Step Twelve: We Are Living Testimonies

leave a comment »

And he said to them, ‘Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.(Mk.16.15, ESV)

Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.
(Bl. John Wesley of England)

If we have not been already, we will tell others about the great and marvelous wonders the Lord our God has worked, and continues to work, in our lives; about divine love, mercy and grace, inviting them to run into the arms of our redeeming, nurturing God.

As Qoheleth teaches in the Book of Ecclesiastes, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.”[1] And so for the disciples of Jesus there was a time to watch and follow, listen and learn. There was a time for running and hiding with trembling and fear. There was a time, then, to rejoice in light of the Resurrection, followed by days of prayer and supplication… But then there came the time to go and do and tell, and this they did for the remainder of their lives.

“Go,” the Lord said, “and proclaim the good news. Be my witnesses, my living testimonies to throughout the whole world. Go! Invite others onto the Road of Redemption.” Their time of watching, listening, learning and growing were absolutely necessary, of course, but with an aim in view. Their own journey along the Path of Redemption was not for their own sakes only, but for that of others as well.

“Go,” Jesus said, “to make disciple-pilgrims;” No, not just to share warm and fuzzy, happy news; not to make intellectual converts to some philosophical-theological system of thought, or curiosity seekers, or fair-weather Sunday pew-sitters. “Go, to invite people onto the Road of Redemption as disciples, as pilgrims. Go!”

“Venture out into the world and immerse the nations in the Word of Life and the Spirit of God. Go and bathe the cities and villages, farmlands and jungles, deserts and mountains ~ indeed, all of creation ~ bathe with the message of grace and laver of regeneration. Go and be my witnesses, my living testimonies.”

This was their mandate, commonly called the Great Commission, an absolute directive not only fulfilled by the first disciples and apostles, but also passed along to every believer-pilgrim, in every country and kingdom, in every generation down through the ages to the very end of time, when the Lord will come again in power and glory. Their charge is our charge, and this is Step Twelve.

As the great English Congregational pastor, Joseph Parker, said:

This is the program of Christianity today … and you will get into dangerous places if you change one line of the original program of your Savior and Founder… Christianity comes to few men (and women) as an argument; it may come to all men (and women) as a blessing. The light does not come as a puzzle in solar physics; it comes in cheering brilliance and warmth to do manifold good in nature and life. Few men (and women) may be theologians, but all may be Christians… So go with Christ and you will teach and comfort and bless all nations.[2]

This is our mission in Step Twelve as much as it was the mission of those first followers of Christ two thousand years ago, and it almost goes without saying that this mission has been entrusted to imperfect, fallible humans. So be it; God has not missed that point. This has been true down through the centuries, and though we may not be perfect, we can be passionate in prayer. We can be constant in our comfort, enriching in our endeavors, and genuinely honest in our testimony.

We can speak kindly, give generously as we are able, and uplift the downtrodden. We can speak truth forthrightly but peacefully, carry out our business discreetly but sincerely with integrity, and offer charity prudently and sympathetically. We can touch the lives of people all around us with a good, firm handshake and smile, an e-mail or phone call, card or old-fashioned letter. We can live in love, and share the great and marvelous wonders of God in thought, word and deed.

“Go,” the Lord says, “outside your home or apartment, outside the four walls of your church sanctuary, out into the streets and into the homes of friends and neighbors, into the workplace and schools, restaurants and shopping malls … out into the world, and gently in peace – not obnoxiously or unattractively[3] – share your good news and invite others onto the Road of Redemption. And remember, while I have been your faithful Companion all along the Way, I will be your Companion still … faithfully and forever.”


[1] Ecc. 3.1, RSV

[2] Joseph Parker, Christ’s Finished Work, 223 (amendments mine)

[3] Note: Screaming sermons on street corners and leaving spiritual pamphlets in bathroom stalls is decidedly not what Christ had in mind. If one is truly Christian, then s/he is filled with the Spirit of Life, Love, Joy and Peace, and that will inevitably shine through the individual! No, not always perfectly, but that will be their proclivity. Period.

Step Eleven, Part II: We Are Disciplined … Or Will Be

leave a comment »

Then he said to them all, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.” Luke 9.23-24 (NRSV)

Now we come to the “how” of Step Eleven. That is, specifically how we praise God throughout the day, rest upon the divine bosom, in the arms of the Almighty, deepening our relationship with the Everlasting One. The answer? Discipline. Strangely enough, most of us know discipline in life is necessary, yet many of us cringe at the very word. Even still, discipline in diet, rest and exercise is important for physical health, and we know this whether or not we are so disciplined.

Discipline is necessary in education, if one really hopes to genuinely learn, and discipline is necessary in maintaining an encouraging, affirmative, clean and overall healthy home environment. So, too, discipline is necessary spiritually, which is precisely why there are and have been down through the ages, what are called the “spiritual disciplines.” These are fundamental to Step Eleven.

Before you are thrown off by the discipline part, though, fear not! If you have come to this point in the journey along the Path of Redemption, then you have already been engaged in many of these practices, however sporadically. It only remains to be more intentional while also very importantly remembering that discipline in this sense is not meant to be cold, rigid and impersonal. No! Remember, you are simply, intentionally drawing closer to God as God draws closer to you.

Now, far be it from me to insert myself at this point as your guide or mentor. This would be presumptuous on my part and potentially harmful to you. However, there are some classic spiritual disciplines that are so obvious that we can, without any misgivings, at least mention them and possibly offer some mild, passing observations and suggestions. One such example is prayer – that is, communication with God in both speaking and listening.

It nearly goes without saying that we need to pray daily; after all, this involves the heart of our intimate, personal Communion with the living God, attested to throughout holy Scripture. Remember, the Lord Jesus told his followers “to pray and not lose heart.”[1] We are also enjoined through the magnificent and quite instructive story of Tobit to “above all … pray to the Most High that he may direct your way in truth.”[2] And the Apostle St. Paul goes even further in telling us to “pray without ceasing,”[3] so vitally important is prayer.

The discipline part comes in being regular and purposeful. At this point, I will say no more except to encourage you to discuss prayer discipline with your mentors. Well, perhaps I might also make the harmless observation that there are many means and methods of prayer. In other words, there is no one particular manner inscribed in stone, so to speak. Some incorporate the beautiful Psalms in their prayers, while others find prayer books very helpful, and still others use rosaries or prayer ropes. But again, this is something you should discuss with your mentors.

Another obvious spiritual discipline is that of meditation on holy Scripture (or some other modest but uplifting sacred text). Here I will certainly refrain from further comment, except again to hold out the promises of God that one is “blessed … whose delight is in the instruction of the Lord, and on his law meditates day and night.”[4] And if we “reflect (meditate) on the statutes of the Lord and attend to his commandments at all times, he himself will strengthen (our) hearts, and (our) desires for wisdom will be granted.”[5]

One other discipline, clearly necessary, is one that actually helps immensely in keeping other spiritual disciplines. In all likelihood, we have all heard the proverbial saying, “No man is an island unto himself.” Touché! We were not created to be solitary “islands;” rather, we have been created in the image of God, the holy Trinity. Consequently, we are communal by nature, which makes regular, communal worship so very necessary. Thus does St. Paul warn, “let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another…”[6]

Make a joyful shout to the Lord, all you lands! Serve the Lord with gladness; come before His presence with singing. Know that the Lord, He is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; We are His people and the sheep of His pasture. Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name. For the Lord is good; His mercy is everlasting, and His truth endures to all generations.[7]

Yes, corporate worship is undeniably important, and closely related to this discipline is that of service. Yes, service; that is, sacrificing our time, energy and effort to serve both God and others. What is it the Apostle St. Peter tells us? “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace…”[8] This is part and parcel of actively living in the community of faith, but at this point another old proverbial saying comes to mind: “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” Too true! So there is obviously practical blessings in this discipline.

Of course, there are many other spiritual disciplines we could mention, like fasting, charity, hospitality, chastity, journaling, etc. There are even some practices that might not come immediately to mind but could be very beneficially included in our own spiritual disciplines, such as: painting and calligraphy, poetry, musical composition, aesthetic flower gardening and the like. Once again, however, let me strongly encourage you to discuss this with your mentors, but also to remind you that these “disciplines” are not meant to be stale, rigid and impersonal.

We are drawing closer and closer to the One who loves us more than anyone could ever begin to imagine. And as we do, our lives are so progressively transformed that we cannot help but share the blessings of our journey with others … and this is Step Twelve.

Appendix: On Possible Reading and Study

If you are like me and enjoy reading and study, there are many fine works on the subject of the spiritual disciplines. I mention only a few here:

Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth by Richard Foster

Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation by Ruth Haley Barton

Spiritual Formation: Following the Movements of the Spirit by Henry J. Nouwen

A Year With God: Living Out the Spiritual Disciplines by Julie L. Roller, Richard Foster, ed.


[1] Cf. Lk. 18.1-8

[2] Sir. 37.15b, ESV

[3] I Th. 5.17, ESV

[4] Cf. Ps. 1.1-2

[5] Sir. 6.37, ESV, alt. mine

[6] Heb. 10.25a, NLT

[7] Psalm 100.1-5, NKJV

[8] I Pt. 4.10, ESV

Step Eleven, Part I: Will We Turn Away?

leave a comment »

I delight in the way of your decrees as much as in all riches. I will meditate on your precepts, and fix my eyes on your ways. I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word. (Ps. 119. 14-16, NRSV)

O LORD, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me. (Ps. 131. 1-2, ESV)

It is not that I want merely to be called a Christian, but to actually be one. Yes, if I prove to be one, then I can have the name… Come fire, cross, battling with wild beasts, wrenching of bones, mangling of limbs, crushing of my whole body, cruel tortures of the devil only let me get to Jesus Christ! ( St. Ignatius of Antioch)

It may seem strange at first, but in approaching Step Eleven, I cannot help but think of one of the most heart wrenching episodes in the life and ministry of Jesus as recorded in the somewhat mystically striking Gospel of St. John.

Jesus has just told the crowd of people, “I am the bread of life,” greater than the heavenly manna their ancestors ate in the wilderness. [1] This was radical enough, but Jesus leaves no room for superficial analogy of hollow metaphor. He continues by telling the already-murmuring people point-blank, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; (s)he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life…”[2]

The result of this? “Many of his disciples drew back and no longer walked with him.”[3] They left him … turned their backs on Jesus and simply walked away. Sadly, then, Jesus turns to the remaining twelve – his inner circle of disciples – and asks, “Will you not also go away?” But then comes one of the most beautiful, poignant, powerful answers given in all holy Scripture: “Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have found, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.’”[4]

It is possible at any point along the Path of Redemption for the traveler to turn off onto some side track, or to simply turn back altogether. I know. I know, but it is here – yes, this far along in our journey – that the danger is, perhaps, most acute. Why? Because it is here we are called, in the newness of life we have been given, to whole commitment of mind, body and soul to God, 24-hours each day, seven days each week; indeed, to enter into an ever-deepening and more intimate relationship with the Everlasting One, becoming “partakers of the divine nature.”[5]

It is here many say, “Despite all the rigors and trials and even pain of the journey thus far, this is simply too much. Who can dare to take this step? Who can reasonably abide the idea of the merely human truly partaking of the very nature of God; of really, genuinely feasting on the life of Christ, in an everlasting and holy Communion?” And so they may stop where they are – stuck, as it were – or, maybe, attempt one of the side trails to try to circumvent this part of the Path, or just sadly turn their backs and walk away. I know. All too well, I know.

But some remain. With fear and trepidation of the awesome unknown, they remain and perhaps even inch forward a bit. And they hear their constant and ever-faithful Companion ask, “Will you not also turn away?” In answering much like St. Peter, though, they respond, “What other path shall we tread, except the one we now travel? And to whom else shall we turn? You have the words of life. This much we have come to realize: You have not only made the way possible, and have not only been our constant Companion along the Path of Redemption; you yourself are the Path of Redemption. So, too, you not only have the words of life; you yourself are life.”

This, really, is Step Eleven, you see:

We praise God morning, noon and night, meditating upon the Lord in our waking hours and hoping to dream of the Everlasting One in sleep; falling upon the divine bosom, resting in the arms of the Almighty, like child with mother and never a cry; ever seeking and striving to deepen our relationship, our Communion, with our nurturing God.

One might justifiably say this is more a leap than a mere step. Touché! However, in making this leap, I can tell you (as well as many others) that when you are privileged the merest glimpse into the eyes of God; even the faintest look upon the divine face of Love, Beauty and Wisdom; to be drawn safely and securely to the bosom of the Everlasting, where you might rest “like a weaned child with its mother;” then whatever else might happen, and all else considered or not, you nevertheless will never be the same again.

Completely casting this blessed experience out of memory, much less from the essence of your life, will be completely beyond the realm of possibility. This is why one man I know echoes the spirit of some of the more poetic scriptures in exclaiming:

Behold, my divine Beloved, You are the fairest of the fair, loveliest of the lovely, with most captivating eyes, and the sweetest of fragrance; so do I long to lie upon Your nurturing bosom in the bed of life, within the steadfast walls of the everlasting home You have built for your lover, my divine Beloved! You are my invaluable fortune – mothering God, shepherding Son, all-holy Spirit!

Yes, Step Eleven may very well be more leap than mere step, and it will require commitment, constancy and discipline. But before we move on to consider this in greater depth, the words from an anonymous 14th century mystic seem to offer an appropriate reflection at this point:

The most important consideration is not what you are, or what you have been, but what you want to be. This is what matters most to (our) merciful God… (And) as St. Augustine said, ‘The whole life of good Christians is nothing other than holy desires.’[6]

So, what do you want to be? Are you ready to take the leap?

[1] Cf. Jn. 6.48-49, RSV

[2] Jn. 6.53-54a; Note: To this day this is one of the most controversial passages of holy Scripture, as well it should; it is fundamental to the whole of the Christian faith.

[3] Jn. 6.66, RSV

[4] Jn. 6.68-69, RSV

[5] Cf. II Pt. 1.4

[6] Anon. 14th Century Monastic and Mystic, The Cloud of Unknowing, Bernard Bagley, ed., 95-96

Step Ten: We Continue to Take Responsibility

leave a comment »

Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act.  (Ps. 37.4-5, NRSV)

But you, beloved, are not in darkness … you are children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. So then let us not fall asleep as other do, but let us keep awake and be sober (daily).  (I Th. 5.4a, 5-6, NRSV)

It may be fairly said that all sin has its roots in the soil of pride; that is, the placing of oneself in the center of life and the world around, making oneself high priest in his or her own temple, where the self is also the object of worship. Of course, this is exacerbated greatly by the individualistic, me-first culture in which we live.

Yet if Step Nine is beneficial in unburdening us from the past, we must realize that the deeper significance and blessing lay in the act of unchaining us from the self-idolatry that led to so many sins, for which we have repented and made amends, into the freedom of self-giving, God-honoring, other-oriented life.

This is really the core, the nucleus of redemption. For all that some may rail about hell-fire, brimstone and being in the clutches of the devil, we are first and foremost saved from ourselves and re-birthed into the Life of God, “both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”[1] And it is in this Life of ongoing Communion that we find joy, peace, happiness, purpose and fulfillment.

It is absolutely imperative to remember this truth precisely because one is so often bombarded by the hell-spawn ideas that “you have to take care of yourself first,” and “you can’t do it for anyone else; do it for yourself,” and “if you don’t put yourself first, no one else will,” and so on and so forth.

This turns the two greatest commandments of Jesus upside down and inside-out. Remember, he said, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”[2]

Especially after completing Step Nine, this is precisely where we are on the Path of Redemption: Loving our God heart, mind and soul, and our neighbors – that is, all those around us – as ourselves … or better yet, and more pointedly what Jesus meant, we love them as if we were loving and caring for our very own self. Ah! We are no longer high priest in our own temple!

Step Ten entails both our willingness and intention to continue along this very Path in this very manner. In traditional 12-Step recovery programs, Step Ten reads something like, “We continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.” Again, as we have pronounced so often before, all well and good, but for our purposes let Step Ten read:

We asked the Lord to continue searching our hearts, every moment of the day, every step along the way; to know our thoughts and intentions; to guide and direct us by the Spirit of Life; to keep us from stumbling back into sin, as well as granting us the gift of genuine repentance and the opportunity to make amends if and when we do sin.

In taking this step, we can count on the Lord God to answer faithfully, as the Psalmist declares: “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act.”[3] That is, entrust your way, your very life, into the hands of God, delighting and rejoicing in the Lord. Most assuredly, then, God “will give you the desires of your heart,” so surely as your heart will beat with the heartbeat of the Lord and your desires be heavenly desires.

Step Ten itself springs very naturally, of course, from the previous step and focuses intently upon prayer with the object of: first, avoiding wrongdoing and offenses, but then secondly, admitting and asking forgiveness if and when we do affront and hurt another, with the full intention of making amends so far as reasonably possible. But this step involves more specifically regular prayers of self-examination and discernment.

As Ruth Haley Barton explains:

Self-examination is the prayer in which I invite God to search me and reveal those things I need to know about myself. Discernment is the listening part of prayer: sitting with a question or decision in God’s presence and waiting for the wisdom of God that is given as pure gift.[4]

The Lord will answer, as the Lord has all along the Path of Redemption, in which he has accompanied us as divine Companion every day, every step along the way. Consequently, when we are walking near that mountain stream, enjoying the loveliness of the life we now live and, even more so, the stunning splendor and magnificent beauty of our mothering God, our Companion may suddenly say, “Oh, look! There’s a small pile of nasty debris in the stream.”

Do we respond by simply replying, “Well, what do you know? So there is!” and walk on? No, this is the point at which we walk over and scoop out the debris. Why wait for it to further accumulate? To react this way over and over again would simply put us back to the previous step(s). So, too, the mirror of our soul. We ask God to look it over with us, and we ask if there are any spots we haven’t noticed. If there are, we grab the clean cloth and wipe away the spot.

As the apostle, St. Paul, teaches, we are certainly no longer “children of darkness, but children of light,” fully alive and awake in the never-ending day of divine life; thus, we are cautioned against deadly slumber and sleep. You see, this is about awareness and vigilance, with the fundamentally necessary help of the very God who made us aware of our need of redemption, who invited us to bow down in humility and then walk the Path of Redemption.[5]

Of course, as with every other step, this one leads very naturally – in fact, quite seamlessly – into the next step, which is perhaps one of, if not the most, exiting step of all…

[1] Ph. 2.13b, RSV

[2] Mt. 22.36b-39, RSV

[3] Ps. 37.4-5, NRSV

[4] Ruth Haley Barton, Sacred Rhythms, 75

[5] Cf. Abraham Smith, “The First Letter to the Thessalonians,” The New Interpreter’s Bible: A Commentary in Twelve Volumes, 11:727)

Step Nine: We Make Our Own Amends

leave a comment »

So if you are about to place your gift on the altar and remember that someone is angry with you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. Make peace with that person, then come back and offer your gift to God.  (Mt.. 5.6a-7, CEV)

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but  in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.  (Ph. 2.3-4, NRSV)

When a man or a woman wrongs another, breaking faith with the Lord, that person incurs guilt and shall confess the sin that has been committed. The person shall make full restitution for the wrong…  (Num. 5.6a-7a, NRSV)

Can you imagine never being able to be forgiven? By God or anyone else? For me, at least, the very thought is unbearable. To paraphrase Washington Gladden, if you make or even allow someone to believe that their offences, their wrongdoings, are unpardonable and beyond amends; that their past is still present, “an indelible record, which never can be blotted out;” that the pain and suffering they have caused themselves and others must be endured forever without any abatement; then you have effectively extinguished any hope and motivation “to better living. We are saved by hope.” Remove that and the penitent sinner is simply left “adrift on the stormy seas of impulse and passion.” [1]

After all, what is left? Well … hopelessness. And who can live without hope? Even the Proverbs teach, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick…”[2] If hope deferred makes the heart sick, then it reasonably follows that being without any hope at all is even worse. And this is one of the reasons Step Nine is so fundamentally important; that is, making amends for our own offenses against others.

Of course, the moral/ethical standard of punishment for crimes and offenses is very ancient, indeed, and expressed perhaps most clearly in the jus talionis. This was put forth very explicitly in the Hebrew code, as follows: “‘you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.’”[3] This may seem rather harsh to our modern sensibilities; however, there was also present in Mosaic (or Hebraic) law mercy and the opportunity for redemption, and here is where we will focus our attention.

As John J. Hayes points out, throughout Mosaic law, “First … the focus of concern was the victim, not the perpetrator. Second, restitution” tended to be emphasized more “than retribution and revenge. Third, repentance and voluntary confession of a wrong,” along with proper restitution and/or amends. “would allow expiation. This ritual,” or juridical procedure, “permitted the malefactor to accomplish three things: (1) By confessing their offense, they accepted responsibility for their actions. (2) By making restitution, they restored proper social relationships. (3) Through the (prescribed) sacrifice itself, they repaired their relationship with God.”[4] And this spelled hope … hope for a new beginning, life unburdened by sin.

Not that this is an easy step to take, but absolutely necessary, as one Alcoholics Anonymous individual admits: “It is a frightening but necessary action if I am going to get back into life. Step Nine allows me to remove threats to my sobriety by healing past relationships. Step Nine points the way to a more serene sobriety by letting me clear away the past wreckage, lest it bring me down.”[5] Touché!

All well and good; in fact, very good, but now to show just how deeply rooted Step Nine is in the Path of Redemption, let’s rephrase this poignant reflection to read:

This is a frightening but necessary action if I want to live fully the abundant, self-giving life of Christ in this world, day in and day out. You see, confessing, asking forgiveness, and making amends as much as reasonably possible, with the help of God, removes potential threats to my own spiritual and overall health and well-being. More importantly, perhaps, humbling myself before those I have harmed, thus providing an active witness to divine love and grace, hopefully enriches and blesses their lives.

All in all, then, Step Nine points the way to a more serene, full, and authentic life by letting me clear away the past wreckage, lest it bring me down once again into the muck and mire, the darkness and futility and hopelessness from which God has so graciously redeemed me. And that is definitely a place to which I have no desire to return!

Right? Right! Now, however, we turn to the more practical matter of cautionary steps to take in making our own amends. In doing so here, let me say that I do not pretend to offer all that may (and, perhaps, should) be considered in completing Step Nine, but what I do propose is practical, “down-to-earth” advice, so to speak, as follows:

1)  Obviously, take care of the simplest and easiest amends first; in other words, go ahead and get them out of the way. This will (or ought to) give one more strength and courage to go on to the more difficult.

2)  Prayerfully review the remainder of your list with your mentor(s) to devise a plan for making appropriate amends, when and where possible, and how to do so properly. This should be ensure that the other person(s) or anyone else is not and will not be harmed in the process.

(Personal advice:  Perhaps due to my proclivity toward Trinitarian thinking, have at least three advisors/mentors, ideally not connected with one another, in order to avoid any tendencies toward manipulation and/or control as well as to avail yourself of the wisdom of a multitude of counselors.)

3)  Do it! Work the plan carefully and prayerfully, always keeping your mentor(s) up-to-date on where you are and how everything is fairing in carrying out the plan.

Now, at this point, the question naturally comes to mind as to what one should do when direct amends cannot be made. Maybe the offended person(s) cannot be found. Perhaps they are deceased. What then? Well, another Alcoholics Anonymous individual offers some good advice in this regard:

These people are untraceable, and direct amends to them are not possible. The only amends I can make to those untraceable individuals, the only ‘changes for the better’ I can offer, are indirect amends made to other people whose paths briefly cross mine (through) courtesy and kindness regularly practiced…[6]

This should certainly be done at the very least as one means of making amends. There are other ways, too, such as writing a letter of confession to the individual confessing and repenting of your sin, your offense, and then reading it to (one or all) of your mentor(s). After reading the confession and asking forgiveness, the letter might then be burned. Doubtless, other means could be added, and one should discuss this with his or her mentor(s). And if the individual is still living and you happen to cross paths latter on in life? Well, then, you have been graciously given the opportunity to ask forgiveness and make amends face-to-face. Rejoice and be thankful!

Regarding those who are deceased, of course I realize that not all Christians are of one mind where certain faith-practices are concerned, but for some of us I believe there is yet another means – ideally along with the other suggestions – of repenting and making something very akin to amends. One might light a prayer candle and offer something like the following supplication:

Lord have mercy; Lord have mercy; Lord have mercy on me, a sinner! And most merciful God, Redeemer and Lover of humanity, grant unto the soul of your servant John Doe, whom I wronged and offended in this life, the remission of  all of his sins, heavenly peace and comfort in Your glorious presence in Paradise, with all of the saints and angels, while granting me the privilege of looking forward to that day when we are reunited in Your love, by the power of Your all-holy, good and life-giving Spirit, in and through Jesus the Christ, Your Son, our Lord and only Savior. Amen.[7]

Please be advised, though, that if you choose to do this, then you should consult with your priest first, asking his (or her) advice in the appropriateness of such action, as well as guidance and direction in actually doing this.

Ah! Now to return to an earlier illustration, the mountain stream is largely clear and clean and fresh again, healthy and life-giving water flowing into your soul (the village)! Or in another past illustration, the mirror begins to shine again, facing the Sun of Righteousness, radiating heavenly light to all those around, to the world all around! Hope and hard work is followed by fulfilling peace in abundant, authentic life!

Yet for all the prayers and hope and work done, the stream must be kept clean. The mirror must be kept polished, and that is the subject of Step Ten along the Road of Redemption.

[1] Washing Gladden, Present Day Theology, 3rd ed., 179-180

[2] Pr. 13.12a, NRSV

[3] A. R. S. Kennedy quoting from the Book of the Covenant 21. 23ff, “Crimes and Punishments,” James Hastings, ed., Dictionary of the Bible, 167

[4] J .J. Hayes, “Leviticus: Special Note,” Walter J. Harrison … et al, eds. The New Interpreter’s Study Bible, 154

[5] Alcoholics Anonymous, Daily Reflections, 258

[6] Ibid, 257

[7] Note: This prayer is my own, inspired by various prayers for the departed. Another personal note: If this is acceptable and appropriate, being as Trinitarian in my thinking as I am (smile), I would suggest making this supplication for at least three consecutive Sundays… But, again, that is my own quite subjective, personal opinion.

Step Eight, Part II: We Intentionally Prepare

with one comment

You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (James 2.8, NRSV)

Forgiveness is the answer to the child’s dream of a miracle by which what is broken is made whole again, what is soiled is made clean again.  (Dag Hammarskjold)

We have discussed the necessary and fundamentally significant act of forgiveness – or, at least, the genuine beginning(s) of working toward full and free forgiveness – of others, so often left out or skimmed over in many 12-Step recovery programs. Now, however, we move on to the other side of our list.

Remember, as important and ultimately, blessedly beneficial as it is to forgive … we also need to be forgiven, and that with the intention of making amends, if possible. This involves real “down in the trenches” kind of love, in this time, in this world. Specifically, it involves the love of others at least as much we love ourselves, to wit, the second great commandment given by the Lord Jesus. As the 19th century American Episcopal priest and theologian, William P. DuBose, explained:

We are not to love God instead of our neighbor, or heaven instead of earth, but to love God in our neighbor, and make heaven out of earth. If we have not loved the visible, how shall we love the invisible? If we have not been faithful in the earthly, we will not be so in the heavenly… Human life grows up, or is built up, from the ground; it needs to get the proper good of all of its stages in order to have its complete and perfect good in the end.[1]

The past – our past – is certainly one of the “stages” of life from which we need to “get the proper good.” And getting “the proper good” certainly entails loving our sisters, brothers, neighbors at least enough (and ideally more) to admit our sins against them, the harm we have caused, and make amends – i.e. right the wrong(s) – as much as reasonably possible, with the help of God.

After all, as holy Scripture teaches and DuBose pointed out, how can we genuinely love and be fully reconciled with God, who is invisible, if we do not authentically love and make the effort to be reconciled with those we have wronged, who are visible?

To return to an earlier analogy, this is part of cleaning our mirrors, but there is also another deeply spiritual and psychological benefit in listing those whom we have wronged with the intention of making amends. You see, if we do not, then those faults and offenses (sometimes grievous) are always present within us.

This is something I know from personal experience, but also the story of Zacchaeus immediately comes to mind. The story is one of the best known and most popular of the Gospels. Zacchaeus was a mendacious, despised tax collector in the employment of the imperial Roman authority, and filled with greed, he had accumulated great wealth (as so many tax collectors) by his fraudulent practices in and around the city of Jericho. But then someone very unique, very special, and very powerful came along.

“Jesus came to the city of Jericho and was passing through it.”[2] Of course, Zacchaeus had heard of this Jesus of Nazareth, and for some reason he desperately wanted to see him. It may only be speculation, but one might say that, greedy and fraudulent as he had been, there was something good stirring inside his soul … perhaps some conviction of sin with the attendant desire to be forgiven.  I believe the whole of the story warrants this assumption.

Jesus spies Zacchaeus up in the tree he had to climb in order to see over the crowds. And so Jesus said, “Zacchaeus, come down at once. I must stay in your house today.”[3] And as the story goes, Zacchaeus scrambled down the tree, more than happy to have Jesus stay in his house as an honored guest. Of course, naturally, this upset the crowd of people who knew Zacchaeus all-too-well. Was the Lord Jesus just that ignorant? No, of course not, the people knew this. So, did he simply not care that Zacchaeus was essentially an outrageous, disreputable thief in the employment of an oppressive empire? No, I don’t believe that was the case either.

Ah, but it was left for Zacchaeus to answer instead of Jesus, who was willing (if he had not already) to forgive the man. Nevertheless, it is the mendacious tax collector who speaks directly to the Lord but, in effect of course, to the entire crowd. And what does he say? “I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!”[4] What, in effect, was Zacchaeus saying? To what was he committing himself?

Every tax collector kept records, so first and foremost we may reasonably assume Zacchaeus committed himself to closely examining his records and making a list of all those whom he had cheated, which naturally includes the idea or procuring their forgiveness. More than this, however, Zacchaeus goes beyond planning to make amends by proffering “four times as much” in restitution of what he has stolen, and half of his ill-gotten wealth to the poor. You see, this is why we may say something was already stirring in his heart and why he wanted to see Jesus.

And how does Jesus respond? He responds by saying, “Today salvation has come to this house…”[5] Amen. As the Congregational minister, Washington Gladden, told his congregation, “God’s atoning love seeks to reconcile all people unto himself. You simply cannot be in harmony with him while you are at enmity with your neighbor… O beloved, is it not clear that if we desire to be the children of God in heaven, we cannot have any enemies?”[6] Having to carry the burden of our sins against others is too much, too heavy. We cannot but lay them down.

To rid ourselves of this poison in our hearts, minds and souls, “we recognize and accept that God has commanded us to … make amends for the sins we have committed against others, to the most reasonable extent possible … prayerfully and carefully … listing those we have wronged and harmed, with the genuine intention of making amends those people.” This is the “flip-side” of our Eighth Step in the Twelve Steps Along the Road of Redemption, right?

Some may even now be anticipating difficulties in completing this step – impediments, impossibilities or whatnot – but let’s wait to address that in the next step, shall we? Until then, God’s gracious blessings as we continue travelling this most sacred path…

[1] Jon Alexander, ed., William Porcher DuBose: Selected Writings, “The Reason of Life,” 4:251
[2] Lk. 19.1, WE Bible
[3] Lk. 19.5b, NLV
[4] Lk. 19.8, NLT
[5] Lk. 19.9a, NRSV
[6] Washington Gladden, Present Day Theology, 3rd ed., 191

Step Eight, Interlude: Forgive and Pardon

leave a comment »

Down through the years, I have met and spoken with (or heard from) individuals who have been so deeply hurt, so unimaginably wounded, that it was practically impossible for them to simply forgive the offender(s) and forget the offenses, abuses, exploitations and whatnot in one “fell-swoop,” so to speak.  And I was pondering this extraordinarily difficult problem as we have now incorporated it into to Step Eight in our Twelve Steps Along the Road of Redemption.

At the end of our last article, we stated that where deep and grievous wounds and horrific sin is concerned, “we simply begin by listing … those who have wronged or harmed us … prayerfully and carefully, with the real intention to … forgive, however long and arduous the process…,” concluding that “at this point – this very difficult point – this is enough.” Touché. But then the question came to mind, “Is there possibly some sort of ‘stepping stone’ that might help at this stage in the journey?”

This question was quickly followed by another, the origin of which I dare not speculate; however, I found myself asking, “Is there any difference between forgiveness and pardon?” This query was immediately followed by the obvious, “Even if there is some difference, how might that help individuals struggling so painfully with scars and wounds and bruises from their past … injuries for which they bear no guilt but were (and are), in fact, purely victim?”

When listing those who have wronged or harmed us, and for many people, taking into consideration the extraordinarily difficult, practically impossible imperative to forgive one or some of those individuals, can any differentiation help them along? Can we here possibly offer something of  a “stepping stone?” Well, to be perfectly honest, I am not sure; however, I would like to offer my idea, nevertheless, in the prayerful hope that it does help at least some. But first indulge me in defining our terms. (As boring as it may seem, it is necessary, so…)

To “pardon,” in the verbal sense, means “to forgive or excuse (a person, error, or offense); release (an offender) from the legal consequences of an offense of conviction, and often implicitly from blame.”[1] And although synonymous with “forgive,” it seems to have a more juridical/legal sense in meaning as we can ascertain from its etymology.

The word “pardon” comes from the late 13th century Old French “pardon,” which in turn derives from the earlier Vulgar Latin “perdonare” that was, by 11th – 13th centuries, used in an explicitly ecclesiastical/judicial sense meaning “passing over an offense without punishment.” By the late 14th century the word in Anglo-French came to mean the “release from penalty or obligation.”[2] Is this not rather juridical in emphasis? Keep this in mind as we now turn to “forgive.”

To “forgive,” in common parlance, simply means “to stop feeling angry or resentful toward someone (for an offense, flaw, or mistake).”[3] The etymology of this word comes from the Old English “forgiefan,” which is a combination of “for,” which meant “completely,” and “giefan,” which meant “give.” Now, the Old English word was used as we do in the modern sense, but also in other senses as well, such as: “to give up” or “to give in marriage.”

This is noteworthy as at this point we may ask, is any differentiation between “forgive” and “pardon” real or simply imagined? May I submit that there is some real difference, especially when taking into consideration the etymology and usage of both words, and that this can possibly be used as a “stepping stone” for someone who is struggling toward full and free forgiveness of both offender(s) and offense(s).

Note first the more juridical usage of “pardon.” Of course, naturally, the offender is involved, yet the focus seem to be (to whatever degree) more upon the offense or crime. On the other hand, in the word and usage “forgive,” while it certainly includes offense(s), the focus seems to be (again to whatever degree) more upon the individual. Now add to this differentiation the possibility of individuation – that is, the idea of separating or distinguishing “items or individuals,” or in our case, offender and offense(s).[4]

Is this possible? Can someone, the victim, separate the perpetrator from the crime(s)? Is individuation possible in this case? I humbly submit that it is possible, if we return to one of the specific Old English usages of “forgive,” or specifically “forgiefan.” In other words, could we not use “forgive” in the sense of “giving up,” or “forth-giving,” the offender to God?  And, moreover, do this without offering perdonare, that is, merely “passing over the offense?”

How many times have I heard someone say, in so many words, “Every time I try to address the issue, I always see his (or her) face… I hear his (or her) voice.  It’s like I just can’t get away from him (or her).” Might it be possible for the individual to forgive the offender as one sinful human being, as much as is reasonably possible and with the help of God, thus removing to some real degree the individual, personified dam blocking the fresh, clean, cool waters of healing the victim so desperately needs?

At this point, I must note also that many folks I have heard and/or spoken with seem to believe that forgiving the offender, abuser or perpetrator, is tantamount to excusing their offense(s), their hideous act(s) of wickedness. Nothing could be further from the truth. In forgiving, as we have described it above as “forth-giving” the offender to God, is an άctus grάtia,[5] or act of grace, on the individual’s part. It is not an άctus remίssio,[6] or act of remission as in “the remission of sins.”

Still, is even this much possible as a “stepping stone” within Step Eight along the Road of Redemption?  Well, as one having been “saved by grace through faith in Christ,”[7] and having walked the steps the individual has already walked, it is possible, though certainly not at all easy.  However, very pertinent to forgiveness of the horrific offender are the scriptural truths that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,”[8] thus there “is none righteous; no, not one.”[9]

Yet in spite of this, and even though we may cringe at the thought where certain people are concerned, “God … desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”[10] This is the foundation for the forgiveness of the individual, personified sinner as an άctus grάtia on our part. And again one must realize that s/he is not pardoning the act(s) of wickedness; rather, for the time being at least, one is leaving this – the άctus judiciάlis[11] – in the hands of God, who “sits enthroned forever, (and) has established his throne for judgment … with righteousness … with equity.”[12] And so shall “judge (one) according to (his/her) deeds.”[13]

Thus in this “interlude” I have attempted to answer my question, and in so doing have hopefully (and prayerfully) helped at least someone. To begin with forgiving without pardoning is, after all, to begin and may very well help both clear the way for personal healing as well as render the necessary chore of filling out the “other side” of the list less difficult; after all, whatever we ourselves have endured, somewhere along the line we have also offended and wronged others.

[1] The Oxford American College Dictionary, 992

[2] As derived from accessed on 02/22/2014

[3] The Oxford American College Dictionary, 526

[4] Cf. Jennifer Bothamley, Dictionary of Theories, 275

[5] Derived from Leo Stelten, Dictionary of Ecclesiastical Latin, Passim; Note: Double checked by two online sources

[6] Ibid, Passim; Note: Double checked by two online sources

[7] Cf. Eph. 2.8

[8] Rom. 3.23, RSV

[9] Rom. 3.10, RSV; Cf. also Ecc. 7.20

[10] I Tim. 3.4, NRSV

[11] Ibid, 294

[12] Ps. 9.7-8, RSV alt.

[13] Sir. 16.12b, ESV alt.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 315 other followers