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April 1994

The Realm of Spirit Is Broad

We hear in AA meetings that "the spiritual is the program," or from the Big Book: "What we really have is a daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of our spiritual condition." Without faith in something greater than myself, I know I'd drink and die.

At this writing, I have thirteen years of continuous sobriety, have sponsored fifteen women, and have always been active in AA, first at the group, then at the district level. I share my AA "record" because I am more than a little scared to make this point: the Christian practices at meetings offend my non-Christian beliefs. In disclosing the nature of my beliefs, I know that "keep an open mind" applies rigorously to me. Acceptance comes hard, but if I want my beliefs respected, I must respect those of others. It's tricky dissenting when Judeo-Christianity still defines the dominant values in our culture. But if religion is an outside issue in AA, then saying the Lord's Prayer goes against Tradition Ten: "Alcoholics Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues; hence the AA name ought never be drawn into public controversy."

I back my case with Bill W.'s writings, such as the qualifier "God as we understood Him" in Steps Three and Eleven, and his musings in the Big Book's chapter "We Agnostics": "To us, the Realm of Spirit is broad, roomy, all inclusive; never exclusive or forbidding to those who earnestly seek. It is open, we believe, to all men [and women]."

And: "Whether we agree with a particular approach or conception seems to make little difference. . . .[these] are questions for each individual to settle for himself.

"On one proposition, however, these men and women are strikingly agreed. Every one of them has gained access to, and believes in, a Power greater than himself. This Power has in each case accomplished the miraculous, the humanly impossible."

I regret being invisible behind the generic he, but read on: "We found the Great Reality deep down within us. In the last analysis it is only there that He may be found."

Now that AA is worldwide, it can't, in practice, align itself with any specific sect or denomination: not Christian, Buddhist, Islamic, Wiccan, or Native spiritualities. Why? Because AA has the best proven success with alcoholics, and we all need it: to drink is to die. Note: for spiritually mainstream AA members, please remember how different you felt before coming into AA and apply that unease to members who depart from majority-held beliefs.

Since recovering incest memories in I990, I'm not comfortable with God the Father. As a youngster, I equated God with Daddy but didn't realize why I felt that God betrayed, rejected, and hated me. Today, I'm slowly evolving a genderless or beyond-gender concept of Goddess as the divinity within all creatures and things.

When we say the Christian Lord's Prayer at meetings, I substitute Mother for Father and Queendom for Kingdom. The cheerleaderish chant sometimes heard --"Whose father?" and its automatic response "Our Father" --curdles my stomach. I whisper "Our Mother" or remain silent, depending on my level of tolerance and acceptance. In the moment of silence, I always pray to be open and teachable, so I don't miss a possible lifeline. In my private daily application of the Steps to my life, I substitute Goddess and her for God and him. This may seem blasphemous to some, but it makes the Steps alive, my own. At meetings or with sponsees, out of respect for the AA "we," I voice the Steps as written.

After feeling out-of-synch for so long before coming home to AA, I chafe at being once again odd person out. The piece of AA wisdom I use most is from the Big Book: ". . .acceptance is the answer to all my problems today." I'd like that courtesy extended to my beliefs. I've been asked if I believe in Satanism, the black arts, etc., by a few old friends. This hurts; I'm shocked they'd think that of me. Spiritual means loving to me; anything hurtful to self or other is not loving, healing, or the AA way as I understand it.

Concept Five gives me comfort and hope: "throughout our structure, a traditional 'Right of Appeal' ought to prevail, so that minority opinion will be heard and personal grievances receive careful consideration." Many people do accept other beliefs; this open-mindedness keeps AA vital, vibrant, and alive for alcoholics now and yet to come.

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