infected with it …. And how often we work hard with no better motive than to be secure and slothful later on — only we call that “retiring.” Consider, too, our talents for procrastination, which is really sloth in five syllables. (66-67)

Entering recovery reveals how deep our obsessions and compulsions run, how tightly woven they are into everything we do.

Aiming at perfection

Some put their trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we will call upon the Name of the LORD our God.
They collapse and fall down,
but we will arise and stand upright. (Ps. 20:7-8)

Day after day we are given the opportunity to arise and stand upright — over and over again.

In my case, I get to practice watching my spending all the time.

I travel on business, which allows me to live like the jet set (all within the company’s expense policy, but still). I get to enjoy travel, eat out regularly, and earn hotel points and airline miles. I enjoy the perks of traveling very much.

Truth is, though, that because I’m in a different city nearly every day, I’d get along just fine with one suit. No one will really know if I wear the same shirt two days in a row, or the same tie. I tend to wear the same two pairs of shoes with my suit, so perhaps I don’t really need another pair.

This thinking runs entirely counter to my “clothes-horse” sensibilities, to my desire to have whatever I want.

Learning to recognize the spiraling thinking that leads me to buy something I don’t really need, that doesn’t make me any happier, is hard work. Every day it crops up.

But that same spiraling thinking causes me distress in all other areas of life, too, so the work of paying attention pays back dividends beyond just my checking account balance.

Step Six invites us not just into recovery from alcoholism but into a whole new way of living, upright and awake.

Seen in this light, Step Six is still difficult, but not at all impossible. The only urgent thing is that we make a beginning, and keep trying.

If we would gain any real advantage in the use of this Step on problems other than alcohol, we shall need to make a brand new venture into open-mindedness. We shall need to raise our eyes toward perfection, and be ready to walk in that direction. It will seldom matter how haltingly we walk. The only question will be “Are we ready?” (68)

A Collect for Guidance

Heavenly Father, in you we live and move and have our being: We humbly pray you so to guide and govern us by your Holy Spirit, that in all the cares and occupations of our life we may not forget you, but may remember that we are ever walking in your sight; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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12 Steps of Christmas | Introduction

Before we begin with Step One and Morning Prayer on Christmas Day, here’s a little background information about the Daily Office, the 12 Steps, and my plan for this series that you may find helpful.

About the Daily Office

From the beginning, Christians, like their Jewish forebears, have prayed at set times of the day. (See Acts 3:1, for example.)

Over the centuries, and especially with the rise of monastic communities, Christians gathered to pray as often as seven times a day (emulating Psalm 119:164).

That sevenfold monastic pattern was simplified during the Reformation, and in the Church of England became two “offices” of Morning and Evening Prayer.

The Roman Catholic Church may refer to these prayers as the Liturgy of the Hours, the Orthodox Churches may refer to them as divine services or divine offices, and the Episcopal Church (to which I belong) refers to them as the Daily Office.

Whatever differences there may be — in number of services, times of the day, selections from Scripture to be read at certain times — there is a basic pattern to the Daily Office that’s pretty common.

The Psalter – Reading from the Psalms has for centuries been the foundation of daily prayer.

In the Episcopal Church, the 150 psalms are read at Morning and Evening Prayer on a seven-week cycle.

The Lessons – Readings from the Hebrew Bible (or the Old Testament) and from the New Testament are next. In some churches, those readings are relatively short (maybe just a verse or two) and may be called “chapters.”

In the Episcopal Church, we have inherited a tradition of reading a lot of Scripture in the Daily Office. Over the course of two years, we read most of the Old Testament once and the whole New Testament twice.

The schedule of what Psalms and Scripture lessons are to be read on a particular day is called the “lectionary.”

The Prayers – Beginning with the Lord’s Prayer, we pray for our own needs and those of others and we give thanks to God for the blessings we enjoy.

In the Episcopal Church, there are special prayers called “collects” that set themes for every Sunday of the year, for days of the week, and for special occasions. At each office, we commonly read two or three of these collects.

About the 12 Steps

The 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, according to the history timeline on the AA website, date to 1938 and to the early experience of the first members.

They are “a group of principles, spiritual in their nature, which, if practiced as a way of life, can expel the obsession to drink and enable the sufferer to become happily and usefully whole.”

The 12 Steps were codified from the “Big Book” titled Alcoholics Anonymous, which also includes stories sharing members’ experience, strength, and hope.

You can read the 12 Steps in short form or in the longer form of the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions.

About this blog

I’ve been praying the Daily Office for about 23 years now, since before my ordination as a deacon in the Episcopal Church, and I’ve been writing and teaching about it for many years.

I’ve only been practicing recovery for a little over two years now, since becoming sober in October 2013.

Three things really stand out for me as I compare the two practices:

The first thing that struck me about AA meetings is the regular reading and re-reading of the Big Book and of the “12 and 12.”

This constant return to the basic texts of AA has a lot in common with the practice of the Daily Office.

Year after year, season after season, week after week, “one day at a time,” the words of the basic texts — Bible or Big Book — soak into your imagination, and you begin a process of incorporating their wisdom into your daily living.

The second thing that I discovered is that both AA and the church talk about similar spiritual practices; we just call them by different names. For example, what AA calls a “daily self-inventory” the church calls “Confession of Sin.”

And third, both practices are done not because you feel like it, but because it’s time to do it.

We pray Morning Prayer each day at 6 am because that’s the time to do it; we go to an AA meeting on Friday evenings because that’s the time to do it. We can enjoy a “daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of our spiritual condition” (Big Book 85).

The 12 Steps of Christmas

Each day during the 12 Days of Christmas, we will read one of the 12 steps and pray the Daily Office with its psalms and Bible lessons as appointed in the lectionary.

From the resonances between them, perhaps some wisdom will emerge that will help in our “spiritual awakening.”

I look forward to having you join me in the process for the next 12 days, and I invite you to share in the conversation by adding your comments.

Merry Christmas!

Through the Red Door | Clothed with joy

My post entitled “Clothed with joy” was featured yesterday on Through the Red Door, the blog of Recovery Ministries of the Episcopal Church.

Some of the material comes from reflections on this blog, but I appreciated the opportunity once again to draw a connection between common recovery practices like Steps 10 and 11 and the ancient wisdom of the Church in those areas.

“One day at a time,” says Alcoholics Anonymous. “Daily we begin again,” say the Benedictines.

I am grateful for the Daily Office as a framework for living each day, and for the recovery community which has revitalized my spiritual life.

Give it away entirely and come into the oasis

Many of you know that two years ago this week I acknowledged my addiction to alcohol and began living in recovery.

I carry a pocket medallion as a reminder of the grace I have received in recovery – grace far beyond my imagining. Most days, I have a sense of living in what a friend calls “the oasis” and AA refers to as “a daily reprieve … contingent on the maintenance of our spiritual condition” (Big Book 85).

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My prayer life, my practice of the Daily Office, the teaching I do and the conversations I have with colleagues and friends – all of it has been reinvigorated by what the Franciscan priest and teacher Richard Rohr calls in Breathing Under Water the “coded Gospel” of the 12 Steps.

You may not realize, though, that stopping drinking was only a small part of the work that I have had to do in recovery. In addition to the medallion in my pocket, I also wear a bracelet around my wrist, one of the last things I bought without my wife’s knowledge before losing my job.

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My addiction to spending and to indulging myself has been much, much harder to deal with – it’s the same struggle alcoholics face when they can’t stop thinking about their next drink.

You lack one thing

I think I know a little bit about how the “rich young man” felt after he found Jesus.

A man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments …. “ He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions. (Mark 10:17-22)

You lack one thing …. you have many possessions.

Here’s where I think the rich young man realizes what the living God asks of each one of us. The living God asks for all of us.

The young man is looking for inspiration, but Jesus, who loves him, points to the one thing that really keeps him from God – the wealth he cannot imagine doing without.

“When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving.”

What a state he must have found himself in:

If I go forward, he is not there;
or backward, I cannot perceive him;
on the left he hides, and I cannot behold him;
I turn to the right, but I cannot see him.
God has made my heart faint;
the Almighty has terrified me;
If only I could vanish in darkness,
and thick darkness would cover my face! (Job 23:8-9,16-17)

The Almighty has terrified me

In our Old Testament lesson, Job has lost everything, and he does not yet have the answer that will help him remain faithful to God. The Almighty has terrifed him, and Job doesn’t yet understand that God loves him.

In the meantime, his friends and his wife, as Fr. Ralph reminded us last week, are giving him conflicting (and bad) advice. They can’t help him discover either God’s love or the one thing he lacks.

Unlike Job’s companions, however, my wife and my friends have given me good advice and steady support.

Their willingness to share love and to confront me about the things I lack has helped me do the hard work of staying steady in recovery.

  • A dear friend made sure I was “fearless and thorough from the very start” in admitting my failings.
  • A fellow deacon in another diocese helped me admit I needed to go to AA meetings and – laughing at how upside-down I had it – helped me understand that sobriety was an oasis, not a burden.
  • The first boss I had after losing my job, who has been sober for several years, gave me his 3-month sobriety medallion when I reached that milestone myself.
  • The guys in the Thursday morning breakfast and Bible study group here at St. Thomas drew me into their circle of support.
  • And my wife has cheerfully accommodated my being home and underfoot after nearly 10 years on the road, encouraging my new habits and being patient with my stumbling.

church-circle-graphicMy recovery – my new faith in this “coded Gospel” – really is something I have to work at every day. But what I have to work at most is not to do with drinking, but with spending money.

It’s a Pendleton, you idiot!

Sitting on the sofa watching TV one night a few months ago, I was in jeans and my favorite flannel shirt, and I thought “I really like this shirt; I should buy another one.”

A couple beats later, after that thought went away, a new one came in. “You’re an idiot; that’s a Pendleton shirt. It’ll last for 100 years. You’ll be dead before it wears out. You don’t need another one.”

“Oh, cool.”

Contentment is weird.

People in recovery are more used to being “restless, irritable, and discontented” (Big Book xxviii).

But when you’re content, it’s like you can just be, and everything is all right. Perhaps eternal life is like that – just being with God, living in an oasis.

What must I do?

“Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” asks the rich young man, who probably had several shirts.

Jesus loves him, and says, “You lack one thing … get rid of the thing that’s keeping you from God, whatever it is. Give it away entirely, and you’ll have treasure in heaven.”

For me, giving away my desire for a drink and giving away my desire to buy more things have together led me back to Jesus and to “a faith that really works in daily living” (12and12, 43).

What is the one thing you lack?

What might Jesus, who loves you, point to in your life? What’s the one thing that keeps you from God?

Is it money?

Food? Anger? Gossip?

Is it drinking or drugs or politics or something equally addictive?

Is it approval or being right or getting your way?

What are you holding onto so tightly that you can’t receive the treasure of heaven?

Give it away entirely, and enter the oasis!

Speaking of oases

The story of the rich young man reminds me of another favorite story, this one not from an oasis but from the Desert Fathers of 3rd century Egypt:

Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him, “Abba as far as I can I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace and as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?”

 Then the old man stood up and stretched his hands towards heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, “Why not become totally flame?”

abbas lot and joseph - all flameWhat’s the one thing you lack? What’s holding you back from God?

Why not give it away in order to find a faith that works, in order to find contentment?

Why not become totally flame?

Why not give it away entirely, and live now in the oasis with God?