Addiction & Transformation


Yitzak called me the other day. He spent eleven days in the psychiatric hospital in Norristown. “It was a real hell-hole, “ he said to me, “there are people there who are only half human”. He has been sent to a residential rehab center for addiction recovery in Baltimore. I will try to get down there to see him over the next couple of weeks.Yitzak and I know each other through a kind of undercover fellowship that exists to help people recover from addiction. I’m not supposed to mention it in print, so I’ll have write in code. I will call it The Rooms. I am Yitzak’s mentor in The Rooms. I feel bad bringing it up at all, but it forms a spiritual foundation for everything I do, and the lessons I have learned in those rooms inform most of the choices I make today.

Samuel Bownas was a 17th century English Quaker who wrote a book called The Descriptions and Qualifications of a Gospel Minister. It is a book meant to help experienced Friends guide younger ones through the challenges posed by Quaker ministry, especially the fact of its spontaneity. Bownas writes that “inspiration or revelation from God by his Spirit is of absolute necessity to guide a minister in his ministry”. He describes this revelation as a life-transforming event, one that has the same qualities of a baptism. Through the events leading to the revelation, one is born again, one’s life is transformed, and forever after one may look back on one’s life as a kind of “before and after” story arranged around this transformational event.

Being released from the bondage of addiction has that transformational quality, and the fellowship Yitzak and I belong to sees that release in spiritual terms. It is one of the ways that these two parts of my life – recovery and Quakerism – deeply inform each other. Through the Divine intercession of my recovery, I believe I have received the revelation, and the new life, Bownas writes about.

Bownas implies that without such a life-altering spiritual experience, one cannot be a true minister. This raises the bar quite high by modern standards. Tending to the quality of ministry during meeting for worship has been a Quaker struggle almost from the beginning, and it continues today. I feel that this challenge has reached a crisis point in our modern era, with meetings offering very little guidance to newcomers about when to speak. Our fear of speaking publicly about intimate issues is much lower that it was even 50 years ago, and consequently Quaker meetings are much more likely to devolve into “meetings for discussion” – to quote Brenda Heales and Chris Cook – as opposed to meetings for worship. That quote comes from the Loring book, volume II, and the chapter she devotes to vocal ministry, which she says “is not notional, political, theological or speculative.” She goes on, “in the absence of an understanding of the prophetic nature of Quaker ministry and its grounding in interior worship, much contemporary vocal ministry has become modeled on the experiences of the attenders in other settings”. In other words, some people new to Quaker meetings think the same rules apply there as in a group therapy, political meetings or meeting for recovery from addiction. While there is no doubt a relationship, she and I both feel we are in danger of losing sensitivity to the awe that comes with connecting to Divine energy.