Sometimes I get this very tired feeling around certain topics to do with recovery and alcoholism. I can’t wait to see how unenthralled I shall be with them after a decade or so (one day at a time). Every time I am asked to say something or write something on the subject of ‘prayer and meditation’, a number of warning bells go off in my head. The subject is full of pitfalls, rather like chatty asides on the US presidential elections, amusing unless you think of possible consequences to do with war and more illegal invasions or the brutal glossing over of torture etc. Then there is nothing to be said and so much needing to be done that nobody knows where to start.
But eloquence from spiritual writers aside, it is sometimes not enough just to quote Thomas Merton or Thich Nhat Hanh or Julian of Norwich and sidle off quietly. I have come to understand that recovery and the gift of sobriety opens us to understand reality more compassionately and perceptively and that the numinous is to be found in the most unlikely and mundane of places. And the only way to encourage others to share their experience of this is to share my own.
Here is something I posted on a forum dear to my heart but prone to all the glib cheerleading that passes for spiritual enthusiasm and faith talk online. I couldn’t say very much and yet I do feel that somehow in these discouraged days I am learning to recognise what I have in common with every other suffering alcoholic and with all of humanity. Which sounds dangerously grandiose, but I have come a long way from thinking of myself as a tormented mystic….
“Each time this topic comes up, I post with great reluctance because it is difficult to speak of something so travestied and liable to misunderstanding. Alcoholism made a mockery of what I once called my ‘faith life’. The movement from desperation to gratitude is one for which I don’t have words. The traditional religious language doesn’t seem to fit. In recovery, many of the compassionate and perceptive insights shared with me have come from AA members who would define themselves as agnostic or atheist.
“Earlier today I was reading a review of the novel Home by Marilynne Robinson, looking at the theme of the Prodigal Son. Her character Ames, a failure by all accounts, comments: “Augustine says the Lord loves each of us as an only child, and that has to be true. ‘He will wipe the tears from all faces.’” The reviewer pointed out that each of us is lost and a failure, trying to find our way home and that we are all without exception weeping and in need of comfort. There is nobody who is not bereft and struggling at some level of our being, nobody who is not in need of comfort. It moved me very much to think that we are all included in this image and invited to reach out to one another.”