Step Eleven – “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, asking only for knowledge of His will and the power to carry that out.”
Morning Prayer for this Monday after the Second Sunday after Christmas can be found here.
Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Eph. 5:15-20)
Step Eleven lies behind this whole series of posts, as it is where the life-giving practice of recovery meets the life-giving practice of the Daily Office.
Prayer and meditation are practices by which we seek to listen to what God is saying and by which we ask for the wisdom we need for the day.
The Daily Office is, of course, a form of prayer. It is not meditation per se, though it may be done meditatively.
There is a direct linkage among self-examination, meditation, and prayer. Taken separately, these practices can bring much relief and benefit. But when they are logically related and interwoven, the result is an unshakable foundation for life. (98)
The closest parallel between recovery and the Daily Office is the reading and re-reading of the basic texts.
Meeting after meeting, in A.A. we read from the “Big Book” Alcoholics Anonymous or from the slim volume Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions — to which we have been referring in this series of posts — or from any number of books written by the early founders of the fellowship, like As Bill Sees It.
Just so, in the Daily Office we read and re-read the basic texts of Christianity in the context of Morning and Evening Prayer.
The Psalms we pray every seven weeks. The Hebrew Bible, or the Old Testament, we read in course over a two-year period. The New Testament we read each year.
In both cases, we soak ourselves in the wisdom of our tradition, in the accumulated experience of those women and men who have gone before us.
I will listen to what the LORD God is saying,
for he is speaking peace to his faithful people
and to those who turn their hearts to him. (Ps. 85:8)
Meditation is the basic spiritual practice of sitting quietly in God’s presence and listening for God to speak to our situation.
The actual experience of meditation and prayer across the centuries is, of course, immense. The world’s libraries and places of worship are a treasure trove for all seekers. It is to be hoped that every A.A. who has a religious con- nection which emphasizes meditation will return to the practice of that devotion as never before. (98)
What Step Eleven describes on pages 99-100 as a practice for those unfamiliar with meditation is what the Christian tradition calls lectio divina, or holy reading.
That approach, like the study of the Big Book or the 12 and 12, begins with reading and re-reading a particular text (in this case the “Prayer of St. Francis” is given).
Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen. (BCP 833)
However, lectio divina is less about intellectual study than it is about listening for God to speak through the text. Monastic teachers talk about lectio as “rumination,” like a cow chewing the cud to extract every ounce of nutrients out of the grass.
Another form of meditation better known in Eastern religions is simply to sit in silence, letting thoughts arise and fade away. Sometimes called “mindfulness meditation” or, in the Christian tradition “Centering Prayer,” this form of meditation accomplishes two things.
First, we practice the absolutely critical recovery skill of detaching from our thoughts. Thoughts arise and we do not engage them. How revolutionary for us addicts to realize that we do not have to act on every thought that arises! Meditation helps release us from what A.A. calls “stinking thinking.”
Second, and especially in Centering Prayer, we embody our trust in God (or our Higher Power) by sitting in the presence of the One who loves us. We begin to learn that we are valuable because of who we are, not because of what we do.
In meditation we may begin over time to experience that “daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of our spiritual condition” (Big Book 85).
Far from being a burden, practicing meditation is an oasis.
Finally, Step Eleven is the transition point between the discrete Steps that have come before and the days that stretch out ahead of us — “one day at a time.”
Tomorrow we will consider in Step Twelve how we “practice these principles in all our affairs,” but for today we ask only for knowledge of God’s will and the power to carry that out.
A Collect for the Renewal of Life
O God, the King eternal, whose light divides the day from the night and turns the shadow of death into the morning: Drive far from us all wrong desires, incline our hearts to keep your law, and guide our feet into the way of peace; that, having done your will with cheerfulness while it was day, we may, when night comes, rejoice to give you thanks; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP 99)