THE TWELVE STEPS AND SPIRITUAL FORMATION
“For Jesus, and thus for we who strive to follow him, to glorify God comes down to this: to faithfully finish whatever God gives us to do. To face with courage all the moments of our lives—challenging and joyful, tedious and fearful and glad—without running away when things get tough, is to glorify God. It is to live like Jesus, with open hands and undefended hearts, trusting and forgiving, following the trail of service not success. To glorify God is to step up to our responsibility in God’s continuing creation, to lift up our hearts to the Lord by lifting up those who are down, by making room for whoever has been left out. It is to thank God for our place and our part in the unfolding story, however humble, however public. It is to notice God’s fingerprints all over the place, and to know ourselves as fully human, one family in God. It is to finish what we have been given to do.” (By Kayla McClurg)
This beautiful quote gives me a context for two thoughts I had today – and perhaps for many more thoughts in future days!
In my classes on the 12 steps as a path to spiritual formation, we first face an anxious and sometimes fear-filled discussion on the concept of powerlessness. The first step begins with the acknowledgement, “I admit I am powerless over” my life; we always substitute “my life” for alcohol since most people get stuck in denial right here if we talk about addiction.
I’m in my third go-round of teaching this class, and I have noticed that participants have one of two reactions to the first step:
- Anger to be asked to admit to powerlessness because many of us with dysfunctional families or relationships have worked hard to gain control over our lives.
- Denial that they have a problem with power
So I now begin with a little exercise. I list several synonyms for power and have them choose the word that gives them happiness when they feel it or fear if they were to lose it. The synonyms are: authority, clout, command, control, dominance, influence, mastery, rule, strength, supremacy. Everyone manages to find one of these words attractive. (Which one would you choose for yourself?)
Once we can agree that we all like control or power, we describe what it feels like to be without it. The feelings listed are always negative: afraid, anxious, unhappy, hurt, weak, etc. If the idea behind the first step is to WANT to be powerless and if the first step on a true spiritual journey is surrender, we need to find a way to make powerlessness and submission desirable.
I’ve been thinking about that during the past week. It dawns on me that the goal of powerlessness and the spiritual practice of giving up power to God return us to our original state before God. When God “spoke” humanity into being, humans had no need for power. Adam and Eve walked and talked with God, trusting God for their lives. They lived together before God with undefended hearts.
Long ago the Bethel Bible Series created a beautiful sun-filled drawing of a life of powerlessness. Mankind is enjoying life in a Psalm-23-like garden. A large set of 8th notes (musical notes) across the page symbolize God’s intention at creation that we live in a world of harmony: with God, with our self, with others, and with the created world. There was no need in this world for a mask to hide who we really are, for a shield against vulnerability, for competition, or for negotiation or compromise.
But when God directed Adam and Eve to eat from any tree but the “tree of knowledge” and the serpent played his wily hand, discontent with limited freedom leads to rebellion. Humans walked blindly out of harmony into disharmony. The drawing illustrating this concept shows a stark and barren world. A broken set of notes (like the cross bar of a cross) lies across man’s back. Disharmony reigns. There is no room for powerlessness; power is now essential.
The reality of power vs. powerlessness is vivid. Power brings wariness, confusion and pain; powerlessness brings community, understanding, and joy. What we give up when we choose powerlessness is a life of struggle and disharmony. As we dare to surrender to God, we come closer and closer to Eden
NOTICING GOD’S FINGERPRINTS
This morning I heard social psychologist Ellen Langer speaking with Krista Tippett for National Public Radio’s show On Being. She has spent her professional life studying mindfulness, “the simple act of actively noticing things.” Her research shows that mindlessness creates unhappiness and mindfulness brings happiness. Since I had just been asked to define “mindfulness” in a meeting, I paid close attention her comments. When Dr. Langer answered Krista Tippett’s question about the difference between mindfulness and meditation, fireworks went off in my head! Meditation, she said, is a practice during which we hope to reach mindfulness – living in the present moment, open to the presence of God. Mindfulness is living in the moment, noticing and paying attention to the world around us – a world that is full of God. We don’t need to meditate – we are already there.
The beauty of Dr. Langer’s concept is that we don’t need a yoga mat or a scheduled twenty- minute meditation time, we just need to be awake to every moment we live so we can harvest the joy of the moment and what it has to teach us right now. Brother Lawrence understood that centuries ago. He mopped floors and washed dishes with God. We can too. Just practice the art of noticing; God will be there.