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think this book comes closer to the real meaning of spirituality than anything I've looked at in the last twenty years."

'I

—John Bradshaw

f^

THE

SPIRITUALITY STORYTELLING

AND THE JOURNEY TO WHOLENESS C%NEST /3TjRTZ Author oiNot-God AND ^ ^.



Catherine ^etcham

PRAISE FOR THE SPIRITUALITY OF IMPERFECTION

"A

brilliant

anthology of wisdom stories from

traditions centered

around

a

the great

all

most compelling and discerning

issue."

—M.

Scott Peck

wisdom, this book is a understanding of our humanity that awakens and

"Filled with the fruits of compassionate heartfelt

heals."



Jack Kornfield, author of Stories of the Spirit, Stories of the

"The

stories

you

tell

may

tuality of Imperfection

is

save someone's

aimed

an age-old tradition of spiritual questions of the

human

Heart and

at

.

.

.

A

life.

Path with Heart

.

.

.

The

anyone interested

literature that asks the

condition."

Spiri-



in

hard

Asheville Citizen-Times

Digitized by the Internet Archive in

2012

http://archive.org/details/spiritualityofimOOkurt

The Spirituality

Imperfection STORYTELLING AND THE JOURNEY TO WHOLENESS

Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham

BANTAM BOOKS New

York

Toronto

London

Sydney

Auckland

To

all

who

have, over the years, told us stories

most of all

.

.

.

but

Quinn, Robert MacNamara, Marvin Becker, Loren Baritz, Frank Freidel, Oscar Handlin, and William R. Hutchison, who taught us that history is to Ricnard

the greatest story.

THE SPIRITUALITY OF IMPERFECTION

A Bantam Book PUBLISHING HISTORY Bantam hardcover Bantam

edition published

May

1992

trade paperback edition/January 1994

For permissions, please see page 294. All rights reserved.

Copyright

©

1992 by Ernest Kurtz, Ph.D., and Katherine Ketcham.

Book design by Kathryn Library of Congress Catalog Card

No

part of

book

this

mav

Parise.

Number: 91-41088

be reproduced or transmitted in any

form or

by any means, electronic or mechanical including photocopying, recording, or by

permission

any information storage and

in writing

retrieval system,

without

from the publisher.

For information address:

Bantam

Books.

ISBN 0-553-37132-0 Published simultaneously in the United States and Canada

Bantam Books

are published by

Bantam

Books, a division of

Bantam

Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc. Its trademark, consisting of the words "Bantam Books" and the portrayal of a rooster, is Registered in U.S. Patent

Rcgistrada.

and Trademark Office and in other countries. Marca Bantam Books, 1540 Broadway, New York, New York PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

BVG

9

8

7

10036.

CONTENTS

A

Note

An

to the

Reader

vii

Introduction The Story of Spirituality

One

Part

TH

E

1

ROOTS OF WISP M 11

1

The Fragrance of

2

Beyond the Ordinary

30

3

The

42

4

A

5

Experiencing the Spiritual

6

Shared Vision, Shared

a Rose

15

Reality of Limitation

Sense of Balance

56

68

Hope

82

Part Two

THE DISCOVERIES OF A L C OHOLICS ANONYM U S 99 7

Spirituality Is Essential

8

Not Magic, but Miracle

... but

Different

105 118

CONTENTS 9 10

An Open-Ended

A

Spirituality

130

Pervasive Spirituality

144

Part Three

EXPER IENCING SPIRITU ALITY 157 11

Release

163

12

Gratitude

175

13

Humility

185

14

Tolerance

197

15

Forgiveness

213

16

Being-at-Home

227

Notes

245

Index

285

VI

NOTE TO THE READER

A

This book that

we

tell

first

retells

—the

stories

by hearing. Some

stories

over one hundred stories. These stories

—came

spirituality's story

to us first

heard in school, or in church; some were told by a loved

grandparent or a favorite aunt or uncle; and others, as we grew older,

were shared by friends or acquaintances. In the process of researching those stories

—exploring

sources, examining different versions, look-



making them more available to our readers we came across a few "new" anecdotes, but the majority of the tales we re-tell have their first source in memories memories of hearing that awaken yet other memories of living. ing for ways of

.

Some

some of

ings of tale.

us

readers, with different

.

memories,

these stories; there are

But, in truth, there are

when something

in

our

.

no new

own

will recall different render-

many

favorite tellings of

stories. Stories

any

become "new"

to

experience makes us ready to hear

them. Story-listening requires a childlike wisdom that combines innocence and experience, and no one can be both innocent and experi-

enced in the presence of every story.

And

so not every reader will

"get" every story, at least not "right away." Story, like the spirituality that

it

within

conveys, cannot be its

One enough

own

commanded

or forced;

it

must

float loosely

vehicle, the better to lodge in each hearer's individual spirit.

spiritual

to

tell

teacher

conclusions."

And

"If you them enough

cautions:

the story, respect

respect to let

your

listeners

them draw

their

another master began one of his books with a

story that consoles anyone

who must

"explaining" story:

vn

confront the impossibility of

NOTE TO THE READER

A

A

disciple

once complained, "You

tell

us stories, but you

never reveal their meaning to us." Said the master,

you

fruit

No one

"How would you like

and chewed can find

someone

it if

up before giving it your meaning for you. it

offered

to you?"

Not even the master/

*

The notes on sources and

ning on page 245. The apolis:

first

Augsburg, 1982),

related

comments

quotation here

is

generally appear in the back of the book, begin-

from William

p. 20; the final story in the

Mello, The Song of the Bird

(New

R. White, Speaking in Stories

Introduction

is

York: Doubleday- Image, 1982), p.

Vlll

(Minne-

adapted from Anthony de 1.

The Spirituality

imperfection

Introduction

Sftn

THE STORY OF SPIRITUALITY

Baseball teaches

us,

or has taught most of

us,

how

to deal

with failure.

young age that failure is the norm in baseball and, precisely because we have failed, we hold in high regard those who fail those who hit safely in one out of three chances and become less often

We

learn at a very



star players. I also find

it

fascinating that baseball, alone in sport,

considers errors to be part of the game, part of

its

rigorous truth.

Francis T. Vincent,

Jr.,

Commissioner of Baseball

Baseball, as

of the fits

its

Commissioner points

game and

perfection

is

1

out, teaches that errors are part

an impossible goal. Because his thought

as perfectly as possible the

theme of

this

book, we offer this revi-

sion of Mr. Vincent's insight:

Spirituality teaches us, or has taught failure.

We

life

.

.

.

learn at a very

sounds. For

literally

us,

how

that failure

errors are part of the game, part of

Discovering spirituality in the it

most of

young age

its

is

to deal with

the

norm

in

rigorous truth.

game of baseball

is

not so strange as

thousands of years, sages and saints have ex-

plored the ordinary and everyday in the attempt to understand the extraordinary and divine.

The

simply carrying and serving tea

ritual

of the Japanese tea ceremony



profound

is

a

spiritual exercise.

The

posture of kneeling in prayer conveys acceptance and mindfulness.

Standing up in a crowded

I'm an alcoholic," tude, tolerance,

room and

calls forth

and

saying,

"My name

is

John, and

the spiritual realities of humility, grati-

forgiveness.

INTRODUCTION many

and imperfection

recurring spiritual

forms, and

all spiritualities do not look on same way. But through the centuries a theme has emerged, one that is more sensitive to

Spirituality takes failure

in the

earthly concerns than to heavenly hopes. This spirituality tuality of imperfection less, eternal,

being basic

errors

They

for

it is

error-prone.

ourself, for to

To be human

ity is

human is

human

beings. To deny our

to be imperfect,

somehow

unanswerable questions, but to

way

to healing

human is we are "less

through the hurt. To be

a paradox, for according to that ancient vision,

somehow also both." we "nothing." Spiritual-

are not "everything," but neither are

discovered in that space between paradox's extremes, for there

we confront our

helplessness

and powerlessness, our woundedness.

seeking to understand our limitations,

we

our pain but an understanding of what

means

to

be

it

"blame"

for

means

and what

There

is:

is

it

our

no one

to

— neither ourselves nor anyone nor anything

Spirituality helps us first to see,

and then

eventually to accept the imperfection that

human

to hurt

healed. Spirituality begins with the acceptance that

our errors

In

seek not only an easing of

fractured being, our imperfection, simply

else.

in the

spiri-

time-

essential imperfection, the

than the gods, more than the beasts, yet

We

it is

Errors, of course, are part of

human

to ask

—the

yet

them, to be broken and ache for wholeness, to hurt

to try to find a

embody

is

be

And

old.

concerned with what

and immutable: the

are part of our truth as

deny

to

is

persist in asking

to

thousands of years

and inherent flaws of being human.

the game.

and

is

and ongoing,

irrevocable

is



fre-ing. Spirituality

lies at

understand, and

to

the very core of our

accepts that "If a thing

is

worth doing,

it is

worth doing badly." Rabbi Zusya

said,

"In the coming world, they will not ask me:

'Why were you not Moses?' They not Zusya?'

The

will ask

me: 'Why were you

"2

spirituality

of imperfection speaks to those

who

seek meaning

in the absurd, peace within the chaos, light within the darkness, joy

within the suffering sity

—without denying

the reality and even the neces-

of absurdity, chaos, darkness, and suffering. This

ality for the saints

or the gods, but for people

who

is

not a spiritu-

suffei

from what

l(

the philosopher-psychologist William

James called

torn-to-pieces-

INTRODUCTION hood" have

(his trenchant translation

all

known

of the

German human

be

that experience, for to

divided, fractured, pulled in a dozen directions serenity, for

The

some

.

is

and

.

We

to feel at times

to yearn for

healing of our "torn-to-pieces-hood."

Spirituality of Imperfection relates the continuing story of a

spirituality that speaks to bility

.

Zerrissenheit).

both the inevitability of pain and the possi-

of healing within the pain. This story can be traced back thou-

sands of years to Egyptian pharaohs, Hebrew prophets, and Greek

about the

thinkers. Beginning in the ancients' anguished questions

the spirituality of imperfection took

on new

meaning with the dawn of Christianity and the seemingly

endless,

nature of

human

life,

often inspired questions posed by the early Christians as they discov-

new way of

ered the implications of their

From

life.

the Desert Fathers and Mothers to Saint Augustine

Francis, into the Renaissance

and Reformation, the

perfection was continually created and re-created, adapted fied, told

and

and Saint

spirituality

retold. In the eighteenth century, Hasidic

of im-

and modi-

reawakening

to ancient insight inspired a renewal of Jewish inspiration; at the

same

on the new American continent, the Puritan theologian and pastor Jonathan Edwards began delineating the "sense of the heart" time,

that signaled the beginning of a uniquely this

American contribution

to

onflowing stream of spiritual insight.

Through the

nineteenth

and

twentieth

centuries,

this

self-

consciously imperfect tradition continued to challenge the very different, generally perfectionistic, expressions

main response of most

religions to the

of spirituality that were the

modern

age.

3

As contact with

Oriental cultures increased, so, too, did an appreciation for the variety

of spiritual sensitivities and expressions. Within the Western tradition itself,

unconventional thinkers from S0ren Kierkegaard and

Abraham

Lincoln to William James and Carl Jung enriched the story with their insights into the

And

wrenching

profound

realities

of

modern

life.

found little expresMost men and women in the twentieth century were cut off from this spirituality. They had no vocabulary and few concepts in which to articulate it, and the emphasis on perfection common to most religious expressions of the time yet

as these insights were, they

sion in the daily lives of ordinary people.

suggested a different approach. Then, in 1934, the year historian Sid-

ney Ahlstrom named annus mirabilis

—"that year

to

be wondered at"

INTRODUCTION

'

—the

tradition of a spirituality of imperfection

modern

On

voice.

found a thoroughly

4

a chill, rainy afternoon in

November

men

1934, two

sat

catercorner at the kitchen table of a brownstone house in

New

Brooklyn,

York.

On

the white oilcloth-covered table

stood a pitcher of pineapple juice, two glasses, and a bottle of gin recently retrieved from

tank of the

The

visitor,

gently as his offered

tall,

him

its

hiding place in the overhead

the adjacent bathroom.

toilet in

groomed and

neatly

bright-eyed,

smiled

craggy-faced host reached for the bottle and

a drink.

"No, thanks," Ebby

"Not drinking!

said.

Why

"I'm not drinking."

not?"

was so surprised that he

Bill

stopped pouring to look with concern

his old friend.

at

"What's the matter?" "I don't

need

it

anymore," Ebby replied simply. "I've got

religion."

Religion?

Damn!

For a fleeting moment,

about his friend's sanity. Ebby,

after

all,

wondered

Bill

was a drinking buddy

from way back. Now, apparently, he had gone off the deep end his alcoholic insanity had become religious insanity!



Bill

was

gulped a slug of

gin. Well,

dammit, not him. Religion

for the weak, the old, the hopeless; he'd never "get reli-

gion." 5

Bill

Wilson never did "get religion," but he did get sober, and

unlike Ebby,

who would

radic drinking, Bill stayed sober. that

grew precisely from

more

die destitute after thirty

How? Through

years of spo-

a spiritual

his realization that religion, with

program

its

canons

him and

the seemingly con-

tradictory understanding that without help from a

power greater than

and commandments, wouldn't work himself, he later said

was

"We must find some

spiritual basis for living/' Bill

about himself and other alcoholics,

Alcoholics

nomenon

lost.

for

Anonymous

"else

we

die."

has been called the most significant phe-

in the history of ideas in the twentieth century.

6

In the half

century since William Griffith Wilson, Dr. Robert Holbrook Smith,

and

their first followers gave the

new

fellowship a name, A.A. has

INTRODUCTION More important of imperfection many

helped millions of alcoholics to get and to stay sober. for

—the



story of the spirituality

our story

other individuals have found in the twelve-step program pioneered by

Anonymous

Alcoholics

healings they were unable to find in either

psychology or religion.

Why

is

How

this so?

does

happen? The answer

this

is

extraordi-

narily simple: A.A. taps into an ancient source of spiritual awareness,

making

modern men and women

available to

the long and rich tradi-

tion of the spirituality of imperfection. True to tradition,

it is

one hallmark of



the unconventionality of A. A.'s spirituality



this

wariness

its

dogma and directives of organized religion that has appealed many men and women who, like Bill Wilson, could not find the

of the to so

answer to their despair in conventional

religion.

For although

it

insists

on the

necessity of "the spiritual" for recovery, A.A. has always pre-

sented

its

program

The problem

as "spiritual rather than religious."

Wilson once complained,

with organized religions,

Bill

how confoundedly

all

of them are." 7 The spirituality of imper-

fection that forms the heart

and soul of Alcoholics Anonymous makes

no claim

a spirituality

right

be "right."

to

It is

more

"is their

claim

interested in questions

than in answers, more a journey toward humility than a struggle for perfection.

The

spirituality of imperfection begins

trying to be perfect

is

the

most

tragic

with the recognition that

human

mistake. In direct con-

tradiction of the serpent's promise in Eden's garden, the coholics

Anonymous

God." According

suggests, "First of

to the

way of

life

all,

we had

that flows

from

book Al-

to quit playing this insight,

it is

only by ceasing to play God, by coming to terms with errors and shortcomings, and by accepting the inability to control every aspect of their lives that alcoholics (or

and

any

human

beings) can find the peace

serenity that alcohol (or other drugs, or sex,

money, material

possessions, power, or privilege) promise but never deliver.

Where and how did

the earliest

members of

Alcoholics

discover this ancient "spirituality of imperfection" that

much least

as

offer so

modern world? They were not, after all, great thinkers, at the usual sense. They were everyday people who struggled,

to the

not in

we

Anonymous

would

all

do, with the ordinary tasks of daily living. Yet their experi-

INTRODUCTION ences, drinking

work

and newly

sober, allowed

them

to assemble a patch-

of spirituality, weaving threads borrowed directly and

quilt

from the traditions of Greek, Jewish, and Christian thought which they lived, piecing together the

indirectly

that shaped the culture in

thoughts and experiences of more than twenty-five centuries of

spiri-

tual thinkers.

So

it is

Anonymous, we can Hebrew Greek philosopher Socrates, of Church Fa-

that in the spirituality of Alcoholics

recognize the contributions of such spiritual geniuses as the

prophet Jeremiah and the

and Mothers,

thers such as Ignatius of Antioch, of the Desert Fathers

monks

of the

and Gregory, of the

Basil

and Francis of Assisi, of mystics such ers as diverse as Calvin

saints

as Julian

Augustine and Benedict of Norwich, of reform-

and Luther and Caussade, of the rabbinic

commentators and the Baal Shem Tov, of William James and Carl to name but some of Jung, of the brothers Niebuhr and D. T. Suzuki



the most obvious influences. A.A.'s earliest ideas

and

members

"tried

on" the

insights of these brilliant, often eccentric thinkers,

whatever matched their

own

and

experience became part of the patch-

work.

"Matched

their

own

experience."

based in the lived acceptance of

The

human

spirituality of imperfection

limitations

is

and powerlessness.

Anonymous tested ideas not dogma but against the reality of idea didn't fit their own experience,

In keeping with this tradition, Alcoholics

on the

basis

everyday

of some

living. If a

revelation or

thought or

More than anything else, then, A.A.'s Twelve Steps came to embody a spirituality that works, offering not just theory or technique but a way of life and a way of thinking with a language, it

was

rejected.

traditions,

century

The

and

insights uniquely oriented to the realities of twentieth-

living.

Spirituality of Imperfection tells the story of the ancient tradi-

tions of spirituality its

coming

unique problems. In that

spirituality

created. reflects

many thousands

Who

into contact with the collision

a

of years old was both rediscovered and re-

were the ancient architects of

this spirituality,

Greek, Jewish, Christian, and Eastern influences?

cance do their insights have for modern times?

How

What

did

it

which signifi-

happen

bunch of twentieth-century drunks found their experience veriby (and verifying of) ancient wisdom? What are the changes that

that a fied

modern world and

between the old and the new,

INTRODUCTION program brings about

the twelve-step

modern world? Why do

varied inhabitants of the

need a

program

spiritual

in the lives of so

so

seem

to

alcoholics

Why

in order to stay sober?

people find a need for spirituality in their

many and

do so many

lives?

The Spirituality of Imperfection examines these questions, looking beyond A.A.'s Twelve Steps to the origins and significance of their

we

inherent, abiding message. Following the tradition that will its

attempt to

tell

modern-day

parables, stories.

and

especially stories. For

In the midst of sorrow

when "a

we

—both the ancient and —through myths,

our story of spirituality

detailing in Alcoholics

mourners and celebrants ble,

explore, tale

Anonymous

once upon a time, people told

and

of joy, both

in the presence

told stories. But especially in times of trou-

miracle" was needed and the limits of

human

ability

were reached, people turned to storytelling as a way of exploring the

fundamental mysteries:

Who

are we?

Why

are we?

How

These most basic questions are spiritual questions, stories that

to live?

so the

people told concerned spirituality. They also concerned

imperfection



knowing and tion's

we and

are

the limits experienced by those subject to failures of

to other "unables"

and "cannots." Without imperfec-

"gap between intentions and

results," there

would be no

story.

When

the founder of Hasidic Judaism, the great Rabbi Israel

Shem

Tov, saw misfortune threatening the Jews,

it was his custom to go into a certain part of the forest to meditate. There he would light a fire, say a special prayer, and the

miracle would be accomplished and the misfortune averted. Later,

when

his

disciple,

the

celebrated

Maggid of

Mezritch, had occasion, for the same reason, to intercede with

heaven, he would go to the same place in the forest and say:

do not know how to light able to say the prayer," and again the

"Master of the Universe, the

fire,

but

I

am

still

listen! I

miracle would be accomplished.

Rabbi Moshe-leib of Sasov, in order to save his people once more, would go into the forest and say, "I do not Still later,

know how to light the fire. I do not know the prayer, but I know the place and this must be sufficient." It was sufficient, and the miracle was accomplished. Then it fell to Rabbi Israel of Rizhin

to

overcome misfor-

.

INTRODUCTION

tune. Sitting in his armchair, his head in his hands, he spoke

am

God: "I

to

prayer,

do

and

to

is

And For

it

fire,

and

I

do not know the

cannot even find the place in the

I

tell

unable to light the

and

the story,

was

this

must be

forest. All

I

can

>

sufficient.'

sufficient.

God made man

because he loves

stories.

8

them helped our ancestors to live human. But somewhere along the way our ability to tell (and to listen to) stories was lost. As life speeded up, as the possibility of both communication and annihilation became ever more instantaneous, people came to have less tolerance for that which comes only over time. The demand for perfection and the craving for ever more control over a world that paradoxically seemed ever more Listening to stories and telling



humanly

to be

out of control eventually bred impatience with story. As time went by, the art of storytelling

fell

by the wayside, and those who went before

human

us gradually lost part of what had been the

most basic questions, the

ability to ask the

"One of our problems today with the literature of the

is

that

spirit," the

—the

heritage

spiritual questions.

we

are not well acquainted

mythologist Joseph Campbell

observed. "We're interested in the news of the day and the problems

of the hour." Thus distracted,

we no longer

listen to

those

"who speak

of the eternal values that have to do with the centering of our

"The news of

the

lives."

9

day and the problems of the hour." We have all real sense of time. Our most com-

inherited a world that has lost

we "have no time." We modern people are demand for answers crowds out patience and perhaps, especially, patience with mystery, with that which we cannot control. Intolerant of ambiguity, we deny our own ambiva-

mon

complaint

is

that

problem-solvers, but the

lences, searching for

answers to our most anguished questions in tech-

nique, hoping to find an ultimate healing in technology. But feelings

of dislocation, isolation, and off-centeredness have.

What do we do with

persist, as

this confusion, this pain?

understand that inevitable part of life captured

in the

they always

How

do we

—the

term Angst

anxiety and anguish that seem an essential part of being alive today? Spirituality hears its

wisdom knows

we can only

and understands the pain

in these questions,

better than to attempt an "answer."

find: they are

never "given."

8

And

but

Some answers

so the tradition sug-

INTRODUCTION gests: Listen!

Listen to stories! For spirituality itself

which use words

stories,

in

is

conveyed by

ways that go beyond words to speak the

language of the heart. Especially in a spirituality of imperfection, a spirituality

of not having

and the miracle

Two

stories,

East, help to

the answers, stories convey the mystery

all

—the adventure—of being

alive.

one from the Far East and another from the Middle and how we hope to the boundaries of where





mark

go with "our" story:

The

great master Mat-su, as a youth,

sitting in

meditation for

many hours

was a fanatic about

at a time.

One

him what on

patriarch's disciple Huai-jang asked

day, his

earth he

hoped to attain by this compulsive cross-legged sitting. "Buddhahood," said Mat-su. Thereupon Huai-jang sat down, took a brick, and started to polish it assiduously. Mat-su looked at him, perplexed, and asked what he was doing. "Oh," said Huai-jang, "I am making a mirror out of my brick."

"You can polish never

make

it till

doomsday," scoffed Mat-su, "youTl

a mirror out of a brick!"

"Aha!" smiled Huai-jang. "Maybe you are beginning to understand that you can

you

into a

If that story

gests the

sit

until

doomsday,

it

won't make

Buddha." 10 speaks to the limits of our endeavor, this story sug-

hope and,

ultimately, the

promise of our shared journey:

when the world was young, two brothers and a mill. Each night they divided evenly the grain they had ground together during the day. Now as it happened, one of the brothers lived alone; the other had a wife and a large family. One day, the single brother thought Time before shared a

time,

field

to himself: "It isn't really fair that I

have only myself to care

for,

but

we

divide the grain evenly.

my brother has

feed." So each night he secretly took

some of

children to

his grain to his

brother's granary to see that he was never without.

But the married brother said to himself one day,

"It isn't

INTRODUCTION really fair that

we

divide the grain evenly, because

children to provide for

me

in

my

old age, but

have

I

my brother

has

no one. What will he do when he is old?" So every night he secretly took some of his grain to his brother's granary. As a result, both of them always found their supply of grain mysteriously replenished each morning.

Then one night

the brothers

met each other halfway

between their two houses, suddenly realized what had been happening, and embraced each other in love. The story

is

God

witnessed their meeting and proclaimed, "This

a holy

place

—a place of love—and here

built."

known, in love.

The

And is

so

it

was.

it is

The holy

the place where

human

that

place,

my temple

where God

10

is

that

shall is

be

made

beings discover each other

11

spirituality of imperfection

is

such

a place.

Tart One

THE ROOTS OF

WISDOM

Wisdom is knowledge plus: knowledge own limits.

—and

the knowledge of its

Viktor E. Frankl

We must find some

spiritual basis for living, else Bill

we

1

die.

Wilson

Personal Correspondence

Discovering an ancient spirituality in a roomful of drunks strange, even paradoxical.

Who

would

may seem

expect, walking into a

smoke-

room in a church basement, to encounter wisdom carved out by

filled

Zen teachers, and Jewish scholars? would have thought that in the fellowship and program of Alcoholics Anonymous one would hear the voices of Aeschylus, Buddha, Saint Augustine, the Baal Shem Tov, William James, and Carl Jung? ancient Greeks, early Christians,

Who

who would

But then that the

ever have believed, before A.A.

two words sober and

alcoholic could

came

into being,

be spoken together with a

straight face?

The

spirituality

the eccentric

of imperfection has always been characterized by

and unexpected, the unconventional and

iconoclastic. In

we will go back through time, seeking to mine the rich vein of wisdom that runs through all the centuries and culminates in modern times with the fellowship and program of Alcoholics AnonyPart One,

mous. Be forewarned, however, that straight-line pathway, beginning

this

some

not be a systematic,

will

thirty-three

hundred years ago

and progressing

steadily into the twentieth century. This particular

more of

a pilgrimage, a wandering, digressing sort of journey

story

is

that loops, spins, backtracks, sidesteps, repeats, itself.

In

and often contradicts

one paragraph we may leap from the fourth to the twentieth

century and back again, quote in the same breath Jean-Paul Sartre and Saint Augustine or Saint Francis of Assisi Sufi story followed

by

few answers will be found that

is

and

Bill

Wilson, and offer a

a Hasidic tale or a Christian parable. In the end,

—simply many, many more questions. But

okay. Pablo Picasso offered a

13

modern formulation of

ancient

THE SPIRITUALITY OF IMPERFECTION thought about the importance of focusing on questions when he com-

"Computers

plained,

The

spirituality

are useless; they can only give

of imperfection

the answers." For those

who

have

is

you answers." 2

a spirituality of "not having

come

to expect an

all

answer to every

question, a solution to every problem, and an end to every beginning,

such an approach the past,

may be

disconcerting at

rummaging through

first.

As we

travel

around

in

the different traditions, pulling out a

thought here, relating a story there, revealing a way of seeing the

world from over tion

and

there, the reader

may

experience a sense of disloca-

disorientation. But continue on, for this seemingly disjointed

wandering

is

the

way of imperfection. By

jarring notes, spatial dissonances,

and

the end of this journey, the

cultural cacophonies will blend

together into a sort of symphony, a chorus of separate, distinct, and

sometimes off-key voices harmonizing into a whole

harmony, but harmony nonetheless.

14

.

.

.

not perfect

Chapter

1

THE FRAGRANCE OF

Religion

is

for people

who have been

those

who

are afraid of going to

A

ROSE

hell; spirituality is

for

there.

Ross v.,

Member

The

disciples

of Alcoholics

Anonymous

1

were absorbed in a discussion of Lao-tzu's dic-

tum: Those who know do not those

When

who

say;

say do not know.

the Master entered, they asked

him what

the words

meant. Said the Master,

"Which of you knows the fragrance of

a

rose?" All of

them knew.

Then he said, "Put it into words." them were silent. 2

All of

What

is

spirituality?

To have the answer

is

to have

misunderstood

the question. Truth, wisdom, goodness, beauty, the fragrance of a rose



all

ties.

resemble spirituality in that they are intangible, ineffable

We may know them, but we can

reali-

never grasp them with our hands

or with our words. These entities have neither color nor texture; they cannot be gauged in inches or ounces or degrees; they do not make a noise to be measured in decibels; they have no distinct feel as do silk,

15

THE SPIRITUALITY OF IMPERFECTION wood, or cement; they

no

no odor, they have no

give

taste,

they occupy

space.

And

yet they exist; they are.

These are the

spirituality exists.

nized as defining

human

Love

existence.

We

do not define them, they define

When we

its,

but our own. Similarly, we cannot prove such

spirituality,

to say that they "prove" us, in the sense that

measure our human be-ing: the Life

is

may

not what

be:

activity.

we

we

discover not realities

against

it is



its

them

that

and the process by which we

act

we

"have," or even what

limtruer

it is

are

is

a real

This way of be-ing defies definition and delineation; we cannot

way package

up, in any

it

cannot be "pinned down," forts to capture

confirm

that

it,

or enclose

it

it

in

mere words can

tie

Elusive in the sense that

it.

spirituality slips

to fence

we

exist.

do, connected as these

what and how and who we are, and be-ing Like "love," spirituality is a way that we "be."

we

exists,

have always been recog-

us.

attempt to "define"

beauty

exists, evil exists,

realities that

under and soars over

it

ef-

with words. Centuries of thought

induce

never

the

experience

of

spirituality.

When

know whether visit

Shem Tov asked him how

the disciples of the Baal

was

whom

a celebrated scholar

to

they proposed to

a true zaddik, * he answered:

"Ask him to advise you what to do to keep unholy thoughts from disturbing you in your prayers and studies. If he gives you advice, then you those

who

are of

know

will

that he belongs to

no account." 3

known, are the great foes of reality," wrote Joseph Conrad. But when words fail, where can we turn? In order to understand spirituality, in order to live a spiritual life, we must first be "Words,

as

is

well

able to imagine ("image-in") such a

"re-presentation") of what to see

and

feel spirituality,

us fathom our experience. the ages, *

The zaddik

we turn is

a teacher

it

life,

lives

form

a mental picture (a

feel like.

But to do

that,

we need a deeper level of language to help And so, as people have done throughout

to metaphors, images,

who

to

might look and

an exemplary

"an imperfect holy man."

16

life,

and

stories.

further described by

one commentator

as

THE ROOTS OF WISDOM "Metaphors govern understanding by suggesting that an unknown and ineffable entity, life, can best be understood as an activity



4 one knows something about pilgrimage, for example." While pilgrimage is, perhaps, the most frequently used metaphor for the spiri-

tual

life,

modern

a

another ancient example, that

spiritual writer uses

of health:

Spirituality

a lot like health.

is

health or poor health, but

same

We

spirituality

is

we have



is

a negative is

more

human

drawers



may

being

have good

a spiritual being.

is

spirituality" but

one that leads to

and

positive

detailed portraits or

memory

have health; we

not whether we "have

destruction or one that

Images

all

something we can't avoid having. The

true of spirituality: every

is

The question

mind's

it's

whether the

isolation

life-giving.

experience, a

is

do we envision

forth spirituality in our imagination, saint

Calcutta?

— Francis of

Or perhaps

Assisi, Albert Schweitzer, or

a religious

in the

moving our under-

conveys a kind of "seeing" that both "thinks" and "feels."

some

self-

panoramic pictures stored

also have their role in

standing toward the "standing-under" that

call

and

5

ceremony comes

term that

If

we

try to

a picture of

Mother Teresa of

to

mind

—the ech-

oes of ancient ritual in the Catholic Mass, the free-spirited enthusiasm

of a revival meeting, the quiet serenity of a Quaker gathering. But

something

is

cept of spirituality into finer focus, they

harmony of

may

missing. For while such images

fall far

seeing, thinking, feeling that

is

still,

help bring the con-

short of capturing the

spirituality.

moves metaphor and image into experience. Like metaphors and images, stories communicate what is generally invisible and ultimately inexpressible. In seeking to But

stories! Stories are the vehicle that

understand these that touches

part of

its

realities

on the

through time,

larger whole. Stories invite a

and form even

stories

to the invisible,

kind of vision that gives shape

making the images move, clothing the

metaphors, throwing color into the shadows. able to us, stories are the surest

In the third

provide a perspective

divine, allowing us to see reality in full context, as

and fourth

Of

way of touching

all

the devices avail-

the

human

spirit.

centuries, there lived in the wastelands

of Egypt a group of individuals later

17

named

"the Desert Fa-

THE SPIRITUALITY OF IMPERFECTION unorthodox group of ascetics who committed themselves to a life of renunciation in an attempt to discover what it means to be human. Such curious practhers," a rather ornery,

tices as tying

themselves to rocks for days on end, eating

grass, or fasting for

weeks

at a time,

information about the meaning

were intended to extract

—the experience—of

life.

One of these individuals, the abba Poemen, was visited one day by a dignitary, who was most anxious to discuss his troubled soul and receive the monk's advice. But as soon as the visitor started talking, the abba averted his gaze and re-

fused to speak to him.

Confused and distraught, the

room and

visitor left the

asked one of the holy man's followers what was going on

why

did the abba ignore him? The disciple spoke to abba Poemen, who explained, "He is from above and speaks of heavenly things, but I am of the earth and speak about earthly things. If he had spoken to me about the passions of his soul, then

I

should have answered him. But

about spiritual things,

I

know nothing

if

he speaks

of them."

Fortified with this knowledge, the dignitary tried again,

beginning with the question, "What shall

my

dominated by the passions of replied,

"Now you

In order to speak spirituality

must be

soul?"

I

do, abba,

am

I

And abba Poemen

are speaking rightly." 6

—and hear—

shattered.

supposition that requires revision perfection. Spirituality has to

with living humanly as one

"rightly," false assumptions about

As the Poemen story suggests, the

do with the is,

first

the belief that spirituality involves

is

reality

with the very

of the here and now, real,

"passions of the soul." Spirituality involves learning

very agonizing,

how

to live with

imperfection. "If

you

see

someone going up

to

heaven by his

own

will,"

coun-

seled John Kolobos, another of the Desert Fathers, "grab his leg pull

him down

earth, plants the feet as

it

is,

as

may sound is

we

and

The search for spirituality brings down to firmly on the ground, and allows a vision of self

again."

are

— imperfect and

like a contradiction,

ambiguous. "Earthly spirituality"

but

it is

the nature of spirituality, for paradox

18

instead paradox, is

the nature of

and paradox

human

beings.

THE ROOTS OF WISDOM Paradox has been defined as "an apparent contradiction":

two

seem

that don't

realities

combines

it

to belong together, thus calling into

question our assumptions about "seeming." In terms that would ap-

monks, the

peal to the boundary-stretching practices of the desert

English essayist Gilbert Keith Chesterton described paradox as "Truth 7 standing on her head to attract attention."

The core paradox

that underlies spirituality

incompleteness, of being

somehow

is

the haunting sense of

comes from the

unfinished, that

reality of living on this earth as part and yet also not-part of

be

human

is

to

be incomplete, yet yearn for completion;

it.

For to to be

is

it

uncertain, yet long for certainty; to be imperfect, yet long for perfection; to

be broken, yet crave wholeness. All these yearnings remain

necessarily

unsatisfied,

perfection,

for

completion,

—or

because we are perfectly human, which

better,

is

and

certainty,

wholeness are impossible precisely because we are imperfectly to say

human

humanly

imperfect.

This

is

inevitably incomplete, takes.

human

the essential paradox of

on

the way, slipping

But the ancient voices

and

meant

to be, the

way

it

human

must be

it is

God

is

basically defective in part. If

the

making mis-

failure;

are.

being; paradox

should be, for

Said the Lizensker Rebbe: "Only

we

and

are always

sliding,

not

insist that this is

the necessary reflection of the paradox that

nature of be-ing human, of

We

life:

it is

Paradox is

way we

the

is

way

the are

rather

it

is

made.

Man's actions

perfect.

one believes

his

deed or holy study to be thoroughly pure and perfect,

good

this is a

sure sign that they are thoroughly bad." 8

for

The lessons of the ancients are wise and continue to hold meaning modern men and women. The search for spirituality is, first of all,

a search for reality, for honesty, for true speaking

At

from the time of the Delphic

least

thyself,

—the

oracle's first

and true thinking. admonition,

Know

the arch- foe of spirituality has been recognized to be "denial" self-deception that rejects self

essential

paradox that

is

our

human

by attempting

be-ing.

19

to repudiate the

The philosopher Jean-Paul

THE SPIRITUALITY OF IMPERFECTION termed such self-deception mauvaise foi, the "bad attempt to flee what one cannot flee to flee what one Sartre

faith" of "the



A

spirituality

involves

of imperfection suggests that

facing self squarely,

seeing one's

is."

spirituality's first step

one

self as

up, paradoxical, incomplete, and imperfect. Flawedness

about

fact

dation

we

human

beings.

And

mixed-

is:

is

the

first

paradoxically, in that imperfect foun-

find not despair but joy. For

we can

of our imperfection that

9

only within the reality

is

it

and

find the peace

serenity

we

crave.

Rabbi Elimelech Lizensker

World-to-Come.

When

Heavenly Tribunal, bound?' To

this

I

am

my

sure of

share in the

stand to plead before the bar of the

I

will

be asked: 'Did you learn, as in duty

make answer:

will

I

said: "I

'No.' Again,

I

will

be

you pray, as in duty bound?' Again my answer 'No.' The third question will be: 'Did you do good, as

asked: 'Did will be:

in

duty bound?'

Then judgment

And

spoken the truth." To speak the

for the third time,

be awarded in

will

truth: spiritual writers such as

to

will answer: 'No.' I

my

first

assistance

/

prayer

O

Thomas

that phrase

in

from flawedness flows the need

imperfection suggests that the

"O God, come

I

favor, for

will

have

10

August Hermann Francke found prayer, for

my

for help.

is

Lord,

a

Kempis and

one definition of

A

spirituality of

a scream, a cry for help.

make

reads Psalm 70, sung for over a millennium and

haste to help me," a half at the begin-

ning of each monastic hour. During the Reformation, John Calvin and others renewed this emphasis on the insight that

nothing without God's help. the nineteenth-century

nun

And

humans could do

beginning of the modern age,

at the

Saint Therese of Lisieux rediscovered the

original sense of prayer as a cry for help.

From

total darkness, in utter

desolation, she cried out, echoing the call of the crucified Christ: "J'ai

soifrn

thirst!"

11 )

—our

The insight is constant: Our darkness thirst ... for "God," for "the spiritual," this painful side

how

fill

of the

the empty hole

we cannot

human in

our

sins,

our doubts

for whatever

might



is

a

alleviate

condition, for whatever might some-

human

be-ing.

We

seek help for what

face or accomplish alone; in seeking help,

20

we

accept and

THE ROOTS OF WISDOM admit our

own

And

powerlessness.

acknowledgment

in the

that

we

in that

acceptance and admission,

are not in control, spirituality

Spirituality begins in suffering because to suffer

dergo," and the essence of suffering gone, that

human

A

the reality that

it is it

born.

under-

must be

endure patiently or impatiently, but because we are

we

beings, because

ultimate control,

is

"to un-

first

has to do with not being in control, that

it

We may

endured.

lies in

means

we

are not at each

will suffer.

and every moment

in

12

spirituality of imperfection

is

always mindful of the inevitability

of suffering. As Simon Tugwell noted in his analysis of the Ways of Imperfection:

"The first work of grace is simply to enable us to begin what is wrong." And one of the first things that is that we are not "in control"; we do not have all the

to understand

"wrong"

is

The

answers.

reality

of that lack of control, the sheer truth of our

powerlessness in the face of tual insight that insists

term that

signifies

lary, kenosis

Alcoholics

it,

on the

makes

available the

necessity of kenosis

—the ancient Greek

points to the need for "surrender," or, in the language of

Anonymous,

"hitting bottom." In the process of kenosis

by ourselves, we are

The

spiri-

an "emptying out." Expressed in modern vocabu-

emptying out, surrendering, hitting bottom that

fundamental

lost.

—comes

the realization

13

spirituality of imperfection begins in the recognition

jection of

human

numerous

stories

claims to be "God."

intended to remind

The Hasidic

human

and

beings that

we

are not in

we are not all-powerful, that we are not God. Hebrew shema ("Hear, O Israel, I am the Lord, your "First of all we had to quit playing God" is not a large

the ancient

God") leap.

to A.A.'s

14

When

Bunam was asked why the first of the Ten Commandments speaks of God bringing us out of the land of Egypt* rather than of God creating heaven and earth, he expounded: "Heaven and earth! Then man might have said: 'Heaven that is too much for me.' So God said to man: 'I am the one who fished you out of the mud. Now you come here Rabbi



and

re-

tradition offers

ultimate control, that

From



listen to me.'

" 15

21

THE SPIRITUALITY OF IMPERFECTION

"What is spirituality?" Our pursuit of the question has unearthed more questions than answers, more things that spirituality is not than features of what it is. Timeless wisdom suggests that spirituality can't be proven;

can't be defined;

it

elusive, ineffable,

is

it

does not involve demands for perfection;

it is

unbounded;

rooted in paradox;

it is

it

a

cry for help.

age,

Have we encountered an impenetrable roadblock in our pilgriman unbridgeable chasm that mocks our need to know? If we can't

define, prove, or

hope

somehow

to understand

perhaps

this

it?

pin

down

spirituality,

how

can we ever

Rather than abandoning the quest, however,

very frustration signals that

we should

try a different

route.

Traditions as diverse as the Buddhist, the Christian, and the

lim agree that spiritual"

we speak most

truly of the divine

by recognizing what

not.

it is

paths exploring what something to go. For there

is

this process

not, brings us closest to the place

a

kind of spirituality in the recogni-

efforts to capture

it.

we have encountered

We

lessness before the very word, the powerlessness that

beginning of spirituality T.

S.

of the

is

tion that in our effort to understand spirituality,

something bigger than our

and therefore of "the

Somehow

which we wander down divergent

via negativa, the "negative way," in

where we want

Mus-

discover a helpis

the necessary

itself.

Eliot described this spiritual path of the via negativa in "East

Coker":

In order to arrive at what

You must go by

a

you do not know

way which

is

the

way of ignorance.

In order to possess what you do not possess

You must go by

the

In order to arrive at

way of

dispossession.

what you are not

You must go through the way

in

which you are

not.

And what you do not know is the only thing you know And what you own is what you do not own And where you are is where you are not. 16

One word lar

of necessary caution before setting out on this particu-

pathway. The via negativa or "route of negation," in which

22

we

THE ROOTS OF WISDOM

come

to

pitfalls

know something by

observing what

it

is

and

priority, to

proclaim one reality better or more im-

portant than another. In what follows, then,

we need

but only to identify the differences between distinct is

valuable and useful. If

much

religion

remember

realities,

we remain mindful of the

each of

risks,

how-

can be learned by distinguishing spirituality from both

and

therapy.

Spirituality

is

not religion.

Distinguishing spirituality from religion ple equate the two, title

to

aims not to compare in order to put down,

that this particular journey

to the

own

thing differs from another, there can arise a tendency to

assign value

ever,

its

—the dangers of comparison and judgment. When examining

how one

which

not, has

is

a slippery task.

Some peo-

assuming that only religious people can

"spiritual."

And

yet those

who

lay claim

try to live a spirituality of

imperfection consistently present themselves as "spiritual rather than

mean? Those who consider themselves

religious."

What does

"spiritual"

and those who consider themselves "religious" seem

this

to

agree that there are differences between them, but those differences are only broadly delineated. ity;

viewing

spirituality,

Viewing

religion, "the spiritual" see rigid-

"the religious" see sloppiness. Religion con-

notes boundaries, while spirituality's borders seem haphazard and ill-defined.

The vocabulary of

religion emphasizes the solid; the lan-

guage of spirituality suggests the

Another image

is

offered

fluid.

by Walter Houston Clark,

a

modern

student of religion and historian of the Oxford Group. Alcoholics

Anonymous came into being within the Oxford Group, and A.A.'s earliest members left those auspices precisely because the non-alcoholic Oxford Group members seemed to them to be too "religious" too insistent on fixed practices, too committed to perfection, as their

demand

for the effort to

be "really

maximum"

attested.

A

lifelong

observer of religious psychology, Clark suggested that religion often

"One goes to church and gets a little something him or her against the real thing." Late in his life,

acts like vaccination:

that then protects

Dr. Carl Gustav Jung expressed a similar view, remarking that "one of

main functions of formalized direct experience of God." 17

the

religion

23

is

to protect people against a

THE SPIRITUALITY OF IMPERFECTION Those who think of themselves

than religious"

as "spiritual rather

belief, and therefore with doctrine and and therefore with the organization of com-

tend to equate religion with* authority; with worship,

munity and

boundaries; with rewards and punishments, and there-

its

and

fore with greed

fear.

Such negative consequences need not always

follow from the religious impulse: they are indeed perversions of

it.

But as historian of theology Jaroslav Pelikan confessed with more than a

little

of

pain: "Religious belief

against 'them.'

'us'

Testament, 'God

.

.

.

notorious for encouraging a sense

is

The words of

thank thee that

I

I

am

New

the hypocrite in the

not as other

men

unfortunately, a prayer that has been uttered, or at any rate

are,' are,

felt,

every-

where." 18

How

does spirituality

differ

from

this? In the first place, spiritual-

has nothing to do with boundaries: Only the material can be

ity

bounded, and the term

spirituality

first

was

thing that "the spiritual"

first

is

not

is

material.

The

used in ancient times as a contrast to materi-

alism and signified attention to spiritual as opposed to material reali"Spiritual realities" were understood quite simply as those that,

ties.

wind or the fragrance of

like the

not

a rose,

one experienced but could

touch, or especially, possess in the sense of com-

literally see,

mand.

The word hundred contrast lary of

spirituality

then

out of usage for almost sixteen



punishments and rewards, the motives of

sense of "us" against "them":

more

fell

when the postmodern age resurrected it, again as a but now less to "materialism" than to religion. The vocabu-

years,

Many modern

and greed, the

interested in closing boundaries than in opening them,

concerned with sanctions than with

cupy space than

to find

it.

values that

its

rhetoric rebuked.

ism" and religion spirituality

As

— and perhaps

came

more an attempt to ocseemed to some to have have adopted the same profane

release,

a contrast, then, to both "material-

especially to materialism in religion

to be seen as the attempt to find a

between religion and

more

Religion, in short,

sold out to the "material" world, to



fear

people found religion

irreligion, a

middle ground

halfway house between total rejec-

embrace of "the world" or "the culture" or what19 ever one names the context that both fascinates and threatens.

tion

and

uncritical

Whether these be

fair

diagnoses or not, this

24

is

also the sense in

THE ROOTS OF WISDOM which the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous presents itual rather

than religious." For the simple truth

most of the

earliest

is

itself as "spir-

that, at least

among

A.A. members, bad connotations far outnumbered

good when "religion" was mentioned. Many of them had tried to solve their "drinking problem" through religion, and because they had failed, they felt that "religion" had failed them. And because their experience and

Bill

Wilson's

initial

wariness of religion continue to

abide at the very heart of the A.A. fellowship, Alcoholics

modern use of the word 20 of its own imperfection.

exemplifies the

aware

first

spirituality

Religion, of course, can also be aware of

its

own



Anonymous

a spirituality

imperfections, as

a delightful story conveys.

When

the bishop's ship stopped at a remote island for a day,

he determined to use the time as profitably as possible. He strolled along the seashore and came across three fishermen

mending

their nets. In pidgin English they explained to

him

had been Christianized by missionaries. "We Christians!" they said, proudly pointing to one another. The bishop was impressed. Did they know the Lord's Prayer? They had never heard of it. The bishop was shocked. that centuries before they

"What do you

"We

lift

when you pray?"

say, then,

eyes to heaven. "

We

mercy on us.' The bishop was appalled

three, have

'We are

three,

at the primitive, the

heretical nature of their prayer.

them the Lord's

pray,

you

are

downright

So he spent the whole day

The fishermen were poor learners, but they gave it all they had and before the bishop sailed away the next day he had the satisfaction of hearing them go through the whole formula without a fault. Months later, the bishop's ship happened to pass by those islandvS again, and the bishop, as he paced the deck saying his evening prayers, recalled with pleasure the three men on that

teaching

distant island

Prayer.

who were now

able to pray, thanks to his pa-

thought, he happened up and noticed a spot of light in the east. The light kept approaching the ship, and as the bishop gazed in wontient efforts.

While he was

lost in that

to look

25

THE SPIRITUALITY OF IMPERFECTION he saw three figures walking on the water. The captain stopped the ship, and everyone leaned over the rails to see der,

this sight.

When

they were within speaking distance, the bishop rec-

ognized his three friends, the fishermen. "Bishop!" they exclaimed.

"We

hear your boat go past island and come hurry

hurry meet you."

"What

you want?" asked the awe-stricken bishop. "Bishop," they said, "we so, so sorry. We forget lovely prayer.

We

is it

'Our Father in heaven, holy be your name,

say,

your kingdom come

.

.

.'

then we forget. Please

tell

us prayer

again."

humbled. "Go back to your homes, my "and each time you pray say, 'We are three, " have mercy on us!' 21

The bishop

felt

friends," he said,

you

are three,

Spirituality

not therapy.

is

Most people think of therapy as a modern concept, although the term originated in Homeric Greece, and its first connotation was of spiritual healing. In recent times, partially as a result of the practice of

medicine being more and more transformed from

forms of therapy have they "make whole" has ing



become scientific: on technique. Although

come

also

art to science,

understand their "healing"

to

most

—how

as other-than-spiritual. Therapy, in other words,

attentive to measuring,

spirituality

is

demanding

proof, rely-

not interested in measuring, proving, or

manipulating, the boundaries between spirituality and therapy are often confused because both are concerned with making whole.

come

to therapy

and

to spirituality

seeks what spirituality seeks: a

soothing

relief for

when we

mending

to

are in pain,

our brokenness, some

our "torn-to-pieces-hood." Nevertheless, the paths

of spirituality and therapy, while not in conflict, are divergent. told by an Episcopal priest relating her

on the

We

and therapy

own

experience

A

may shed

story light

difference.

Once, on her annual

retreat,

she sought out as confessor a

Jesuit priest of long experience. In that context, she rehearsed

26

THE ROOTS OF WISDOM with him the behaviors that troubled her, especially those prominent in the past year a dawning area of insensitivity, a



tendency to domination, and so forth. Then, drawing on what she had come to know of herself from recent reading and especially

how

tail

from her participation in groups, she began to deseemed connected to her experience

these behaviors

of being related to an alcoholic.

At that point, the grizzled veteran confessor reached out and, gently patting her hand, asked:

...

forgiveness

Therapy

may be

or an explanation?"

"My

do you want

dear,

22

Both

offers explanations; spirituality offers forgiveness.

necessary, but

one

is

not the other.

The therapeutic approach

looks to origins, to push forces that compel, as the psychological lan-

guage of "drives" and the sociological focus on "the shaping environ-

ment"

Spirituality, in contrast, attends to directions, to the

attest.

pull-force of motives, spirituality

which

attract or

draw forward

—the language of

the vocabulary of "ideals," of "hope." Therapy

is

may

from addiction; spirituality releases for Therapy relies, too, on the medical metaphor, using the lexicon of

release

illness:

life.

Behavior

is

"symptomatic," situations are "dysfunctional,"

in-

dividuals are thought to be "sick" or "unhealthy." Spirituality prefers

the language of weakness and flaw; choosing

phors, its

favors the ancient

it

among

various meta-

image of the archer's arrow

falling short

mark. Before the advent of Alcoholics Anonymous,

of

alcoholics were

taught to think of themselves as "orally fixated" or "latently perverted." its

One

of A.A.'s great, freeing

gifts to

alcoholics can be

found

in

vocabulary of "defects of character" and "shortcomings." Finally, therapy's goal

is

happiness, in the modern-day sense of

"feeling good," while spirituality suggests that valid feeling follows

be-ing,

and

that the

more

realistic

goal

one of "being good," of finding a outside of as in the

self.

is

real

therefore the time-honored fit

between

As the root of the word good hints

and

the

reality

same root

—goodness involves

fitting rightly,

some mere conformity but

in the sense of

words gather and together

"fitting" not in the sense of

self

ge,

discovering and embracing the whole of which one

27

is

part.

23

THE SPIRITUALITY OF IMPERFECTION

At

some forms of therapy

least

we

bad"

are either "all

you're okay").

A

—and of

religion

—tend

("total depravity") or "all

to

imply that

good" ("I'm okay,

spirituality of imperfection suggests that there

—with me, with you, with the world—but

something wrong

nothing wrong with is

way

the

because that

we are human, and therefore limited, The name of the game, according to this vision,

Okay—

I'm Not All-Right, and You're Not All-Right, But That's

THAT'S The

All-Right.

finds

modern

we

ancient tradition that

its

are exploring, the tradition that

Anonymous,

fulfillment in Alcoholics

suggests that

spirituality involves first seeing ourselves truly, as the paradoxical

imperfect beings that

we

are,

and then discovering

within our very imperfection that that

available to us. This

is

is

the nature of our reality. That

is

because

just

is,

and imperfect.

flawed, is

it

that,

is

there

is

we can

that

find the peace

it

is

and only

and serenity

not an ideology claiming to have discov-

ered immutable truths, but a vision celebrating experience and enabling choice;

it

techniques, but a

It

not exclusive, dogmatic, and authori-

it is

but open-minded, questioning, and capable of laughing

tative,

The

self.

not a therapy interested in explanations and

is

way of life;

spirituality of imperfection

is

above

all

at it-

a realistic spirituality:

begins with acknowledgment and acceptance of the dark side, the

down

side,

of

human

experience. Rather than seeking ways to explain

away or ignore suffering and pain by focusing on sweetness and

light,

the spirituality of imperfection understands that tragedy and despair are inherent in the experience of essentially imperfect beings.

"Man observed.

is

the creature

The

spirituality

to be

God," Jean-Paul Sartre

of imperfection wrestles directly with that

— although —whoever or whatever "God"

quest, assuring that

God"

who wants

24

of

"first

is,

all,

we have

He, She, or

It

to quit playing

does not scorn

our quest or despise us for our defects and imperfections. Imperfection

is

rather the crack in the armor, the

"wound"

that lets

"God"

As Meister Eckhart wrote almost seven hundred years ago: "To the core of

himself In a

ion

God

at his least."

modern

Woodman

"God"

at his greatest,

one must

first

in.

get at

get into the core of

25

expression of Eckhart's insight, Jungian analyst Mar-

identifies addiction as

in:

28

one of the "wounds"

that lets

THE ROOTS OF WISDOM Addiction keeps a person in touch with the god. point of the vulnerability

where the god

enters.

is

... At

where the surrender takes place

the very



that

is

The god comes through the wound. 26



wound": Our very imperfections what religion labels our "sins," what therapy calls our "sickness," what philosophy terms our "errors" are precisely what bring us closer to

"God comes through

the



no matter how hard we

the reality that

ones

in control here.

And

try to

deny

it,

this realization, inevitably

we

are not the

and joyously,

brings us closer to "God":

One

of the disconcerting

—and

delightful

—teachings of the

"God is closer to sinners than to saints." how he explained it: "God in heaven holds

master was: This

is

When you

each

you cut the string. Then and thereby bringing you a little closer to him. Again and again your sins cut the string and with each further knot God keeps drawing you closer and closer." 27 person by a string.

God

ties

it

up

again,

making

sin,

a knot



29



Chapter 2

BEYOND THE ORDINARY

What we

call basic truths

are simply the ones

we

discover after all the

others. Albert

Concepts create

idols;

one another over

only wonder comprehends anything. People

idols.

Wonder makes

One day Mohammed was Arab

Among

kill

us fall to our knees. Saint Gregory

mosque.

Camus

offering

Of Nyssa

morning prayer

1

at the

the people praying with the Prophet was an

aspirant.

Reading the Koran,

Mohammed recited the verse in which "I am your true God." On hearing

Pharaoh makes the claim, this the aspirant

was so

filled

with spontaneous anger that he

broke the silence and shouted, "The boastful son of a bitch!" The Prophet said nothing, but after prayer was over the

ashamed of your-

others began to scold the Arab. "Aren't you self ?

You have

surely displeased

God

because not only did you

interrupt the holy silence of prayer but

you used

filthy lan-

guage in the presence of God's Prophet."

The poor Arab trembled with to

Mohammed

and

said,

"God

Gabriel appeared

fear, until

sends greetings to

you and

wishes you to get these people to stop scolding that simple Arab; indeed, his spontaneous profanity

more than

moved my

2 the holy prayers of the others."

30

heart

THE ROOTS OF WISDOM beyond: beyond the ordinary, beyond

Spirituality points, always,

possession, beyond the narrow confines of the

beyond expectation. Because "the spiritual"

is

and

self,

—above

beyond our

all

control,

it is

we expect. The word spiritual originally meant what the most obvious synonyms of spirit breath, wind signify: something that cannot be seen but that we nevertheless experience. never exactly what





Although the wind

and of

itself

others.

The

force. If

it

cannot be seen. You

great trees, the grasses

In calling to

feel

it is

there by

and waves on the

sea

presence, in

So

it is

you are

on

effect

its

bend with is

it

its

there

with the ineffable. 3

wind

a "picture" of the

—an everyday

reality

—we come an an awareness comes not through aware of your surroundings" —

beyond our visual grasp and control

is

"if

it.

mind

understanding of the



know

feel its

you are aware of your surroundings, you know

long before you

that

very powerful and you can

is

closer to

spiritual. Spirituality involves, first,

that

the eyes, the ears, the hands, or any specific sense but through a larger

openness, a general opening-up to

life's

ness implies a sensitivity to others:

We

we

there, in the world, because

on

notice

And

experiences.

first

effects

its

that aware-

discover that spirituality

is

not in ourselves but

bend with the force of the wind, so do human beings move within the force and power of the spirit, "in-spired" by it no matter how hard we try to take charge, no others.

As the

trees

how adamantly we

matter

For spirituality

hands and touch control, it

it is

among first

Spirit."

also

is,

it,

claim to be in control.

manipulate

it,

beyond possession:

all else,

a life

is

We

or destroy

We

can't

away from

it

spiritual

used the word

Such

grasses

always, beyond control.

ourselves, or take

Beyond

who

and the

it.

own

can't hold

Because it,

lock

we

beyond

up, divide

means "other-than-material." To those it signified "led by or lived by the

lived in contrast to a life centered in material

way of

Christian scriptures remind that

man

our

spirituality,

reality. It involves a different

a

it is

it

in

others.

seeing,

one wary of "appear-

ances." Proverbs that capture the wisdom-sayings of the

ing," advising that

it

"charm

"praise not a

man

is

for his looks

for his appearance." For appearances tend to

31

Hebrew and

deceptive and beauty fleet-

be

and despise not illusory. "Least

THE SPIRITUALITY OF IMPERFECTION is

the bee

among winged

vests," as the biblical

things, but she reaps the choicest of har-

wisdom-writer

Appearances tend also to be

illustrates.

4

irrelevant.

The daughter of Caesar said to Rabbi Y'hoshu'a ben Hananya: 'Why is glorious wisdom contained in an ugly vessel like 4

you?"

He

said to her:

"Does your

father keep his

wine

in earthen

vessels?"

She said to him: "In what

He in gold

said to her:

and

else

should he keep

it?"

"You people of importance should keep

it

silver!"

She immediately went and told her

wine into golden and

silver vessels.

"Who

father,

When

it

who put

the

soured, Caesar

you to do this?" She said to him: "Rabbi Y'hoshu'a ben Hananya." Caesar called the rabbi to him and asked: "Why did you

confronted his daughter:

tell

that to

my

told

daughter?"

"What

she told me," the rabbi replied, "I told her."

Caesar

said:

"But there are also beautiful people who are

scholars?" "If they were ugly, they

Spirituality

founded

is

with immediate perceptions, spirituality always

involves both an affirmation rejection

— "But there

greater scholars." 5

beyond immediate perceptions. Thus

discovered

in a contrast

would be even

is



more

"Yes, there to

it

is

something here"

—and

than meets the eye."

Socrates believed that the wise person would instinctively

and he even went so far as to refuse to wear fell under the spell of the marketplace and would go there often to look at the great variety and magnificence of the wares on display. A friend once asked him why he was so intrigued with the

lead a frugal

life,

shoes. Yet he constantly

go there," Socrates replied,

allures of the market. "I love to

"to discover

how many

things

32

I

am

perfectly

happy with-

a

THE ROOTS OF WISDOM Material possessions are not "bad" in and of themselves, but as

we possess tend also to posThe more we have, the more we want; and the more we want, the more we are possessed by our possessions. Spiritual reality, however, cannot be "possessed," any more than it can be said that we possess the wind or that we possess love, or wisdom. Spiritual and Socrates knew, the material realities that

sess us.

material realities differ in another fundamental way. Unlike material

not inherently limited; one person having more

reality, spirituality is

spirituality

tuality

mean

that others will necessarily have less. Spiri-

instead the kind of reality that multiplies even as

is

"Virtue

monk

does not

as limitless as

is

God

himself," observed the Cappadocian

Gregory of Nyssa:

The possession of virtue ... sire

it,

divide

not it

like the

is

always abundant for those

who dewho

possession of the earthly, in which those their share

from

the neighbor's loss.

From

must take

off into pieces for themselves

that of the other,

and the gain of the one

is

because of hatred of loss, arise fights concerning wealth. But the

this,

wealth of [virtue] penalty to

is

him who

unenvied, and he is

who

[gains]

more brings no

worthy of also participating equally in

Spiritual realities are never sold.

divided.

it is

But while "spirituality"

7 it.

commodities; they cannot be bought or is

other-than-material,

it

would be an

error to think of spiritual realities as involving only such things as

"virtue" or "goodness" or "love."

School

spirit,

team

spirit,

We

speak of

and "morale" are

all

spirit in

many

senses:

spiritual realities that

more participate in them. Indeed, in some sense it is true that the more who participate, the greater the enjoyment of each participant. Who would want to be the only person in the stands for the homecoming game? Do parents love one child less after an-

do not decrease

other

as

born?

is

The words

spirit

ness of spirituality: "If

.

.

.

and morale help

When we

to

convey the inherent

experience

it,

we want

you want what we have ..." begins

introduces the Twelve Steps in the chapter

book

Alcoholics

a stake

attractive-

to take part in

the key phrase that

"How

It

Works"

Anonymous. What recovering alcoholics "have"

on ultimate wisdom or

a lock

on

virtue,

it.

in the is

not

but a way of life that

accepts imperfection as imperfection, permitting such spiritual quali-

33

THE SPIRITUALITY OF IMPERFECTION "serenity" and "the joy of living" to coexist with such earthly

ties as

realities as "defects" and "shortcomings." What hurting newcomers want when they first come to A.A. is not "sobriety," the reality of which they cannot even imagine, but "to be like that." When we expe-

rience spirituality

when we know in

it.

—when we

it is

know

we feel

there long before

But the crucial word here

there by

it is

is

it

its

effects

—we want

on

others;

to participate

participate, not possess, for only

material realities can be possessed.

Around

the end of the nineteenth century, a tourist from the

United States visited the famous Polish rabbi Hafez Hayyim.

He was astonished to see that the rabbi's home was just a simple room filled with books. The only furniture was a table and a bench. "Rabbi, where

"Where

is

is

your furniture?" asked the

yours?" replied Hafez.

"Mine? But I'm only a "So

am

I," said

visitor here."

the rabbi. 8

Greek thinkers, Hebrew prophets, Eastern saints agree that the

ment

"problem"

to material possessions

seeing and seeking our

they

fit

tourist.

not material

is

sages,

and Christian

realities

but our attach-

—the attachment

own good, we

sessions can lead to obsessions;

from

the "goods" proper to us because

the spiritual reality into which

to stunt spirituality because as

that hinders us

we

"fit."

Material realities tend

possess them, they possess us. Pos-

consumers become consumed with

getting things, keeping them, safeguarding them, adding to their

hoard. Obsession with possessions crowds out the spiritual.

9

The philosopher Diogenes was sitting on a curbstone, ing bread and lentils for his supper. He was seen by the losopher Aristippus,

who

lived comfortably

by

eat-

phi-

flattering the

king.

Said Aristippus, "If you would learn to be subservient to the king, you would not have to live

Said Diogenes, "Learn to

have to cultivate the king."

live

10

34

on

on

lentils."

lentils,

and you

will

not

THE ROOTS OF WISDOM The overwhelming

from how well he epitomizes

large part

The son of

ality.

happy,

attractiveness of Saint Francis of Assisi stems in

young man who enjoyed spending

well-liked

money. His parents were concerned about so

much

understanding of spiritu-

this

a reasonably prosperous merchant, Francis his

was

a

father's

Francis's extravagance, not

because he liked to buy expensive clothing but because he

new possessions to the poor. After a that moved him to take the admonitions

then turned around and gave his series

of mystical experiences

of the Christian Gospel very

Francis

literally,

embraced poverty with

completeness that may strike the modern mind as the Poverello (Francis's nickname, which means

weird.

It

"little

a

wasn't that

poor man")

believed material possessions to be "evil"; he loved the whole of creation too live in

much

it.

Francis asked his followers to

life-style would release demands for control. "Living without proponce explained, "means never getting upset by anything

poverty because he believed that such a

them from

self-centered

erty," Francis

that

any part of

to reject

anybody does." 11

In Saint Francis's understanding, material poverty creates an

may

tiness that

then be

claim to possessions,

(and

also

this

is

the

filled

by

spiritual reality. In

emp-

renouncing our

we open ourselves to spirituality because we are more significant act) renouncing our self-will.

Francis honored "Lady Poverty" because he believed that being with-

out possessions makes

own

will

...

it

much

we

less likely that

the willfulness that

will insist

becomes the claim

to be

on our "God."

Completely unprotected, we discover a new way of seeing: Rather than

we

looking for what

don't have,

we

"Beyond the ordinary" the confines of the paradoxically,

beyond it is

and

us,

it

what we do have.

truly see

learn to discern God's gift in everything that

happens

We

to us.

beyond material, beyond possession, beyond

self.

Spirituality transcends the ordinary;

and

yet,

can be found only in the ordinary. Spirituality

yet

it is

in everything

we

do.

It is

is

extraordinary and yet

extraordinarily simple. 12 Simple.

meant

The word

to suggest

"special."

is

important, for "beyond the ordinary"

something complicated,

Nothing

is

difficult,

not

or self-consciously

so simple (or so out of the ordinary for

35

is

most of

THE SPIRITUALITY OF IMPERFECTION on

us) than "attending to the present," the focus all

spiritual approaches.

Attending to the present

present in the ordinary

theme

course, a

A

if

we can

get

day suggested by

this



to the sacredness

beyond the ordinary



Zen teacher saw

five

When

they arrived at the

monastery and had dismounted, the teacher asked the

"Why

The

are

you riding your

am

I

glad that

I

boy! I

is

carrying this sack

them on my student. "You are a smart not walk hunched over like

do not have

back!" The teacher praised the

stu-

bicycles?"

student replied, "The bicycle

first

of potatoes.

of

of his students returning from the

market, riding their bicycles.

dents,

is,

that pervades Eastern expressions of spirituality.

to carry

first

When you grow old, you will

do."

The second student replied, "I love to watch the trees and fields pass by as I roll down the path!" The teacher commended the second student, "Your eyes are open, and you see the world."

The

third student replied,

content to chant

nam myoho

"When

I

ride

renge kyo."

praise to the third student, "Your

mind

my

bicycle,

am

I

The teacher gave

will roll

his

with the ease

of a newly trued wheel."

The fourth student replied, "Riding my bicycle, I live in harmony with all sentient beings." The teacher was pleased and said

to the fourth student,

"You

are riding

on the golden

path of non-harming."

The said, "I

student replied, "I ride

fifth

bicycle."

The teacher

am

Agi quod

sat at the feet

my

my

bicycle to ride

of the

fifth

student and

your student." 13

"Do what you

agis.

are doing," urges a traditional

nition of classic Western spirituality. Eastern

wisdom

weaves with Western spirituality in the writings of the Trappist

Thomas Merton. A loved to

tell

on

friend of

Merton

admo-

often inter-

recounts a story that the

monk monk

himself.

Once he met

a

of living in a

Zen novice who had just finished his first year monastery. Merton asked the novice what he 36

THE ROOTS OF WISDOM had learned during the course of

his novitiate, half expecting

to hear of encounters with enlightenment, discoveries of the spirit,

perhaps even altered states of consciousness. But the

novice replied that during his life

first

year in the contemplative

he had simply learned to open and close doors. "Learned

to

open and

close doors."

The

quiet discipline of

not acting impetuously, of not running around slamming doors, of not hurrying from one place to another was where this novice

had

to begin (and perhaps end) in the process of

spiritual growth.

"Learned

open and

to

close

doors" Merton

loved the answer and often retold the story, for for

him "play"

at its

being absorbed in

An

it

very best

intensely

earlier story, a favorite

and

one

teaches another important aspect of ity

utterly.

in the

it

exemplified

ordinary, while

14

Western tradition, gently

"beyond the ordinary":

Spiritual-

does not connote spectacular. Saint Nicholas, an inspiration for our

modern

figure of Santa Claus, has the distinction in the history of

spirituality

saint las

—doing the

of being one of the

without

first

first

individuals to be venerated as a

being a martyr. Virtually every saint before Nicho-

performed the "miracle" of great heroism

in the face of torture,

imprisonment, and death. In the fourth century, with peace,

between the searched for

who and

finally,

Roman state and the community of Christians, believers new models for their saints. They found one in Nicholas,

impressed them as someone ready to help others anonymously for

no personal advantage. His "miracle" was

singularly unselfish kindness in everyday life}

that of constant

and

5

Fourteen hundred years after the death of Nicholas, a Hasidic rabbi reflected a similar insight:

The Belzer

said to his wife that

an "ehrlicher Yud," a truly

pious Jew, a Jew par excellence, was dead.

"Who

is it?"

in-

quired his wife.

"The Rabbi of Dinov," answered the Belzer. "Was he then, only an 'ehrlicher Yud,' and not Rebbe?" was his wife's question.

a

famous

"There are many Rebbes," replied the Belzer, "but few truly pious Jews." 16

37

THE SPIRITUALITY OF IMPERFECTION Spirituality

precisely

not spectacular, but spectacularly simple, and that

is

why we

foundly simple

is

find

it

simply ineffable:

It literally

Hebrew

Bible portrays

by God,

that they "cannot speak," a claim that has been interpreted

some

is

The procannot be spoken. The

so 'difficult to define or describe.

Moses and Jeremiah

as protesting,

when

called

by

scholars as evidence that these prophets labored under

some

kind of speech defect. This interpretation suggests two ideas:

First,

God

chooses the

be divine spokespersons,

least likely individuals to

and second, through

eral "un-speakability"

—of

—the

God

this choice,

signals the ineffability

wisdom. The

spiritual

spiritual

is

lit-

simply

beyond words. 17

The paradox of "beyond

the ordinary yet not spectacular" reflects a

central spiritual truth: the importance of avoiding the dichotomizing,

dividing-into-two approach that

our

to like

either

is

the bane of

reality divided into neat

one or the

and

all spirituality.

We

distinct parts, seeing

tend it

as

good or bad, answer or

other: either black or white,

question, problem or solution. But the vision offered by the spirituality

the

of imperfection cautions against that tendency, pointing out that

demand

for

an absolutely certain truth

—the quest —

unalterable answer to our spiritual questions

"playing

God"

that denies

Precisely because

and ambiguity

we

sinner, both

human.

In

and ultimately destroys our human

all spirituality.

human

condition and there-

For we are both: both saint and

"good" and "bad," both

some

reality.

are not either-or, not one-or-the-other, paradox

reside at the heart of the

fore at the heart of

for a single,

involves the kind of

less

and more than "merely"

strange (and not-so-strange) ways, our failures are

our successes, our suffering

is

our

joy,

and our imperfections prove

to

be the very source of our longing for perfection. Because paradox

is

at

our very core, the

spirituality

of imperfec-

tion suggests that only by embracing the "dark side" of our ambigu-

ous natures can we ever come to know "the only by giving up our will

of others, we attain

light."

We

find ourselves

we gain freedom by submitting autonomy by not insisting on our own

selves,

Sages and saints throughout the centuries have maintained that this willingness to give

up the

self

and

38

to the rights. it is

in

give in to others that the road

THE ROOTS OF WISDOM to

human wholeness can be

"self," the first step

A

is

And

found.

to give

up

for those

certainty.

The

rabbi was asked to adjudicate a case.

sented his argument, and

who would

give

up

18

man

first

pre-

the rabbi, after hearing his evi-

dence, said to him, "You are right!"

Then the second man presented rabbi, after hearing

At asked,

this point, the rabbi's

"How

are right!"

for a

"Darling,

19

A more modern

anecdote conveys the same insight. Donald Nich-

story about the popular Austrian biographer Ida Friede-

oll tells this

rike

men be right?" moment and then said,

can both of these

The rabbi thought you

argument and the "You are right!" wife turned to her husband and his

his evidence, said,

Gorres and her husband Carl

me

Ida told

that at the time

Josef.

when

she and Carl Josef were

—and she

preparing to marry she was an ardent teetotaller

could be

fierce in

Josef, true

her convictions.

On

the other

hand Carl

Rhinelander that he was, enjoyed his wine. That

was why Ida one day raised with Carl Josef the difficulties in their marriage which that difference might cause. "No difficulty," said Carl Josef quite calmly.

in our

"We

shall

not have wine

home."

after they had been married some 20 years, Ida woke up one morning and said to herself, "Ida Gorres, you are an awful prig! For 20 years you have deprived this good

Then,

man

of his wine." She immediately shared this revelation

with Carl Josef

"Good!

who

On my way home

wine, and

we

news with a smile and said, evening I shall buy a bottle of

received the this

shall celebrate." 20

"Beyond the ordinary"

.

.

.

spirituality

is

that

which allows us to

get

beyond the narrow confines of self. But another paradox lurks here, for

our

human

task, as countless sages

39

have suggested,

is

to get

beyond

THE SPIRITUALITY OF IMPERFECTION our

without trying to escape ourselves. To get beyond the

selves

a place of interior peace whe're

we

self to

are not obsessed with thoughts of

beyond the immediate concerns that dissilearn to put up with to accept our selfish,

material possessions, to get

pate us,

we must



first

impatient, often recalcitrant

How own

human



nature.

How come

grapple with this anomaly?

paradox? "Rejoice every time you discover a

our

to terms with

new

imperfection,"

suggested the eighteenth-century Jesuit spiritual director Jean-Pierre

Caussade. If we find ourselves getting impatient, Caussade counseled, we can try to bear our impatience patiently. If we lose our tranquillity, we can endure that loss tranquilly. If we get angry, we ought not get angry with ourselves for getting angry. If we are not content, we can

be content with our discontent. Caussade, the great Western

try to

apostle of an almost Zen-like "detachment," insisted above

all

that

we

must be detached from everything, even from detachment. The caution "Don't fuss too

mate

much about

yourself"

sums up Caussade's

ulti-

spiritual counsel.

And above when it

don't fight the truth of yourself.

all,

clean"

is

most exposed, most vulnerable

to

The

its

self

own

"comes

imperfec-

tion. In

words written two hundred years before the founding of Al-

coholics

Anonymous, Caussade offered this paradoxically consoling would come to be called "hitting bot-

vision of the experience that

tom." The time fies It

will

you now,

is

only

come when will

fill

the sight of this wretchedness, which horri-

you with joy and keep you

when we have reached

the

in a delightful peace.

bottom of the abyss of our

nothingness and are firmly established there that we can "walk before

God

in justice

and truth."

.

.

.

moment, remain hidden, buried

The as

wretchedness underneath the most

In weakness, strength

is

fruit it

of grace must, for the

were

lively

in the abyss

of your

awareness of your weak-

discovered; in wretchedness, joy; in the

"abyss of nothingness," "the fruit of grace."

And

so

we need not

escape ourselves to find peace or joy, for while spirituality beyond,

it

is

discovered

first

within.

40

is

always

THE ROOTS OF WISDOM

A man

of piety complained to the Baal Sfiem Tov, saying: "I

have labored hard and long in the service of the Lord, and yet I

have received no improvement.

I

am

still

an ordinary and

ignorant person."

The Besht answered: "You have gained the realization that you are ordinary and ignorant, and this in itself is a worthy accomplishment." 2 2

41

Chapter 3

THE REALITY OF LIMITATION

There

is

a crack in everything

God

has made. Ralph Waldo Emerson

It

seems absolutely necessary for most of us

man

is

to get

1

over the idea that

God. Bill

Wilson

Correspondence

A

Greek Orthodox Church, Father Thomas Hopko,

priest of the

of a

monk

He was

When

Mount

he met on

in a very

bad

Athos.

state,

very dark, very

very angry.

bitter,

asked what was the matter, he said, "Look

been here

for thirty-eight years,

pure prayer." saying

how

And

tells

and

this other fellow

I

at

me;

I've

have not yet attained

on the pilgrimage was

sad he thought this was.

Another man present

said, "It's a sad story all right,

but

the sadness consists in the fact that after thirty-eight years in a monastery he's

The image both

still

interested in pure prayer."

troubles

unable to see that his

futile

2

and consoles: the befuddled, quest for "pure prayer"

is

bitter

monk,

precisely the

cause of his deepest anguish, and the observer recognizing not only the reality of the sadness but

its

perfection.

42

source

—the

impossible ideal of

THE ROOTS OF WISDOM To deny imperfection be imperfect.

Spirituality,

is

to

disown

which

is

oneself, -for to

be

human

and suggests

supplies a context

rooted in and revealed by uncer-

and the failure of control, way of living in which our imperfec-

a

tions can be endured. Spiritual sensibilities begin to flower

with the understanding that "something

fertilized

is

There

to

inadequacies, helplessness, the lack

tainties,

soil

is

after

is,

something "wrong" with

all,

Throughout the

when is

the

awry."

us.

and thinkers have

centuries, spiritual writers

ex-

pressed this experience of "awry-ness" as a sense of being off balance,

out of

kilter,

ungrounded, fractured, broken, twisted, or torn apart.

Almost twenty- five hundred years ago, Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, declared the

To describe

suffering.

which means

from

first

a

of his Four Noble Truths in three words: Life

Buddha used

this suffering

bone or

axle out of

its

is

word dukkha, broken and torn apart

socket,

the

itself.

But perhaps the clearest exploration of in the Desert Fathers.

These

ascetics

paradox can be found

this

went out into the desert

in search

of a setting that would allow them to explore the nature of the

human

them had been "redeemed"; the desert what it means to be human. The wastelands of Egypt and the hillsides of the Near East may seem distant from modern times and concerns, but these ancient spiritual teachers shaped the themes that would be analyzed and reformulated through the centuries, into modern times. be-ing that their faith told

became

a laboratory for studying

Their explorations depicted our

human

sense of alienation in

terms of an inner tension or struggle. As early as the middle of the

second century, the apostolic father Hermas described the conflict

between the good and the bad angels within each of spiritual forces care,

offers

us.

can exert a powerful influence over us,

Because these

we must

take

he warned, not to put our trust in "the wrong angel." Hermas

no hope

we can

that

entirely rid ourselves of the

"bad angel"

within us; he suggests not a plan for perfection but a program of survival

.

from time

.

.

surviving our imperfections.

to time.

fallings-short,

our

We

The important question sins?

To "survive our

we all fall short, we survive those

all sin,

is:

will

3

sins," they

cepting our imperfection,

must be acknowledged

means accepting

it

as sins: ac-

as imperfection. For the

Desert Fathers, such acceptance was the foundation of healing.

43

THE SPIRITUALITY OF IMPERFECTION

A

brother said to the abba Poemen, "If

sin,

my conscience

you

fallen?'

a

man

"

The old man

goes astray,

A more

devours and accuses

if

he

fall

me

says,

into shameful

saying:

said to him, "At the

'Why have

moment when

have sinned,' immediately the

'I

recent spiritual writer illustrates the necessity of accepting

imperfection as imperfection with a

The

I

chief executive of a large

for his energy

and

drive.

modern

story.

company was

greatly

admired

But he suffered from one embarrass-

ing weakness: each time he entered the president's office to

make his weekly report, he would wet his pants! The kindly president advised him to see a urologist, at company expense. But when he appeared before the president the following week, his pants were again wet! "Didn't you see the urologist?" asked the president.

"No, he was out. cured,"

the

executive

I

saw a psychiatrist replied.

"I

and I'm no longer feel embarinstead,

rassed!" 5

In our quest for spirituality, a chief danger

change the

rules.

We

is

the temptation to

attempt to escape our imperfection by redefining

or lowering the standards necessary for "perfection" or by blaming

our flaws and errors on someone imperfection reveals

The tradition of a spirituality of such attempts for what they are unnecessary. else.



True healing follows the example of the early Christian church, which, rather than redefining the rules to allow anyone to declare himself perfect, sought to provide "a vision of

life

in

which imperfections

could be endured." 6 Following the heyday of the desert hermits,

who

so strikingly ex-

plored the implications of this insight, the revered fourth-century

Cappadocian Father, Gregory of Nyssa, described the only perfection that

human

for the goal

monk the

beings can achieve as a "progress" that is

is

never-ending,

ever-receding. Gregory's imagery paralleled that of the

Macarius,

who

vividly portrayed the journey that

main monastic metaphor

for the spiritual

44

life

had become

as a process

of

THE ROOTS OF WISDOM and getting up

falling

something up only to have

again, building

knocked down again. According to Macarius, our imperfection that allows sin



beneficial, for

is

and sweat." The struggle

struggle

for strength, demonstrating that

perfection" at

work

placent

in us,

but we can

when

when

we must

assures that

itself

we

—the weakness within us "toil

proves our virtue, a

synonym

are spiritually alive. "Unspeakable

more

set a

realistic

we refuse become com-

goal in which

things are going badly and refuse to

things are going well. Neither extreme, Macarius assures

us (and experience affirms), will

last for long.

In the fifth century, Saint Augustine explored the tension

the flesh and the spirit, detailing

and using

extent defective

exempt from the need Julian of

that T.

S.

Norwich

Eliot

"behoovely" ity. it is

how

in this

this point to

to seek forgiveness.

down

set

life

everyone

it

in the twentieth:

there

of course, signifies not

but the reality of

its

human

in time

wants

human

modern connotation of

philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote to his tianity

mity.

[is .

.

.

a

essentially]

Sickness

is

to dwell.

life-as-a-whole, in

between Julian and confession

is

all its

Eliot, the

sister,

Sin

is

would be no sensual-

within the confines of our bodies and our world;

God

some

an insight

in the fourteenth century

necessary because without

to

7

would borrow from her

sensuality, she assures us, that

is

between

emphasize that no one

For Julian, "sensuality" involves the whole of

Midway

and

unattainable because of the tension of the "two spirits"

is

to lose heart

it

it

life,

it is

lived as

within our

"Sensuality" here,

prurient sexuality earthy bodiliness. 8

seventeenth-century

Madame

Perrier: "Chris-

of irreparable

the natural state of a Christian."

human infirAnd we have

dawn we "rejoice" whenever we discover a new only when we learn how to put up with ourselves

already noted Caussade's suggestion, at the eighteenth-century

of the

modern

age, that

imperfection, for

can we arrive

at a place

of interior peace.

In the nineteenth century Therese of Lisieux cried out

depth of her loneliness and sorrow, "I have courage."

began

his

my

faults,

but

I

from the also have

And Leszek Kolakowski, a contemporary philosopher who own journey toward spirituality from within Marxism, sug-

gests that "the Sacred

ure," finding in insufficiency

all

...

is

revealed to us in the experience of our

fail-

expressions of spirituality "the awareness of human the lived admission of failure." 9

45

THE SPIRITUALITY OF IMPERFECTION In this consistent vision, spirituality begins as an expression of

what

human

in

be-ing

human

incurable by

is

And

efforts.

it

an

is

expression: not a philosophical or psychological description, not a the-

dogma

ory, belief, opinion, or judgment, not

expression

man



a

howl of pain,

a cry for help squeezed out of one's hu-

me, whether

core. "Lord, save

like

I

denizens prayed. "Dust and ashes that

But

—of

and sages

insist that

it

or not," one of the desert

am,

I

I

love sin." 10

begins as a cry for help,

if spirituality

living with

or doctrine or creed but

putting up with

—our human

it

becomes

imperfection.

way of The saints a

imperfections be accepted as imperfections be-

we

cause such acceptance

is

and a way of living

which those imperfections can be endured and

in

lived with creatively.

necessary

And

The

refraining

life,

knew something

many moderns,

ancients

life,"

that

have forgotten.

Five, Verse 48:

Heavenly Father

perfect."

The term

perfect

which means more accurately

who

When

"lets

His rain

fall

Gospel according to

is

on the

is

translated

from the

"fully complete." Verses

the breadth of the love of

just

and the unjust

alike."

taken in context, then, the point of the admonition to "be

perfect"

is

to

be compassionate

in a

way

that treats all others fairly,

equally.

You have

learnt

how

your enemy. But those

who

I

who

was

said:

You must love your neighbor and hate

say this to you: love your enemies

way you

he causes his sun to

his rain to fall

those

it

persecute you; in this

in heaven, for

and

of

"Therefore be ye perfect as your

43 to 48 form a unit, the theme of which the Father,

in their pursuit

critical error in the history

as recorded in the

Matthew, Chapter is

involves

for absolute

from the out-of-context quotation of the

spirituality arises

teleios,

A

way

life

11

for perfection.

words of Jesus of Nazareth

Greek

from asking

and abandoning demands

of "the perfect

Western

are to develop a vision of

so the "second step" along that

accepting the uncertainties of assurances,

if

rise

will

love you,

what

right have

your heavenly Father

is

as well as

alike.

to claim

much, do they not? And

greetings for your brothers, are

the pagans do as much,

you

For

if

good,

you love

any credit? Even if

you save your

you doing anything exceptional? Even

do they not? You must therefore be teleios.

for

be sons of your Father

on bad men

on honest and dishonest men

the tax collectors do as

and pray

12

46

teleios as

THE ROOTS OF WISDOM As the very concept of a "Heavenly Father" or any kind of "Higher Power" implies, spirituality is founded in the recognition and acceptance of one's creatureliness and finitude. There

thing

wrong" with

the creature

us: Finite beings,

who wants

to be

God,"

we

of course, "some-

"Man

as Sartre sadly observed.

God, and given our human nature,

are not

is,

thirst for the infinite.

is

But we

spirituality suggests

not

"I'm okay, you're okay," but "I'm not okay, and you're not okay, but that's all right."

modern mind, which

This presents a difficult challenge for the

tends to view problems from the perspective: "If

The

fixed."

corollary runs: "If

nothing wrong." But

if

"nothing

spirituality. In a perfect

The

perfected

we cannot is

fix

it's

wrong,

world, there would be is

it

can be

then there must be

wrong," then there

the completed, that which

is

it,

no

is

no need

spirituality at

finished, ended.

for all.

But

we are human, we are not and cannot be finished or ended while we are still alive. Imperfection is related to limits. As humans, we do not "have" limits; we are limited. Something is wrong and it cannot be "fixed." Whenever that reality of limitation is denied or because

rejected, spirituality suffers.

In 1937 in

New

York, and in 1939 in

its

other center, Akron,

Ohio, the members of Alcoholics ford

Anonymous departed OxMany factors weighed, but among the

Group auspices. loomed the Group

heaviest

ishness,

their

"Four Abso-

and Absolute Love.

These ideals are co-founder

1940

on

insistence

Absolute Honesty, Absolute Purity, Absolute Unself-

lutes":

Bill

letter in

donment of The

W.

still

mentioned

in

some A.A. groups, but

spoke for the fellowship as a whole in a

which he responded to a

critic

of A.A.'s aban-

the "Four Absolutes":

ideals of purity, honesty, unselfishness,

and love are

by members of Alcoholics Anonymous as by any other group of people, but we found that when you as adhered to

put the word "absolute" before them, alcoholics just couldn't stand the pace,

drunk

again.

.

.

and too many went out and got

.

As you so well understand, we drunks are all-or-nothing people. In the old days of the Oxford Groups, they

47

THE SPIRITUALITY OF IMPERFECTION were forever talking about the Four Absolutes.

we saw people going broke on

.

.

.

There

this sort of perfection

trying to get too good by Thursday. 13

who

Finite beings

"want

to

tion

.

.

them,

thirst for the infinite, desperate creatures

who

be God," all-or-nothing people .

given our limitations, and our tendency to strain against

how do we

have not

who

go broke on perfec-

up with ourselves? The sages and saints some thoughts on the subject. The Desert

learn to put

us without

left

group of imperfect

Fathers, that marvelous

gled tirelessly with their

own

human

beings

who

strug-

imperfections, discovered quite a bit

about learning

how

mined,

compassion, which begins with "putting up with" oth-

lies in

to

"put up with ourselves." The

secret,

they deter-

ers.

A monk

was brought up before the brotherhood for having sin, and it was decided that he would

committed a grievous

be excommunicated. As the

monk

left

the sanctuary, his head

bent in shame, the esteemed Abba Bessarian stood up, into step behind his fellow

nounced,

The very

we

to

a sinner."

14

are like others not in our virtues

our

one of the most

draw

am

fell

in a clear voice an-

solitude of their lives as hermits led the Desert Fathers to

discover that precisely in

"I, too,

monk and

faults,

our

failings,

our

influential of the desert

God, the more we should

flaws.

and

strengths, but

As Evagrius Ponticus,

monks, put

it:

The nearer we

see ourselves as being

one with

every sinner. 15

Many this

favorite stories of desert spirituality dwell lovingly

theme, for

it

infatuated with

Isaac of



saw a brother

visiting a

sin. Isaac

when he returned

monastic community when he

condemned him

in his heart. Later,

to his cell for the night, he discovered an

angel barring the doorway. is

just

was perhaps the most important discovery of an era discoveries an era in this way not unlike our own.

its

Thebes was

where he

on

"God

has sent

to put the fallen brother

48

whom

me

to ask you you have con-

THE ROOTS OF WISDOM demned." Isaac was immediately judge the sinner,

Among

how

could he?

contrite: If

the oft-quoted "Sayings of the

Old Men,"

word abba means, we

Fathers were called and as the

God

did not

16

as the Desert

find the following

reminder:

The old men used

"There

to say,

nothing worse than pass-

is

And Abba Theodotos said, "If you live continot nently, do judge one who lusts, for just like him you disobey the law. For the one who said, 'Do not lust/ also said, ing judgement."

'Do not judge.'

" 17

In their solitude in the desert, the

monks confronted their own own sinfulness. But their

weakness and developed a deep sense of their



spirituality did not stop there

awareness of their

own

it

only began there. For out of that

weakness, they developed a compassion for the

weaknesses of others, the outstanding virtue that highlight.

One

the Black.

A

all

of their sayings

of the most respected of the Desert Fathers was Moses

story suggests the foundation of his greatness.

A brother

at Scetis

committed a

which Abba Moses was priest sent

someone

invited,

fault.

A

council was called to

but he refused to go. Then the

to say to him,

"Come,

for everyone

is

waiting for you." So he got up and went, taking a leaking jug filled

with water and carrying

came out old

man

see them,

other."

to

meet him and

replied:

"My

and today

When

I

sins

it

said,

with him. The other

"What

is this,

run out behind

am coming

monks The

Father?"

me and

I

do not

to judge the faults of an-

they heard that, they said no more to the

brother but forgave him. 18

A similar story is told about Abba Ammonas, who was called upon by some monks

to punish a local hermit

who was thought

to have a

mistress living with him. Infuriated at their neighbor's casual

cell,

monks asked Ammonas

immo-

accompany them to the monk's where they would confront the culprit and extract punishment

rality,

the

to

for his sins.

49

THE SPIRITUALITY OF IMPERFECTION

When

the hermit in question heard this, he hid the

a large barrel. as

The crowd of monks came

he entered the monk's

woman was down on

cell,

woman

to the place.

Ammonas

in

As soon

realized that the

hiding in the cask. Strolling over to

it,

he

sat

monks to monks had searched everywhere without finding the woman, they retreated, abashed and apologetic. On his way out, Ammonas took his fellow search the

the barrel and then instructed the other cell carefully.

monk's hand and

When

the

said, "Brother,

be on your guard; pay atten-

tion to yourself." 19

"Pay attention

to

yourself7"

Abba Ammonas was not primarily

concerned with his fellow monk's actions of the desert

monks tended

to

—even the most venerated

be rather casual about what would

excite later generations as matters of morality.

But

Ammonas was

deeply concerned by the monk's apparent attitude of carelessness, of

not facing up to what he was doing, of not being truthful with himself. What we do is important, but what we are is more important. Most important, of course, is that we understand the difference. A favorite story of the Hasidim captures it.

Three youths hid themselves on a Sabbath

barn

in order

to smoke. Hasidim discovered them and wished to

flog the

offenders.

One youth

in a

exclaimed: "I deserve no punishment,

the Sabbath." The second youth said: smoking on the Sabbath is forbidden." The third youth raised his voice and cried out: "I, too, forgot." "What did you forget?" he was asked. The lad replied: "I for

I

forgot that today

"And

I

is

forgot that

20 forgot to lock the door of the barn."

But

how do we

attain this understanding, this

deep honesty con-

cerning ourselves and our failures? The correspondence of two tual fathers

who

lived in the sixth century at Thavatha, a

Gaza, provides practical and

realistic

little

spiri-

south of

suggestions for learning from

our imperfections. Barsanuphius and John, known respectively as "The Great Old Man" and "The Other Old Man," wrote replies to

many who fifty

of

petitioned their guidance.

their letters survive.

One

More than

eight

hundred and

of Barsanuphius's correspondents was

50

THE ROOTS OF WISDOM another Abba John, of Beersheba, and their exchange

is

particularly

memorable. John had asked a friend to do something, and it had not been done quickly enough to satisfy him. He duly reprimanded the friend,

who

then became upset at the rebuke. So, John wrote

to Barsanuphius, that

anybody

it

—he would never say anything

first

response to John, Barsanuphius was gentle and

"This generation

man

hard to discover a

soft

is

and

delicate;

you

will find

was the

readily admitting that he

troubles: "I

architect of

and

happen

that

all

and

what you do," he

troubles are

yet

of my sins and that my own fault."

you do not believe

this,

call

I

your-

judging from

"A man who holds that he is a own troubles does not go round

fired back.

sinner and the cause of his

contradicting people and fighting

with them."

his

me because

to

my

But Barsanuphius saw right through him. "You self a sinner

by

it

most of

know, father," he wrote back to Barsanuphius,

"that these things a fool

it

with a tough heart."

John caught the quiet rebuke and moved to blunt

am

to

again!

In his indirect:

was

He concluded

them and

getting angry

his letter with the classic

monastic

admonition: "Pay attention to yourself, brother: this

is

not

the truth." 21

"Pay attention to yourself!" The emphasis is always and continually on self-knowledge, knowing oneself and honestly accepting "own-



—one's own imperfections. For honesty

and foremost honesty with self, and true honesty concerns acknowledging and accepting our own imperfection. Pay attention to yourself and allow others to do ing"

is first

the same, for other people can deal with their

They don't need someone Spirituality's constant

tance of one's

We as

own

else to

own

imperfections.

point out their problems.

emphasis on self-knowledge and the accep-

imperfection has not changed in the

find a recent expression of the insight in the novel

author Larry McMurtry

tells

modern

age.

Lonesome Dove,

the story of two aging cowboys

who

could be considered the modern counterparts of Barsanuphius and John. Arguing about the merits of an occasional failure, Augustus

51

THE SPIRITUALITY OF IMPERFECTION accuses his friend Call of being too stubborn to admit he

is

ever

wrong.

"You're so sure you're right

people talk to you at

it

doesn't matter to you whether

I'm glad

all.

I've

been wrong enough to

keep in practice."

"Why would you want Call asked. "I'd think

to keep in practice being wrong?" would be something you'd try to

it

avoid."

"You Augustus

can't avoid said. "If

you've got to learn to handle

it,

you come

takes once or twice in your I

mine every day

face

face to face with

life it's

—that

bound

way they

to

it,"

your own mis-

be extra painful.

ain't usually

much

worse than a dry shave." 22

The vocabulary is modern, but the insight is ancient: The main benefit of struggle and failure is that it helps protect against the ultimate bane of all

spirituality, conceit

—the

self-centeredness that claims

absolute self-sufficiency, the pride that denies

all

need.

of the book Alcoholics Anonymous reads: "Selfishness ness! That,

we

think,

is

A



the root of our troubles."

key passage

self-centered-

A more

classic

expression of this spiritual perspective makes the same point in greater detail.

God

when we avow our

can exercise his mercy

defects.

acknowledged, instead of repelling God, draw him his longing to

be merciful. As

this

is

Our

defects

to us, satisfying

understood through meditation,

the person realizes that those things by which he feels unlovable are exactly

what he has

The ways of

to offer

God

to attract

him. 23

conceit can be treacherous, trapping not "even" the

holy but especially those

who would

Said the Koretzer rebbe: ples for instruction

how

"A

wise

be holy.

man was He

asked by his Disci-

to avoid sin.

able to avoid offenses, I fear " sin—that of pride.' 24

you would

52

fall

replied:

into a

'Were you still

greater

THE ROOTS OF WISDOM

And from

same

the

Once some

tradition, another storyr

disciples of

Rabbi Pinchas ceased talking in em-

barrassment when he entered the House of Study.

When

he

asked them what they were talking about, they said: "Rabbi,

we were

saying

how

afraid

we

Urge

are that the Evil

will

pursue us."

"Don't worry," he

enough

for

pursuing

The

it

it."

25

theme of honesty with

central

Hasidic and desert sources but

hermit-monks

"You have not gotten high you are still

replied.

to pursue you. For the time being,

self

pervades not only the

spiritual visions.

all

Those ancient

settled in the desert in the first place

understood the dangers of

self-deceit;

because they

they sought in the wilderness a

kind of laboratory, a setting devoid of distraction in which they hoped to discover the practices ality. It is

most favorable

to the

development of spiritu-

sometimes suggested that the Desert Fathers and Mothers

retreated to the desert in an effort to escape temptation, but as the

numerous

knew

stories in this chapter illustrate, they

full

well the

impossibility of such escape. Instead, they sought to confront temptation in a setting

where they could recognize

viewed temptation as their most valuable

came

desires, they

from

to

know

it

for

tool, for

what

They

is.

their

themselves. Far from longing for freedom



used—even courted temptation The ascetic's gravest danger was always boredom and self-pity that flourished

their passions, these hermits

as a source of essential energy.

recognized to be acedia

it

by observing

—the

when temptation disappeared. 26 "What is 'failure' in the desert?"

asks scholar Benedicta Ward. She

goes on to detail the answer in her study Harlots of the Desert, tellingly subtitled:

What the It is

A

Study of Repentance

in Early

really lies outside the ascetic life

proud

attitude

which denies the

not judgement or discussion of

is

Monastic Sources.

not lust

itself

but despair,

possibility of forgiveness. sins, excuses,

.

.

.

or understanding

of alleviating circumstances that break the heart, but mercy and love.

Fundamental

to the

life

of the desert fathers was the insight not to

judge but to love. 27

53

THE SPIRITUALITY OF IMPERFECTION

From

own weak-

the central act of confronting the truth of one's

ness began the development* of that characteristic most admired by these earliest saints

—the

sense of compassion, the recognition that

them not different from but like to oneself. ascetics combined those deep awarenesses of their

others' weaknesses render

Because the desert

own

sinfulness

and of the weakness of

all

humanity, an almost exag-

gerated sense of compassion for the weakness of others comes through

many

of their sayings.

When

their stories are taken out of context,

we

tend to be shocked by their "weird" behavior, forgetting that their weirdness was their

way of

calling attention to the

need

for

compas-

sion.

The

desert saints were not, of course, either the

first

or the

last to

recognize that spirituality begins in the acceptance of our limitations

and

in the

compassion that emerges from such self-knowledge. Some

seventeen centuries

later,

Bill

formulating a response to a

Wilson drew on the same insight

member

troubled by

in

some of the "goings-

on" within Alcoholics Anonymous.

Anonymous

Alcoholics

made up of short.

I

And from

a terribly imperfect society because

very imperfect people.

ideal of which, because fall

is

we

know because

are very I

We

constantly

the eighteenth century

are

all

fall

begun

The Rabbi of Lelov in

very

sick,

we

.

.

.

often

short myself. 28

we have

draws on an aspect of the Jewish experience Christianity has also

dedicated to an

human and

is

it

this Hasidic story,

that, after the

which

Holocaust,

to tap.

said to his Hasidim:

"A man cannot be redeemed until he recognizes the flaws his soul and tries to mend them. A nation cannot be re-

deemed

until

it

recognizes the flaws in

its

soul

and

tries to

mend them. Whoever permits no recognition of his flaws, be it man or nation, permits no redemption. We can be rewhich we recognize ourselves. "When Jacob's sons said to Joseph: 'We are upright men,' he answered: 'That is why I spoke to you saying: Ye are spies.' But later, when they confessed the truth with their lips and

deemed

to the extent to

with their hearts, and said to one another, 'We are verily

54

THE ROOTS OF WISDOM guilty concerning

demption

our brother,

dawned.

'

Overcome

the

gleam of their

first

with

compassion,

re-

Joseph

turned aside and wept." 29

There is both good and evil in the world, but the line separating them runs not between nations or institutions or groups or even individuals; the line that separates good and evil runs through the core of each nation, each institution, each group, and, most tellingly, through the core of each human being, through each one of us. Cutting through each one of us crack in everything least

of

all



in each

is

God

the reality of our

own

limitation.

"There

a

—not

has made," Emerson observed, and

one of

is

us.

30

55

Chapter 4 A

Somewhere love

and of

SENSE OF BALANCE

in each

of us we're a mixture of light and of darkness, of

hate, of trust

and of fear. lean Vanier

A

preacher put this question to a class of children: "If

good people in the world were red and green, what color would you be?"

all

the

the bad people were

Linda Jean thought mightily for a moment. Then

Little

her face brightened streaky!"

all

1

and she

replied:

"Reverend,

I'd

be

2

the human race is the vision of "the somehow human" as essentially mixed, in the middle. To-be-human is to be fundamentally finite, essentially limited, "not God." And yet, at

The most ancient wisdom of

the

same time, to-be-human wisdom and love

ble of both

a very real sense, then, to

situation:

We

is

to

be capable of "more"



to

be capa-

that transcend the limitations of time. In

be

human

crave that which

is

is

to be caught in

essentially

beyond

an impossible

us.

This paradoxical insight has been stated variously throughout the

The ancient Egyptians and Greeks portrayed human beings as than the gods, more than the beasts, yet somehow also both. Among

ages. less

the earliest classic myths

we

find the tale of

how

the

human

race

sprang from the remains of the terrible Titans who, because they had eaten an infant god, contained a tiny portion of divine soul-stuff,

humans. This Titan myth neatly explained to the ancient Greek why he felt himself to be at once a god and a which was passed on

to

56

THE ROOTS OF WISDOM

why he

criminal,

experienced both the "Apolline" awareness of re-

moteness from the divine and the "Dionysian" inkling of identity 3

with

it.

This paradox of dissonance and incompleteness was embodied by

god of wine:

the ancient Greeks in the figure of Dionysus, the

paunchy, unsteady of

Most that

gait, a foolishly

pictorial representations of

modern

lewd grin on

Dionysus are

clinicians readily recognize the

his sagging face.

sufficiently detailed

mythic god as

a classic

which ranged unpredictably from

alcoholic. His reported behavior,

sentimental to savage, confirms the diagnosis. Yet because Dionysus represented not only the destructive power of alcohol but also

and salutary

social

zation

and

influences, he

was viewed

as the

a lover of peace. Like his compatriot

its

promoter of civili-

Demeter, goddess of

4 the harvest, Dionysus was both a "joy-god" and a suffering god.

The ancient Greeks explored these paradoxes in stories about their gods: later generations would utilize different images, different vocabularies, different stories. Two thousand years after Dionysus's downfall, the French mathematician and mystic Blaise Pascal reflected in his famous Pensees (1654) on "the misery and grandeur of man," caught between "the two abysses of the infinite and nothing." S0ren Kierkegaard observed in the nineteenth century that "the

self is a

the infinite possibility of the spirit with the finitude of the

everyday

life."

union of

body and of

Twentieth-century philosopher-historian William Bar-

rett suggests that

postmodern thought begins with the rediscovery

that

.

.

man

.

occupies a middle position in the universe, between the

infinitesimal

and the

infinite:

he

is

an All in relation to Nothingness,

a Nothingness in relation to the All. This

the final and perfect

fact

of the

image of the finitude of

finitude.

And

dominant

middle position of

human condition. human existence.

.

.

.

.

.

.

man

It is

Man

is

also a is

his

5

almost simultaneously with the flourishing of Alcoholics

Anonymous, American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr pointed out that man, who "stands at the juncture of nature and spirit," is the subject of ". both freedom and necessity. On the one hand, he is involved in the order of nature and is therefore bound. On the other hand, as .

.

57

THE SPIRITUALITY OF IMPERFECTION he transcends nature and himself and

spirit

both bound and

free,

is

therefore free. Being

both limited and unlimited, he invariably expe-

riences anxiety." 6

Caught between the

infinite

and the nothing, darkness and

light,

the end of things and their beginning, misery and grandeur, certain

knowledge and absolute ignorance, the human being disordered

imagery portrays

state. Classic

it

when

is

is

in a decidedly

confused condition as

A more modern

being both "beast" and "angel." sizes that both

this

expression

empha-

"the best" and "the beast" reside within each of us. For

that both-ness

denied that problems

is

would be an angel becomes

"He who And at the

arise.

a beast," observed Pascal.

beginning of the twentieth century, the Spanish-born American philosopher George Santayana developed the corollary to Pascal's image:

be a beast

"It is necessary to

if

one

ever to be a spirit." In our

is

times, the anthropologist Ernest Becker, aware that he

cancer

own

was dying of

age forty-nine, even as he was completing his Pulitzer Prize-

at

winning book, The Denial of Death, captured his anguished thoughts on the subject of man's dual nature in a description both vulgar and vivid:

"Man

is

a

The ultimate

god who

reflection of

human knowledge that

shits."

that

we

humans have above

all

7

our two-sided nature

are going to die. "That

is

is

the uniquely

the unique

gift

other animals: they can share their death

with each other," suggested William Barrett in The Illusion of Technique.

And

the Sufi

tell

an older story.

One

day, the blessed Jesus caught a sheep

flock

and

grass

A same

from a pasturing

said something in its ear. The sheep stopped eating and would take no water. few days later, as the blessed Jesus was passing that

pasture, he pointed to the sheep

herd: "Is that animal sick?

Why

is

it

and

said to the shep-

not eating grass and

taking water like the rest?"

Not recognizing him, the shepherd replied: "A person recently passed this way and said something in this sheep's ear. From that day to this the animal has been stupefied." If

you

are curious to

in the sheep's ear, let

me

know what the venerable you. What the blessed

tell

was: "Death exists!" Although

it

58

Jesus said Jesus said

was only an animal, when

it

THE ROOTS OF WISDOM heard of death that sheep stopped eating and drinking and

went into

this state of stupor.

The

and

sages

saints leave

8

no doubt

caught between a rock and a hard place

between "heaven" and have to do

"hell."



human

that to be or,

is

to

be

perhaps more accurately,

But then we moderns

know

that; all

we

listen to ourselves talk.

is

"I'm so confused." "I'm

all

torn up."

"I'm hopelessly muddled." "I don't

know who

I

am."

of recent so-called "self-help" books confirm our inability to

Titles

accept the reality of our

Afraid

own

paradox:

Afraid to Die

to Live,

Killing Ourselves with Kindness

Am

I Well Yet?

Am

When

To think

Going

I

in

self-loathing, to

tions



to

Be Happy?

such terms



to teeter at the extremes of self-love

to find neither satisfaction in successes

is

ures. Life

becomes

somewhere,

lack

all

produce something. Having

selves) into either-or

fail-

dualisms



god or

split

beast,

good or evil, up or down sense of balance. We tend to sway precariously on the of life, running from one extreme to the other, missing

angel or devil, right or wrong,

teeter-totter

nor wisdom in

a constant battle, a never-ending struggle to get

to achieve something, to

our world (and our

we

and

pursue perfection because we despise our imperfec-

left

or right,

the point that the only stable place to be reality, that is

the only place

we can

is

in the

mixed-up middle. In

be.

However we come to understand that there are necessarily both ups and downs in life, the same perspective reveals that within ourselves there is light within our darkness, good within our evil. In the spirituality of imperfection,

angel nor beast, for

we

we

learn to accept that

are both.

59

we

are neither

THE SPIRITUALITY OF IMPERFECTION Rabbi

Bunam

said to his disciples: "Everyone

must have two

pockets, so that he can. reach into the one or the other, ac-

cording to his needs. In his right pocket are to be the words: 'For

my

sake was the world created/ and in his "9

left:

'I

am

earth and ashes.'

Any

spirituality of joy

"happy

a constantly

must be rooted

also a spirituality of tragedy. Searches for

is

spirituality" never

and" rather than "either-or." embraces, and

embrace the world

if

genuine "feeling"

genuine being, the nature of our

in

requires acceptance of ourselves, our

spirituality

work, for



it

It

is

in

is

reality as

it

lives,

this spirituality that

—thus discovering who we

In The Varieties of Religious Experience, a

influenced the earliest

members of

be-ing

as "both/

precisely our twofold nature that

embracing

is

human

and our world

Alcoholics

are.

we 10

book that profoundly Anonymous, William

James distinguished between the "once-born" (the "healthy minded")

and the "twice-born," doubts.

(the "sick souls").

They seem, most of the

not even recognize that

it is

The once-born know no

time, to possess a serenity that does

serenity. Self-confident

the healthy-minded assume that things will

even in the short run. tragedy, they

On

the rare occasions

do not think of

it

as tragedy;

and

self-possessed,

work out

for the best,

when they

"bad luck"

is

experience

the whole of

their vocabulary for frustration. Talk of "conversion" thus mystifies

them, for as open as they might be to changes see the

need for change

in themselves.

in the world, they rarely

Such people simply

are,

and

they are never seduced by the temptation to ponder their be-ing. caricaturist

A

would picture them smiling vacuously and label them more biting cartoons in The New Yorker.

"Blah." They inhabit the

Numbering himself among idly detailed

how

deep sense of the

the "twice-born" sick souls, James viv-

these very different individuals are haunted by a risk,

danger, and pervasive moral evil that runs

through the world. Conscious of possessing a

self that is

somehow

divided, these sick souls are examples par excellence of "the constitutional

From seem

disease"

James

calls

Zerrissenheit

("torn-to-pieces-hood").

the perspective of the "healthy-minded," these "sick souls" to have

no sense of unity or coherence

to their lives.

They appear

riddled by inner instability, torn by tension and conflict between the

various elements of their

lives.

The "twice-born" have known 60

tragedy,

THE ROOTS OF WISDOM failure,

and

defeat,

and they have named them such; but they

somehow

a sense of the possibility of

comic

artist

identifying

above such experiences.

would nevertheless portray them anxiously

them with the

A

insecure,

"Argh!" Sick souls also inhabit

label

may be more

Yorker cartoons, but they Schulz's Charlie Brown.

New

familiar in the shape of Charles

11

to suffering, to the dark side of human be-ing,

Does such openness signal

rising

also have

denial or lack of spirituality? Are the recognition

some kind of

of darkness and the temptation to despair themselves failures?

The answer comes hurtling with

all

the force

NO!

and wisdom of hundreds

of voices echoing over thousands of years. These voices, the voices of the sages and saints, insist that

Our many

more than mere For to be

is

human

defines us.

we

when we

appreciate the magnificence of heights that

is,

after

all,

to be other than self,

"God." And so

it is

only in the acceptance that

nothing "wrong" with feeling "torn," that one can hope for

whatever healing sible.

itself that

"highs."

only in the embracing of our torn there

the struggle

failures give meaning to our few successes; only

peer into the abyss can are

it is

is

available

and can thus become

Only those who know darkness can

as

"whole"

as pos-

truly appreciate light; only

who acknowledge darkness can even see the light. Our very brokenness allows us to become whole. "No one is as whole as he who has a broken heart," said Rabbi Moshe Leib of Sasov. "Wholeness," then, does not mean that the heart is not "broken," that those

the pain does not sear. To experience sadness, despair, tears,

howls of pain demonstrates not some violation or ity

deficit

and

of spiritual-

but rather the ultimate spirituality of acceptance. For such acceptance

sanctity of a temple

is

is

that

the beginning of spirituality: it is

a place to

which

men

"The

chiefest

can go to weep in

common," wrote the Spanish philosopher Miguel de Unamuno. "Yes, we must learn to weep! Perhaps that is the supremest wisdom." But perhaps it was a Hasidic rebbe who best captured why this is so.

"Some Hasidim

Said the Porissover:

piety that they cannot believe the in order to affirm:

I

am

'afflictions

awaken

proud of

their

them penitence for their sins. They Jew, and I will accept these hardships as

in

a perfect

from

are so

Lord sends them hardships

love.'

But

afflictions

61

from love are not sent

in

THE SPIRITUALITY OF IMPERFECTION vain; they are intended as a

means

to arouse penitence.

He was

the Riziner was imprisoned, he wept.

asked:

When

'Why do

you not accept this affliction as intended in love?' He an" swered: 'When God sends bitterness, we ought to feel it.' 12

All spirituality

—but

especially a spirituality of imperfection

the perceiving, embracing, and living out of paradox.

A



involves

"paradox*

'

is

an apparent contradiction: Two things seem to exclude each other, but

need not do

in truth

sinner"

is

"Square

so.

a paradox, as

is

circle"

a contradiction; "saintly

is

"holy fool," an incongruity especially cher-

ished in the Russian Christian tradition. Openness to paradox allows

both the understanding and the acceptance of our

human

condition as

"both/and" (both a saint and a sinner) rather than "either-or" (either a saint or a sinner).

The demand

for "either-or," for one-or-the-

other, signals the rejection of paradox spirituality.

and therefore the denial of

13

Within the long story of

spirituality in the

world, failure to understand that to-be-human

much

rather than either-or led to

Augustine, for example,

is

confusion.

The

Western Christian is

to

be both/and

significance of Saint

not that he emphasized "sin," but that he

sought to promote wholeness and balance by calling attention to "the other side." Faced with the destruction of the

Roman

Empire, Augus-

and within the strength and weakness, co-

tine sought to teach that both within each person

community existed.

as a whole, both

good and

evil,

14

Both Augustine and the Augustinian

lennium thing

after

human

him understood is

monk

the core truth of

Martin Luther a mil-

human

be-ing: every-

because comes conjoined with — — the same time." sinner peccator "righteous and limited

inherently,

it

opposite. Luther's description of the believer captures this well:

its

simul Justus et

a

at

When we deny our both/and nature, the mixed-up-ed-ness that is part of our human be-ing, we refuse our very self deny it in the sense of that lying to self that is self-deception. A central theme in all traditions of spirituality



self

is

is

the insistence that honesty

essential to

erous dishonesty

is

any

spiritual quest.

And

—honesty with

the denial or refusal of our

62

self

about

the greatest, most treach-

mixed human nature.

THE ROOTS OF WISDOM The Maggid of Koznitz said to a man who wore nothing but a sack and fasted from one Sabbath to the next, "The Evil Urge is tricking you into that sack. He who pretends to fast .

but secretly eats a

something every day,

little

better off than you, for he

are deceiving yourself."

So deep

is

is

is

.

.

spiritually

only deceiving others, while you

15

this essential

need for self-knowledge, for honesty, for

"paying attention" to oneself, that one of the most delightful

tales told

of Francis of Assisi deals with his recognition of the mutuality be-

tween honesty with cerned

self

and honesty with

others. Francis

was con-

even an inadvertent deception of others might cause him

lest

and hypocrisy:

to lapse into treacherous self-deceit

Once when Francis fell ill during his last years, his guardian and companion obtained a piece of soft fox-skin to sew into his tunic as protection against the winter cold. Francis would permit the fox-skin liner only

sewn on the outside of

if

a piece of the fur was also

his tunic so that

no one would be

fooled by the garment's coarse outer appearance into think-

more

ing Francis was being

Why

all this

among

those

reason

is

they

knew

extremely

on

than he actually was. 16

concern over hypocrisy and self-deception, especially

whom

later

generations honor as saints and sages?

simple: These individuals were "sages

the simple but essential truth that difficult to

see directly reflect

ascetic

our

itself

know

ries: Listen!

up

know its own nature. The your own ear." We cannot

the soul, cannot directly

know our own

being.

then, forever grope blindly in the dark?

in order to be

it

we cannot

mixedness. Just as the eye cannot

Russians have a proverb: "You cannot kiss

7.

beings find

the truth about ourselves, for

own incongruous

—the mind,

Must we,

saints" because

we human

—we cannot see our own face without some kind of

mirror

directly

and

The

What can we

do,

Yet again, an ancient answer echoes across the centu-

Listen to stories! For

a mirror so that

we can

what

stories do,

above

all else, is

hold

human we come to know

see ourselves. Stories are mirrors of

be-ing, reflecting back our very essence. In a story, precisely the both/and, mixed-up-ed-ness of

63

our very being. In the

THE SPIRITUALITY OF IMPERFECTION

we can

discover our tragedy

and our comedy

therefore our very human-ness, the ambiguity

and incongruity

mirror of another's story,

—and that

lie at

The stories.

be

like,

the core of the

human

condition.

stories that sustain a spirituality of imperfection are wisdomThey follow a temporal format, describing "what we used to what happened, and what we are like now." 17 Such stories,

however, can also do more: The sequential format makes for other people's stories to

become

a part of

"my"

story.

profound change.

for example, hearing another's story can occasion

change then follows the format of

Telling the story of that

my

story within

story:

"Once upon a

possible

it

Sometimes,

telling a

time, I did not understand this

very well; but then I heard this story,

and now

I

understand

very

it

differently.''

Perhaps nowhere

this

is

format clearer than

in the tradition

of

Hasidic Judaism. Rarely do zaddikim answer questions. Sometimes the

rebbe replies with another question; more often he the story, especially as

those

who

join that

Here

are

how

makes whole.

the day the Baal

name,

one more

And

not be Jewish to

And

dying, he called together

When

a task to carry

on

in

still

so he called the last disciple and gave

him

go

all

disciple

over Europe to

retell stories

about

was very disappointed. This was

hardly a prestigious job. But the Baal

Shem Tov

he would not have to do

he would receive a sign

when he should life

this forever;

told

him

that

stop and then he could live out the rest of his

in ease.

So

after the Baal

Shem Tov

died, the disciple set off,

and

days and months turned into years and years of telling stories, until he felt he

he heard of a

that

understand "how story works,"

he finished, he had

this responsibility: to

The

a story.

community of

power and the wisdom of

Shem Tov was

to continue his work.

the Master.

One need

and assigned each of them

task.

tells

retold, creates a

stories.

a story that helps us to

his disciples his

and

a story that reveals the



On

told

or to be transformed by that wisdom.

spirituality

story

is

changed by those

community is

it

had told them in every part of the world. Then in Italy, a nobleman in fact, who would pay

man

a gold ducat for each

new

story told. So the disciple

64

made

his

THE ROOTS OF WISDOM

way

to Italy to the

When he

castle.

arrived,

how-

he discovered to his absolute horror that he had forgot-

ever,

ten

nobleman's

Shem Tov stories! He couldn't remember a He was mortified. But the nobleman was kind and

the Baal

all

single one!

urged him to stay on a few days anyway, in the hope that he would eventually remember something. But the next day and again the next he remembered noth-

on the fourth day the

ing. Finally,

disciple protested that

must

go, out of sheer embarrassment.

leave,

indeed as he was walking

down

the nobleman's castle, suddenly he

wasn't

much

of a story, but at least

he

As he was about to

the path leading from

remembered one story. It would prove that he was

it

know the great there when this

Shem

not a charlatan, that he indeed did

Baal

Tov, for he was the only disciple

story took

place. Clinging to his

his

way back

memory

to the castle,

and

the nobleman's presence, this to

pour

of the story's thread, he

soon

as

as

made

he was shown into

the story the disciple began

is

out.

Once

the Baal

Shem Tov

him

told

to harness the horses,

so that they could take a trip to Turkey, where at this time of

the year the streets were decorated for the Christians' Easter festival.

The

were not safe in

Week and

was well known that Jews that part of Turkey during the Christian Holy

disciple

Easter.

ing, "God-killer!"

Baal

was upset:

They were And,

It

fair

game

for Christians shout-

in fact, in the very region to

Shem Tov proposed

to go,

it

which the

was the custom during the

one Jew in reparation. Still, the Baal Shem Tov insisted and so they went. They went into the city and made their way into the Jewish quarter, Easter festival each year to

where the Jews were ters,

fear.

Imagine, then, Tov,

huddled indoors, behind closed shut-

Thus secluded, they awaited the end of the when they could go out on the streets again in safety.

out of

festival,

all

kill

how

on being shown

were when the Baal Shem room where they were gathered, threw them open, and stood there

startled they

into the

strode over to the shutters,

in full view, just as the procession

was entering the town

square!

Looking through the window, he saw the bishop leading

65

THE SPIRITUALITY OF IMPERFECTION

The bishop was arrayed like a prince with gold vestments, silver mitre, and a diamond-studded staff. Turning to the disciple, the Baal Shem Tov said: "Go tell the bishop I want to see him." Was he out of his mind? Did he want to die? Did he want me to die? the disciple remembered wonderthe procession.

But nothing could deter

ing.

this order, so the disciple

went

out into the square and, making his way through the crowd,

came around behind the bishop

mount

just as

the platform to begin his sermon.

he was about to

More

gesturing than

speaking the words, the disciple hoarsely whispered to the

bishop that the Baal

Shem Tov wanted

The bishop seemed But

after his

agitated

to see him.

and hesitated

for a

moment.

sermon, he came, and he and the Baal Shem Tov

went immediately into

a

back room, where they were secluded

together for three hours.

without saying anything

Then

the Master

came out and,

else, told his disciple that

they were

ready to go back home.

As the

disciple finished the story,

gize to the

point,

nobleman

for

when he suddenly

its

he was about to apolo-

insignificance, for

its

lack of

noticed the enormous impact the

had had on the nobleman. He had dissolved into tears when he could speak, he said, "Oh, disciple, your story has just saved my soul! You see, I was there that day. I was that bishop. I had descended from a long line of distinguished rabbis but one day during a period of great persecution, I had abandoned the faith and converted to Christianity. story

and, finally,

The

Christians, of course, were so pleased that, in time, they

even

made me

a bishop.

went along with the

And

I

had accepted everything, even

killing of the Jews each year until that

The night before the festival I had a terrible dream of the Day of Judgment and the danger to my soul. So when you came the very next day with a message from the Baal Shem Tov, I knew that I had to go to him. "For three hours he and I talked. He told me that there still might be hope for my soul. He told me to sell my goods and retire on what was left and live a life of good deeds and one

year.

holiness. There

might

still

be hope.

66

And

his last

words

to

me

THE ROOTS OF WISDOM were these: 'When a

own

story,

"So the Baal

I

you

will

man comes

know

to

Tov.

And

I

tells

you your

knew

for stories

from

recognized you immediately

when

have been asking everyone

Shem

you and

that your sins are forgiven.' I

you came, and I was happy. But when I saw that all the stories had been taken from you, I recognized God's judgment. Yet

now you have remembered one now that the Baal Shem Tov has that God has forgiven me."

When that

your

healed.

a

man comes

to

you and

sins are forgiven.

story,

my

tells

67

and

know

I

my behalf and

you your own

And when you

18

story,

interceded on

story,

you know

are forgiven,

you are

Chapter 5

EXPERIENCING THE SPIRITUAL

Unawareness

the root of all evil

is

Anonymous Egyptian Monk

way of life. We don't just think about it or we live it. Spirituality permeates to the very core of our human fre-ing, affecting the way we perceive the world around us, the way we feel about that world, and the choices we make based on our perceptions and sensations. In the experience of spirituality, three essential elements are always at play: what we see; how we feel; and why we choose. Spirituality feel

it

is,

above

or sense

all,

a

around us

it



Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Berdichev once encountered a eating

on the

ten that this

fast is

a fast day," he said.

"No," answered the man. "Aha! You are not

you not "No,

well,

this

"I

know today

I

am

perfectly healthy," the

man

Tishu B'Av."

lifted his eyes

replied.

toward heaven. "Look

precious your children are, dear God.

man

is

and your doctor has instructed

to fast," said the rabbi.

Rabbi Levi Yitzchok

how

I

have provided

with ample excuse to explain away his behavior, but

he refuses to deviate from the truth, even when nates him."

What

a

man

day of Tishu B'Av. "Surely you have forgot-

it

incrimi-

1

stubborn,

rebellious

man! someone

else

might have

concluded. But Rabbi Levi Yitzchok saw the good, which enabled

68

THE ROOTS OF WISDOM him

to feel

brotherhood with the man. Or was

erhood with

Or were

his fellow

it

his feeling of broth-

Jew that allowed the rabbi to see the good?

the seeing and the

both

feeling

results

of some prior

choice?

The word

experience speaks to the wholeness, the fitting-together

of seeing, feeling, and willing. Experience

because cause

and

knowledge of

knowledge about. Experience

a kind of

fies

even as as

it

it is

it

as well as

it

is

"hands on" grasp that reaches out

tries to

embraced and

living,

People sometimes think of spirituality as

warm

life

not

breathing reality that can be

that fully returns the embrace.

ing" (an episode of rapture, a

signi-

honey

to taste the

understand "sweetness." Experience "knows"

an object to observe but as a

creatively

is more than just feeling more than just seeing be-

also involves knowing,

2

were mainly

if it

"feel-

sensation of belonging) or pri-

marily "willing" (the act of choosing). But of the three essential

elements of the experience of spirituality, "seeing" holds a kind of necessary priority. Even

good because he

felt

Rabbi Levi Yitzchok was able to see the

if

brotherhood with

his fellow Jew,

recognize that man's Jewishness for the story to begin. first

"the proper

way of viewing

he

first

We

had

must

to

learn

things," as the Jesuit priest Jean-

Pierre Caussade insisted in introducing his eighteenth-century novices to spirituality's story.

3

Caussade did not mean seeing with our physical eyes but with an inner vision that looks at the world in a

This type of vision distinct

—so

is

way

that sees "self" in context.

often confused with "thinking," but the two are

distinct, in fact, that

thinking too

much about

things

can result in an inability to "see" them. "I begin to see an object

when

I

cease to understand

master Shen Hui suggested

no

it,"

that:

noted Thoreau.

And Chinese Zen is when there is

"The true seeing

seeing." 4

Shen Hui's observation reminds that there can be a trap in the metaphor of seeing. The first "seeing" in his aphorism "the true



seeing" all

tion,

of



signifies experiencing,

the powers of sensation.

all

with

its

The

which involves not

just the eyes,

but

tradition of a spirituality of imperfec-

emphasis on storytelling and storylistening, suggests that

the senses, hearing enjoys a real claim to precedence. For one

Hans Georg Gadamer observed: "Unlike where one can look away, one cannot 'hear away' but must

thing, as the philosopher seeing,

69

THE SPIRITUALITY OF IMPERFECTION Hearing implies already belonging together in such a manner that one is claime4 by what is being said." 5

listen.

.

.

.

Hearing involves intimacies too frequently forgotten.

When

a

man whose

marriage was in trouble sought his ad-

the Master said,

vice,

"You must learn

your

to listen to

wife."

The man took this advice to heart and returned after a month to say that he had learned to listen to every word his wife was saying.

Said the Master with a smile,

every word she

The

isn't saying."

"Now

go

home and

listen to

6

sensations of taste and smell, which thrive in spiritual tradi-

tion, especially in the East, are also part of the "vision" that ality.

Recall the story of the master

who

spiritu-

is

asked his disciples

if

they

could put into words the fragrance of a rose. "All of them were lent."

ble

Perhaps because the senses of smell and

—the

taste are

si-

simply ineffa-

experiences are impossible to put into words



efforts to

capture the fullness of the experience of spirituality frequently appeal to the sense of "sweetness."

prayer for "a good and sweet psychiatrist

and an Orthodox

"Good" can be understood perience which even a

Commenting on the Rosh Hashanah year," Abraham Twerski, who is both a rabbi, explains.

intellectually,

little

but "sweet"

child can appreciate.

We

is

a sense ex-

ask

G-d*

for

uncomplicated and unsophisticated goodness, the sweet kind of good that can be appreciated

by

all,

only by people of profound

rather than that which

faith.

is

understood

"Give us simple good, sweet as

honey." 7

The

bitter herbs

convey as

much

and the heavily sweet wine of the Passover supper

of the story of the Exodus' beginnings as do the

readings associated with that

rite.

The unleavened bread, the singing table: few rites can match the

and standing and passing around the *

Out of

respect for Rabbi Twerski

this direct

and

his tradition,

we

follow observant

quotation and refrain from writing out the divine name.

70

Orthodox

practice in

THE ROOTS OF WISDOM Jewish Passover in conveying an experience. that

It is

not surprising, then,

Orthodox Jew Ari Goldman found especially meaningful this dewhat the Koran means to a Muslim believer.

scription explaining

When

boy reaches the age of four years, four months and is dressed up like a little bridegroom and sent to school to recite his first verse of the Koran. The verse is written in honey on a slate and, after the boy masters it, the honey is dissolved in water. The boy drinks the sweet holy words as a spiritual and physical nourishment. 8 a

four days, [he]

and Russian Orthodox

Similar sensitivity pervades the Greek tages of the Christian East,

which employ ornate

heri-

liturgical vestments,

profuse incensings, and the eating of honeyed morsels as ways of

communicating

Even the language of

spirituality's riches.

tion lovingly relishes

words such

as savor

veying something of the undefinable yet the spiritual. In

all

and

flavor as a

somehow

Smell, taste, sight,

and hearing

.

.

.

thirst

and

the most fundamental spiri-

and more. In

ence of spirituality perhaps comes closest to the it is

words

9

tual experience involves all these senses,

for

way of con-

tangible essence of

spiritual traditions, of course, the

hunger appear again and again.

this tradi-

fact,

the experi-

final sense

of touch,

ultimately a kind of kinesthetic experience: an awareness that

flows from a sense of the positioning of our whole being. tual traditions suggest a posture



Most

spiri-

the Hasidic rocking, the Buddhist

Muslim prostration toward Mecca, the Christian "an attitude of the body," both reflects and imparts

lotus-position, the

kneeling. Posture, attitudes of the

mind, thus conveying

as well as

symbolizing an experi-

ence.

The Seventh Step of the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous originally read: "Humbly on our knees asked Him to remove our shortcomings." Just before the publication of the A.A. "Big Book," out of the same concern that led to the addition of the phrase "as tion of

"God"

in Steps

we understood Him" after the men-

Three and Eleven, the phrase "on our

knees" was dropped. Too redolent of Oxford Group practice, it

also offended

some lapsed

Catholics.

71

THE SPIRITUALITY OF IMPERFECTION But although the phrase was dropped, and the practice of

make surrender" was

"kneeling to

also

abandoned

after A.A.'s

departure from the Oxford Group, the advising of the posture remains. "Get

and

for help,

down on your knees in the morning and get down on your knees at night and

ask

say 'Thanks,' " runs a bit of frequently bestowed sponsorly wis-

dom. 10 "Getting

down on your knees" might

signify the experience of

submission, of openness, or of vulnerability. But whatever the experi-

ence

—however —

however phrased, however conceived,

represented,

however

"felt"

this positioning

of one's whole being connects the

core spiritual act of the cry for help that admits one's flawed imperfection with

some

sort of experience of fitting-in, of connectedness to

others and to a greater whole, a higher power, a God.

harmony is more than simThe word good derives from the words gather and together; it

This experience of connectedness and ply "feeling good":

It

involves being good.

same Indo-European root ge

the

as

thus signifies very simply the sense of "being joined or united in a fitting

way." The experience of harmony and connectedness that

part of spirituality be-ing

"good"

tive, as



derives

somehow

This sense

is,

—the

"feeling

good"

that flows

from a vision of

fitting into a larger

life

During the

human

a

that sees self in perspec-

whole ...

perhaps, the most important

certainly the deepest

is

from the sense of

as

human

somehow

linked.

experience.

It

is

desire.

atrocities that

accompanied the Bolshevik revolu-

tion in Russia, thousands of bewildered suspects were ran-

domly one

arrested,

in the

rounded up, stripped naked, and shot one by

back of the head. One eyewitness account captures

the depth as well as the poignancy of our need to feel linked,

joined together: "Most of the victims usually requested a

chance to say good-bye; and because there was no one they embraced and

Fundamental

and

to

human

specifically of that

wounded. The

kissed their executioners."

be-ing

is

a root sense of connectedness

connectedness as

resultant yearning to be

72

else,

11

in



somehow lost, missing, or some way united with real-

THE ROOTS OF WISDOM ity

beyond or

When

larger than one's self underlies

that connection

Alfred North Whitehead put

"Something something

We

awry."

is

we

not present,

is

separation, a sense that "something it

is

all art,

religion,

love.

experience alienation and

wrong"

or, as the

reach out to touch,

we ache

philosopher

of

in locating the origins

spirituality,

for contact, but

missing. In the absence of that connection,

is

and

we

experi-

ence the sensation of being fractured, torn apart, pulled in a dozen different directions.

Putting the fractured pieces back together again

back in

its

socket,

pieces-hood" tial



bringing some wholeness

requires



setting the

bone

to the sense of "torn-to-

acknowledgment and acceptance of the essen-

connection between vision and

feeling,

between head and heart.

Yet from the beginning of humankind's thoughtful presence on earth,

human

beings have been breaking themselves up into two

—body-

mind, thoughts-emotions, head-heart. Having made that division, philosophers for thousands of years and physicians and lawyers in

more

recent times hold lengthy debates about which bodily organ

the brain or the heart

Weaving august the

is

the

and out of

in

company of

human



more

critical to

being human.

debate are the gentle voices of an

this

spiritual thinkers

who

resist these efforts to

make

being a one-sided conversation, a monologue, with either

the head or the heart running the show.

Our

two-sidedness, our being

both/and rather than either-or, means that we but we are not

To be "mixed"

may be

distinguishable,

not to be divided; a stew

is

not a salad bar. The head and the heart are not only connected, but

if

we

divisible.

are to live a spiritual

tured and protected. dividing ourselves

The American

many who

How

up

that essential connection

can we discover wholeness

must be nur-

if

we

persist in

into conflicting parts?

spiritual genius

Jonathan Edwards

opposed

efforts "to divide

steadfastly

into separate

life,

is

all

compartments of mind,

will,

is

but one of

human

nature

and emotion." Edwards

loved to speak of "the sense of the heart": In rooting "the mind, will

and emotion"

human

in the heart,

personality, so that

of the set of our

wills,

which

he was insisting that there

"what we think in turn results

is

is

a center of

inevitably the product

from the basic direction of

our hearts' desires." 12

Edwards was perhaps the

last representative

tion that understood heart not in

some 73

of the ancient tradi-

sort of opposition to head but

THE SPIRITUALITY OF IMPERFECTION as a

—and

synonym

for the whole

as a

word

that carried with

connotation of "affectivity/' Affectivity, from the Latin scribes not sheer "feeling" but that state of openness in

it

the

affectus,

de-

which we

leave

ourselves vulnerable to the world outside us. Affectivity refers to that

within us which

is

open

to attraction

from outside

ourselves, that

which can be moved, touched, even lured by another. Edwards's "sense of the heart" captures both aspects the wholeness and the



ready openness to attraction.

The Hasidic

tradition offers this insight into wholeness in a saying

and practice attributed

who was

to a rabbi

a

contemporary of Ed-

wards.

Rabbi Mendel of Kotzk saw to

it

that his

Hasidim wore noth-

ing around the neck while praying. "For," he said,

"when we

speak to God, there must be no break between the heart and the brain." 13

A

spirituality that

can heal woundedness and pull fractured selves

some kind of whole necessarily involves both brain and heart, thought and emotion, vision and feeling but each in its proper role, each acting in a way that fits into that larger whole. Ancient wisdom and modern insight join in assigning priority to vision: the together into



essential thing, the great spiritual teachers constantly remind,

is

to see

oneself in the proper perspective. "Pay attention to yourself!"

This approach was imprinted irrevocably on the tradition by Evagrius Ponticus, one of the

more

influential of the Egyptian

monks,

who

died near the end of their heyday, in the year 399. Evagrius, like

his

brother

knowledge.

and

He

set

sister

contemplatives,

emphasized

honest

temptations that can distort understanding by imposing on the

some

false perspective.

that bewilder

away into *

a

The following

self-

himself the task of detailing the different traps and

Evagrius called these traps logismos

and befog the mind so

mind

—thoughts we

drift

greatest dangers to a

monk,

that slowly, bit

by

bit,

world of self-destructive fantasy. 14 * fact

may

afford useful perspective

he was famed for saying, were

women and

on Evagrius: The

bishops.

possible.

74

He counseled

avoiding both whenever

THE ROOTS OF WISDOM The problem, Evagrius took

"bad

care to point put, lay not in

thoughts" but in a process of bad thinking that

really

is

and

seeing things from the perspective of our fears

wrong

vision



fantasies (wrcreali-

rather than seeing things truly. Logismos involves choosing to see

ties)

the bad

bad

in the sense

proper perspective

fitting reality.

Logismos are

demons from within

that destroy

of "unreal," not

the arch-enemies of the soul, the

on the world and thus prevent us from concentratreality of our life, leading us further and further

on the actual from our actual condition, making us try to solve problems that have ing

not yet arisen and need never

arise.

"way of

Evagrius' treatment of the logismos deftly outlines the

seeing" that sustains the tion.

It

way of life

also underlies all later

which the human condition

is

that

is

the spirituality of imperfec-

enumerations of the

"fatal flaws" to

subject, such as the listing of "the

Deadly Sins" offered by Alcoholics Anonymous co-founder

Bill

book Twelve

describing A.A.'s Fourth Step inventory in the

Seven

W.

Twelve Traditions* Given that wide-ranging influence, Evagrius'

mos merit

a bit of detailing.

in

and

Steps

logis-

15

Despite the later penchant for finding seven such traps of thinking

and

seeing, Evagrius pointed out eight. First

on

his

list

came

defined as "anxiety about one's health, or about becoming

what you

alistic in

for example,

eat,

Adam and

seriously

ill

in

had experi-

an attempt to

When

he became

he solved the problem by immediately chang-

Well we can imagine him thinking as he lay in huddled

misery, there's another difference between first

something

for

fashion, he

Eve's experience in paradise.

as a result, (

monk

uncooked foods,

for a time with eating only

replicate

ing his diet.

re-

happened and may never happen. As always, Evagrius

spoke from experience. In typical desert

mented

Be

he counseled; modify your diet when necessary,

and don't waste time and energy planning

that has not yet

gluttony,

ill."

Adam and Eve and

logismos set the clear tone for Evagrius' whole

list:

met) This

"Don't waste

time thinking about what thinking can't change." Fornication

*

came second on

Evagrius'

Wilson, in his exposition of A.A.'s Fourth Step ("[We]

list.

made

Real

a searching

inventory of ourselves"), suggests: "let's take a universally recognized ings

—the Seven Deadly

and Twelve and

its

list

Sins of pride, greed, lust, anger, gluttony, envy,

Traditions, p. 50), thus following the classic

history

may be found

list

in the notes to this section.

75

human

ofcapital

and

relation-

fearless

and sloth"

sins."

moral

human

of major (

fail-

Twelve Steps

More on

this topic

THE SPIRITUALITY OF IMPERFECTION ships with real

human

people are not the problem; Evagrius warns of

imaginary entanglements, thoughts of "a variety of bodies," and a focusing on parts of bodies,*

all

of which can lead to an obsession with

the unreal rather than an attempt to cope with what

is

really there, in

front of us.

or the love of money,

Avarice,

Evagrius' concern it,

but

is

is

the third type of logismos.

not "materialism'' as we moderns usually think of

planning for an unreal future.

futile

He

defines avarice not as

pure material greed but as "the principle of thinking about what does not yet

preoccupation with hopes and

exist," a

or future things. Hoarding faith,

money

fears,

with imaginary

(or anything else) reveals lack of

Evagrius counsels; leave the future to God.

Envy, the fourth type of logismos, stands at a kind of opposite

extreme from avarice:

involves obsession not with the future but

It

with the past, a haunting remembrance of "the old days" as those

"happy days" now gone and never Greek term lype

[Xuttt]],

which

to return. Evagrius

include a kind of depression, a cultivated sorrow. spiritual suffering,

expanded the

signified distress over deprivation, to

Much

of the pain of

he suggests, comes from wallowing in wishes and

way they are. 16 and by anger Evagrius means not

fantasies of things being other than the

Anger

number

is

five,

tion but a clinging to

its

fervor

As an example, he

ness.

—the resentment

offers

someone who has wronged

emo-

the

that refuses forgive-

the experience of obsession with

us, the situation

of being "unable to think

of anything else." Such fixations can ruin our health, give us nightmares, and eventually, Evagrius warns in images that even today can

make

the skin crawl,

the trouble

make

comes from is

wrongs of

others; rather,

especially at

make amends, offended

Anger, which

is

not to be squandered by focusing attention on the

inevitable,

and

us hallucinate poisonous snakes. As always,

failing to see the real issue.

to

how we

it

should be directed

at

our

own

faults,

have wronged others, thus moving us to

do something kind even

for the people

who

have

us.



comes the classic trap, the "noonday devil," acedia boredom in which nothing engages our interest or appeals to us. We wander about in prickly tedium, picking up one thing after another, tossing it down, sighing, wishing for another's company but also dreading it, wondering how to get through a day After anger

kind of

listlessness or

76

THE ROOTS OF WISDOM seems ninety hours long, nurturing bitter thoughts that trap us in 7 the dark and tempt us to abandon our course. What's the use Nobody that

.

Nothing matters, anyway. The translation of acedia truest to Evagrius' thought is "self-pity," a far better term than "laziness" or cares.

"sloth," for

it

conveys both the utter melancholy of this condition and

on which it is founded. The cure? "Be real!" Evagrius exhorts. Accept the reality that there is no exit from the human condition. Recognize that running away they are where we will not work, for we take these problems with us can escape ourselves. than we more them no can escape so we are, and Evagrius ends his catalog by dividing what later enumerators would put at the head of the list, pride, into the two most treacherous the self-centeredness



and

logismos: vainglory

own

about one's

Vainglory he defines as daydreaming

pride.

magnificence and imagined glory; pride consists in

supposing that we can do anything without the help of

God



is,

it

then, the claim to be God. Bill Wilson noted that pride "heads the

own

procession" in his justification,

most human As

list

"not by accident," for

and always spurred by difficulties."

many

in so

.

.

leads "to self-

it

fears, is the basic

.

breeder of

17

matters, Wilson here caught the essence of the

tradition of the spirituality of imperfection:

Each of these logismos,

which from the medieval age onward would be termed the "capital sins" because so

many

difficulties

flowed from them, involves an im-

We try to

poverished sense of self, a feeling of personal inadequacy.

fill

the emptiness inside us with something external, but the craving self is a bottomless pit for

equivalent, as Carl

on a low

Jung put

it

which addiction level,

is

the perfect

of the spiritual

thirst

Buddhism

for wholeness,"

in his 1961 letter to Wilson.

All spiritual traditions agree that the core desire.

...

—"the

metaphor

problem

is

insatiable

locates the root of suffering in desire, while the

Western tradition's logismos identify the everyday forms desire

The "deadly of

sins," then, are

not

evil acts

evil deeds, the life patterns that

that

make us

vision leads to that they

the sort of people

bad

make us

choices.

we commit; they

instruments of their

own

who

will

The ultimate

who view

greedy

are the roots

flow from viewing things in ways

then do such things. Bad

"evil" of the "capital sins"

excessively vulnerable to exploitation

revel in evil, the real "sinners"

takes.

lusts.

77

18

other

human

is

by those who

beings as mere

THE SPIRITUALITY OF IMPERFECTION For logismoSy the kinds of "bad" or foolish thinking that arise from

preoccupation with



structured

a

self

and

self-love, trap

world of which

I

us in a world wrongly

imagine that I

am

An

the center.

A.A.

axiom, periodically reprinted in The A.A. Grapevine, reminds: "The

and

difference between a 'winner'

a 'whiner'

the

is

sound of the

" 'I.'

In Evagrius' terms, the solution to the foolish thinking of the logismos is

to be

self!"

found

move toward reactions

and

aimed

vigilance

at seeing ourselves truly

can we

no longer at the mercy of inappropriate harmony wherein passions, while accepted as a of being human, do not sway us inappropriately, confusing



useful part

monastic axiom: "Pay attention to your-

in the simple

Only through

the goal of being

a state of

distorting our thinking, leading inevitably to actions that ulti-

mately harm our

selves.

human

"Don't see the other in a

world of

facts

.

.

.

being angrily, see your

sixteen centuries apart, but Evagrius Ponticus

—choosing—

recognized and urged willing

union of vision and

feeling. Spirituality

"My experience is what own experience his life,

simply noted, James's

own

anger." "Live

attending to things as they are." They lived



is

and William James

as the

key to

alike

spirituality's

experience, and as James so

I agree to

attend to." 19



his story

multifaceted interactions of seeing, feeling, and well as a thinker, William James influenced the

richly illustrate the

willing.

A

visionary as

modern course of both

philosophy and psychology. In one of his notable contributions exploring the connections between seeing, feeling, and willing, the Har-

vard professor drew on a striking example from his practice as a

mountain climber: Suppose, for example, that

have had the

ill-luck to

which the only escape similar experience,

I

is

I

am

climbing in the Alps, and

work myself by a

into a position

terrible leap.

have no evidence of

my

from

Being without ability to per-

make hope and me sure I shall not miss my aim, and nerve my feet to execute what without those subjective emotions would perhaps have form

it

confidence in myself

successfully; but

been impossible. But suppose

that,

on the contrary, the emotions of 78

fear

THE ROOTS OF WISDOM and mistrust preponderate; or suppose [W. K.

Clifford's] Ethics

upon an assumption

act

why, then

I

of Belief,

I

feel

my

would be

foothold and

clearly

is

roll into

it is

sinful to

exhausted and

shall hesitate so long that at last,

In this case (and

wisdom

it

unverified by previous experience

moment

trembling, and launching myself in a

miss

having just read

that,

one of an immense

what one

to believe

of despair,

I

the abyss. class) the part

of

desires; for the belief is

one of the indispensable preliminary conditions of the realization of its object. There are then cases where faith creates its

own

verification. Believe,

you

shall perish.

The only

greatly to your advantage.

"The mind does not

and you

and you

shall save yourself; doubt,

shall

be

right, for

shall again

difference

be

you

right, for

that to believe

is

is

20

just react to stimuli,

it

responds to mean-

later in his life. But to which meanings do we Our problem, as Evagrius' logismos suggested, is that we are inundated by too many thoughts and ideas, an entangled mess of

ings,"

James wrote

respond?

beliefs

and opinions

that fight

it

out with each other in the dark,

eventually knocking each other out. Choose

what you want

about, both Evagrius and James counsel, and choose

cause that choice determines the

achievement of the wrote,

mind"

"is to

will,

ATTEND

in short, to

live is

difficult object

your

life.

to think

carefully, be-

"The

essential

most 'voluntary,'" James

and hold

it

fast before the

11

Stories help us attend.

and

a

way you when it

it

And

storylistening, helps us to

"attending/' in a setting of storytelling

remember, which means more than just

As Wendell Berry reminds in his novel Remembering, it means to be re-membered (the opposite of being dis-membered); it means entering the "member"-ship of a community: "Memory is communal." Thus, although a spirituality of imperfection insists, "Pay

to "recall." also

attention to yourself," such attending

is

not a self-centered

seeking but an awareness of oneself as related to others, as a

self-

member

of a community. 22

"Going it alone in spiritual matters is dangerous," the Oxford Group insisted, and Alcoholics Anonymous did not abandon that lesson. Spirituality's long-standing connection to story

79

and

storytelling

THE SPIRITUALITY OF IMPERFECTION ensures that

we

be alone in the spiritual way of

will never

whenever and wherever there

communal

storyhearer. In the

For

life.

a storyteller, there will also be a

is

and

act of telling

and

listening, listening

the sense of belonging begins. To recall Gadamer's insight:

telling,

"Hearing implies already belonging together in such a manner that is being claimed by what is being said." As our vision of the world changes from a strictly self-centered viewpoint in which feelings are in control to an other-oriented per-

one

spective in to see

which "feeling good" flows from "being good," we begin

how we

are connected with other realities

and

especially with

other people. Most important, the tradition of spirituality suggests,

come

to see that the criterion of spirituality

but the nity.

.

reality

not a

.

not subjective feeling

of our relationships with others, the reality of

For the "vision" that .

is

set

we

commu-

spirituality involves

is

of propositions but a way of life in which understand-

and commitment emerge together

ing, acceptance,

Since people enter

upon such

community,

participation in

handed on only within

a

way of

that

way of

community

a

in a single act.

as a result of their actual

life

life

can be preserved and

that assumes the unity of un-

23 derstanding, acceptance, and commitment.

Understanding, acceptance, commitment ... as a child learns to walk,

first

by

crawling,, then

tentative steps, so life

do

all

by standing, and

human

finally

by taking the

first,

beings learn the essential lessons in

not by reading about them or thinking about them but by doing

them.

We

act ourselves into a

new way of

thinking. That insight un-

derlies the

"pragmatism" associated with the philosophy of William

James, but

it

A man

is

older than James.

once [approached Rabbi

him: "Rebbe,

I

Rizhin and] said to

Israel of

so wish to repent, but

I

don't

know what

to

do."

"And

to sin,

you knew what

"Yes, but that

"Exactly.

was

Now do

repenting; you'll

easy. First

the

know

to do?" I

sinned, then

I

knew."

same the other way around.

later."

Start

by

24

Understanding, acceptance, commitment learn that the experience of spirituality

80

is

more

...

in

community we more than

than seeing,

THE ROOTS OF WISDOM feeling,

more than

nection of

all



willing

three.

The

the essential interplay

is

it

Sufi

Past the seeker, as he prayed,

gar and the beaten. into deep prayer

And

and

cried,

"Great God,

and

yet

out of the long silence,

thing about them.

I

intercon-

came the crippled and the beg-

seeing them, the holy one went

creator can see such things

And

and

a story:

tell

81

it

down

that a loving

do nothing about them?" said: "I did do some-

God

made you." 25

how is

Chapter 6

SHARED VISION, SHARED HOPE

To

alone"

"feel less

without doubt, an ultimate quest of

is,

perhaps never before has loneliness been so widespread as

yet

all life,

today.

it is

Matina Horner

Rabbi Hanokh loved to For a whole year

Bunam and I

felt I

tell this

talk with him.

wasn't

across a field

man

created with

know what

But every time

and weeping,

answered: "I all

He

am

knew

I

master Rabbi

entered the house,

I

asked,

that

"Why

are

I was walking must run to the you weeping?"

I

being

after all alive in this world, a

the senses and

it is I

my

enough. Once though, when

rabbi without delay. I

story:

a longing to go to

felt

I

1

was created

for

all

the limbs, but

and what

I

do not

I

am good

for in

this world."

"Little fool,"

carried

he replied, "that's the same question

me all my life. You me today." 2

around with

evening meal with

Spirituality

is

will

come and

I

have

eat the

nurtured in community, the oneness with others that

springs from shared vision and shared

goal, shared

memory and

shared hope. As Ignatius of Antioch advised first-century Christians,

one

cultivates the

company of

"way of

life" that is spirituality

by seeking out "the

the saints": those seeking to live the

While spirituality can be discovered in solitude

—by

same way of

of some kind, by reading, thinking, meditating, praying

82

life.

retreating to a cell



it

can be

THE ROOTS OF WISDOM

Poemen

only in community. The desert abba

fulfilled

hundred years

observation: "It's possible to spend a

Many hundreds

out ever learning anything."

offered a telling

in

of years

your

cell

later the

with-

Hasidic

Rabbi Jacob Yitzhak clearly stated the reason: "The way cannot be

communi-

learned out of a book, or from hearsay, but can only be cated from person to person."

Why do we

3

need community? Saint

"in

Basil, criticizing a life lived

service to the needs of the individual" as "plainly in conflict with the

"Whose

law of love," asked:

thou care for?" familiar

New

bellishes

in

And

thou then wash?

Whom

wilt

Testament story that one popular modern speaker emexplaining why, even though he

"Higher Power" saved

him from

is

his alcoholism,

convinced that a he

still

needs Al-

Anonymous.

coholics

It's

feet wilt

Saint Augustine offered an interpretation of a

sort of like the raising of Lazarus

Jesus

had

called Lazarus forth

bystanders to free

Power raised me,

him from

called

me

from the dead. After

from the tomb, he told the

My

his burial bonds.

forth,

from

my

Higher

alcoholism, but

I

need the other drunks in Alcoholics Anonymous to unwrap me, to

let

me

loose and keep

me

loose from

it.

4

Rather than asking why we need community,

it

may be more

important to ask how we need others. Wisdom's answer to that question, the

human

answer embodied

of imperfection,

in the spirituality

is

that

beings need each other precisely in relationships of mutuality.

Mutuality involves not just "give or get," nor even "give and get." In relationships of mutuality

nizing that

we

give by getting

truly gain only

able to give only that

That

we

may sound

what we seek

and

which we are seeking to

main discovery Doctor Bob Smith. Bill

that

we

are

complicated, but the experience of mutuality

is

Anonymous. This

is

that Bill

Wilson made in

his first

meeting with

December 1934. For several months he by sharing his newfound sobriwith them. Those he approached showed no interest.

got sober in early

tried to help other alcoholics

ety

and

gain.

the foundation of the very existence of Alcoholics

the

get by giving, recog-

to give

83

THE SPIRITUALITY OF IMPERFECTION

May of 1935, Wilson went

Then, in early

business deal, which promptly

On

fell

to

the day before Mothers' Day,

Bill

the Mayflower Hotel in Akron, getting

Sounds of laughter and of

pressed.

Akron, Ohio, on a

through.

paced the lobby of

more and more

de-

ice tinkling in glasses

wafted from the bar, and he caught himself thinking a

thought he had not had in over

five months: "I need a drink!" was hardly a new concept. But then that impulse was pushed out of his mind by an idea that was completely new: "No, I don't need a drink It



And

away from the bar and toward the lobby telephone booths, Bill Wilson began the series of calls that led him the next day to meet Dr. Robert Holbrook Smith, who would become AA's co-founder. Twenty years later, retelling this story at AA's "Coming of need another alcoholic!"

striding purposefully

Age" convention, Wilson explained why his meeting with Dr. Bob had been different why, after all his earlier failures, this meeting had worked.



You

see,

knew

our talk was a completely mutual thing. ...

that

I

needed

me. This was

it.

this alcoholic as

And

much

as

mutual give-and-take

this

my

first

the

is at

very heart of all of AA's Twelfth Step work today. The

missing link was located right there in

I

he needed

final

talk with

Dr. Bob. 5

The point

who became

by the experience of the alcoholic

reinforced

is

"A.A. #3."

Bill

D. had already been hospitalized

many

times as a result of his drinking. Because of his prominence in the

community, many had

tried

help him.

to

None had

Why

then did he

these

two strangers confronted him? What was

listen

to

Bill

succeeded.

Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith when different about their

approach? "All the other people that had talked to

my

pride prevented

resentment on

my

me from

part, but

I

me wanted

listening to them, felt

as

if

I

would be

to help me,

a real stinker

did not listen to a couple of fellows for a short time, cure them."*

84

and

and caused only

if

that

if

I

would

THE ROOTS OF WISDOM Mutuality: the awareness that

wisdom, sobriety



life's

most precious

are attained only in the giving of

founding, Jean Vanier

— former naval



love,

them and

are

A

half-century after A.A.'s

officer,

former philosophy pro-

given only in the openness to receive them.

former student for the Catholic priesthood

fessor,

realities



offered an under-

standing of mutuality derived from his meditation on the story of the confrontation between Jesus of Nazareth and "the sinful

He does

not

the

tell

woman."

woman who approaches him, Mary MagHe does not just "forgive" her

dalene, to get her act together;

—which

or "heal" her

will prove, after

all,

to

be the same.

Rather he begins by exposing to her his need

—he

says "I

need you." 7

Vanier discovered mutuality

work with

in his

of Trosly-Breuil, affectionately

"/e

grand

in

girafe," as the

by

to

his

tall,

friends,

rumpled Canadian

founded L'Arche

which non-disabled people would

live

disabled in the practical, daily understanding that each

both groups had something to offer compatriots First,

at



the disabled. In 1964 at the small French village

referred

homelike setting

giving by getting, getting by giving

all

as

L'Arche soon discovered two intertwined

a

with the

member

the others. Vanier

is

and

of his

realities.

the handicapped person needs not only to receive love but also

to give love in return.

much

to give

And

—they can

second, the weak and the broken do have

heal us because they tap the well of our

own

brokenness.

In telling the story of one of his friends, the gravely crippled

Armando, Vanier suggests how mutuality heals. "Because he is so broken, in some way we can allow him to reveal to us

He

is

our brokenness without getting angry.

so broken that

I

am

allowed to look at

my own

.

.

.

broken-

ness without being ashamed." 8

As he spent more and more time with the handicapped, with the varieties of broken individuals so easily discarded like a kind of jetsam in the

modern

age of technological perfection, Vanier

became con-

THE SPIRITUALITY OF IMPERFECTION vinced that "healing happens only in a community of love." But, he quickly goes

on

healing occurs

and refined

to insist, the

"community of

both earthly and earthy. This

is

spirits, filled

is

love" in which that

not a place of angels

with sweetness and light and heavenly

but a very painful place, a place of grieving, a place of death.

"Community

"Not only

Our need tion;

We

it

my

inside

the realization that evil

more important selves

us;

—only through

by ourselves we

we need

"Who am

question:

place of

from our very flawedness and imperfec-

originates in the fact that

need others to help

loss, a

inside" Vanier says.

is

inside me." 9

community, but

for mutuality arises

Thus, the question

the

is

bliss,

are never enough.

others in order to help them.

I?" carries within itself another,

"Where do

I

belong?"

We

even

find self—our-

the actual practice of locating ourselves within

community of our

fellow

human

community community in-

beings. Discovering

and becoming aware of our "location" within

that

volves the experience of "fitting." Real 'feeling good," the "feeling

good"

that

others

who

comes only from "being good,"

involves "fitting in" with

are engaged in the quest for answers to their

most an-

guished questions.

The devotee

knelt to be initiated into discipleship.

whispered the sacred mantra into his reveal

it

ear,

The guru

warning him not to

to anyone.

"What

happen if I do?" asked the devotee. "Anyone to whom you reveal the mantra will be liberated from the bondage of ignorance and suffering, but you yourself will be excluded from discipleship and suffer will

Said the guru,

damnation."

No sooner had he heard those words than the devotee rushed to the marketplace, collected a large crowd around him, and repeated the sacred mantra for

The

manded

all

to hear.

disciples later reported this to the

that the

man

guru and de-

be expelled from the monastery for his

disobedience.

86

THE ROOTS OF WISDOM

"He has no need of anything I has shown him to be a guru in his own

The guru smiled and can teach. His action

said,

10

right."

Community is created when people seek the same spiritual reality. The key to community is the discovery that we are all looking for, but we find what we are looking for only by being looked for. Our fellow seekers comprise what Ignatius of Antioch first termed "the company of the saints." In such company, one is likely to find friends who are also guides: wise women and men who listen well, who offer advice and support, who help us to clarify our questions, to recognize our options and to make our choices, and who seek and find in us the same l

realities?

We others

need "significant others"

—not

in the soft sense of

needing

whom we

—but

be

cherish and are cherished by, important as this may meaning intended by the originator of the term, the

in the

early twentieth-century philosopher

Mead coined

Herbert Mead.

one who

signifies

and

social psychologist,

George

the term significant other to indicate the

or reflects back to us the meanings of our gestures

and, in doing so, develops with us our ability to act meaningfully with others.

12

The point

that

is

it

human

—never

takes place in a

be-ing

takes two. Being



one, for

human

requires

the behavior that flows from our

more than humanness

"more like a wink than a blink," by Clifford Geertz, an anthromanifestations of spirituality. The blink and the vacuum.

It is

to use a helpful distinction suggested

pologist sensitive to

wink have alike.



in

common

But a blink

is

to lubricate the eye.

purpose:

It

certain physiological characteristics

unintended, automatic,

A wink,

on the

its

—they look

purpose self-contained

contrary, has a different kind of

conveys an intention and, as such,

is

necessarily directed

toward another. Why? because the wink can succeed as a wink only it is

perceived by the other as a

human

behavior

is

it

isolation

from

takes

Unity, our

two

others.

own

as a blink.

Our most

fundamentally intentional, and intentionality be-

comes actualized only ply that

wink and not

if

as effective co -intentionality:

to

make

a wink;

which means sim-

we cannot

be

humanly

in

13

wholeness,

is

discovered only within community;

87

THE SPIRITUALITY OF IMPERFECTION and "community" comes into being only co- intentionally, in the recognition and acceptance of mutuality. A modern teacher of spiritual mentoring makes the poinfwith a story.

One an

of the early spiritual mentors, John of Lycopolis,

ascetic

many

who

lived alone in the desert

temptations. Eventually he returns to the

munity

after a

dream

tells

of

where he encountered life

of com-

which an angel advises him: "God

in

has accepted your repentance and has had mercy on you. In

you

future take care that

whom

you gave

The brethren to come to console you, Welcome them, eat with them

are not deceived.

spiritual counsel will

and they will bring you gifts. and always give thanks to God." For those of us

who

that others bring us gifts

are spiritual mentors, the awareness

and that we need

them, and always give thanks to most important aspects of our ministry. 14 eat with

Another clarifies

by another modern student of

spiritual direction,

the other side of that mutual relationship:

A monk one

story,

welcome them, God is one of the to

is

once confessed to an

elder:

counselled to do there, and

God." The elder your own

said:

will to

The brother

I

"In find

my cell I do all that no consolation from

"This happens to you because you want

be

fulfilled."

said,

"What then do you order me

to do,

father?"

The elder said, "Go, attach yourself to a man who fears God, humble yourself before him, give up your will to him, and then you will receive consolation from God." 15 The

might give some direction in the journey toward spirituality ancient one. Spiritual "directors" tion



who

practice of seeking out guides, mentors, or soul-friends

—those who

is

an

offer a sense of direc-

rarely "teach" in the ordinary sense of telling truths. Instead,

they serve

first

and foremost

as listeners, hearers

that elicits honesty, sincerity, truthfulness,

88

who

attend in a

way

and conscientiousness from

THE ROOTS OF WISDOM "Hidden things hinder wholeheartedness," observed Cassian, known as the Father of Western Monasticism, whose two great works, The Institutes and The Conferences, codified the thoughts and the speaker.

the practices of the Desert Fathers.

By

listening well,

by requiring "wholeheartedness," a

right questions,

by asking the

spiritual director

helps uncover the reality of one's spiritual condition.

For the

given by getting ourselves ers

is

"mutuality"

first



is

Only

first reality

in telling

do we discover the truth about honesty with

as essential to

honesty with others.

"know" only

to

honesty.

—the

We

can

self as

"tell"

gained by giving and

another the truth about

Honesty with oth-

ourselves.

honesty with

only what

self

is

essential to

we know, but we come

in the telling.

Such honesty, the honesty that undergirds wisdom, comes not

from books or

beliefs,

dogmas or

doctrines, but

from people.

Once, when Rabbi Mordecai was in the great town of Minsk

expounding the Torah they laughed at him.

number of men hostile to his way, "What you say does not explain the

to a

verse in the least," they cried.

"Do you

really think,"

he replied, "that

I

was trying

to

explain the verse in the book? That doesn't need an explanation!

I

want to explain the verse that

is

within me." 16

The

spirituality of imperfection begins, as the Desert Fathers and Mothers suggested, with "disciple approaching master, asking for words of advice." This process of identification and seeking is common

to

all

Cross

traditions at

all

summed up

without a master

The sixteenth-century mystic John of the "The virtuous soul that is alone and lone burning coal. It will grow colder rather

times.

the insight:

is

like a

than hotter." 17

produced a saying with similar meaning: Colainn gan cheann duine gan anamchara ("a person without a soul-friend is a body without a head"). Eastern Christianity, in the person of Symeon Irish spirituality

the

New Theologian,

stressed "the vital

tion in the spiritual life."

known

for his insistence

from person

to person. 18

need for

living,

personal direc-

The Hasidic master Rabbi Jacob Yitzhak was that "the way" can only be communicated And, of course, there

89

is

a story.

THE SPIRITUALITY OF IMPERFECTION In the days

when Rabbi Bunam

still

him why

ber of merchants in Danzig asked

num-

traded in lumber, a he,

who was

so

well-versed in the sacred writings, went to visit zaddikim.

What

could they

him

tell

that he could not learn

He answered them, but

books?

from

his

they did not understand him.

That evening, they invited him to go to the play with them, but he refused. they told

When

him they had

they returned from the theater,

seen wonderful things. "I

know

all

about those wonderful things," said he. "I have read the pro-

gram."

"But from that," they said, "you cannot possibly know what we have seen with our own eyes." "That's just

how

it is,"

he

said,

"with the books and the

zaddikim." 19

The meeting between the novice and is

the experienced practitioner

essential not because the elders are necessarily wiser or holier,

because the seeking

itself signifies

wisdom

the humility

learn that

makes

grounded

in accurate self-knowledge,

spiritual

possible. All true

Rabbi Leib, the hidden zaddik said this: "I did not go to the

from him, but

to see

how he

that

is

identification.

who wandered maggid

to

wisdom must be

and the self-knowledge

wisdom comes not from "answers" but from

but

and willingness

over the earth,

in order to hear

unlaces his shoes and laces

Torah

them

up again." 20

Through the process of identification, the spirituality of imperfection is transmitted from person to person. Indeed, one large chapter in the history of spirituality may be summarized in an ever-recurring story found in one form or another in every tradition.

The

disciple, the

says:

would-be

initiate,

approaches the master and

"Teach me."

And

the teacher replies:

"Come, follow me."

Sometimes, the newcomer

tries to insist:

me."

90

"No,

I

mean

tell

THE ROOTS OF WISDOM

And

the adept can only smile a welcoming love that can-

not be "told."

More

often,

like

the

good and

intelligent

aspirant in

Luke's gospel, the now-no-longer-neophyte turns sadly away. Spirituality

ing," but

is

a reality that

by following. 2

This "following"

is

one approaches not by "learn-

1

identification,

and

like love,

it

involves a kind

monks termed

of fusion of the knower with the known. The medieval this identification imitatio, presenting first

imitatio effectus operis

part

the deeds

and gestures described

it

as a

two-part process. The

—involved an

external imitation of

in the stories that narrated the

Christ and the lives of the saints. There

would

follow,

it

—the

the second (more difficult) part, imitatio affectus mentis ization of the attitudes, emotions,

life

of

was hoped, internal-

and self-awareness appropriate

to

22 the story.

The two

parts were, of course, understood to be mutually reinforc-

ing: External actions

both signal and shape internal

attitudes. Later

more colloquially, from new way of thinking" to A.A.'s

thinkers in the tradition conveyed this insight

William James's "Act yourself into a

axiom, "Bring the body, the mind will follow." But the ancient nastic appreciation of identification as a two-part process

useful because

it

true identification

When

mo-

remains

helps to clarify the important distinction between

and mere imitation.

Rabbi Noah, Rabbi Mordecai's son, assumed the suc-

cession after his father's death, his disciples noticed that there

were a number of ways in which he conducted himself

differ-

and asked him about this. "I do just as my father did," Rabbi Noah replied. "He did not imitate, and I do not imitate." 23 ently than his father,

Psychoanalyst Annie Reich suggests a useful identification

It

is

imitation (magical identification)

newspaper

way of

distinguishing

from "imitation."

when the child holds the when the child learns to

like his father. It is identification

91

THE SPIRITUALITY OF IMPERFECTION read. Imitation

The

means

become

sarily to

it.

trying to be the envied parent but not neces-

This

domain of magical achievements. 24

the

is

become and the commitment to do whatever

desire to

is

nec-

essary to become distinguish identification from imitation. Imitation indicates wishing: "it

tion involves willing

whatever

would be nice" to be like so-and-so. Identificaand especially willingness the openness to do



become

necessary to

is

like the

one can never "be" another.

accepts that

The Rabbi of Kotzk

"Everything in the world can be

said:

imitated, except truth. For truth that

truth."

Many

model, the willingness that

is

imitated

no longer

is

25

stories in

many

traditions illustrate the difference between

wishing and willing, between imitation and identification, between

demanding is

to be,

which

easy,

is

and the willingness

become, which

to

rare:

When

Zen masthere were more

the King visited the monasteries of the great

he was astonished to learn that

ter Lin Chi,

than ten thousand monks living there with him.

Wanting asked,

to

know

"How many

the exact

disciples

Lin Chi replied, "Four or

Identification has

love

and other-love."

whom

number of monks,

the King

do you have?" five at

the very most." 26

been called "the half-way house between It is

one admires and

a reaching out

respects, but

it

from the

self

stops short of trying to be

who one is. Each of us is and can be only our own self. how to be a person or, more accurately, learning to be

other than learning



particular kind of person

and

self-

toward another

we

are

identification takes place in

I?" really asks,

"direction"

"Where do

I



originates through identification,

community. The question

belong or /if?"

We

"Who am

get the sense of that

—the sense of moving toward the place where we

shaping the place toward which we are moving so that

from hearing how

Yet

the

it

will

fit,

fit

or of us

others have handled or are attempting to handle

92

THE ROOTS OF WISDOM similar (but never exactly the same) situations. -We learn to their stories,

by hearing how they came (or

Knowing how another human being

—how he or she handles the and

lives

well as challenge

and success



is

listening

belong or

failed) to

fit.

and functions on the inside

vicissitudes of

frustrations, faces critical choices,

by

copes with

life,

meets

failure

what enables us

its

joys

and defeat

as

to feel prepared for

life.

It is

the availability of appropriate individuals with

identify, individuals

who

also permit us to

do

so,

whom we

inner yearning [of the need] for preparedness, for an external

may

that

".

.

self.

One

all-important question remains.

choose to identify?

A

model

27

whom we

the availability of appropriate individuals with

.

identify."

serve as an internal guide for the

can

which quiets the

With

whom

can

do we

Sufi story addresses this ancient concern.

A man

walking through the forest saw a fox that had lost its and he wondered how it lived. Then he saw a tiger come up with game in its mouth. The tiger ate its fill and left the rest of the meat for the fox. The next day God fed the fox by means of the same tiger.

legs,

The man began

to

wonder

at

God's greatness and said to

himself, "I too shall just rest in a corner with full trust in the

Lord and he

He

will provide

did this for

many

me

with

all

that

I

need."

days but nothing happened, and he

say, "O you open your eyes to the truth! Stop imitating the disabled fox and follow the example of the ti-

was almost

who

at death's

door when he heard a voice

are in the path of error,

ger." 28

"If you have decided you want what we have ..." begins what some members term "the most important words in the book Al-

Anonymous." That those words than mere external imitation is clear from coholics

invite identification rather

their placement; they intro-

duce A.A.'s Twelve Steps. Real human-hood involves not sheer physical exertion

but moral and spiritual vigor. In a gentle mockery of his

contemporary Theodore Roosevelt's brawny image of muscular po-

93

THE SPIRITUALITY OF IMPERFECTION tency, the philosopher William James chose to

name

the energy that

goes into this process of identification "the strenuous mood." The

Don

following passage by

Browning,

S.

who

brings a profound spiri-

tual sensitivity to his study of James, eloquently captures the philoso-

pher/psychologist's meaning:

[James's] strenuous

and the

mood

is

the opposite of the "easygoing

attitude of "I don't care."

It is

mood"

a positive attitude of care

care for oneself, one's family, the wider

community, and possible

may extend beyond the limits of one's The strenuous mood entails a personal identification

future communities which

individual

of one's

life.

self

with a wider range of people and communities, both

present and future.

It

involves heightening one's sympathies

overcoming what James beings which makes

it

called that "certain blindness" in

difficult for

and

human

us to appreciate and respect the

inner meaning of another's experience. 29

To appreciate "the inner meaning of another's experience" quires something not often considered part of "the strenuous

—the

ability to listen truly

ing. "Spirituality,"

and

well. All

"community" begins

"wisdom," "that-which-all-seek"

re-

mood"

in listen-

initially trans-

is

mitted from one person to another by attending, one of James's favorite words,

which means

way

others in such a

to be present in a hearing way, to listen to

we

that

are willing to surrender

our

own

worldview. Only by such "attending" can we discover the way of that

we

in the



life

way of life that is more than mere "worldview" same way that wisdom is more than knowledge and love is really seek

a

more than acquaintance. What happens first, in any "community," is who would participate in it listen. 30 But if we would listen, we must also tell; and if we would tell our stories, we need places where we can tell and listen. In this mutuality

that those

between

telling

and

listening,

between speaking and hearing,

lies

the

deepest spiritual significance of mutual-aid groups (sometimes erro-

neously termed

"self-help

Those wrestling with presence aloud.

3



groups"),

spiritual

like

Alcoholics

Anonymous.

dilemmas do not need answers but

permission to confront the dilemma and struggle with

it

'

Thus,

if

an essential component of

94

spirituality

is

attending



lis-

THE ROOTS OF WISDOM



tening

it is

we know main

also a

is

truth that will

we

be able to

are able to listen only

that

it

shtetl,

invites, enables,

own

our

tell

European stories,

our

tell

own

story.

when

Perhaps

whether in the Egyptian

benefit of the storytelling format,

desert, the Eastern

mous,

we

that in time,

the

able to

human

or a meeting of Alcoholics Anony-

and teaches

when we

listening.

When we

are

up and

tell

are urged to stand

them, we learn respect for other peoples' stories and for their need to them. The practice of

tell

And

telling stories gives birth to

practice in listening produces

"Listen" insists the

first

word

dict, the longest-flourishing

good

listeners.

storytelling. Ausculta

monastic canon. As Bernard of Clairvaux

The world has always needed good

only good listeners are truthful

"Good

tellers.

listening"

involves the surrender of a self-centered view of the world;

and love

the equation of trust

that flows

—the discovery

and "obedience"

—two

all

that creates

community. For community is

storytelling

and

its

virtues,

"humil-

painfully misunderstood qualities that are

attempts to control others; real listening

most humanizing

to discovery.

Humility involves the refusal to coerce, the

really the arts of listening.

rejection of

open

especially in the discovery of

where we can learn and practice ity"

entails

and

Spirituality flourishes in discovery,

shared story

it

from that surrender. To

surrender, to trust, to love: These are to be

listen, to



of the sixth-century Rule of Saint Bene-

urged: "You wish to see; Listen." listeners, for

good

act of humility.

Obedience



may be

the

—means simply

to obey

to "listen thoroughly."

It is

reported that in the early days of his

move

to the desert,

Evagrius visited an old Desert Father, perhaps Macarius of

me some piece of advice by which my soul." The reply was, "If you wish

Egypt, and asked him, "Tell

might be able to save

I

your

to save

soul,

do not speak before you are asked a ques-

tion." 32

A

modern-day lament by

a

nursing-home resident captures both

the importance of listening thoroughly

curs

when

there

is

no one

and the

utter despair that oc-

available or willing to listen:

"Heard ... If they only understood how important it is that we be heard! I can take being in a nursing home. It's

95

THE SPIRITUALITY OF IMPERFECTION really all right,

hands

full,

My

with a positive attitude.

and a

three kids

She

job.

daughter has her

visits regularly.

under-

I

stand.

"But most people here

.

what they have

story. That's

precious thing to them.

It's

.

.

they just want to

you

to give, don't

their

life

see?

their

tell

And

a

it's

they want to give. You'd

think people would understand what

means

it

to us

...

to

give our lives in a story.

"So we

each other. Most of what goes on here

listen to

people listening to each other's consider that to be

.

.

.

stories.

People

filling time. If

who work

is

here

they only knew. If

they'd just take a minute to listen!" 33

Long before

his first

meeting with

has been referred to as the founding

Wilson, the meeting that

Bill

moment

of Alcoholics Anony-

mous, Dr. Robert Holbrook Smith joined the Oxford Group

hope of finding

a "cure" for his alcoholism.

It

didn't work.

in the

He went

to

the meetings, read the books, sought and practiced "guidance" by

seeking direction from both consistently

1934, into

Bill

that

dence

in

his last drink,

members

and

in

May

in

.

.

.

and

November

1935, he

happened

alternately sat

and paced

life.

Sunday evening,

more than

for

other group

went home and got drunk again. Then,

Wilson had

Bob Smith's

On

God and

five

as the

two men

hours in the library of Henrietta Sieberling's

resi-

Akron, Ohio, something was added to the Oxford Group

message. The identification that sprang from their listening to each other helped both

standing give

Bill

— the vision—

...

for only

Wilson and Dr. Robert Smith to the underthat the

when you

purpose of

give,

do you

the Oxford Group had afforded only

a

life

get!

wasn't to get but to

The

religious rigor of

kind of monologue:

people spoke, but few of even the silent seemed ever to first

meeting with each other,

avidly,

and

in

that

listening

what they needed was ism, it.

on the

Bill

Dr.

listen.

Bob did

In their listen,

both came to the realization that

a dialogue,

basis of their

W. and

Many

and

common

that in their shared alcohol-

imperfection, they had found

34

Years

later,

Dr.

Bob explained

in liquid

96

terms singularly appropri-

THE ROOTS OF WISDOM ate for Bill

an alcoholic the most profound message he had learned from

W. The

spiritual

soaked

it

up

approach was as useless as any other like a

sponge and kept

97

it

to yourself.

if

you

Tart Two

THE DISCOVERIES OF

ALCOHOLICS

ANONYMOUS

More than most people are,

what

life is all

an appointed

I think alcoholics

want

to

know who

about, whether they have a divine origin

destiny, live in a system of cosmic justice

and

they

and love.

Bill

W.

1

human was

^Ancient thought about the paradox of being into twentieth century

life

handful of "hopeless" drunks. The founding

Anonymous fection,

transported

by the most unlikely group imaginable:

members of

a

Alcoholics

did not intentionally resurrect the spirituality of imper-

nor were many of them even aware that they had tapped

wisdom in their search for a new way of life. And so the story how they achieved this becomes all the more fascinating. The historical context is important, In the mid-1950s, alcoholism

ancient

of

was viewed by medical practitioners

as a "hopeless" disease; the

only

cure medicine suggested was a "moral psychology" capable of inducing "an entire psychic change" of sufficient magnitude that

overcome the "compulsion"

to drink.

knew about "hopeless" from

their

The

own

earliest

it

could

members of A.A.

experience of the disease and

Drawing on those experiences, as the Oxford Group and on the philosophies

their previous efforts at recovery.

well as

on

their origins in

of William James and Carl Jung, they that

would allow them

set

out to fashion a way of

life

to live with their "hopeless disease," with their

basic imperfection. 2

In this process, they re-discovered four insights that reflected the

teachings of spiritual thinkers from

they discovered were not

Nots

ages

commandments

—nor even suggestions,

sented.

all

as A.A.'s

and

Thou

all

traditions.

Shalts or

who

Thou Shalt

Twelve Steps are sometimes pre-

They found instead what might be thought of

signal lights that guide those

What

as

beacons or

seek a spirituality that

fits

their

imperfect condition, safeguarding them from the rocks, shoals, and other avoidable traps that could abort or impede their journey.

Although we can describe these guiding insights

101

as "discoveries

THE SPIRITUALITY OF IMPERFECTION

made

modern

for the

members of Alcoholics Anoncannot be made for us, or for anyone else,

age by the earliest

ymous," these discoveries by someone

Nor are they ever found once and for all. For these must be rediscovered, sometimes on a daily basis, by

else.

are truths that

each person interested in spirituality. Because others have gone before,

way

some sense easier; yet it remains true that spirituality, comes "one day at a time." Each day requires constant rediscovery and continually new insight into what it means to be human, what it means to exist as a fully human being. What were these "discoveries of Alcoholics Anonymous"? Four the

is

in

like daily bread,

such insights can be discerned

and do not flow

in



insights that, although they did not

any straight-line fashion, nevertheless do reveal a

pattern, a kind of order, in

how

they tend to be discovered

...

or at

such a pattern emerges from the experience of Alcoholics Anony-

least

mous.

The

first

discovery

Anonymous was

recovery of

their

imagines

it

to be

made by

those earliest

that spirituality

human

on

first

is

essential

be-ing, but

members of

but

Alcoholics

different: essential to

from what anyone

different

hearing that statement.

Second came the discovery that there

exists a vast difference be-

— and

tween magic and miracle, between magic and mystery ituality involves

that spir-

not magic's manipulation, but the wonder inherent in

mystery and miracle.

The is

third discovery of those earliest

essentially open-ended; unable to

more

at

home

finally,

it is

they discovered that any true spirituality

must pervade every aspect of one's one's

that spirituality

with questions than with answers.

Fourthly and

reality that

members was

be "grasped" or "possessed,"

existence

touches everything in one's

life,



or

that spirituality

it

is

a

touches nothing of

life.

Each of these discoveries comes only by experience. One "discovers" not by being told, but by doing; the spirituality of imperfection necessarily pragmatic.

Anonymous made

members cf by putting them into

so those earliest

their discoveries

them on and trying them and most, from our own successes and

trying first,

And

practice

out, in the awareness that

102

failures,

is

Alcoholics

our

we

learn

own

tri-

THE DISCOVERIES OF ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS

own

umphs and

tragedies,

and widely

for their Twelve Steps, but they tested everything against

their

own

Book

states.

How made ered

experience.

Bill

"We have

"The

story.

The

spiritual life

to live it"

first

is

A.A.s borrowed amply

not a theory," their Big

3

Wilson, Dr. Bob Smith, and those

that discovery

is

our

the story

we

who

followed

them

and how they put into practice what they discovwill tell in Part

103

Two.

Chapter 7

SPIRITUALITY IS ESSENTIAL BUT DIFFERENT .

an

illness

.

.

which only a spiritual experience will conquer. Alcoholics

Dr.

Bob Smith and

hearty,

knew

still

Bill

Wilson looked down

Anonymous,

p. 44.

at the falsely

shaking figure on the hospital bed. Both

men

the torn feelings and the desperate hope that hid under

had been sober six months; Dr. Smith for what they had once been stared back at them both, and they endured a moment of doubt. Had they bitten off more than they could chew? The nurse had filled them in on some of the details of this case. Bill D., a prominent attorney, was a former city councilman and church vestryman. He was also, the weary nurse confided, a "real corker." This was his eighth detoxification in six months, and within minutes of entering the hospital he had physically assaulted two nurses, leaving both with black that facade. Wilson

barely a week.

The

spectre of

eyes.

The

three

apparent to

men Bill

chatted for a while, and

it

quickly

became

D. that his visitors knew what they were

talking about, that they were real drunks

—an earth-shattering concept

pily sober

—and maybe he'd

who were now

if

there ever was one

better listen up, see if he could learn

105

hap-

some-

THE SPIRITUALITY OF IMPERFECTION most alcoholics, Bill D. was better at talking than listening, and he droned on and on about his drinking, his despair, and the utter ruin of his life. Wilson finally interrupted, explaining that he and Dr. thing. But like

Smith had to give their "program'' to someone were to stay sober themselves.

And

so they

D. really certain that he wanted

Bill

certain,

it?

had

Because

they

else if

to

know: was

if

he wasn't

he was doing something much worse than wasting

their time

—he was

would have

They

actually endangering their sobriety.

wouldn't stay around and nag to "be going

him

at

and looking

if

he wasn't ready; they

for

someone

else."

Entranced by the clear-eyed enthusiasm of these two

own

even as they spoke of their that Yes, he

wanted the program. But when

talking about "a spiritual

program" and

his visitors

me.

I still

He

well that

began

"Higher Power,"

a

he shook his head. "No, no," he said emphatically. late for

too

"It's

God all right, but I know mighty believe in me any more."

believe in

doesn't

Smith and Wilson were not about to give up on their

They

men

hopelessness, Bill D. declared

how he

first

and They did return, and over the next several days, they visited again and again. One morning they arrived to find Bill D. sitting up in recruit.

then they

left,

told Bill D. they understood

promising to

visit

felt,

again the next day.

bed, talking excitedly with his wife. During the previous

"hope had dawned," and he understood

night, he explained,

that "if

Bob and

Bill

can do

it, I

can do

it.

Maybe we can

do together what we could not do separately." A few days later Dr. Smith, the more conventionally gious of A.A.'s two co-founders, stopped by on his daily with

all

reli-

visit

who would some years later be known as "AlAnonymous Number Three." As they chatted, some-

Bill D.,

coholics

thing in one of this

first recruit's

remarks



a bit of cynicism

—caught the

about help from "a power greater" than himself

surgeon's attention, and he decided to confront him. "Young

man," Dr. Smith challenged in his resonant baritone "Have you abandoned your God?" Bill D. was not even momentarily taken aback. Calmly, but with a great deal of quiet pain, he answered: "Gee, no,

106

THE DISCOVERIES OF ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS Doc,

I

don't think so

abandoned me."

.

.

but

.

sure feel that

I

my God

many human

That cry of abandonment captures the experience of so beings

who

live in despair,

cruel, chaotic, unjust world.

there

is

—and

God

a

doubts even

this part

sound

very

like a

The it

just

who

search endlessly for

The "hidden God"

about everybody

— He, She, or

modern

favorite disciple of

was very

has

1

It

at

meaning

in a

a challenge, for if

is

one time or another

seems to be

hiding. This

malaise, but the complaint

is

may

not new.

Rabbi Pinchas complained to him that

difficult in adversity to retain perfect faith in the

God provides for every human being. "It actually if God were hiding his face from such an unhappy

belief that

seems as

being," he exclaimed.

be a hiding," replied Rabbi Pinchas, "if you

"It ceases to

know

hiding." 2

it is

The same Hasidic understanding

tradition reminds that there

is

another way of

this experience.

The Medzibozer's grandson, Yechiel Michel, was playing hide and seek with another child. He hid himself for some time, but his playmate did not look for him.

Rabbi Baruch and said amid

The Rabbi seek

Him

Yet the

said:

"This

tears:

is

also

Little Yechiel

"He did not look

ran to

for

me!"

God's complaint, that we

not." 3

problem

is

not "finding" God; as C.

God is like The Hound of Heaven,

S.

Lewis observed: "To

speak of man's search for

speaking of the mouse's search

for the cat." In

poet Francis

in his title-image an

Thompson

offered

understanding that comes even closer to the

insight that infuses the spirituality of imperfection. For the

not "finding" God, but

how do we

let

God.

107

problem

ourselves be found by a

is

Hidden

THE SPIRITUALITY OF IMPERFECTION

Once upon a time, a carefree young girl who lived at the edge of a forest and who loved to wander in the forest became lost. As it grew dark and the little girl did not return home, her parents became very worried. They began calling for the little girl and searching in the forest, and it grew darker. The parents returned home and called neighbors and people from the town to help them search for their little girl. wandered about in the forest and became very worried and anxious as it grew dark, because she could not find her way home. She tried one path and another and became more and more tired. Coming to a clearing in the Meanwhile, the

little girl

down by

and fell asleep. Her frantic parents and neighbors scoured the forest. They called and called the little girl's name but to no avail. Many of the searchers became exhausted and left, but the forest,

she lay

a big rock

father continued searching throughout the night.

little girl's

Early in the morning, the father

where the

girl

had

came

to the clearing

He suddenly saw

lain to sleep.

his little girl

and ran toward her, yelling and making a great noise on the dry branches which awoke the

The

little girl

saw her

she exclaimed, "Daddy,

We

I

are all looking for, but

being looked for.

girl.

father,

and with a great shout of joy

found you!" 4

we find what we

most important discovery to living a fully

reality

hope

beyond

self,

life.

some "power

is

The conviction

it

essential to sobriety

that there

is

some

greater than ourselves," has brought

into thousands of alcoholics' lives

Bill D., just as leery

as

human

discover that the

one has been discovered; however

that

is

happens, some version of this kind of discovery

and

are looking for only by

Members of Alcoholics Anonymous

—people

of other alcoholics ("I'm not

wary of anything even remotely connected

to

just as "hopeless" as like

them!") and just

"God," "religion," or

the "spiritual."

Most

actively drinking alcoholics have Bill D.'s

fixed firmly in their minds:

image of "God"

something that has gone awav and aban-

doned them, probably because it never existed in the first place. Within Alcoholics Anonymous, they learn that they can reclaim "God," calling that "higher power" anything they want, as long as

108

THE DISCOVERIES OF ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS they are ready to admit that they cannot control everything in

own

order to stay sober, they must admit their

own

sober by themselves, by their "First of

we had

all,

coholics

Anonymous.

said the

same thing

found

drawn from the personal experience of Ernest

Kurtz,

who was

the

presenter. 3.

Anonymous, pp. 72-73.

Alcoholics

4.

Buber, Later Masters, p. 177.

5.

The

history alluded to here draws from details that

sources: Ernest Kurtz, Not-God;

Nan

Anonymous (New

Morrow,

York: William

published histories, Pass

It

may be found

in diverse

Robertson, Getting Better: Inside Alcoholics 1988);

and the two more recent A.A.-

On: The Story of Bill Wilson and

How

the A.A. Message

Reached the World (New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, 1984) and

Good Oldtimers: A Biography, with

Dr.

Bob and

the

Midwest (New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World

the

mented by many interviews and conversations history of Alcoholics

Anonymous. Of

chief researcher of the Dr. 6.

bers. This

is

Sadeh, Jewish Folktales,

8.

O'Reilly, is

of researching the

these matters

was Niles

P.,

Bob book.

comments of some

Anonymous was

circulated in

professionals as well as of

mem-

p. 179.

Toward Rhetorical Immunity,

a rewarding study of

261

p.

some of

—although

technical

and complex,

the ways in which storytelling works in

Anonymous.

Alcoholics 9.

on

special help

the version that appears in that earliest circulated draft.

7.

this

Services, 1980), supple-

in the course

Before publication, a draft of the book Alcoholics multilith form, requesting

Recollections of Early A.A. in

The Hasidic

Buber, Later Masters, p. 173; Thoreau

tale is via

is

quoted by Hen-

drickson, American Literary Anecdotes, p. 220. 10.

For the deeper spiritual resonances of Lewis, Perelandra

(New

this insight,

beyond

alcoholics, see C.S.

York: Macmillan, 1965 [1944]), for the most direct entry

to this exploration, especially pp. 47-48; this

work

is

one of three

in Lewis's

"Space Trilogy." 11.

The quotation used here comes proximately from Michael E. Zimmerman, Eclipse of the Self (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 1981), p. 120, who here draws on and develops Calvin Schrag's

analysis of Kierkegaard's "ecstatic conception of

time."

Zimmerman Mind, Vol. 12.

II,

also credits within this quotation

Willing

(New

Hannah Arendt, The

Life of the

York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978), p. 178.

Jean-Paul Sartre, Portrait of the Antisemite, as reprinted in Kaufrnann, Existential-

ism from Dostoevsky version of the

rnann,

first

to Sartre, p.

333. This passage "represents a slightly abridged

part of Reflexions sur

The William James quotation, in

William James, Talks

The

la

question Juive" according to Kauf-

p. 280.

talks

were

first

to

just below,

Teachers

given in 1892,

(New first

is

York:

from "The Gospel of Relaxation,"

W.W.

Norton, 1958), pp. 140-41.

published in 1899.

270

NOTES TO PAGES 153-165 13.

precise Auden and Kierkegaard sources are lost in the mists of past reading and an (appropriately?) imperfect database; Twain is quoted by William Least Heat Moon, Blue Highways: A Journey into America (Boston: Little-Brown, 1982),

The

p. 9. 14.

Retold by Joseph Bruchac, as reprinted under the

title:

"Salish:

How

the

Mink

Stole Time," Parabola 15:1 (Spring 1990), p. 77. 15.

Adapted from Lacocque and Lacocque, The Jonah Complex, tions with Professor

Wiesel, Souls on Fire,

p. 51,

and conversa-

Andre Lacocque of the Chicago Theological Seminary. See p. 227: "Oblivion is at the root of exile the way memory is at

the root of redemption," the Baal

Shem Tov had

said.

Part Three

Experiencing Spirituality 1.

Huxley York:

2.

is

quoted without citation by Laurence

Wm. Morrow &

J.

Peter, Peters Quotations

(New

Co., 1977), p. 185.

Retold by Joseph Gosse, "Inexhaustible Springs," Spiritual Life 36:1

(Spring

1990), 39. 3.

On

the topic of "a

helpful

new

universe of discourse," the interested reader

may

find

and provocative David A. Snow and Richard Machalek, "The Convert

as a

Social Type," in Randall Collins, ed., Sociological Theory (San Francisco: JosseyBass, 1983) pp. 259-89. 4.

Retold by de Mello, Taking Flight, pp. 111-12.

Chapter 11 Release 1.

Guillaume Apollinaire

NSW,

Australia:

is

quoted in Susan Hayward, Begin

In-Tune Books, 1987), unpaged; Rilke

Miles, "Pilgrimage as

Metaphor

in a

is

It

Now

(Crows Nest,

quoted by Margaret

Nuclear Age," Theology Today 45:2 (Decem-

ber 1988), 174. 2.

This story

is

may be found

in



memory a more complicated variant Anthony de Mello, Taking Flight, pp. 62-63. On the relationship

reproduced from uncitable

of such "clinging" to addiction, as explored below here, see the interview with Pauline deDampiere, "The Center of

Our Need,"

Parabola 12:2

(May

1987),

24-31. 3.

Some may

find a kind of unconscious irony in the application of this quotation to

Heidegger, as

we become more

relationship to Nazism.

Nazis," The

New

Along

exactly aware of the complexities involved in his

this line, see

Thomas Sheehan, "Heidegger and

the

York Review of Books (16 June 1988), 38-47, an extensive review

of Victor Farias, Heidegger et Vallicella's Critique

le

nazisme; see also Michael E.

Zimmerman, "On

of Heidegger," International Philosophical Quarterly 30:117

(March 1990), 75-100, which

offers a detailed treatment

271

of the connections be-

NOTES TO PAGES 165-172 tween Heidegger's thought and edge,

Zimmerman's

earlier

studies connecting the thought

man, 4.

this aspect

of his

life.

Despite this newer knowl-

study remains one of the most balanced and readable

and the

life

German

of the

philosopher:

Zimmer-

Eclipse of the Self, p. 58.

Caussade's most famous work

is

tided

Abandonment

to

Divine Providence

that probably guarantees that he will not be read in the

introduction to Caussade, a presentation that

whether to pursue

own

writings,

Newman,



a

title

For a useful

age.

help the serious reader decide

thought more deeply, we recommend the inspiration for

his

our treatment of Caussade, which here Jesuit's

may

modern

is

as earlier,

although based on the French

guided especially by Tugwell, Ways of Imperfection.

5.

Retold by

6.

Retold by de Mello, Taking Flight, pp. 164-65. There are several other versions

Hasidic Anthology, p. 375.

and sources, not only

in the literature

on the Desert

Fathers, but in parallel stories

told in the Sufi tradition. 7.

Helpful on the topics of both "surrender" and "conversion," but especially useful

on

the latter,

is

Paul V. Robb, "Conversion as a

the Spirituality of Jesuits 14:3 as

it

(May

1982), 1-58.

Human

Anyone

Experience," Studies in

interested in this subject

pertains specifically to alcoholics remains well advised to begin with the

classic articles

by Dr. Harry M. Tiebout, "The Act of Surrender

Therapeutic

in the

Process," originally published in the June 1949 Quarterly Journal of Studies on Alcohol,

and "Conversion

New

before the prints 8.

as a Psychological

Phenomenon,"

York Psychiatric Society, both

now most

a talk originally given easily available as re-

from the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence.

James, Varieties of Religious Experience, pp. 98-99. Although this ter

is

James's chap-

on "The Religion of Healthy-Mindedness," and although James

refers in this

section to "mind-cure," the understanding of William James suggested here differs

from

that set forth

by Donald Meyer, The

Doubleday, 1965). As James makes

and

it is

from

this point in

clear,

10.

(New

York:

that awareness that this passage flows. For a deeper exploration of

terms

at

once more "religious" and more Jamesian,

Browning, Pluralism and Personality, 9.

Positive Thinkers

he himself was one of the "sick souls,"

cf.

Don

S.

p. 251.

Buber, Early Masters, pp. 228-29.

The

story

is

retold

by de Mello, Heart of the Enlightened, pp. 30-31. The recogniis not the problem," is one

tion here, developed just below, that "the object

aspect of the fact that Alcoholics legislation. A.A.'s position,

Anonymous does

not agitate for Prohibition

although politically pragmatic, derived from

its

philo-

commitment to the idea that the problem in alcoholism was not alcohol but the alcoholic. More detail on both how this insight developed and how it was implemented may be found in Kurtz, Not-God; for more on this point as related sophical

to the tradition of spirituality, see

Margaret Miles, Practicing Christianity,

and Gerald May, Addiction and Grace (San Francisco: Harper 11.

Koilpillai

J.

Charles, The Power of Negative Thinking

(Madras, India: Orient-Longman, 1973),

272

p. 63.

&

p. 78,

Row, 1988).

and Other Parables from India

NOTES TO PAGES 172-180 12.

See

Mark D.

Body and

Hart, "Reconciliation of

Theology of Marriage,"

saturated with concepts of "codependency" that

those

virtues,

ditional

more

interested

in

Gregory of Nyssa's Deeper

Soul:

Theological Studies 51:

(1990),

would

healing

would be

well advised to begin their generous efforts

cient are

both their concerns and the

availability

450-78; in this era

label as "sick" the tra-

than

money-making

in

by recognizing how an-

of wisdom that speaks to

those concerns. 13.

The language here draws World 23

Fall," This 14.

Mary

Reuter,

directly

on Michael D. Aeschliman, "Discovering the

(Fall 1988), pp.

91-98.

"A Second Look: Mysticism in Everyday Life," Studies in Formative 81-93; Mary Reuter, "Time on Our Hands, Time in Our

Spirituality, 5 (1984),

Hearts," Review for Religious 46:2 (March-April 1986), 256-65.

below

treated just

is

from Richard Rohr, O.F.M., "A

Today," The Serran (September 1987),

3; see also

The Rohr

insight

Spirituality for the Laity

Richard Rohr, "An Amazing

Gift of the Spirit," Praying 35 (March-April 1990), pp. 12-13. 15.

From among

the differing versions of this frequently retold folktale,

from Sadeh, Jewish 16.

Zen Comics, E. Tuttle

we adapt here

Folktales, p. 183.

compiled and drawn by Joanna Salajun (Rutland, VT: Charles

vol. 2,

Co. 1982).

Chapter 12 Gratitude 1.

The Zimmerman quotation

is

from

Eclipse of the Self, p. 247;

William Blake

is

quoted by Aldous Huxley, Moksha: Writings on Psychedelics and the Visionary Experience (Los Angeles: 2.

J.P.

Tarcher, 1977), p. 130.

There are several versions of this

story;

we draw

here on Gabriel Daly, "Widening

Horizons," The Tablet 244:7'811 (31 March 1990), 419-20. 3.

Barrett, Irrational

4.

This idea, and

its

1990), p.

p. 235.

connection with the vision of Jonathan Edwards, has been

J. Himes and Kenneth R. Himes, "The Sacrament of Toward an Environmental Theology," Commonweal 117:2 (26 January 45. For more on Edwards, the reader is unfashionably advised to begin

usefully explored

Creation:

Man,

by Michael

with the writings of Perry Miller, and perhaps especially his biography of the great

New

of God

England divine; then, James Carse, Jonathan Edwards and the

(New

York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1967) and Sang

sophical Theology of Jonathan

Hyun

Lee,

Visibility

The Philo-

Edwards (Princeton: Princeton University

Press,

1988). 5.

Newman, Maggadim and Hasidim,

p. 159.

6.

Amy

York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1989), p. 70.

7.

Another story that

Tan, The Joy Luck Club is

found

(New

in several

Middle Eastern

taken from Sadeh, Jewish Folktales, p. 305.

273

traditions, this version

is

NOTES TO PAGES 180-186 8.

Hoffer

is

quoted without

Myth of Therapy: An

specific citation

by James Hillman

in Sy Safransky,

"The

Interview with James Hillman," The Sun; Issue 185 (April

1991), 2-19. 9.

A

story that can be found in

many

rabbinic collections, this version

is

taken from

Twerski, Living Each Day, p. 176 (meditation for 26 Adar Sheni). 10. Alcoholics 11.

A

Anonymous,

p. 59.

challenging and thought-provoking interpretation of the experience described

may be found

in

Gregory Bateson, "The Cybernetics of

holism," Psychiatry 34:1 (1971), 1-18

—perhaps more

printing in Bateson, Steps to an Ecology of lishing, 1972), pp. 12.

Mind (San

A

Theory of Alcoits re-

Francisco: Chandler Pub-

309-37.

Stanton Peele with Archie Brodsky, Love and Addiction p. 237.

'Self:

readily available in

Although opinionated and a

many

avoids the traps of

(New

York: Signet, 1975),

bit overreaching, this provocative early

later extensions

study

of the concept of "addiction."

13.

Newman,

14.

Ernest Kurtz participated as organizer of the workshop at which this exchange

Hasidic Anthology, p. 485.

took place; Bonnie Brandel of Minneapolis was the presenter, and

this story

is

told here with her generous permission. 15.

Buber, Later Masters, p. 277.

16.

Wiesel's Nobel Prize acceptance speech was reported in The

New

York Times for

we follow here. In the version of his addresses that appears in From the Kingdom of Memory: Reminiscences (New York: Summit Books, 1990), the first two paragraphs appear on pp. 235-36; the para1 1

December

1986, which

is

graph that we have placed

the version that

last

appears on

p. 233.

Chapter 13 Humility 1.

St.

Bernard

p. 58; the

is

quoted without citation by Kreeft, Making Sense out of

Mowrer

is

Leonard D. Borman,

from Mowrer, "Small Groups ed., Explorations in Self-Help

Center for Urban Studies

and Mutual Aid (Evanston

— Northwestern University [1974])

Retold by Idries Shah, Wisdom of the Idiots (London: Octagon, 1979),

3.

Gesta

nard Hooper (New York:

London"]), 4.

Swan

Rev. Charles

AMS

Press,

translation, revised

IL:

p. 47.

2.

Romanorum,

Suffering,

in Historical Perspective," in

p. 168.

and corrected by Wyn-

1970 ["reprinted from the edition of 1894,

p. 58.

The authors extend gratitude to the imaginative flavor-namers of both the Haagen-Dazs and Baskin-Robbins companies and especially the employees of the latter in

Walla Walla and

Ann Arbor

for their enthusiastic

encouragement of

this

aspect of our research. 5.

Although

this insight

cinct statement of

it

appears in is

many forms

in

many

borrowed from Shah, Learning

274

traditions, this

How

to

most suc-

Learn, p. 121.

NOTES TO PAGES 187-195 6.

seem

lics

to prefer the category

from Dass and Gorman, found 7.

in diverse traditions

Another story told of various place-holders

How Can

de Mello, Taking

in

"Monsignor"),

this retelling

I Help?, pp. 28-29;

is

(Roman Catho-

taken proximately

another version

may be

Flight, p. 116.

Dag Hammarskjold, Markings (New

York: Ballantine, 1964), p. 151 (emphasis

Hammarskjold's) 8.

Retold in Yiddish Folktales, ed. Beatrice Silverman Weinreich, trans. Leonard Wolf

9.

Retold by Alexander Eliot, "Astonishing Delphi," Harvard Magazine 92:4 (March-

(New

York: Pantheon, 1988), p. 306.

April 1990), 18-20. 10.

The

story retold here

Fathers.

A

is

a familiar

tradition: see Charles Le

myth found

many

of the ancient Christian

Gai Eaton. Islam and the Destiny of Man (Albany, NY:

New York Press, "The Human Paradox," offers

1985), pp. 181-82. This whole chapter of

State University of

Eaton,

in

version of this story also appears in the Islamic

less Christological

—from

a generally unfamiliar perspective

useful insight into our chapter's theme. It

how

also merits noting here

calumny of the accusation

thoroughly

this ancient

that Christian tradition

story was a favorite jumping-off point for the early

high dignity of

human

being:

"we

whom

mythic

tale reveals the

demeans the human. This

Church Fathers

to discuss the

even the Cherubim and Seraphim

honor." 11.

Retold by Fuller,

12.

On

Newman,

Hasidic Anthology, p. 430; another version

Thesaurus of Anecdotes,

may be found

in

p. 50. is Sidney Mead, "Abraham The American Dream of Destiny and De-

Lincoln's spiritual stature, the best introduction

Lincoln's 'Last, Best

Hope of

Earth';

mocracy," Church History 23 (March 1954), pp. 3-16, reprinted in Mead, The Lively Experiment (New York: Harper & Row, 1963), pp. 72-89. Mead offers a favorite quotation that

might be seen

difference between "spiritual"

Bible teaches us that

all

and

men

as

summing up

Lincoln's perception of the

"religious": "[Lincoln]

once remarked that the

are sinners, but he reckoned that

found that out merely by looking about us." Therese

is

we would have

quoted by Margaret

Dorgan, "Therese of Lisieux: Mystic of the Ordinary," Spiritual

Life 35:4

(Winter

1989), p. 201. In the following paragraph, the quotations of Therese are via

Tugwell, Ways of Imperfection, p. 22 Iff., which offers an analysis of the themes

being presented here. 13.

Austin MacCurtain, in a review of John Updike's in

The [London] Times Literary Supplement,

text 21:15 (15 14.

August 1989),

Richard R. Peabody, The

as

Self- Consciousness that

appeared

quoted by Martin Marty

in

Con-

p. 3.

Common

Sense of Drinking (Boston:

1931); the term ex-alcoholic appears also in the published

Little,

Brown,

and unpublished papers

of Dr. Alexander Lambert, director of the Bellevue Hospital Clinic for most of the first

third of the twentieth century, as well in the literature that derived directly or

indirectly

from the

early twentieth-century

275

Emmanuel Movement.

See Katherine

NOTES TO PAGES 196-202 McCarthy, "Early Alcoholism Treatment: The Emmanuel Movement and Richard Peabody," Journal of Studies on Alcohol 45:1 (1984), pp. 59-74. For those interested in following the A.A. Big Book, a

good 'place

20 in the second and

later editions,

development

this

to begin

the last

is

which was the

in successive editions

word on

on page 30

sixth line

of

the top line of page in the first

edition printings. (The pagination change occurred because Dr. William

Duncan

Silkworm's introductory "The Doctor's Opinion," which began on page

1

first

edition,

is

roman numerals

paginated in

15.

Adapted from Newman, Hasidic Anthology,

16.

Sa'di, Tales

p. 413.

the Gulistan, trans. Sir Richard

from

in the

in later editions.)

Burton (London: Philip Allan

&

Co., 1928), p. 66.

Chapter 14 Tolerance 1.

"Who

Is

a

Member

of Alcoholics Anonymous?" The A.A. Grapevine 3:3 (August

1947), reprinted in The Language of the Heart: Bill

York: 2.

The A.A. Grapevine,

Ws

Grapevine Writings (New

1988), p. 37.

There are several versions of this long-lived anecdote;

for example, Fuller, Thesau-

rus of Anecdotes, p. 80. 3.

The Wilson quotation sity

Summer

that begins the paragraph: the setting

was the Yale Univer-

School of Alcohol Studies, 1944; the provocation, a question asked

mous." "Mr. Wilson, could you sum up

Anonymous works?" One

at

on "The Fellowship of Alcoholics Anony-

the conclusion of Wilson's presentation

for us in

one sentence how Alcoholics

how

of those present remembered

"Bill's

knuckles

tightened on the lectern, as he sensed the impertinence of the question." With a tense smile

Bill

replied

by quoting

this saying,

"Honesty

gets us sober, but toler-

ance keeps us sober," which he habitually attributed to Dr. Bob Smith.

On

the wider topic of the relationship between tolerance and forgiveness, see

Christopher Lasch, The True and Only Heaven: Progress and

W.W.

Norton, 1991),

Its Critics

(New

York:

which draws on the thought of Reinhold Niebuhr

p. 375,

to

point out that, "Forgiveness, not tolerance, furnished the proper corrective to the

egoism and 4.

A

of groups."

self- righteousness

deeper exploration of

this

phrase and

its

meaning may be found

in Kurtz,

Not-

God, pp. 214-15, 221-24. 5.

There are several versions of

this story,

but most that we found seemed based on

Buber, Early Masters, pp. 142-43, which 6.

Another ancient anecdote, proximately It

7.

8.

can also be found

Buber, Early Masters,

retold

adapted.

by de Mello, Song of the

Bird, p. 65.

Thesaurus of Anecdotes, pp. 408-9.

in Fuller, p. 313,

we have

which we have adapted.

Anonymous, "Not Eating Dates," Parabola 12:2 (May 1987), p. 81, which cites as "from Tales Told by Hazrat Inavat Khan (New Lebanon, NY: Sufi Order Publications,

1980)."

A

— not

similar story

about

276

Mohammed

and concerning sugar

NOTES TO PAGES 202-205 rather than dates,

may be found

in Idries Shah, Pleasantries of the Incredible

Nasrudin (London: Jonathan Cape, 1968), 9.

10.

Mulla

p. 107.

Stewart, World of the Desert Fathers, p. 22. In Europe, this change began in August 1914, with the outbreak of

World War

I.

For context, see Barrett, Irrational Man. 1 1.

On

both the way alcoholics think and contemporary medical and religious under-

standings, see George Vaillant, The Natural History of Alcoholism (Cambridge:

Harvard University

A

Press, 1983);

James

E.

Royce, Alcohol Problems and Alcoholism:

Comprehensive Survey (New York: Free Press, 1988);

alcoholics as limned here, the articles of Dr.

also, for the

Harry Tiebout,

thinking of

earlier cited,

and

perhaps most usefully his correspondence with Wilson over the question of the of non-alcoholics to alcoholics

ratio

among A.A.'s trustees, described by Kurtz, may be most accessible in the reprinting

Not-God, pp. 138-42. Tiebout's thought of his

article

"Therapeutic Mechanisms of Alcoholics Anonymous," which origi-

The American Journal of Psychiatry (January 1944),

nally appeared in

in Alcoholics

Anonymous Comes of Age, pp. 309-19: The "Mr. X." so carefully analyzed therein is, of course, none other than Bill Wilson. For further development of the wider theme, see not only Lasch, True and Only Heaven, but also Toulmin, Cosmopolis,

and Kolakowski, Modernity on Endless 12.

The four quotations here

Trial.

from Wilson's private correspondence. The

are

first

responds to a request to offer advice to members of Recovery, Incorporated, after

Abraham Low. The

the death of their founder, Dr. to a

woman who had

written

Bill to

third

is

from

complain of "goings-on"

a letter of

Wilson

in her A.A. group,

wherein what that generation termed "wolves" habitually engaged in what a slightly later generation

would

call

"Thirteenth Stepping"

rous entanglements with vulnerable newcomers. letter

of Wilson to a

California, so.

was

fairly regular

in the habit

The

—searching out amo-

final

quotation

correspondent. This member,

is

who

from a lived in

of finding some new, saving guru every six months or

His correspondence with Wilson follows the pattern of breathlessly sharing his

new enthusaism and itself

Bill

and pointing out

rejoicing with him, but cautioning about the enthusiasm especially, as here, the possible

dangers lurking in too-

great assuredness. 13.

Unamuno, cise to

temple

"The Tragic

Tragic Sense of Life, pp. 135-36. Earlier in his study of

Unamuno's

Sense," (p. 17),

insight

found an expression perhaps even more pre-

our understanding of Alcoholics Anonymous: "The chiefest sanctity of a is

that

must learn

And

to

it

is

a place to

which men go

weep! Perhaps that

is

to

weep

in

common.

.

.

.

Yes,

we

the supreme wisdom."

in the Epistle of the fifth-century pontiff

school of the compassionate" according to Jose

Leo the Great, "the head of the

M.

Martelli,

we

find the axiom:

Lavat aqua, lavant lacrimae: "As water cleanses, so do tears." 14.

Quoted and

cited

by Campbell, Hero With a Thousand

Joyce, Portrait of the Artist as a p. 239.

This

is

also,

Young

Man (Modern

Faces, p. 26, as

Library:

of course, the Aristotelian sense of the term.

277

from James

Random

House),

NOTES TO PAGES 205-212 15.

Willard Gaylin, Caring

Chapter

(New

Six, "Identification,"

York: Knopf, 1976), p. 98; the whole of Gaylin's

merits thoughtful reading in this context.

16.

Buber, Early Masters,

17.

The "twin poles" formulation

p. 238, adapted.

and appears

Caring, p. 64,

directly

is

further depth, see Christopher Lasch, The 1984). This

whole idea

is

remains

difficult to

do

Minimal

Self (New York:

for a

better than

good introduction

to this line of thought,

A Basic Guide

Personality in Freud, Erikson, Klein, Sullivan, Fairbairn,

book

Winnicott, this 18.

Norton,

Donald Winit

Harry Guntrip, Psychoanalytic Theory, Therapy,

the Self (New York: Basic Books, 1973). Subtitled,

and

W.W.

best explored directly in the writings of

and Margaret Mahler;

nicott

from Kaufman, Shame: The Power of worth reading on this topic. For

in a section well

actually lives

up

to the

Human

Hartmann, Jacobson, and

to that claim!

Taken from the workshop presentation

"Why

It

Works: The

Intellectual Signifi-

cance of Alcoholics Anonymous," presented by Ernest Kurtz and based on interviews with Lois Wilson, Nell Wing, and early

New

York A.A. members.

merits noting that, according to his biographer Anthanasius, the Desert

It

Father Anthony

made

a point of emulating a variety of abbas:

"He observed

the

graciousness of one, the eagerness for prayers in another; he took careful note of one's freedom from anger, and the

human concern

of another



getting attributes

of each in himself, and striving to manifest in himself what was best from

See

all."

Sellner, Mentoring, p. 34. 19.

Kearns conducted research on recovering alcoholics, using inventories designed to

measure personality changes over time. Her work, undertaken ter's

program seminar

project,

is

yet unpublished.

Ernest Kurtz participated in this study as an academic adviser.

ment

is

as part of a

Mas-

Although not her mentor,

The quoted com-

taken from conversation about the study's findings as they emerged.

Recent years have seen the formation of various "Rational Recovery" and "Secular Organizations for Sobriety" or "Save

Anonymous,

find Alcoholics

at least as

"religious." Given the variety of A.A. groups,

need for such

see the

efforts.

Our

We know of no

it

who

Selves" groups by those

they have been exposed to

it,

becomes both easy and

to be too difficult to

disciplined study of the newer, wary-

of- religion groups, but, impressionistically, they serve

an important function,

some who otherwise would find it impossible to listen "regular" meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous to do so in a setting often very making

it

possible for

A.A. Also impressionistically, bling what ally find

most A.A.s

20. Twerski, Living is

like

achieve anything resem-

groups eventu-

in

this

phenomenon and

the loving, hurting

it.

Each Day,

p.

101, meditation for 10 Teves.

taken from the conclusion of a lecture-presentation offered by Ernest

"Why

It

and the image to

who

refer to as "true sobriety" in R.R. or S.O.S.

need for careful study of

people involved

Kurtz,

appears that those

"regular" A.A. meetings that meets their needs. There remains, however,

a very real

21. This

it

at a

Works: The

Intellectual Significance of Alcoholics

that precedes are developed

Not-God, pp. 305-6 of the 1991 edition.

278

Anonymous."

It

from the conclusion of "Appendix B"

NOTES TO PAGES 213-216 Chapter 15 Forgiveness 1.

The

quotation

first

Development

3:1

"To

Whom Much Was

text

from Luke

7,

Human

from Dominic Maruca, "A Reflection on Guilt,"

is

(Spring 1982), 42.

The second quotation

is

from Paul

Forgiven," Parabola 12:3 (August 1987), 38-45;

the sinful

she loved much, but he

woman: "her

who

is

forgiven

sins,

little,

J.

Tillich,

sermon on

which are many, are forgiven,

for

loves little."

2.

Retold by de Mello, Heart of the Enlightened, p. 107.

3.

Alcoholics

4.

As presented and interpreted by Tugwell, Ways of Imperfection, p. 29; see also Ernest A. Wallis Budge, ed. and trans., Stories of the Holy Fathers (London: Oxford

Anonymous,

p. 64.

University Press, 1934), pp. 294ff. and the index listings in the

same compiler's

Wit and Wisdom of the Christian Fathers of Egypt. 5.

words of the A.A. "Big Book": "If we were

In the

anger. is

.

.

Anger

.

the dubious luxury of

is

"The Vicious Inherencies: Anger," Parabola

(n.p.: n.p, 6.

may be found

poison." Further useful thoughts on anger

whom we

draw

here.

1986) p.

Perhaps the

earliest

The

Sufi quotation

is

we had

to live,

normal men, but

10:4

via

from

to be free

for us alcoholics

Thomas

in

(November

it

Buckley,

1985), pp. 5-6,

on

Ehsan Motaghed, What Says Saadi

8.

form of this game

is

"The

the Japanese janken. See Eric Korn,

Meaning of Mngwotngwotiki," London Review of Books (10 January 1991), p. 16. The idea has been used by, for example, Sheldon Kopp, Rock, Paper, Scissors (Minneapolis: CompCare, 1989), although our interpretation of the image here

more 7.

closely parallels Buckley, "Vicious Inherencies."

John Patton,

Is

Human

Abingdon

Forgiveness Possible? (Nashville:

Press, 1985),

p. 179. 8.

"The endpoint of human as Obstacles,"

life":

Wilkie Au, "Striving for Spiritual Maturity: Ideals

Review for Religious 48:4 (July-August 1989),

contemporary tendency

p. 506:

to absolutize fulfillment as the basic truth

human existence, endpoint of human life." goal of

faith reiterates the

good news

"Unlike the

and the

that forgiveness

"Forgiveness belongs to the divine": D.M. Dooling, "This Parabola 12:3 (August 1987), p. 6-9. Related themes, based

Word

final

is

the

Forgiveness,"

on her own

experi-

ence of having experienced physical torture, are treated simply and well by Sheila Cassidy, "Seventy 9.

Little

Times Seven," The Tablet 245:7857

March

(2

1991), pp. 267-68.

of this research has yet been published, but the interested reader might see

Jan O. Rowe, Steen Hailing, Emily Davies, Michael Leifer, Diane Powers, Jeanne

vanBronkhorst, "The Psychology of Forgiving Another: proach," in R. Valle, R. and tives in Psychology:

num,

S.

A

Dialogal Research Ap-

Hailing, eds., Existential-Phenomenological Perspec-

Exploring the Breadth of

Human

Experience

(New

York: Ple-

1989), pp. 233-44.

Some of what

follows here draws also

on Ernest

Kurtz's experience with a

similar research project at the Institute for Pastoral Studies at Loyola University of

Chicago.

279

NOTES TO PAGES 218-226 10.

This

cobbled together* from different interviews; the source of the interview on

is

which 11.

this

most strongly draws requested anonymity of person,

Miles,

Practicing Christianity, p.

Prayers

Made New,"

of Therese

is

126.

Lawrence

S.

Theology Today 4 (October 1987), pp. 360-64; the

presented by Tugwell, Ways of Imperfection,

p. 229.

Little

and time.

summary

See also Margaret

Dorgan, "Therese of Lisieux: Mystic of the Ordinary," Spiritual 1989), pp. 201-17,

place,

Cunningham, from "Old

Life 35:4

(Winter

and Barbara Corrado Pope, "A Heroine Without Heroics: The

Flower of Jesus and Her Times," Church History 75:1 (March 1988), pp. 46-

60. 12.

God in the Ordinary," review of George Dennis O'Brien, New Haven Railway, and Why Neither One Is Doing Very Well, Cross

James Brown, "Finding

God and

the

Currents vol. 37, nos. 2-3 (Summer/Fall 1987), pp. 314-316. 13.

This story

is

9th, 10th,

and 11th

well told

by Jose-Maria

Martelli, Confessions to

Lay Persons

in the 8th,

Centuries, author's English translation of a doctoral disserta-

tion submitted (in Latin) to the Pontifical Institute of Liturgy, San Anselmo,

Rome,

1991. Martelli's English-language citations include: Jose

"Reconciliation in the Primitive Church and

toral Practice Today," Sacramental Reconciliation,

Herder

&

Sources

of Christian

p. 17;

Herder, 1971), p. 77; Paul

O. D. Watkins,

Theology

A

II

Ramos- Regidor,

Lessons for Theology and Pas-

Its

Concilium,

61

v.

(New

York:

Palmer, Sacraments and Forgiveness:

F.

(Westminster,

MD: Newman

Press,

1959),

History of Penance (London: Longmans, Green and Co.,

1920). 14. Twerski, Living

Each Day,

p.

70

—meditation — meditation

15.

Twerski, Living Each Day, p. 333

16.

Retold by Idries Shah, The

for 9 Kislev.

Way

for 5 Elul.

(New

of the Sufi

York: E.P. Dutton,

1968),

p. 190.

17.

The quoted words

18.

Thomas p. 51;

Szasz,

are

from Au, "Striving

The Second Sin (Garden

Arthur Schopenhauer, The

for Spiritual Maturity."

City,

Pessimist's

NY: Doubleday- Anchor,

Handbook,

trans. T. Bailey

1973),

Saunders

(Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1964), p. 728. 19.

Cf.

D.M. Dooling, "This Word Forgiveness," from Parabola, as cited above in this Dominic Maruca, "A Reflection on Guilt," Human Development,

chapter; also, 3:1

20.

(Spring 1982), 40-42.

Many

of the ideas in what follows here were

first

stimulated by a paper written by

Mrs. Elisabeth Schanzenbach, a graduate student of Professor James Seattle University, almost a 21. Twerski, Living 22.

Each Day,

Adapted from the divine

p.

retelling

E.

Royce, of

decade ago. 342

— meditation

for 14 Elul.

by de Mello, Taking

names and the primacy of compassion,

Flight, p. 64; for

see Eaton, Islam

and

Islam and the the Destiny of

Man. 23. This story

is

drawn from one

told in Dass

54.

280

and Gorman,

How Can

I

Help?, pp.

51-

NOTES TO PAGES 227-230 Chapter 16 Being-at-Home 1.

The John Cowper Powys quotation by

attribution)

J.C.

Wynn, "The Hole

by Martin

offered without citation

is

Marty, Context 21:25 (15 August 1989),

Anatole France

p. 6;

Our

in

Holiness

is

E.

quoted (without

Other People," Spiritual

Is

Life (Fall 1989), p. 162. 2.

This story was portrayed in the 1976 Bubble. Aspects of

(New

it

may

also

Crown, 1984) and

York:

ABC

in Peter Kreett,

Arbor, MI: Servant Books, 1986), pp. 3.

A

television

On Shame and

in the Plastic

Making Sense of

(Ann

Suffering

5, 89.

diffuse but challenging exploration of this

Merrell Lynd,

movie The Boy

be found recounted in Barry Reisman, Jared's Story

theme may be followed

the Search for Identity

(New

Helen

in

York: Harcourt, Brace

&

World, 1958); for a related perspective, see Kaufman, Shame: The Power of Caring. 4.

Wendy Kaminer, "Chances Are

New

You're Codependent Too," The

Book Review (11 February 1990),

1,

York Times

26-27. The anti-woman nature of the

codependecy ideology has been acutely noted and commented on by Ann Mau-

"Book World" (reviews of books by Melody

reen Gallagher,

Beattie

and Anne

Wilson Schaef), The Catholic World 232:1390 (July-August 1989), 182-83; by

"The Codependency Movement: The Challenge

len Luff,

ogy of 17:3

Women

(Summer and

tianity Brissett,

El-

to Feminists," Psychol-

(Newsletter of Division 35, American Psychological Association)

by Carol LeMasters, "Reading Codependency," Chris-

1990), 3-4;

(June

Crisis

"Codependency:

18,

1990), 200-203;

A View from Women

by Ramona Asher and Dennis Married to Alcoholics," The

Inter-

national Journal of Addictions 23:4 (1988), 331-50. For a broader critique, see

Tadeusz Gierymski and Terence Williams, "Codependency," Journal of Psychoactive

Drugs

18:1

(January-March 1986), 7-13; [Anonymous], "The Culting of

Codependency," 7 Days

on

perspective

&

Eighties

this

(1

November

1989).

whole matter, Fred

The Decline of Public

And

for perhaps the best overall

Siegel, "Blissed

Commonweal

Life,"

Out

&

Loving

It:

The

117:3 (9 February 1990),

75-77. 5.

Garvey, Prematurely Saved,

6.

Some decades

tion, psychiatric thinkers

ents the goal of being

p. 39.

one of the many

ago, in

reflections of the spirituality of imperfec-

Donald Winnicott and Margaret Mahler urged on par-

"good enough" mothers and

only the embrace of one's

own human

fathers.

Humility involves not

be-ing as "good enough";

it

entails also

just

now?" One

the recognition and acceptance of others' good-enough-ness. 7.

The question

arises,

"Why the tendency to

might almost suspect that

ignore, to

deny

to shake, leads either to belief in an afterlife of reward or that in

one way or another, "the

Among

all this,

belief in a rational universe, a belief apparently difficult

sins

punishment or to a

belief

of the parents" are visited on their offspring.

the ancients, a son inherited his father's moral as well as financial debts.

Belief in

an

burden. But

afterlife in

now

that

which one paid one's own debts freed offspring of

most no longer

believe in an afterlife

281

.

.

.

?

that

Does some

NOTES TO PAGES 231-235 weird sense of justice require that "children of alcoholics" suffer in an age so enlightened that alcoholics themselves no longer need to?

Someone aware of spirituality's story might push the question further: Might some part of all the recent focus on /amz'/y-as-cause signal a kind of trace hangover of some belief in a strange kind of "original sin" an "inherited" guilt more fearsome and loathsome than any medieval beast-painter or Puritan caricaat least



ture could conceive? Discoveries of parental influence, after

all,

are hardly

all

glibly labeled

"addictions," most ancient thinkers attributed such inordinate

attachments to the delusions to which the

human

to specific experiences of a particular childhood.

on these questions

perspective

that

now

new. But in treating of the worst aberrations especially in those areas

offered

is

condition

is

subject, not

Perhaps the most helpful

The Greeks and

by Dodds,

the

Irrational. 8.

9.

among

Retold by,

whom we

draw

from

others, Friedman, Dialogue with Hasidic Tales, p. 86,

here.

Irmgard Schloegl,

trans.,

The Wisdom of the Zen Masters (New York:

New

Direc-

tions, 1976), p. 21. 10.

This whole point

well discussed

is

by Milton Mayeroff, On Caring (New York:

Perennial Library, 1971), see especially pp. 67ff. 11.

See Jan Rowe, et

"Exploring

al.,

Self- Forgiveness,"

but also the concluding words

of the treatments of Steps Five and Eleven in Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. 12.

The Bateson

article,

which appeared originally

in Psychiatry 34:1 (1971), 1-18,

an Ecology of Mind (San Francisco: Chandler Publishing, 1972), pp. 309-37; Edward J. Khantzian, "Some Treatment Implications of the Ego and Self Disturbances in Alcoholism," in Margaret H. can most easily be found reprinted in Steps

Bean and Norman

E.

Zinberg

(eds.),

to

Dynamic Approaches

to the

Understanding

and Treatment of Alcoholism (New York: Free Press, 1981), pp. 163-88; Michael Balint, The Basic Fault (New York: Brunner/Mazel, 1979 [1968]). 13.

Retold by de Mello, Song of the Bird,

14.

Much

in this

p. 129.

paragraph beyond the attributed quotation

Eagleton, Literary Theory:

An

is

drawn from Terry

Introduction (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota

Press, 1983), pp. 185ff. 15.

Told by

L.

Patrick Carroll

Hand," Praying 16.

Fairy tales as a

and Katherine M. Dyckman, "Lend Each Other

a

29, p. 5.

way of learning

to deal with terror

Bettelheim, The Uses of Enchantment

(New

was

a

major theme of Bruno

York: Vintage, 1977). For an example

of a story, perhaps more cherished by adults than by children, that conveys the linkage between suffering and "reality," see Margery Williams, The Velveteen

Rabbit

(New

York:

Avon Books,

1975), pp. 16-17.

"What

is real? Does it hurt to be real?" "Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always you are REAL you don't mind being hurt."

282

truthful.

"When

NOTES TO PAGES 236-240 happen all at once, like being wound up, or bit by bit?" You become. It takes a long time. happen all at once. That's why it doesn't often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are REAL, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But those things don't matter at all, because once you are REAL you can't be ugly, except to people who don't "Does

it

"It doesn't

.

.

.

understand."

17.

This story

is

may be found

constructed from details that

in

Joseph T. Shipley, The

The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1984), The Age of Fable (London: J.M. Dent & Sons, 1973

Origins of English Words (Baltimore: p. 163,

and Thomas Bulfinch,

[1908]), pp. 266-67; for variant versions that rely see

John Hollander,

"House and Home,"

also Joseph Rykwert, 18.

For a

bit

more on

"Weaving

bert,

the topic of boundaries

a Pattern

"One of

boundary, ceases,

in

space

Greek

but rather

and

p. 37;

pp. 52-53.

spirituality, see

ability for space is

Xavier John Seu-

is

essence.

Deeper discussion of the points

.

in this

.

."

free,

it

—the

boundary

is

that

from

pp. 497-98.

paragraph can be followed, for the psycho-

logically-inclined, in Janine Chasseguet-Smirgel,

The Ego Ideal (New York:

W.W.

Norton, 1985), a translation by Paul Barrows of VIdeal du Moi: Essai sur

Maladie

d'Idealite (Paris:

(New

York:

W. W. Norton,

1978),

perhaps better for the point here because more recent, Lasch's The Minimal

Self 20.

la

Tchou, 1975). The more culturally-inclined might prefer

Christopher Lasch, The Culture of Narcissism or,

its

namely, into a

not that through which something

Greeks understood

its

through the body and

something cleared out, made

The boundary

as the

which something begins 19.

is

peras.



ibid.,

the most primitive and fundamental ways in

which we condition and delimit our

... A

Germanic heim,

the

of Access: The Essence of Ritual," Worship 63:6 (Novem-

ber 1989), pp. 490-503:

extensions.

more on

Depends," Social Research 58:1 (Spring 1991),

"It All

(New

Corey

W.W.

York:

Fischer,

Norton, 1984).

"Some Notes on Workshops,"

Theater-work (July/August 1982), pp.

19-21. 21.

Buber, Later Masters, p. 86.

22. Inea

Bushnaq,

ed.

& trans.,

Arab

Folktales

(New

York: Pantheon Books, 1986), pp.

44-45. 23.

Gadamer, Truth and Method, pp. 419-20; the translation here is via Hoy, The Critical Circle, p. 66. Hoy's whole section on "Understanding and Language," pp. 61-68, will amply reward the thoughtful reader. This quotation of

used

earlier, in

size the aspect

24.

our treatment of "hearing"; here, the

are

Gadamer was to empha-

added

of "belonging together."

Although he does not use

and

italics

Historical Truth

this full vocabulary,

(New York: W.W. Norton,

of the idea here.

283

Donald

P. Spence, Narrative Truth

1982), has influenced our shaping

NOTES TO PAGES 240-243 25.

Mary on

Daly, Beyond Go'd the Father (Boston: Beacon Press, 1985 [1973]), p. 159;

and

this

also the following point, a thoughtful treatment

may be found

John Navone, "Four Complementary Dimensions of Conversion," Studies mative Spirituality 10:1 (February 1989), 27-36

"community" and "gratitude" point and 26.

its



truthfully

is

retold

Storytelling, Electronic

who

313,

traffic

see especially p. 30 for the

relationship to "humility."

Although we have come across various versions of

most

this story, the

one that rings

by John M. Staudenmaier, "Restoring the Lost

Media Public Discussion," The Way 28:4 (October

identifies the juggler as street-entertainer

accident in early 1989.

It is

in

in For-

Ken

Feit,

who was

Art:

1988),

killed in a

from Staudenmaier that we borrow and adapt

here. 27. Joseph 28.

Campbell, The Power of Myth (New York: Doubleday, 1988),

Ward, Harlots of

the Desert, p. 87; the usual citation for Hillel

is

p. 110.

Ethics of the

we here follow the version quoted and cited by Robert Nozick, The Examined Life (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1989), p. 156; cf. also the use and citation by Abraham Twerski, Living Each Day, p. 218. Another story of related Fathers 1:14;

interest,

from Buber, Later Masters, pp. 231-32:

The Yehudi was

asked: "In the

Talmud

it

says that the stork

is

called hasida

Hebrew, that is, the devout or the loving one, because he gives so much love to his mate and his young. Then why is he classed in the Scriptures in

with the unclean birds?"

He

answered: "Because he gives love only to his own."

29. Alcoholics

Anonymous,

1st ed., p. 96;

2nd and 3rd

284

eds., pp.

83-84.

Index

54, 57, 60, 122, 148, 150, 167, 207-12.

Anonymous.

A.A. See Alcoholics

See also Big Book,

and absence of answers, 140-42 axioms of, 78-81, 91

A. A. Grapevine, The, 78, 118

Abandonment, 165 Abba, meaning of, 49

beginnings

of, 23, 96,

111-13, 139-41

Abdallah Ibn-Sa'ad, 222

discoveries of, 101-3, 108-10, 111-15

Abraham (Old Testament patriarch), 177 Abraham of Stretyn, Rabbi, 128

Eleventh Step

Absolutists, 153

and experience, 159-60

Eighth Step

First Step of, 181

of humanity, 186

181, 191-95,

148

of, 71

Fifth Step of, 147, 148

Acceptance, 61, 80

of imperfection,

of,

2, 33,

and forgiveness, 215-19 and "Four Absolutes," 47^18

43-46, 148-49,

229-30

Acedia, 76-77

Fourth Step

Adam

as

of, 75,

148

Adham, Ibrahim, 171-72

home, 232-34 and humility, 187, 190, 191-92, 194 membership criterion of, 139-40 and mutuality, 83-85, 94

Aeschylus, 13

Ninth Step

"Aesthete," description of, 152-53

not magic, but miracle, 118, 122, 129

(first

man), 75

Addiction, 29, 77, 120, 126-28, 152

and

clinging, 164

Affectivity,

73-74

Afflictions,

from

paradoxical philosophy

61-62

Seventh Step

Alcoholics. See also Sober alcoholic.

and shared

acceptance by, 148-49

140

of, 71,

story,

148

240

Sixth Step of, 148

clinging of, 164

spinoff of, 224-25

189-90

spirituality of, 24-25, 27-28, 34, 109-10,

and harmony, 233

242-43 and storytelling, 79-80, Tenth Step of, 219-20

"hitting bottom," 21, 150, 169-70

no present tense

of,

and release, 167 Second Step of, 181

Al-Anon, 224-25

for,

152

shortcuts for, 120-21

Third Step

sobriety for, 110-11, 121, 132, 207-9

and

stereotypes of, 110 storytelling of, 114-16,

202

tolerance of, 197-98

Alcoholics

219

and open-endedness, 131 love,

Ahlstrom, Sidney, 3

failings of,

of,

Anonymous

of, 71, 84,

tolerance, 195-96,

160,

204

173

200-209

Twelfth Step

of, 84, 122,

Twelve Steps

of, 6, 7, 33, 71, 93, 101, 103,

148

148-49, 173, 211 (A.A.), 4, 13, 40,

vocabulary

285

of, 21, 27,

192-93

INDEX Alcoholics

Anonymous (book),

'5,

52, 93, 109,

213. See also Big Book.

foreword

Bessarian, Abba, 48

Big

139

to,

Book

(A.A.), 71, 103, 117, 130, 140, 147,

195, 209. See also Alcoholics

quoted, 243

Anonymous.

Blink, vs. wink, 87

Alcoholism

Bodhisattva, 201

denial of, 189

Bonaparte, Marie, 128

as "hopeless" disease, 101

Boredom, 76 Boundaries, 235-37

and magic, 120-21 most important cause

of,

233

recovery from, 112-13, 117, 148, 160 Allah (Muslim divine name), 121-22, 201-2,

225

Brokenness, 85

Don

Browning,

Buddha,

Ammonas, Abba, 49-50

13, 43, 123. See also

Gautama,

Siddhartha.

Buddhism,

Anastasius, Abbot, 166

Anderson, Dr. Dan, 189-90, 191-92

Building, 132

Anthony,

Bunam, Rabbi,

229

77

22, 71,

insights of, 170-71

Anger, 76, 78, 214-15 Saint,

94

S.,

Broyard, Anatole, 125

21, 60, 82, 90, 177

Anxiety, 125-26

Aphrodisiacs, 126

Appearances, 31-32

Caesar, Julius, 32

Aristippus, 34

Callousness, vs. sorrow, 183

Attachment

Calvin, John, 6, 20

vs.

detachment, 170-72

Campbell, Joseph,

three layers of, 172-73

8,

133, 241

Cassian, 89, 220

Attending, 79, 94

Cause, 127, 128

Attitude, 179

Caussade, Jean-Pierre,

Auden, W.H., 153 Augustine, Saint,

6, 40, 45, 69, 111,

133, 135, 165 13, 45, 62, 83, 152,

3, 6,

188-89

Certainty, vs. uncertainty, 132

Cezanne, Paul, 161

Chance, 127, 128

Avarice, 76

Character, defects

of, 148, 191, 193,

194

Chemicals, 120, 126, 127, 167 Baal

Shem

181,

Tov,

7, 13,

16, 41,

64-67, 155,

198-99

Chesterton, Gilbert Keith, 19 Christ, 20, 91, 119, 188. See also Jesus Christ.

Baer, Rabbi, 206

Christianity, 6, 13, 22, 25, 31, 34, 37, 44, 65, 66, 71, 82. See also Desert Fathers.

Balance, 193-94, 195, 238 Balint, Michael,

233

early days of, 3,

Barrett, William, 57, 58, 176

Eastern, 89

Barsanuphius

Gospel

(spiritual father), 50-51, 134,

of,

220

35

insight of, 202

153

Baruch, Rabbi, 107

and Jewish experience, 54

Basic Fault, The (Balint), 233

legend, 188, 189

Russian, 62, 71

83

Basil, Saint, 6,

and

Bateson, Gregory, 233 Becker, Ernest, 58, 190-91 Becket,

a,

Saint

Thomas, 137

Being-at-home, 227-43

and

limitations,

Clifford,

W.K., 79

Clinging, and addiction, 164

233-37

Commitment, 80

95

Community, 82-97,

Commonality, 218

Belzer, the, 37

Benedict, Saint,

sickness, 45

Clark, Walter Houston, 23

6,

Berditchev, rabbi of, 169

identification in,

Bernard of Clairvaux, 95

and

Berry, Wendell, 79

of love, 85

286

listening,

172,

92-94

94-96

218 238

INDEX "East Coker" (Eliot), 22

and prayer, 217 and shared weakness, 198 and storytelling, 79-80, 240 true,

Eastern influences,

6, 34, 36, 70, 89,

Edwards, Jonathan,

239

Comparison,

vs. identification,

74

Elimelech of Lizensk, Rabbi, 225

205 of,

73-74, 177

3, 56,

Eleazar of Koznitz, Rabbi, 147

and humility, 187-88, 194 Compassion, healing

3,

Egyptians (ancient),

206

188,

201

Eckhart, Meister, 28

48-55

138

Eliot, T.S., 22, 45,

Emerson, Ralph Waldo, 55

Conceit, 52

"Emptying out," 21

The (Cassian), 89

Conferences,

Envy, 76

Confucius, 138

Connectedness, 72-73, 198

Ethics of Belief (Clifford), 79

Conrad, Joseph, 16

Evagrius Ponticus, 48, 74-78, 79, 95, 214,

215

Conscience, 237

Eve (Adam's wife), 75

Control, 31 negative effects

of,

180-84

Evil, 77,

174

vs. release, 165,

vs.

Ex-alcoholics, 194-95

Conversion, 122, 168

237-38

Criticism, inner,

Exodus, 70

Cunningham, Lawrence, 220

Experience, 101

and language, 160

Cursing, 220

"Cybernetics of

Cynicism,

149

good, 229

'Self,'

The" (Bateson), 233

Explanation,

183

vs. joy,

Experiencing spirituality, 68-81, 158-59 vs. forgiveness,

223

Eyger, Rabbi Akiba, 187

Daly, Mary, 240

"Day

at a

Time Program, The," 152

Failure, acceptance of, 181

Defects of character, 149, 192, 193-94

Demeter (Greek mythological

figure),

and

168-69

relationships in,

228-30

Farber, Dr. Leslie, 125-27

storytelling, 150

Denial of Death, The (Becker), 58 Desert Fathers, 17-18, 43, 48, 49, 53, 88, 89,

Fear,

214-15

Fellowship, 207, 209. See also Tolerance.

"4-H Club," 228

95, 166

Desire, insatiable, 77

Detachment,

Fighting ourselves, vs. laughing at ourselves,

attachment, 170-73

vs.

Dido, Queen, 236 Difference,

"Falling short," 193

Family, 228

Denial, 149-50, 167 vs. reality,

220-22

Faith,

57

and

Differentiation,

Dinov, Rabbi

190

Things

"First

First,"

tolerance, 199-200, 203

Fixation, 76

206

Flexibility, 134,

of,

37

Forgetting,

Diogenes, 34

and

195

135 forgiveness,

223-24

Forgiveness, 197, 213, 214-23, 232

Dionysus (Greek mythological

figure), 57,

vs.

explanation, 223

and

126

forgetting,

223-24

resentment, 214-15

Directions, 125

vs.

Dooling, D.M., 216

unconditional, 224

Dowling, Father Edward, 207 Drugs, 120, 126

and victimization, 215, 222 Fornication, 75-76

"Four Absolutes," of Oxford Group, 47-48, 139

Each Day a

New

Beginning (devotional

book), 209

Four Noble Truths, 43 Francis of Assisi, Saint,

Eagleton, Terry, 235

111, 168, 170

287

3, 6, 13, 17, 35,

63,

INDEX Hermann, 20

Francke, August

Growth, 131, 132, 134 and pain, 230, 231

Freedom, 164, 181

and

127-28

storytelling,

Guilt-laden words, 149

Frenzy, 153

Freud, Sigmund, 128, 234

Hammarskjold, Dag, 187 Hananya, Rabbi Y'hoshu'a ben, 32 Handicapped persons, 85

Gabriel (archangel), 30

Gadamer, Hans Georg, 69, 79-80, 239 Gandhi, Mohandas, 111

Hanokh,

Gardner, John, 127

Harlots of the Desert (Ward), 53

Garvey, John, 229

Gautama, Siddhartha,

43. See also

Buddha.

Harmony,

72, 78,

Hasidism,

7, 54, 71,

Geertz, Clifford, 87

reawakening

Romanorum, 185-86

Gesta

82

Pvabbi,

Happiness, 180, 181-82

233 83

of, 3

stories from, 13, 21, 37, 50, 54-55, 61-62,

Gluttony, 75

64, 74, 89-90, 107, 147, 152-53, 182, 192,

Goals, and direction, 125-26

221

God

Hayyim, Hafez, 34

connectedness

to,

72

Healing, 149

as creator, 81, 188

and hurting, 228-30

displeasing, 30

through

and

of time, 151

forgiveness, 215, 225, 226

gift of, 35,

goodness

Hearing, 69-70, 80, 239-40

206 202

of,

storytelling, 150

Heart,

73-74

vs. brain,

greatness of, 93

Hebrews,

hidden, 107-8

Heidegger, Martin, 165

and idolatry, 224 mercy from, 88

Here and now,

nature

of,

and and

5,

folk,

192

Hillel (Jewish teacher),

prayer, 220-21

for,

Holiness, 190

Home, 191-92.

New Haven

One

Neither

is

Railway,

and Why

See also Being-at-home.

Honesty, 51, 88-89, 117

and humility, 187

Doing Very Well (O'Brien)

with

220

Goldman, Good, vs.

242

Holding nothing back, 148

38

union with, 113 the

152-3

Hoffer, Eric, 180

208-9

spokespersons

God and

as spiritual concept,

(apostolic father), 43

"Hitting bottom" 21, 150, 169

109

sobriety,

38

Hiding, 205, 236-37

200

and ordinary playing,

Her mas

3, 21, 31, 34,

self,

53, 62-63

Hope, 139

Ari, 71

Goodness, 192-93, 202

Hopko, Father Thomas, 42 Hound of Heaven, The (Thompson), 107

Gorres, Carl Josef, 39

Huai-Jang, 9

Gorres, Ida Friederike, 39

Humanity

evil,

Grandiosity,

229

vs.

imperfection

humility, 189

word

Gratitude, 175-84, 231-32

and vs.

gift,

Human

175-77, 179, 183, 230

vs.

13, 26, 34,

56-57, 71,

76

Gregory of Nyssa,

123-24

6, 33, 44,

Group conscience meetings

Humor, 190-91, 242

172 (A.A.),

grandiosity, 189

and gratitude, 240-41 and honesty, 187 word origin of, 191

gratitude, 178-80 3, 6,

reality, limits to,

and comparison, 187-88, 194

and humility, 240-41 Greed, 126

Greeks (ancient),

43

Humility, 95, 185-96, 240-41

greed, 178-80

and

of, 5, 19,

origin of, 191

210

Hurting, and healing, 228-30

288

INDEX Hurwitz, Rabbi Meyer, 195-96

Jesus Christ (of Nazareth), 46-47, 58, 83, 85,

I

Jews, 3, 6, 7, 13, 37, 54, 61, 65, 66, 70, 182,

111, 151, 215

in vs.

community, 92-94

John

91-93

John of the Cross, 89 John of Lycopolis, 88

separation, 206

and

Joseph (Hebrew patriarch), 54-55

205

vision,

Identity, 134, 138, 150,

and and

limitation, 204, storytelling,

Idolatry, 123-24,

Journey, 132-34

229 235-36

Joy, 182,

116-17

224

vs.,

Joyce, James,

The

Illusion of Technique,

Julian of

Norwich,

6, 45,

Jung, Dr. Carl Gustav,

111

3, 6, 13, 23, 77,

101,

111-14

Imperfection. See also Failure. of, 2, 33,

183

204-5

Joy Luck Club, The, 178

(Barrett), 58

Imitation, vs. identification, 91-93

94,

241

cynicism

Ignatius of Antioch, 6, 82, 87

acceptance

Hebrews.

50

(spiritual father),

John, Abba, 51

comparison, 205

vs. imitation, vs.

184. See also Hasidism;

205

Identification, 89-96, 116,

influence of, 120-21

43-^6, 149, 181, 190-

232-33

escaping, 44

Kaminer, Wendy, 228-29

facing, 150

and guilt-laden words, 148-49

Kazantzakis, Nikos, 119

of humanity,

Kearns, Patricia, 208

5, 19,

43

and humility, 190 and humor, 242-43 and limitation, 47-55 vs. perfection, 38,

reality of,

and

"Keeping something to oneself," 147

Kempis, Thomas

a,

20

Khantzian, Edward, 233

135

28

Kierkegaard, Sdren,

tolerance, 197-211

3, 57,

Incompetence, 220

Kolakowski, Leszek, 45

Inner child, 229

Kolobos, John, 18

"Instant" spirituality, 120, 124-25

Koran, 30, 70, 71

Institutes,

Koretzer rebbe, 52-53

The (Cassian), 89

Kotzk, Rabbi of, 92, 152, 183

Internalization, 91

89

Irish spirituality,

Human

Kurtz, Ernest, 149, 190

48^19

Isaac of Thebes, Is

152, 153

King, Martin Luther, 111

Forgiveness Possible? (Patton), 215

Islam, 221

Laing, R.D., 116

Israel

of Rizhyn, Rabbi, 7-8, 80

Language, and experience, 160

Israel

Shem

Language of recovery, 160

Tov, Rabbi, 7

Lao-tzu, 15

L'Arche, 85

James, William, 134, 169,

6, 13, 91, 99, 113, 114, 122,

2-3, 60, 230-31

Japanese tea ceremony,

at ourselves, vs. fighting ourselves,

190

on "frenzy," 153 as mountain climber, 78-79 "pragmatism" of, 80 on Release, 169 "strenuous mood" of, 93-94 and "torn-to-pieces-hood" (Zerrissenheit),

Jellinek,

Laughing

208

Lawrence, D.H., 153 Lazarus (biblical figure), 83 Leib,

Rabbi Moshe,

Lelov, Rabbi of,

7,

61, 90, 231

54-55

"Letting go," 168-70, 173 Lewis, C.S., 107 Libido, 172 Life

1

Dr. E.M., 120

Jeremiah (Hebrew prophet),

138-39 231-32

as pilgrimage, 6,

38

as hurting,

289

INDEX Limitation, 47-55, 122

Mixed-up-ed-ness, 190, 191-92, 200

and being-at-home, 233-37 and technique, 123-24

Models, variety of available, 207

Mohammed

Abraham,

Lincoln,

(Holy Prophet),

30, 121

Money, 76

Lin Chi, 92 3,

Morale, 33

192

Mordecai, Rabbi, 89, 91

Listening, 88

and community, 94-96 Listlessness,

Moses (Hebrew prophet and

lawgiver), 2, 38,

134

76

Lizensker, Rabbi Elimelech, 19, 20

Moses, Abba (Moses the Black), 49 Moshe, Rabbi, 152

Logismos, 74-78, 79, 126

Muslims, 22, 71, 201-2, 221-22, 225

Lonesome Dove (McMurtry), 51-52

Mutuality, 83-89, 94, 165, 222, 240. See also

Gidding"

"Little

138

(Eliot),

Community.

Love, 94, 231 afflictions

from, 61-62

community message

of,

86 242-43

paradox

of,

126-27

of,

N Naftali of Roptchitz, Rabbi, 147

Nagarjuna (Buddhist

See also Spiritual love.

Love and Addiction (Peele), 182 Lucifer (Devil), 188, 189

62

6,

Lying, Despair, Jealousy, Envy, Sex, Suicide,

Drugs and the Good

170-71

Native Americans, tale

154-55

of,

"Negative way." See Via negativa.

Luke (author of Gospel), 91 Luther, Martin,

saint),

Narcissism, 188, 192

Life (Farber), 125

New New New

Testament, 24, 83, 215 Yorker, The, 60, 61

York Times, 125, 228-29

Nicholas, Saint, 37 Nicholl, Donald, 39

M

Niebuhr, Reinhold,

Macarius (monk), 44-45, 95, 134

6,

57

Noah, Rabbi, 91

MacCurtain, Austin, 194 Machiavelli, Niccolo, 127

Maclntyre, Alasdair, 127

McMurtry, Larry, 51-52 Maggid of Koznitz, 63, 180-81 Maggid of Mezritch, 7 Magic,

vs.

miracle, 102, 118-29

Markings (Hammarskjold), 187

realities,

33-34, 120, 170, 171

46, 151, 215

Mayeroff, Milton, 232

Mead, George Herbert, 87

"Me

and

self,

171

O'Brien, George Dennis, 220

Obsession, 76

Open-ended

spirituality, 102,

Open mindedness,

Mat-su, 9

Matthew (author of Gospel),

Objects, 125

Once-born, 60

Mary Magdalene, 85 Material

Obedience, 95

First," 186, 188

Mendel, Menachem, Rabbi, 221

Mendel of Kotzk, Rabbi, 74, 152 Merton, Thomas, 36-37, 123

131-43

117, 203

Openness, 216 Ordering, right, 195 Ordinariness, 190

Ordinary

folk,

192

Oriental cultures, 3

Oxford Group,

23, 71-72, 79, 96, 111, 112,

140

and "Four Absolutes,"

Midas, King of Phrygia, 126

47, 48, 139

Mikhal, Rabbi, 198-99 Miles, Margaret, 219 Miller,

Mink

Henry, 138

(Native American mythological

Pain,

of love, 126-27

character), 154-55

Miracle, vs. magic, 102, 118-29

Misery, 180, 181

and greed, 180

and growth, 230, 231

Paradox, 18-19, 39-40, 62, 161, 182, 186-87 Participation, vs. possession, 172 Pascal, Blaise, 45, 57, 58, 172

Patton, John, 215

290

INDEX Remembering (Berry), 79 Remembrance, 176 and salvation, 155

Peele, Stanton, 182

23-24

Pelikan, Jaroslav,

Pensees (Pascal), 57 Peregrination, 133, 134

Renaissance, 3

Perfection, 46^17, 182, 194

Resentment, 213-15

imperfection, 38, 135

vs.

vs.

Madame, 45

Perrier,

forgiveness,

214-15

Responsibility, 122, 222

Pervasive spirituality, 102, 144-55

Reuter, Mary, 172

Perversion, latent, 149

Rieff, Philip,

Peter (apostle), 215

Right ordering, 195

Petition,

220

Rilke,

128

Rainer Maria, 138

Picasso, Pablo, 13-14

Riziner, The, 62, 182

Pilgrimage, 13, 17, 132-39

Rohr, Richard, 172, 173

Pinchas, Rabbi, 53, 107

Romans

Pity,

204-5

(ancient), 37

Roosevelt, Theodore, 93

Poemen, abba,

18, 44,

Rozdoler, Rabbi, 165-66

83

Rule of Saint Benedict, 95

Porissover stories, 61-62, 182 Possession, vs. participation, 172

Posture, 71-72, 179

Sa'ad (son of Wakas), 221-22

Power of Myth, The (Campbell), 241 Practicing These Principles in All

Our

(unpublished book), 130 Prayer,

219-22

Affairs

Sadness, 214-15 Salvation,

and remembrance, 155

Santayana, George, 58

Prematurely Saved, The (Garvey), 229

Sartre, Jean-Paul, 13, 19, 28, 47, 153

Pride, 77

Sasov, rabbi of, 231

Priorities, 195

"Sayings of the Old Men," 49

Schopenhauer, Arthur, 223

Progress, 134, 138

135

vs. perfection,

Schulz, Charles, 61

"Promises, the," 242-43

Schweitzer, Albert, 17

Psalm

Seeing, 69, 74-75

70, 20,

220

Pygmalion (king of Tyre), 236

Seeking, 89, 90

Pythia (prophetess of Apollo), 187

Self, 86, 150,

151,

230

giving up, 38-40 limited but

Q

and

Quakers, 17

real,

167

objects, 171

reclaiming, 232 as victim,

222

Self-centeredness, 167, 168

230

Reality, 28,

See also

Self-deception, 19, 62-63, 150, 167, 168

168-69

vs. denial,

Human

reality.

Recovery, 112, 117, 150, 160

language

of,

Reformation,

160

3,

Self-forgiveness,

232

Self-knowledge, and wisdom, 90 Self-pity,

77

"Sensuality," 45

20

Separation,

vs. identification,

Reich, Annie, 91

"Seven Deadly

Relationships

Shaku Soen, Master, 231

in family,

and

227-29

storytelling,

115-16

Release, 163-74

174

181-82

Religion, 208 vs. spirituality,

Re- mapping, 114

Shalom, Rabbi, 201 Shared story, 240

Shared weakness, 198-200, 204, 211

vs. control, 165,

as gift, 175-76,

205

Sins, the," 75

Shen Hui, 69 Shortcomings, 149, 193, 195, 196 Sieberling, Henrietta,

23-26

Significant other, 87 Sin, 75, 149, 190, 193

291

96

INDEX Smith, Dr. Robert Holbrook, 4, 83-84, 96, 103, 105-6, 111, 206-7, 242

Sponsors (A.A.), 207-8 Storytelling, 7-9, 17, 63-64, 130, 160

Sobriety

of alcoholics, 114-16, 202

for alcoholics, 110-11, 121, 132, as gift,

207-9

Sorrow, 182, 231, 241 vs. callousness,

183

204

spiritual love,

community, 79-80, 239-40 denial, 150

freedom, 127-28 time, 151

Strength, 45

and shared weakness,

Space, 236

199,

204

Submission, 221-22

33

Spirit,

being-at-home, 236-39

and and and and and

181-82

Socrates, 6, 32, 33, 111

and

182-84

Stories, 142,

Sober alcoholic, 194-95, 200, 203

Spiritual directors. See Spiritual teachers.

Suffering, 21, 43, 231, 235, 238

Spirituality, 15-16, 124-25, 145

Sufis,

214

of acceptance, 61

sayings of, 186-87

and appearances, 31-32 and being-at-home, 227-42 beyond control, 31

stories of, 13, 58-59, 81, 93, 121, 171-72,

Surrender, 122, 168-69, 181

196, 225

"beyond-the-ordinary," 35^40

Suzuki, D.T., 6

and compassion, 48-55

Suzuki, Shunryu, 142

denial of, 62

Swahili

tale,

discovering, 1-2, 13, 95

Symeon

the

"earthly," 18

Szasz,

essential

142-43

New

Thomas,

Theologian, 89

116,

223

but different, 102, 105-17

experiencing, 68-81, 160

expressions of,

46

3,

"Talks to Teachers" (James), 153

assumptions about, 18

Tan-hsia, 123

first

insight of, 199

Technique, and limitation, 123-25

first

step of, 19-20

Temptation, 53

and

forgiveness, 197, 213-24, 230-31

Ten Commandments, 21

false

as gift, 183

Teresa, Mother, 17, 111

and gratitude, 175-84 and health, 17 and humility, 95, 185-96, 240-41, 242 "instant," 120, 124-25

Thales of Miletus, 188

Irish,

Theodotos, Abba, 49 Therapy, 150

and

89

many forms message nature

of, 2

of, 120,

of,

241

21-22

"one day

at a

time," 102

open-ended, 102, 130-43 pervasive, 102, 144-55 release,

vs. religion,

vs.

27

Thinking, 132, 176

metaphor

of,

120, 121-22

Thompson, Francis, 107 Thomsen, Robert, 1 1 Thoreau, Henry David, 69, 152 Thoroughness, 147

163-74, 175, 181

Tiebout, Dr. Harry, 122

23-26

Time, 124, 151-55

and

simplicity of, 35-38

and

spirituality,

Therese of Lisieux, Saint, 20, 45, 192, 220

Thirst,

not magic, but miracle, 102, 118-29

and

Thanking, 176

storytelling,

7-9

therapy, 26-27

and tolerance, 195, 196, 197-212 and twofold nature, 60 and weakness, 45-55, 193, 197-99, 204 Spiritual love, and sorrow, 204

storytelling, 151

Titans, 56

Tolerance, 195, 196, 197-212. See also Fellowship.

and

difference, 199-200, 203

Tolstoy, Leo, 208

"Torn-to-pieces-hood," 2-3, 26, 60, 73, 198,

220

Spiritual teachers, 88, 142, 178, 179

292

INDEX Wholeness, 61, 73-74, 77, 87

Touching, 227-28 Tragic Sense of Life,

The (Unamuno), 204

Wiesel, Elie, 184

125-26

Tranquilizers, 126

Will,

Transforming experiences, 122-23

Willfulness, vs. willingness, 122, 123, 127-28

Treatise

Willingness, 117, 215

Concerning Religious Affections

(Edwards), 177

vs. willfulness, 122, 123,

Triumph of the Therapeutic, The

Wilson, William Griffith

(Rieff), 128

Truth, revelation of, 164-65

197,

of,

111-13

Twain, Mark, 153

on Alcoholics Anonymous, imperfection

Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions (Wilson),

75

of,

Twenty-Four Hours a Day (quasi-devotional

54

on Alcoholics Anonymous,

success of,

109-10, 116

book), 209

Abraham,

70, 208-9,

and "Four Absolutes," 47^18, 139 and identification, 96 and Jung, 112-13 and mutuality, 83-84 personality of, 206-7

220-21

"Twice-born," 60-61

Master, 138

Unamuno, Miguel Uncertainty,

230

on Alcoholics Anonymous, beginning

Tugwell, Simon, 21, 135

Ummon,

(Bill), 13, 77, 103,

105-6, 122, 132, 138, 140, 148, 188, 190,

Trust, 232

Twerski,

127-28

Wilson, Lois, 207

"Triple abyss," 172

de, 61,

204

vs. certainty,

132

and religion, 4, 5, 24 and sponsors, 207-8

Unconditional forgiveness, 224

writings of, 75, 130-31, 203

Understanding, 80

Wink,

Unity, 205. See also Wholeness.

Winnings, 177

Updike, John, 194

Wisdom, 89, 94 and self-knowledge, 90 and word origins, 188-89

Vainglory, 77

Wisdom-stories, 64

Vanier, Jean, 85-86

vs. blink,

87

Witness, 238, 239

Varieties of Religious Experience,

The (James),

60, 169

Via negativa ("negative way"), 22, 223

Woodman, Marion, 28 Word origins, and wisdom, 188-89 Words. See Guilt-laden words.

Vicissitude (philosophical term), 134, 135

Victimization, 224-25, 228

and

forgiveness, 215, 222

Yechiel,

and resentment, 214-15 Vincent, Francis T.,

Jr.,

1

Vision, 181, 183. See also Seeing.

and and

difference,

Michel (the Medzibozer's grandson),

107 Yitzhak, Rabbi Jacob, 83, 89, 201 Yitzhak, Rabbi Levi, 68-69, 170

200

identification,

204-5

Z Zaddik, 16

w

Zalman, Rabbi Shneur, 221

Wahab, Imri, 185 Ward, Benedicta, 53, 241^12 Ways of Imperfection (Tugwell), 21

Zen, 13, 36, 92, 123

Zen Comics, 174 Zerrissenheit ("torn-to-pieces-hood"), 3, 60,

Weakness, 45-55, 193 shared, 198-200, 204, 211

Whitehead, Alfred North, 73

220, 230, 237

Zimmerman, Zusya, Rabbi,

293

Michael, 165 2,

205-6

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ERNEST KURTZ is the author oMot-God. A History of A A. The Story, and Shame and Guilt. He holds a Ph.D. in the history of American civilization

Alcoholics Anonymous,

:

from Harvard and is currently affiliated with the Center for Self-Help Research at the University of Michigan.

KATHERINE KETCHAM

is

the co-author of five previous

nonfiction books, including the bestselling

Under the Influence:

A Guide to the Myths and Realities ofAlcoholism (Bantam) and Witnessfor the Defense: The Accused, The Eyewitness and the Expert Who Puts Memory on Trial, which was a Book-of-the-Month Club selection.

ies

.

.

.

they become a part of you, a part

Sam Keen, author of Fire in the Belly simply stand up and cheer. .The wisest book I've read in a long time Larry Dossey M.D., author of Meaning & Medicine and Recoi ering the Soul .

.



first

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