Sunday, 30 May 2010

The evil and corroding thread

Fear.


"This short word somehow touches about every aspect of our lives. It is an evil and corroding thread; the fabric of our existence was shot through with it. It set in motion trains of circumstances which brought us misfortune we felt we didn't deserve. But did not we, ourselves, set the ball rolling? Sometimes we think fear ought to be classed with stealing. It seems to cause more trouble." (P. 67:2, 'Alcoholics Anonymous')

Someone said to me yesterday: "whatever you reside in will manifest. If you reside in God, God will manifest; if you reside in fear, fear will manifest."

Fear fear itself. There is a Jewish proverb, "to worry is a sin; the only permissible worry is that one worries."

"Are we now ready to let God remove from us all the things which we have admitted are objectionable?" (P. 76:1)

To arrive at the conclusion that fear is objectionable (which is the prerequisite for asking for its removal with sufficient earnestness in Step Seven), I must first of all knock out the logical load-bearing structure: the justification for its elevation to dictatorial status in my life.

With resentment, there is a perverse satisfaction: the self-satisfaction of the august roles of prosecutor, judge, jury, executioner, politician, reformer, and minister sighing over the sins of the twenty-first century. Resentment also justifies itself with the assertion that the observation of 'wrongness' must necessarily be accompanied by a festering emotional reaction, as though to rid oneself of this useless chancre is tantamount to upending what is 'wrong' and declaring it 'right'. Nonsense. The observation of wrongness (or possible wrongness—after all, my judgement is regularly flawed) can quite well prompt remedial action on my part without my having to experience smouldering resentment or explosive rage. In fact, taking correct and prompt remedial action typically relies on the absence of resentment, which will only distort my response and cut me off from the only source of true power, God. I am then left with self-will and its toolbox of, on one hand, argumentativeness, obstinacy, dominance, and control or, on the other hand, grace, charm, flattery, and manipulation (cf. p. 61).

Fear operates slightly differently. It justifies itself by saying it is merely the prescient caution that alerts us to danger so we can take remedial action. Nonsense. The prescient caution that alerts us to danger is not festering fear but the perspective of the eagle, rising above the Earth, able to see with unencumbered eye all that lies below, in the past, in the future, beyond the immediate temporal and spatial restrictions. From this vantage point, dangers will be spotted, but, with the sure knowledge of the omnipotence and universal accessibility of God, all true dangers can be averted. There may be a flash of fear, sure, but, once its motivational job is done, it must be transcended. Fear shouts: "LOOK OUT!" So, a person of faith and courage looks out, asks God for guidance and power to act, and sends fear scuttling back to its fetid lair. What I would say is, "Oh, hello fear! Why not come and join me, be my constant companion, whisper in my ear all day long, I wouldn't want to miss any of your useful titbits."

Fear massively outstrips its usefulness. I was once attacked in the street. The jolt of fear produced such an adrenaline rush that I ran unbelievably fast away from the attacker. This has happened to me just once in almost forty years. Yet the rush of fear was something I would experience day in, day out, for years. No attacker existed. No threat to my actual person. But always on guard, just in case!

So, we have tackled the ostensible justification for fear and started to deconstruct its supportive structure.

What ~really~ makes fear abhorrent—with any luck, sufficiently abhorrent to pray fervently for its removal—is not merely the observation of its relative uselessness but this:

Fear is the emotion that follows the prophesying of hell. I imagine the future scenarios which will bring pain, unhappiness, loneliness, frustration, separation, alienation, hopelessness, and despair.

The first idiocy of fear is that it makes manifest right here, right now, that of which I am afraid in my spiritual life. I become instantly disconnected and alienated, unable to relate to others, pained, unhappy, lonely, frustrated, separated, hopeless, and despairing.

The second idiocy of fear is even more pernicious.

"And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear. But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid. And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water. And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus. But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt? And when they were come into the ship, the wind ceased. (Matthew 14:26–31)

The point of quoting this is not the literal truth of whether not, with sufficient faith, a person can walk on water. The point is the precise moment that Peter, who is already, by that point, successfully walking on water, begins to sink: it is the moment he becomes afraid.

As within, without; as without, within. Whatever resides in me will manifest materially. Whatever I am afraid of is where I am residing and I cannot help but make that manifest in my life. I will construct failure and rejection through fear of failure and rejection. I am not going to examine, here, the material and psychological mechanisms that account for this; I am more interested in the spiritual principle:

"the great truth that outside things are but the expression (ex-pressed or pressed out) or out-picturing of our inner thoughts and beliefs; that we have dominion or power over our thoughts to think as we will; and thus, indirectly, we make or mar our lives by the way in which we do think. . . . we have no direct power over outer things, because these outer things are but consequences, or, if you like, resultant pictures of what goes on in the Secret Place [the consciousness]. If it were possible for us to affect externals directly without changing our thought, it would mean that we could think one thing and produce another; and this would be contrary to the Law of the Universe." (Emmet Fox, 'The Sermon on the Mount', Chapter Two)

As I cast back through my life, fear has always brought failure. Fear of unpopularity and rejection so saturated my being that I was unpopular and rejected. Fear of academic failure caused me to blank in exams. Fear of failure as a runner caused asthma (which only manifested when I was running competitively). And, as I look around me, those who are truly successful in any area are never those who are cowed.

Occasionally, fear will produce such acts of the will that a degree of victory is attained. Just like with resentment, however:

"As in war, the victor only seemed to win. Our moments of triumph were short-lived." (P. 66:0)

The victory would always come at a terrible price: peace of mind and the desertification of other areas of my life—e.g. temporary material success founded on disregard for human relationships.

So, trains of circumstance are set in motion which bring us misfortune, but we set the balling rolling.

How?

By embracing fear and its retinue of self-justifying arguments.

That is why fear is so damned foolish. We are typically afraid of unhappiness in the material world, so we place ourselves in spiritual hell. Nice going. Good plan. That worked out, well, didn't it? And, once we're in spiritual hell, we set about creating that of which we are afraid in the material, because the material cannot be but a reflection of the spiritual.

We are idiots. Damned idiots. The truth of fear—the self-fulfilling prophesy, the evil that lies in its own conception, the figment of its own imagination—is so precious to the ego (as it separates us from God) that the ego surrounds it with a bodyguard of lies.

Abhor the fear itself, not that to which it is pointing. Once you have achieved this abhorrence:

"We never apologize to anyone for depending upon our Creator. We can laugh at those who think spirituality the way of weakness. Paradoxically, it is the way of strength. The verdict of the ages is that faith means courage. All men of faith have courage. They trust their God. We never apologize for God. Instead we let Him demonstrate, through us, what He can do. We ask Him to remove our fear and direct our attention to what He would have us be. At once, we commence to outgrow fear." (P. 68:3)

If you have a more effective alternative than complete reliance on God, drop me a postcard.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Don't shoot the donkey

"If not members of religious bodies, we sometimes select and memorize a few set prayers which emphasize the principles we have been discussing. There are many helpful books also. Suggestions about these may be obtained from one's priest, minister, or rabbi. Be quick to see where religious people are right. Make use of what they offer." (87:2—'Alcoholics Anonymous')


The purpose of the first nine Steps is to clear the way so that I can truly begin the journey of developing and strengthening my relationship with God (aka a 'power greater than myself'). A glance at the shelves of libraries containing books on religion reveals that this is not a straightforward matter in practice, regardless of the simplicity of the underlying idea ("Abandon yourself to God as you understand God." (164:2))

There are two options:

(1) reject everything that women and men of religion have said over the last few thousand years on the grounds that what they are writing about is 'religion' and what I am interested in is 'spirituality' and find my own way;

Or

(2) make use of what they offer.

Beating my own path to God seems lovely as an idea. When I see the trouble people throughout history have had even ~with~ huge amounts of guidance, I would be an utter fool to try it in practice. True, I may have whatever concept of a Higher Power I like. "Much to our relief, we discovered we did not need to consider another's conception of God. Our own conception, however inadequate, was sufficient to make the approach and to effect a contact with Him." (46:2) This does not mean, however, that I must necessarily disregard the ideas, practices, and teachings of those with other conceptions.

I have spent many years attempting Step Eleven with reference only to the relatively sparse material on the matter available in AA literature itself. The material on pages 86–88 is amazing and life-changing. But it gives me merely a starting point. As my life expands and grows, I need an increasingly strong relationship with God to access the strength, inspiration, and direction (85:2) necessary to take care of the problems that present themselves (87:1). My own attempts failed, and I became disillusioned with Step Eleven.

I rejected whole religions and everything their writers, thinkers, and speakers, theologians, philosophers, and practitioners had to offer, on the basis that I disagreed with this particular doctrine, that particular attitude, or the other particular practice.

I particularly suffered from "outgroup homogeneity bias", where I would see groups I did not belong to (e.g. Christians) as a homogeneous entity whilst seeing groups that I do belong to (e.g. AA) as enormously diverse. Some Christian groups would proclaim that I was going to hell because of my sexuality. So I rejected all Christian thought over the last two thousand years.

I thus rejected writers I had not read on the grounds that they were Christian. This is the unreasoning prejudice talked about on p. 48:0 of the Big Book. Ignorance combined with arrogance: "no Christians have anything to offer, because I disagree with some of them on certain matters." And my primary complaint was that Christians were bigoted and prejudiced against all sorts of other groups they disagreed with! As in the words of Ernest Holmes, "Life is a mirror and will reflect back to the thinker what he thinks into it." I saw in others only what I was myself: sensitive, obstinate, touchy, unreasoningly prejudiced, and bristling with antagonism (48:0).

Now, I still disagree with certain religious figures or groups on certain matters. Funnily enough, I am right there with men of religion. Is there disagreement ~within~ the Catholic Church on precisely the matters I take issue with? Yes! Is there disagreement within Orthodox Judaism on precisely the matters I take issue with? Oh, boy, yes! Have some of the greatest Catholic and Jewish writers (to take but two religions) themselves been the subject of ridicule and ostracism within their respective faith communities? Absolutely!

The more I examine my prejudice and the consequence—banishing myself from the very wisdom that could help me—the more ridiculous it appears.

There are many paths up the mountain, it is true. Every religion is a donkey that can be used to carry people up the mountain.

My previous attitude can be described as this:

Firstly, I find imperfections in the donkeys. They get people up mountains, alright, but they're not to my liking. Their paraphernalia, bad breath, and unseemly habits I find offputting.

Secondly, I observe that certain wicked people ride donkeys alongside goodhearted women and men of religion. So I blame not the person but the donkey. As if the donkey were to blame for who rides it or how!

Thirdly, because there are wicked people riding imperfect donkeys up the mountain, I reject the mountain as unworthy of my attention.

So I rejected God or even a Higher Power as an asinine figment of fevered minds.

I now take a different attitude.

The donkeys, I can now see, are just donkeys. I have heard interpretations of certain Biblical passages that turn my stomach; I have heard interpretations of the same passages by other interpreters which have opened my heart, changed my life, and brought me closer to God and to my fellow man. It is not the donkey that matters but the way it is ridden.

As in Tradition Eleven ("attraction rather than promotion"), I need to look for people who, in their search for and development of a relationship with God, have found "a degree of stability, happiness, and usefulness" (49:2) I wish to seek myself. There are indeed hate-filled men and women of religion. They do not have what I want. So I ignore their conceptions. Instead, I look for people who have God in their lives and do indeed have what I want ("power, peace, happiness and sense of direction" (50:3)) and ask them what resources they use. And I have been led in many wonderful directions.

Over the years in AA, I have benefited from Chassidic and various Orthodox and Liberal/Reform Jewish writers, a Sufi poet, Taoist writings, American Zen, and a whole range of Christian writers, from Teilhard de Chardin and Anthony de Mello (both frowned on by the Vatican) to the rather more mainstream Teresa of Àvila, plus the likes of Emmet Fox and Charles H. Spurgeon.

Do I believe that Menachem Mendel Schneerson was the Messiah? Nope. Does that affect whether or not I can make use of and learn from those principles he discusses that are in tune with the principles of the AA programme? Not one bit!

Do I believe that evolution explains the variety of life on Earth (as opposed to a week-long act of Creation by God)? Yes! Do I believe in the Graf Wellhausen hypothesis for how the Bible came to be written? Absolutely!

Does that stop me reading Charles H. Spurgeon on matters of faith and carrying the message? Not for a moment! Spurgeon, however, was a creationist who raged against both Darwin and Wellhausen.

If I insisted on reading only those writers whose doctrines mirrored mine in every last detail, my life would be very small indeed and I would probably be drunk, because pages 86–88 of the Big Book do not provide me with sufficient material for a lifetime of Step Eleven.

The more my mind has opened, the more my mind has opened.

The word prejudice is used seven times in We Agnostics:

"We know how he feels. We have shared his honest doubt and prejudice." (45:3)

"We found that as soon as we were able to lay aside prejudice and express even a willingness to believe in a Power greater than ourselves, we commenced to get results, even though it was impossible for any of us to fully define or comprehend that Power, which is God." (46:1)

"Do not let any prejudice you may have against spiritual terms deter you from honestly asking yourself what they mean to you." (47:1)

"Besides a seeming inability to accept much on faith, we often found ourselves handicapped by obstinacy, sensitiveness, and unreasonable prejudice." (48:0)

". . . we hope no one else will be prejudiced for as long as some of us were." (48:0)

"We, who have traveled this dubious path, beg you to lay aside prejudice, even against organized religion." (49:2)

"If our testimony helps sweep away prejudice, enables you to think honestly, encourages you to search diligently within yourself, then, if you wish, you can join us on the Broad Highway." (55:3)

This emphasis on the necessity of setting aside prejudice is not by accident, because, as indicated in Appendix II, the principle that will keep me in everlasting ignorance is contempt prior to investigation.

The Traditions can help in clearing away this prejudice:

(1) Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends upon A.A. unity.

Unity: I look for the commonality between my search for an ever deeper and stronger relationship with God and the experience of others who have journeyed down the same path. I look for the similarities, not the differences.

(5) Each group has but one primary purpose—to carry its message to the alcoholic who still suffers.

My primary purpose is to help others by deepening my relationship with God. If religious material helps, it would be a crime for me to reject it on doctrinal or sectarian grounds. With that purpose in mind, I am directed towards what furthers that purpose in a spirit that fosters progress.

(10) Alcoholics Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues; hence the A.A. name ought never be drawn into public controversy.

When I read writers of religions I do not belong to, matters that lie beyond my immediate purpose—seeking God's will for me and the power to carry that out—are outside issues and not my concern.

(11) Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio, and films.

Do I find the principles attractive? Do these writers have, in spiritual terms, what I want? Do they expand my consciousness? Or do they limit it with division, judgement, and anger?

(12) Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.

I'm currently reading some Teresa of Àvila. She has some marvellous experience and advice on the matter of prayer. She's also extremely hard on herself. I would not, perhaps, want to go on an extended holiday with her. I imagine she would be rather hard work. But I'm happy to spend time with her discussions of prayer if I focus on the principles she is discussing and set aside her personality.

Above all, I'm an alcoholic who needs help and an alcoholic who will be helped only if he helps others. Whatever helps me to help others I will grab with both hands. Ultimately, as with everything else in AA, my own spiritual bankruptcy was what broke me down and made me willing to listen. I hope this process is not as tedious for you as it was for me!

Friday, 21 May 2010

Cannot or will not?

[Quotations from 'Alcoholics Anonymous']

"Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path. Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program, usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves." (58:1)

"We find it a waste of time to keep chasing a man who cannot or will not work with you." (96:1)

"Some men cannot or will not get over alcoholism." (114:2)

When I came to AA, I was in bad shape. Bleeding and on fire, as it were. People rushed round, staunched the bleeding, and used the fire extinguisher on me. The relief was wonderful. AA seemed terribly easy. You feel bad, you go to a meeting, and you get relief. I soon found that relief could be found by expressing at meetings what was going on for me. Other people propped me up, reassured me, and told me everything would be fine. It worked, it really did!

". . . hoping to find understanding companionship and approval. Momentarily we did—then would come oblivion and the awful awakening to face the hideous Four Horsemen—Terror, Bewilderment, Frustration, Despair." (151:2)
[OK, the passage is about 'sordid places' and drinking, but it is amazing how well the passages in the Big Book about alcoholic drinking equally well describe alcoholic thinking.]

Anyway, keyword: momentarily. Sometimes on the way home from the meeting, sometimes the next day, I would be in as bad a state, about precisely the same problem from which I had sought and gained relief, and off I would trot to my meeting, carrying my fear, my low self-worth, whatever my ten-ton anchor du jour was, hoping to leave it there, not realising it was tied to my ankle.

"This is repeated over and over, and unless this person can experience an entire psychic change there is very little hope of his recovery." (xxix:0)

[Ha! Another passage about drinking that seems neatly to describe a mode of sobriety.]

Relief and recovery are not the same. Relief is a temporary lift. Recovery involves a permanent change (27:4—"Ideas, emotions, and attitudes which were once the guiding forces of the lives of these men are suddenly cast to one side, and a completely new set of conceptions and motives begin to dominate them.")

[Usual disclaimer at this point about the need for constant maintenance and growth: we are not cured, cf. 85:1.]

I have long spent periods since I came to AA seeking relief but not recovery, and I am frankly lucky not to have slipped from God's grace and drunk, because so many friends who have fallen into the same trap are now, themselves, drunk or dead. And today, sadly, I see a lot of other people who "cannot or will not recover", who cannot or will not take the actions set out in the Book, suggested (i.e. offered freely with no coercion) as a programme of recovery (59:2). By contrast, as stated on page 58, "rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path." (In my case, 'never', but the 'rarely' vs 'never' discussion will have to wait for another day.)

The Book is hesitant to determine definitively why not everyone succeeds in AA. This class of punter—"cannot or will not"—is alluded to on three occasions that I can find (see above). The question of whether, individually, they are unable or unwilling is not answered fully on any of these three occasions. The nearest we get is this: "usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves," (58:1) which seems to suggest the former.

Sadly, the phenomenon is common. Even some of the people that wrote the Book died drunk, having later eschewed the disciplines they earlier espoused, thereby proving the principle they had propounded so vehemently: "For if an alcoholic failed to perfect and enlarge his spiritual life through work and self-sacrifice for others, he could not survive the certain trials and low spots ahead. If he did not work, he would surely drink again, and if he drank, he would surely die. Then faith would be dead indeed. With us it is just like that." (14:6)

Having spent so much time NOT recovering whilst attending AA meetings with great regularity, I can share with you what my 'blocks' were to "going to it" (cf. 75:2)—to getting on with the programme, fearlessly, thoroughly, and "now" (59:1)—rather than 'getting round to it' in my own sweet time (aka 'never').

(1) Not believing that drinking again is particular dangerous, so "what's the rush?!" (Problem: not understanding the physical craving, cf. 32:2—"gathering all his forces, he attempted to stop altogether and found he could not . . . he went to pieces quickly and was dead within four years.")

Ignorance and self-delusion.

(2) Believing that, because today 'I do not want to drink and remember where I came from', I am necessarily immune from the first drink. (Problem: not understanding the mental obsession, cf. 24:2—"We are unable, at certain times, to bring into our consciousness with sufficient force the memory of the suffering and humiliation of even a week or a month ago. We are without defence against the first drink.")

Ignorance and self-delusion.

(3) Not believing that I need to maintain and grow a spiritual experience (the 'hope' of the alcoholic, cf. 66:1) in order to avoid falling between commas ("at certain times"—the mental obsession) and drinking again.

Ignorance and self-delusion.

(4) Believing that I can rely on warning signs to prompt me to vigorous action should the mental obsession loom—not believing that it arrives suddenly (cf. Jim's story, 36:2) and that, once it has arrived, I am on the other side of the looking-glass and it is already too late.

Ignorance and self-delusion.

(5) Believing that the codes of morals and better philosophy of life (cf. 44:4) fostered in AA meetings are sufficient without vigorous action to strip away that which separates me from God.

Ignorance and self-delusion.

(6) Believing that, whilst God, sought and found through the Twelve Steps, will keep others' egos at bay and therefore keep them sober, He is not powerful enough to keep me sober: 'God is more powerful than everyone else's egos, but my ego is more powerful than God'.

Delusions of grandeur.

(7) Believing that God must be sought through the Twelve Steps to ensure sobriety but not, when push comes to shove, believing in their sufficiency to solve what strike me as gargantuan and super-complex problems in my life. I will thus wait until they are solved or at least on their way to being solved before embarking on your paltry little Steps—I then avoid seeking that which can solve my problem (cf. 45:2 and 62:1—"Selfishness—self-centeredness") until the problem in all its manifestations is solved.

This is a particularly pernicious trap. To quote Charles H. Spurgeon, "If thou has made some difficulties for thyself, if thou art such a fool as to be tying knots and wanting to get them untied before thou wilt believe in [God], then I have nothing to say to thee, except it were, beware lest thou dost tie a knot that shall destroy thy soul."

Ignorance and self-delusion.

(8) Believing that God must be sought through the Twelve Steps to ensure sobriety but being scared that the Steps will involve so much pain I will be blown apart.

Plain, ol' fear.

The first seven of these problems may be amenable to logical discussion. The eighth is tricky. And it is the eighth that requires genuine faith, faith, for these purposes, being defined as 'the courage to take the action to give me the experience to take me from the belief (in my mind) that God exists to the knowledge (in my heart) that God is all-powerful and -loving'.

The Steps, it is true, are a consuming fire that burns away everything that is not the true self; with the illusions, delusions, and obsessions that are stripped away, many 'externals' (people, places, and things to which you are apparently glued in your heart and mind) are also swept away like matchstick pagodas in a monsoon. However, to quote Luke 21:18 "But there shall not an hair of your head perish."

The faith required, the sleight of hand, is this: no matter what difficulties are presented, no matter what emotions spring to the surface as a result of the Steps, YOU will not be harmed, even if your external life is subject to alarming seismic movements.

Which brings me to the relationship between my Step Twelve and the Steps One and Two of someone I am working with. The prospect will only have the faith and courage to take Step Three (and follow through with the other nine Steps) if the ignorance, self-delusion, delusions of grandeur, and plain ol' fear blocking the first two Steps are relieved, dismantled, or at least temporarily set aside.

Thus, cf. 55:4: "We can only clear the ground a bit. If our testimony helps sweep away prejudice, enables you to think honestly, encourages you to search diligently within yourself, then, if you wish, you can join us on the Broad Highway. With this attitude you cannot fail. The consciousness of your belief is sure to come to you."

My Step Twelve, in this case, is to testify (cf. above—"testimony") the experience of what I was like, what happened, and what I am like now. Note I am the passive recipient of grace which enables me to take the actions necessary to maintain my connection with God. All that is really required is enough willingness to ask persistently with faith that it shall be given.

"Keep on asking and it will be given you; keep on seeking and you will find; keep on knocking and the door will be opened to you." (Matthew 7:7)

Ultimately, "when many hundreds of people are able to say that the consciousness of the Presence of God is today the most important fact of their lives, they present a powerful reason why one should have faith." (51:0)

Thus, a lot of testimony may be necessary before prospect comes to believe (a) "in the hopelessness and futility of life as we had been living it" (25:1) and (b) "that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity" (59:4).

HOWEVER: I, as a member of AA, am responsible merely for testifying. I am not responsible for the results. I am not responsible for whether a particular prospects 'gets it', makes a decision, and gets on with the Steps. The most trouble I get into is when I try and force this and, rather than letting God demonstrate, through me, what He can do (68:3), develop Little Plans and Designs (63:1) for someone else's recovery.

Stop it! Stop it! (As I was recently told.)

"And go, get you to the captives, to the children of your people, and speak to them and tell them, Thus says the Lord God, whether they will hear or refuse to hear." (Ezekiel 4:11)
Testify—whether they will hear or refuse to hear—, make sure the door is always open, and leave the prospect to walk through it—or not.

Ultimately, another alcoholic's ability or willingness—or lack thereof—is not for me to fathom.

Friday, 7 May 2010

St Augustine Prayer Book 'transgressions'

A useful list for Step Four, Step Six, Step Seven, and the Step Eleven nightly review:
PRIDE is putting self in the place of God as the centre and objective of our life, or of some department thereof. It is the refusal to recognize our status as creatures, dependent on God for our existence, and placed by him in a specific relationship to the rest of his creation.
Irreverence. Deliberate neglect of the worship of God every Sunday in his Church, or being content with a perfunctory participation in it. Disregard of other Holy Days or of additional opportunities for giving God honour. Failure to thank God or to express our gratitude adequately.
Disrespect for God or holy things by deliberately treating them, in thought, word or deed, in a profane, contemptuous or over-familiar manner. Use of holy things for personal advantage, or the attempt to bribe or placate God by religious practices or promises.

Sentimentality. Being satisfied with pious feelings and beautiful ceremonies without striving to obey God's will.

Presumption. Dependence on self rather than on God, with the consequent neglect of the means of grace -- sacraments and prayer. Dispensation of ourselves from ordinary duties on the grounds that we are superior persons. Satisfaction or complacency over our spiritual achievements. Refusal to avoid, when possible, immediate occasions of temptation. Preference for our own ideas, customs, schemes or techniques. Foolish optimism.

Failure to recognize our job as a divine vocation or to offer our work to God. Unwillingness to surrender to and abide in Christ, to let him act in and through us. Failure to offer to God regularly in intercession the persons or causes that have, or should enlist our interest and support.

Distrust. Refusal to recognize God's wisdom, providence and love. Worry, anxiety, misgivings, scrupulosity, or perfectionism. Attempts to discern or control the future by spiritualism, astrology, fortune-telling or the like. Magic or superstition.

Over-sensitiveness. Expectation that others will dislike, reject or mistreat us; over-readiness so to interpret their attitude, or quickness to take offense. Unfounded suspicions.

Timidity in accepting responsibility, or cowardice in facing difficulty or suffering. Surrender to feelings of depression, gloom, pessimism, discouragement, self-pity, or fear of death, instead of fighting to be brave, cheerful and hopeful.

Disobedience. Rejection of God's known will in favour of our own interests or pleasures. Disobedience of the legitimate (and therefore divinely ordained) laws, regulations or authority of the Church, state, husband, parents, teachers, etc.; or slow and reluctant obedience. Failure when in authority to fulfil responsibilities or to consider the best interests of those under us.

Refusal to learn God's nature or will as revealed in Scripture, expounded in instructions or expert advice, or discernible through prayer, meditation or the reading of religious books. Absorption in our own affairs, leaving little time, energy or interest for the things of God.

Violation of confidence. Breaking of legitimate promises or contracts. Irresponsibility. Treachery. Unnecessary disappointment of another, or the causing of shame or anxiety to those who love us.

Impenitence. Refusal to search out and face up to our sins, or to confess and admit them before God. Disregard of our sins or pretence that we are better than we are. Self-justification or discounting our sins as insignificant, natural or inevitable. Self-righteous comparison of ourselves with others.

Refusal to accept just punishment or to make due reparation when possible. Deceit or lying to escape the consequences of our sins, or allowing another to suffer the blame for our faults. Overcompensation or attempts at self-reform or self-vengeance, to avoid surrender to God in humble penitence.

Shame (hurt pride), sorrow for ourselves because our sins make us less respectable than we like to think we are, or because we fear punishment or injury to our reputation, rather than sorrow for what sin is in the eyes of God. Refusal to admit we were in the wrong or to apologize. Refusal to accept forgiveness from God or others. Doubt that God can forgive our sins, or failure to use the means of getting assurance of his forgiveness when we need it. Unwillingness to forgive ourselves.

Vanity. Crediting to ourselves rather than to God our talents, abilities, insights, accomplishments, good works. Refusal to admit indebtedness to others, or adequately to express gratitude for their help. Hypocrisy. Pretence to virtues we do not possess. False humility. Harsh judgments on others for the faults we excuse in ourselves.

Boasting, exaggeration, drawing attention to ourselves by talking too much, by claiming ability, wisdom, experience or influence that we do not have, or by eccentric or ostentatious behaviour. Undue concern over, or expenditure of time, money or energy on looks, dress, surroundings, etc., in order to impress others; or deliberate slovenliness for the same purpose. Seeking, desiring or relishing flattery or compliments.

Arrogance. Insisting that others conform to our wishes, recognize our leadership, accept our own estimate of our worth. Being overbearing, argumentative, opinionated, obstinate.

Snobbery. Pride over race, family, position, personality, education, skill, achievements, or possessions.

ANGER is open rebellion against God or our fellow creatures. Its purpose and desire is to eliminate any obstacle to our self-seeking, to retaliate against any threat to our security, to avenge any insult or injury to our person.

Resentment. Refusal to discern, accept or fulfil God's vocation. Dissatisfaction with the talents, abilities or opportunities he has given us. Unwillingness to face up to difficulties or sacrifices. Unjustified rebellion or complaint at the circumstances of our lives. Escape from reality or the attempt to force our will upon it. Transference to God, to our parents, to society, or to other individuals of the blame for our maladjustment; hatred of God or antisocial behaviour. Cynicism. Annoyance at the contrariness of things: profanity or grumbling.

Pugnacity. Attack upon another in anger. Murder in deed or desire. Combativeness or nursing of grudges. Injury to another by striking, cursing or insulting him; or by damaging his reputation or property. Quarrelsomeness, bickering, contradiction, nagging, rudeness, or snubbing.

Retaliation. Vengeance for wrongs real or imagined, or the plotting thereof. Hostility, sullenness or rash judgment. Refusal to forgive or to offer or accept reconciliation. Unwillingness to love, to do good to, or to pray for enemies. Boycotting or ostracizing another for selfish reasons. Spoiling others' pleasure by uncooperativeness or disdain, because we have not got our way, or because we feel out of sorts or superior.

ENVY is the dissatisfaction with our place in God's order of creation, manifested in begrudging his gifts and vocation to others.

Jealousy. Offense at the talents, success or good fortune of others. Selfish or unnecessary rivalry or competition. Pleasure at others' difficulties or distress. Belittling others.

Malice. Ill-will, false accusations, slander, backbiting. Reading false motives into others' behaviour. Initiation, collection or retailing gossip. Arousing, fostering or organizing antagonism against others. Unnecessary criticism, even when true. Deliberate annoyance of others, teasing or bullying.

Contempt. Scorn of another's virtue, ability, shortcomings, or failings. Prejudice against those we consider inferior, or who consider us inferior, or who seem to threaten our security or position. Ridicule of persons, institutions or ideals.

COVETOUSNESS is the refusal to respect the integrity of other creatures, expressed in the inordinate accumulation of material things; in the use of other persons for our personal advantage; or in the quest for status, power or security at their expense.

Inordinate Ambition. Pursuit of status, power, influence, reputation, or possessions at the expense of the moral law, or other obligations, or of the rights of others. Ruthless or unfair competition. Putting self or family first. Conformity to standards we recognize as wrong or inadequate in order to get ahead. Intrigue or conspiracy for self-advancement.

Domination. Seeking to use or possess others. Overprotection of children; refusal to correct or punish lest we lose their affection; insistence that they conform to our ideal for them contrary to their own vocation. Imposing our will on others by force, guile, whining, or refusal to cooperate. Over-readiness to advise or command; abuse of authority. Patronizing, pauperizing, putting others under a debt of gratitude, or considering ourselves ill-used when others' affection or compliance is not for sale.

Respect for persons, favouritism, partiality, flattery, fawning, or bribery to win support or affection. Refusal to uphold the truth to fulfil duties, to perform good acts, or to defend those wrongfully attacked, because we fear criticism or ridicule, or because we seek to gain the favour or approval or others. Leading, tempting or encouraging others to sin.

Avarice. Inordinate pursuit of wealth or material things. Theft, dishonesty, misrepresentation, or sharing of stolen goods. Cheating in business, taxes, school or games. Making worldly success the goal of our life or the standard for judging others.

Prodigality. Waste of natural resources or personal possessions. Extravagance or living beyond our income, to impress others or to maintain status. Failure to pay debts. Gambling more than we can afford to lose, or to win unearned profits. Unnecessary borrowing or carelessness with others' money. Expenditure on self of what is needed for the welfare of others.

Penuriousness. Undue protection of wealth or security. Selfish insistence on vested interests or on claimed rights. Refusal to support or help those who have a claim on us. Sponging on others. Stinginess. Failure to give due proportion of our income to Church and charity, or of our time and energy to good works. Failure to pay pledges promised to the Church or charities, when able to do so.

GLUTTONY is the overindulgence of natural appetites for food and drink, and by extension the inordinate quest for pleasure or comfort.

Intemperance. Overindulgence in food, drink, smoking, or other physical pleasures. Fastidiousness, fussiness, demanding excessively high standards, or dilettantism. Condemnation of some material things or pleasures as evil in themselves, attempting to prohibit their use rather than their abuse.

Lack of Discipline. Negligence in keeping the days of fasting or abstinence, or failure to use other needed means of self-discipline. Neglect of bodily health -- not getting sufficient rest, recreation, exercise, or wholesome nourishment. Failure to use or to cooperate with available medical care when ill. Use of sickness as a means of escape from responsibilities.

LUST is the misuse of sex for personal gratification, debasing it from the holy purpose for which God has given it to us.

Unchastity. Violation of the Church's marriage laws. Lack of consideration for one's partner in the use of the marital relationship. Refusal to fulfil the purpose of Holy Matrimony in the bringing forth and giving adequate care to children, or to take our full share in responsibilities or work involved. Unfaithfulness to one's spouse. Sexual indulgence outside of matrimony, in thought or act, alone or with others.

Immodesty. Stimulation of sexual desire in others by word, dress or action; or in oneself by reading, pictures, or fantasies. Collecting or recounting dirty stories.

Prudery. Fear of sex or condemnation of it as evil in itself. Refusal to seek adequate sexual instruction or the attempt to prevent others from obtaining it. Stimulation of excessive and harmful curiosity by undue secrecy. Repression of sex.

Cruelty. Deliberate infliction of pain, mental or physical. Tormenting of animals.

SLOTH is the refusal to respond to our opportunities for growth, service or sacrifice.

Laziness. Indolence in performing spiritual, mental or physical duties, or neglect of family, business or social obligations or courtesies. Procrastination of disliked tasks. Busyness or triviality to avoid more important commitments. Devotion of excessive time to rest, recreations, amusement, television, light reading or the like. Waste of employer's time, or shoddy or inadequate work.

Indifference. Unconcern over injustice to others, especially that caused by currently accepted social standards; or unmindfulness of the suffering of the world. Failure to become adequately informed on both sides of contemporary issues or on the Christian principles involved. Neglect of duties to state or community. Failure to provide adequately for, or to treat justly those in our employ.

Ignoring of needy, lonely or unpopular persons in our own or the parish family, or in the neighbourhood; or unwillingness to minister to them. Insufficient attention to the religious and other needs of our family. Failure to fulfil our obligation of Christian missionary witness, or to take a full and informal part in the effort to make the Church's unity and holiness a manifest reality on earth.

Nothing happens in God's world by mistake? Some questions . . .

If I am capable of NOT following God's will, then it is possible for a state of affairs in the world NOT to reflect God's will: there will be a gap where my action should be or an action where there should be a gap.

If that is true for me, is that not true for everyone in the world and therefore for all states of affairs in the world?

Does God always get his own way?

It is God's will that people who die of alcoholism do so?

Or are parlous states of affairs in the human world the result of the exercise of free will granted us by a loving God who would like us to align ourselves with Him as a matter of choice not obligation, with the concomitant possibility that we may turn away from Him?

Is 'acceptance' really the answer to all my problems?

"The fact is, of course, that resignation is not a virtue at all. On the contrary, resignation is a sin. What we commonly dignify with the fine name of resignation is really an unwholesome mixture of cowardice and sloth. We have no business to be resigned to inharmony of any kind, because inharmony cannot be the Will of God. We have no business to accept ill-health, or poverty, or sinfulness, or strife, or unhappiness, or remorse, with resignation. We have no right to accept anything less than freedom and harmony and joy, for only with these things do we glorify God, and express His Holy Will, which is our raison d'être.


It is our most sacred duty, out of loyalty to God Himself, to refuse to accept anything less than all-round happiness and success, and we shall not be following out the wishes and instructions of [God] if we do accept less." (Emmet Fox, The Sermon on the Mount, Chapter Seven)
The 'Acceptance is the Answer' story at the back of the Big Book ('Alcoholics Anonymous') is a very popular reading at AA meetings and often quoted.

"And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing, or situation—some fact of my life—unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing, or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment. Nothing, absolutely nothing, happens in God's world by mistake," (p. 417:1).
The central idea of this passage is sound—any disturbance I have may indeed stem from a refusal to accept that a state of affairs is as it is at that particular moment. There are other reasons too, however: disturbance may arise from the insight that the state of affairs whose existence I have conceded is utterly unacceptable and requires concerted action to remedy it.

In addition, the proposed solution to all problems—acceptance as described here—is not consistent with the programme of recovery set out on pages 1–164 of the book 'Alcoholics Anonymous'.

Even Step One is patently NOT about acceptance. It is about admission of that which is thoroughly unacceptable.

"We learned that we had to fully concede to our innermost selves that we were alcoholics," (p. 30:2).

"1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable."
It is interesting to me that the words 'accept' and 'acceptance' are NOT used with reference to Step One in the basic text.

Admission and concession are painful. Once the truth—that we are alcoholics—has been admitted and conceded, there are two options:

(1) "Go on to the bitter end blotting out the consciousness of our INTOLERABLE [= unacceptable?] situation as best we could"

or

(2) "ACCEPT spiritual help" (p. 25:3).

The first of these is essentially resignation—the ACCEPTANCE of the current state of affairs as it is. If I had accepted my alcoholism, I would have followed route (1). When I finally admitted my alcoholism and conceded defeat, I found what I found so objectionable, I sought escape "with all the desperation of drowning men," (p. 28:2).

Step Six is also not about acceptance of character defects—it is about willingness to have them removed because they are objectionable, i.e. UNacceptable (cf. p. 76:1).

Examples of acceptance in the basic text section of the Book:

"He accepted the plan outlined in this book," (p. xxxi).

"These were revolutionary and drastic proposals, but the moment I fully accepted them, the effect was electric," (p. 14:2).

"We were in a position where life was becoming impossible, and if we had passed into the region from which there is no return from human aid, we had but two alternatives: One was to go on to the bitter end, blotting out the consciousness of our intolerable situation as best we could; and the other, to accept spiritual help," (p. 25:3).

"Fred would not believe himself an alcoholic, much less accept a spiritual remedy for his problem," (p. 39:2).

"You are sure to find someone desperate enough to accept with eagerness what you offer," (p. 96:1).
Time and time again, 'acceptance' is used to describe the desperate adoption of a set of revolutionary and drastic proposals, not supine resignation followed by passive 'handing over' (which also is not an idea contained within the basic text).

To go back to what The Fantastic Mr Fox's solution is:

"We are to pray and meditate, and reorganize our lives in accordance with his teaching, continuously and untiringly until our goal is attained." (Emmet Fox, The Sermon on the Mount, Chapter Seven)
This is echoed throughout the Big Book. What is the REAL solution to all our problems?

"We usually conclude the period of meditation with a prayer that we be shown all through the day what our next step is to be, that we be given whatever we need to take care of such problems. We ask especially for freedom from self-will, and are careful to make no request for ourselves only," (p. 87:1).

"For if an alcoholic failed to perfect and enlarge his spiritual life through work and self-sacrifice for others, he could not survive the certain trials and low spots ahead," (p. 15:0).

"Next we launched out on a course of vigorous action," (p. 63:4).

"Now we need more action, without which we find that 'faith without works is dead,' " (p. 76:2).

"All of us spend much of our spare time in the sort of effort which we are going to describe. A few are fortunate enough to be situated that they can give nearly all their time to the work," (p. 19:1).
There are endless further examples.

The acceptance that is the answer to all my problems is not resignation: it is the acceptance of a plan of action that will revolutionise my internal state of being, which will then manifest in every area of my life.

Serenity has come to me not through acceptance but through wholehearted and active engagement in what I trust to be God's will for me.

"We are in the world to play the role He assigns. Just to the extent that we do as we think He would have us, and humbly rely on Him, does He enable us to match calamity with serenity," (p. 68:2).