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Breathing Underwater Chapter 11

Updated: Apr 19, 2021

“Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood God, praying only for knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry that out.”

— STEP 11

For a year now, we’ve gone through Richard Rohr’s book Breathing Under Water with Jonathan and I taking turns discussing each chapter. For me, Ch 11 is one of the highpoints of the book, so I’m glad to share my “take-aways” with you.

Let’s start with the phrase “conscious contact with God.”

The Twelve Steps are a spiritual pathway. Working the steps gives me opportunity to experience God or “God-moments.” With Step 11, however, I’m invited to go from occasional “ah ha” moments to a regular, conscious contact with God - what I call “in-the-moment” awareness of God. And if I am living one day at a time or one moment at a time as the 12 Steps teach me to do, being aware of God’s presence in my life becomes the norm.

According to Step 11, improving one’s conscious contact with God comes through regular practice of prayer and meditation. As a child, I had the concept that God lived somewhere else, far away in heaven. And that God might (or might not depending on how I behaved) come closer through my efforts of prayer. As Rohr says, "Prayer was something you did when you otherwise felt helpless.” Now I’ve come to understand that God is always near, as close as my very breath. I, however, am not always expecting God to be there. That is where meditation comes in. I confess, much of my prayer practice has been me talking at God. With meditation or contemplative prayer, however, the focus is on quietly sitting with God. The purpose is to slow down and look at what IS. Honest reality.

As Rohr says in his direct manner: Let me tell you something very important, and something that Step 11 was able to recognize quite well. The word prayer, which Bill Wilson [founder of Alcoholics Anonymous] rightly juxtaposes with the word meditation, is a code word for an entirely different way of processing life. When you “pray,” you are supposed to take off one “thinking cap” and put on another “thinking cap” that will move you from an egocentric perspective to a soul-centric perspective.”

With Step 11 prayer and meditation we are practicing a new approach to life, a way that “believes there is a Power greater than ourselves who can restore us to sanity” (Step 2). A way that moves us away from self-centered thinking into God’s broader, wiser perspective.

Continuing in his direct manner, Rohr says:

“In what is commonly called prayer, you and your hurts, needs, and perspectives are still the central reference point … God can help you get what you want, which is still a self-centered desire, instead of God’s much better role—which is to help you know what you really desire.”

I love that last line! It is truly hopeful. Can I really believe that God wants to give me the desires of my heart? Do I believe that my real desires could be good, that they would line up with God’s will? And isn’t this a great thought – God wants to help me know what I really desire. I think that is a path to becoming real – to being at home in my own skin. And I call that “recovery.”

Again Rohr says it in a clear, direct manner, “In short, prayer is not about changing God, but being willing to let God change us, or as Step 11 says, ‘praying only for the knowledge of his will.’” Doing God’s will does not have to be a struggle of constantly going against our own grain. Rohr’s point is that a growing awareness of and connection to God changes us from the inside out. God’s perspective, God’s thoughts, God’s ways become our own. It is as if our internal wiring gets a “reset.” Doing God’s will becomes natural. As they say in AA circles, “just do the next right thing.”

Building on that idea, Rohr says: “If you are able to switch minds to the mind of Christ, your prayer [ie. praying only for the knowledge of God’s will] has already been answered! That new mind knows, understands, accepts, and sees correctly, widely, and wisely. Its prayers are always answered because they are, in fact, the prayers of God too … The heartfelt desire to do the will of God is, in fact, the truest will of God. At that point, God has won, and the ego has lost, and your prayer has already been answered."

So, Step 11 wisdom is the wisdom of slowing down often enough and long enough to know that God is present right here, right now. This is in line with the wisdom of Psalm 46:10 which invites us to “Be still and know that I am God.” God is not far away in some distant heaven. God is already here. Prayer, meditation and stillness help me to show up. As Richard Rohr says, “Prayer is an exercise in divine participation—you opting in and God always there!"

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