12 Step Recovery: Illumination

  1. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

Some say that the Eleventh Step is the least attended in the whole program. Once you’ve passed the Ninth Step, you may be restored to sanity, including emotional sobriety. Then the Tenth and Twelfth Steps appear to be the ongoing practice to hold on to your gains. Perhaps I might have reversed the last two steps to get the most natural ordering, but that would have just made the Eleventh Step even easier to ignore. Why is this step so vital?

The Good Samaritan Window (panel 4), Chartres Cathedral

The Good Samaritan Window (panel 4), Chartres Cathedral

The Eleventh Step is the doorway out of the Twelve Steps and into the broader spiritual journey. In the ancient Christian tradition (and in the Perennial Tradition, I would say), this path was described as having three stages, states or “ways:” purgative, illuminative and unitive. Recovery is mostly about the purgative way – the purging of the demons of addiction (all kinds). To move fully into the illuminative way, we need “prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God.”

Much ink has been spilled throughout history describing the illuminative way. I will not attempt a coherent synthesis of the traditional sources but instead give my own intuition. First I note that illumination is a word close to the Buddhist word, “enlightenment.” That might be a coincidence or a clue that by this point we have to get out of our doctrinal forts, hence, “as we understood Him.” For me, illumination starts by leaving the dualistic mind (all or nothing thinking) and learning to see “what is,” … and keep seeing, delaying any judgment or self-interested evaluation. Then illumination continues by seeing, and seeing some more, God-in-all-things. In everything and every situation, something of the goodness of God is revealed, and the more I look the more I realize that God is better than I ever thought.

This step ends with an intention to desire only God’s will for us. The discernment of God’s will is a topic for a whole other series of blogs. Personally, I do not think that divine will is a specific and predetermined script for our lives. If I can be cryptic, I would say that God’s will for us is God’s will, period, in this particular situation, using our particular set of gifts and wounds. How to get this specific application of God’s general will is the matter of discernment. For now, I will just end with the Ignatian Suscipe (Receive) prayer, one of my favourites.

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding,
and my entire will,
All I have and call my own.
You have given all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it.
Everything is yours; do with it what you will.
Give me only your love and your grace,
that is enough for me.

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