Friday, December 18, 2015

Empowerment: Grace and Will in Overcoming

December 18, 2015 
Reflection by Phil Bjornberg
O Lord of Ancient Israel,
giver of the Law of Moses on Sinai:
rescue us with your mighty power.
Richard Rohr writes, “I think the Twelve Steps are inspired by the Holy Spirit and that they are a most successful programmatic teaching of the true Gospel.” [1]
The power to overcome human suffering is unleashed in the alignment of human will with divine will; the human spirit must flow with the Holy Spirit.  Personal power must be aligned with the power of grace.  How does this happen?  The alignment of our will with God’s will must happen at the heart level; through authentic choices of faith that are empowered by God.
Contemporary Western secular culture forces us to prefer a spirituality of achievement, performance, worthiness, and self-reliance, and surely avoid any talk of "all people have sinned" and "fallen short of the glory" (Romans 5:12, 3:23). There is no longer room in America "for the last to be first and the first to be last" (Mark 10:31). Conformity to cultural virtue is much more important than love of littleness or love of any outsider (read "sinner").
For generations now, it’s as if Christians have been saying, "We have the perfect medicine for what ails you: grace and mercy. But the only requirement for receiving it is never to need it!" Jesus called himself a physician and made his case clearly: "Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners" (Mark 2:17). Bill Wilson recognized this truth and understood that the only way to give everyone equal and universal access to God is to base salvation/enlightenment on woundedness instead of self-created trophies. If we are honest, this utterly levels the playing field. Julian of Norwich understood this great turn around and said proudly: "Our wounds are our very trophies!" They are the "holes in the soul" where the Light and the Life can break through. [2]
The way of the Twelve Steps is remarkably similar to Jesus' Way of the Cross, St. Francis' Way of Poverty, and St. Thérèse of Lisieux's Little Way. These and many other saints and mystics teach the power of powerlessness either directly or indirectly.  It is the imperial ego that has to go, and only powerlessness can do the job correctly; but, if we try to change our ego with the help of our ego, we only have a better-disguised ego.
Until one bottoms out and comes to the limits of their own fuel supply, there is no reason to switch to a higher octane of fuel. Why would you? You will not learn to actively draw upon a Larger Source until your usual resources are depleted and revealed as inadequate to the task. In fact, you will not even know there is a Larger Source until your own sources and resources utterly fail you. [4]
 None of us go to the place of powerlessness on our own accord. We have to be taken there. Sad to say it, but it is largely sin, humiliation, failure, and various forms of addiction that do the job. Sometimes, having ruined your marriage, your children, your job, or your sterling self-image, you have to say, "My way isn't working." [5] Maybe there is another way, maybe I really do need to change. That is very often when you are finally ready to begin a sincere spiritual journey. At that point your religion morphs into a living spirituality. [6]
Are you abandoned to the will of God, able to mindfully empty the fuel-tank of your own self-reliance each and every moment of every day?  Are you ready to relinquish your best ideas about God and make a decision to turn your will and your life over to God’s care?  Are you willing to become willing to surrender that in which you are most secure?  
God, we offer ourselves to you – to build with us and to do with us as You will.  Relieve us of the bondage of self, that we may better do your will.  Take away our difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those we would help of Your Power, Your Love, and Your Way of Life.  May we do your will always.  Amen [7]

[1] For more on the Twelve Steps and the Gospel, see Richard Rohr, Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps (Franciscan Media: 2011).
[2] Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Authority of Those Who Have Suffered (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2005), MP3 download.
[3] Adapted from Richard Rohr, Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps (Franciscan Media: 2011), 115.
[4] Ibid., 3.
[5] Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Little Way: A Spirituality of Imperfection (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2007), MP3 download.
[6] For more on the theme of spiritual development and growth, see Richard Rohr, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life (Jossey-Bass: 2011).
[7] Adapted from the Third Step Prayer of Alcoholics Anonymous, pg. 63 “The Big Book”.

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