It’s been awhile since I’ve written about books. A few days ago I finished reading Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps by Richard Rohr. It’s a slim volume, a mere 128 pages of text, but it took me awhile to read as his commentary on each of the twelve steps is so thought provoking and rich – I had to let it marinate in me before moving on to the next step.
The 12 Steps are the central river of my own spirituality (which has many tributaries running towards it – Unity, Buddhism, etc.). I believe they provide not only a stunning spiritual framework, but a true “design for living” that, if followed, can lead to happy, productive lives. Time Magazine named Bill Wilson (AA’s founder) as one of the 100 most influential people of the last century. I think he was an inspired genius – each time I read his writing I am struck anew with the depth and breadth of his insights.
So I’m always eager for more commentary on my beloved 12 Steps. I had recently read Falling Upward by Richard Rohr, and after I wrote about it in the blog, my friend Cathy suggested this book. She studied with Richard Rohr at his Center for Action and Contemplation in New Mexico.
Richard Rohr is a Franciscan priest and so I had expected, first in Falling Upward, but most certainly in this book, that he would be superimposing Catholic theology onto the topic at hand. This book is certainly informed by Christian principles and he uses quotes from both the book “Alcoholics Anonymous” (sometimes called “The Big Book”) and the Bible at the introduction to each step.
The title he gives for each step’s chapter is elucidating:
- Desperate Desiring
- Sweet Surrender
- A Good Lamp
- Accountability IS sustainability
- The Chicken or the Egg: Which Comes First?
- Why Do We Need to Ask?
- Payback Time
- Skillful Means
- Is This Overkill?
- An Alternative Mind
- What Goes Around Must Come Around
then there’s the final chapter:
An Unexpected Postscript: Only a Suffering God Can Save
He has a very original take on addiction:
- We are all addicts
- “Stinking thinking” is the universal addiction
- All societies are addicted to themselves and create deep codependency on them
- Some form of alternative consciousness is the only freedom from this self and from cultural lies
And he has a very unique take on Christianity – so much so that I’m a bit surprised that he is still a Catholic priest (surprised that he stays; surprised that the Church doesn’t give him the boot).
Here’s just one small example of Richard Rohr’s unique insights. Of all the 12 steps, the one I continually find most difficult is the 3rd step: “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God.” I have one or two wee control issues and letting a presumed authority figure (God) run my life — eesh! scary! And yet, from much practice and reiteration and the testimony of many wiser than I, I do get that this is the very heart of my spiritual path. So here’s a snippet from page 24 of Breathing Underwater:
“The Genius of the Twelve Steps
The absolute genius of the Twelve STeps is that it refuses to bless and reward what looks like any moral worthiness game or mere heroic wilolpower. It spotted the counterfeit and ‘drags it publicly behind in a triumphal parade’ (Colossians 2:15). With Gospel brilliance and insight, AA says that the starting point and, in fact, the continuing point, is not any kind of worthiness at all but in fact unworthiness! (‘I am an alcoholic!’) Suddenly religion loses all capacity for elitism and is democratic to the bone. This is what Jesus affirmed in prostitutes, drunkards, and tax collectors, and what Paul praised when he said, ‘It is when I am weak that I am strong’ (2 Corinthians 12:10). When the churches forget their own Gospel message, the Holy Spirit sneaks it in through the ducts and air vents. AA meetings have been very good ductwork, allowing fresh air both in and out of many musty and mildewed churches.”
While any student of the 12 Steps (whether or not they are a participant in any of the various 12-step fellowships) or any Christian would obviously benefit from this book, I believe that any human who wishes to live a deeper, more informed, spiritual life would also greatly benefit from it. I’m quite certain it is a text to which I shall return multiple times.
As ever, I am interested in your take on these ideas. Have you read this book? Do you know the 12 Steps? What’s your take on where the steps and Christianity inform one another? I’d really like to know!