The Knives That Hollowed the Lute

The Knives That Hollowed the Lute

We welcome guest blogger Ron Hofius, who blogs about the just-released book, Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps, by Richard Rohr. Breathing Under Water is available with a free online study guide

The first time I listened to a CD of Richard Rohr, I couldn’t stop until I had devoured every word. This was incredible stuff! Here was a Catholic priest plumbing the depths of everything I most deeply knew but couldn’t express about the spiritual life and voicing amazingly challenging and cogent observations about the church in which I was raised.  It was refreshing, hard-hitting thinking, replete with references to people and paths I had come to love, like Thomas Merton, Ken Wilber, the Desert Fathers, the Buddha.

With concepts like religion becoming “tribal,” preoccupied with codes of belonging rather than providing systems for contact that transforms, and dualistic vs. non-dual thinking, holding the tension of opposites, true self/false self, and the very different agendas in the two halves of life, Richard’s teachings quickly gave new depth to and new language for the truths I had come to experience in my own spiritual journey.

Deeply personal contact with the Divine

In Breathing Under Water Richard brings all those concepts and more to life and ties them directly to the Twelve Steps. Richard often says, “As a priest, the one thing—maybe the only thing—of real value that I can do is to teach people how to pray. Once a person is truly praying, my work is done.”

Richard’s teachings are rich in metaphor that connects us to a deeper reality than the mind can access directly. With the mind thus both engaged and, ironically, out of the way, the real work can begin. And the “work” is really a surrender that allows a deeply personal contact with the Divine. This contact is the stuff of transformation. These are the truths Richard has interwoven here with a discussion about addiction and recovery, because these are the truths embedded deeply, as he shows, in the Twelve Steps and in the pursuit of ongoing recovery.

As Richard illustrates throughout Breathing Under Water, these truths are not accessible through theory and teaching alone. As Step 1 drives home for anyone who has suffered the gut-wrenching realities of addiction, it is only in those abject, solitary moments of surrender, those moments when an addict strives to “be good” and have power in the face of relentless powerlessness, that the addict cracks open sufficiently to let grace in.

A well-defended, tidy girding of self-will and self-sufficiency serve as an ironic bar against the inflow of grace. As Khalil Gibran put it, “Is not the lute that soothes your spirit the very wood that was hollowed with knives?”

A homecoming to grace

The Twelve Steps, as Breathing Under Water illustrates on page after page, ending in a crescendo of depth and poetry in the final chapter, are a paint-by-numbers way to clean and shape that lute, and to offer it to the Master to play. Breathing Under Water is, for me, another reminder that without those knives having carved me, I would never have known at this level the awesome privilege of that Breath passing through me.

In church on Sunday morning as a child I had moments of vital contact with God. But that thread was stretched, thinned, weakened by the isolation and suffering of addiction until there was no more religion and little spirit left. I found that vital contact again, as Richard jokes, “on Wednesday night in the church basement.”

The Twelve Steps belong not to any one religion or spiritual path. We each find our own path as we work the program. But in this book Richard demonstrates clearly that the Twelve Steps are deeply consistent with the spiritual path of my birth. For me the Twelve Steps have been a homecoming to a grace from which I had never been separated, walking me step by step to a consciousness I thought was lost.

Richard Rohr and Venus

Franciscan priest Richard Rohr is founding director of the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He considers the proclamation of the gospel to be his primary call, and some related themes he addresses include eco-spirituality, Scripture as liberation, non-dual thought, the integration of action and contemplation, peace and justice issues, and male spirituality. Author of numerous books, including Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality, Preparing for Christmas With Richard Rohr: Daily Meditations for Advent, and Wondrous Encounters: Scripture for Lent, he gives retreats and lectures internationally. He is a regular contributing writer for Sojourners and Tikkun magazines. Richard Rohr spoke about Breathing Under Water during a live webcast on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2011. Click here for more information about the webcast.


Ron Hofius

Ron Hofius is an information technology professional with 32 years of active recovery in one of the many anonymous fellowships. He is an active sponsor and frequent event speaker on the topic of spirituality and the Twelve Steps. In 2008 Ron was a presenter at Richard Rohr’s conference, “Breathing Under Water.”


Featured image photo ©Ismaele Benati



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