Long ago, back in the 5th century, monks began to live and worship together in communities. They were called Monastic Orders and they followed various schools of thought on how to live a spiritual life. They called their plans or sets of instructions a “Rule of Life”.
A monastery’s “rule” organized the monk’s daily life and it dictated times for prayer, for meditation, for gathering together as a community, for meals and for how to behave during meals etc. The monastic rule of each Order also dictated how the monks should behave with each other.
Some of those early rules have come down to us in church and spiritual practices. For example we know the Benedictine Rule—from Saint Benedict—and the Ignation Rule from Saint Ignatius. Some of the spiritual practices that recovering people use today are taught to us on retreats or by a spiritual director and they come from these ancient rules of life.
Recently I have been reading Margaret Guenther’s book, “A Home in the World” which is about how to make spirituality a part of daily life and I am seeing that recovery—via Twelve-step programs—is in itself one of the finest rules for life. Our steps and our traditions offer guidance on prayer, meditation, community life and a tradition of sponsorship and teaching. We jokingly say these are “suggestions” and they are, in the same way that the early monks received suggestions to pray five times each day.
Over time in recovery we incorporate these practices into our sober/recovering lives. We also follow the suggestions to improve our relationship with God or a Higher Power. The reminder that this program of ours is ultimately about a spiritual way is noted in our Twelfth Step, which reminds us that the previous eleven steps are intended to result in a “spiritual awakening”. The steps are not to get us abstinent or clean or sober but rather to get us to God. How often we miss that point.
It makes sense that we have ancient roots. Our 12 steps come from the six steps of the Oxford Group—the spiritual tradition that enabled Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob to get sober. We do sometimes forget that Bill and Bob got sober through the Oxford Group—not in AA. It was after their recovery began that they adapted those six Oxford steps to be more inclusive—and more palatable—to men and women of wider faith.
There is something lovely in realizing that we in Twelve Step recovery share a tradition that monks lived by ages ago. It is a rule of life costing not less than everything.