Gratitude as Mindfulness: The 12 Step Ethic- A Thanksgiving Meditation

“We are like passengers of a great liner the moment after rescue from shipwreck when camaraderie, joyousness and democracy pervade the vessel from steerage to Captain’s table.  Unlike the feelings of the ship’s passengers, however our joy in escape from disaster does not subside as we go our individual ways….””     –AA Big Book, p 17.

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.”   –Melody Beattie.

“We bless Thee for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all for Thine inestimable love in the redemption of the world through our Lord Jesus Christ: by the means of grace and for the hope of glory. And we beseech Thee, Heavenly Father, to give us that due sense of all Thy mercies, that our hearts may be unfeignedly thankful, that we might show forth thy praise, not only with our lips but in our lives, by walking before Thee in holiness and righteousness all the days of our lives.”   Book of Common Prayer, A General Thanksgiving.

Some of my most joyful memories of my boyhood are of those hot June days in Little Rock, Arkansas that were yearly marked as “last day of school” on the calendar.  To this day, I remember running out of the school building like a prisoner being let out of the penitentiary, joyous at the thought of a whole summer of fishing, tree-climbing, swimming, squirrel-shooting, horseback riding and watermelon!  It is difficult to describe the sense of release and euphoria that came with the final bell.  And although the initial energy of the thrill might have died down over the summer, I remember going through each day of each summer keenly aware that it was a gift that would not last forever.

For most alcoholics and addicts serious about their recovery—especially those who struggled and failed time and time again before being able to gain sobriety—each day sober is like a summer day for an Arkansas schoolboy:  filled with freedom, curiosity and an overall sense of gratitude for the gift of the day.  After all, once we were, as the Big Book says, passengers on an ocean liner that was going down, sure that we were going to die.  And then, miraculously—through no merit of our own—we were saved.  And out of that experience came the camaraderie and joyousness of the saved that is described above.

And this gratitude, this sense of the gift of new life, is one of the hallmarks of the 12 Step fellowships.  You can scarcely go through even a single meeting of any recovery program without someone commenting on how grateful he or she is for a new way of life, or for a roof over his head, or for the gift of her children, or any number of other tangible blessings. Were I to call my sponsor today and ask for guidance for some problem I have, or to try to get my head right over something that has me upset, he might well ask me simply this: “So, Kelly, do you have what you need for today?”  To which the answer, of course, is always, “yes, I suppose I do.”  Likewise, when some young man that I sponsor calls me with some problem, frequently I will suggest that he go write a “gratitude list,” as one way to change his perspective and begin to see with a new set of glasses.  The AA way of life is one of nearly ceaseless gratitude.

Of course, followers of Jesus, too, can choose to live in such a way.  We have, after all, been given the greatest gift imaginable: the grace of Christ by which we can tap into the spiritual wellspring of a loving and infinite God, which then frees us to get out of our selves and to reach out to others and share God’s peace.  When we choose to don the habit of gratitude, then our whole lives can be seen as a prayer of thanks.  And if we are not living in gratitude, I suggest, then it is because we are not sufficiently aware of where we were, where we are, and where God is taking us.

I am reminded of the many stories of joyous gratitude in the pages of the New Testament:  lame men leaping, lepers cleansed, blind eyes seeing, demoniacs clothed and in their right minds.  Story after story of how Jesus released those imprisoned by sin, disease, poverty or greed, all then walking free in the joy of new life.  They had no doubt, any of them, that they were in deep trouble, and that now they were free.

“I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see,” wrote Jonathan Newton in the famous hymn “Amazing Grace,” a testament to his new life in Christ after decades as a slave trader in England.

All of these stories are reminding us of that which we know in our depths, but too often forget: that we are saved, we are redeemed, we are infinitely loved by the Lover of the Universe.

And so, like our friends the addicts, and like a Southern schoolboy turned loose in the countryside for the summer, let us be mindful enough of our having been rescued from our sinking ships that our lives will be filled with joyous gratitude.

I am grateful for many things, not least of which is the chance to write to you from time to time about the wondrous parallels between recovery from addiction and new life in Jesus Christ.  All blessing and joy and gratitude to you this Thanksgiving.

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About Kelly Clark

I am a convinced, if not very virtuous, Christian, recovering from alcohol abuse and many other addictions, and have been working a program of recovery consistently for over nineteen years-- since I blew my life up with chaos and crimes and hurt many people I loved. I am active in 12 Step Fellowships, sponsoring several men and attending several meetings each week. I expect to finish a Masters of Divinity in the Fall of 2011, and soon will begin a discernment process in my church about possible ordained ministry. In my day job, I am a trial attorney, representing adult victims of childhood sexual abuse.
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