Friday, June 18, 2010

A.A., Luther, and humility

I was reminded by this post at of something that happened to me when I first came to A.A. It's a little story with a moral and everything. (And of all things, I'm quoting myself now! How did it ever come to this?)
I was told something early on in A.A. that has forever changed my life and my perspective.

I was complaining one day about somebody else and something they'd done - maybe to a sponsor, but actually I can't remember who it was, now, interestingly - that I considered wrong and beyond the pale.

"I would never do that," fumed I, indignantly.

The woman looked me straight in the eye and responded: "You mean, you haven't done that yet."

A simple sentence - and an even simpler idea - that changed my whole outlook on living. Goes to simul iustus et peccator, I think - and to the understanding of humility, big time.

Really, I can't begin to say how huge an influence this one moment has been for me; it's a perfect example of the "ego deflation at depth" that's central to the A.A. experience. All the air went out of me immediately - and that condition, I've found, is the best possible approach to the world (even though it's awfully hard to manage it most of the time!).

I began to understand a simple truth: I, too - given the right circumstances - am capable of just about anything. IOW: I'm a sinner, through and through. And then, I can't possibly get superior about my very wonderful self, can I? Which is why, maybe, I was drawn to Rowan Williams' stuff from the book Where God Happens, and in particular this section:
We have put aside the easy burden, which is self-accusation, and weighed ourselves down with the heavy one, self-justification.

It takes a long time to get to this, if we ever can, of course. But it's a surprising statement just by itself, isn't it?

Humility is a very, very important idea in A.A.; we're "egomaniacs with inferiority complexes," as I heard fairly often in those days, too. And neither one of those extremes is accurate, of course; both descriptions make us the center of the universe - a really, really bad place for an alcoholic to spend any time.

But of course, "humility" is the topic of Step 7, and I'm getting a bit ahead of myself....

(For those who may not know - I didn't, until pretty recently - simul iustus et peccator is from Luther's writings. I'm actually not sure where it comes from, but it's a really important idea. The Latin translates to "justified and a sinner at the same time.")

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