On Saturday, December 4th 2021 we gathered once again to consider the mystery of Advent: Behold the Bridegroom Come, Go Out, to Meet Him. Eileen Nielsen drew us deeper into the space with her song, “As the Deer Longs…” Behold. Wake up to our soul level of being. Together. Fr. Eric Haarer launched us with his reflection on the Liturgy of the Word Is. 30:10-21, 23-26; Mt. 9:5-10.1, 10:5A 6-8. Isaiah was supposed to encourage the exiles, now comfortable in Babylon, to return home: to go out into the the desert and be reforged as a people. Jesus urges his disciples to grow up, go out, alone, and leave their props behind. Fr. Eric drew us further into his theme of darkness and night: “One dark night, fired by love’s urgent longings…”
Gillian prompted us not only to reclaim our soul, but also to expose it to the lofty movements of love—“Turn your face towards the mountain–” going out of self to meet the Bridegroom, let it be done to me.
These lofty thoughts carried us seamlessly into a time of adoration together.
In the afternoon session Fr. Eric returned, picking up on the theme of going out of self, he related his own experience of missing his Mennonite identity while representing a minority group in the Crestone, Colorado community, himself as Catholic pastor to a group of “misfits”.
If we are to truly meet our Bridegroom we need to learn self-knowledge, to examine motives, causes, level of honesty, to empty out the blockages we harbor and let go of soul attachments. To find Mt. Carmel interiorly, our final speaker, Michelle Reineck (c. Kalamazoo, Michigan), took us on a personal journey through the 12 steps. where she says, “only God can heal me” of trying to deny my feelings.
Carmel and the 12 Steps
Recently, I have been studying John of the Cross with a small group and what I hear John saying in many different ways is make space for the Beloved to enter your heart. What does the season of Advent, Friends of Carmel, and the Twelve Steps have to do with making the space to unite with the Beloved deep within us?
All three are designed to help us let go of our blockages, our crooked roads (Isaiah), and attachments ( John of the Cross). I believe they are each guiding us in the same the journey
Here is what John of the Cross says:
“The soul that is attached to anything, however much good there be in it will not arrive at the liberty of Divine union. For whether it be a strong wire rope or a slender delicate thread that holds the bird it matters not, if it really holds it fast; for until that cord be broken the bird cannot fly.”
Early in my married life I learned about prayer and climbing Mt. Carmel interiorly. All of this while being a wife and mother of three children. But something was blocking my journey. John of the Cross would call it attachment; current trauma studies call it maladaptive coping mechanisms. Raised in a home profoundly affected by alcoholism, I had used food to cope with my feelings of fear, rage, loss and grief. I literally stuffed these feelings with food. And then came all kinds of dieting that never worked. It wasn’t about the food it was about the feelings I didn’t want to feel.
And this is where the 12 steps came into my life. I wanted more room for God but was unable to break the attachment. I was absolutely powerless to do so. A priest who led me to Sister Pat and Carmel, introduced me to the 12 Steps. He has been a member of AA for 39 years. I have watched him slowly and profoundly during these years be filled with grace that is continuing to transform him into Christ well into his 80s. He told me that the 12 steps can lead you to a very deep place, or you can settle for just getting healed of your addiction which in itself is a very good thing! For me, the twelve steps have been my shillelagh helping me to climb Mt. Carmel. My Dad had polio and he often carried a shillelagh to help him walk. I learned recently that they were meant originally as a weapon. Either metaphor works for me.
Father Richard Rohr believes that the 12 steps are America’s greatest contribution to the Classics of Spirituality.
Bill Wilson, one of Alcoholic Anonymous’s founders, was in recovery in hospital for the fourth time when he had an important visitor from the Movenment. Afterwards he had a mystical experience. I quote Bill W. directly here, he says ”My room lit up with a white light and I was caught up into an ecstasy which there are no words to describe. It seemed as if I was on a mountain and a wind, not of air, but Spirit was blowing. And then, it burst on me I was a free man.” Wilson left the hospital, and for the rest of his life, he never drank again.
A good friend describes the 12 steps in three movements: Find God, Clean House, Help Others.
Steps 1, 2, and 3 are the find God steps
We admitted we were powerless over our eating disorder, and that our lives had become unmanageable.
(Let me say here that there are an amazing number of different groups that have formed in the US, Alcoholics Anonymous, Eating Disorders Anonymous, Food Addict Anonymous, Overeators Anonymous, Work Addicts Anonymous, Sex Addicts Anonymous, Codependents Anonymous, Alanon for family members or friends of alcoholics, Adult Children of Alcoholics, Gamblers Anonymous and more groups continually opening up in our addictive society.)
Richard Rohr in his amazing book, Breathing Under Water, says: “Until and unless you bottom out , and come to the limits of your own fuel supply there is no reason for you to switch to a higher octane of fuel. Until and unless there is a person, situation, event, idea, conflict or relationship that you cannot manage, you will never find the True Manager. So, God makes sure that several things will come your way that you cannot manage on your own.”
For me, I came to the end of my fuel supply and bottomed out in an eating disorder.
Made a decision to turn our lives and our wills over to the care of God as we understood God.
I had to face through the years in recovery that I am a situational agnostic. I don’t trust that God could and would heal me of my eating disorder. Gradually however, at a turtle pace with loads of set-backs, I am beginning to trust that God has me in a healing process. Slowly and steadily, I am beginning and continuing to let go of maladaptive coping mechanism, Food instead of feeling. Recovery for me is not an event, it is a process, a healing journey of feeling my feelings and letting them move through me without fear.
Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God. I have to decide to trust God to help me heal. I don’t always feel it. My ego got attached to food at a young age. After years of the 12 steps I am just starting to see that my primary addiction was not just to food but to control, and my false program for Happiness.
Steps 4-10 are the Clean House steps
Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of our selves.
This step for me is the searchlight that reveals the blockages to more of God. Through the years, I have had to look at my fears and why I was afraid. And my shame and guilt and why I had them. And my dishonesty around food and my cover for it which I call my terminal vagueness about my behavior. This dishonesty starts with what I tell myself. I had to look at why I was dishonest.
5. Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
I hold myself accountable for past thoughts and actions. I am careful not to condemn myself but treat myself with the mercy of Christ. The voice of my inner critic is very strong and has often led me back to my addiction. Mercy is important. What helps me is seeking the Truth with a capital T. Because the truth in the end has always set me free.
6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
I even change the phrase “defects of character” for myself and call it maladaptive coping responses. I must never speak or act in a violent way to myself but be merciful as Jesus is merciful. I experienced too much violence in my early life. But I had to come to terms that I couldn’t fix my brokenness. I have learned to be patient and put in the effort to change but always remembering only God could heal me. I let go of control and continue to silence a part of myself I call Marge the Sarge, who is my jailer and executioner.
7. Humbly asked God to remove my shortcomings.
I asked God to help me accept my imperfect self and my imperfect efforts. Therese of Lisieux helps me the most with this step and her in her Surrender to Merciful Love. Her image of continuing to put her foot on the bottom of the stairway to her Father. And the love of the Father seeing her efforts, running down the stairs to grab her up in his arms and carry her the rest of the way, has affected me deeply. This is an image I return to often and Therese is my constant companion on this journey.
8. Made a list of all people we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.
I made a list of people I had treated badly no matter what they had done to me. I forge ahead asking humbly for God grace with this one. My inner victim is always screaming when I take this step, but I soothe her and keep going forward.
9. Made direct amends whenever possible except when to do so would injure them or others.
I often check this work with a sponsor or wise person in my life before I take this step. My inner critic Marge the Sarge, has me take responsibility for all evil in the universe so I need to check out this step first with someone who knows me well. I then go and admit my fault and my regret to the person I have hurt and humbly ask for forgiveness. In almost all cases the following happens. Conflict plus resolution = Intimacy. It seems to bring me closer to the person than ever before—not always.
10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
I am daily aware of what I call “hot spots” in my home that will get messy. I attend to them first. Likewise, I have inner “hotspots” that I have to check daily for any disruptions. The fellowship that I am in has a check list to look at nightly. Very much like the examen to keep me on track! The inner daily clean-up is getting honest with myself. No “terminal vagueness” with myself and I need to make amends or change my thinking or behavior often.
And then we move into the Help others section.
11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood God, praying only for a knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry that out.
This is my favorite step and the one that brought me to the twelve steps. I have always struggled with control, doing what my ego thought needed to be done resulting in so much arrogant thinking. I knew what was best for everyone. But as I grow I have to earnestly choose to do what I believe is God’s will for me to do. Recently, it is to give up many outside my home activities so that I can be present to my husband who has some limiting health issues. And God is giving me so much grace, love, and serenity as I respond to what is being asked of me.
12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps we tried to carry this message to others with eating disorders and to practice these principals in all our affairs.
My way of doing this step is to live it. What I mean by that is I never preach about the twelve steps. I don’t hide that I am a member of this program for eating disorders. And believe me, I want to hide it often (especially today). It can be embarrassing to admit that I have been a friend of Carmel for all these years and still need an accountability group for food. But I find that if I humble myself and I don’t try and hide it, often someone will come forward and ask me about it…because they have been in hiding too. And, as I have learned in the twelve steps, we are only as sick as our secrets.
If anyone wants to talk you can contact me privately at my email:
I would like to close with one of my favorite readings from Isaiah quoted in Luke 3. I believe it a personal call from the Spirit to make Space by letting go of our attachments in order for the Beloved to fill us with Himself. It is especially an invitation I believe to all Friends of Carmel.
“A voice of one calling in the desert. Prepare the way for the Lord. Make straight the paths for Him. Every valley shall be filled in. Every mountain made low. The crooked roads shall become straight. The rough ways smooth. And all humankind will see God’s salvation.”
All these poetic, prayerful, and practical ponderings prepared us to go out in hope to find and spread the light.