Tuesday, July 05, 2016
Sermon for the 12 Step Liturgy
All Saints’ Chapel
The Church Divinity School of the Pacific
Wednesday March 14, 2001
Robert Whalley, Visiting Chaplain
You don’t think you really have a problem, you smoke weed, or you enjoy a drink, or food feeds you, or sex, coffee, relationships, whatever. It isn’t a real big deal, it is a safe little corner for comfort and self-care really and you aren’t hurting anybody, except yourself maybe, much. But there have been a few folks making little remarks, and there were some late papers, and you notice that schedules and laundry and appointments and expectations get put off, and you really hate that fuzzy feeling some mornings and let’s face it, more and more afternoons, and what used to be a little safety valve has gotten bigger now, and it feels like something that you used to think was important might leak out, like your life, except that your life is now deeply tied in with this most intimate refreshing little rite, ritual, relationship with a substance, and you wonder sometimes if you use it or it uses you. And you never expected to see yourself on this corner, really at a dead end, wondering where to go from here.
Because , in a short period of time a couple of friends, your therapist, and an AA Nazi-Evangelist you studiously avoid at meals, all ask what you have to gain by not going to a 12 step meeting. So one day you walk out alone past the parking lot and turn right to go over to the student health center at Cal and you are sweating a bit and you feel angry and scared, and excited and hopeful in a way you cannot name and like you are losing or gaining some unnamed virginity all over again.
And you pray….
Listen: I am doing what I can, and it's not enough. And I am being the best that I know, and it no longer works. So somebody open the bloody door!
So God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, the wisdom to know the difference. All that stuff, Because I believe, and I don’t know; I have faith, and I am not sure. And here I am, on the edge of my own understanding, of my own limits. You be there! Be my hope, my faith, my vision! Be there now! Please….
So you go to the 12 Step meeting and you hate it. The group meets in a generic classroom with blackboards covered by notes for somebody’s staff meeting, the lighting is bad, the ventilation sucks and the liturgy – even if they don’t call it that -- is the worse of twentieth century middle-America-speak! One person talks about this as a spiritual program and a Higher Power and you think: “If this is spiritual, it is pretty flat: and if there’s a power here, it is a pretty drab one: where are the smells and bells, where is the music and the lights, where are the icons?
So you hate it and you would go anywhere else if there were anywhere else to go. But the fact is that you want what they have, you don’t want to use, you don’t want to fall back in that old narrow suffocating relationship, that dead end. You realize that you have a problem – which is getting bigger and bigger- that you cannot manage. So you keep coming back. Help my unbelief. Please.
And it begins to work. The icons show up after a while in surprising ways. The same people, who seemed so small, boring and whining at the start, turn out to be decent, complex, funny, pretty amazing human beings after all, doing the best they can, honestly, openly, willingly; taking up the business of life for life’s sake, on life’s terms, which means you hear people moaning over pain, crying, laughing, taking risks, feeling feelings, reaching dead ends, starting again. In other words, getting real. The icons get closer.
And these drab little rooms, this flat little liturgy, their subversive meetings in basements and back-rooms, auditoriums, empty classrooms, recovery centers, turn out to be gates to larger life, places where people meets limits and find freedom that is bigger and more graceful than you could ever imagine before. It gets more real.
The icons grow too! You see lives changed, you hear miracles happen, you see faith practiced in daily living, people giving their wills and lives to a higher power, taking up their lives as stewards, as co-creators, and as gifts to give to others. Even to you. You think you have a unique problem and the person across the room tells your story when they tell their own. And in that you hear some of your solution too. You see not only a way of healing your own wounds, but a way to be in a world where people come together to wake up, to tell the truth, to heal the world from all our patterns and diseases of addiction, to practice these principals in all our affairs. It all becomes iconic: the stranger, the neighbor, the community gathered all become lighted doorways opening you up to a new way of being, a heartfelt, humble, liturgically deficient, yet wonderful way of confession and forgiveness and discernment and renewal and ethics and action and promise too.
And one day someone comes to you at a meeting when you have been spilling your soul, or sharing your rage, or maybe just whining softly into the ozone. Maybe it is that life is getting better and you’re finding a way without using that old stuff, maybe you don’t even remember what you said after you said it, it doesn’t matter. But somebody comes up to you and tells you, “What you said really helped me.” And you realize that you have become an icon too. You are getting into it, over it, through it. You are an addict, an alcoholic, a codependent, helpless over food or smoking or coke or crack or sex or money or relationships. And you are beginning to base your identity and your hope on the fact of a place you never want to visit again, the moment you met your greatest lack and reached out in unbelief to receive an unexpected gift where grace was born. And God is growing you there now.
In the name of Christ.