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It was October 1966, then, a young professed in our Academy. Stressed by intermittent knee pain and overwhelmed by teaching and surveillante responsibilities, I fingered a slim paperback in the pocket of my petticoat and ached for more of Abraham Heschel’s Man’s Quest for God – Studies in Prayer and Symbolism (1954). I had been forewarned to keep this book underwraps; its Jewishness smarted against acceptable norms in the Catholic world in which I lived.

But Heschel’s words shimmered off the pages and left track marks upon my psyche—I would return at a later time.

These words still shimmer, but integrated at a deeper level than decades before. Central to Heschel’s theology is what he calls divine pathos: God’s continuing need for us as co-creators in his multiple expanding universes—an understanding Heschel gleaned from his studies of the Talmud and kabbalistic and Hasidic writings.

No matter that the prophets and Jesus of Nazareth decried the hardness of heart they encountered along dusty Palestinian roads, natives filled with self-absorption, haughtiness, and stingy spirits. Similar avoidance of collaboration with Creator God exists today.

Yet, God persists in His offer.

Stripped of its religious trappings, co-creation again appears in the Eleventh Step of Alcoholics Anonymous: Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out. The handful that brings love, harmony, and peace where before there was none do experience shimmering life.

Such is the viable antidote for our world, no matter who is in power.

Like savory stew simmering over a low fire, so does Richard Rohr’s Breathing Under Water – Spirituality and the Twelve Steps (2011) excite my appetite for deeper union with my God.

Decades of ministering to the afflicted, beset by stinking thinking, led this Franciscan priest to study the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous by attending meetings in the church basement across the alley from which he lived in the 1970s. No matter that he did not suffer from alcoholism, so easily did his new friends welcome him into their spiritual fellowship. Inherent within their practice of the 12 Steps were Gospel teachings of healing releasing them from the bondage of addiction and filling them with zest for life. Rohr seized upon this synchronicity and continued listening.

Further refinement of this paradigm led Rohr to equate the disease of addiction with sin: our divisiveness from God, others, and ourselves. He also saw the 12 Steps mirrored in the three paths of classical Western spirituality: Purgation, Illumination, and Union: willingness to name hidden sins in our unconscious, willingness to purge them from our thinking and choices, willingness to make amends to those we’ve harmed, and willingness to carry this message of deliverance to others.

This simple practice entails arduous work, given our slothful natures. Without the support of Higher Power’s influence within sponsorship and fellowship, we flounder.

“This book is for you,” reads the dedication page, and so it is. Our powerlessness before life on life’s terms—even the pandemic—makes this so.

My dawn prayer continues.

Terminal illness feels like a run-away train hurtling down a trestle toward a narrow tunnel; its wheels spark emotional and spiritual negatives for which there are no words. Such corresponds to my experience of unmanageability noted in Step I; its angst prods me toward the solution: Step II—Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

Yet, the dregs of the rough night still sour my faith and straightjacket my willingness to believe. I sit quietly and listen, breathing in Spirit. Minutes morph into yesterday’s CPA meeting: courage, humility, honesty threaded within the members’ sharing. I sit straight in my wingback chair. Again, it’s beginning to work: the stinking thinking in my psyche breaks apart and reveals a Power greater than I could ever imagine.

Like a persistent lover, this Power changes often as our relationship deepens. Such keeps this exercise fresh.

Then, buoyed by faith, my terminal illness comes front and center, no longer breaking up like the run-away train in the dead of night. Life on life’s terms, CPA reminds me: dying is integral to living. No exceptions.

Dr. Singh also speaks of death as an arduous process that must be passed through in order to actualize the full measure of our humanness. Practice of Step II helps allay pitfalls and restores conscious contact with Higher Power, without whom I flounder.

Then my dawn prayer moves me into Step III and deeper surrender.

 

 

 

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