I am delighted to share another beautiful submission for the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Patricia Kowal's reflection on God First for the Monk in the World:
I had a “bad” knee. It bothered me for months but I thought I just strained a muscle. Yet, my knee progressively got worse and needed medical attention. Long story short, I had multiple tears in the cartilage of the joint and the fragmented pieces were surgically removed. The ordeal sent me packing straight to bed with my leg elevated for weeks. And here’s the miracle: as my leg rested to heal, my soul opened and grew.
Down-time often breeds quiet, something I don’t do easily. I picked a couple of books off my bookshelf I hadn’t read yet about two men who intrigued me. They were the biographies of the co-founders of Alcoholic Anonymous (AA). The stories related the lives of Bill W. in Pass It On and Doctor Bob S. in Dr. Bob and the Good Oldtimers. For me, the stories were page-turners. The spiritual experiences of these pioneers empowered them to lead, literally, millions of people to find a (spiritual) solution to their alcoholic problem. The AA co-founders along with 100 other recovered alcoholics produced the book of the same name as their Fellowship, Alcoholics Anonymous, which contain the 12 Steps of Recovery of which humility is the foundation principle and also relates the spiritual experiences of men and women who recovered from a fatal compulsion.
Dr. Bob’s bio inspired me to read Emmet Fox, a favorite mentor of his. A philosopher, speaker, and one of the most influential spiritual leaders of the 20thCentury, Fox’s message was simple: God has all power. He espoused a practical recipe for getting out of trouble in a booklet he authored, The Golden Key. “Stop thinking about the difficulty, whatever it is, and think about God instead,” he wrote. Fox believed inner peace is found when we know God deep within; to allow God to be our Director instead of finite selves.
While reading Bill W.’s story, I was introduced to another book, The Soul of Sponsorship. It tells of the relationship between Bill and Father Ed Dowling, a crippled, yet active, Jesuit priest who befriended Bill and became Bill’s spiritual director. Through this friendship, Fr. Dowling guided the AA co-founder in discernment, coupling the suggestions of the Twelve Steps in the newly published AA literature and centuries-old Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. Fr. Dowling taught Bill about “detachment,” a way to separate from a disordered attachment to people and things, through the continued practice of humility, something with which that Bill W. continually struggled.
This gave me much to ponder. I realized these four contemporary figures of the 1900s, ordinary, yet inspired men, were, as one of my good friends would call them, modern-day mystics. I could see them as Monks in the World as defined at Abbey of the Arts: those who have a public expression of commitment to live a compassionate, contemplative, and creative life who embody prayer, hospitality, community, ongoing conversion and creative joy. Such were these men.
Being a fledgling Monk in the World myself, I sensed something awry in me as peace seemed elusive. Recently in my family life, I was heart-broken as two of my grown children suffered cancer. I grieved when I lost a younger brother and a good friend to untimely deaths. I felt violated when our home was burglarized and valuable heirlooms taken. Then I experienced devastation when my youngest daughter miscarried our first grandchild. Finally, as my knee recuperated, my dear mother-in-law died. I sought stress relieving behaviors that gave me short term relief, but I struggled to find peace.
As I stayed the course for my knee to heal, I felt prompted to take an inner look. I decided to embrace the wisdom of AA Steps, especially the 3rd that states “made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God” and the 7th that suggests “Humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings.” Fox’s admonition “to not entertain negative thoughts and replace them with thoughts of God” spoke to me, as well as the Spiritual Exercises to practice discernment with humility. Lastly, I reminded myself of the one “rule” my personal spiritual director has when I come to visit: Let yourself be loved.
Perhaps our stories are the best teachers, especially when the key that opens the door for personal peace is found. The common transformative solution experienced by Bill W., Doctor Bob, Emmet Fox and Father Dowling was connection with God. They found spiritual answers for healing temporal problems. Humility was their key—putting God first.
I began to see lack of humility was causing my inner turmoil. I had to get out of the way for God to enter in. But how was I called to practice humility? Surprisingly, it began in the simplest ways. I prayed for help and this is what happened. When I’d think my kids were having a rough time, I replaced that thought with God is there for them. Or when fear about not getting my knee back to full function floated through my head, I’d think God is with me. When my husband failed to meet an expectation I’d say to myself, this man I married is wonderfully made by God. When I lacked the power to change a troubling situation, I sought a spiritual remedy by turning my thoughts to God rather than seeking comfort elsewhere. My eyes opened. Peace prevailed. A miracle!
I am up walking again as my knee continues to heal. I see God in my husband’s life and his recent grief; in my children and their choices; in my own pain. Humility—God first—linked me to the peace I sought. Alas, my “bad” knee has brought me glad tidings guiding me to a new level of Soul-Wisdom—more than this Monk in the World would have ever expected when a painful joint called for healing, and I let God in.
Patricia Campbell Kowal worked as a Registered Nurse, coupled with a counseling practice for nearly five decades. She enjoys travel and has published poetry and prose. Pat lives with her husband, Bob, in Spokane, WA and together they have three grown children. She is grateful for the paths her life has taken.