So far, Smith has focused on getting us to internalize the reality of Jesus huddled in our masses, and the Spirit permeating our very beings. Today he hints that not every spirit is the Spirit of Jesus. Jesus’s Spirit will be known by a two-fold movement: toward deeper awareness of intimacy with Creator on the one hand and a genuine sense of identification with the suffering of the world.
Then he continues, ‘If the Spirit is to get us to experience – not just to think – these two movements, there is a primary obstacle to overcome. This is our habitual condition of being under an anesthetic.’
These two sentences speak to me of 12-Step spirituality.
The 12-Steps: a process by which countless people have found a daily reprieve from the various addictions that had overcome them. Some writers consider the 12-Steps to be the one genuinely powerful spiritual contribution to come out of American Christianity in the 20th century!
When I first engaged the steps, I was like many Christians who assume that we have already ‘come to believe in a power greater than ourselves who can restore us to sanity (Step 2).’ We did not understand that the program of recovery didn’t mean what we meant by ‘believe.’ Program challenged us to see how what we ‘think’ and what we ‘experience’ of God had never really been the same. We had nice ideas about the nature of God but we hadn’t staked our life on it. More to the point, we hadn’t let that Higher Power take possession of us.
Why was this so?
Well, Smith tells it plain: we have been taught that this is all mystical mumbo-jumbo, best kept as in idea. Smith and the 2nd Step call us out on the disconnect between what we profess with our mouth and ponder with our minds vs. what we believe in our hearts and experience in our flesh. This is the first resonance.
But there is a second. Once you truly believe in the Higher Power of God’s Spirit within you, then it would be insane not to turn your life over – I mean, really really abandon it – to the care of God as you are now coming to understand Her. That is what Smith is asking us to consider this Lent. And, as anyone in a 12-Step fellowship knows, letting go of the addiction is, exactly, letting the anesthesia wear off. Scripture puts it aptly: “it is a fearsome thing to fall into the hands of a living God (Heb 10:31).”
It is a beautiful thing when life becomes technicolor. And it is a terrifying, painful, poignant, comical, unpredictable, embarrassing, joyful, messy thing. All at once. You just never know what will happen when you give your life over to God’s Spirit and let Him blow over all your chaos. My New England Episcopalians: It-is-not-proper.
This connection leads me to meditate on both an inward and outward application.
First: What anesthesia is still in your/my life? It may not be a particular substance that our society calls addiction. But remember, the society will only call out the ones that IT finds troublesome. It is more than happy for you to remain addicted to technology, media-induced fear, power, money and consumption, isolation or co-dependence. Your real anesthesia: maybe that is the thing to lay down during this Lent of seeking greater awareness of God’s indwelling at your depths.
Second: I wonder, I just wonder – how might COVID or the financial difficulties of our various parishes, etc., have been the grace of the Holy Spirit pulling back the anesthesia for us so that we may find a new depth? As a Church and as a culture, it is tempting to think we have the answers for our woes and that if we just work harder, to implement them and remove the troublesome folks, we will fix it all. Smith reminds us to resist trying to force the Spirit into ‘conventional criteria.’ God’s Spirit has a potential potency in us *and in the world* that we cannot ‘think’ ourselves into… These have been painful years. What would it be like let the anesthesia stay worn off? What kind of community could enable us to endure it?
Seems to me that community is the true mission and identity of the Church.
The Rev. adwoa Wilson