"Simple, but not easy; a price had to be paid. It meant
destruction of self-centeredness. I must turn in all
things to the Father of Light who presides over us all."
Dedicated to anyone who, for whatever reason, is not having the best of a holiday season, yet - or who is sure that this could be a distinct possibility.
The story of Chanukah or the Festival of Lights has enormously profound lessons of interest to anyone in recovery, especially those who “practice these principles in all our affairs” – in others words Twelve Steppers - and to all who honor the traditions.
These are chalk-talk basics and I am not learned enough to give a historical lesson on the traditions of Chanukah – but if you are not familiar with it then I do suggest you look them up. You might be amazed. No, you will be amazed. You will find that Chanukah is more than a family gathering or a celebration of a military victory over the Greeks.
The Greeks had seized the Jewish Temple and spiritually defiled it by worshiping Greek gods like Zeus and contaminating it with slaughtered swine. When the Maccabees regained control of their temple, they needed to sanctify it, which they could do by burning ritual oil in the Temple’s menorah for eight days. There was one problem. They only had a day's worth of oil prepared. What they did next next was amazing.
They did something that is so very counter intuitive and beyond the consideration of mostly any alcoholic that it can be hard to believe. Yet they did it.
Had they behaved alcoholically or agnostically, no difference, the Maccabees might have said, "We must find a way to get enough oil” and then set about on some scheme to finagle it. They also might have given up lighting the candles at all, believing it to be a complete waste of time, because after all, "The candles can’t possibly last long enough”.
"They experienced a few distressing failures, but in those cases
they made an effort to bring the man's family into a spiritual
way of living, thus relieving much worry and suffering."
How might we have attempted to manage this situation ourselves? What might we have said? "Hey if we just light the candles for three hours a day . . . that's three times eight is twenty four . . . twenty four hour in a day . . . . that means that the candles will last until the eight day and by then we will have enough oil".
"See? We have managed to have enough oil". Geniuses we!
You can picture that can't you? All the calculating; the manipulating; all the rolling up of sleeves and energies spent – all the self-will and ambition. If you are an alcoholic then this kind of worry, struggling with outcomes and maneuvering; fretting and fearful calculating sounds familiar to you; does it not?
The Maccabees didn’t do any of these things. This spiritual tribe of God-conscious people did not give-in to worry. They didn't maneuver. They did not struggle with trying to manipulate some pending ill fate of their imagination.
To struggle would have been very alcoholic of the Maccabees. Such agnostic, Godless thinking was not in their nature.
Every alcoholic has suffered from spiritual illness (agnosticism) but not everyone who is spiritually ill (agnostic) is alcoholic and these were a family of people, who culturally exhibited none of these traits.
Do you know what they did do? They took care of what had to be done in their present moment. The Maccabees lit the fraekin’ candles, anyway; and herein lies a profoundly spiritual Twelve Step lesson of Chanukah.
Many of us are not having a right Christmas season are we? Some of us aren’t, anyway. There is not enough money. There are financial worries. There is not enough health to go around. Maybe there is serious sickness or an illness in the family. Maybe relationships with others are not what we feel they should be.
"Imagine life without faith! Were nothing left but
pure reason, it wouldn't be life."
Our sense of well-being, the one we think we ought to have, feels smothered.
Everyone tells us we must "Let go and let God" but no one seems to be able to tell us how to really do that.
We read, we read, we pray, we read, we share, we share, and not much changes except that we learn to smile and to flash the AA grin; to "Fake it till we make it".
Some of us take well-intentioned stabs at injecting Holiday Spirit into our veins; maybe through some positive-affirmation placebos or gleaning sage ‘words of wisdom’ from spiritual manuals, scripture or speaker-tapes. (Even blogs)
It seems at times that the beloved "Acceptance" page in the Big Book has lost much of its old auto-suggestive power to at least provide some temporary relief from the sinking hollowness we feel when our gnawing senses quietly tell us that something is very wrong. Whatever relief we are able to wrest from shopping, carols or Christmas music lasts no more than a minutes out of some excruciatingly long days.
There are times when it seems that the Holiday season of our imagination, the one that exists only in our past and in our fantasies and storybooks, ought to be ours.
The Christmas and Chanukah season with all of its happiness and security; the sensual comforts that come with painted cookies, mistletoe smooches, fireplaces decorations and time off from work or school come only as courtesy of the past memories stored somewhere in the recesses of our brain; or in some other life; or as we imagine in the lives of others.
All of this dreamland fantasy just gets poisoned by our own worries, frustrations and all the unjust slaps in the face delivered in The Stream of Life. “Things just aren't the way they ought to be”, we think. We sigh.
We look up to Hallmark and cable-network Christmas specials’ and their smiling actors to find in them role models and guides to happiness. We watch "It’s a Wonderful Life" to try and suck good tidings off the flat-screen. Like bloodthirsty vampires we suck counterfeit life out of the cable-box, gargling and swallowing artificially sweetened, imitation flavored gratitude. None of it is real.
We are not George Bailey, and we do not feel like the “richest man in town”. These are lies to distract us from our actual, present condition; to keep us from seeing things and seeing us as we really are. It is only a movie . . . only a movie . . . . only a movie.
This is exactly this kind of selfish concern and our own self-absorbed thinking that keeps us in turmoil.
We are not mere victims of circumstances; we are actors in a play of Acts where we have appointed ourselves as Directors and cast ourselves for the lead role. Except that we haven't the rights to the script.
The crux of it is this: We are impatient. We are playing God, placing our comforts before others. Plain and simple. There is no such thing as someone who puts God and his fellows before himself who is unhappy, dissatisfied and wanting for material things. No such person. Just as there is no peace or order in the life of a spiritually ill narcissist.
"We, who have recovered from serious
drinking, are miracles of mental health."
The Maccabees lighted the candles anyway and a miracle happened. We can do the same thing, not so much through lighting candles as through living as free from doubt as they did. Amazingly, we get the same kind of result.
Jesus Christ, the most beloved Jew of all time, once said "Keep on, then, seeking first the kingdom and [God's] righteousness, and all these other things will be added to you." (Matthew 6:33)
Many of us have allowed preachers and clergy to lead us into believing this lesson has to do with handing over money to a church or to some ministry - even though we did not have enough for ourselves. Scoundrels know how to use Scripture for nefarious purposes like this. No. It has nothing to do with money contributions. It is much deeper.
It has to do with how we live once we turn our life and our will over to God; as we live a Twelve Step design for living.
Then we are doing things to maximize our usefulness to God and to others and in doing so we grow spiritually in understanding - to effect Gods Will in our own lives here on earth. Miracles really happen when we do this; real honest to goodness miracles – things that were not supposed to happen in a world where we might otherwise exist as little pathetic kings and queens manipulating everything and everyone to suite us.
Then when folks catch on to us, as we sense their resentment toward us, we try to regain their approval - shutting down 'the play'; secretly judging and willing wresting back control. We even resort to praying for outcomes, believing ourselves to be the humble arbiters of goodness on a mystic plane that exists only inside our feeble minds. This is called worry. It is impatience; and it is lack of faith.
"If newcomers could see no joy or fun in our existence,
they wouldn't want it. We absolutely insist on enjoying life"
Fear grabs hold and we become unable to move; paralyzed by our own lack of courage to act and to do what we know in our hearts is the next best thing. We can call a sponsor or a spiritual guide and hear wise words. We might even believe we are divinely inspired; yet we still cannot act because our will is caught up in the trying. That is an ironic paradox.
Instead of saying "that's right. I must do that!" if we could only take the leap of faith - that giant jump across the stream of doubt and simply observe, "That is right", leaving out the "I must do that” part. We would be amazed at how powerful our God given power to discern is.
If not, then even if we do mange to do the next best thing; and it is the right thing, it will still ultimately turn out to have been wrong.
We are dammed if we get what we want and we are dammed when we do not get what we want.
Only God's will is right, and in spending a considerable amount of time asking God for "the knowledge of God's will and the power to carry it out" then we ought to be ready when we get it. Don’t you think?
This year we are once again lighting the Menorah and celebrating Chanukah. It is a lesson for my children. It is a lesson for me and for my wife, Nancy.
"....as we became conscious of His presence, we
began to lose our fear of today, tomorrow or the hereafter."
Yes, as odd as it may seem, we are a Christian family lighting a Menorah for Chanukah. (Oy Vey! What a miracle) No, we do not belong to a Messianic temple and we have not joined "Jews for Jesus". Nothing like that. We belong to no spirituality clubs and we follow no religious doctrine. Not even AA’s. AA hasn’t got one.
We are simply a family doing our best to live God’s will; allowing Him to provide the discipline and inspiration that no other human can give and we cannot provide for ourselves. (OK. There is also a part deep inside that does it so that Nancy fries mountains of Latkes tonight.)
The Maccabees were not faking it. They were making it - through faith. There is a way to 'faith it - without faking it'. Only when we are able to give up fighting everything and anything are we like the Maccabees.
Please join us. You are not Jewish? So what! Be ready. Don't have a Menorah? One candle will do. Go out and buy a candle. Get on your knees tonight and take the leap of faith. Celebrate living in the now, in the present moment, in His presence, as the Maccabees did. It is divinely magical. It is supernatural. It is simple. It is miraculous.
It is a real Christmas Spirit at its absolute best to be carried forward throughout the year, each day, in each moment - the way Christ Himself, whose birthday we are soon to celebrate, showed us it should be. If only we would stop trying to make it happen and simply let it
Please, light the candles anyway. You’ll be glad you did.
Make some Latkes too.
Happy Chanukah and Merry Christmas to all
from all of us,
Danny, Nancy, Danny Jr, and Kristen Schwarzhoff
The Family of a Real Live Recovered Alcoholic