Twelve steps ascending

The need for recovery is all around us
October 31, 2006

Father Richard Rohr, a well-known Franciscan priest, called Alcoholics Anonymous and its 12 steps America’s “great contribution” to spirituality.

Alcoholics Anonymous was born in Calvary Episcopal Church in New York, and the 12 steps came out of the teaching of its rector, the Rev. Samuel Moor Shoemaker. Yet it was two drunks in recovery, Bill Wilson and Bob Smith, whose life experience gave flesh to the Spirit.

In a very real sense, their experience helped us all to understand the true meaning of the phenomenon of recovery. It begins in the admission of powerlessness, that we are not God, and moves ultimately to a “spiritual awakening” and carrying the message to others. Recovery is far more than simply abstinence. Indeed, if persons do not get beyond abstinence to that awakening, they are not likely to maintain abstinence.

Recovery is to go back to reclaim the person from which we have been running, the person God created. In Jesus’ words, it is to become little children, no longer seeking to be “as god.”

Why is this 12-step program perhaps the fastest-growing spiritual movement in America today? Most of its members were raised in church-going families, yet they found the Spirit outside the church. Why has the 12-step movement grown so rapidly while its birth parent is struggling to survive?

Perhaps we need recovery just as desperately as the alcoholic or addicted person hitting bottom needs it. Notice I say “need.” I believe we are in equally dire straits. Our own Episcopal Church is not the one in which I was raised. It embraced diversity as it celebrated one Spirit in communion. It bred a great priest who served as midwife to Alcoholics Anonymous.

The need for recovery is all around us, in a nation divided between red and blue states, in which Christians judge one another in ways in which Christ never did. We need recovery in a world in which religious wars have become our most common violence.

We need recovery – rebirth. Nicodemus still does not comprehend its meaning. Can we, the church, lead the way as we were commissioned to do? Maybe we need to begin by going downstairs in our church where the 12 steps really took hold and grew and ask for direction.