The coronavirus health crisis may also provoke a crisis of faith in any kind of higher power. Marya Hornbacher offers fellow nonbelievers a generous sense of the spiritual for hard times as well as happy ones.
For those who don't believe in God—or don't know whether they believe— New York Times best-selling author Marya Hornbacher offers an insightful, moving approach to the concept of faith.
Many of us have been trained to think of spirituality as the sole provenance of religion; and if we have come to feel that the religious are not the only ones with access to a spiritual life, we may still be casting about for what, precisely, a spiritual life would be, without a God, a religion, or a solid set of spiritual beliefs.
In Waiting, Hornbacher uses the story of her own journey beginning with her recovery from alcoholism to offer a fresh approach to cultivating a spiritual life. Relinquishing the concept of a universal "Spirit" that exists outside of us, Hornbacher gives us the framework to explore the human spirit in each of us--the very thing that sends us searching, that connects us with one another, the thing that "comes knocking at the door of our emotionally and intellectually closed lives and asks to be let in."
When we let it in and only when we do, she says, we begin to be integrated people and can walk a spiritual path. There will be many points along the way where we stop, or we fumble, or we get tangled up or turned around. Those are the places where we wait.
Waiting, you'll discover, can become a kind of spiritual practice in itself, requiring patience, acceptance, and stillness. Sometimes we do it because we know we need to, though we may not know why. In short, we do it on faith.
How should an atheist approach the Alcoholics Anonymous program? Writing with affecting prose and remarkable honesty, Hornbacher (Wasted) examines the 12 Steps as a nonbeliever, wrestles with a process that promotes connection to a higher power that may not exist, and is able to find a sober and spiritual life that is independent of God. Arranged so the months of the year parallel the 12 Steps, Hornbacher takes readers through the depths of addiction to moments of sober but solitary reflection, and eventually toward a recovery marked by spiritual purpose and a desire to help others. An atheist referring to "spiritual steps, leading to spiritual experiences" may raise eyebrows, but the author persuasively shows that a personal spirituality is indeed within reach. This work may be invaluable for individuals facing addiction or a crisis of faith, or for anyone having problems squaring the practicality of AA with its religious language. The bottom line seems to be that living a healthy life in the service of others is spiritual enough.