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The Twelve Steps

1. Powerless 2. Restore 3. Decision 4. Inventory
5. Admit 6. Ready 6. Remove 8. Harm
9. Amends 10. Continue 11. Conscious/Contact 12. Spiritual

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Serenity Prayer: Serenity



"God, grant me the SERENITY to accept the things I cannot change"

The words of the Serenity Prayer seem as if they were created specifically for use on sentimental screen savers, inspirational posters, and syrupy greeting cards. They often hover majestically against a background of scenic sunsets, ocean shores, and mountain streams. The prayer sometimes comes close to sounding like a cliché. But the hope it offers is deadly serious to those who yearn to experience a day of sober serenity.

In 1934, Webster's Dictionary offered this definition: "Serenity n. The quality of being bright, clear, and calm".

As an artist who wishes to offer an original perspective, I wasn't pleased when my prayer and meditation on the word "Serenity" produced YET ANOTHER pastoral drawing. All of the other drawings in my Serenity Prayer series had been slightly surprising, unconventional, and even mysterious. Still, I remained committed to making the drawings that my Higher Power inspired, whether I understood them or not.

It wasn't until the Serenity illustration was finished that the real point of the illustration became clear to me.

In the drawing, a tree is perched on the shore of a river. The surface of that river is broken up by very common-looking waves. But in the area closest to the tree, the water appears very still and smooth. That's not entirely unusual. Who hasn't seen exactly that type of becalmed water in the midst of light waves?

Then a memory came back to me. My high school physics teacher taught that when a wave travels, it will not stop until it is stopped by another force. We may think of waves as tapering down as they travel, but that's not entirely accurate. The reason they appear to lose size is because their force becomes spread out around an increasingly expanding circle. Waves cannot stop abruptly in mid-water.

Still, haven't we have all seen such patches of mirror-smooth water amid rippling waters? I am confident that science can explain it—I am sure of that. But I still marvel at whenever I see that effect on real water. 

I now know I can turn my inward gaze toward flat water when confronted by a world of choppy, honking, distracting noise. I no longer ask my Higher Power to stop the world around me. I can ask for help being bright, clear, and calm whenever I choose to.

Serenity Prayer: Grant




"God, GRANT me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change"

This drawing may confuse you at first. It is not lovely like most "inspiring" artwork is. But please bear with me; you may feel as surprised as I was.

I looked up the word "grant" in my 1934 Webster's Dictionary. The word is so familiar that I almost didn't bother. However, its 1934 meaning was not what I expected. I think of the word "grant" as meaning the same thing as "to give". I usually hear it in connection with someone applying for a financial grant and receiving they money they requested. To me, it basically seems like a gift. There are usually strings attached to that type of grant and a certain outcome is often required. But once the grant is—well—granted, the person gets money from the grantor. So until now, "grant" always meant "to give".

But the definition was this: "Grant v. to agree or assent to".

Giving is not even mentioned. Why would we ask the God of our understanding, to "agree" instead of to "give"? Personally, whenever I recited the Serenity Prayer, I thought I was asking to be GIVEN courage, serenity, and wisdom. My request was the same as saying: "God won't you please, please, please, PLEASE give me those good qualities?" But with the dictionary open in from of me, the that request did not fit. 

Begging God to give me qualities that He has never refused to give me suddenly seemed a little absurd. Then more and more and MORE absurd.

Did I really believe that God sits idly by until people like me beg for good qualities? Did it seem likely that God would reply, "Well, I'm not so SURE. Do you DESERVE good human qualities?" We cannot know God's motives fully, but that image struck me as being extremely unlikely. OF COURSE our Higher Power wants us to have good qualities!

Those financial grants I referred to earlier are not given out literally at random or as favors. For example, grants intended for "Female Farmers" will go only to female farmers. Here in the mundane world, the funding offered by grant-offering institutions can be depleted. But can the Divine "budget" for supplying good human qualities ever run out?

I have trouble imagining my Higher Power being selfish or stingy when faced with such unselfish requests. Is there any voice in Heaven bellowing, "We are receiving far too many earthly requests for courage, serenity, and wisdom. Cut off the supply immediately!!!"

Only the voice of inner fear would conceive a selfish God like that. My fear often disguises itself as an unquestionable authority or indisputable assumption. To confront my fear, I began drawing what my fear would have me believe. I envisioned a cruel-looking and intimidating barrier between me and Serenity. The barrier is tall and bristling with spikes, wires, chains, and nails. I could never penetrate it or scale it. If God is cruel, then He would be sneering and taunting: "See how beautiful Serenity looks? Well I'm certainly not going to let YOU have it. I'm going to give it to someone else, not YOU!"

Is that God? Or is that odd?

I had to admit that it was my fear—not my Higher Power—which denied me access to courage, serenity, and wisdom. I have come to believe that my Higher Power has already imbued me with those qualities. He doesn't really "give" them to me today, they became my birthright long ago.

The key to unlocking this "Grant" drawing is sitting out in plain sight. A glance to the right and the left of the barrier shows the fence is very narrow. As long as I remain frozen by my fear, I will face nightmarish blockages which are entirely inside my own mind. If I move away from the spot that fear has lured me into, I realize that God has already granted me everything I need in the Serenity Prayer—long before I ask.

The next time I prayed the Serenity Prayer, I didn't feel I was pleading for a handout. Rather, I felt I was saying "thank you" for receiving what my Higher Power had already agreed to long ago.

— Amen to that


TRIVIA: If parts of this fence vaguely remind you of a concentration camp fence, that is on purpose. I wanted this fence to look horrible and that's the most horrible type of fence I know of. Does my desire to show something scary confuse you? To be honest, this drawing confuses most people and I understand why. It is showing us the world as Fear would have us see it. Fear wants us to view the world this way: "One way or the other, I will always be denied the good life that I yearn for." And who can argue with Fear? It is high and wide and deep and terrifying. In a moment of real panic, Fear blocks out everything else and completely fills up our entire view of the world. Like that fence in my drawing, my Fear is scary as hell. Fortunately fear is not my Higher Power. I don't have to believe it and trust it and follow it. I can take a step back from it at any time, and ask my real Higher Power to show me what He sees. When I do that, fear shrinks a little at first. Then I notice there is hopeful information that my fear forgot to mention. And fear shrinks a bit more. And soon, I notice I am not surrounded by a fence of fear anymore. In fact, fear usually shows me only a small piece of the whole picture. I can choose to stay "trapped" behind that small fence OR I often can choose to go a different way. Like around it. Away from it. Find another path that is free from fear. Oh it looks huge and awful, alright. But the only way that fear can replace my Higher Power is if I let it. I ask God to grant me the courage and serenity not to let that happen today.

Serenity Prayer: God


Artist's Remarks

"GOD, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change"

I have often heard other members of Twelve Step groups refer to life's most divine force with the phrase "a power greater than human power" or simply as "My Higher Power". I sometimes wondered how these unique and somewhat mysterious phrases came to Bill Wilson's mind as he wrote the Big Book of AA. I opened my enormous 1934 Webster's Dictionary to see which words were used by Webster's staff to literally define god.

The principal definition: "God n. a being of more than human attributes and powers"

Hmmm. Interesting. "A being of more than human powers" vs "A Higher Power". There certainly is some similarity between Webster's definition and the trademark phrases used in the Twelve Step groups. It might be pure coincidence; I have no way of knowing. Still, this dictionary definition helped me grasp the Twelve Step definition more clearly. My solution will never come from a human power. Not from myself, family, fellowship, professionals, clergy, sponsors, etc. No power that is human power can help me. Once I got sober, I knew this to be true.

I have used my drawing skills to underscore the point. The "God" drawing includes items reflecting the greatest of human forces, including the diploma (education), the beaker (science), the gavel (justice), the rose (love), the crown (royalty), the pearls (wealth), the drill (industry), the stethoscope (medicine), the football (sports) etc. The drawing also includes seductive temptations found in human affairs including the bullet (violence), the shot glass (alcohol), the pills (drugs), the bra strap (sex), the cigar (tobacco), dice (gambling), etc.

So, the hand which appears in the "God" drawing is not a hand at all. It is an empty space where the clutter of human powers cannot reach. In effect, I have drawn God by not drawing God at all. I have made the drawing to remind myself that when I strive to find Him, I can start by ruling out all human powers in the world. And there, the real search can begin.

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