Book Review: Breathing Under Water

Not only is Richard Rohr’s Breathing Under Water well worth reading, it’s also a book I wish I could put in the hands of every person in recovery and every minister of every faith.

I intended to savor this book slowly but after the first paragraph knew that this guy is saying what I wish I had the words for. Ever have that experience? The one where you read your own thoughts in someone’s words? That was this book for me.

He does an excellent job of guiding people through the mysteries that are the Gospel and the 12 Steps.

I’ve heard a lot of very strange ideas about both the 12 Steps and God. Rohr wraps them all up in a neat trash bag and throws them away. He expertly ties each step to scripture while remain open to God as we understand God.

I once heard a pastor, one I have deep respect for and frequently make time in my week to go hear, put down the “AA higher power” as not really God. I wanted to smack my head and pick an argument put kept my mouth shut. For you see, the founders of the twelve step program were smart enough to understand that a great many people suffered extensively because their understanding of God condemned them to burn forever, that a high proportion of people with alcoholism have been abused in the name of God, that as Rohr says:

Organized religion is no longer good news for most people, but bad news indeed. It sets us up for the massive atheism, agnosticism, hedonism, and secularism we now see in almost all formerly Christian countries. I now have more people tell me they are “recovering Catholics” than those in recovery from addiction. I am told that for every person that is joining the church, three are leaving. Are these all bad or insecure people? I don’t think so. Perhaps we failed to give them the good news they desired, needed and expected?

I have often heard people mention replacing one addiction with another and then say “like working the steps or going to a lot of meetings.” Rohr doesn’t address this fallacy directly but rather puts the whole argument in an entirely new context showing the misunderstanding inherent in such an argument. He takes two of my most beloved places, church and 12-step meetings, and shows clearly and beautifully the connections between Jesus and transformation and the 12-rung ladder out of hell.

One thing I particularly loved about this book is how it reconnected me to my own self from last year when I first began my journey in recovery. My first crash through the first three steps was utter and absolute and on a soul-level. The day I died. But then I began work with a sponsor who walked me back through them and I went on to the next and the one after that. Rohr does an amazing job of capturing what the steps mean to me, even using several of the phrases I stuck in poems while I was going through them and experiencing a direct and powerful lesson from God in getting to witness someone who quit using but refused to work a program. He reserved room for the two of us in hell. My ticket didn’t get punched. He still hasn’t really grasped powerlessness and it shows in both his physical health and in how he treats people. It’s tough to watch someone work so hard not to work, and mostly do so on false premises and pride. But it has also been one of the top five painful lessons God’s let me have. (The other ones being: my kids, my first born nearly dying in a state-of-the-art teaching hospital, my own addiction and step work, and the time I tried to kill myself (which probably needs it’s own series of blog posts someday but was long ago).)

But that’s enough about me, I’m writing a book review here and I want to encourage everybody to go read this book. Even people who don’t believe in God and have no addiction issues. Everyone knows someone who goes to church or does have addiction issues. It will make the most sense for those who have already read both the AA book and the Bible but doing homework isn’t necessary to understand it. Although I would also highly recommend that everyone read both as well and for the same reasons, even if you have no personal use for them they are dear to someone who know and the only way to know for yourself is to read for yourself.

Breathing Under Water shows recovery in action, the healing and transformation that is the heart of the Gospel and what church should be and do. It manages the tricky art of brutal honesty combined with the higher truth of love and compassion at their best. Well worth reading!


About m

My ego wants to think I'm a writer but my heart knows I'm just another one of God's Kids who sometimes has words to say. 2 human kids and 3 feline kids call me Mom. Or Mooooooom. Or mewom, depending which you ask. My most recent completed endeavor was finishing BA's in Religious Studies and American Studies. I don't remember what free time is but I think I like to spend it sleeping or playing in the mud on a river bank.
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One Response to Book Review: Breathing Under Water

  1. Pingback: January Reading BLog | the liminal life of m

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