GOD, a verb

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My story is not unique.  Millions have shared it and millions have conquered alcoholism.  A great many of us approached our first AA encounter with extreme trepidation about a spiritual experience.

“What? You going to preach at me some BS about God and religion?”

But, the alternative was a return to the insanity that had consumed our lives and absolutely deprived us of self-respect and intelligent choices.  So, we obligingly sat through the reference to God in the opening ‘Serenity Prayer’ and a few mentions of God by the group and then the closing ‘Lord’s Prayer’.  It wasn’t too bad but, don’t be talking that God stuff laced with theology and thou shalt and thou shalt not.

At my first meeting I learned that the only requirement for membership was a desire to stop drinking.  “I can handle that”.

Subsequently, they talked about a higher power.  They said it could be anything I recognized as a greater power than me.  Well, I already knew alcohol was a greater power than me, so I totally understood that concept.  The older, wiser group members suggested that I use the group as my higher power temporarily until I had some sober time behind me.  That worked just fine.

But, after thousands of meetings and a few years of sobriety, my inner self yearned for a more definitive God picture.  I began the search for deeper meaning and resolution to that initial “God as I understand God”.

My church experience as a young boy indoctrinated me into a theology of an old, bearded, vengeful and wrathful man sitting on his throne somewhere in the heavens just waiting to judge and condemn me for being human.  Indeed, as that God promised, I went to hell.  As I learned from hearing the stories of other recovering alcoholics, that church experience was not unique and equally damning.

During recovery there have been numerous epiphanies but, the most recent and possibly most significant occurred from reading another blogger’s post sharing the concept of God, a verb.  https://cac.org/ .  Amazingly, after several months of studying Fr. Richard’s writings, spirituality for me has returned to my first meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous.

What can be more Godly than a group of bickering, diverse, sober drunks coming together in a unified effort to spread the theology of sobriety to a suffering world?  It’s the Gospel in action.  It’s exactly what Jesus proclaimed to the oppressed and downtrodden.  And miraculously for those of us who have rejected the old, judgmental, heavenly seated man of our youth, this God does not demand a list of thou shalt and thou shalt not.

God, a verb, is not a new or faddish concept.  Buddhist monks, Jesus and his followers understood it.  The mystics of ancient times practiced it.  Bill W. and Dr. Bob resurrected it calling it Alcoholics Anonymous.  This God’s only requirement is a desire to live sober, productive lives, and “practice these principles in all our affairs.”

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FIND YOUR PEW

Among my friends are three very dear people who come to “Uncle” Larry for a listening ear and a shoulder upon which to cry.  For hours we sit, share coffee, chat about their troubles.  One deals with an alcohol problem, one suffers depression, and the other harbors a worsening paranoia laced with hallucinations.  Yes, for hours I offer my perspective, my attention, and sparingly my advice.  I’ve come to realize that advice is not what is being sought.

When I’ve reached the end of my patience, I offer a last bit of hope.  It is the activity which keeps me sane, content and somewhat normal.  It refills me with more of the same patience which has just been exhausted.  It comforts my soul, connects me with inner peace, prepares me for the next round of coffee and chatting.

“Wanna go to church with me?”

I ask this question very broadly.  Most of our AA meetings are sponsored by the local churches; therefore, when I extend the invitation to come with me to church, I am covering all my bases.  Whether a table surrounded by recovering drunks or a sanctuary filled with recovering sinners, it just seems to be a good place to find a program of spiritual living.

Ouch! The stares from my friends are borderline hostile.  The remarks are equally inappropriate.  And finally it hits me.  These friends somehow gain a morbid sense of fulfillment from wallowing in their case histories.  They don’t want resolution.  They don’t want to recognize a world beyond their fragile egos.  They don’t want to forgive, be forgiven, and move on.

One of my favorite expressions is “been there, done that”.  So it goes with alcoholism and mental illness.  We can all relate to the times when a moral inventory and turning it over were crazy as…well…. getting sober or giving control to God.  Unthinkable! ….until the day when we were face down in the gutters of despair and hopelessness….until the day when the only way to go was up.  Some of us made it, some did not.  I was willing to do anything at that time to escape the cesspool that I called life.  How about you?  What are you, my three dear friends, willing to do?

“Wanna go to church?”

 

THE HAPPY MYSTIC

Have you ever momentarily experienced in your meditation a time of absolute serenity and peace?  All trains of thought have stopped.  The world around you is non-existent.  It is tranquil and quiet within.  All is well with your soul.

You try to hang on to it as long as possible but, the phone rings, the kids scream, and the dog barks. Poof! It’s gone.  That brief, unearthly respite was a God moment.  For a mere second you and the God within were in communion.  This mysterious indwelling essence became the Lord of your life on the day you made sobriety the top priority of your life.

We alcoholics are not unique in this discovery.  Many before us, many who are not addicted to any behavior or substance have also known the God within and have fully experienced the pure joy and peace of inner communion.  Buddha and his followers, Jesus and his followers, Muhammad and his followers all exercised the mysticism of an inner experience of meditation and contemplation.  The Kabbalist Jew in his esoteric practice also embraces mysticism.

This has nothing to do with his God, her God, the church’s God.  This is your very own, very personal Higher Power which has no need to be translated by religionists or theologians.  You don’t need dogma or faith creeds or a list of “thou shalt and thou shalt not”  because it is within the deepest recesses of your soul’s being that the God of your understanding can be found.

Faith in this inner God experience of the mystics does not negate or diminish the presence of spirituality that is enjoyed by worshipping with others corporately in the church, the mosque or the synagogue.  This time of singing, prayer, and teaching only enhances that which we know within.  However, we can experience an exhilarating freedom when we understand how and where to find a personal God of our understanding.  Scriptures which we have learned and known for a lifetime come alive with new and deeper meaning.  Our journey is no longer hindered by questions concerning the right pew in the right church with the right congregation worshipping on the right day of the week preaching the right gospel with the right Bible, Torah or Koran in hand.  That spiritual experience which is deep within is always right.

“To thine own self be true.”

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SOBER PATRIOTS

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Clean and serene living is a blessing which is undeserved and unmerited grace from the one we call God.  Whether you call your Higher Power God or any other name designated by various faiths, we accept that this indescribable, undefinable, incomprehensible power is the sole reason for our sobriety.

This way of life is a gift, but, there are payments due.  It is not free.  An attitude of gratitude is universally accepted as a prerequisite for “enjoyable” sobriety.  Staying sober becomes a life of drudgery when we do not appreciate and give thanks for the sanity which has been restored to us.  Responsibility begins with the willingness to share in the work of the fellowship.

Just the willingness to be that helping hand indicates our commitment to sober living.  But there is more to living alcohol free than not drinking.  The purpose of dedicated sobriety is to integrate us back into the communities from which we isolated ourselves.  This means abandoning our attachments to self and ego in lieu of our children’s school activities, our local service organizations, churches, and, for some of us, politics.

When we begin to comprehend the vastness of God’s gift of sobriety, we also begin to appreciate the greatness of the society in which we live.  Americans have an extraordinary heritage and tradition of liberty, freedom of choices, guaranteed personal rights, inclusiveness, and civil rights.  We cannot take these ‘unalienable’ rights for granted.  They were won for us by the blood and courage of our forefathers.

Today, some of us believe this heritage is in jeopardy.  We believe there are forces coming into power which intend to  deprive and annihilate the ethics and values which have defined us as the world’s bastion of egalitarianism.  Some of us stand ready to use our intelligence, our gifts, our wits, and our power of sober-living to wage battle, as our forefathers did, to protect our Constitution and Bill of Rights.  We intend to ring out joyously the sentiments of the Declaration of Independence.  This is our duty as citizens and patriots.  But, we must take action in humility and temperance; anger and name-calling will gain us nothing.

As experienced drunks we learned to pick our battles carefully, to weigh the odds and strike effectively.  As sober patriots we need to do the same.  Ranting over the results of an election, becoming immobilized with anger, and rattling off insults and profanity will not protect the America we cherish and love.  As recovering alcoholics we know how dangerous and unproductive anger can be.  It serves no purpose in our lives.

America’s challenges are daunting just as our personal challenges were in our addictions.  But, with the God of our understanding in charge we can be victorious in any battles we face.  Intelligent direction of effort, dedication to purpose, and, as President Obama stated in his farewell address, the “Yes we can” attitude will prevail.

It’s inevitable.  The God of our understanding did not create a humanity where one race, one creed, one lifestyle is favored over others.  The darkness of bigotry, intolerance, and injustice cannot survive in the light of our God’s mercy and love.  But, it’s up to us to carry that light, to live in that light in all our affairs.

Onward!  We have a country to protect.

KISS 2016 GOODBYE

I’ve learned not to make resolutions for New Year’s after many failed attempts to change things I perceive as unhealthy or immoral.  I mean really, what’s so darned unhealthy about a Krispie Kreme in bed once in a while?  However, I do prioritize the opening prayer we recite at the meeting tables:

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Of course, being the alcoholic that I am (some of us are sicker than others), I find need to amend this prayer by adding “things I cannot change such as my past and other people, things I can change such as my future and myself, and the wisdom which is found in my recovery program.”

Works for me.  No regrets in February when I’ve gained weight rather than lost 5 pounds, when I’ve cut loose with a few cuss words rather than a prayer for someone I dislike, when I’ve spent too much on my credit card.  Keeping resolutions simple is sober living at its best.

For 2017, I wish everyone a great year filled with compassion and understanding.  Whether you are one who is facing challenges in recovery or you are one looking for spirituality in a crazy, screwed-up world, remember there is a Higher Power which has everything under control.  Simply ask that almighty power for the serenity, courage, and wisdom.

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COMPASSION

com·pas·sion

[kəmˈpaSHən]

 NOUN
  1. sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others:
    “the victims should be treated with compassion”

    synonyms: pity · sympathy · empathy · fellow feeling · care · concern · solicitude-sensitivity · warmth · love · tenderness · mercy · leniency · tolerance · kindness ·humanity · charity

     
    antonyms: indifference · cruelty
     

“Lord, compassion, it’s really tough sometimes.  I just don’t feel it when looking at the world we have today.  Terrorists killing people.  Criminals killing people.  White hating black. Black hating white.  Christians hating Muslims.  Do you really expect me to have warm, fuzzy, compassionate feelings for people?”

“My son, let me put it this way.  Have you ever heard about walking a mile in another man’s shoes?”

“Of course.”

“That’s compassion.  Being willing to share his burden and see the world through his eyes.  Has nothing to do with warm, fuzzy feelings.  Has nothing to do with feelings at all.  It’s all about living in peace and understanding with my other children.  You must be willing.”

“Oh, willing?  I don’t know.  Lord, I’m running on low with my willingness supply.”

“That was not a suggestion for your consideration, my son.  Let me rephrase it.  YOU SHALL BE WILLING.  AMEN?”

“Got it.  I’m willing, I’m willing.  Amen. Now, Lord, about that new Corvette I’d like for Christmas…….”

“Grrrrrrr. (are these humans truly my creation?)”

PEACE WITHIN

Are you a battler?  Do you argue at every turn with the ones you already know to be right?  We simply have a need to be scrappy.  No one can counsel us, no one knows better than us, and certainly no one shall tell us how to run our lives.  This is not a just a denominational problem or a cultural problem or a societal problem.  It is a human problem and it creates an enormous load of unnecessary baggage and heartache.

Psalm 46:10New International Version (NIV)

10 He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth.

Exploring great verses of Scriptures and studying the possible meanings often brings renewed comfort for the soul and deeper understanding of the human condition.  So it is with this verse found in the book of Psalms.  David, the assumed author, is one of the most studied and dichotomous characters of Jewish literature.  A great warrior and king, his lineage to the person of Jesus Christ is presented in the New Testament’s Gospels.  But, King David was also a man of exquisite writing skills expressing elements of peace and calm in his society’s volatile environment.  The Jewish rendering of “be still” is often “cease striving”.  Relax, accept, understand that I am God.  In this context the required action is passive.  “Just stop and shut up for a minute, listen to me.”

But another response which requires initiative on the reader’s part is to view this with more emphasis on “know that I am God”.  The God of the Jews is telling us in no uncertain terms who He is and that He indeed is Lord of the universe, of all nations and of all peoples.  He is saying, “Relax, I’ve got this under control because I am God, not just your God but everybody’s God.”  The act of accepting and knowing has to be accomplished in the stillness of God’s presence.  This is not just a Jewish or Christian obedience; it is part of any faith’s supplication to the entity called God.

And therein we can find peace within.  The inherent human need to challenge, to argue, to dispute spiritual matters can readily be appeased and need not be a part of our inner sanctum.  First, be still.  But then, know the truth of your God.

Very often we have said, “I am going to let God control my life.”  Truly, does God need us to give control to him?  Maybe we need to kick back and understand that He is in control.  Matters not if we give him control.  He’s already got us covered.  The peace within happens when we accept that.