This week’s DYK is excerpted from Professor Chesnut’s soon to be published book, God and Spirituality. Learning that I am not God: The good old timers in the Twelve Step Program tell the newcomers to relax, and work out their own concept of God over the months and years after they come in at their own speed, because they know that they will have to internalize the most important spiritual message first, the one contained in the first step, which talks about powerlessness and unmanageability. One of the best of the twelve step authors from the second generation (1970- early 1990s) was Ernest Kurtz, who summed up the most important teachings of the program in the titles of his two most important books.
The first, which came out in 1979, was entitled Not-God, for we must grasp at least enough of the vision of the infinite to understand that we are not God, before we can learn anything else at all about the spiritual life. That is the wisdom of the first of the twelve steps.
The second book, which came out in 1992, was called The Spirituality of Imperfection, because we must quit trying to become Masters of the Universe, and attempting to gain perfect control over everything, including ourselves. The Universe is too big for that game to be winnable. The Ground of being is the only truly infinite and eternal reality. The human attempt to gain perfect control of anything, even our own minds and emotions, will drive us insane and prevent us from attaining even a tiny speck of what lies at the heart of the best and highest kind of spirituality, which is to develop real compassion for the other human beings around us, as well as ourselves.
Richmond Walker: The second most published early A.A. author was a Boston businessman who wrote a little meditation book in 1948 called Twenty-four Hours a Day, which was printed at the beginning of the A.A. group in Daytona Beach, Florida, on the printing press in the local courthouse. There were periods when more A.A. people owned copies of this little pocket sized meditation book, with its plain black cover, than owned copies of the Big Book. Now it is totally fair to include him in a chapter on the spirituality of an impersonal ground, because he was equally influenced by the ancient spiritual tradition which went back to the fifth—century author St. Macarius and the Fifty Spiritual Homilies, with its image of the loving hand of a deeply personal God holding our souls up over the abyss, never letting us fall, and giving us continual personal guidance and direction. Richmond loved to quote Deuteronomy 33:27, “and underneath are the everlasting arms.” But he also interwove the vision of the infinite and incomprehensible divine abyss with his personalistic Macarian spirituality in the meditations in the Twenty-Four Hour book, and gives us one of the best descriptions in the spiritual literature of any era, of the way our souls can find comfort and calm and new strength from contemplating the infinite and absolute. Richmond, who knew the Kantian philosophy well, insisted that our minds were not in fact totally imprisoned within the box of space and time, but that we could experience the vision of the infinite and the eternal Mystery which lay outside this box. The most important thing he said however, was that this experience, which he called entering into the Divine Quiet or Silence, was the entry into a realm of peace and calm, where all the fears and anxieties and resentments which had plagued our minds and thrown us into a chaos of warring thoughts and terrifying emotions, would be washed away in the cleansing waters of this experience.