Have you ever had the experience of hearing unexpected right words at just the right time? This experience usually is associated with a feeling that is a mixture of wonder, excitement and awe in something beyond the work of human hands.
I experienced this during the weekend of the 10th anniversary of 9-11. Three of us from St. Anthony Messenger Press were in Albuquerque, N.M., to meet with Father Richard Rohr and staff at the Center for Action and Contemplation, which he leads.
We were there for the webinar the center held in conjunction with the release of his newest book, Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps (St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2011), a live and online event that drew about 250 individuals and groups from 48 of the United States and another more than 25 countries (with another webinar planned for Nov. 5).
During that weekend of the webinar, a 9/11 Sunday Mass where the gospel and homily he preached focused on forgiveness and, in the interview I conducted two days later with him, Father Richard talked about tragedy, brokenness all of us experience or have experienced and the healing that begins when we make space for God in our lives and our hearts.
I asked him where, as he is admittedly not in a twelve-step program himself, did the idea come for Breathing Under Water. “I can really say honestly that it didn’t come from the outside in. It came from the inside out,” he said, adding he drew much from his love of the scriptures and the gospel and “my constant contact both in the jail ministry” and in retreats with people in twelve-step programs.
In his feeling privileged to attend twelve-step meetings as a guest, “a friend of Bill W,” he experienced a sense of “what church should feel like” as a place of humility, honesty and “dealing with what is instead of just abstract, abstruse belief systems.”
“We Christians say, ‘I believe this’ and ‘I believe that,’” he said. “We hope they do believe it, but we’re not sure if it asks anything of the soul, or the heart.”
Yet, with twelve-step programs, he stressed, it isn’t “about a belief system” but rather “concrete dealing with my own humanity, with my own failure, with my own truthfulness.”
In a world where there are multiple points of views, often antagonistic toward one another, Father Richard reminds us that “if there is one thing we can all agree on is that we are all weak human beings.”
From that starting point–or as the first of the 12 steps proclaims, “We admitted we were powerless…that our lives had become unmanageable.” We don’t have “to pretend strength or superiority or more intelligence or all of the things I’m afraid we all do,” Father Richard said. “You don’t have to play any games.”
The Franciscan priest said that, for him, “that’s the very meaning of the crucified Jesus.”
“We said even in the Catholic vocabulary, ‘By the wounds, we are healed.’ That’s what the twelve-step program has said,” he added. “The wound is the entrance way.”
What it is not is “moral superiority, not belief systems,” not self-righteousness, all of the things that elevate our ego, diminish the soul, he added. What he said he saw in twelve-step meetings and what it provides us a clue into the fruits of woundedness was “soul expansion.”
It was upon my return from the western United States that I was faced with someone experiencing great turmoil, alienation, desperation. I was able to remember my time listening to Father Richard and reading Breathing Under Water and, beyond offering some empathy and support, could remind her of the power of woundedness in finding the seeds of healing.
It is a message as old as Christianity with resurrection following crucifixion.
Photo top: Father Richard Rohr holds a copy of his newest book, Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps (St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2011), after opening the first box that had arrived in a palate shipment to the Center for Action and Contemplation. (Photo by Mark Lombard)
Middle photo: Father Richard Rohr holds a copy of his newest book, Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps, after the September 10, 2011, webinar at the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, N.M. (Photo by Mark Lombard)