FOREIGNERS

“Create in me a clean heart, O Lord, and renew a right spirit within me.”orange tree

“Live simply so that others may simply live.”

This well-known quote attributed to Gandhi was a bumper sticker on the aged and worn automobile of one of my heroes whom I was privileged to know during the 1980s.  Father Bond was the priest at the Episcopal Church which hosted 20 AA and NA meetings weekly.  While that church social hall witnessed innumerable miracles of recovery, the sanctuary hosted a number of sober marriages.  Father Bond ministered faithfully to his parish and to his wayward flock of recovering drunks.

What is it for me to live simply?  For many years it meant a personal commitment to reducing material possessions to minimums.  It meant being an environmentalist and a steward of God’s creation.  In later years it also manifested by minimizing  theology and doctrine, bringing it all back to basics.

Father Richard Rohr in today’s comment “BE PEACE AND JUSTICE” writes:

“When you agree to live simply, you do not consider the refugee, the homeless person, or the foreigner as a threat or competition. You have chosen their marginal state for yourself—freely and consciously becoming “visitors and pilgrims” in this world, as Francis put it (quoting 1 Peter 2:11). A simple lifestyle is an act of solidarity with the way most people have lived since the beginnings of humanity.”

Francis (1182-1226) and Clare (1194-1253) of Assisi lived life understanding fully what Jesus the Christ envisioned – a simple lifestyle outside the system of production and consumption (the real meaning of the vow of poverty)  Therefore, assuming a vow of poverty does not mean living in filthy hovels with no running water or sewer systems.  It does not necessarily mean hunger and starvation.  For most of us a vow of poverty would mean a commitment to jump off the insane cycle of incessant material accumulation and depletion of the earth’s resources.

With today’s screaming calls to bring social justice to the world’s oppressed perhaps we can find guidance in these further words of Father Rohr regarding a conscious identification with the marginalized of society:

“In this position we do not do acts of peace and justice as much as our lifestyle itself  is peace and justice.” (underlined emphasis are mine)

Like many of you, I would like to fix every single episode of social injustice, but in wanting to do so I will undoubtedly make myself quite insane because that fix is unattainable.  Just as Father Bond walked the path of Francis and Clare, we also can be advocates of social justice through simplicity by speaking our truth kindly, by identifying with the marginalized,  and by being living examples of Christ’s teachings.

Look at the world around us.  Living “marginalized” is the norm, not the exception.  We are all in some way a refugee, a foreigner, a visitor and a pilgrim.  Our validation as a nation of ethics and values is currently under severe testing because of governmental actions regarding immigration.  Our strength and our salvation rests not in our criminalization of those who are marginalized, but rather in our solidarity with them.

“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong.  You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.  I am the LORD your God.  Leviticus 19: 33-34

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emotional hangovers

“Create in me a clean heart, O Lord, and renew a right spirit within me.”orange tree

Most of us had created in the previous life as drunkards our own private drama clubs naming ourselves as President, Vice-President and every other club officer necessary to carry on our business of drama.  Additionally, we were the most vocal subscribing member.  The meetings were exhausting with inner dialogs that covered every aspect of anger, resentment, disappointment, and insecurity simmering in vehement self-righteousness.  Only our hangovers from drinking were more devastating and debilitating.

Are you still a member of your club today?  Am I?  How often do we spend our sober days reeling with “brain fog” as a result of a dalliance in our drama club?  It’s easy to do, but fortunately we now have the tools to immediately withdraw from participation if so desired.  And that’s the key, although sometimes we prefer to wallow in whatever satisfaction is derived from being overly dramatic and engaged in club activity.

“When a drunk has a terrific hangover because he drank heavily yesterday, he can not live well today.  But there is another kind of hangover which we all experience whether we are drinking or not.  That is the emotional hangover, the direct result of yesterday’s and sometimes today’s excesses of negative emotion – anger, fear, jealousy, and the like.”  Bill Wilson, AS BILL SEES IT, pg 48

Using our crutches in these times of emotional discord is not a weakness.  With a physical impairment such as a broken leg, crutches are meant to provide stability as we walk.  That uncomfortable cast keeps the leg aligned properly as it heals.  It’s the same in recovery from alcoholism.  The prayers, verses and sayings are meant to give us emotional support as we ambulate through the difficult times healing from the brokenness of our lives.

Sometimes the crutch we dismiss most is the fellow alcoholic whose phone number we have but don’t want to call.  Maybe it’s our sponsor who feels honored to have you as a “pigeon”, but we don’t want to be a bother or we don’t want to admit that we are hurting and needy of help.  Whatever the reasons are, the end result is a day spent miserably, or worse, a relapse into drinking.

For us, those forays into unnecessary drama can be a matter of life or death.  It need not happen.  We must gird ourselves with the tools of our program, surround ourselves with sober people, and meditate within our private space.

“Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood God, praying only for knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry that out.”  STEP 11, ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS

“Oh, I can’t do that,” we said, “I don’t know how to meditate.”

Being the alcoholic that I am, I researched meditation and determined I would do meditation perfectly.  My first attempt at sitting on the floor cross-legged in lotus position promptly reminded me that my body did not understand the reason for such discomfort, much less did my brain associate this pain with a practice to discover inner awareness.

Just as I found my path to meditative discovery,  others have also.  I have learned that there are no rules or proper positions.  It is the ongoing practice of feeling connected to a Universal source, learning who we are in that realm, and finding peace within the Higher Power of our understanding that we are seeking in meditation.  When we are able to allow and then dismiss passing thoughts, positive or negative, and return to contemplation and inner searching,  we are accomplishing a serenity that was impossible during our drama club days.

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SOBER TODAY – one, two, three

“Admitted we were powerless over alcohol, that our lives had become unmanageable.”

“Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”

“Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God.”

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When I first inserted this graphic, I said to myself, “I can’t use it because it is too blurred.”

Really?  Doesn’t that describe who and what we were in our addictions?  A big blur.  And the word POWERLESS is clear and distinct.  Yes, sometimes the words and pictures unplanned in what we write say more than 1000 words could say.

For some of us the transition from “me in charge” to God in charge was immediate, but for many it was a slow process which had to be renewed every morning, every hour of the day.  One, two, three every day for an extended period of time finally got us to the point where “admitting, believing, and turning it over” were as instinctive as breathing or pumping blood.  How often did we think, “My life wasn’t really that unmanageable?” or, “Maybe I could just drink socially like my buddies do? ” or, “I’ll decide what I turn over to my Higher Power?”

Cunning, baffling, and powerful!  Such is the nature of our disease which will not be satisfied until we are insane or dead.  Our fellowship friends who decided to test the waters of drinking again sometimes returned to reassure us that nothing had changed “out there”.  They were the fortunate ones.  Many never returned.

A recovery is a Godsend.  It is God’s grace giving us a chance to live sober lives.  We should never, ever, assume that we will have more than one opportunity to be victorious over alcohol.  It is not guaranteed.  Not because God is unwilling, but because we are fallible, broken men and women who are powerless over alcohol.

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SOBER TODAY – sainthood

NAMASTE“We are not saints.  The point is, that we are willing to grow along spiritual lines.  The principles we have set down are guides to spiritual progress.  We claim spiritual progress rather than spiritual perfection.”

ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS, pg 60

 

Affectionately known as THE BIG BOOK, the handbook for Alcoholics Anonymous refutes the belief that life has to be perfect, especially the spiritual life.  Most normal people learn this as an aspect of maturation, but,  for those of us who are not normal and have spent a great deal of time doing field research chasing the many dead ends of substance addictions, this can be a most difficult thing to accept about ourselves.

Upon achieving a few days or weeks or months of sober-living, we wanted to do everything perfectly.  It’s as if we were trying to catch up on time lost doing what came most naturally to us, drinking and drugging.  We tried to immediately resume our positions within the family and community.  We strived to be our employer’s best employee.  We wanted to grasp with utmost urgency the faith which had always eluded us before.  That’s who we were in early sobriety and can still be today.  “I want it and I want it now.”

“We are not saints,” sponsors would remind us when the brokenness we had created for ourselves overshadowed our attempts to be perfect. We launched into days of despair and depression over our shortcomings forgetting the wisdom, “We claim spiritual progress, not spiritual perfection.”

It’s not easy to practice “EASY DOES IT” as the signs on meeting room walls advise.  It’s not easy to live “ONE DAY AT A TIME”.  When we are told to “LET GO AND LET GOD” our natural instinct is to give God only that which causes us turmoil rather than every moment of every day.  It is not easy becoming a spiritual instrument which our Higher Power can use to serve the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous and then, progressively,  greater humanity outside the rooms of AA.

This devotion to sober-living becomes our spiritual calling in life leading to an acceptance that we will never graduate to receive a diploma or attain sainthood.  We can only aspire and in that aspiration turn our will over every day to the One who saves the wretched and covers with grace their imperfection.  That is the spiritual awakening promised by following the steps of recovery programs such as AA and CR.

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SOBER TODAY – becoming unshackled

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There are times when a person reflects upon things he or she has written or said and with a querying mind asks, “How can I ever justify what I aspire to achieve spiritually when my thoughts, words, and actions are so undeniably human?”

Actually, that ‘querying’ mind is often self-condemning, is it not?  In these times of internal conflict we must remember that the spiritual progress promised in recovery programs, the Way of Jesus, and the Path of the Buddha are exactly what they claim to be, a course of progressive growth.  They are the trek each person must take to become vessels of wisdom and compassion within the power of the Divine Essence.  Undertaking this trek is not done with any expectation of perfection.  Progress is the goal.  Often the trail we walk slides off into a ravine of selfishness and unkind behavior, but pulling back onto the way forward is always awaiting.

The fellowships of AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) and CR (Celebrate Recovery) both recognize humanness and brokenness as elements of addictions.  Their step programs offer, not a miracle cure, but rather a way of living which enables members to rise above this inherent human condition of self-absorption.  Joining hands with like-minded men and women intent on becoming more than empty vessels tossed mercilessly on the seas of alcoholism, drug abuse, behavior addictions and emotional stress, these adventurers want not a perfect life, but a better life, a life of freedom from the prisons of self and ego.

Similarly, Jesus and the Buddha, holding all of creation in reverence, offered a lifestyle of service and compassion as the way to a personal heaven and a path to enlightenment.  Their disciples were ordinary examples of humanity who became extraordinary trekkers.  None of them were perfect.  Insecurity, anger, ego plagued their journeys through earthly temptations.  Yet, they understood that even though heaven or enlightenment was the desired outcome, a perfect life was not the path.  Humans must endure growth through the vagaries of humanness in order to become the spiritual beings which a Creator has intended.

Those who follow the life of Jesus Christ as their example must remember that, along with his obvious love and compassion for his Father’s creation, he also endured the human life fraught with temptation, desire, insecurity and anger.  According to the writings of the ancients, his public ministry lasted a scant 3 or 4 years before the crucifixion.  Where was he before the ministry, what was he doing?  Believing that Jesus traversed the same road of searching that every earthly human walks gives a great insight into the purpose of his life.  Those who portray Jesus as perfect at birth from a virgin’s womb seem to be missing the entire reason for his story.  Anybody can be perfect when born perfect.  Only a totally human experience of failure and disappointment combined with joy and ecstasy provides the sojourner with the necessary tools to crawl from the depths of hell to a life of peace and contentment.CANDLEcopyright 3

longsuffering

“Dear lord, please lift me up and heal me.  Cast out of my mind all thoughts that are not of You.  Cast out of me all harsh and critical nature.  Cast out of me all violence and all anger.  Cast out of me all demons from my past.  For I would be made new.  I wish to walk so close to You that we might be as one.”  Marianne Williamson, ILLUMINATA
truth

“Harsh and critical nature, anger and violence”.  We betray the truth of our lives, the love and compassion of a Savior, when we fail to speak our truth kindly.  Our Lord’s truth cannot be spoken in any other way.  Tolerance, patience, and forbearance are synonyms of the old English “longsuffering”, a word which occurs frequently in Scriptures.  Probably the most familiar is:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith…”  Galatians 5:22

and in the Buddhist tradition:

“The greatest prayer is patience.”  Lord Buddha

Is one born with patience?  Probably not.  Most agree that patience is earned the hard way.  Life situations teach us patience.  Other people teach us tolerance.  Compassionate listening is developed by listening for hours to the trials of another person.  Children teach us unconditional forbearance.  Our friendships are the result of communications tempered by attitudes of longsuffering.  When we enter into a life occurrence with anything less than a prayer for patience on our lips, the outcome will likely be less than spiritual.

“Our first objective will be the development of self-restraint.  This carries a top-priority rating.  When we speak or act hastily or rashly, the ability to be fair-minded and tolerant evaporates on the spot.”  Bill W. AS BILL SEES IT, pg. 113

Finding a patient friend is a blessing of the greatest order.  Being a patient friend is more desirable than fame and riches.  Nations have crumbled, politicians have failed, families have disintegrated, wars have been waged, and genocides have been initiated because one person failed to engage another in conversations of tolerance and longsuffering.  Words that are harsh and critical, angry and violent will never establish mutual understandings which are necessary to peaceful survival.  And that is our mission, that is our evolution.  We are commanded by all of God’s messengers to live as a brotherhood of mankind speaking our truth kindly.

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restoration

“Create in me a clean heart, O Lord, and renew a right spirit within me

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Came to believe a power greater than ourselves
could restore us.
Restore our sanity, our destiny, our dignity.
Return us to community, to family, to God.
We became willing to choose freedom over addiction.
The light of victory became an indwelling spirit whose
beacon defeated alcohol’s darkness.