There will be a variety–large variety–of diverse topics and presentations at The First International Alcoholics Anonymous History Conference at Portland, Maine, September 6-7, 2013.
One important topic will certainly be the 11th Step and Quiet Time meetings today. Father Bill W., Chair of the Recovery Ministries for the Episcopal Diocese of Texas will bring a number of very useful guides and papers for participants to chew on and discuss.
To give you a taste of what’s in store, here is one of the Father Bill W. presentations:
A. A.’s Pioneer Program & the Practice of Quiet Time
Why early A. A. recovery rates far exceeded those of today
– by Father Bill W., Chair of Recovery Ministries for the Episcopal Diocese of Texas
In Step Eleven, we’re directed “to improve our conscious contact with God” through the daily practice of prayer and meditation. I’m sad to say that for the first 20 years in my recovery the real meaning of the words “conscious contact” seemed to elude me. Like many recovering addicts, I’d start off my day with a brief prayer asking God to keep me clean and sober and perhaps reading a short passage from a favorite meditation book; but experiencing a genuine “conscious contact” with God – or practicing a daily Quiet Time that might lead to an experience of His presence or hearing the sound of His voice – that wasn’t any known part of my program at all.
But then one day, I hit an emotional wall. I didn’t relapse, but deep inside I felt acutely the emptiness I’d been trying my best to cover over and ignore. I knew I needed something more in my relationship with God than I’d experienced up till then. Ninety meetings in 90 days or one more journey through the 12-Steps wasn’t likely to bring me what I craved.
I needed to experience more intimately the Great Reality that the Big Book promised was alive and living deep within me. Even though I was sober, I wasn’t in relationship with God as perhaps I might be with a real friend. But, once again, the gift of desperation re-appeared in my life and I was willing to travel still farther down the “Road of Happy Destiny.”
It was then that I was guided to the late Earl Husband. Earl was an A. A. archivist in Oklahoma City who opened a spiritual door for me and invited me to come step inside. He introduced me to the beliefs and practices of the Oxford Group. I came away from our first meeting with a number of books and a glimpse into a program that was similar yet very different from the one I had known in A.A. It was the program worked by the early A.A. Pioneers during the years 1935 to 1939 – the years before the Big Book was published. The years when there were no 12 steps and there was no Alcoholics Anonymous.
A. A.’s Pioneers had all gotten sober in the Oxford Group. The Group called themselves “A First Century Christian Fellowship.” They set out to build a fellowship based not on religious doctrine and dogmas that can often divide, but on a felt experience of God’s presence that can’t help but unite. Oxford Group members referred to themselves as “Soul Surgeons” and “Life Changers.” But the change they sought to bring about in the world could only begin by changing one person at a time – and that change had to begin deep within themselves. In the spiritual laboratory of a person’s own life – a new man or woman was challenged to engage in a simple but costly experiment. They said, “Either God is or He isn’t. Either God’s everything or He’s nothing.” To begin the experiment, all anyone needed to do was acknowledge even the possibility of God’s existence and that, if He existed, God could solve whatever problem the person might have (Step 2). Then they were to invite Him into their lives, asking Him to do for them what they could not do for themselves. (Step 3)
What became our Step Three was originally a one-time commitment inviting God (if he existed) to come into one’s life. This was usually performed in the presence of another committed individual and done on one’s knees. They then continued in their experiment by attempting to live a life grounded in absolute honestly, purity, unselfishness and love (Steps 6&7). These were the Four Absolutes that lay at the very heart of the Oxford Group program and they can still be found today in many of the 12 Steps groups around Akron and Cleveland where A.A. began. Then, with the help of another surrendered member of the Group, they searched their lives (Step 4) and shared all the dark places they found inside (Step 5). They then made amends to the people they had harmed, just as we do today (Steps 8 & 9).
Finally, but perhaps most importantly, they practiced a daily Quiet Time. They believed that anyone sincerely seeking to know and serve God would begin to hear His still, small Voice and would be guided onto the particular life-path that God wanted them to journey (Steps 10-11, 12). Dr. Bob and his little band of drunks in Akron reduced this formula to:
Trust God / (1,2,3),
Clean House / (4,5,6,7,8,9),
Help Others / (10,11 and 12).
They had no steps in those early years, but they had found a formula that worked miracles!
As I learned more about the origins of A.A., suddenly the years 1935 through 1939 started to come alive for me. I was beginning to experience the Power hidden within the Steps in a wholly new way. Those years were the time when alcoholics were recovering without the benefit of the 12 Steps (because they’d yet to be written) but they were recovering with the benefit of a direct and felt experience of the power and presence of God arising in their consciousness. That Pioneer Program produced success ratios far beyond the numbers we see today. (Pioneers recorded a 75% recovery rate with half their members finding immediate sobriety and another 25% achieving it after a convincing but painful relapse. In Cleveland, the reported rate was higher still. ) Interestingly, the recovery rates during this same period for New York City were not nearly so high. (Perhaps it’s because the New York group recovery formula wasn’t Trust God, Clean House, and Help Others; instead, it was Don’t Drink and Go to Meetings!)
As I read more and more about the Oxford Group and about early A. A. Pioneer practices, I was struck by how critical the conscious contact idea was in bringing about the spiritual awakening that every “real alcoholic/addict” so desperately needs to stay clean and sober. Receiving direct guidance from God through the practice of Quiet Time formed the heart of Oxford Group practices and it was at the heart of the Pioneer’s Program as well. As Dr. Bob and the Good Oldtimers points out: “The A.A. members of that time did not consider meetings necessary to maintain sobriety. They were simply desirable. Morning devotion and quiet time, however, were musts.’” (Please don’t read this as saying “meetings aren’t important” – it’s saying that meetings are important – but meetings alone won’t bring about the in-depth, psychic change that conscious contact with God both can and will.)
During the second 20 years of my recovery, I’ve done my best to learn more about these early 11th Step practices and put them to work, however falteringly, in my life. Quiet Time has changed my life and I’ve watched it do the same for countless other men and women around the country. Maybe Quiet Time is part of God’s plan for your life as well. I invite you to try the great experiment and see.
For a free copy of the original Oxford Group pamphlet that circulated in Akron, Ohio in the 1930’s and suggested instructions for using it, please e-mail: RevBillW@Gmail.com
~ How to Begin Practicing Quiet Time ~
· Commit to practicing Quiet Time for a minimum of 10 to 20 minutes daily for 30 days.
· Practice it each morning. (Get up earlier if need be. If for any reason you miss a morning, that’s quite OK, simply begin counting the 30-day period over again! If you will do this for 30 days in a row, you’ll likely make it a practice for the rest of your life.)
•Choose a sacred space – a quiet place where you can be alone. It should be comfortable and inviting. Reserve it only for prayer, if at all possible.
· Buy a notebook to write down your thoughts – have it ready when you begin.
· Sit in an upright posture. Remember into whose Presence you are entering.
· Read a short passage from scripture preferably beginning with the ones Dr. Bob and early A.A. members recommended: the Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 5, 6 and 7, Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, Chapter13 that’s know as “The Love Chapter,” and finally the Letter of James. So much of the A.A. program came from this short section of the Bible that A.A. was almost named, “The James Club!”)
· Breathe deeply 2 or 3 times – let go of all tension and worry with each outward breath. (Add any other relaxation techniques, prayers, petitions or practices you find helpful.)
· Write a question. A very honest question that captures your real need. If you have a problem that’s troubling you where you really need God’s guidance, write it out and ask. Here are some examples:
1. God, I’ve tried getting clean and sober before – please tell me what I need to do that’s different this time. (If you’re already sober, look at other addictions or behaviors in your life that have you stuck and ask for guidance with them.)
2. Heavenly Father, I feel so alone and separated from you and from others, please help me feel your presence.
3. Father/Mother God, I’m withdrawing / isolating again – moving further away from my spouse (or my child). Please tell me what to do.
4. Lord Jesus (or Spirit, or My Creator), I need your guidance today as I face _______. Please show me the way so I can do your will.
(Notice the different names being used for God. Choose the name that feels right for you.
If you are struggling to find a name, start with “Unknown God” or “God, if you’re there.”)
· Listen for God’s Voice, with your pen & notebook in hand. If the connection isn’t immediate and words do not come into your mind, use your active imagination, especially when you’re first making conscious contact: Say to yourself, “If God were to speak to me this is what he might say:” _______________________
· Write the words that come into your mind. Try not to edit them. Only listen and write. (If words come that you think are not from God write them anyway. Put them in brackets if you like and try to re-focus on listening for God’s Voice. In time, you will come to distinguish God’s Voice more clearly from the voices of the ego.)
· If stuck, write your own name or write, “My child” or “My precious” or some other term of endearment that a loving Father-Mother God might use when speaking to you.
· Stop writing when it becomes strained.
· Feel the closeness of God as you experience conscious contact.
Following the Guidance:
•Share your writings weekly with a sponsor or with another individual who is also practicing Quiet Time. You may find that their writings contain some particular spiritual guidance for you or yours for them.
•Check your guidance. Does it pass the test: is it Honest, Pure, Unselfish and Loving.
· Act on your guidance – but only if it passes the test – and if it is a major move, check it also with others who are also listening to God.
SOME HISTORICAL REFERENCES:
· Dr. Bob and the Good Old-Timers tells of the 1938 report Frank Amos sent to John D. Rockefeller after studying the new A.A. movement. Amos reported “The A.A. members of that time did not consider meetings necessary to maintain sobriety. They were simply ‘desirable.’ Morning devotion and ‘quiet time,’ however, were musts.” (p.136)
· Bill Wilson: “I sort of always felt that something was lost from A.A. when we stopped emphasizing the morning meditation.” Dr. Bob and the Good Oldtimers (p. 178)
•In Dr. Bob’s last major talk in Detroit, Michigan in 1948, he identified some of the spiritual principles that kept him and other A.A. Pioneers sober:
“We were convinced that the answer to our problems was in the Good Book.
To some of us older ones, the parts that we found absolutely essential were the Sermon on the Mount, the thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians, and the Book of James. … The Four Absolutes, as we called them, were the only yardsticks we had in the early days, before the Steps. I think the Absolutes still hold good and can be extremely helpful.
I have found at times that a question arises, and I want to do the right thing, but the answer is not obvious; almost always, if I measure my decision carefully by the yardsticks of absolute honesty, absolute unselfishness, absolute purity, and absolute love, and it checks up pretty well with those four, then my answer can’t be very far out of the way….”
The Big Book 11th Step instructions encourages us to “…ask God to direct our thinking” and that “we ask God for inspiration, an intuitive thought….What used to be the hunch or the occasional inspiration gradually becomes a working part of the mind. Being still inexperienced and having just made conscious contact with God, it is not probable that we are going to be inspired at all times. We might pay for this presumption in all sorts of absurd actions and ideas. Nevertheless, we find that our thinking will, as time passes, be more and more on the plane of inspiration. We will come to rely upon it.” (Big Book p. 87)
A FINAL NOTE:
Sometimes people ask me, “How do you know it’s really God’s Voice you’re hearing? How do you know it’s not just you?” My answer is that I really don’t know – and in the end, it really doesn’t matter. If it’s me, it’s the best part of me I’ve ever found and it’s the part I need to start listening to more and more. It’s the small, still Voice that quiets the raucous “ego voices” of guilt and shame, anger and fear, addiction and destruction. Those are voices I’ve known and listened to all of my life. At 20 years sober, it was time for a major change to my program and not just a little tweaking around the edges. What I discovered was yet another Promise of the Big Book coming true: “When we drew near to Him He discloses Himself to us!” (Big Book p. 57)
For a free copy of the Original Oxford Group pamphlet write: RevBillW@Gmail.com Revised 6.16.13