Making a Decision - One Day at a Time, 12 Steps to Sanity (for Everyone) - Step 3 - Brian Moodie
Trevor Hudson tells the story of a little boy who was drawing a picture with intense concentration. His mother asked him: What are you drawing?
‘I’m drawing a picture of God!’ The little boy said.
With a concerned look on her face, the mother replied, ‘But you can’t draw a picture of God. No-one knows what God looks like.’
Without looking up, the boy carried on drawing and answered confidently, ‘Well they will when I’ve finished drawing the picture.’
trevor goes on to ask: Have you ever stopped to think honestly about your picture of God? Is your picture or understanding of God Something or Someone that instils trust within you? Or does your understanding of God instil anxiety and fear in you?
It is a pertinent question, especially as we come to Step 3 on the 12 Step Program, which invites us to make a decision to turn our will and our lives over the care of God as we understand God.
In week 1 the first step invited us to be honest about our weaknesses, compulsions and self-defeating behaviour that undermines our lives and our relationships that make our lives feel unmanageable.
In week 2 the second step invited us to consider the possibility that there is a Higher Power that can help to bring greater balance and harmony to our lives.
Step 3 takes that a step further, inviting us to make a decision to turn our wills and our lives over to the care of God, as we understand God. To begin to open ourselves up to the resources of a Higher Power.
It is a reminder that it is not enough to entertain the possibility that there is a Higher Power that can assist us in bringing us to wholeness, one actually needs to make a decision to avail of the resources of that Higher Power, in the words of Step 3, by turning our will over to the care of God, as we understand God.
And it is here that our understanding of God can either become a help or a hindrance. If we have a negative understanding of God that leave us in fear and anxiety, if we have a view of God that is less that Infinite Goodness and Infinite Love, and therefore less than Trustworthy, we are never going to be able to truly surrender our wills over to God, never truly open ourselves up to allowing the Divine or the Sacred to transform us from the inside. We will always hold this God at arms length.
About 13 years ago, I was working at a Theological College in Johannesburg and attending one of the large Methodist Churches in the area. A lay pastor at the church asked to come and see me. She had recently run an experiential retreat over a weekend for members of the church who wished to grow in their spiritual life. As she spoke to me, she was clearly extremely distressed. As part of the retreat on the Saturday evening or Sunday morning there had been an opportunity for participants to consider surrendering their lives to God in a deeper way. (It’s not the kind of thing that is often done in the NSPCI). But the distressing part of the exercise for her was that the majority of participants did not feel they could participate. As she questioned why they couldn’t participate in this experiential act of surrendering, it became apparent that they held views of God that left them feeling a deep sense of fear and anxiety. The couldn’t bring themselves to surrender themselves to God, because deep down they didn’t trust God. They didn’t believe that God had their best interests at heart and so their instinctive reaction was to hold God at arms length.
For the lay pastor leading the retreat, this came as quite a shock, because for her it should have been self-evident that God is infinitely loving and therefore infinitely trustworthy. It was a shock to discover that this was not the case for many Christians.
I touched on this last week in Step 2. In my own experience I have come to realise that you will never be able to surrender to something or someone that you don’t trust. And the beauty of Step 3 is that it invites each of us to revisit our understanding of God, or the Divine and to cast out from that understanding everything that is negative or unhelpful to our growth and blossoming as human beings. If the picture of God you inherited leaves you feeling anxious and afraid, as is the case for many Protestant and Catholic Christians, then Step 3 invites us to come to a new understanding of God that is life-giving, life-enhancing and positive, conducive to human growth and fourishing.
I believe it invites us to come to a new understanding of God as Goodness and Love Itself for unless you have come to believe that God is utterly Good, utterly Loving and utterly Trustworthy you will never truly be able to turn over your will to the care of God, in which case it may be better to find a conception of the Divine or the Sacred that does instil trust within you.
And some in the 12 Step Program have done just that. I have seen that one person chooses to substitute the word Love with a capital L in place of the word God in which can Step 3 reads as follows: We made a decision to turn our wills over to the care of Love. If you have a negative and harsh picture of God one can immediately feel the difference in that statement.
Others might choose to substitute the word God with the word Wisdom with a capital W. We made a decision to turn our wills over to the care of Wisdom.
I saw on the internet that one person has re-interpreted the 12 step program through the lens of the ancient Chinese concept of the Tao as expressed in the little book of Chinese wisdom called the Tao Te Ching. In Taoism, the Tao is understood to be the subtle and mysterious wisdom that is constantly being expressed in natural flow of life. When you resist the Tao, or the natural wisdom flowing through life you suffer. When you seek to live in harmony with the subtle wisdom of the flow of life you begin to live within that harmonious flow and life becomes more balanced.
For others, the word God might even be substituted with the phrase Higher Self, in which case Step 3 becomes an invitation to turn over the care of our small ego driven will with it’s petty concerns and compulsions, to the care of our Higher Self, the belief that there is a Divine essence within each of us that is truly wise and truly loving (connected with the Divine) and which can direct and guide us to wholeness if we are open to it.
However we understand God in this Step, the important thing is that we need to believe is that there is something higher, wiser and more wholesome than our current ego-driven self that can assist us and inspire us and instil confidence within us that life can be different and that we can become more balanced and wholesome people. And one of the key words in Step 3 is the word decision. We made a decision… we made a decision to surrender ourselves, perhaps others might say to open ourselves to Something or Someone Higher than ourselves as we are currently living.
Making a decision sounds all very evangelical, like when a travelling evangelist invites everyone to make a commitment to Jesus as their personal Lord and Saviour. I don’t want to belittle that experience because for some it is indeed life changing.
But turning one’s will over the care of God as we understand God (or a Higher Power) might simply be the daily commitment to seek a wisdom that is higher than our own. It may mean simply that facing a challenge or a difficult situation and recognising that we don’t know enough on our own to know how to navigate our way through it, and in our hearts and minds to hand it over to a Wisdom or a Love that is higher and greater than our own. It may simply be recognizing that often there is something Bigger going on than our small selves are able to understand or control and to take the risk of trusting that there is a Higher Wisdom that will somehow take care of things if we let it. It may simply be a little prayer that says: I hand this situation over to God, or to Wisdom (with a capital W), or I hand this situation over to Love, with a capital L, or perhaps, I ask my Higher Self to help me navigate through it.
For Trevor in his Book One Day at a Time, he describes his own experience at the age of 16 of giving himself over to God. He says it was a profoundly significant moment for him even though he did not see flashing lights, hear voices or feel goose bumps, but from that moment he knew that his life had begun to take on a different trajectory as his centre of gravity had begun to change. It was not that everything fell immediately into place, but rather that a life-long journey had begun towards an ever increasing balance, harmony and wholeness because in that moment, the person and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth became a primary reference point in the way he lived his life and the choices he began to make.
What might Step 3 mean for each one of us? What might it mean for you to hand over your will and your life to the care of God as you have come to understand God? Or to Open yourself to a Higher Power or a Greater Wisdom, or whatever it is in your life that instills within you a greater sense of trust and confidence and that might enable you to flourish.
Hope For Change - One Day At a Time - 12 Steps to Sanity (for Everyone) - Step 2
Trevor Hudson writes that some time before he wrote the book One Day at a Time, he sat with a middle aged man who had come to him to speak about a problem that was slowly destroying his life. It had already cost him his marriage and left him estranged from his children and left him filled with a deep sense of shame and guilt. He had repeatedly failed to overcome this struggle leaving him in the darkness of extreme despair. As he finished telling his story, the man looked straight at Trevor and asked: “Do you really believe that anything or anyone can help me to change?”
Trevor Hudson says that this question often comes to the surface when we begin to face up to those weaknesses and self-defeating tendencies that are getting the better of us.
Maybe your weaknesses have not yet got you to the brink of despair yet? Maybe for many of us its just a case of hobbling along. But there are many who, having repeatedly tried to get on top of their problem and failed, have been brought to the brink of despair and left wondering: Is there anything or anyone that can help me to change?
Trevor Hudson says that the second step in the 12 Step Program can begin to shine a light into this darkness as it boldly declares that there is a solution – a solution that can empower us to deal creatively with our weaknesses; a solution that can help us to live with a new sense of freedom, joy and sanity.
The second step reads as follows: We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
Trevor Hudson paraphrases it as follows: There is a Higher Power available to each of one of us that can help us to live more freely and fully.
One of the criticisms of the 12 step program by more evangelical and fundamentalist Christians is that it makes use of the phrase Higher Power. Most people would indeed understand this phrase to mean God. But the beauty and the helpfulness of this phrase is that it offers some flexibility in how different people might understand the concept of God. For some who do the 12 step program, the word might not actually mean God for them. For some their Higher Power might be the recovery group itself. For others it might mean the power of the universe, (which I would suggest is simply another contemporary, non-religious way of referring to God as a wisdom or power greater than ourselves.)
For some people, traditional God language has been sullied and discredited by painful and traumatic experiences of Church. For others, traditional Christian ways of speaking about God may just not resonate with them. And so for such people, referring to a Higher Power rather than to God in a traditional sense enables them to reap the benefits of the 12 Step Program and to draw strength from a Power greater than their small ego driven selves.
The phrase Higher Power can be helpful in a number of ways. As Einstein is often quoted as saying: “You can’t fix a problem with the same thinking that got you into the problem in the first place.” It is going to require a new way of thinking. And so speaking of relying on a Higher Power to help restore one to sanity, implicitly suggests that one is going to be required to draw on Higher Thoughts than the thoughts that have been creating the problem in the first place.
Secondly the phrase Higher Power invites us to consider the possibility that we are not completely isolated individuals left to struggle through life on our own. There are greater resources available to us than we have previously realised. And for those who interpret the phrase from a religious perspective, whether Christian or non-Christian, the phrase reminds us that there are unseen spiritual resources that we can draw on to find strength in life.
Trevor Hudson suggests that in this day an age, when people tend to refer to God in very familiar and superficial ways, using the phrase Higher Power can be a helpful corrective to our tendency to fashion God into some kind of manageable deity that we can control whenever we want to. It is also a helpful corrective to the superficial way in which we imagine God to be just like a magnified version of a human being somewhere above the sky.
Personally I understand God not as a big human being projected onto the sky, but rather as the Wisdom and Intelligence of Life itself. God is not a being amongst many other beings, not even the Supreme Being amongst many other lesser beings, but rather God is Being-Itself and all individual beings are simply partakers of the One, Who is Wisdom, Intelligence and Being itself. And so Trevor Hudson suggests that the term Higher Power helps to preserve the mystery of the Divine inviting us to consider that there are unseen spiritual resources available to us if we can begin to take the step of faith to believe and trust in a Higher Power.
The phrase Higher Power is in fact quite biblical if you ask me. One of the Names of God in the Old Testament is El Elyon – which is often translated as “The Most High”. It is Jesus who suggests that the Most High is also Most Loving. In suggesting this, Jesus was essentially suggesting that this Higher Power is in its essence infinitely Good and there for it is a Power that is for us a not against us.
This is important because many people carry very negative pictures of God with them. They see God as being vengeful, vindictive and punishing. And if this is your picture of God then you will probably want to keep God at a distance. Such a God is certainly not Something or Someone that one could feel any real trust towards.
Like Jesus, The Second Step on the Twelve Step Program also suggests that the Higher Power that many of us call God, is essentially good, and has the ability to restore us to sanity and change us for the better. We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
Reflecting on that word Sanity, Trevor Hudson writes that usually the word insanity conjures up images of Jack Nicholson playing the part of a mental patient in ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’. We may have problems and weaknesses we may think to ourselves, but we are certainly not insane.
But the essence of the word Sanity describes a state in which we think and behave in balanced, healthy and life-giving ways.
The word Insanity on the other hand describes when we think and behave in ways that are not balanced and healthy and when we constantly make choices that undermine our own well-being. And so insanity is when we live in continually repeated destructive patterns of thought and behaviour in spite of the problems it may cause us.
And so Trevor Hudson writes that this definition of insanity takes it outside of the world of padded cells and white-coated doctors and puts it right back into the middle of ordinary life. It invites us to call to mind all the self-defeating things that we keep thinking or doing that spoil our lives and our relationships. And so Trevor lists some of the more ordinary insanity that many of us engage in on a daily basis:
• Blaming everyone and everything else for our problems
• Trying desperately to control those around us to get them to do what we want
• Giving our loved ones the silent treatment when we are angry with them
• Constant procrastination, putting off important things that need to be done
• harbouring hate and thoughts of revenge over things that have been done or said to us
• blowing up angrily when things haven’t gone our way
• talking incessantly and seldom taking the time to listen to what others are saying
• gambling obsessively to the detriment of caring for our families
• taking on more and more commitments at work even when we are already over-committed.
• Buying things that we do not really need and which place our lives under increasing financial pressure. (The list could go on...)
Do you recognise inklings of some of the insane behaviour that all of us can engage in? Patterns of thinking and behaving that leave us living in unhealthy and unbalanced ways. Any counterproductive and self-destructive or self-sabotaging behaviour has a degree of insanity to it. The truth is all of us live with varying degrees of insanity because all of us have counterproductive tendencies and none of us lives a completely healthy and balanced life. (It could be said that humanity is living through a collective insanity as we destroy the planet and yet want to continue to live as though nothing is happening).
Getting back to the level of the personal, what are some of your subtle tendencies towards insane living! It is easier to see it in others isn’t it.
The Second Step invites us to entertain the possibility that there is a Power (or a Wisdom) beyond our small ego driven selves that can restore us to sanity, that can help us to live more balanced and less self-destructive lives. There is a Higher Power that wishes to help us live more balanced and harmonious lives and to be less self-defeating. The Big Question is: “Are we willing to believe this?” Are you willing to believe that there is a Higher Power that has your deepest and best interests at heart? Can you believe that there is a Wisdom that is Higher than the level of Wisdom you and I are currently living in?
The Second Step in the 12 Step program tells us that whatever our self-defeating behaviour or thinking is, there is hope for change. And it begins with a step of faith… We came to believe there is a Power greater than ourselves that could help restore us to Sanity. Hope for change…
I Close with two verses from Mark 9:23-24
Jesus replied, “Why do you say ‘if you can’? Anything is possible for someone who believes!”
The Courage to Change
Trevor Hudson writes that there is one subject that we tend to avoid. Strangely he says it is not the subject of sex, or money or politics or death, or even religion. Rather it is the topic of our weaknesses. We are seldom prepared to discuss this aspect of our lives honestly he says, not even with out loved ones or close friends.
He goes on to say that there are a number of reasons for this. Firstly society tends to think negatively of people we consider to be weak willed, weak kneed or weak minded. Society regards them as the losers, the ones who are usually defeated, the unfortunates who lack what it takes to succeed, and we do not want to be thought of in that way.
Another reason is that from an early age we are taught we have to be strong, especially for those who are males. He says the message is clear: The successful are those who are in control, who have it all together. Even if we are not on top of things it becomes important to pretend that we are. And so we are continually trying to look stronger or smarter or more successful than we really are. We cannot mention our weaknesses too loudly.
A third reason that we don’t talk about our weaknesses, is quite simply that often we are quite blind to our own weaknesses. We see the weaknesses in others quickly and clearly but we don’t always notice them in ourselves, or we deny them or try to rationalise them away. Trevor Hudson says that the truth is that we have a remarkable capacity for self delusion and denial. He says when we are confronted about our failures we say something like ‘I don’t know what came over me. I just wasn’t myself.’ in order to distance ourselves from whatever it was. Quite frankly he says, what comes over us are our weaknesses, whatever they may be.
And if one could go back in time to our more primitive ancestors living in caves and fighting sabre toothed tigers and defending themselves against other marauding tribes, one of the root causes for not admitting our weaknesses is pure survival. The fear is that if we admit to our weaknesses we fear that might not survive, that someone will take advantage of us and we might be in some way annihilated.
But the truth is that sometimes our attempts to deny our weaknesses to ourselves and others in order to look strong begins to backfire on us. There comes a point when living in denial of our weaknesses becomes counterproductive as those covered up weaknesses begin to undermine our wellbeing and our life shared with others.
Trevor Hudson writes that the good news is that we can live beyond our weaknesses, But before we can begin to experience this, there is one pre-condition: We first have to admit our weaknesses. And this is the wisdom of the first Step in the 12 step Program.
Step 1. We admitted we were powerless over some area of our lives. That our lives had become unmanageable.
It is the humble admission of having a weakness.
Trevor Hudson says it is Wisdom that comes straight from the pages of the Bible and can be summarised like this: The first Step towards change involves a courageous admission of our weaknesses. And when we are unable to take this first step we cut ourselves off from experiencing the power to change from the inside. How can you change if you deny that there is a problem or a need to change.
What are the weaknesses that we struggle with that can undermine our lives and make our lives feel unmanageable:
Firstly, there is the weakness of the will. Having the sense of wanting to do something, but somehow not being able to muster up the will-power to actually do it.
Secondly there is the weakness of our addictive or compulsive behaviour. This is behaviour that can often provide short-term pleasure or comfort but that undermines our long term well being and can sabotage our ability to achieve long term goals and happiness.
Thirdly there is the weakness of habitual wrong-doing. Deep down says Trevor we all know the difference between right and wrong, and between that which leads to wholeness and that which doesn’t, but often our habitual energies lead us away from the good, and habits can be very hard to change.
Fourthly, there is the weakness of our negative thoughts and feelings, perhaps a continual sense of worry, an overwhelming anxiety, a deep feeling of worthlessness or fear or anger and aggression. And many of these feelings are connected with often forgotten traumas big and small from our childhood. Trevor Hudson says that one of the most damaging of all our feelings is resentment and the sense that we are owed something.
The Apostle Paul who on the road to Damascus came to see more clearly his own weaknesses expresses some of these dimensions of our human weaknesses when he writes of himself in the book of Romans: I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do…. I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.
What happens when we fail to admit our weaknesses?
On the one hand, Trevor Hudson says we find ourselves living a lie. We hide behind masks of competence and self-sufficiency and we pretend we are ok. We become actors in the drama of our lives playing roles that are far removed from who we really are on the inside. And in consequence people around us begin to feel like we have put up a barrier so that others can’t reach us or get close to us. And this in turn leads us to feeling isolated from any real and meaningful openness and contact with people. Always pretending we have it together makes for very lonely living.
Secondly, as already suggested, not admitting our weaknesses can make them even more destructive, especially when they become hidden secrets. Those in the recovery movement remind us that we are as sick as our secrets and so unacknowledged weaknesses have a scary way of gradually taking over our lives, robbing us of our joy, our freedom and our peace of mind.
And so the 12 step program reminds us that admitting the reality of our weaknesses is the first and most important step on the journey towards change. Without it there can be little or no progress.
Admitting our weaknesses paradoxically takes enormous courage, honesty, humility and strength. Admitting our weaknesses is also not a once off event. We may be aware of one weakness that we are willing to admit today, but in a few years time we may slowly become aware of other weaknesses that we have not yet seen and not yet been able to acknowledge.
Trevor Hudson says that if we wish to overcome our weaknesses, or even just to learn to live in a more wholesome and balanced way with our weaknesses then naming our weakness is a powerful act, and in doing so he suggests trying to be as specific as we can be. Naming our weaknesses brings our hidden struggles our into the open and can begin to connect us with others who struggle in a similar way. Writing them in a diary or a journal and getting them onto paper can help us to see them more clearly.
And when we do so, Trevor Hudson says that we begin to discover one of the greatest secrets of the spiritual journey – that in our weakness often lies our greatest strength. Because in admitting our weaknesses it can open us to finding help, help from others and most especially it can open us up to Divine Resources. It can open us up to a power greater than our small ego driven selves and open us to Divine Resources that God has placed deep within us.
This was the Apostle Paul’s discovery, who Trevor Hudson describes as a recovering sinner. Paul writes in 2 Cor 12:10 “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness… for when I am weak, then I am strong”.
If admitting your weakness might be too difficult, an easier place to start might simply be admitting you need a change. Admitting that in some area of your life things are not as you would want them to be. “I need to change such and such, because currently what I am doing is no longer working for me”.
What area of your life is no longer working for you…? What area of your life is beginning to undermine your well-being? Can you name it? Can you admit that it is not working?
Change cannot happen until we admit that something needs to change… and one of the quickest ways is to name exactly what it is that needs changing.
I close with song lyrics from a contemporary Australian singer called Sia -
World, I want to leave you better
I want my life to matter
I am afraid I have no purpose here
I watch the news on TV
Abandon myself daily
I am afraid to let you see the real me
Rain, it falls, rain, it falls
Pouring on me
And the rain, it falls, rain, it falls
Sowing the seeds of love and hope, love and hope
We don't have to stay, stuck in the weeds
Have I the courage to change?
Have I the courage to change?
Have I the courage to change today? (Oh)
One Day at a Time – 12 steps to Sanity (For Everyone) – Week 1 – Intro
Over the next 13 weeks or so I am going to be embarking on a new preaching series called “One Day At A Time – 12 steps for everyone” based on a book by Trevor Hudson.
The book is interestingly a reflection on the 12 step program which has traditionally been associated with Alcoholic Anonymous. But Trevor Hudson believes that the principles of the 12 step program have wider application and they are something that everyone can in fact benefit from.
He writes that the book was written especially for those who worry too much, who struggle with some form of compulsive behaviour, for those who battle with increasing levels of stress and tension, for those who sabotage their relationships with destructive patterns of behaviour; those who feel trapped by feelings of guilt, regret and self-condemnation and those who may go to church on a regular basis but feel like their faith has become empty and stagnant.
Trevor Hudson writes that if we struggle with some of these issues then there is Good News! There is available to all of us as human beings a Power greater than ourselves (one could say a power greater than our small ego driven selves) that can help us to change at an inward place; that can set us free from life-spoiling habits and which can help us to grow into better people; that can help to heal relationships, that can equip us to make a creative difference where we live and work. It is a Power he says that can help us to know the living presence of God in our lives.
In Trevor Hudson’s introduction to the book he writes:
“You may be wondering how I, an non-alcoholic, came across the Twelve Step programme?”
He goes on to describe how over the years, as he, even as a minister, preacher and pastor, has struggled with the need to change many areas of his life.
He writes how when he was younger he struggled with an addiction to gambling in the area of horse-racing. He says 25 years of marriage had also brought him the subtle depths of his own self-centredness. Moments of extreme tiredness have exposed compulsive tendencies to overwork and overcommit, and his children especially have taught him over the years to lighten up and to learn to enjoy life a bit. These struggles of the years had caused much heartache and pain and struggle for him.
He writes that some of his friends happen to be recovering alcoholics and he would often get together to talk about the struggles and joys of their lives. Whenever he spoke about his own compulsions and character defects they would point him towards the 12 Step Programme. One day one of these friends told him bluntly “Trevor, just work the Twelve Steps”. And thus he began to do so and has continued to do so ever since then on a day by day basis. It was in this way he came to discover the power and value of the Twelve Step programme and the benefits it can have for everyone.
Over the years, he says that he came to see the value of the steps in helping to keep his life of track and how much they have enriched his own life. They have given him a way of dealing with his tendency towards compulsive behaviour providing him with a practical tool kit for spiritual growth and healing.
But he says the results in his own life should not be surprising because the Twelve Step Program has over many decades helped millions of people all around the world, helping people to find a new peace of mind, a new found freedom and the joy of serving others. They have provided a solid and realistic plan for personal and spiritual growth.
What are the Twelve Steps and how did they originate?
The people largely responsible for formulating the 12 steps were Bill Wilson and Bob Smith who were founding members of Alcoholics Anonymous in 1938. And so this year should be if I am not mistaken the 85th anniversary of the founding of the AA.
The principles listed in the Twelve Steps were principles which Bill and Bob had seen were effective in their own experience and that of other alcoholics and especially from his reading of Jesus Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-8.
To state them briefly, and in a way that is more widely applicable than they way they are formulated in AA, they are as follows:
Step 1. We admitted we were powerless over some area of our lives. That our lives had become unmanageable.
For some that might be alcohol, for others it might be compulsive eating, or overwork, or shopping or an uncontrollable temper, or perhaps an uncontrollable anxiety, or inability to keep one’s office neat and tidy, a crippling sense of perfectionism, addiction to social media or to the constant approval of others… the list could go on.
What area of your life do you perhaps feel powerless over, that sometimes feels unmanageable and that undermines your well being and the well being of those around you?
Step 2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
Step 3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over the the care of God, as we understood God. (Non-Subscribing)
Step 4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
Step 5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being, the exact nature of our wrongs.
Step 6. We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
Step 7. Humbly asked him to remove our shortcomings
Step 8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
Step 9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
Step 10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
Step 11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood God, praying only for knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry that out.
Step 12. Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to others struggling with compulsive and destructive behaviour, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
Trevor Hudson makes a few interesting observation that all of the steps in some way or another resonate deeply with the spirit and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth and many themes in the New Testament.
Steps 1-3 invite us to give up our natural tendency to want to be in total control – to be managing directors – and instead to let God be God in our lives…. To recognise that there is a greater Wisdom and Intelligence at work in life.
Steps 4 5 and 10 call us to constantly examine our lives and to admit our wrongs.
Steps 6-7 prompt us to let God (a Higher Power) a Wisdom Greater than ourselves change us from the inside out.
Steps 8-9 encourage us to mend our broken relationships wherever we can.
Step 11 encourages us to engage in practices that will enable us to deepen our openness with the Greater Wisdom and Intelligence of Life that we call God.
Step 12 challenges us to share the hope and help we have gained with others.
Trevor Hudson also points out that the 12 steps are not just a set of rules but a way of life… Not something that one does once and then ticks off the list, but a program to live by every day for the rest of ones life. As the AA’s Big Book says: The spiritual Life is not a theory. We have to live it”
And so over the next 12-13 weeks as we explore the 12 Step Program firstly it will give us an insight into a program that has helped to transform the lives of millions of people over the past 85 years. Secondly, it will be an opportunity for us to reflect more deeply on our own lives and give us a set of tools that will hopefully enable us to live lives of greater sanity in a world that can sometimes feel a little insane.
I close with a quote from 2 quotes from Scripture that seem to sum up the invitation of the 12 Step Programme:
Jeremiah 33:6 “Behold, I will bring ...health and healing, and I will heal them; and I will reveal to them an abundance of peace and truth.”
Zechariah 9:12 “Return to your fortress, you prisoners of hope; even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you.”
Below the sermon video is an audio of the entire morning service.
SERMON TEXT - TURN TURN TURN
In 1959 Pete Seeger wrote the song "Turn! Turn! Turn!", also known as or subtitled "To Everything There Is a Season". It has been sung by numerous people and groups including Judy Collins, The Seekers, Nina Simone, Dolly Parton, Chris de Burgh and most famously the Byrds in 1965 who actually made it into a hit.
To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time for every purpose, under heaven
A time to be born, a time to die
A time to plant, a time to reap
A time to kill, a time to heal
A time to laugh, a time to weep
In fact it is difficult to actually say Pete Seeger wrote it… It would be a little more accurate to say that he co-wrote it with King Solomon or an anonymous Jewish Wisdom teacher, depending on which scholars you consult regarding the authorship of the book of Ecclesiastes. Traditionally it was said to be King Solomon, but many scholars would say that the language and content of the book would suggest a much later date of authorship. Whether one takes King Solomon or an unknown wisdom preacher to be the author of Ecclesiastes, it could be said that the song holds the distinction of being the number 1 hit with the oldest lyrics in the world as well as a musical collaboration spanning between 2100 and 3100 years.
Pete Seeger himself openly admits that, apart from the tune which he wrote himself, he only really wrote 7 words of the lyrics one of which was the word turn, which he used repeatedly and then the final 6 words of the song: “I swear it’s not too late”. All the rest of the words come entirely from the book of Ecclesiastes chapter 3:1-8.
Like all Biblical passages, the lines from Ecclesiastes could be open to myriad interpretations especially when viewed against the rest of the book, but Peter Seeger's contribution to the song turned the words of Ecclesiastes into a plea for world peace with the closing line: "a time for peace, I swear it's not too late."
As I have already said, the book of Ecclesiastes is traditionally attributed to King Solomon although many scholars would not take that literally. But in a symbolic sense it is significant that the book was was attributed to him. He epitomises the wealthy and well-to-do. In 1 King 10 it is said that he received 25 tons of gold every year. In addition King Solomon is said to have received revenues from merchants and traders from all the Arabian kings and governors of the territories as well as receiving wealth from those who came to listen to his words of wisdom. The Biblical writer summarises the splendour of his wealth by saying that King Solomon was greater in riches than all the other kings of the earth.
And yet, one of the refrains in the book of Ecclesiastes are the words meaningless, meaningless, meaningless. Some would translate them as ephemeral ephemeral ephemeral. It is a symbolic reminder that like Solomon, you can have all the wealth in the world and yet still not know the true meaning of your existence. You can have all the wealth in the world and still feel like life is empty, ephemeral and meaningless.
It is a reminder at harvest that temporal things, food and drink, bread, produce are vital for our existence and yet… they cannot satisfy our deeper hunger. Jesus summarised it in these words: Man cannot live by bread alone! We all need a deeper purpose and a deeper meaning than simply satisfying our bodily needs and desires. Food and clothing and shelter may be important and necessary, but they are not enough.
Without discovering some deeper more eternal reality, the Turning of the seasons and the endless repeated cycles of life can very quickly begin to seem meaningless and ephemeral.
And so while we celebrate with thanksgiving the produce that can feed and sustain our bodies, we look for food and a sustenance that would feed our deeper hunger for things of an eternal nature… things that do not rot or waste or rust away in a few days to paraphrase the words of Jesus.
Jesus in John’s Gospel is portrayed as urging us to seek the Bread that is from Heaven a bread that will help to satisfy a deeper hunger.
In a world that is constantly changing, and turning, Turn Turn Turn, Jesus, and all the great mystics of the world invite us to discover that which is eternal and unchanging.
Meister Eckart, a German mystic and pastor from before the time of the Reformation (who got himself into trouble with the Roman Catholic Church at the time) taught that there is a divine essence within each of us, a light in the soul that is uncreated and indestructible, unconditioned, universal, deathless, a divine core of our personalities which cannot be separated from God, an essence within the soul that lies at the very centre of consciousness. He taught that this divine essence is in every person and can and should be discovered so that it’s presence and it’s sparkling light can be brought forth as a reality in daily life. He also taught that this discovery of our spiritual or divine essence within each of us is life’s real and higher goal. As Eknath Easwaran puts in his book Original Goodness, our supreme purpose in life is not to make a fortune, nor to pursue pleasure, not to write our name in history, but to discover this divine spark, or the seed of the divine that is in our hearts.
And when we realise this goal, we discover simultaneously that the divinity within ourselves is one and the same in all – in all individuals, in all creatures, and in all of life, and having discovered this Divine Essence within which Jesus called the Kingdom of God and Buddhists call the Buddha Nature, in bringing it forth into the world we begin to become part of the solution and the healing of the world, rather than being part of the problem. It enables us to move beyond our greed, fear and anxiety enabling us to bring forth the fruits of love of wisdom, courage and compassion in the world.
Turn Turn Turn, there is a season for everything under heaven, a time for peace, I swear it is not too late. There is an urgency for not just in making peace with each other in this world, but also in making peace with the earth and learning to care for our Mother earth who sustains us with food and produce, learning to live not as greedy exploiters of the earth for our own private pots of wealth but to become people whose lives are dedicated to the healing of the world. It won’t be solved by technology alone, but as humanity begins to tap into the Divine essence within as as we begin to bring that forth into the world.
Meister Eckart said that pear seeds grow into pear trees, apple seeds grow into apple trees, and God seeds grow into God. And that is our destiny to grow into the Divine beings God has created us to be. How do we make these seeds grow. How do we become farmers of the spirit watering the divine seed within, nurturing the light within us and in others that sparkles and shines…
1. Firstly, some form of regular daily meditation, that will help us every day even for a few moments to turn inwards. Eknath Easwaran suggests taking a beautiful passage of scripture or a prayer like the Prayer of St Francis of Assisi and memorising it and then saying it prayerfully and slowly every morning or every evening. This can nurture the seed of Divine love and peace within our hearts.
2. Secondly by engaging in acts of love and kindness and generosity… even the smallest acts of love, and generosity open the heart and enable the divine seed within to sparkle and shine and in doing so brings beauty and healing into the world.
And so on this Harvest Sunday, at the turning of the seasons, and in thanksgiving for all that sustains our physical bodies, we are invited to become farmers of the spirit, watering and nurturing the divine seed within that we may bring forth and abundant harvest of love, kindness and healing in the world. Amen.
Sermons and Blog
On this page you will find our online services, sermons and news.