“Until and unless there is a person, situation, event, idea, conflict, or relationship that you cannot ‘manage,’ you will never find the True Manager. So God makes sure that several things will come your way that you cannot manage on your own.”
–Richard Rohr, Breathing Under Water
These simple words are likely to strike a chord of recognition in almost every human being. Rohr, known world-wide for his focus on transformational and mystical traditions, has written more than twenty books about spirituality, recovery and relationships, and his writing style is straightforward and concrete.
A Roman Catholic monastic, priest, activist and Christian teacher, Rohr writes that we are all addicted to something: alcohol, work, sugar, control, pills, relationships, cigarettes, cheap novels. Sometimes the cravings we have and the chaos that ensues is obvious, like an addiction to alcohol or gambling. Other types of addictions are less easily identified; Rohr believes until we name them, admit and accept our flaws, and surrender that brokenness to God’s loving care, we cannot begin to heal ourselves, our loved ones or our world.
It’s hard to avoid at least a passing knowledge of the Twelve Steps and the anonymous fellowships that use them; they appear over and over in popular culture. Less well-known is the fact that the Twelve Steps draw heavily on theological principles from the Oxford Group, a Christian organization founded by American Christian missionary Dr. Frank Buchman.
Rohr takes the Twelve Steps and his understanding of the Bible to lead us to the idea that the messes we make in our lives contain the answers we seek.
The Oxford Group has this in common with Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), Cocaine Anonymous (CA), Overeaters Anonymous (OEA), and many other groups: it’s not a religion. Instead, it’s an approach to life using Biblical principles “appealing to all people of good will, of any religious faith or of none,” as one of those Twelve Step groups puts it in their introduction. So Rohr takes the Twelve Steps and his understanding of the Bible to lead us to the idea that the messes we make in our lives contain the answers we seek. Rohr says God not only loves us in spite of our mistakes, God loves us because of our human weaknesses.
No Matter How Many Times We Get It Wrong, It’s All Right
That God loves us because of our inability to love ourselves and others is an idea that brings great relief to some. It’s like having a parent say, “I know you wrecked the car and dropped out of school, but I’m still in your corner.”
On the other hand, if you haven’t wrecked the car and you made the honor roll, you might be just a little put out with your brother or sister. And that circles right back around to important ideas popping up again and again in the ministry of Jesus. Think about the Prodigal Son, about healing people who believe, about hanging out with tax collectors, prostitutes and thieves.
For families living with addiction, it’s all too easy to fill our thoughts with “what-if”s and “if-I-had-only”s. Rohr’s message that we remain beloved of God, and that our loved ones who struggle with addiction are not morally deficient but sick, is something to cling to when everything around us seems to be falling to pieces.
Rohr’s introduction opens with a quote from Jose Ortega y Gasset: “These are the only genuine ideas, the ideas of the shipwrecked. All the rest is rhetoric, posturing, farce.” For families tangling with the pain and devastation of alcohol and chemical addictions, that feeling of being shipwrecked is familiar. Desperation might motivate us to paddle a little harder, try a different solution, change something. And just in case we have a sinking spell, it’s good to know about Breathing Under Water.
Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps
by Richard Rohr
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By Karyn Zweifel; piebird photo by Karyn Zweifel
Originally published in Recovery Campus Magazine, Summer 2015