E were sitting around a polished oak table in the convent, our only excuse to let outsiders in, the Julian Meeting, when I and another started dialoguing - to the Sisters' consternation - about Alcoholics Anonymous. He said he'd come to Julian of Norwich, and to our Julian Meeting, and had had a vision in her cell where she spoke to him - in American English at that! - because he was an Alcoholic seeking God. Together he and I agreed that AA brings about a conversion, a metanoia, the kind John the Baptist was preaching and causing on the banks of the Jordan River in Palestine two thousand years ago. I won't say more about my friend because he is anonymous, except to say that much of what follows is his, relayed by e-mail, because it's part of his Twelfth Step. And that others too are contributing, from around the globe.

I know of AA because of my youngest son, the one who wore a t-shirt from a Quaker conference that he wore into tatters that said that 'Every Person is a Holy Place'. I went with him to AA Meetings. He was under my roof while doing the Twelve Steps, telling me about how the movement started because of Anglican Oxford Movement clergy. He told me about the book Alcholics Anonymous, and gave me a tattered copy of it, which I wish I'd kept. I had already been finding that the finest, kindest people I knew, knew AA from the inside. One group met in our Quaker Meeting House and some of its members are Quakers, and one of them told me that AA was even more 'spiritual' than is the Religious Society of Friends . It was AA that taught me that the hearts of gold aren't in the beautiful, fashionable churches, or in the proper convents, but can be found in the gutter, in unspeakable filth, and often dying tragically young. One such was a student, with whom I did radio broadcasts, about Hildegard of Bingen, about Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, about Shepherds and Kings, that one on Christmas Day. Another was a medievalist colleague, who worked on Mechtild's Flowing Light of the Godhead . My own brother and our own mother - and now my own son - are included among these dead. But if they can convert in time and find AA, then all can be well. The sermons and parables and tales that ring true, bringing tears to the eyes and melting hearts of stone, aren't preached from lofty pulpits but instead spoken in drab gathering places where so many are on the margins. These are those who people Mary's Magnificat and Christ's Beatitudes.

Let's begin with Alcoholics Anonymous ' Twelve Steps. They are not easy to find on the Internet. (One needs the Twelve Steps there. One needs the Twelve Traditions there. One needs the Rosary there. One needs the Serenity Prayer there.) But they came to me in an e-mail message in this way (I've only added the colour to help them be memorable.):



These lifesaving steps are:

1) We admitted we were powerless over alcohol - that our lives had become unmanageable.

2) Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

3) Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him [God] to be.

4) Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

5) Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

6) Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

7) Humbly asked Him (God) to remove our shortcomings.

8) Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

9) Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

10) Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

11) Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

12) Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

My friend adds, 'There are many in AA who think the steps and the book itself were divinely inspired. Others say they recognize an affinity of the steps to the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius Loyola. No matter, thank God for them'.

His e-mail the following day:

'The Twelve Steps had a predecessor process in the Oxford movement [This group of American clergymen is not connected with England's High Church Anglican Oxford Movement though it had the same name. Ed.]. They used six steps, I think. Bill Wilson had associated with people from the Oxford movement during moments of sobriety and elaborated on what he learned there. They say in AA that the steps must be worked in order but I am living proof that this is not true. After many failures, when prayer finally worked for me [thanks to Mother Julian], I tumbled through them helter-skelter in a sort of non-alcoholic exhuberance. For instance, I didn't write down my Fourth Step as I had done that over and over again using all sorts of techniques. I did the Ninth Step amends before my Fifth Step. Grace is grace.

It's a circular argument, really. What? You got drunk? Well, you didn't work the Steps. Yes, I did. No, you didn't. If you'd worked the Steps you wouldn't have gotten drunk! So back you go, over and over, until you get it right.

And it's true: you can't get drunk if you're working the Steps.

The genius in AA is in its inclusiveness. The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. That's the third 'Tradition', of which there are Twelve. The art of AA is in its ability to lead people to a Higher Power who would otherwise not find One. The disjunctive thing about AA is that its 'primary purpose' is to help people 'stay sober and help others who are suffering from alcoholism': not liturgy. The nice thing about AA is that one can be in it and not of it so that none of the things about it make nearly as much difference as the fact that one is sober.'


And you know Twelve Steps processes can work wherever there is denial, where there is such 'toxic shame' about one's condition, that it drives one into refusing to admit to its presence, so terrible is it. It's not just to alcohol, it's to all addictions, whether to drugs, or to sexual abuse , whatever, to all who sell their souls away from Godness, like Faust, like Don Juan, losing happiness and meaning- and it's also those who do not hear as well as do normal people, those people in that grey area between total deafness and slight hearing loss, who fall between the cracks and into denying, utter loneliness, into the greatest self-hating.

What is it like to be partially deaf? It is to meet with anger and scoffing at every turn. 'You can hear perfectly well when you want to!', when you have heard for once because the light was right and you could then lip read what was said and, besides, you had known its context. But more often than not one of that combination is lacking and you have not heard the sense in the sounds and you cannot interpret the moth-eaten bits and pieces of words, and in your fear, your terror, you pretend you have, for you have been told you can hear perfectly well when you want to, and you make up false answers to imaginary, pretend questions you also have had to make up. And you are in despair. And then they laugh at you for being stupid or crazy.

But you are so terrified you cannot even tell them you do not hear. For then you lose the last shred of poise you have left, for there is so much hurt mixed into that fact that it must go unspoken, and you must be deaf to it. For if you are not, you lose what little sanity you have left with which to piece together again the lacy fragments of speech upon which everything depends. Life, certainly human contact, seems to have no meaning.

But, if the conversion, the metanoia , can come, if you go so far to the bottom, that there is no way but up, and you lay down the burden of denial, and confess, state, announce, proclaim, that you cannot hear, what a joy it is! For then you do hear and you do make sense, and they do listen to you and they do make sense, too. And all shall be well and all shall be well and all manner thing shall be well.

Just as there are Alcoholics Anonymous gatherings, which include those for drug addiction and it is only AA that really helps drug addicts recover, so are there now in America groups of the hearing impaired who meet and help each other. Started by a member of the C.I.A., Rocky Stone, who went deaf, these groups called S.S.H.H., Self Help for the Hearing Handicapped, meet together in Chapters in most American towns. They haven't quite realized that using the Twelve Steps of AA would work equally well with S.S.H.H, but they also are effective. For it is those who are afflicted who can best understand the affliction, especially through aiding each other. Victor Turner, the anthropologist, noted how the adepts in healing ceremonies, have themselves previously been its patients.

Once I begged a millionaire entrepreneur student of mine to let me form a company to sell hearing aids, run by the hearing impaired themselves. But he came back and said it was 'No dice', for he'd talked to the hearing hearing aid dispensers who told him the hearing impaired won't buy hearing aids, that you have to use such a hard sell on them and then, if they do buy them, they don't wear them, and they complain about their high cost and their cost has to be so high because they won't buy them and you have to use such a hard sell on them and then, if they do buy them, they don't wear them, and . . . ad nauseam, etc. But I still know that if we had been running the company we would have had no trouble being supportive of our clients and they appreciative of us as role models; that as adepts and patients, it would have worked. But that it can't the other way. There is too great a cycle of denial and despair, that particularly gets focussed upon the hearing aid and the 'hearing' hearing aid 'dealer'.

But, oh, what a joy it was, when in my thirties, I got a hearing aid and put it on and with it put on the bird song and peoples' voices making delicious sense. It took time to learn how to re-programme my brain to it, and then to two. But I did. And rejoined the human race. But it took disaster to drive me from denial. I had failed my second Ph.D. oral examination at Berkeley and was by then a single parent of three small sons. My brother remained in denial. We lost our hearing when I was six and he four in the same V2 rocket explosion in World War II in England. My brother refused to wear the hearing aids he bought, deeply resenting their high cost. My brother was an alcoholic. My brother died. Alcoholics can free themselves into conversion, metanoia, through the telling of tales. And so can their loved ones. As did Rose. But those who cannot hear, cannot hear the healing stories. Imagine with what joy the deaf students I advised at my university found e-mail as a means of communicating with each other, ending their loneliness, bitterness, lostness!

Christ, when he healed the deaf man, said in Aramaic to his ears, and we say this to you,
'Be thou open! Be whole! Be of us!'



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