[Jorge Bergoglio] Made a pilgrimage to the Bavarian city of Augsburg where, in the Jesuit church of Sankt Peter am Perlach, he contemplated s Baroque-era painting from the early 1700’s known as Maria Knotenloserin, “Mary, Untier of Knots,” which was the object of a local devotion. The painting’s story goes back to a feuding married couple who had been on the verge of a bitter separation. The husband, Wolfgang Langenmantel, had sought help from a local Jesuit priest, Father Jakob Rem, who prayed to the Virgin Mary “to untie all the knots” in the Langenmantel home. Peace was restored and the marriage was saved; and to give thanks for the miracle their grandson commissioned the painting and donated it to the church.
At First glance, it is nothing out of the ordinary; the painting shows the Virgin, surrounded by angels and protected by the light of the Holy Spirit, standing on a serpent with the child Jesus in her arms. But the middle of the painting is striking: an angel to Mary’s left is passing her a silk thread full of knots that she unties, handing on the un-knotted thread to an angel on her right.
Father Rem’s prayer to the Virgin had been inspired by an ancient formula of Saint Irenaeus: The knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary.
Obedience was precisely Bergoglio’s knot. It is the key vow for Jesuits, and one he strongly believed in; it was what made mission and unity possible. Yet what he had been given was not a mission, but a means of getting him out (sic. Of Argentina) because he was an obstacle. What obedience did he owe?
Obedience comes from the Latin obaudire, to “hear” or “listen to.” The vow is meant above all to free the heart from the ego in order to listen to God, and submit freely to His will: the Virgin is the perfect model of such obedience.
What was God’s will, now, for Bergoglio, in the middle of his life?
Bergoglio took a handful of Maria Knotenloserin prayer cards back with him. In the 1990’s, after a local copy of the painting – known in Spanish as Maria Desatanudos – was hung in a church in Buenos Aires, it took off in an extraordinary way, leading Bergoglio later to say he never felt so much in the hands of God.
Another challenging week is in the books. Working with others IS a full time job. Summer is coming to a close, and we have begun the transition for some of my folks. We will be bringing some people back to Montreal in the next couple of weeks, and next week others will be departing overseas for their next life project.
Working with others, is a full time job. And accountability is high on the radar. There are things that happen in life that we are powerless to change, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be the change we need to have in the moment.
When I first got sober, I needed many things. And as it happened, my friends in the meetings took very good care of me in many ways, and made it possible for me to succeed where failure was a real probability.
Today, I am in a place where I can pay it forward, all those things that were given to me, and to make sure my friends, and their children, are cared for. A food bank is a necessary place here in Montreal. And many families rely on them to feed their families and their children.
Many people do not have stable work that will provide all that they need, and it is difficult for many to make ends meet. Our food banks do wonderful work for our city and the people who populate it.
And I would not be the first to step up and say to my friends, that you won’t need to rely on that food bank, not on my watch. If there is something that I can do for my friends, I will gladly do it, because that is what we do here. Where there is a will, there is a way.
Needless to say, it is never a dull day in my neighborhood.
The Friday night meeting took place and we talked about prayer and meditation. The reading goes on to talk about the “connectedness” we feel, once we have made that connection to whatever higher power we see in our lives.
For a long time, I was always waiting for the other shoe to drop in my life.
This specific thought was mentioned by one of our women tonight, and I wanted to say something, but decided against it, opting just to listen to my friends instead.
Owning my dual diseases, I can’t change my alcoholism, the only thing I can change is how I live my life. And that goes just as well, with AIDS. That is entirely another beast in itself. I will never be cured and I will always rely on medication to keep me alive.
But for a good number of years, I lived with the fear that that definite shoe would eventually drop and I would be dealt a heavy price. Having one foot on solid ground and the other on that proverbial banana peel. Waiting for the big slip to happen.
But I have been on a very long upswing. I don’t know what to attribute that to? It could be one of many things that I do, like take my pills religiously, have faith that I believe in my heart of hearts, is the main key to my longevity. I have my patrons and my beliefs. And I have the utmost belief that my prayers do indeed go somewhere and that they are heard and are useful.
I have my rituals, and my daily practice. And I place a heavy amount of reliance on those rituals and beliefs. I do put many of my eggs in one basket. Because I happen to believe that God and my saints and my family and friends on the other side are moving heaven and earth for me.
A pill is only as useful as the energy you put behind it.
You can just “take a pill” and hope that it works. OR you can take that same pill, and EXPECT it to work. To WILL IT to work. The more positive energy you can put behind any treatment regimen, the better that regimen will work for you too.
It has taken me a life time of study to get the practice down and to have utter faith that it works. And the way I know it works, is simply, I am still alive twenty one years later.
We are all living life on life’s terms today. And for now, it seems to be going alright.
Everyone is well and accounted for. Good things are happening.
More to come, stay tuned …
“In sport, like life, in order to be good at something, one must practice …”
The Pan Am Games in Toronto started off with a BANG !! And from the start, Canadian Athletes showed the world just how good they are at what they do, with multiple GOLD medal wins.
Torontonians, are not very enthusiastic about the games, we are hearing. If it were The Olympic Games, you wonder, if they could get their heads out of their asses and stop worrying about traffic, and get on the bandwagon and support our men and women who are competing, the Pan Am’s are a dress rehearsal for something much bigger, but it seems the people, really don’t care one way or another.
They also say that these games, are being judged on Olympic Levels, hence, if Toronto pulls of a great games, they might be in the future running to bid for an Olympic Games.
Wouldn’t that be something.
Saturday evening I went to visit one of my guys for a few hours. And we continued the conversation that began the night prior on the way home.
From the foundation of a tenth step inventory, we come around to Step 11, the spiritual practice.
At 11 years sober, I was going to meetings, and doing everything right, but after hearing it said to me, I really needed to step up my spiritual practice, if I really wanted the pay out that sobriety promises, if we stick to the game plan.
Not knowing where to start, Bob suggested Steps Three, Seven and Eleven prayers, daily, nightly. Saying them for as long as it took for them to start making a difference in my life.
So that’s what I did, for months and months.
The principles explained in the book, are universal. We talked last night, about a man who got on the path to be better, and he eventually did get better, following a prescribed plan of action. His daughter spoke to my friend telling him what her father did, and in the listening, he recognized that the man had followed the steps, to betterment.
But he never came in contact with The Book.
People may never come in contact with The Book. But some do find “The/A” path to wellness, and those pathways usually involve some kind of adherence to certain principles and practices.
“In sport, like life, in order to be good at something, one must practice …”
My friend accepts that going to meetings is necessary to stay sober. Meetings are repetitive, we read the same readings, read the same books, say the same prayers, over and over and over again.
Rote, Cold, Mechanical and Repetitive…
He admits to not having a spiritual practice and the reason he doesn’t is because it is cold, mechanical and repetitive. I added that, why do we go to meetings, and do the same things over and over ?
To learn how to get and stay sober.
So I am suggesting to him that he find (Read: Build) a practice of prayer and meditation. In fact, I tasked him with Prayer and Meditation, every day for the next month.
Just DO IT. Don’t ask me why, I just want you to do it.
I don’t want you to plan it or map it out, I want you to pray and meditate, organically.
Just let it flow.
So we opened the book, and we read the prayers, and we even highlighted them.
We read Step 11 in its entirety from The Book.
I explained it this way …
Usually, we are in our heads and that means a little insanity when it comes to dealing with situations and problems. Something happens and instead of first, thinking and pondering what we are going to say, we just blurt out the first words that come to us.
And usually, that ends up in an apology one way or another, because we shot our mouths off.
It’s not What you say, but How you say it …
If we want to be fully oriented in the spirit, be fully aware of the universe and the Power Greater than ourselves, we need to make that connection. Then we need to practice communicating on that channel. Then we need to be able to sit quietly and patiently, and wait for an answer.
That usually does not come directly from God.
No, it’s gonna come from someone close to us. In a voice we know.
Because that’s how God works, dontcha know !
If, in the morning, we are orienting our minds and spirits with God, then we enter our day, from the right direction and with the “right” side of our brains, instead of the impulsive, “wrong” side of our brains.
Does that make sense to you ?
If, during our day, we are a bit disconnected, we can STOP, and reorient ourselves, with a moment of thought, prayer, meditation.
Stop what you are doing, and if need be, go to the bathroom, and shut the door.
Sit on the throne of thought, and meditate …
If you don’t pray and meditate, then why not ?
I got the answer written above.
Which is why I suggested a months worth of practice.
You may not see a change right away, but if you give it time, and you practice, and you stop, wait and listen, I can assure you, God is going to show up. Be He in the guise of a word, or a feeling or the presence of another human being.
We get up, start our day, sometimes we are off and running as soon as we open our eyes, yet our feet haven’t even hit the floor.
I’ve heard it said, that Prayer and Meditation begins the moment we open our eyes.
You might not get that, or do that, but I do that. Because I was told that it works, and months and years later, I can report that it does work.
Dealing with Life on Life’s Terms, on a daily basis, can get rough, depending on what life throws us at any given moment. And I rather like having a framework to consult, when shit happens and I am not quite sure what the hell to do.
You know, they say, if you are on FIRE, to Stop, Drop and roll …
In life, before you start, Stop, Drop and Pray …
Get on your knees and pray. That is an act of humility.
How many of us humble ourselves before God ?
Life, for me, seems to run smoother, when I do what I am told to do, and if I can’t, I practice how to do it, until I start to enjoy it, and later, I find that it really does work.
The outcome of practicing the art of Anything is particular to every person.
No two outcomes will be the same.
I can promise you that the end result will eventually blow your mind.
We sat a full house. A good night was had by all.
More to come, stay tuned …
The weather has turned on us, and it rained cats, dogs and little fish today.
At first, I thought I’d get around the rain, being at the right location at the right time, but I decided against such an assumption, because when I got to my transfer point, it was pouring rain.
Even though it rained, our folks, and then some, showed up. We are one episode from the end of Joe and Charlie, today we heard the Step 11 talk.
I’ve said in the past that, the Big Book is written in a really specific way.
- Each Chapter deals with a certain topic that
- Leads into the next chapter
- You can, if you wanted to, read a page,
- Or you can drill down further and read a paragraph
- and even closer, read a sentence
- And down to particular words on the page.
Joe and Charlie, take us through the Twelve Steps, and at times, they stop to talk about a particular chapter/page/paragraph/word. During those talks, they often parse particular passages down to word for word explanation.
I found this method of reading very helpful, because I’d never heard this approach before, and it furthered my understanding of those certain passages. We work the Steps in the order that they are presented. And the further you get in your steps, if you read the book closely, you will find earlier steps mentioned later on in the book.
Steps four through nine, repeat themselves when reading Steps ten and eleven.
We do the steps the first time through, to the best of our ability. As we progress, and we hit a second set of inventory requests, Steps ten and eleven, (in the book) we return to earlier steps to drill down closer to those things we need to look at, first, in the morning, and then again before we go to bed at night.
I’ve spoken about the three different people you find in meetings:
- Those with No lives
- Those with Half lives
- And Those with Full lives
When we come into sobriety, where ever we are in our lives, I mean in the subject of lives, wives, husbands, careers, school and work, each human being brings with them whatever they are engaged in at that time.
In time, we are told that if we put anything before our sobriety, we will usually end up loosing it. But some already have lives they are living, and at some point, decide or have it decided for them, that they need help, and they come to us.
Then the challenge is to be able to learn the discipline of sobriety, and to work that into your sober journey.
- Some can do that,
- some may be able to do that,
- then there are those who cannot.
I guess I was lucky, because when I got sober this last time around, I had no life. And I was taught certain guiding principles.
If you DO THIS now, it will PAY OFF down the road.
- Your home group is sacrosanct
- Never miss your home group, without a really good reason
- If you can, hit as many meetings as you are able
- Find the balance between your life activities and you sober journey
- Find a sponsor and work your steps
I am not a “throw a Big Book” at you your first days in. I would rather you find a chair, get used to the chair, relax into the flow and become part of. You will, eventually, find your groove, and your voice.
For a while, I would go to meetings, but I wasn’t prepared to step up. Until I was taught what I really needed to do, to be able to step up. I was sober a long time, coasting, shall we say, until a man from New York, turned on the fire for me.
Early on I had begun a certain discipline of meetings, home groups and service. I had the right men show up and sponsor me as I needed them. I did exactly what I was told, without question, because, like I said, I had no life really.
I had to build it. And in time, life happened. I HAD the discipline already set up, so as life began, I worked my life around my sober journey. And I’ve done that for almost fourteen years.
I’ve been through my steps several times. And it has only been in the last three years that I have learned how to drill down my steps and parse the words that appear on the page to a finer degree and that has changed everything for me.
Prayer and Meditation are the two topics in Step Eleven.
- How do we do that,
- When do we do that,
- And how does it work?
My daily life, is really tossed into the wind. (read: I make plans and God laughs at me).
I enjoy the fact that I have this ready built in system of discipline that I get to augment as the years move forwards. It is something I learned to do in the beginning, and today, I work on perfecting that methodology and practice.
I don’t have the ability to travel to far flung places, spending days, weeks or months, praying and meditating like some “old timers” get to to. (Read: I’ve read this about some sober folks who are long time sober).
I’ve heard it said that prayer and meditation is something we should do BEFORE our feet hit the floor. What ever your morning or evening ritual is, in time, we should try to work in a period of prayer and meditation into our daily lives.
Joe and Charlie talk about the morning rituals of the normal human being. From getting up and First, hitting the bathroom, Second, the coffee pot, Thirdly, Back to the bathroom, Fourth, getting dressed (making sure everything matches), then going into our days.
We spend an awful lot of time preparing the physical and material parts of our lives. How much better we could be if we add into that ritual, some prayer and meditation, however long you can stand to begin with, (and we will see over time, how you augment that effort).
I was eleven years sober, doing my thing, when Bob asked me if I could recite prayers from the book word for word. I could not. That began months pf practicing prayer every day, and every night, until I began to show. That took about eight months.
The recitation of Three, Seven and Eleven throughout the day.
I can’t tell you how it works or why it worked the way it did, but after eight months, God presented me with opportunities, that had not occurred in the past. I was ready to Step Up. For some, they came to me, because they saw something they wanted, and in other cases, I stepped up myself and things went as they have.
- Prayer is the act of reciting or saying prayers
- Meditation is the act of waiting for a response to those prayers
For some, we spend a awful lot of time asking for things, just for us, in the beginning, but we learn, in time, that God does not care about what we want. In the end God cares about giving us, just what we need, on a need to have basis.
I learned that this time around. Because I went at God, those first months, with my list of
- I need this,
- and gimme that,
- and if it’s possible,
- this would be good too.
Over the weeks and months God responded with
- Ask me later,
- Maybe Tomorrow,
- and in the end Definitely NOT !!!
If we pray, we sort of have to wait for an answer. I’ve learned over the years that God does speak to us, sometimes daily.
The Man/Woman – God relationship is a vertical relationship. ( UP – DOWN ).
The God – Woman/Man relationship is Horizontal ( LEFT to RIGHT )
If God is going to speak to us, that answer is going to come from someone close. On our level. From someone we know. Which is partly why I go to meetings. To listen for God to talk to me.
And if I am so inclined to pay attention to my fellows, there will come a time, when God speaks directly to me (read: Us). That Does Happen, and frequently too…
God doesn’t usually drop out of the clouds to talk, he usually uses an intermediary.
Be careful what you ask from God, because if He thinks you are ready, it is going to come or it is going to happen, and usually much greater than we had expected.
When finally, in sobriety, you are ready to Step Up, working with another human being is the greatest act of humility and character building you will ever experience.
Having walked through Joe and Charlie, as my guys work their steps, respectively, I have a little bit more insight into how to work, how to read, and then how to work our steps by parsing the pages, and not skipping through paragraphs, and missing the words, in between the words.
- I remember, daily, that life is not all about me.
- I am not the center of the universe.
- That I don’t have all the answers
- I get exactly what I need, on a need to have basis, (ALWAYS)
- and that turning it over and helping someone else or caring for another human being,
- is my greatest act on a daily basis.
Do you know how many years it took me to learn all these lessons, understand what they meant, and how they work in my life? More than DECADE in sobriety.
If you do this NOW, it will PAY OFF down the road.
More to come, stay tuned…
It is getting warmer. This week we will see positive temps all week long. We are hopeful, that we’ve seen the last of snowfall, and sub zero temps, for the season.
After last night’s adventure in building furniture, I am mentally exhausted. But we must get on with the things we need to do, because that is what we do. Last night, before I went to bed, I set the clocks forward, so in a matter of minutes, I lost an hour, and went to bed at 3 a.m.
I had obligations to my guys today, and I could not just, “take a day off.” I got to the church on time, having taken my sweet time to transit the tunnel. We sat a large group tonight. We were reading Step Eleven, and it is quite a long read, that went all the way around the room.
The St. Francis Prayer is part of this read. I had the blessed opportunity, back in October, to visit Bill’s home, and also to visit his grave, along side Lois, his wife. While we were there we shared with a group of women doing the same visit. And we closed our visit, with the St. Francis prayer, holding hands, standing on the spot where Bill W. is buried.
This prayer has a very special meaning in my heart because of where it has appeared in my sober life, and who I was with and where I was at the time. I have that prayer card, I got from one of those visiting women, in my Big Book. It is one of my most treasured possessions.
With the read completed, the same thought ran through the room, that:
Prayer, is the action of asking from God, and Meditation, is waiting for the answer.
In our busy lives, how many of us, take the time to sit still and listen? I’ve said before that I don’t hear God’s voice directly, He hasn’t stepped out of heaven and addressed me personally. But there was a time, when I walked with God, together, on this earth. I truly believe that during that period of time, God manifested Himself in a human being, for my benefit, and also for the benefit of all the men who lived and worked under that umbrella.
If God is going to speak to us, that communication is going to come from someone very close to us. It will come from a voice we recognize, and when we least expect it. We might say a prayer, and then hit a meeting, and as usually happens, an answer will come, if we are listening for it.
Hindsight is very useful, as we read this step tonight. I can see ways I employed the practice of prayer and meditation. When I got sick, I must have prayed, because God then appeared, in the guise of a man who would save my life. Was I lucky, or was I just in the right place at the right time?
The practice of coming to work, and leaving my life outside the building, and only having to think about what I had to do on any given night, was difficult at first, but I grew into it. The whole, “turning ones mind off of him/her self, to something higher” is the whole idea behind meditation.
I got to practice turning off my head. And it worked.
Today, my brain, is not a place I like to go alone. Sometimes it takes a lot of work, to shut it off. When I want to get still and quiet, that is when my brain goes on overdrive, because I have either started my day in quiet, or I end the day with quiet, and my brain says,
“Oh, undivided attention … Let’s Get It On !!!”
Prayer and meditation comes when I need it most. I have prayers scattered about my apartment that remind me that I can pray at any time during the day or night. I get on my knees during my day. I have to consciously practice gratitude, because I don’t necessarily think about it. I take it as given, which I think is the wrong attitude to have.
I talked about luck with a friend of mine.
Does God direct luck or does luck exist independently of God?
I have been in the right place at the right time, but I have also been at the wrong place at the wrong time as well. Am I lucky to be alive and sober? Was that luck, or divine intervention? Can I attribute survival and sobriety to living well, taking my pills, doing the right thing?
When my eyes are on the Prize (read: God), I am the luckiest man in my life. I don’t necessarily call this luck, I call it having a connection with the God of my understanding. It is historical fact that, when I turn my eyes away from the prize (read: God) I fall into disaster, and really bad luck. Every Time.
Living well past my due date, has been practicing mindful survival. Every day I stand in front of my medicine cabinet, as I pop my pills, I am medicating my body, nourishing my soul, and at the same time, I am asking for another day. This is an entirely silent process. And sometimes I am not even aware of the three fold action. I kind of forget gratitude, and take being alive for granted.
In that I mean, Thank you rolls off my lips at the end of every day, and not when I am in the medicine cabinet. Since learning how to pray actively, and meditate daily, part of my brain is always connected to that higher power. And sometimes, it even acts in my best interest, when I need to stop and breathe.
That happened last night, as I was assembling our coffee table.
In the moment that I wanted to hurl the screw driver across the room, I had momentary blinks of the thought that I need to take a moment, and center. and breathe, before I shot off my mouth.
it was an automatic action that came from within, my brain on auto pilot.
I don’t know what God’s will is for me or my friends. I just do what I do every day, without fail, I follow the same ritual daily. I hit the same meetings, I call my sponsor every day, I speak to my guys, every day, and I do the right thing, as often as I can.
This is conscious active work – every day – without fail.
Sometimes I think about God, and last night, I said to my friend that I seem to have God’s favor, because my life is full, I have everything that I need, and I am satisfied with having enough, I don’t always think that I am worthy of God’s favor, what ever that favor is ?
I just do my days. like I have been doing my days, for the last twenty odd years now.
And it seems to work. Why is that ?
Many of us have to take medication for one reason or another. And I firmly believe that a drug is only as good, as the positive thought you put behind that pill you take. It is akin to prayer. I will take my pills and I will (WILL) those pills to do their job, every day, with all the positive energy I can throw at them from within.
Let me tell you that that took decades to learn about.
Let me tell you that there is IMMENSE POWER in Negative thinking. Negative thinking will kill you. It almost killed me. But I was taught how to turn negative thinking and negative thoughts, into Positive Power to change my life. So add all that shitty negative thought, and turn that into powerful positive thought, you have a double whammy, Total Positive thought Bomb.
It changed my life, and it can change your life as well.
Living life is a full time job, and needs all the help it can get, because of my certain disabilities and medical issues, and add to that recovery. If I sink into the morass of self pity, doubt or any of the plethora of negative self talk I can do, I am a dead man.
I still do not know, and I have asked God this question over the years, “Why did I live, and all of my friends died?” Why did you choose me, and not them? Why did they not get a fighting chance like I did? Was I in the right place at the right time, with someone to take care of me and give me a chance as I had?
At that time, everyone was begging for one more day. My friends didn’t get them, like I did. Why? Was God there? Why am I still here and they are not? These unanswerable questions haunt me, and I think about them often. But there are no answers. All I know is that I survived.
You can’t do without prayer and meditation, just like you can’t do without air, water or food.
I’ve learned how to pray, and I know how to listen. And I take the time to sit and listen.
That is grace.
I am so grateful that I am satisfied with having enough. And not having all the answers. If I had them, I would be God, and I am surely Not God.
More to come, stay tuned …