seventeen years ago, a custodian at an Idaho jail drafted
me and another inmate to carry stacks of old newspapers
out of an adjoining storeroom for burning.
by itself, it was simply one of those trivial and irksome
things that happen to drunks in jail. But it was a turning
point, for square on the top of one stack was a Sunday
supplement with a feature article about Alcoholics Anonymous.
I read it more carefully than anything I had seen up
to that time about AA.
didn't seek out AA then and there, but I did six months
later, and by 1950 I was finally sober. I give that
newspaper article a great deal of credit, and it may
have been the most important single thing in pointing
me to AA. That brings up an interesting multiple question:
How was it that the article happened to be where
it was at that time? How did it get on the top of the
stack, and why was I picked out of a dozen or so men
to move the papers?
could have been a coincidence, or the law of averages
working. Yet the same kind of thing has happened so
many times since that I don't really place too much
stock in coincidence any more, and neither do many of
my AA friends. I believe that such a thing happens because
there is a Higher Power, God as we understand Him, working
ceaselessly in our best interests. This work was going
on even before we were aware that we needed it, and
it still goes on if we permit it. Far more power is
available to us than most AA members are willing to
accept. Our difficulty is not in persuading God of the
legitimacy of our needs, it is primarily in convincing
ourselves that He has our needs and interests at heart
and knows the way to solve every problem.
you think not so, consider the miracle of AA itself.
In the early 1930's, people everywhere were pretty much
disillusioned as to the possibility of solving drinking
problems. The country had abandoned the idea that drinking
could be solved by legal prohibitions, and, for the
most part, groups of people were reduced to petty bickering
over the subject.
people who were to start Alcoholics Anonymous were,
at that time, more in the dark than anybody. They were
the social outcasts, the salt that had lost its savor,
stretching out their tortured lives from one binge to
the next. They, least of all, knew anything of the fine
work they were to do.
someone did, for already things were moving in their
behalf. The Oxford Group had sprung up, and was particularly
successful in using spiritual principles to help defeated,
unhappy people; it was unusually strong in New York
City at that time. There was also a growing interest
in therapeutic methods of helping alcoholics, and it's
likely that Dr. Silkworth of Town's Hospital--who was
to give AA's Bill W. so much valuable help and advice--had
studied these systems. One effective system, for example,
was the notable Peabody method of counseling, which
was enjoying promising success in the early 1930's.
Perhaps Dr. Silkworth had looked into Richard Peabody's
work, perhaps some of the Oxford Groupers had done so
also, and had added the vital spiritual element which
Peabody didn't use.
any case, all of the ideas and information necessary
for AA's launching were in place by late 1934 and, in
seemingly casual ways, they came together. It could
have been coincidence or the law of averages, but I
choose to call it the work of God. Either He is everything
or He is nothing and, if everything, then those things
which we call coincidence are also subject to His will.
also the work of the Higher Power in bringing individuals
to AA. The ceaseless work of the Mighty Hand, in some
of these cases, borders on the marvelous. One man finds
AA while hitchhiking--the truck driver who picks him
up is an AA member. Another drags himself to the bank
to explain an overdrawn account and is led to our Fellowship
by the bank manager, also an AA member. And the story
of one of my AA friends is almost too incredible to
relate. Deciding to die, he drove out to a lonely road
and connected a hose from the exhaust pipe to the inside
of his car. Shortly after he lost consciousness, a state
policeman came by and rushed him to the hospital. What
was the policeman doing on this deserted road? Well,
he was taking a short cut from one main highway to another!
people may decline to accept the evidence of such examples
on the grounds that God does not play favorites. They
might ask: What about the people who weren't
saved? The alcoholics who didn't find AA; those
who died before the state policeman arrived? If God
is the Father of all, why did He not spare them also?
In this same vein, a columnist once noted that it was
rather thoughtless for the lone survivor of a plane
crash to state that God had spared him when thirty others
answer, of course, is that there is no complete answer
to this question, for our knowledge of God and how He
works is limited. But we do ourselves an injustice by
brooding over difficult philosophical questions instead
of going ahead by putting a simple faith to work in
our lives. In my cups, I used to sneer, "If there's
a God, why is there all this suffering in the world?"
One possible answer--though it didn't occur to me then--was
that much suffering was caused, not by God, but by people
in their cups who sat around and knocked the universe
and its Management instead of doing some work themselves.
such a question does cause us doubt, even after we're
safe and sober in AA, we should, I think, put it to
rest as quickly as possible. Our duty is to absorb and
radiate as much of the AA program as we can get, and
we won't do that very well if we restrict the spiritual
phase of the program to a small corner of our lives.
One of the great teachings of the Christian religion,
for example, is that man has free will, and another
is that God is no respecter of persons. These are difficult
ideas to digest, but in time they become more palatable
and they help answer some of our most irksome questions.
The idea of free will for example, keeps me from blaming
my troubles on God or others, and the no-respecter-of-persons
thought keeps me from imagining that I'm a member of
a spiritual aristocracy of some kind.
other words, we should focus our attention on what we
know to be good and answerable, and not on what seems
to be wrong and unanswerable. I believe the important
thing is that a Higher Power, a Guiding Spirit or Intelligence,
caused AA to be, and led us to become part of it. With
this as my premise, I have gone on to believe that the
same Power Who worked through men and events to create
AA wants to go on working in our lives. He wants
to move and to be known in every person's life. He wants
man to acknowledge and accept his spiritual birthright
as a child of God and is, in fact, literally moving
heaven and earth to help bring this about. The reason
this hasn't happened yet on a broad scale is that man
is slow, painfully slow, to want it himself.
I would have arrived at this picture of God and man
much sooner if I hadn't been a bachelor for so many
years. But now I'm the father of two small sons, and
their painful growth teaches me something about our
relationship to God. I have to let my sons make mistakes
and sometimes fall, so they can learn by themselves.
In the same way, God apparently lets His children make
painful, sometimes tragic mistakes, but the needed lessons
are slowly being learned. My two boys have insistent
demands for excessive candy and dangerous playthings,
and sometimes I must seem almost cruel and overbearing
in my denials. Perhaps there are times when God makes
similar denials in our behalf, to protect us from harm
that would teach no lesson. There are also times when
my boys seem unbearably wicked towards each other or
a playmate, and then I have to curb my own fury. I am
able to do that because I love my sons, and if we sometimes
wonder why God does not sweep away the wrongdoers of
this world with one mighty lightning bolt, we might
reflect that His Universal Love goes out to all men,
our own children grow older, and become responsible,
we give them more responsibility and power. Does God
do this for us also? I believe that He does, and that
the way to avail ourselves of additional power is contained
in the AA suggested Steps and other writings.
Teacher-of-old put it this way: "Ask, and it shall be
given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall
be opened unto you; For every one that asketh receiveth;
and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh
it shall be opened."
founders took the same idea and others and did this
with them: "Sought through prayer and meditation to
improve our conscious contact with God as we understood
Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for
us and the power to carry that out."
the Teacher-of-old, and AA's founders, intend to deceive
us with these guidelines, which seem quite to the point
and leave little room for doubting? Do they not say
here. in as many words, that we can make a conscious
contact with God, that He does have a will (or plan)
for each of us, and that the necessary power can be
supplied? All that's necessary is that we want
it ourselves and that we seek it through prayer
and meditation. We need bring nothing but ourselves;
nothing more is required.
happens when we make "conscious contact" with God? Do
we see flashes of light and hear bells? Are we swept
heavenward on wings of ecstasy? Do we wonder, momentarily,
if we are losing our sanity?
careful reading of case histories of spiritual experiences
convinces me that light, ecstasy and other phenomena
may occur but they are hardly necessary. Bill W., our
AA co-founder, had such a sudden spiritual experience,
but tends to minimize its long-term importance. What
really matters is the change in attitude that develops,
and as a person's attitude changes for the better, his
life also changes for the better. A "conscious contact"
with God becomes, in practice, a "conscious contact"
with the heart of mankind. The more conscious we are
that man is our brother, the more conscious we become
that God is our Father. We are forgiven, and feel forgiven,
if we forgive. We find mercy if we show it. We feel
that we are loved if we try to love all others. When
an individual knows this and practices it in all his
affairs, a quiet change comes over his life--a change,
in its way, no less spectacular than the breakup of
ice on a great river in the spring.
kind of thinking is a long way to come from a stack
of newspapers in an Idaho jail. My point is a simple
one: Somebody up there likes you, is seeking you, and
has the gates of His kingdom wide open for you. The
AA program suggests total submission to God's will and,
because of this, it has what it takes to direct you
all the way. If anything's needed, you'll find your
way to it--the right persons, places and things will
show up at the right time. Just make sure it's God's
will you're truly seeking, and you'll find the power
to do things that were previously impossible. And this
isn't as big an order as it seems. For many of us, when
we were in places like the Idaho jail, it was once almost
an impossibility to smile!