[Newcomers often wonder why a Christian prayer is said at all AA meetings when AA is not a religious program but a spiritual one. I recently came across this letter on the Internet which Bill in his own words explains the origin and the continuing tradition of saying the Lord’s Prayer and The Serenity Prayer at Meetings.]
A Letter From Bill W. Regarding The Lord’s Prayer In A.A. From the A.A. Archives in New York
April 14, 1959 Dear Russ,
Am right sorry for my delay in answering. Lois and I were a long time out of the country and this was followed by an attack of the marathon type of flu that has been around here in New York. We are okay now, however, but I did want to explain my delay.
Now about the business of adding the Lord’s Prayer to each A.A. meeting.
This practice probably came from the Oxford Groups who were influential n the early days of A.A. You have probably noted in AA. Comes of Age the Lord’s Prayer was a custom of theirs following the close of each meeting.Therefore it quite easily got shifted into a general custom among us.
Of course there will always be those who seem to be offended by the introduction of any prayer whatever into an ordinary A.A. gathering. Also, it is sometimes complained that the Lord’s Prayer is a Christian document. Nevertheless this Prayer is of such widespread use and recognition that the arguments of its Christian origin seems to be a little farfetched.
However, around here, the leader of the meeting usually asks those to join him in the Lord’s Prayer who feel that they would care to do so. The worst that happens to the objectors is that they have to listen to it. This is doubtless a salutary exercise in tolerance at their stage of progress.
So that’s the sum of the Lord’s Prayer business as I recall it. Your letter made me wonder in just what connection you raise the question.
Meanwhile, please know just how much Lois and I treasure the friend ship of you both. May Providence let our paths presently cross one of these days
It’s ALMOST a cliché. Time and time again, you’ll hear AA members talk about what’s happened to them in the way of financial recovery, then quickly add, “But material things don’t count. Money doesn’t buy happiness. You don’t have to drive a Cadillac to feel good.”
Whatever its form, the statement makes me uneasy. It is true that excessive materialism is one of the curses of our age, and that many of us have come to grief while in pursuit of the god of business success. Others have been disillusioned when they found success and it turned to ashes in their grasp. And there’s no doubt that material things are limited in their power to give us what we really need in life. Materialism should be modified. But dare we push this modification to the point of saying that material things don’t count at all?
Sometimes, there’s almost a trace of hypocrisy in these announcements. An AA member speaks at our group and tells with great joy of his emancipation from the need to own a Cadillac. Walking with him to the parking lot, I am then astonished to see him slide behind the wheel of his new Caddy for the trip home. If Cadillacs don’t, count, why is he driving one? Why didn’t he buy a compact and give the dif- ference to charity?
Or take the occasional member who lectures the destitute down-and-outer. Outside, the temperatures are falling, and the newcomer wonders where he will sleep that night. He has stumbled confused into AA, partly for hope and partly to bum the price of a night’s lodging. Before he knows it, somebody is telling him not to be preoccupied with “material things,” because his first need is to get sober!
My point is not just to express disapproval of such thoughtlessness–many of us have been guilty of it. Rather, I think we should aim for a realistic view of material things, so that we don’t make fools of ourselves by dismissing them out of hand, and at the same time don’t make slaves of ourselves by letting materialism become our be-all and end-all.
It is obvious, too, that few people really believe anybody who speaks out against materalism or money. The world has few genuine Thoreaus or Gandhis, and most of us pursue money to a certain degree. We also live in a type of world that is virtually uninhabitable without money. Many of us could not even get to work without an automobile, and we have countless other fixed obligations to meet: shelter, clothing, heat, lights, food, taxes, education, medical expenses. A person who tried to get by without these necessities in our present society wouldn’t be admired; he would be thought irresponsible.
The problem with materialism grows out of the false views we have towards money; money itself is not the problem. These false views involve a tendency to ascribe too much power to money, to see it as an answer to every human problem and need. Perhaps we are unconsciously inclined to assume that, since a certain amount of money is very good, increasing amounts will bring proportionate increases of good. But it does not work this way. The power of money is limited; it is completely ineffective in satisfying some needs, though it may be indispensable in satisfying certain others.
What will money do? In general, it will purchase comfort, convenience, and means of pleasure–material things. If you have money, you can live in a comfortable home, have appliances, automobiles, and services for your convenience, and seek pleasure through vacation trips and frequent entertainment.
But if a person is basically unhappy, he cannot be made happy by obtaining comfort and convenience. It is not at all uncommon to find some of the unhappiest people in fine suburban homes. This does not prove that fine suburban homes are bad for happiness. It only shows that the source of happiness is never in “things.”
But it would be silly to leap from this observation to the belief that one can be happy though destitute. Unhappiness and actual desti- tution seem to go hand in hand. The destitute person is so deprived of the basic necessities of ordinary living that he becomes preoccupied with fear and need; hence, he is unhappy. A friend who has had several financial setbacks in his life tells me that he fears destitution, but not poverty. He sees poverty only as a low standard of living. As a rule, poor people still have a roof, three meals, and (in the U.S.) often a car of some kind. But destitute people have nothing. One could be poor and happy; one could rarely be destitute and happy.
I have found a personal answer by seeing material things as spiritual ideas. God made the physical world, as well as the spiritual and mental. It is our job to use material things properly, seeing them just as things to use and not as objects for either worship or condemnation. It is also our job to use spiritual ideas and principles properly, recognizing that, while they are superior to material things, they do not replace the material.
Perhaps we could get the most balanced view of this if we looked upon both money and spiritual principles as “tools” for good living. A competent artisan knows that he must have an assortment of tools in his kit to perform any job well, and he uses each tool for a specific purpose. He does not condemn the saw because it is not a good hammer, and he does not throw away his plane because it will not drill holes. He uses each tool for its intended purpose and completes the job.
As recovered alcoholics, we naturally want to live in reasonable comfort with all the happiness and personal fulfillment we can find. It is up to us to enhance this comfortable life with a healthy spiritual outlook–an outlook characterized by feelings of gratitude, goodwill, optimism, and unselfishness. Such an outlook includes a practical appreciation of the value in material things. We know, then, that material things do matter–but not to the exclusion of other values in life.
Mel B. is former editor of the AA Grapevine and a well known speaker and writer on the subject of AA. His website is
Could you describe your spiritual experience for us and your understanding of what happened?
In December 1934, I appeared at Towns Hospital, New York. My old friend, Dr. William Silkworth shook his head. Soon free of my sedation and alcohol I felt horribly depressed. My friend Ebby turned up and although glad to see him, I shrank a little as I feared evangelism, but nothing of the sort happened. After some small talk, I again asked him for his neat little formula for recovery. Quietly and sanely and without the slightest pressure he told me and then he left.
Lying there in conflict, I dropped into the blackest depression I had ever known. Momentarily my prideful depression was crushed. I cried out, “Now I am ready to do anything – anything to receive what my friend Ebby has.” Though I certainly didn’t expect anything, I did make this frantic appeal, “If there be a God, will He show Himself!” The result was instant, electric beyond description. The place seemed to light up, blinding white. I knew only ecstasy and seemed on a mountain. A great wind blew, enveloping and penetrating me. To me, it was not of air but of Spirit. Blazing, there came the tremendous thought, “You are a free man.” Then the ecstasy subsided. Still on the bed, I now found myself in a new world of consciousness which was suffused by a Presence. One with the Universe, a great peace came over me. I thought, “So this is the God of the preachers, this is the great Reality.” But soon my so-called reason returned, my modern education took over and I thought I must be crazy and I became terribly frightened.
Dr. Silkworth, a medical saint if ever there was one, came in to hear my trembling account of this phenomenon. After questioning me carefully, he assured me that I was not mad and that perhaps I had undergone a psychic experience which might solve my problem. Skeptical man of science though he then was, this was most kind and astute. If he had of said, “hallucination,” I might now be dead. To him I shall ever be eternally grateful.
Good fortune pursued me. Ebby brought me a book entitled “Varieties of Religious Experience” and I devoured it. Written by William James, the psychologist, it suggests that the conversion experience can have objective reality. Conversion does alter motivation and it does semi-automatically enable a person to be and to do the formerly impossible. Significant it was, that marked conversion experience came mostly to individuals who knew complete defeat in a controlling area of life. The book certainly showed variety but whether these experiences were bright or dim, cataclysmic or gradual, theological or intellectual in bearing, such conversions did have a common denominator – they did change utterly defeated people. So declared William James, the father of modern psychology. The shoe fitted and I have tried to wear it ever since.
For drunks, the obvious answer was deflation at depth, and more of it. That seemed plain as a pikestaff. I had been trained as an engineer, so the news of this authoritative psychologist meant everything to me. This eminent scientist of the mind had confirmed everything that Dr. Jung had said, and had extensively documented all he claimed. Thus William James firmed up the foundation on which I and many others had stood all these years. I haven’t had a drink of alcohol since 1934.
I was out to dinner the other night with a friend I have sponsored for many years and he said, “Why don’t you write an article about how the program has changed over the last twenty- five years?” I knew right away what he meant. Recently I have heard many “oldtimers” complain about the “watering down” of our program by the combined influences of treatment centers, pop psychology and television gurus like Dr. Phil and Oprah.
People often complain about the use of our meeting rooms as “baby sitting services” for treatment centers and inexpensive group therapy for those who don’t understand what our meetings are about. While all of the above may be true to some degree or other I still firmly believe that the basic principles and practices of our program have not changed one bit.
I was told early in my sobriety to look for a way in to the program and not for a way out. This meant that if my focus was on the negative aspects of people or the program I could find many reasons to find fault and to leave. By focusing on the positive, and overlooking the defects of others and perceived weaknesses of the group and the program, I would find the true healing power of the program and become successful in learning how to stay sober one day at a time. When I am looking for AA the way it was when I got sober in 1977 I find it in every single meeting I attend. It is in the hearts and minds and eyes of the people I see there.
The past several years I have become very interested in AA’s history. I have had the opportunity to study and attend seminars with Dick B., a great AA scholar. I have read with interest AA Comes of Age and Dr. Bob and the Good Oldtimers. I have had the opportunity to visit Bill Wilson’s birthplace in Vermont and read old AA documents and Bills writings in his library there. All of this has led me to the understanding that the meeting between Bill and Dr. Bob and their subsequent work with AA #3 contain all the principles and the foundation for the Big Book and the Steps. These principles are alive and well today at AA meetings around the world.
The basic principle that I see at every meeting is “one drunk helping another”. The key to Bill’s sobriety was a visit by a fellow drunk and drinking buddy named Ebby who was able to reach Bill with the spiritual solution because Ebby was a drunk like Bill. Bill would never have heard a word if the message was coming from someone who didn’t suffer from the disease of alcoholism. This was the key.
Dr. Bob was set on the course of recovery in the same way when Bill was able to relate to him as one alcoholic to another. As Dr Bob says of Bill, “(he) was a man ..who had been cured by the very means I had been trying to employ, that is to say, the spiritual approach. He gave me information about the subject of alcoholism which was undoubtedly helpful. Of far more importance was the fact that he was the first living human with whom I had ever talked who knew what he was talking about in regard to alcoholism from actual experience. In other words, he talked my language. He knew all the answers and certainly not because he had picked them up in his reading.”
Throughout my own years of active alcoholism many people tried to help me. They approached me with spiritual, intellectual and psychological approaches. The wisdom fell on deaf ears. My friends and family all wished to see me stop drinking and offered to help but they “didn’t understand” and were unable to lead me to sobriety. It was only when I attended my first meeting and a complete stranger who was a fellow alcoholic offered me a welcoming hand that I was able to hear the solution. It was the first time another alcoholic had tried to help me. It was the beginning of a new way of life. I see the welcoming hand of AA at every meeting. At some meetings there are so many acts of kindness that I begin to take them for granted.
In 1965 a huge throng of Alcoholics at the International Convention stood and recited these words: “I am responsible. When anyone, anywhere, reaches out for help, I want the hand of AA always to be there. And for that: I am responsible.”
Forty years later this personal responsibility is alive and well and the hand of AA is still there. It is the hand of kindness, a welcoming hand, extended from one fellow sufferer to another. In every meeting and at every gathering the healing spirit of our program is carried out just like is was with Bob and Bill. As hands are held at the Big Meeting at the International Convention in San Antonio know that AA is “Alive and Well At Seventy-Five”.
1. Law of Mechanical Repair – After your hands become coated with grease, your nose will begin to itch and you’ll have to pee.
2. Law of Gravity – Any tool, nut, bolt, screw, when dropped, will roll to the least accessible corner.
3. Law of Probability -The probability of being watched is directly proportional to the stupidity of your act.
4. Law of Random Numbers – If you dial a wrong number, you never get a busy signal and someone always answers.
5. Law of the Alibi – If you tell the boss you were late for work because you had a flat tire, the very next morning you will have a flat tire.
6. Variation Law – If you change lines (or traffic lanes), the one you were in will always move faster than the one you are in now (works every time).
7. Law of the Bath – When the body is fully immersed in water, the telephone rings.
8. Law of Close Encounters -The probability of meeting someone you know increases dramatically when you are with someone you don’t want to be seen with.
9. Law of the Result – When you try to prove to someone that a machine won’t work, it will.
10. Law of Biomechanics – The severity of the itch is inversely proportional to the reach.
11. Law of the Theater & Hockey Arena – At any event, the people whose seats are furthest from the aisle, always arrive last. They are the ones who will leave their seats several times to go for food, beer, or the toilet and who leave early before the end of the performance or the game is over. The folks in the aisle seats come early, never move once, have long gangly legs or big bellies and stay to the bitter end of the performance. The aisle people also are very surly folk.
12. The Coffee Law – As soon as you sit down to a cup of hot coffee, your boss will ask you to do something which will last until the coffee is cold.
13. Murphy’s Law of Lockers – If there are only 2 people in a locker room, they will have adjacent lockers.
14. Law of Physical Surfaces – The chances of an open-faced jelly sandwich landing face down on a floor, are directly correlated to the newness & cost of the carpet or rug.
15. Law of Logical Argument – Anything is possible if you don’t know what you are talking about.
16. Brown’s Law of Physical Appearance – If the clothes fit, they’re ugly.
17. Oliver’s Law of Public Speaking – A closed mouth gathers no feet.
18. Wilson’s Law of Commercial Marketing Strategy – As soon as you find a product that you really like, they will stop making it.
19, Doctors’ Law – If you don’t feel well, make an appointment to go to the doctor, by the time you get there you’ll feel better.. But don’t make an appointment, and you’ll stay sick.