A 12 Step Contemplative Spirituality

Dedicated to Father Richard Rohr

1) The paths of love and suffering both transform us. On both paths we journey both in authenticity and toward authenticity, humbly increasing our humility, authentically growing our authenticity. We recognize our radical finitude and get radically in touch with our need for outside assists or grace.

2) In touch, somehow and in some way, with this reality of grace, with the fact that manifold and multiform outside assists brought us into existence, itself, have nurtured and sustained us thus far and, reportedly …

per credible witnesses … can




re­empower and

re­lease us …

3) We thus surrender to Outside Assists and yield to their gifts of

truth, via Right Believing,

beauty, via Right Desiring,

goodness via Right Behaving,

unity, via Right Belonging and

freedom, via Right Being­in­Love, as one Be­loved.

4) Working honestly and diligently to raise our awareness of how we’ve been wholly and miserably …

dis­oriented, acting both in and on un­truth;

dis­affected, aspiring, inordinately, toward lesser goods;

dis­possessed, acting willfully and not willingly;

dis­empowered, playing on the wrong playgrounds and with the wrong playmates, selfishly at work on our own agenda rather than at play in the fields of the Lord, where we cooperate with genuine outside assists or Grace;

dis­integrated, literally losing our freedom (always inner but, too often, also our outer liberty, too) and diminishing our capacity to receive and return genuine love (as distinguished from our enslavement to persons, processes and substances, which masquerade as counterfeit love objects rather than authentic love subjects).

The disengagement of playgrounds and playmates does not represent an abandonment of other souls or disregard of their intrinsic value as beloved persons but involves, rather, the establishment of healthy relationship boundaries, lovingly entrusting others to providence, while walking the path to freedom in a way that, one prays, others may choose to follow of their own accord, some day.

5) Re­connecting and reconciling ourselves to community ensues in the wake of sharing our stories of dis­orientation, dis­affection, dis­possession, dis­empowerment and dis­integration ­­­ not only with our own conscious awareness and our God, but ­­­

with another person who positively affirms us, who

re­possesses us from our possessed existence,

re­empowers us by reintegrating us into a wholesome, loving community, which, through

right belonging, can

re­instill right desiring, which will naturally encourage

right behaving, thereby reorienting us through right believing.

6) The contemplative stance goes beyond any problem-­solving or propositional concerns.

Far more than propositions for solving our problems in reality, the contemplative stance engages dispositions for evolving our probes of reality.

Beyond a mere nonreflective awareness, which doesn’t judge reality from our willful self­-perspective, propositionally, the contemplative stance does also adopt, dispositionally, a willing trustful surrender to a friendly ultimate reality, trading a specific set of anxious expectations for a more general and vague but peaceful hope in providence.

To the extent the contemplative stance pauses between reality’s stimuli and our responses, withholding judgments regarding precisely how we might think, feel, norm or interpret this or that reality, that pause, then, very much has a valence as a pregnant pause, as we dispose ourselves in a manner that reflects a surrender, to wit:

7) Take, Lord, receive, my …



my entire will …

Gift me, new …

beliefs, a vibrant faith beyond my weak grasp of truth; to think again!

desires, a fervent hope beyond my feeble sense of beauty; to feel again!

behaviors, a willing love beyond my willful approach of goodness; to norm anew!

belonging, an authentic fellowship beyond my impoverished notion of community; to re-interpret it all together with others of goodwill!

beatitudes, a beatific vision that grows my experience of freedom beyond the mere license to do as I want to the clear liberty to do as I must; to liberate one to live & love again!

8) As a major hallmark of the contemplative stance, we re­cognize our radical solidarity and connected­ness to others, the cosmos, God and even our selves.

Out of this solidarity, compassion necessarily ensues, beginning with those to whom we, ourselves, have brought suffering.

The contemplative stance, then, pursues Enlightenment, much less so as any self­improvement or personal growth project.

Indeed, such spiritual masters as Gerald May, Abraham Maslow, Viktor Frankl and Bernard Lonergan instruct us that self-­actualization properly ensues as a by­product of self­-transcendence, that, pursued for its own sake, self­actualization even frustrates true transformation.

Hence, the Angelus and fiat: Be it done unto me according to Thy Word. And the Magnificat: For He looked on His servant’s lowliness …

Hence the real­ization that one seeks Enlightenment more so out of compassion for all those who have suffered our unenlightened selves!

Thus moved to sorrow, repentance and compassion via our contemplation attaining to love:

9) We move beyond any abstract, self assessment and willingly surrender to the concrete, practical response of re­constructing our broken relationships with others, seeking forgiveness, offering reparations, making amends from the standpoint of what’s truly helpful to them and not what’s needed by us.

10) The contemplative stance becomes ­­­ not a new way of thinking about reality, but ­­­ a new way of seeing reality.

We cultivate a practice of daily examen and daily sitting, a habit of pausing awhile, a commitment to timely and heartfelt reconciliations, knowing we’ll fall, again and again, from our inescapable finitude and fail, again and again, from our willful refusals to cooperate with outside assists or surrender to grace.

11) On the road of transformation, the quest , itself, becomes our grail; the journey , itself, becomes our destination.

Our growth in truth will commit us to accurate historical accounts and successful scientific ventures, beyond which we develop an eschatological vision, which means an enduring commitment to a better future. We seek and provide outside assists to orient us to truth.

Our growth in beauty will commit us to wholesome cultural engagements, beyond which we embrace an essential soteriological trajectory, which means we cultivate through time-­honored practices and rituals, our growth in authenticity and humility and recognition of solidarity with all other sojourners. We seek and provide outside assists to sanctify and dedicate us to beauty.

Our growth in goodness will commit us to enlightened philosophical and economic approaches, which inform all of our moral and practical norms, beyond which we engage a truly sacramental economy, which receives all as pure gift and which inventories both daily and lifetime moments of gratitude, voicing this gratitude to self, God and others. We seek and provide outside assists to nurture, sustain and heal us in goodness.

Our growth in unity will commit us to wholesome social realities, beyond which we participate in an ecclesiological reality, which fellowships in community. We seek and provide outside assists toward unity.

Our growth in freedom will commit us to political action and apolitical contemplation, beyond which we embrace diverse sophiological trajectories, which means we sustain our authenticity by different ways of being-­in-­love with others, God, cosmos and even self. There are many ministries but one mission.

Beyond a universal and essential soteriological trajectory, which gifts our authenticity, there are poly­doxic (many­gloried) ways of sustaining authenticity through loving and being loved. We seek and provide outside assists toward that freedom and relationality which foster reality’s deepest loves.

All spiritualities, whether the great traditions or indigenous religions, whether contemplative practices or 12 Step Programs, have elements of

eschatology vis a vis truth and right believing, historically and scientifically;

soteriology vis a vis beauty and right desiring, culturally;

sacramentology vis a vis goodness and right behaving, philosophically and economically;

ecclesiology vis a vis unity and right belonging, socially; and

sophiology vis a vis relationality and freedom, right beatitude, politically and contemplatively.

12) What return shall we make? That’s the urgent but peaceful imperative of all who’ve come into awareness of reality’s radically giving (donative) nature as we minister every consolation we’ve received to others. When we awaken to our solidarity, whether through the path of suffering or of love, which intertwine inextricably, compassion will inevitably and naturally ensue.

How can we keep from singing?

“For every poet it is always morning in the world; history a forgotten, insomniac night. The fate of poetry is to fall in love with the world in spite of history.” ~ Derek Wallcott

A 12 Step Contemplative Spirituality is not a life event but a lifestyle. It’s a lifestyle of gathering frequently with others to remember, to not forget!

Anamnesis (from the Greek word meaning “reminiscence”) is a liturgical statement in which the Church refers to the memorial character of the Eucharist (thanks-giving). It has its origin in Jesus’ words at the Last Supper, “Do this in memory of me.”

In a wider sense, Anamnesis is a key concept in the liturgical theology: in worship the faithful recall God’s saving deeds. This memorial aspect is not simply a passive process but one by which the Christian can actually enter into the Paschal mystery.

So, if amnesia means “to forget,” then an-amnesis means “not to forget.”

We recall, then, why we simply must be thankful. And we do so prayerfully.
As they say, a family that prays together, stays together.

So, too, psychologically, modern medicine has discovered that “neurons that fire together, wire together.”

Religion means to re-ligate or “tie back together.”


All of this taken together suggests that our spiritual survival requires a vigorous hygiene and rigorous practice of “not forgetting to give thanks.”

Phillipians 4:8 reminds us: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is fair, whatever is pure, whatever is acceptable, whatever is commendable, if there is anything of excellence and if there is anything praiseworthy—keep thinking about
these things.”

From a properly holistic perspective, this spiritual hygiene of anamnesis thus plays an indispensable role in maintaining one’s emotional equilibrium.

The more seriously compromised one’s emotional homeostasis has been, especially over protracted periods of time, the more vigilant one must be to stand guard over one’s thoughts, the more rigorous must be the practice of anamnesis and the more integral must be one’s assault against any and all threats posed to one’s psychological defenses.


Anamnesis – a suggestion

1) 5 most stimulating intellectual curiosities that once captured your imagination

2) 5 most wholesome and emotionally satisfying moments that you can still recall with great relish

3) 5 most morally courageous commitments you undertook together with others

4) 5 most satisying practical accomplishments from your academic, athletic or work life

5) 5 most wholesome and rewarding social engagements you’ve enjoyed

6) 10 most wholesome and grace-filled familial memories, persons, events

7) 5 most spiritually rewarding divine encounters and the persons who shared or mediated them, whether personally, through books or media, etc and 5 holy places where such encounters were gifted

Commit the above inventory to memory and recite it daily. Recite it once. Or recite it 70 times. Recite it in the place of other tapes that have been playing in your head, perhaps for decades.

Go to this place of gratitude.

It will become your sacred, safe place. It not only represents but constitutes your reality.

It WILL rewire your brain.

Neurons that fire together will wire together. Others that cease firing will eventually lose their wiring.

I did this over 30 years ago and it rescued me.

Later, I listened to a Melody Beattie audiobook and she prescribed a similar daily inventory of gratitude and I better understood how and why my old spiritual hygiene had worked. Finally, my spouse came into this type of practice from yet another spiritual resource group and I witnessed its transformative influence on her, too.

In January 2003, I published the following: “How Wide Is Your Moat? – our holistic moat”


The mutual fund industry has popularized the moat metaphor, a moat being that deep and wide trench around the rampart of a castle, that is usually filled with water. There are even pinball games, like Medieval Madness , in which players use different strategies to breach the castle’s defenses, such as the moat, the drawbridge, the gate, the wall. Sometimes the madness is not so medieval but very much contemporary, within our own psychological castle walls.

I have often thought of the analogy of the moat in other than economic terms. It might also be a useful image in considering a person’s general well being.

Like a castle with its multiple layers of defenses, one’s general well being is also bolstered by its own moats and walls and gatekeepers and can be breached by many different types of attacks.

There are times in our lives when we know our well being will have to do battle, when we need to both widen and deepen our psychological moats and pull up the drawbridges of our physical ramparts. The size of such bulwarks must be determined by many factors.
Let’s consider some examples of the types of battles we must all fight and of the kinds of defenses we might need to put in place to fortify our general well being.

When we are healthy, physically, emotionally and mentally, and under no significant stress, in other words are not under attack physically or psychologically, the size of our holistic moat doesn’t matter much, seemingly. I’m going to call this moat the holistic moat because its depth and width is determined by many factors which, I will argue, all need to be considered as a whole. Ignore any given factor and our defenses will be breached , which is to suggest that sometimes we don’t have a very wide margin of error to work with because our moat is both shallow and narrow.

What are some of the things that fill up our moat and seriously jeopardize our castle of well being?

Well, certainly anything which can affect us emotionally, such as trauma due to grief, terror or physical injury, such as chronic or acute illness, addictions, broken relationships, financial difficulty, employment and career setbacks, academic and professional failure, damage to one’s reputation whether unjust or from a personal failure, and so forth. The effects of aging or of a chronic debilitating illness, the propensity toward chemical imbalances of neurotransmitters, and other insults to our general well being, all of these things and more, can lower our defenses and increase our vulnerabilities to where we spiral down into near or total dysfunction and immobilization.

The return to any normalcy and full functionality can be difficult, near impossible. In such desperation, we can approach the point where we even lose the will to go on, despite our loved ones, and, assuredly, when the blessings of those relationships no longer weigh heavily enough in the balance against the pain of a truly tormented existence, the castle has been most seriously breached; our physical well being drawbridge is down; our emotional gate has been battered; our mental gatekeeper defeated. Our spirit has thus retreated to the most inner recesses of our being and, though still sharing immanently with its Beloved in these innermost chambers, there is no felt sense of communion, neither with God nor with the castle cohort, that indwelling and abiding relating to family and friends, and most definitely not with the outer world of strangers.
What are some of the kinds of defenses we might need to put in place to fortify our general well being?

When our moat is narrowed and shallowed by any of the insults to our well being we have considered, we have no room to maneuver and have little margin of error. We cannot afford any mistakes and must move aggressively on all fronts. If one’s castle is especially vulnerable, either chronically or acutely, one cannot take a casual approach to defending the castle. One must proactively work to widen the moat! Like the Corps of Engineers on the Mississippi River, one must continuously dredge because the silt is being deposited 24/365 when we suffer from chemical imbalances or are otherwise in the midst of trauma, grief, anxiety or depression.

Physically, we cannot afford to miss out on proper diet, sufficient rest and good exercise.

Our diet must be substantial and routine and not made up of the four mainstays of the 4 Cajun Foodgroups , which are sugar, salt, fat and alcohol .

Rest and exercise are essential, too, for manifold reasons documented elsewhere.

Medically , we must seek out pharmaceutical aids to help us through the acute phase of any substantial psychological crises with antidepressants or antianxiety prescriptions and maybe even sleep-aids or other therapeutic regimens.

Emotionally , we must force ourselves to interact with family and friends, with outdoors and nature, acting ourselves into a new way of thinking , unable to think ourseleves into a new way of acting.

Mentally , we may need ongoing psychological counseling and, perhaps, even that in combination with specialized trauma counseling or social welfare assistance and counseling.

Specialized support groups can be most efficacious in assisting and advising on all of the fronts under consideration here and can be an emotional lifeline. They can also make us feel a little less alone by being in the empathetic company of others who don’t know and will never know your tears but who have cried tears for similar reasons.

We should seek to stimulate and enrich our minds with good reading materials, uplifting movies and music, and engaging hobbies.

Spiritually , we may need spiritual direction, either formally or informally, with a director-directee relationship, or in a spiritual companioning mode with a fellow pilgrim with whom we may share a special spiritual kinship.

The life of prayer, no matter how arid or desolate, must be maintained with perseverance and discipline, privately and communally, perhaps augmented by small group participation but most definitely sharing as well in at-large community worship services.

Ideally, one can likely not implement the entire holistic regimen because the very exigencies and contingencies of life, which press in on us and lower our defenses, such as employment and parenting responsibilities, such as financial and physical constraints, also get in our way during the rebuilding efforts. However, one must aggressively and vigilantly attend to all of the factors within one’s means and to the fullest extent possible, notwithstanding constraints on one’s time and resources, and make these efforts a priority, because spiralling down to the lowest ebb of life will most assuredly defeat everything else one is trying to accomplish and deprive one of the vibrancy in one’s relationships, with God and others, that makes anything else worthwhile.

Our road to healing must be holistic and I emphasize this multifaceted approach because I have seen healing stratgeies sabotaged by approaches that don’t take the whole castle into account.

What good is it to deepen or widen a moat if one leaves the drawbridge down?


The attempt to make it through significant crises only pharmaceutically can backfire and bring on even more substance abuse. The temptation to self-medicate with over the counter stimulants or sedatives can simiarly cause problems. To take pills but not eat and rest properly is self-defeating.

Confusing psychological counseling and spiritual direction can be a problem; they are distinctly different enterprises, however related.

If one’s castle is especially vulnerable, either chronically or acutely, one cannot take a casual approach to defending the castle. One must proactively widen the moat!

Neglect of one’s spiritual life, in my opinion, represents the first shallowing of the holistic moat because the spiritual life, a life of prayer, is the climbing into the watchtower of our castle, lifting our hearts and minds to God, aligning our wills with His, and, whereby through ongoing self-examen and discernment, we can vigilantly gaze out over all of our defenses and remain on guard for those attacks that no castle avoids. All of this we do as we await that Kingdom which is to come while living as safely as we can within that one which is already within us but constantly under siege.

It may be, that what I have outlined above can be viewed not merely as a defensive maneuver against life, but rather as one’s offensive strategy for looking to make one’s mark on the world. These are the very same things I’d suggest as New Year’s Resolutions, to anyone serious about deepening their relationship with God or their relationships with loved ones, to anyone interested in advancing on one’s academic or career path, etc There is a great unity of purpose in the spiritual life, to a holistically informed lifestyle.

When God is first in our lives, everything else falls into place and we will be about the same tasks in life whether our castle is under siege or not. Mark my words, however, it is best not to wait.

So, while you see a chance — take it.

While You See a Chance (for Asceticism) Take It! – forsaking all for the sake of Love

Viktor Frankl taught that a person with a WHY to live can bear almost any HOW.


He should know; he learned that in a Nazi concentration camp.

That’s why renunciation, self-denial & ascetical exercises – not for their own sake, but – for the sake of a Loved One can also liberate us, ourselves.

We thus all should aspire to be strong-willed persons, but, as Gerald May distinguished, not willful but willing.


How might we strengthen our will to grown in love, willingness & freedom?

How might we weaken our willfulness & break those bondages which separate us from those whom we love?


How can we transform our “bondage to” into – not only a “freedom from,” but – a “freedom for” the sake of whom we love?

Where might we find a “technology of liberation” that frees us to aspire to a higher love, to life’s finer things, to get us back in the high life again, where all the doors we’ve closed at times might open up again?

Growing one’s freedom to love requires dwelling in – neither the past nor the future, but – the now.


No need to get preoccupied with either the past (as “Jesus paid it all”) or the future (as the Spirit eternalizes all traces of human goodness, every beginning of a smile, all wholesome trivialities).

Nothing to fill in the blank with regarding “I’ll be okay when _______.”

Seriously, to grow my own freedom to love, I constantly sing in my head or even mouth the lyrics: “While you see a chance, take it!”


In each now moment, while I see a chance to strengthen my willingness to love, I have better learned to take it, with increasingly few exceptions …
because my WHY to live has become way more important to me than any HOW.

Here, I am less focused on loving, personal interactions, although that remains the end. I refer, instead, to gratuitous self-denials, ordered to what Cynthia Bourgeault describes in terms of exercising & strengthening our “letting go muscle.” She’s talking within the context of distractions in Centering Prayer, but the same dynamic operates here.


While I see a chance for denial, whether regarding something as simple as –

Googling or not to satisfy some seemingly pressing but genuinely idle curiosity,

consuming or not some morsel (digital or vittles),

replacing or not otherwise intrusive worries with psalms,

foregoing or not an indulgence of drama (news-cycles or soapy series), or, more proactively,

climbing out of a chair or not to go walk or

dedicating my time or not to spiritual writing —

while I see a chance for denial, I take it.


And I’m talking about gratuitous self-denials regarding anything & everything, including wholly innocent self-indulgences, which, in and of themselves would be rather insignificant & morally neutral.

Because this exercising & strengthening of my “letting go muscle” has formed an increasingly strong habit in me of turning my attention to and caring ever more deeply about life’s higher loves & finer things, I’ve slowly found myself back in the truly high life, again.

Beginners on the spiritual path get scandalized at first regarding John of the Cross’ severe asceticism or Francis of Assisi’s betrothal to poverty.


Later, they learn to quit beating their heads against life’s walls just because it feels so good when they stop. They better realize that our saints & mystics didn’t forsake all just for kicks, but, instead, for the sake of One, Whom they loved above all. Romance fueled desires inspired their renunciations, released them from bondages to _______ & freed them for the Most High.

The spiritual practices & ascetic disciplines of every great tradition will eventually come to the fore in every life, as each finds the mystical path out of either great love or great suffering, usually some of both.


There may be some biochemistry in the admonition given to addicts – not to smoke as it makes relapses more likely. Beyond that, whether a substance or process addict (and we all have some degree of both, just varying by degrees of dys/functionality), I see the clear psychological & spiritual benefits that would accrue in strengthening one’s “letting go muscle.”


So, in addition to the psalms & hymns of old time religion, I commend Disney’s “Let It Go” and Steve Winwood’s “Finer Things,” “Higher Love,” “Back In the High Life” and, most of all, “While You See a Chance.”


From “Finer Things”
And come morning
There’s a good wind to blow me home
So time be a river rolling into nowhere
I will live while I can
I will have my ever after
The finer things keep shining through
The way my soul gets lost in you
The finer things I feel in me
The golden dance life could be


From “Higher Love”
Think about it, there must be higher love
Down in the heart or hidden in the stars above
Bring me a higher love
Where’s that higher love I keep thinking of?
I will wait for it
I’m not too late for it
Until then, I’ll sing my song
To cheer the night along
I could light the night up with my soul on fire
I could make the sun shine from pure desire
Let me feel that love come over me
Let me feel how strong it could be
Bring me a higher love


From “Back in the High Life”
We’ll have ourselves a time
And we’ll dance ’til the morning sun
And we’ll let the good times come in
And we won’t stop ’til we’re done
We’ll be back in the high life again
All the doors I closed one time will open up again
We’ll be back in the high life again
All the eyes that watched us once will smile and take us in


From “While You See a Chance”
Stand up in a clear blue morning
Until you see what can be
Alone in a cold day dawning
Are you still free? Can you be?
When some cold tomorrow finds you
When some sad old dream reminds you
How the endless road unwinds you
While you see a chance take it
Find romance, fake it
Because its all on you


Regarding the realities of Sacrifice as well as Detachment

Sacrifice requires the surrender of something good for the sake of something better. It’s an indispensable part of our human condition because we are radically finite. Values will inevitably compete, forcing often difficult choices.

When we do sacrifice one value or good for the sake of another, we do best to distinguish the higher from the lesser goods, the eternal from the merely temporal.

Sacrificial choices won’t always involve such a revaluing, devaluing or disvaluing. They can involve a Sophie’s Choice dilemma, which allows us to only suboptimally realize one of several otherwise vitally significant & deep values.

Often, sacrifices will take the forms of detachment (enjoyment in moderation) or dispossession (all or nothing abandonment). Neither is necessarily more effective or virtuous. That will depend on unique individuals and particular circumstances.

This is all to recognize, for example, that some persons might remain largely functional as social drinkers or recreational weed smokers (where that’s legal!) while others might be rather exceptionally susceptible to a downward spiraling into an inordinately dysfunctional tailspin. In such cases, an all or nothing dispossession or abandonment of such substances would be essential. Any notion that mere detachment or simple moderation would suffice is a dangerous rationalization, often unconsciously motivated by intractably ingrained habits.

So, too, for example, while loyalty is indeed a genuine good and high virtue, still, without disvaluing friends or loyalty, we might nevertheless need to reorder relationships & set boundaries by, as they say, changing our playgrounds and playmates. The changing of playgrounds & playmates must often be more than literal. Metaphorically, it can include the playgrounds & playmates in our minds & imagination, for example, the memories & recalls triggered by certain musical playlists & artists or by mere daydreaming & fantasizing. New approaches to leisure & entertainment can be life-saving.

Indeed, there is no measure of vice even in abandoning certain friends and absolutely no virtue in losing irreplaceable family time, employment, much less one’s very life.

This is a more extreme example but it applies to most sacrifices related to physical, emotional, mental, moral & spiritual hygienes.

As I wrote in my tribute to James Taylor, Ode to Stringbean, it’s place in time not a place in space, where a person’s home is found. That place in time is the eternal now. The entire journey is taken in each next good step. It’s about going home.


Ode to Stringbean

the true handy man doesn’t work on a house

with a pencil and a rule

what he’s handy with are his people you see

love is jt’s tool


most songs that are sung are about going home

according to his school

when life’s skies grow dark and full of clouds

and the world turns down right cruel


when ole stringbean sang about carolina

he sang about a woman not a state

about a holy host of others

loved ones his truest fate

he had no need for sad salvation army sisters

singing nearer my god to thee

or moonlight ladies in the canyon

up on the roof went ole jt

he was going home you see


what a fool I was to leave the only happiness i’ve ever know

where the seeds of faith were planted

and the fruits of love were grown

where seldom was heard a discouraging word

only rockabye sweet grady james

where I always thought I could see you again

e’r my flying machine went up in flames
when ole stringbean sang about carolina

he sang about a woman not a state

about a holy host of others

loved ones his truest fate


he had no need for sad salvation army sisters

singing nearer my god to thee

or moonlight ladies in the canyon

shower the people sang jt

walking man walks like ole jt
in every life there are sacred places

where sweet memories abound

but it’s a place in time not a place in space

where a person’s home is found


when life’s cold winds blow and your back’s to the sun

what’ll turn your head around

are those precious sacred faces

whose voices make such precious sacred sounds
when ole stringbean sang about carolina

he sang about a woman not a state

about a holy host of others

loved ones his truest fate

he had no need for sad salvation army sisters

singing nearer my god to thee

or moonlight ladies in the canyon

b s u r like ole jt

he was going home you see

Dealing with Intractable Emotional Turmoil

Anyone, Lord, whom I (or we) may have ever harmed and anyone, Lord, who may ever have harmed me (or us), whether by a thought, word or deed, or the absence of a thought, word or deed, whether through a sin or an error of omission or commission, whether intentionally or unintentionally, aware or unawares, whether justly or unjustly, politely or impolitely, charitably or uncharitably, Lord, I pray that You reach out and touch and heal us. I pray that you enable us to forgive one another and to accept one another’s forgiveness in order that we might receive your perfect healing. Amen.

I composed this prayer decades ago, but don’t recall why. Likely, it was a source of consolation to me in the face of a series of injustices I’d endured, aware that I’d offended, too, in my own way and to varying degrees. It supplemented any Act of Contrition.

Once, when visiting a family friend in hospice (a doctor whose end was to be a few days away), he asked me to pray aloud. That, above, is what I prayed, even as our parish priest stood by.
Closely tied to the Gospel imperative to forgive is the injunction not to judge. We are just never in a position to know when another’s failure to cooperate with grace is due to a sinful refusal or to an exculpating inability. We can’t even know this when another confesses to a crime or a sin.
So many failures to cooperate with grace are indeed due to various exculpating degrees of emotional duress, mental illness, deformative influences or lack of proper formation. God, alone, therefore, has such full knowledge.
In my experience, presuming another’s innocence rather than their guilt (often our own projection!), beyond merely obeying a Gospel command, can serve to tame our own wrathful imaginations (which too often can continuously replay the painful injury) and can thereby ameliorate our own suffering (as we reimagine ourselves merely unfortunate rather than as clearly & soberly attacked). This comprises a good first step in the cultivation of compassion for – not only others, but – ourselves.
How terribly wounded another must have been to carry on like that toward me, we imagine — instead of attributing to them straightforward malice or outright hatred. How often we rationalize and excuse our own dysfunctional behaviors and interpersonal offenses (and I’m not suggesting necessarily wrongfully so). We might best afford others the same benefit of the doubt.
Thus we can see how it’s very true that those who are the hardest & the harshest on others are also very likely similarly disposed toward themselves and their own failures to cooperate with grace. Thus the wisdom of the Desiderata — beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. Then, copiously extend that compassion!
All of this transcends other questions regarding how to deal with our emotional pain & spiritual suffering, as well as how to interdict failures to cooperate with grace in order to advance peace among peoples and maintain a modicum of public order.
Practicing forgiveness, not judging and liberally extending compassion toward oneself and others, makes for an indispensable start toward – not only healing, but – preventing much emotional turmoil. It’s really an implicit cognitive-affective behavioral approach as most spiritual disciplines are. While necessary, it’s not always sufficient, however. Our emotions are a gift of information regarding our internal milieu and external environs. While it’s true that bad cognitive and behavioral habits can make us guilty for certain degrees of emotional turmoil, generally, we should avoid judging ourselves and others for how we or they feel. At bottom, those feelings are a gift, part of our humanity.
For the most part, then, we are susceptible to judgment – not for how we feel, but – for how we behave. And this includes behaviors we engage to relieve our pain as well as those we undertake to interdict and remedy perceived and/or real injustices. Society sanctions such interdictions, from parenting to policing to military interventions, prescribing & proscribing various approaches to keep them proportional and to foster their efficacies.
In our radical finitude, even in our various authoritative capacities, our interdictions, themselves, can become sources of injustice — failures to cooperate with grace, though, again – not necessarily refusals, but – representing various inabilities in varying degrees. All sorts of rubrics are prescribed to define un/just interdictions and acceptable remedies for what ails a person, family or society. I’ve addressed those elsewhere in depth but, the preeminent rule is to always employ the least coercive means practicable as that’s most consistent with our unalienable human dignity. It’s consonant, too, with the time-honored wisdom of defaulting to a nonviolent resistance of evil, all other things being equal (not to suggest that they thus are!). That wisdom’s been demonstrated as true both through its manifold efficacies as well as the inefficacies ensuing from violence (physical, verbal, passive-aggressive, etc) both in the lives of victims and perpetrators of same throughout the ages. Alas, most know this intuitively and, thankfully, most do practice it in sufficient degrees.
What is equally maddening and befuddling, then, is how to handle the residual emotional distress — those feelings left over even after we’ve cognitively & behaviorally exhibited compassion, understanding & forgiveness of ourselves and others, even though we’ve prudently practiced or instigated the most efficacious interdictive remedies toward offending individuals or even institutions (for much dysfunction is institutionalized & intergenerationally intractable).
Any such residual emotional disturbances require holistic healing approaches such as outlined in my 12 Step Contemplative Spirituality, above.
As a pastor, counselor or significant other, as a suffering individual’s spiritual kin, we instinctively know that a compassionate, listening presence is paramount. A mere affirmation of the sufferer’s humanity and recognition of their pain combined with an unconditional acceptance of their very personhood is our first, best response. This passive response is a metaphorical, if not also a physical, HUG!
Responding with spiritual platitudes, psychological theorizing or superficial situational analyses is unkind because it risks trivializing what are often complex intra-personal dynamics, which have unfolded over long periods of time in a hypercomplex inter-personal milieu. Worse, we end up virtually dismissing the enormity of all human suffering, the immensity of all human pain, for, in our suffering, we simply are in solidarity. When we awaken to our human solidarity, compassion just naturally ensues.
Sometimes, that initial experience of acceptance and understanding and recognition can be so validating that a healing is experienced right then and there as a suffering person overcomes loneliness, alienation and misunderstanding. God becoming man is the paramount example of that simple efficacy. Our Mother Mary, as a Lady of Sorrows, similarly consoles us as we prayerfully reflect with loving intentionality on everything in her life that was joyful, luminous, sorrowful & glorious, in so many ways like our own lives.
Because not all of us are similarly situated in a precise manner (only generally so), it’s best to recognize that, while we all know tears, still, we can’t ever exactly understand another individual’s tears. We can only sit with them and try to variously dry a few at a time.
Beyond, then, seeking out those compassionate fellow sojourners, personal, pastoral & professional, there can remain lingering emotional disturbances, which, often, can indicate spiritual emergence opportunities. We can approach them, then, as spiritual emergencies.
Spiritual emergencies require, again, a holistic birthing process as the labor pains associated with our arrival as a truly new person in Christ will involve every aspect of our human giftedness – physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually. In my experience, some lingering emotional pain requires spiritual discernment regarding why God may have chosen to cry this or that particular set of tears through you, why God has placed His voice of prophetic protest in you, perhaps anointed you with a particular calling to remedy this or that injustice, heal this or that situation, minister in this or that way in this or that place to this or that person or persons.
What form your ministry of healing may take on should be guided by an honest inventory of your own internal strengths & weaknesses coupled with a clear, sober assessment of any external opportunities & threats. Perhaps you are rhetorically gifted and can minister spoken and/or written words to small and/or large audiences. Perhaps you are inclined to minister less so such spiritual works of mercy and more so in corporal works of mercy. Perhaps you are called to a new vocation or, more likely, an avocation. Whatever the case, your own healing may be further fostered by your ministry to others. Your lingering pain may be a calling to some spiritual emergence of a new part of you, even a relinquishment of an old part.
They say that any pain, which we don’t allow to somehow transform us, will otherwise become a suffering we continue to transmit to – not only others, but – ourselves.
Being validated in one’s suffering does not mean that everyone similarly situated in a given affliction will have experienced it in the same way or to the same degree. It only means they know tears and trust the authenticity of your own.
There are far too many forms and occasions of injustice in our world for us to imagine that our discerned response should, of a sudden, become some general norm for all others to follow in their prescribed responses. This is true with respect to both our particular feelings and to our chosen method of remedy. The norms that do generally apply, though, are employing the least coercive (most nonviolent) means practicable, discerning the most constructive response conceivable and engaging in a most compassionate & forgiving manner — all toward the end of that response being the most efficacious, spiritually, physically, emotionally and otherwise.

Importantly, though, when we are at play in the fields of the Lord rather than at work on our own selfish agenda, we are to gain our consolation & rest content with the process, with the sowing of the seed, and to absolutely refrain from getting preoccupied or emotionally overinvested with the product, the harvesting of the fruits of our labors. We are to — Let It Go.

As one discerns one’s calling as to whether or not to intervene or interdict in cases of injustice, consider:

Not every battle is mine to fight

Not every wrong is mine to right

Only with Godly counsel will I make my war

Not every issue requires my view

Not every task is mine to do

But in prayer I can abide

To be

engaged but not obsessed

inspired but not driven

spontaneous but not compulsive

at play in the fields of the Lord

not at work on my own agenda

This is much too brief a treatment of a very complex set of human realities. In that regard it could come across as superficial, even naïve or Pollyannaish. I promise you, though, it’s deeper than many ever go in either diagnosing what ails them and our world or in prescribing remedies therefor.
Pax dominus sit semper vobiscum.

The the above approach has its anthropological foundations explicated here:

Contemplative Being, Believing, Belonging, Desiring, Behaving & Becoming – an outline of foundations

My Move from a Hopeful to an Essential Universalism

Consider reality’s “aboutness”es this way. A given aboutnesss refers to emergent degrees of novelty, each new level representing increasing degrees of freedom. Those various degrees are marked by manifold and multiform characteristics, like responsivity, adaptability, perdurance, behavioral plasticity and such.

At the level of fields (veld), quantum & maybe even more primitive fields, veldo-poietic conditions (initial, boundary & limit) exert teleo-potent influences (perhaps reality’s incipient teloi) and we might observe such as vacuum fluctuations, for example.

At the next level observed, cosmo-poietic conditions exert teleo-matic influences and we witness thermodynamic realities.

Bio-poietic conditions exert teleo-nomic influence on an emergent level of aboutnesses that we call life, where such as responsivity, adaptability & perdurance and more such novelties come on display.

Sentio-poietic conditions next exert teleo-qualic influence over a variety of sentient beings, at a level where we encounter the hard problem of consciousness and animal sentience.

Collectively, in creation, these above levels of interwoven initial, boundary & limit conditions comprise the vestigial Dei, the very fingerprints of God. We embrace them as reality’s lesser goods.

Made in the very image of God, the human person or imago Dei represents robustly teleo-logical influences in reality as sapio-poietic conditions influence a novel range of behaviors. The behaviors of this essential human nature exhibit an expansive aesthetic scope & intensity and warrant increasing practical responsibilities, as the young human person encounters reality’s lesser goods. This essential nature of the imago Dei can volitionally choose among various goods with a degree of abductive facility unknown to other animals, which rely on hard-wired abductive instincts, alone. By abductive, we refer to rudimentary hypothetical thinking or if-then computations.

What gifts the human person this truly novel abductive faculty is the unmooring of mere animal instinct by the arbitrary symbol systems of human communication. While these semiotic realities are beyond the scope of this presentation, the important take-away is that the human person as imago Dei already transcends all other semiotic realities even prior to the age of reason. This essential human nature, which chooses among life’s goods, volitionally enjoys an immensely rich aesthetic scope and intensity as a created co-creator. As such, it’s bestowed an absolute value and unalienable dignity of eternal import, which God wills to preserve in immortality. A person can therefore do nothing to forfeit the dignity or mar the value of his/her essential nature, nothing to lose the love of God. Parents well know this truth.

Beyond this aesthetic scope dimension of the human person’s essential nature as imago Dei, the human person’s radical finitude places reality’s goods in competition, often requiring practical choices or sacrifices, that is, not only a choosing among but between certain of life’s lesser goods. This epistemic and axiological distancing actually bootstraps a novel emergent freedom, opening the person to reality’s higher goods, thereby gifting increasing relational response-ability and warranting moral responsibility. This is to recognize that the volition of the essential nature of the human person no longer chooses only “among” reality’s lesser goods, as an imago Dei, but can choose to consider or not consider reality’s higher goods, effectively choosing “between” the lesser and higher goods.

The emergent relational & moral dimensions, whereby one grows ever more considerate or inconsiderate of reality’s higher goods in each act of willing, open the dimensions of one’s essential nature (including as vestigial & imago Dei) to the co-creative reality of an authentic secondary human nature, that “habitus” we refer to as a similitudino Dei or virtuous nature. Of course, one’s secondary nature may grow ever more inauthentic, too, with a vicious nature not at all in “likeness” to God even though irrevocably, at an essential level, always an image of God.

Due to our radical finitude, each class of human acts, whether as vestigia, imagines or similitudinae Dei (vestiges, images or likenesses of God) remain in limited not absolute potencies. Those acts might be considered, for example, as existing in potency to the vestigial Dei, efficiently willing in potency to a material imago Dei, formally acting in potency to a relational similitudino Dei.

In the context, then, of apokatastasis, minimalistically, each imago Dei enjoys immortality. In my view, every trace of human goodness enjoys immediate eternalization, including every beginning of a smile & all wholesome trivialities. Thus, so too every virtuous habitus would by the same logic enjoy eternalization, while any vicious secondary nature would warrant eternal annihilation, every crimson stain washed as white as snow.

What of punishment & purgation in eternity? As long as they’re proportional that violates no logic, for finite creatures enjoying only relative degrees of freedom & axiological beatitudes would warrant nothing absolute in the way of punishment.

What about God’s respect for the freedom of persons to cooperate or not with the graces gifted similitudinae Dei as they grow into ever more virtuous or vicious natures? In my view, the eternalization of every cooperation with grace precisely honors such freedom. The annihilation of every refusal to grow in intimacy similarly is in accord with same — not really constituting an actual occurrence or incident of existential negation, but — by virtue of one’s not co-cteatively willing that which would otherwise be subject to eternalization (i.e. the true, beautiful, good, liberative or unitive). All non-virtuous temporal acts passively retain their essentially ephemeral character & contribute to only an ephemeral aspect of one’s secondary nature.

What about the vestigia & imagines Dei, which act in limited potencies? Can’t those human dimensions so choose to forfeit their existential & material relationships to God? No, for those limited potencies do not include that type of volition. The question is thus nonsensical, anthropologically.




Perhaps rather than an essential universalism, as over against a practical one, I would better describe my own as a virtual universalism.

Either the essentialist or virtualist approach would deny predestinarianism & affirm the universal salvific will.

An essentialist might claim that apocatastasis should be dogmatically proclaimed since other positions are incoherent.
Contrastingly, a virtual universalism might suggest, with a suitable epistemic humility, that it should be accepted as a valid theological opinion, since its coherence, along with others’, can reasonably be argued.

What would distinguish the practical from the virtual stance, though, would be the belief that universal salvation might not only be hoped for but also professed by those who find it the most coherent position. That is they should neither be silenced nor labeled heretics, for the virtue of hope’s never a mere intellectualistic reality but a clear, vital existential disjunction. As such, hope as a virtue integral to faith & love, always invites one to holistically act as if thus & such (here, apocatastasis) is indeed the case!

As it is, while any determinism in DBH’s stance might be sufficiently soft, my own is much softer.

Universalism, itself, isn’t a monolithic position, so, room must be made for diverse opinions, anthropologically & theologically.