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Inspiring Success on the Road to Recovery

Wednesday, May 31, 2017


Breathing Under Water 
by Richard Rohr

Reviewed by Kyle Rhodes

He who learns must suffer.And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget,Falls drop by drop upon the heart,And in our own despair, against our own will,Comes wisdom to us, by the awful grace of God.

— An Unexpected Postscript, Breathing Under Water, page 128

In Breathing Under Water, author Richard Rohr suggests that the teachings of Jesus and Bill W. are from a “common inspiration from the Holy Spirit and from the same collective unconscious.” Rohr presents evidence that the Gospel message of Jesus and the Twelve Step message of Bill Wilson are largely the same message, “even in some detail.”

Rohr explores the spirituality of the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous as compared to the teachings of Jesus Christ and the Gospel. There are twelve chapters dedicated to each step individually and, to begin each section, Rohr presents the corresponding step alongside several scriptures taken from the Holy Bible. The scriptures that are presented with each step reflect related spiritual principles that are present in both the Twelve Steps and the Gospel.
Chapter 1 (Step 1) reads: “Powerlessness. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.” The simple language of Step one is juxtaposed against Romans 7:15,18 “I cannot understand my own behavior. I fail to carry out the very things I want to do, and find myself doing the very things I hate…for although the will to do what is good is in me, the performance is not,” as Rohr attempts to bring clarity to the confounding behavior that surrounds addiction.

In addition to his compare and contrast style that explores the written words by both Bill Wilson and Jesus, Rohr explores the human response to each man’s attempt to teach and heal others. Rohr writes about the reaction to Jesus as a teacher, “Jesus was a master of teaching skillful means…But we got so preoccupied with needing to prove and worship Jesus’ divinity that we failed to let him also be a sage, a wise man, a teacher…We just waited for another dogmatic declaration…” (pg. 76). He continues on to speak of Bill W. as a teacher of experience. One whom others trusted based on the man’s actions and experience with, not only alcoholism, but life. Rohr successfully examines that both Jesus and Bill W. were, first and foremost, men. They were also servants of humanity and their ultimate goal was to teach people how to help each other above all else.

One of the truly inspirational portions of Breathing Under Water takes place in Chapter 10 (Step 10). Rohr is an accomplished Catholic and Christian teacher, but he has not struggled with alcoholism as a specific addiction. Rohr himself admits that, coming upon step 10, it was seeming that the Twelve Steps were an “endless examination of conscience”, which he believes is dangerous for some, due to the overdone guilt and shame-based history of religion. Rohr soon comes to realize that this “endless examination of conscience” is the pathway to something larger than oneself. Something beautiful and inspiring that promotes and maintains spiritual growth and understanding. Rohr suggests that the difficulty of explaining consciousness simulates the difficulty of explaining what would be called the human soul. His examination of the possibility of consciousness and soul being one in the same is something to behold.

If you are looking for a little extra insight into spirituality and the Twelve Steps, I highly recommend this book. As well as insight into the spirituality of the Twelve Step program, Richard Rohr provides an extensive comparison between the teaching styles of Christianity and Alcoholics Anonymous. Tentatively, there is a bridge between what Christ was attempting to accomplish as a teacher of humanity, that was distorted and clouded with a desperate search for divinity and the learning through trial and error and sharing personal solution through experience that Bill Wilson and Alcoholics Anonymous call “carrying the message to the next struggling alcoholic.”

The truly fascinating realization that Jesus and Bill W. are essentially spreading the same message through different medians is something that shouldn’t be lost on anyone struggling with alcoholism or addiction, themselves or in a loved one. This book is absolutely endearing for any Christian, addict, or person wishing to learn what helping another human being can really be.

Breathing Under Water is available at Gifts Anon., Inc. located at 10427 N. Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale, AZ 85253.