Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Step 2: Hope

"Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity."

I was struggling trying to come up with a title for this post. What, exactly, is at issue here? Is this about "faith"? No, I don't think so. It's more like an a acknowledgment of one's lack of faith - a bit like the famous passage from Mark 9 below, in fact - but it's mainly about the process of acquiring it. "Came to believe": this describes a journey of the soul to an hitherto unknown (or perhaps, once known but long ago forgotten?) internal landscape. An acceptance, too, and an acknowledgment of one's current insanity.

I'm not sure what word encompasses all that; for now, I'm using "Hope," but that may not last the night.

Here's the relevant section of Mark 9 referred to above:
“Teacher, I brought you my son; he has a spirit that makes him unable to speak; and whenever it seizes him, it dashes him down; and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid; and I asked your disciples to cast it out, but they could not do so.” He answered them, “You faithless generation, how much longer must I be among you? How much longer must I put up with you? Bring him to me.” And they brought the boy to him. When the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. Jesus asked the father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. It has often cast him into the fire and into the water, to destroy him; but if you are able to do anything, have pity on us and help us.” Jesus said to him, “If you are able! —All things can be done for the one who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out, “I believe; help my unbelief."

This is of course a casting-out-of-demons story, and it finishes this way:
When Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You spirit that keeps this boy from speaking and hearing, I command you, come out of him, and never enter him again!” After crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, “He is dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he was able to stand. When he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” He said to them, “This kind can come out only through prayer.” They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.

"This kind can come out only through prayer"! Well, for many addicts, this describes our experience fully and perfectly. (Though not for all! There have always been agnostics and atheists in A.A. - these people tend to make A.A. itself the "Higher Power" of Step 3, and ignore the word "God" elsewhere - although there are perhaps fewer today than there once were, because there are other recovery options today.)

Addiction does seem to me to be a form of demonic possession, although it's pretty obviously not what's at issue in the above passage. Certainly it's a betrayal of the soul by the mind and body in a similar way - though of course there's a volitional aspect that's not present in other forms of mental illness.

But this has all been said before; what I'm looking for here is something I haven't seen already - some new insight. Anyway, what I'm really searching for is something that's convincing to all people, not just addicts or the mentally or emotionally ill.

Is there something like that here? Well, one thing I think we don't acknowledge very often in Christianity, and to our detriment, is the process - the "coming to believe" - that is the heart of the religious life. I think that is the important aspect of this Step - something that can speak to everybody. “I believe; help my unbelief."

In this Step, it's faith - a hope for faith, really, seen now only through a glass dimly - in a power outside oneself, and in "restoration" by means of that power. Remember, too, an important aspect of the Steps that doesn't actually appear in this list form, although it does in the book where they are introduced: these are "reports of actions taken." "Here are the Steps we took," the book says, "which are suggested as a program of recovery." The Steps are a summary of other people's experiences, in other words - people for whom this faith did indeed become a reality. They are a summary of experience, offered to those who haven't had this particular experience - yet. They are collective wisdom gained through pain, nothing more or less - and this is the journey itself.

One reason the Gospel story speaks so strongly to us, I think, is because it's about a human life and experience. God became a human being, to live here among us and experience life as we do - in all its joy and terror. While Jesus is admittedly a person unlike any other, still the life is recognizable. The birth of a child; the growth of a boy; the journey of a man. The Crucifixion speaks to the suffering human being of his own experience - which is now God's own experience. And "restoration" is the theme in Christianity as well; Christ comes into the fallen world to restore us.

And surely, non-alcoholics can understand the longing for "restoration" also. Life is full of loss, and there is destruction of all kinds everywhere.

Today I was in a Bible study on the topic of 1 Corinthians 13, and "through a glass dimly" was part of the discussion. Something I'd never paid much attention to before, though, was this part:
For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.

"Even as I have been fully known" is actually a pretty important part of the "restoration" to sanity. This refers to "known by God," of course. But also, this is what a later Step - Step 5 - is all about: "Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs." In Step 5, you'll find these passages:
When we reached A.A., and for the first time in our lives stood among people who seemed to understand, the sense of belonging was tremendously exciting. We thought the isolation problem had been solved. But we soon discovered that while we weren't alone any more in a social sense, we still suffered many of the old pangs of anxious apartness. Until we had talked with complete candor of our conflicts, and had listened to someone else do the same thing, we still didn't belong. Step Five was the answer. It was the beginning of true kinship with man and God.

This vital Step was also the means by which we began to get the feeling that we could be forgiven, no matter what we had thought or done. Often it was while working on this Step with our sponsors or spiritual advisers that we first felt truly able to forgive others, no matter how deeply we felt they had wronged us. Our moral inventory had persuaded us that all-round forgiveness was desirable, but it was only when we resolutely tackled Step Five that we inwardly knew we'd be able to receive forgiveness and give it, too.


The real tests of the situation are your own willingness to confide and your full confidence in the one with whom you share your first accurate self-survey. Even when you've found the person, it frequently takes great resolution to approach him or her. No one ought to say the A.A. program requires no willpower; here is one place you may require all you've got. Happily, though, the chances are that you will be in for a very pleasant surprise. When your mission is carefully explained, and it is seen by the recipient of your confidence how helpful he can really be, the conversation will start easily and will soon become eager. Before long, your listener may well tell a story or two about himself which will place you even more at ease. Provided you hold back nothing, your sense of relief will mount from minute to minute. The dammed-up emotions of years break out of their confinement, and miraculously vanish as soon as they are exposed. As the pain subsides, a healing tranquillity takes its place. And when humility and serenity are so combined, something else of great moment is apt to occur. Many an A.A., once agnostic or atheistic, tells us that it was during this stage of Step Five that he first actually felt the presence of God. And even those who had faith already often become conscious of God as they never were before.

This feeling of being at one with God and man, this emerging from isolation through the open and honest sharing of our terrible burden of guilt, brings us to a resting place where we may prepare ourselves for the following Steps toward a full and meaningful sobriety.

The author of an A.A. pamphlet called "A Member's-Eye View of A.A." writes this:
"I am convinced that the basic search of every human being, from the cradle to the grave, is to find at least one other human being before whom he can stand completely naked, stripped of all pretense or defense, and trust that person not to hurt him, because that other person has stripped himself naked, too."

And perhaps this is what Step 2 is really about: the dimly-sensed awareness that this "basic search" is about to end; that the journey is really one of stripping-away of pretense and - above all - of defenses. We believe that we might someday have real friendship - which comes by acknowledging our weaknesses and vulnerabilities and failures - at last.

So: can the church learn that the life of faith is a journey, and that at all times we see ourselves and everything else "in a mirror dimly"? Can it teach that we become weak - we acknowledge our failures and vulnerabilities once and forever, as in the above example - to become strong? In A.A., when new people come through the doors, they are filled with shame and despair. But then they walk into a room filled with people who openly acknowledge the things the newcomers have been so desperately ashamed of for so long - and laugh uproariously about them! And then these A.A. members talk about their own journeys in addiction and in sobriety.

Would it be so hard to change our churches to be more like this? To talk more about our own failures to others, and to end up laughing about our common weaknesses together? To acknowledge that we "see through a glass dimly" even now, but enjoy the journey anyway?

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