Spoke to Yitzak yesterday. He is still in residential rehab outside Baltimore. He called a few days ago to say his wife was filing for divorce. This wasn’t a surprise to anyone, but it left him with a heavy heart. Yesterday’s call was entirely different. He called to say that he has found himself filled with an unexplainable serenity, a great sense that a burden has been lifted from him, and a pure belief that God is looking out for him. It’s what we in The Rooms call riding a “Pink Cloud”. I don’t use that term dismissively. When you’re on a Pink Cloud, I say sit back and get comfortable. And Yitzak is aware of the fleetingness of experience, that he may not feel this way tomorrow. But we spoke about how moving through the thing you are most scared of can be a great purifier. In my judgment, Yitzak has passed an enormous spiritual test: he has lost virtually everything – career, family, home – but he remains hopeful. It is a passage you hear about over and over in The Rooms. It is not a test I have ever faced, and I hope I never will. I am one of the lucky ones.
More and more, I am convinced that this cycle of addiction and recovery is the 20th and 21st century’s version of both Joseph’s Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, and the life-transforming experience that Samuel Bownas speak about. It is a metaphorical journey to Hades, actually lived, and those of us lucky and strong enough to make it out alive are spiritually altered, there is no way not to be. The difference today is that we have many ways of speaking about that spiritual alteration, whereas Bownas and his contemporaries in the Quaker community would have said we had accepted Christ as our savior, or that we had opened ourselves to the Holy Spirit. But these are secular times, and so we must create terms like Higher Power, Inner Light or even psychological transformation to describe what is essentially the same thing: the rebirth of the human spirit after getting really close to death. And it is vitally important that we honor whatever language a person uses to describe this transformation, and not demand the supremacy of one language over another. Language is the creation of man and therefore fallible – a central Quaker belief. But the experience of new spiritual life is real, universal and indescribable. It happened to Fox, who afterwards created the Religious Society of Friends. It happened to John Coltane, who never went to The Rooms, but was transformed after facing down his demons, and created “A Love Supreme”. It happened to Anne Lamott, who sobered up, joined St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church and wrote Traveling Mercies. And me? I would never put myself in that company, but I can use them as my inspiration.