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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.

“And what color will your outfit be?” Dad asked of his women: Mother, my sister Martha, and me, days before our annual June vacation. Our trunks had already been shipped to their destination. Excitement mounted as last suitcases were snapped shut; as the truck from Kruse Florist rumbled up the circle drive and delivered three corsages, each with our names; as Dad beamed in the taxi taking us to Union Station and the train.

Once inside our compartment, I floated my corsage in the brass sink in hopes of preserving its beauty. As hours passed, I checked its color, its freshness, but to no avail. Even then, I had no tolerance for deterioration and death.

Why such abhorrence of death, integral to all life forms, including ours? Again, Dr. Singh addresses this question in The Grace in Dying. It has to do with life and death, the Second of the Four Dualisms that an infant confronts in the development of his/her mental ego. Rather than be swamped by the unknowability of death, he sets a critical boundary behind which life continues unfolding on a manageable scale: the size of a postage stamp, per Dr. Singh. Only when threatened by terminal illness or significant losses does death cower over us.

Thus begins the necessary dismantling of the mental ego with the dissolution of the other Dualisms: self and not-self, mind and body split, and the acceptable and unacceptable, each having served their purpose. Central to this purifying process is the Ground of Being, or God, with whom the individual is preparing to remerge, with full consciousness. Bliss follows.

 

 

 

Yet, I still feel uneasy tossing out five-day-old tulips, their blooms withered, their leaves faded, their stems meandering.

I can’t believe what just happened. No matter that I was new at my job with the Visiting Nurse Association, that I was swamped handling our own referrals and had no time for supervising. She poo-pooed my objections, said that I had been recommended by the social worker at Cardinal Glennon’s for her practicum placement and no other would do. Besides, she was late for her class at Washington University and had to leave. Laughing, she grabbed her stuff and said, “See you Monday. This’ll work out—You’ll see!”

And it did, but not as you would think. She had no need for supervision: I needed it from her. Thus began our dinner meetings in the Delmar Loop, August 1979.

A single mom, she was raising five children, working nights at Glennon’s ER and finishing her master’s degree in Social work, besides having one in nursing. She inspired me to minimize my arthritic pain and engage in life around me. It worked, even to discarding my social work practice and becoming a certified chaplain, a better fit with my emerging gifts.

Our bonding deepened with annual retreats at Gloucester, where we continued our dinner meetings over fresh seafood and more laughter. There, she found her God in tending seagulls, their wings broken by the casts of anglers on the breakfront by Gloucester harbor—My wings have long since been whole.

Long seasoned with life’s fullness, she continues touching many.

Her name is Pat.

 

 

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