undying love

Mary Magdalene’s love for Jesus shows what it means to have one person hold fast to us in our hour of need, despite the apparent hopelessness of it all. cac.org – RICHARD ROHR

This magnificent woman of the Jesus story has been horribly maligned over the centuries since the establishment of Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire in the 4th and 5th centuries.  The male dominated Church chose to depict her as a sinner suffering seven demons within, healed by Jesus, then becoming a follower of the Jesus and the Way.

In 591 Pope Gregory I delivered a series of Easter messages blending Mary Magdalene with the “sinful woman” of Bethel who anoints the feet of Jesus with precious oil and then wipes his feet with her long hair.  This led to the theory that Mary, the apostle, was a repentant prostitute.

Even more interesting is the theory that Mary was in reality the wife of Jesus as popularized in the book and movie the Da Vinci Code and that they possibly had a child.  And why not?  Considering how the Roman Church had bastardized the teachings of Jesus, why can’t we believe that a healthy, devout Jewish man in his early 30s would  have a wife and family.

I’ll answer my own question – that would negate the basic foundation of the priesthood of the Roman Church – chastity and celibacy.  It would also question the Church’s premise that men were superior to women in spiritual affairs thereby justifying that women should be relegated to submissive roles in family life.

I have digressed from the intent of this writing:  one’s undying love for another.  Have you ever loved another person so deeply and unconditionally that even in the greatest times of despair you refused to give in to hopelessness?  In a family unit trying to  navigate the despair and hopelessness of an alcoholic loved one, we hang on to faith and hope, don’t we?  We pray, we plead, we beg, we threaten, we cry, we yell…and then we pray some more.  Why?  Because we still have hope in the face of hopelessness.  That’s what our Higher Power gives us.  The examples of undying love which we see around the tables of AA, the power of another’s comforting words, the personalities we read about in Scriptures all give us reason to go on for yet another day.  We cannot allow despair and hopelessness into our lives.

Mary Magdalene was that kind of person.  She loved her Jesus, stood by his side, wept at his cross, went with him to the tomb, guarded the tomb, and then arrived first at the tomb on the 3rd day to see it empty.  Not quite understanding, even though Jesus had told them in numerous conversations that he would indeed resurrect, Mary thought the body had been taken away.  Perhaps, briefly, at this moment she gave in to despair and hopelessness thinking the recipient of her undying love was forever lost:

“They have taken my Lord away and I don’t know where they have put him,” was her reply to the angels standing nearby who asked why she was crying.

The resurrection message from John 20:10-18 continues to tell us that her Lord was there all the time even when she did not recognize the presence.  Mary Magdalene stood by her Jesus through the good times and the bad, through the trials of being a rebel, being an outcast from the Jewish hierarchy, being an insurrectionist in the eyes of the Romans, through the humiliation of his crucifixion, and finally through her perceived loss.

My loved ones were my Mary Magdalene through the difficulties, the heartbreaks, the disappointments, the betrayals, the lies, the drunkenness.  Theirs was an undying love.  Today, in sobriety, I hope to be the same to the ‘still suffering alcoholic’ who shares my life.

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So many of us have lived our lives placing unmerited value on the opinions of others while discrediting our personal truth and reality.  Breaking the shackles of people-pleasing requires honest self-appraisal, a healthy dose of self-esteem, and an enormous commitment to self-realization.  

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….as near as the destination may be, it’s still the journey that matters….

EMANCIPATION

The word emancipation has been used frequently over the past few days – and it should be.  When we can celebrate together as One the freedom of all, we will then be socially emancipated.  All groups of immigrants coming to America’s table of equality desired emancipation – Germans, Irish, Asian, Catholic, Muslim, etc.  It’s an innate destiny to live our lives as designed and intended by a Higher Power.  Our nation is unique in that we have historically welcomed any who wish to be  a part of our melting pot culture.  Lady liberty, standing in New York Harbor, shares these words:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

But, emancipation is more than the freedom granted by society.  It is also personal and spiritual.  That shameful habit that we have hidden within hoping no body would discover our little secret, that unlawful act we committed decades ago, that extra-maritalPicture1.pngconfession (2) affair with our best friend’s wife….all waiting for the grace of emancipation.  It can happen only when, “we admit to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.”  STEP 5, TWELVE & TWELVE, ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS

Getting honest is not a fun thing.  It can be heart wrenching and difficult.  The Big Book tells us to be fearless and thorough in our personal inventories.  But, there is a light at the end of that dark tunnel.  It is the freedom brought about by the emancipation of our souls.  For some of us it is a return to foundational principles learned young, but then squandered during our addictions.  Come to the table where equality dwells and find your freedom now.

“…..if you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”  JOHN 31-32

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a time of surrender

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Even after years of continuous sobriety, Step 1 of the AA program is as relevant today for me as it was back in 1981.  They called it “self-will run riot” at the meeting tables.  We, if we were honest about our situation, could heartily agree with the unmanageable existence that had become everyday life under the control of alcohol.

But, there had to be more than merely admitting that we had a drinking problem and that our lives were unmanageable.  We had to change who we were, how we processed life situations.  We had to change our thinking and our priorities.  It was not easy.   Many did not make the transition and returned to old ways under the clutches of addiction.

So, you might ask, “what made the difference, why would some succeed while others slipped back into drinking?”

SURRENDER.  Surrendering to the wisdom at the meeting tables, to those who cared enough to share their stories, to those who sat up into the wee morning hours to guide us through moments of weakness, to the inspiration given in the writings of Bill W. and Dr. Bob, and finally to a power greater than us – that Higher Power which appears under innumerable names and philosophies.  We had to surrender everything which told us that we were special and unique, separate from the gutter drunk or the teenaged hustler on the street corner.  We had to accept that “but for the grace of God, there go I.”

Have I surrendered today?  Have I turned over all my concerns, all my fears, all my prejudices, all my doubts and insecurities?  Have you?

We are told that we no longer need to live lives of continual turmoil.  We don’t need to worry about the stock market, about wars in distant lands, about turmoil in our country, about pandemics that could kill us because ultimately we do not have control over anything outside the heart and soul that comfort us.  We, if we have surrendered, trust in the goodness of humanity and the grace of a Higher Power.  It is the only pathway to internal peace.  Internal peace is the only pathway to a world of peace.  Worrying contradicts surrender and robs us of peace.  What’s our choice going to be?

A favorite passage from the book of Luke tells me:

“…can any of you, for all your worrying, add a single moment to the span of your life?”  LUKE 12:25-26

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Higher Power

If you are sober today, give yourself and your Higher Power a hand.

Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity – STEP 2 sober emoji
Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God. – STEP 3

This is the miracle of restoration.  It is not dependent on anything you or I could do to alleviate the addictions which controlled our lives.  Yes, we had to talk the walk and then walk the talk, but ultimately the grace of a power greater than us brought us back to sanity, restored us to meaningful lives within families and communities – sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly.

God as we understood God is, for many of us, the premise which carries us over the hurdles of previous negative god experiences.  No longer do we feel obligated to profess this faith or that in our daily faith walk.  Surely, each religious philosophy of the world whether it be Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, etc. has nuggets of truth and wisdom; however,  life changes when the God we follow is personal, loving and compassionate not corralled by any particular philosophy.  As is human nature, we attempt to describe and define, but usually discover that our minds cannot comprehend the greatness or fathom the depths of that which we call Higher Power.

Whether your God or mine is a who, a what, a where, a when, male, female, genderless, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu or simply the fellowship which supports our sobriety, give this Higher Power a round of applause today for keeping us clean and serene.

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it’s been 39 years

sober emojiIf you are sober today, give yourself and your Higher Power a hand.

Talk the walk, then walk the talk

After 39 years of continued sobriety celebrated today, I reflect on the secrets of sober-livng.  There are no secrets.  It is hard work, commitment to a better way of living and the support of sober friends.  However, talking the walk at the tables of Alcoholics Anonymous and then walking that talk in everyday life will guarantee a fighting chance to overcome those addictions that have become personal demons.

The fellowship of AA is ancient wisdom set to contemporary times.  Even before the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as set forth in “The Way”, Lao Tzu and the Buddha realized a life dedicated to victorious living through abandonment of self.  The writings of Bill W. and Dr. Bob describe this dedication to selfishness and self-centeredness as “self-will run riot.”  AA BIG BOOK  The I, I, I and me, me, me  controlled all aspects of our lives, did it not?

Within my sobriety today, I cannot judge nor control other people’s talk or walk.  They obviously live with perceptions of life that differ from mine.  Therefore, when elected leaders of our government speak justice and fairness yet legislate in opposition to those pronouncements, and when preachers from the pulpit preach righteousness and morality yet conduct their personal lives in opposition to what is right and moral, I can only wonder what experiences have formed their perceptions.  Must one of us be wrong in order for the other to be right, or do we simply operate from different realms?  Returning the focus to my talk and my walk enthusiastically,  I become ever more grateful for the teachers who save us from the hells of addiction.

Abba Isidore of Pelusia
“To live without speaking is better than to speak without living.  For the former who lives rightly does good by his silence but the latter does no good even when he speaks. When words and life correspond to one another they are together the whole of philosophy.” CAC.ORG

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Oh Lord, it’s hard to be humble😎

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Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.  STEP 10, ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS

Humility is defined on page 58 of TWELVE STEPS AND TWELVE TRADITIONS as “a clear recognition of what and who we really are, followed by a sincere attempt to become who we could be.”

Sobriety is serious business, but most often we alcoholics take ourselves too seriously.  The steps are suggestions that can never be practiced perfectly, but can always be pursued in daily activity.  With practice and time, step 10 becomes as routine as brushing teeth in the morning.  Along with a gratitude list it’s a great way to start the day.  But unfortunately, humility can’t be attained, it can’t be practiced, it can’t be prayed into existence.  It just happens.  When I think I’ve got it, I don’t.

“Oh Lord it’s hard to be humble
When you’re perfect in every way
I can’t wait to look in the mirror
Cause I get better looking each day
To know me is to love me
I must be a hell of a man
Oh Lord It’s hard to be humble,
But I’m doing the best that I can”

MAC DAVIS

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SOBER TODAY?  GIVE YOURSELF AND YOUR HIGHER POWER A HAND

 

an easier, softer way

if you are sober today, give yourself and your God a hand

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“Our stories disclose in a general way what we used to be like, what happened, and what we are like now….we thought we could find an easier, softer way.  But, we could not.” 

ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS, chapter 5, How It Works

Wisdom from the BIG BOOK, the alcoholic’s bible, teaches us that there is no easy way to transformation and restoration.  We cannot hang on to old ideas, we cannot party with the old crowd, we cannot entertain previous bad habits and expect a sustained, peaceful sobriety.  Millions of successfully recovering alcoholics will testify to this assertion from HOW IT WORKS.  For us there is not an easier, softer way.

Those of us who profess a faith walk and try to follow earnestly the God of our understanding know this principle applies to all aspects of our lives.  Discernment is an integral part of daily living.  Not only recognizing a spiritual value, but following the direction of that moral compass becomes a driving force in our lives.  Talk the walk and then walk the talk.  We cannot conveniently turn on and off the spiritual connection which has returned us to sanity.

And so it is that when discussions of social, political and religious significance occur, we have a choice – wallow in the easier, softer way of complacency and submission to the status quo or advocate what could be infinitely more difficult, but principled.  Our guide?  It has to be that same moral compass, that discernment which we discovered through the grace of sobriety.  It has to be what was learned by giving up the easier, softer way.

I recently witnessed a conversation between two upstanding members of the community.  Debating politics, one offered an opinion that his Christian faith had no bearing on his choice in the upcoming 2020 Presidential election.  The moral character of his candidate had nothing to do with fitness for the office or ability to lead.  The booming economy and low unemployment rate were, by far, a more important barometer than any character faults and defects.  Maybe he is right.  Maybe it is okay during the election cycle to put away in a box the faith and values which have transformed our lives.  Maybe the economy, stock markets and retirement accounts are more important than the life and work of Jesus manifesting through us.  Maybe.  What do you think?

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Let’s give thanks

For breath and clean air to breathe
For heartbeat and a healthy body
For arms and legs that move
For toes that wiggle
are we thankful?

For sobriety through grace, not merit
For clarity of mind
For a fellowship which saves
For the AA promises realized
are we thankful?

For a house which shelters
For a comfortable home
For adequate food
For all needs filled
are we thankful?

For liberty
For freedoms dearly paid
For rights unparalleled
For governance by the people
are we thankful?

For friends who love us
For family who support us
For Max, the cat, and all pets
For butterflies and birds
are we thankful?

For the beauty of this earth
For a threatened yet sustaining ecology
For scientists who care
For citizens who protest
are we thankful?

For the stars of the sky
For the setting sun
For the rising moon
For the mysteries of beyond
are we thankful?

For a God who understands and forgives
For a Lord who guides
For a Master beyond comprehension
For a peace beyond understanding
are we thankful?

Not just on Thanksgiving Day, but in all days let us bow heads
and quietly give thanks.

“Praise God from whom all blessings flow
praise him ye creatures here below
praise Him above ye heavenly host
praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost”

 

 

Your Vote – does it matter?

“Do we dare keep voting according to our pocketbooks and private morality? Yes, we are God’s beloved, but so is everyone else! If we believe God wants what is good for us, how do we not understand God wants what is good for each and every living thing? What would it mean to vote as if the very presence of God were in our neighbor and the stranger alike, which is simply what Jesus taught?”  CAC.ORG – Fr. Richard Rohr

Namaste – not the word Jesus used, but it certainly means the same.  A follower of Buddhism would bow to you (and all of Creation) and say namaste – “I honor the divine in you.”  Jesus said, “Love your neighbor (and all of Creation) as yourself.”

What’s so difficult about that?  Why can we not believe that Jesus from Nazareth, during the time between ages 12 and 30 when no historian can provide an account of his activity, met up with traders from the East who followed the teachings of Buddha.  Even non-believers in the historicity of Jesus or Buddha will have to admit that namaste is certainly a great way for earthlings to conduct themselves.  It could be the key to the survival of our species.

Let’s give this idea a shot in our 2020 voting.  Rather than endorsing candidates who claim to be God-sent, or candidates who claim to have the inside track to God, or candidates who attend the ‘right’ church, or candidates who profess the tenets of an intolerant and exclusive Christianity, let’s try “namaste.”  Let’s try “love your neighbor as yourself.”  Let’s vote as if the earth and all its creatures (including us) depended upon it.

Fr. Richard Rohr of the Franciscan order is an outspoken critic of the political and religious status quo.  We agree that somehow Christianity, as envisioned in its early genesis, has missed the mark of its founders.  We agree that the purpose of Christianity is not to look heavenward for salvation nor to follow a reclusive lifestyle.  Christianity was meant to involve Christians in the nitty-gritty of the world’s disadvantaged and oppressed people.  We are designed to focus downward upon earth’s sorrow and heartbreak, to participate in the world rather than seek escape in heavenly promises.

Buddhism calls this life “dukkha” – suffering.  It is suffering which stems from our human tendency to want what we don’t have and not appreciate the blessings we do have.  I can relate.  How about you?  We have houses which would be palatial to many of the world’s people, but want even larger and more luxurious homes.  We have closets full of clothes whereas many people have nothing more than rags to wear.  We eat to the point of unhealthy obesity while many babies are starving.  We are coming into the Christmas season where the mantra is, “shop till you drop.”  Yet this extravagance of material blessing does not eliminate dukkha.

Externals will not eliminate suffering.  Only by resetting the internal defaults will we ever reach the heaven described by Jesus or nirvana promised by Buddha.  It’s an inside adventure which each of us can undertake.

“We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness.  We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.  We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace.  No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others.  That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear.  We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows.  Self-seeking will slip away.  Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change.  Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us.  We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us.  We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.  Are these extravagant promises?”  AA PROMISES

WE THINK NOT

Get out there and vote.  Jesus did not give us THE WAY and Buddha did not give us THE PATH  for us to twiddle our thumbs and be recluses uninvolved in the planet’s survival.  Bill W. and Dr. Bob did not give us recovery through ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS to muddle through life uninvolved in the lives of still-suffering fellow man. god bless america

what do you see?

Where do you go for comfort, reassurance, consolation?  In our past lives many of us found our fix sitting on a honky-tonk barstool listening to jukebox favorites as we watered down our drinks with tears while sharing sad stories with the unwitting stranger sitting next to us.  We always had misery and heartbreak riding on our shoulders and, unfailingly, it was never our fault, was it?

This will not be a war story, there are millions just like mine; rather, it’s a testimony of personal victory gained through the power of Alcoholics Anonymous, the dedicated people sitting around the tables of a recovery meeting, and the grace of a God as I understood God.  Trust me, in those early days, understanding God was a challenging proposal because in 1981 at my first AA meeting, a more strident atheist than I could not be found.  “Don’t talk to me about God, don’t expect me to pray, don’t give me any God literature.  All I want out of this group is to learn how not to drink or, even better, to learn how to drink socially like my buddies.”

The first 90 days were a long and tedious journey through numerous nail-biting nights of sheer terror fearing the old demons would reclaim me.  But also, bringing me back to the tables day after day and night after night (yes, I was one of those freaks who did at least 2 meetings daily) was the promise from others in the rooms and from the Big Book that I too could get better, that even for me there was hope.

One of those AA guys with a no-nonsense demeanor which I admired took me aside one night and suggested that I use g.o.d. as my higher power until I became ready and willing to consider a sober-minded understanding of God.  Good Orderly Direction served me well for the time necessary to clear the alcoholic fog from my brain and explore the joys and promises of a developing spirituality.

The time from then to now is my story, a fantasy trip surpassing any drunk or any high I ever experienced prior to sobriety.  It has been filled with absolute joy and unbearable sorrow, heights of fulfillment and lows of abject despair, moments of awe and days of drudgery.  Guess what?  That’s life.  It is the same as it always was – suffering sprinkled with joy and peace. But, today I don’t have to sit on a barstool crying in my beer.  I am changed.  Me, a few good friends, and g.o.d. can handle anything that comes along.

Not surprisingly, comfort and strength can be found visiting with an old friend.  I find sustaining reassurance through many of the foundational hymns and verses learned as a young boy, but rejected later in life as lies and deceit.  Today, I am an integral part of the stories and songs I remember.  I am the prodigal son, I am the doubting Thomas, I am the denying Peter, I suffer with Jesus on his cross.  These are my friends from years ago who have taken new meaning in a spiritual awakening.

Sobriety does not force us to find religion, to profess creeds, to do weekly confessional.  Sobriety does, however, expect that we will surrender to a Higher Power and pursue changed perspectives.   An aspect of those changed perspectives is our approach to worldly things.  Especially in today’s tumultuous social and political atmosphere, the words of Helen Lemmel, a writer and hymnist who lived 1863 to 1961, urges us to turn our eyes upon Jesus (an old friend), look full in his wonderful face and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.  

Don’t need to worship, don’t need to adhere to any particular faith walk, don’t need to bow to any deity – just know the story of Jesus of Nazareth, his life and work, his compassion.  Then look upon that as a path to living life soberly in spiritual comfort and reassurance.  Perspectives will change when the things of earth grow strangely dim.

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Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in his wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of his glory and grace

Through death into life everlasting
He passed, and we follow him there

Helen Howarth Lemmel