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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.




Unless the Lord build the house, in vain do the laborers build it. (Psalm 127:1)

This verse came to mind while meditating this morning. It speaks to my efforts to make sense of the terminal illness that is shortening my life, a life I frankly love and don’t want to leave, a reversal from yesterday’s attitude.

The symbol house as understood in Jungian psychology represents the entire psyche in its varied stages of development. In my childhood experience of the world as cold and hostile, my house collapsed. I retreated into fantasy, and with it, further stagnation: Nothing lived. Robot-like, I meandered around the known corners of my life, feigning interest but often bored. The enveloping pain dis-eased my body.

Only through 12-Step work, begun in 1991, did I discover my voice and a friendly world in which to breathe. But decades of barricaded rooms in my house had to be interfaced with the discipline of the 12 Steps, their rubbish cleared out. From the outset, I recognized the enormity of this task. On my own, this was impossible.

The Step III Prayer conceives the Lord as a Master Builder: “I offer myself to Thee, to build with, to do with me as Thou wilt …” with the mandate to let go of the outcome. For decades, such has been my practice, with much stuff carted away. But there’s still more.

Time constraints press upon me now. I’d rather fix the remaining disorders than let the Lord continue building my house. It’s all about surrendering, again and again. I know I’ll be surprised. I always am.



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