St. Patrick Goes to AA: a book review

I have an alcoholic friend who has been sober for years now. Recently he said in jest, “It is too bad everybody isn’t an alcoholic.”  With hard-won wisdom he added, “Alcoholics need to work through their issues. If I didn’t I’d be drunk. If everybody else was alcoholic they’d need to work through their own issues and we’d all be healthier”  My friend had been helped by AA’s twelve steps. He acknowledged God, his powerlessness before addiction, and has worked through personal issues. Not everybody struggles with alcoholism but we all need to make a similar journey if we are to move toward spiritual maturity.

Jamie Arpin-Ricci is the pastor of the Little Flowers Community in innercity Winnipeg. He too has observed the value of twelve-step wisdom for everyone, in helping us grow spiritually and live compelling, transformed lives. In Vulnerable Faith, Arpin-Ricci brings life, mission and church into conversation with A.A.’s twelve steps and the life of St. Patrick. Each of his seven chapters begins with a fictionalized retelling of Patrick’s story, and reflections on that part of his journey.

When we meet Patrick, he is an entitled noble with more charisma than character. When  marauding raiders take him captive to Ireland,  he has to die to his past and take up a new identity—slave. It is in dying to himself, facing his selfishness and entitlement that he experiences new vitality and new freedom Christ offers. Eventually he is set free by God and returned to his family through a vision which shows him safe passage home. But the story doesn’t end there. God gave him a missional vision of reconciliation. He returns to Ireland, and ministered to his former captors. His former masters become brothers.

In Arpin-Ricci’s hands Patrick’s story becomes a compelling picture of our spiritual journey.  Patrick’s context is different from our own and none of us longs for violence, oppression and slavery to shape our spiritual life, anymore than we long to be enslaved by addiction and alcoholism. By blending Patrick’s story (and his own story) with twelve-step spirituality, Arpin-Ricci invites us to take our own journey of transformation, admitting our powerlessness, living in right orientation to God and others, making restitution for the places we have wronged others, and spread the good news we have experienced. This isn’t just a description of super sainthood. This is not just a prescription for addictis. Saints and sinners both need to walk this road if  we are to experience all that God has for us and our world.

I have read Patrick’s Confessions several times and other books on Patrick’s life. I’ve prayed his breastplate and am awed by his life and witness. I am Protestant, so wouldn’t described myself as a devotee to the saint (maybe a fan-boy?). However before reading Vulnerable Faith, I have never considered how Patrick’s journey of spiritual transformation is a pattern for us all. Arpin-Ricci’s book is spiritual insightful. I give this four stars and think that you will like it.

Notice of material connection: I received this book from Paraclete Press in exchange for my honest review.