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To Know, Love, and Serve

David Cowles

Dec 5, 2023

“…Everything I do begins with a primal appetition for the Good, manifest as Truth, Beauty, and Justice. Where I go from there is up to me (free will).”

AA instructs each of us to identify our own Higher Power (HP), aka ‘God’, as each of us understands the term, and then to turn over the management of our lives to that HP. 

“I’m not religious but I’m spiritual,” has become a popular, albeit dubiously meaningful, cliché. It’s one of those memes where N=1: everyone who says it means something different by it. But there is at least one ‘person’ who is entitled to use the phrase meaningfully and consistently and that ‘person’ is a ‘corporate person’: Alcoholics Anonymous.

AA is nothing if not spiritual. Its archenemy is the inflated ego, the illusion (or dream) of control that abides in each of us, curled up like Kundalini at the base of our spines. In the real world, there are things we can change and things we can’t: wisdom is knowing which is which and virtue is having the serenity to accept what we can’t change and the courage to change what we can.

In the Wild West, some ‘woke’ bars required patrons to check their guns at the door; AA asks you to check your ego, i.e., to subcontract your ego-function to your Higher Power. But AA is not ‘religious’; when it comes to Higher Powers, AA is agnostic. Your HP might be YHWH or Christ or the ancient oak at the corner of your street, or a particularly tight group of friends.

Anyway, now you have ‘faith’; you have ‘ultimate concern’ (Paul Tillich). Immediately, a great weight is lifted. You’re no longer ‘required’ to accumulate possessions, amass power, maximize pleasure, control those around you; you’re no longer required to manage the world. You have turned that part of you over to your Higher Power; but then what? What’s left?

According to the Baltimore Catechism (c. 1955), we exist, not accidentally, but for a purpose, and that purpose is to know, love, and serve God (our Higher Power). Vatican II was a wonderful thing…until it wasn’t. It reinterpreted Roman Catholic dogma and liturgy, hoping to make it more relevant in the Post WWII era. But it disrupted a lot of sincere spiritual practices, and it created an unintended barrier between the traditional and the modern.

As a result, today we have a tendency to ignore or even belittle pre-Vatican II spirituality, including the idea that we exist to know, love, and serve God. In fact, this dictum has never been more relevant than it is today.

Recently, I was explaining this idea to a family member who asked, innocently, “Is that how you live your life - knowing, loving, and serving God?” Don’t worry, I won’t be trying on any undeserved haloes any time soon! But I thought to myself, “What else could I be doing? What else is there to do?” I mean, after shedding all my ego attachments (as if), what else is left? 

Every action – mine, yours, an amoeba’s, or an electron’s – is a reaction to the world that is and an anticipation of a world that might be. (Bobby Kennedy: “I dream of things that never were and ask, why not?”) It is motivated and directed by the values resident in your HP, aka God. According to Aquinas, et al., from God’s eternal perspective, Value is simple…and singular: it’s ‘the Good’. Just as white light refracts to generate a rainbow, so the Good refracts… It manifests itself in the spatiotemporal world primarily as Truth, Beauty, and Justice. 

So everything I do begins with a primal appetition for the Good, manifest as Truth, Beauty, and Justice. Where I go from there is up to me (free will). If I choose, I may turn Truth into propaganda, Beauty into pornography, and Justice into power. I can corrupt my Higher Power’s values to serve the interests of the ego I have not yet shed after all. But none of this is knowing, loving, or serving my HP, God.

I ‘know God’ when I seek Truth; I ‘love God’ when I foster Beauty; I ‘serve God’ when I act justly. So I ask again, what else is there for me to do? 


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