I go to an A.A. meeting Saturday morning, been doing it for years — it’s called “10th & 11th Step Meditation” meeting. There are some readings, about 10 minutes of meditation, and then a general discussion on a topic taken from the floor — technically, it should focus on the 10th or 11th Steps, but the group doesn’t really seem to care.
So, one of our members raised his hand and suggested that we discuss the part we like best in The Lord’s Prayer (which, as a Catholic school boy in grades 1-6, we usually called “The Our Father,” based on its opening words).
It was an unusual topic for in A.A. meeting in my town (Gainesville, FL), because we usually end meetings by forming a circle, holding hands, calling to memory our members who are struggling, and then saying Reinhold Neibuhr’s Serenity Pray (or at least the first three lines of its ten lines). The Saturday morning meeting is the only one I can think of (or go to regularly) that ends with the Lord’s Prayer.
Well, no one raised a hand to say, “The Lord’s Prayer gives me the screaming jim-jams, since it’s a Christian prayer spoken by Jesus, occurring in the Gospel of Matthew, which is part of the Christian New Testament.” It’s possible that someone thought it — often members mention their trouble with “the God thing”– but didn’t raise a hand.
My dear friend B said her favorite part is, “on Earth as it is in Heaven.” Reminds her, she said, that she has to live in an earthly body and struggle with earthly issues, but that heavenly life is possible, with recovery and grace. My friend J said he always has to laugh at “Lead us not into temptation” because it reminds him of a friend who asked, “Why would I pray that God doesn’t lead me into Penn Station?” Y’know, what he said versus what I heard — like the kid who thought the hymn was about Gladly the Cross-Eyed Bear instead of “Gladly the Cross I’d Bear.”
My favorite part, which I didn’t get to share (50 people at the meeting) is, “Thy Kingdom come.” Nice to think that God’s kingdom is one of our possible futures. Some would say that the Kingdom is already here — it’s in each of us.
The topic of New Year’s resolutions has come up a couple of times lately, understandably since New Year’s is in 4 days. In one of my A.A. meetings it came up, and my friend Hugh said something along the lines of, “A resolution for a whole year!? I have to make a resolution every day.”
And on the last Friday Five (a set of 5 questions) sent to the Dead Runners’ Society listserv, the poster, Douglas Barry in Ireland, asked if anyone makes New Year’s resolutions, and if so, what? Most of the respondents pretty much denigrated the notion of resolutions, in that they tend to dissipate much sooner than the year comes to an end.
I was speaking to friends David and John yesterday about this, and I told them I was going to post about the shelf life of New Year’s resolutions. So I queried the Dead Runners’ Society list, and got responses so far from Charles, Cher, Lynn, JimP, and Martha. All noted that it’s kinda hard to get any space in the gym right after New Year’s, since many have resoluted (resolved, I mean) to begin an exercise program or to be more faithful to their current exercise program. So the gyms are full of new people. (I’ll have to test that at my gym, Gainesville Health and Fitness Center,
on Friday or Saturday (January 2nd & 3rd).
But the new people, who made New Year’s resolutions to exercise, seem to drift away, and by spring it’s a lot easier to get space in the gym.
I’ll have to do an observation about whether or not the population of runners or cyclists seems up on Friday and Saturday as well — I plan a run each day.
I think it’s intuitively obvious that New Year’s resolutions are well-intended but don’t by any means end up observed 100%, all year.
But I’m interested enough to observe the numbers, continue to ask my Dead Runners Society friends about their experiences, and do a little research into the topic. Perhaps the research will simply come my way in our local newspaper, on Slate.com, or on Buzzflash.com. Surely the media will cover the phenomenon, as it does every year.
I wonder if the picture below was taken right around the new year? As for me, I didn’t see greater numbers of runners in my neighborhood when I ran on New Year’s Day, January 2, and January 3 (today). I did go to the gym yesterday (January 2), though, and at just a random observation it seemed to numbers were up.
My friend J was sharing tonight at a meeting that her response to some of the A.A. Promises was, “Are you kidding me”? Her specific example was the one that says, “Fear of economic insecurity will leave you.” Well, she shared that currently she’s a little bit bordering on indigent, so the fear hasn’t and probably won’t leave her.
Maybe a more realistic promise would be, “Fear of economic insecurity will no longer stun me as if I just got Tasered.”
And about the one that says, “You will intuitively handle situations that used to baffle you.” Maybe it could more realistically be phrased: “If you’re extremely mindful, you just might be able to thread your way carefully through situations that used to baffle you. Or, if situations like that continue to baffle you, be patient– it does, after say that the promises will “materialize…sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly.”
And then the final promise: “You will suddenly realize that God is doing for you what you could not do for yourself.” I’d like a reboot of that one that says: “You will realize that God sometimes, or even often, leaves you on your own to meet life’s challenges like an adult, but He always loves you dearly. And searches for you, always.”
Finally, the A.A. Promises end with a rhetorical question, “Are these extravagant promises”? The answer in the Big Book, and the rote answer most people recite at meetings is, “We think not.” I suggest a new answer to “Are these extravagant promises?” That would be: “Not any more. Now they’re fairly realistic.”
Glad we had this little talk.
Recently, I’ve been a bit critical of the A.A. “Big Book” (Alcoholics Anonymous), published in 1938 and written primarily by Bill Wilson, A.A.’s co-founder.
However, there are times in the “Big Book” that Wilson catches a wave, much like the prophet Isaiah does around Chapter 43 of his book (“Those who wait on the Lord\Shall renew their strength”). Wilson writes about the typical alcoholic’s reluctance to believe, at first, that he is mentally or physically different from others in regard to drinking, and his continual experiments with alcohol. These experiments never works, finally leading to “pitiful and incomprehensible demoralization.” That couldn’t possibly be better expressed — the words “incomprehensible demoralization” heavy with sorrow, as is “pitiful.” To anyone who has been there, the words (as I heard read tonight at the start of our meeting) are always moving.
One other felicitous Wilson phrase: “the burden of self.” At times he suffers from metaphoresis (too much metaphor), but “the burden of self” works well. It comes in what’s know as the Third Step Prayer: “Relieve me of the burden of self, that I may better do Thy will.”
I should also note that IMO Wilson’s writing gets better as he becomes more practiced — Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, written in the early 1950’s, is in many respects better than his first book. It’s taut and to the point, somewhat “nuts and boltsy”; he and his cohorts have been building the A.A. program for 15-20 years, and they have practical advice on what works and what doesn’t, and why.
As Bill Sees It, a collection of his writings from the two aforementioned books, from his Grapevine pieces, and especially from his letters, has many gems. He was no saint, but he was a major figure in the 20th Century, we have much to thank him for, and it’s a fun thing to see him develop as a writer (at least to this former writing teacher).
Lately, I’ve been present when people in meetings roundly criticized the A.A. “Big Book,” Alcoholics Anonymous, written mostly by A.A. co-found Bill Wilson and first published in 1938. The wonderful Lorena, in fact, as part of a rant about how the book was shoved down her throat repeatedly when she first joined A.A., called it the “worst book ever.” After the meeting, first congratulating her for an interesting, fun contribution to the meeting after, I had to tell Lorena that competition for worst book ever was pretty stiff, so Wilson’s book is probably out of the running.
Last couple of days, one friend has shared in a meeting that she was offended by not only the stilted language but also the sexism and (to her) overwhelming plethora of God references. Another friend, in a meeting the next night, also objected to the ideas and wording.
Now, I’m always ready to jump aboard with profound and drastic criticisms of the “Big Book.” For one, it’s just too big — so much better if it were about a third smaller, eliminating the all-too-frequent wordy elaborations that Wilson can’t seem to help even after his point is made. (In the first chapter of John M. Lannon’s Technical Communication, a book I taught from for 8-10 years when I was an English professor at Santa Fe College, he warns about burying the essential point under too many words — I try to always remember that in my writing.)
But, this time I raised my hand and said there’s a context we should consider: the book was largely written by a White, male, Protestant New Englander who was born in 1895. Those circumstances explain a lot — and what’s left can be explained by noting that Bill Wilson, though an educated man, was not a professional writer but instead a businessman.
We were talking about “slips” at yesterday’s meeting, and the prevailing sentiment, belabored a bit, a little repetitive, was that the word “slip” implies an accident, whereas relapses were generally planned carefully, or at least had a beginning, middle, and end. They didn’t just happen, like “slipping” on a surprise icy patch of pavement.
We were supposedly reading from As Bill Sees It and using the readings as a springboard for comment. As Bill Sees It is a collection of writings from A.A. co-founder Bill Wilson, taken from Alcoholics Anonymous, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, The Grapevine, and previously-unpublished letters from Wilson. The letters are especially interesting to me, as they’re short and to the point, usually in response to a problem a recovering alcoholic has posed to Bill.
Of the 11 entries indexed under “Slips” In As Bill Sees It, 8 of them are letters or contain parts of letters. The word “slip” is how Bill Wilson refers in the letters to a relapse reported to him by the letter writer asking for advice. We don’t get the original letter (as that might violate the letter writer’s privacy), but we can infer from Wilson’s response that the writer is shaken by the relapse, being hard on himself or herself, feeling like a failure, etc. Wilson’s use of “slip” is his way of being gentle, supportive, compassionate, and it’s a lovely thing to see.
No one at the meeting seemed to notice that — perhaps because no one established the context of letters written by Wilson to recovering addicts who were in distress about relapsing. And, to be sure, we didn’t read many of the entries because those at the meeting preferred talking to reading, as we usually do. But context is important. Wilson apparently didn’t think he needed to jump on the bandwagon and chastise the relapser, but instead chose to be gentle. As I wrote above, it’s a lovely thing to see, and it’s too bad we missed it yesterday.
I’m happy to criticize\analyze the word “slip,” but context makes a difference. Maybe the accidental implication of “slip” is a bit scary — it could happen any time and suddenly, and possibly there’s no way to prevent it. Oh, watch where you’re going — look out for icy patches, roots, etc. on the path; that could prevent a “slip,” possibly.
AN A.A. meeting I go to, maybe 4-5 times a week, is continually discussing “the God thing” — people talk about how, when they came into the rooms of A.A., they had trouble with recognizing that “a power greater than ourselves” could help them. Typically, they go on to talk about how they came to be estranged from and resistant to anything to do with God. Amazing what a sizable number of people have been wounded by church (and perhaps their families’ insistence on attendance\participation\membership in church).
First thing that comes to mind is, A.A.’s 2nd Step specifies “a power greater than ourselves,” not God. And in A.A.’s originating document, Alcoholics Anonymous (aka The Big Book), first published in 1938, the program’s co-founder, Bill Wilson, deals with “the God thing” once for all, when he has his friend Ebby respond to his own resistance to “the God thing” by suggesting, “Why don’t you choose your own conception of God?” (page 12).
When I hear the same people at meetings tell the same stories about their God problem, I’m hearing denial and resistance. If a person doesn’t want to admit he’s powerless over alcohol, doesn’t want to come to meetings and say, “My name is Brendan, and I’m an alcoholic,” doesn’t want to do all the rest of it — then A PERFECT STRATEGY is to attack A.A.
A.A. is a Christian cult!!! And worse, it’s a sneaky and hypocritical Christian cult — they get you in the door and then insist you have to be a Christian. How devious, how hypocritical!! Yes it would be, if it were true.
Most of A.A.’s founders were Christian Protestants, a few Catholics, however nominal their religious connection was. Of course, in the 1930’s, the majority of Americans were Christian Protestants. But, back to page 12 of Alcoholics Anonymous — “why don’t you choose your own conception of God?”
In my experience with A.A. in Gainesville, Florida, where I know literally hundreds of people, I have no idea what their religious affiliation or practice is, and I don’t care. Nor, I think, does anyone else in the program.
Doesn’t keep the topic from coming up in the meeting I referred to every week, twice last week.
For no reason that I can bring to a conscious level, I woke up one morning thinking about this W.H. Auden poem (and kept thinking about it every day for the past week):
W. H. Auden
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.
He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.
The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.
No one in my life has died recently. Went to a meeting Saturday where we talked about death and loss, but I didn’t have anything from current inventory to share. But the experience of loss and death are part of my history, as they are with us all.
Looking at Auden’s poem, one thing especially strikes me: 1) He begins with the personal in Stanza 1, moves out to the larger world in Stanza 2, goes back to personal in Stanza 3, and goes to the much larger world of nature\the universe in Stanza 4. That is, in Stanza 1, clocks, the telephone, the dog, the pianos, are all things we might have in the house — the “muffled drum” and coffin, not so much. In Stanza 2, skywriting planes, public doves, and traffic policemen are part of the neighborhood, maybe part of the city, not part of the house. Stanza 3 is about the dead, loved person, “he,” and is quite personal.
Then, in the concluding Stanza 4, the speaker of the poems moves out of the home, the neighborhood, the city, and into the cosmos — the death is felt, he imagines, in the stars, moon, sun. Back to earth a bit, with the death causing him\us to “pour away the ocean,” to “sweep up the wood.” This move from personal to cosmic is very Shakespearean, very Late Renaissance — in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, for instance, Titania’s squabble with Oberon has caused crops to fail and “disasters in the sun.” The world and the universe is connected to the personal — everything corresponds to everything else. As Giordano Bruno wrote, “The world is a poem spoken by God, and God is an acutezze favolare” (a “witty speaker”).
At A.A. meetings, I often hear people talking about “working” on their 4th Step, with about 150 pages “so far.” Or how it took them 2 years to do the first 3 Steps.
Made me think of my favorite part in Alcoholics Anonymous, often referred to as The Big Book. It occurs about 15 pages in, during “Bill’s Story.” Bill Wilson is still drinking, drinking hard. His old school chum calls him — his name isn’t given in the text, but we know from the history that it’s Ebby Thatcher. Ebby wants to come by for a visit, and Bill agrees. He’s nearly chortling and rubbing his hands together at the opportunity to drink with his old buddy — he’s got plenty of gin in the house.
But Ebby refuses a drink, saying, “I’ve got religion.” Oh no, thinks Bill — a few weeks ago Ebby was a drunken madman, and now he’s a religious zealot. This allows Wilson to go on for a few pages about his objections to religion and to God; the usual things, being forced into church as a child, his mom, his grandfather wanting him to publicly pledge to abstain from alcohol, which Bill didn’t. The same things we hear from all sorts of A.A. members about their difficulties with “the God thing.” Amazing how many people have been wounded by organized religion.
And then Ebby delivers the bombshell: “Why,” he asks, “don’t you choose your own conception of God?”
Problem solved, for Bill Wilson and for the burgeoning A.A. program — not so much chance of driving people out the door by talking about God if they can choose their own conception of God.
What really interests me here, though, is that Bill pretty much instantly can now do Steps 2 and 3. And then, a few weeks later, he “ruthlessly faced [his] sins and became willing to have my new-found Friend take them away.” Ebby returns, and Bill “fully acquainted him with my problems and deficiencies.”
I make that Steps 4, 5, 6, and 7; Bill and Ebby are rocketing through the program in a matter of weeks. If our founders could make that much progress that quickly, seems as though it shouldn’t take us, 75-80 years later, any longer. By the end of that same paragraph, Bill starts working on Steps 8 and 9. If you’re a Greek Orthodox A.A. member like I am, who wants to do it like the Founders did it originally, seems that going right to it and doing it quickly is the way to go.
YMMV, as we say in The Dead Runners’ Society — Your Mileage May Vary.