We admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs. – Step 5
So confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, and this will cure you. – James 5:16
If you forgive others their sins, they are indeed forgiven. If you withhold forgiveness from one another, they are held bound. – Jesus (John 20:23)
God resists our evil and conquers it with good, or how could God ask the same of us? Think about that. God shocks and stuns us into love. God does not love us if we change, God loves us so that we can change. Only love effects true inner transformation, not duress, guilt, shunning, or social pressure. Love is not love unless it is totally free. – Richard Rohr, Breathing Under Water (42)
The best way to prepare to read the following is to start with your own personal communion. Get some grape juice or wine and some bread. Before you read, enjoy both, reminding yourself that this is the lasting symbol of the love of God for us and with us – a meal that nods to the horrific death of Jesus, yes, but a death he chose to endure because he was not going to play by the world’s expectations. He was about peace, not more violence, because the nature of God is restorative love, not retributive vengeance. Enjoy your communion throughout the reading. Go get more if you need to – a reminder that God’s grace is with us throughout our journey. Note: if you grew up in a tradition where only the ordained clergy were allowed to handle such sacraments, take the risk anyway. If God wants to nail you on this, blame me.
“Authentic Prayer.” Jesus told his next story to some who were complacently pleased with themselves over their moral performance and looked down their noses at the common people: "Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax man. The Pharisee posed and prayed like this: 'Oh, God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, crooks, adulterers, or, heaven forbid, like this tax man. I fast twice a week and tithe on all my income.'
"Meanwhile the tax man, slumped in the shadows, his face in his hands, not daring to look up, said, 'God, give mercy. Forgive me, a sinner.'"
Jesus commented, "This tax man, not the other, went home made right with God. If you walk around with your nose in the air, you're going to end up flat on your face, but if you're content to be simply yourself, you will become more than yourself." – Luke 18:9-14 (The Message)
“Throw the First Stone.” Jesus went across to Mount Olives, but he was soon back in the Temple again. Swarms of people came to him. He sat down and taught them.
The religion scholars and Pharisees led in a woman who had been caught in an act of adultery. They stood her in plain sight of everyone and said, "Teacher, this woman was caught red-handed in the act of adultery. Moses, in the Law, gives orders to stone such persons. What do you say?" They were trying to trap him into saying something incriminating so they could bring charges against him.
Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger in the dirt. They kept at him, badgering him. He straightened up and said, "The sinless one among you, go first: Throw the stone." Bending down again, he wrote some more in the dirt.
Hearing that, they walked away, one after another, beginning with the oldest. The woman was left alone. Jesus stood up and spoke to her. "Woman, where are they? Does no one condemn you?"
"No one, Master."
"Neither do I," said Jesus. "Go on your way. From now on, don't sin." – John 8:1-11 (The Message)
“Tears of Liberation.” One of the Pharisees asked him over for a meal. He went to the Pharisee's house and sat down at the dinner table. Just then a woman of the village, the town harlot, having learned that Jesus was a guest in the home of the Pharisee, came with a bottle of very expensive perfume and stood at his feet, weeping, raining tears on his feet. Letting down her hair, she dried his feet, kissed them, and anointed them with the perfume. When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, "If this man was the prophet I thought he was, he would have known what kind of woman this is who is falling all over him."
Jesus said to him, "Simon, I have something to tell you."
"Oh? Tell me."
"Two men were in debt to a banker. One owed five hundred silver pieces, the other fifty. Neither of them could pay up, and so the banker canceled both debts. Which of the two would be more grateful?"
Simon answered, "I suppose the one who was forgiven the most."
"That's right," said Jesus. Then turning to the woman, but speaking to Simon, he said, "Do you see this woman? I came to your home; you provided no water for my feet, but she rained tears on my feet and dried them with her hair. You gave me no greeting, but from the time I arrived she hasn't quit kissing my feet. You provided nothing for freshening up, but she has soothed my feet with perfume. Impressive, isn't it? She was forgiven many, many sins, and so she is very, very grateful. If the forgiveness is minimal, the gratitude is minimal."
Then he spoke to her: "I forgive your sins."
That set the dinner guests talking behind his back: "Who does he think he is, forgiving sins!"
He ignored them and said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you. Go in peace." – Luke 7:36-50 (The Message)
“Graced Generosity.” Six days before Passover, Jesus entered Bethany where Lazarus, so recently raised from the dead, was living. Lazarus and his sisters invited Jesus to dinner at their home. Martha served. Lazarus was one of those sitting at the table with them. Mary came in with a jar of very expensive aromatic oils, anointed and massaged Jesus' feet, and then wiped them with her hair. The fragrance of the oils filled the house. – John 12:1-3 (The Message)
“Justice.” Then Jesus entered and walked through Jericho. There was a man there, his name Zacchaeus, the head tax man and quite rich. He wanted desperately to see Jesus, but the crowd was in his way—he was a short man and couldn't see over the crowd. So he ran on ahead and climbed up in a sycamore tree so he could see Jesus when he came by.
When Jesus got to the tree, he looked up and said, "Zacchaeus, hurry down. Today is my day to be a guest in your home."
Zacchaeus scrambled out of the tree, hardly believing his good luck, delighted to take Jesus home with him. Everyone who saw the incident was indignant and grumped, "What business does he have getting cozy with this crook?"
Zacchaeus just stood there, a little stunned. He stammered apologetically, "Master, I give away half my income to the poor—and if I'm caught cheating, I pay four times the damages."
Jesus said, "Today is salvation day in this home! Here he is: Zacchaeus, son of Abraham! For the Son of Man came to find and restore the lost." – Luke 19:1-9 (The Message)
I wanted you to be immersed in these stories after communion so that you might have a different view on steps four and five which have to do with identifying our failures and confessing them to ourselves, God, and another person. These examples of the “afterword of accountability” display a very positive tone, don’t they? I wonder how our attitude toward these steps might be different if we can change the way we see them from the outset. This requires humility and maturity, of course, and challenges our more primitive notions of God as an angry judge ready to condemn us to hell. Honestly, both views can be supported biblically – you have to do our own work to determine how you understand and interpret these ancient texts. You have to decide which face of God you believe in most. For me, I look at Jesus as my most important reference point because he was apparently to dialed into God that the Spirit oozed out of him in everything he did and taught. I hope you choose to see God as being the loving, restoring, hopeful One as I have.
If we ditch the idea of confession as a visit to the Principal’s office after we got caught skipping class and instead view it as a dinner where we are welcomed and unconditionally loved by our host who wants to hear about everything, we are more likely to engage these steps more often. If it’s a long dinner with this trusted Friend, then we know they will be truly delighted in our tales of love and joy, and genuinely compassionate when we speak of our struggles, even offering encouragement and support to help us move forward. This has been my experience.
There are some helpful tools available to help you grow the most from these steps that will lead to a more abundant experience or life for yourself and everyone you impact. From the Enneagram stuff, pay attention to your type’s wound and stages of development – they are likely related. Having a reference to help us see what health and unhealth look like provide a mirror for us. Having a hint at the root cause of our pain helps us address the real underlying problem that serves to perpetuate all of the others. The EnneApp mobile device application gives a brief description of the wound as well as broad descriptions of each type.
The other tool I’d like to highlight is contemplative prayer using the St. Ignatius of Loyola’s Prayer of Examen. The idea is to spend fifteen minutes at the beginning and end of your day moving through the five modes of prayer in an effort to stay more connected to God and what God is working to develop in us.
St. Ignatius of Loyola: The Daily Examen
1. Prayer for enlightenment: “Help me to see and hear you more clearly, that I may respond more fully to your love and follow you more closely through the claims of your call upon my life. Help me to be aware of those times when I have been blind and deaf to your presence and to your gifts of love. Amen.”
2. Reflective thanksgiving: “Thank you for all the ways you make yourself present to me – through nature, persons, events, situations. Thank you for accepting my love for you. O God, how great you are! Amen.”
3. Personal examination of actions: “I really do love you, my Lord, in spite of the ways I have missed your presence and have not responded to your love and actions in my life. Help me in these moments to be conscious of the ways that I may become sensitive to your desires in all my ways. Amen.”
4. Contrition and sorrow: “I’m sorry, God, for failing to respond to your love and for my failures. But I rejoice in your generosity and gladly receive your many gifts – and heartily eat at your table with joy and celebration. I’m not worthy of the many gifts you give me, through your constant love. Amen.”
5. Hopeful resolution for the future: “Be with me, Lord, ever helping me to respond more authentically to your love. By your help I will see you more clearly, love you more dearly, and follow you more nearly, day by day, and serve you from this moment on. Amen.”
The power of this process is exponentially increased if you can get together with a trusted friend who will join you on the journey – an incarnation experience through the love of another. Do communion together. Often. You will grow in your experience of God, of life, of meaning, of relationship if you dare.
*This teaching summary is part of a series that dovetails the deep spiritual components of Twelve Steps and the rich insights of the time-tested Enneagram. Understanding your Enneagram Type can provide helpful insight into how you “do life”. There are several free tests that will surely narrow things down for you, but the Enneagram Test from the Enneagram Institute by far offers the best assessment and provides the richest feedback (look for the RHETI test). In addition, we will be drawing insight from two books as we follow Jesus through these steps. You can get Richard Rohr’s Breathing Under Water (and its companion journal) and Christopher Heuertz’ The Sacred Enneagram online and in digital formats. CrossWalk will have a limited supply of the books on hand. In addition, you may find songs for different types helpful in understanding what you’re working with, as well as the story behind the creation of the songs at the Sleeping At Last podcast (search for “Sleeping at Last” on your podcast app). Also, search for the EnneApp for your phone – a great on-the-go option for your mobile devices.