My Help Comes from the Lord
A Song of Ascents
1 I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
2 My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.
3 He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
4 Behold, he who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
5 The Lord is your keeper;
the Lord is your shade on your right hand.
6 The sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.
7 The Lord will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life.
8 The Lord will keep
your going out and your coming in
from this time forth and forevermore.
Reflection on Psalm 121
When someone dies or transitions, this Psalm is sacred. Many say this on behalf of those involved: those who went before, those recently transitioned, and those yet to move on.
The Way of the Righteous and the Wicked
Blessed is the woman who walks not
in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but her delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on 'es law she meditates day and night.
She is like a tree planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that she does, she prospers.
The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff
that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord knows the way of the righteous
but the way of the wicked will perish.
Reflection on Psalm 1
As a recovered alcoholic, (eating disordered, approval-attention addicted...) woman, it shouldn't be hard to realize the reality of the "counsel of the wicked." BUT... remember this is a "disease of denial." Without a relationship with God, a Higher Power, the peculiar wiring of my mind allows me to walk around in an obsessive stupor or say, "I'm not an alcoholic" or "I'm not eating because of my emotions," or "I'm not texting because I just got off work and expect him to fix me."
Furthermore, I experience the same denial when it comes to the larger injustices playing out around me. Without God, I minimize the suffering of others and self-centeredly maximize my own. I am neutral towards grave social injustices and minimize the role I might play in their alleviation. "what-difference-can-I-make?" thinking.
Without God, I sedate my valid emotions and reactions in the name of phony spirituality. "They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace." (Jeremiah 6:14)
As a drunk, yes I was like "chaff," the "mist" of my existence almost snuffed out in near-death experiences in lonely studio apartments, behind the wheel of a car, in a cheap motel. As a sober "untreated" person, I can be excruciatingly selfish, too.
As a sober woman, I am "like a tree planted by streams of living water" as I share the journey to a new freedom through the steps with others and watch them do likewise with still others, as I attend meetings and share the truth of my experience, as I listen to others and hear-feel-smell-taste-touch their stories loud and clear. We all prosper. I rejoice in imperfectly seeking, one day at a time, the next "right" or "righteous" step.
Blessed Are the Forgiven
1. Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.
2. Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
3. For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.
4. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.
5. I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and you forgave the iniquity
6. Therefore let everyone who is godly offer prayer to you at a time when you may be found;
surely in the rush of great waters, they shall not reach him.
7. You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with shouts of deliverance.
8. "I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you."
9. Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding, which must be curbed with bit and bridle, or it will not stay near you.
10. Many are the sorrows of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the Lord.
11. Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!
Reflection on Psalm 32
Attending AA meetings separated me from booze and bulimia, a miraculous divorce I had tried to pull off for years. I don't mean to suggest that people who continue to use, drink, binge/purge or whatever are not forgiven or blessed; but I can not deny or pretend that my freedom from that hell didn't and doesn't continue to feel like a miraculous blessing, an undeserved gift, Grace.
At six months sober, the initial euphoria gave way to a venomous self-hate, restlessness, terror that made living in my skin unbearable. Hearing desperation at a meeting, Richard approached, "Sounds like it's time for you to work the steps; why don't you give me a call?" I had no idea what he meant but had been hearing about the "steps" and something about Richard felt real; I trusted him. He was known as "Richard the Poet" and "Crazy Richard," was sober about 10 years, and when drinking had endured electric shock treatments 21 times at Camarillo State Hospital. He authored a beautiful poem, "The Yellow Rose."
Over the phone, Richard gave me directions in order to admit I was powerless over alcohol, that my life was unmanageable by me, that no human power could restore me to sanity (Step 1), and that God could and would if sought (Step 2).
He asked me to take Step 3 with someone and call him back.
Late at night after whipped-cream-topped hot chocolates and a long conversation, Peter and I got down on our knees in a north-valley diner parking lot under a street lamp and prayed holding hands,
"God I offer myself to thee, to build with me and do with me as thou wilt. Relieve me of the bondage of self that I may better do thy will. Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of thy power, thy love, and thy way of life. May I do thy will always." (Third Step Prayer, Big Book page 63)
Electrifying! I called Richard back and he gave me directions on how to clean house or take inventory of my resentments.
He told me "let it flow," "don't censor anything," "what you don't put down you get to keep." He said that before beginning at each sitting, to write this prayer, "Write through me God, your healing and liberating truth please. They will be done. Sober and clean and abstinent today and all my days no matter what happens or how I feel."
The next day, I sat on the edge of a swivel-seat at the House of Pies, smoking Camels, praying, and pouring out resentments and fears onto pages and pages of a spiral notebook.
I returned for many days until no more words came.
Next came Step 5 when the inventory was read to Richard beside a cemetery's cattailed pond over a few weeks, about 2 hours at a time. I was horrified to read, truly believing I was to be invalidated, shamed, rebuked, rejected. The silence was broken: the words on the page were shared. He listened, I listened. We talked. I experienced being understood and understanding, a new freedom. I went home and took the 6th and 7th steps. That culminated in the following prayer, said on my knees.
"My Creator, I am now willing you should have all of me, the good to work with and the bad. I pray that you now remove from me every single defect of character that stands in the way of my usefulness to you and my fellows. Grant me strength as I go out from here to do your bidding. Thy will be done. Amen. (Seventh Step Prayer, Big Book page 76)
During the inventory, it became clear that it was important for me to let go of financial dependence on my parents. I had asked them for money 3 months earlier and they had sent me the first of what was to be four checks of $500 each, one per month. The day after my seventh step, I put the check in an envelope and with fear and trembling dropped it into a blue mail box, again paradoxically, in the north valley. Where was money going to come from? That evening, I was thumbing through an old paperback, and out flew a hundred dollar bill. A great sense of the presence of a loving, providing God came over me. That was the first of many, many spiritual experiences that bypassed my "head" and went straight to my heart, that say to me in a way I can understand, "I am." Over time, my confidence in that Power, has allowed me to start making amends for the harm caused through my self-centeredness, my drinking, my thinking. The Psalmist's "confession to the Lord," allowed me to confess to and amend my mistakes with my fellow man in Steps 8 and 9.
Steps 10 and 11 mean silence, morning coffee, a journal, a time to look at the day ahead; it's a time to listen to and get honest about fears of what the day may or may not bring, to release any fears to God, to pause, to listen for Truth; It's quiet and sacred time alone but not alone - to recognize, clarify, and release the lies of the dis-ease, to move back into the truths of the Realm of Spirit, to establish an intent to live in, dwell within, stay as close as possible to God and God's will throughout one day, a set of 24 hours, come what may (yes, every day I get off track with that!!). It's a time to pray for friends, family, those struggling, enemies, nations, the beloved. It's a time to remain in Scripture till it penetrates, infuses, permeates, percolates. It's a time to find peep holes into the logic, the movement of the Healer, the Creator, Teacher, Choreographer - to listen for inspiration and any indicated next steps.
Steps 10 and 11 are all about being instructed, taught, listening to, surrendering to, going with the Spirit, listening for God's will, prioritizing prayer, staying awake to the next right step (the righteous are those who do "the right thing.")
Step 12 is about serving others who want a way out of insanity, a way into the new light, serving as a liberator since someone and something opened the cell door for me! It's about practicing the foundational principle of humility (and its many off-shoots e.g. honesty, hope, faith, integrity, willingness, surrender, brotherly love, justice, perseverance, open-mindedness, service) in all my affairs.
The beauty of steps 10, 11, and 12 is that I have been and continue to be transformed from the reality of a brittle, obstinate "mule" into a tree with roots that can sway with the wind, be loved, appreciated, stretch, learn, provide oxygen and shade, be pruned, share fruit, love, hold up in a hurricane, not question the nature and direction of its branches and twigs, hopefully die in its time without complaint, and even in death provide material for new life. All of that, imperfectly...