ANCIENT SPIRITUAL RESOURCES TO HELP GUIDE RECOVERY
“If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” – C.S. Lewis
The process of recovery from addiction is fraught with many arduous challenges and tasks, not least of which is recovering what I call our ‘deep heart.’ Every layer of pain that we allow ourselves, our trusted friends and helpers, and God to peel back and lovingly expose, gets us closer to finding our true selves. Within these deeper recesses and caverns of who we really are, we discover new life, a new way of thinking and believing, new ways of relating to those we love, and new pathways that lead onward and upward.
The journey of recovery is as much an upward adventure of hope as it is a journey within to understand ourselves, as we align our desires with a Love greater than all we can ask or imagine. The 12-steps remind us of this, as we look to the God of love to restore us to sanity, admit to God the exact nature of our wrongdoings, ask for his grace and help to change us from the inside out, and turn our lives over to his tender care and will for us.
Having walked the path of sobriety for many years, I have learned to trust the wisdom of others who have traversed this way long before I. The path is well-worn and deep, with the footsteps of both contemporary and ancient guides who not only know the way but understand the many hazards and blockages to freeing our hearts. This wisdom is available to us if we look hard enough and are humble enough to acknowledge our need for help.
What I’d like to pass along to you this month are a few ancient perspectives and daily spiritual practices that have been helpful to me as a Christian recovering my own deep heart. I have come to recognize these components as integral to my continued growth and healing.
- Listening Prayer. Listening prayer is the regular spiritual practice of discerning the ‘voice’ of God through inner stillness, solitude, and silence—even amid a hectic, busy world. Rather than focusing on personal requests and needs, listening prayer is the art of hearing and receiving from the Holy Trinity. We cannot learn to love ourselves and others until we first receive the truth that we are profoundly loved. Consider this quote from Henri Nouwen:
“Many voices ask for our attention. There is a voice that says, “Prove that you are a good person.” Another voice says, “You’d better be ashamed of yourself.” There also is a voice that says, “Nobody really cares about you,” and one that says, “Be sure to become successful, popular, and powerful.” But underneath all these often very noisy voices is a still, small voice that says, “You are my Beloved, my favor rests on you.” That’s the voice we need most of all to hear. To hear that voice, however, requires special effort; it requires solitude, silence, and a strong determination to listen. That’s what prayer is. It is listening to the voice that calls us ‘my Beloved.’”
- Contemplative Reading. As an addict, I was used to numbing myself through misbehavior, as though that could fill the dark, gaping hole left in me from early trauma, abuse, and neglect. When I began to uncover my heart, I felt the palpable hunger pangs for the deeper, more meaningful aspects of life to which I was awakening. Reading became an essential way for me to discover what I was looking for, to awaken to true desire and authenticity, and to reflect upon the wisdom gleaned from the suffering and triumphs of others. Writings from the lives of the saints, the early fathers and mothers of the Church, and Christians throughout the ages, are a treasure trove revealing much about overcoming depression, anxiety, loneliness, pain, addiction, loss, and suffering. Contemporary and ancient writers such as St. Teresa of Avila, Julian of Norwich, St. Seraphim of Sarov, Henri Nouwen, David Benner, C.S. Lewis, and Brennan Manning are among my favorites.
- Spiritual Formation. The most difficult shift in my recovery process was to learn the humility of reaching out to let other people care for me. Spiritual direction was a powerful adjunct to my therapy, and the support I needed for genuine transformation, not merely information. Spiritual direction or formation is letting wiser folks walk alongside you on your journey with God to help you receive the truth about God, yourself, and the love you need to grow. Contrary to the ways we learned to castigate, shame, and mistreat ourselves (often based on a distorted God-concept), spiritual formation is an intentional process whereby we open to grace and mercy, joy and love, healing and forgiveness, and self-acceptance.
- Sacred Significance. Finding our inherent worthiness as human beings created in the Imago Dei opens for us a life not contingent upon circumstances, power, or other people’s fickle and fleeting esteem of us. Deriving our worth from the One who made us and loves us completely releases us from binding shame.
“Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. This is the true self. Every other identity is illusion.” ― Brennan Manning, Abba’s Child: The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging
- Lectio Divina. Benedict, the father of western Christian monasticism, emphasized lectio Divina (sacred reading) as a primary method of spiritual transformation.
“Lectio Divina is a slow, prayerfully meditative reading of the Bible, in a relaxed manner over a significant period of time (at least 30 minutes), in a place that is free from any distractions with the goal of growing more intimately close to our Lord through his Word. Praying through Lectio Divina is especially powerful in front of the Blessed Sacrament, where also we may encounter our Lord Jesus in his inestimable Love.” -Fr. Gregory Gresko
There are many more resources available, but these are the ones that I return to again and again for inspiration and strength—especially in moments that my old addict calls to me and I begin to doubt myself. I hope that you will incorporate some of these perspectives and practices into your own life as you learn you are lavishly loved.
For Further Reading
Benner, David. (2012). Spirituality and the Awakening Self: The Sacred Journey of Transformation. Ada, MI: Brazos Press.
Julian of Norwich (1342-1416). Revelations of Divine Love (Reprint, 2015). Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press.
Manning, Brennan. (1997). Abba’s Child: The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.
Nouwen, Henri J. M. (2003). The Way of the Heart: Connecting with God Through Prayer, Wisdom, and Silence. New York: Ballantine Books.
St. Seraphim of Sarov. (1759-1833). On Acquisition of the Holy Spirit. (Reprinted, 2014). CreateSpace Independent Publishing.
St. Teresa of Avila (1515-1582). Translated by Kieran Kavanaugh, OCD. (2010). The Interior Castle: Study Edition [includes Full Text of St. Teresa of Avila’s Work]. Washington, DC: ICS Publications.
Written by: Robert Rubinow, LPC