Book Review: Seeds of Grace–A Nuns Reflections on Alcoholics Anonymous

seeds of grace bookSeeds of Grace, A Nuns Reflection on Alcoholics Anonymous
by Sister Molly Monahan (not her real name)

ISBN-13: 9781101215678
Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
Publication date: 3/19/2001
Sold by: Penguin Group
Format: eBook
Pages: 208

Review:  A+

I was so happy this book was available as an eBook. I was able to purchase it on the spot.  That’s the thing about eBooks. You’re looking around for a book to read and you find one. With print books, I’d have to wait 3 to 5 days to get it in the mail and by that time I’d already started another book. So, IMHO eBooks are the best invention ever.

Like the good little traditional, practicing Catholic that I am, I had “contempt prior to investigation” with this book. I began reading it with bias. Why?

I’ll tell you. It’s well-covered in the media how there are a lot of nuns in the US that have sort of “gone rogue.” The “nuns on the bus” event last year really bothered me. The media made it seem like all nuns in America are like these nuns on the bus, which made me very sad.

So I read this book as a skeptic, looking for traces or hints of Kennedy Catholic opinion–cafeteria Catholic.  But there was none! She did mention her horoscope sign and her Ennegram number (she is a 1 on the Ennegram scale), which is a little un-Catholic but that was only one sentence. And I like looking at that stuff too and it doesn’t mean I believe it to be Truth, just interesting.

My opinion about the Ennegram method is informed by someone I completely trust, Peter Kreeft.  He has said, “I know Christians who are cultivating ingrown eyeballs trying to know themselves so well—often by questionable techniques like the enneagram, or Oriental modes of prayer—so that they can make the decision that is exactly what God wants for them every time.”

BTW, I am a mix between the 4 and the 7 on the Ennegram scale.  But I digress.

I was so happy that there was nothing cafeteria Catholic about the book. She fully embraces the teachings of the Church. Yay! And I want to find this nun and develop a friendship with her because I feel so connected. Unfortunately she followed AA tradition and so the book is published anonymously, so I can’t find her. I even tried to Google and search for some way to find her but to no avail. I was hoping she had a blog or Facebook page I could connect through.  Oh well.  Back to the book:

From the Publisher: 

Sister Molly Monahan had been drinking, quietly and compulsively, for years when she finally decided to attend her first AA meeting. There she found the emotional support that AA is famous for-but she also found a surprising source of spiritual strength. In this unique book, she reflects on how a nonreligious group brought about such a powerful reawakening of faith-and explores gratitude, community, forgiveness, prayer, and many more subjects of interest not only to alcoholics but to anyone on a spiritual quest.

“Monahan’s unique understanding of both the human and spiritual side of alcoholism forms an important, personal understanding of theology in action.” (Library Journal)

Sister “Molly” was trained in the methods of Ignatian Spirituality, had made week-long retreats annually, had studied spirituality and obtained a graduate degree in theology, yet as she writes, “None of this prevented me from becoming an alcoholic.” And she claims that without Alcoholics Anonymous’ spiritual program of recovery she would be “spiritually bereft.” That is a big statement!  She had all the spirituality and knowledge of Catholic sacramental life yet still couldn’t break the alcoholism cycle until she made it into AA.

cardinal newman

the late Cardinal John Henry Newman

The book is her effort to explain this dichotomy. How could a very devout and spiritual nun say she credits her rebirth in her spiritual life to AA?  Read on to find out.  I did and it was beautifully written and spot on perfect in its descriptions of AA meetings, sponsorship, and the Steps. It’s obvious the author is very intelligent. Every paragraph is smart, interesting and well-designed.

Sister Molly tackles head on some of the questions her experience in AA has raised for her in her Catholic faith.  And like me (and there are so few of us out there that I almost jumped for joy when I read this), for her spirituality and religion are one. Connected. Can’t be separated.  That is how it is for me.  One of the things that held me back from embracing AA in the beginning were all the “Spiritual But Not Religious” people. In so many meetings I hear, “I’m spiritual but not religious,” and I’m sensitive to that statement because in my warped mind it infers that religion is bad and spirituality is good.  For me, I’m spiritual AND religious. And Sister Molly explains this so well in her book.

Most importantly, she explores the distinction that Cardinal Newman made between real and notional assent to dogma in his paper Grammar of Assent, where he explores the phenomenology of religious belief. He explains how those that take religious belief in dogma just a bit further into an experience of religion fall in love with their religion in a  personal, intimate, loyal and difficult to explain with words way…This is what martyrs die for. This, in my opinion is what the mystics and contemplatives of the Church experience and represent, like Saint Teresa of Avila, Saint Catherine of Siena, Saint John of the Cross, Saint Teresa of Lisieux…

Anyways, a great intelligent read.

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16 thoughts on “Book Review: Seeds of Grace–A Nuns Reflections on Alcoholics Anonymous

  1. What “nuns on the bus” incident? I suspect I’ve been living in an Anglican bubble these last 11 months…

    Seriously, people forget that Religious are people too. Underneath the funny clothes, we’re no different to anyone else. We still love, hurt, bleed, get fed up, want to cry, get angry, have bad days, have good days, sweat, have periods (if female), have our hair go grey and/or fall out, get cancer or MS or Parkinsons, suffer from mental illnesses, can become alcoholics or drug addicts or anorexics or bullemics, fall down stairs, stub our toes, get paper cuts, drive cars and pay bills. This means that we do face exactly the same problems that everyone else does, regardless of the fact that we have “training” in God. God isn’t some sort of safety net, that’s for sure.

    • i love this! So true. Nuns are people too! the Nuns on the Bus … well, I put a link in this post now or you can google it. yuck. i couldn’t watch it or read about it while it was happening, although in all truth it was just 14 nuns that took part. the american media made it out to be representative of all american nuns which i’m sure (hope!) is not the case.

      • I’ve googled it, and I really don’t see what the problem is with people standing up to the government who are trying to save money by making life more difficult for the poor. Surely in the scheme of things, sorting out social justice is really rather more important than who people fall in love with? (And isn’t that basically the major theme of most of Jesus’ teaching, the social justice side of things?) Or am I really missing something that hasn’t been shown in the articles I’ve found?

      • standing up to the govt is admirable. i wish these nuns would stand up to the Obama administration–the most anti-catholic administration in the history of our country– but they don’t. They’re not standing for social justice on this bus they’re standing for American liberalism. big difference.

      • This is not clear in the media articles at all. Thank you for explaining it.

        Some people do get confused with serving their vocation and politics, and even within communities there are politics. It’s one thing to go to a demonstration that one personally supports in one’s secular clothes, but if one were to go in habit, then suddenly one is representing the whole Order and it’s assumed that the Order takes that point of view, which may not be the case.

        In the majority of cases, the best protest that Religious can make is to carry on doing whatever it is they’ve been doing, quietly and without a fuss. Working towards a better world starts at the roots, not at the top.

      • oh faith hope chocolate it really was heartbreaking to watch. these are nuns. i have always had so much respect and admiration for nuns and they really tarnished it. the us government is not and would not ever not protect and help the poor. we help the poor even all over the world. it’s a political tactic. and it works unfortunately. the media ate it up like cake, loved it, sensationalized it, glorified it because it was the version of catholicism the media likes. anyways, my blood is boiling because I just commented a long comment on an abortion article LOL. I get so heated over abortion and womens rights issues. I need to put away the laptop and go play with my kids. Happy Mothers Day—I hear it’s mothers day over there!

        • It is Mothers’ day here. I may have made a post on the subject! 😉

          The problem with admiring people is that when we put someone on a pedestal, we forget that they’re human and just like us – fallible. When God made the world, and humankind, he didn’t say we were perfect, he said we were good. That means that we come with flaws. It could be that these nuns started out trying to do the right thing but got so swept up in what was happening that they lost focus. It happens to the best of us. Look at Zimbabwe. Nazi Germany. Communist China. Apartheid in South Africa. It takes a determined person to stay focussed on what is the actual truth of the matter and to not let things get out of hand, and in a Religious Community, if the personality of the superior is a driving force, then everyone can get swept along in her (or his) wake and if they have appointed a load of “yes men” in the other key positions, they can literally get away with murder. It’s sad, but it’s human and it happens.

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