Every Monday I think to myself, "the Gospels were written for drunks."
Let me explain: Every Monday night I celebrate a Eucharist at the alcohol and drug rehabilitation center where I work. So my Mondays are generally spent pondering Gospel stories through the lens of addiction and recovery. And since I'm an alcoholic, when I preach I'm always preaching to myself as well as my congregation.
Looked at through this lens, even the most familiar Gospel stories surprise me and every once in a while even a Gospel story that had confused me or which I'd resisted springs to life in a new way. For example, I've always dreaded preaching on Jesus' words to a potential disciple who asks to say farewell to his family before he leaves home. Jesus refuses to let him go. How insensitive! How callous!
But in the context of addiction and recovery these words make perfect sense. When you've hit bottom, there's no time for waffling, no times for weepy apologetic farewells with family (you've probably done that already anyway, multiple times!). Recovery needs to become the first priority, no questions, that's it.
The perspective of recovery has also illuminated for me the wonderful story in Mark of the paralyzed man on his mattress being lowered through the roof to Jesus. Much as I love the story, I wondered for years why Jesus didn't just do the obvious--heal the man's legs, rather than pronouncing, "Your sins are forgiven you."
But now I understand that Jesus is reaching deeper here, probing into the man's heart and seeing . . . what? Bitterness, fear, resentment, despair? Jesus saw a spiritual malady that needed to be treated before the man could be fully healed.
For the spiritual malady beneath my drinking to be healed, I first had to face the truth that I was powerless over alcohol. I then had to go step by step, surrendering to God and keeping on with the hard, healing actions of fourth step inventory, fifth step reading to another person, and amends, and then keep on practicing these in all my affairs.
Sometimes on Monday nights I let the rehab's guests do the preaching. I read a Gospel passage and then invite them into an Ignatian-type meditation where they imagine themselves into the scene and then choose a person or element to identify with. After a few minutes, I ask them to relate what they've experienced in the meditation to their experience of addiction.
One night I read the story of Jesus calming the waters. When I asked for comments on the meditation, a young man said, "I was the waves." Then he went on: "In the years I've been using, all I've done is make chaos happen around me. For my parents, my girlfriend, I've been the storm that keeps on knocking their lives off balance. All I've done is wreck things."
I don't always hear right away how a story may have touched someone. A few days after we'd meditated on the healing of the hemorrhaging woman, a guest who was a chronic relapser on drugs was sitting in my office. She was talking about something else when all of a sudden she stopped and said, "You know last night, that story? When we were meditating, I was the woman, and I actually believed that I can get better. I've never felt that before."
Many of the guests have never heard these stories before. So one of the gifts I receive is to hear completely fresh reactions to them. A young drug addict and alcoholic who came back to speak to the guests after achieving a year of sobriety said to me, "You know that story about the sheep that ran away and the shepherd went to find him? And then he carried him back home?" When I said yes, I remembered it, he went on, "I love that story! I tell it to people all the time."
I smiled at him but I couldn't speak. My heart stopped for a minute for gratitude and awe. Awe at the continuing, undimmed force of these holy stories, gratitude that the miracle had happened for this young man and for me.
Yes, I thought, it's true. The Gospels were written for me, for us, for addicts and drunks. Alleluia!
The Plymouth House