The Lord of Song
When I had been in AA only a few weeks, I dared talk with an old-timer about that amazing concept of a power greater than myself. "Please, tell me," I asked, "Am I completely free to choose? You see, I need this program even if it requires a kind of conversion or something. Please, tell me the truth, because I'm ready to do anything!"
He smiled. Then he spoke compassionately: "You maybe think we are evangelists?"
"I'm not really sure."
He was still smiling. Then he put on his glasses and handed me his Big Book. "Bill's Story, page 12," he said. Read aloud the words in italics."
I did. He repeated after me: "Your own conception of God . . . Only a matter of being willing to believe in a Power greater than myself."
"My own conception of God is silly," I almost screamed.
"But it's yours," he said. "And in this program, we're not supposed to believe as others do; we're simply encouraged to believe as we do ourselves."
At last, I was convinced. And I began working the program with my own conception of God. I was happy because now I was released.
In those days, the only God I was able to believe in was a God of songs. Perhaps this was a naive idea from my early childhood, but this was the only God I could love and believe in with all my heart.
AA was really very open-minded on this subject: "A power greater than myself," said the Step. Just this. The Fellowship didn't care how I define it.
Thereafter, I've never been judgmental about my own conception of God and worked the program as effectively as the members who belong to a particular religious body, I suppose. And with time, my conception of Higher Power developed and took more mature forms with every book I read on the subject.
Much later in my sobriety, thanks to a visitor, I came to know that there is a holy book called Bhagavad Gita (Holy Song, or Lord's Song). This visitor was an old-timer and like Dr. Earle, the author of "Physician, Heal Thyself" in the Big Book, he had been to India. After the meeting, I invited him to dinner, and we talked at length about the spiritual side of the program. He was a yogi and had been sober for more than ten years.
David (not his real name) told me that he understood the meaning of the first chapter of the Bhagavad Gita, which is called the Despondency of Arjuna, to be the conviction of hopelessness. Arjuna was the name of the hero and a whole chapter, the very first chapter, was dedicated to describing in detail the hopelessness of a hero in the middle of a battlefield that symbolizes life itself.
"I'm not a scholar," he said. "I'm just a recovering alcoholic. But I've met scholars who cannot understand the teaching of this sacred book simply because they are not familiar with something like the First Step of our AA program. I've also met people who think the AA program is purely Christian, simply because this is the only religion they are familiar with. My philosophy has concepts such as reincarnation, karma or dharma, which may seem hard to accept for many Americans. But you know alcoholism is no respecter of nation or religion. In America or Europe, we may be mostly Christian. But in other parts of the world, billions of people believe and think differently. To them, religion, holiness, and the sacred mean different things.
"I think that our program is universal. It is universal because, besides Hindus, Buddhists, and Christians, we also include agnostics and atheists and we mean it. And I'm very grateful for this open-mindedness."
I am very grateful to David. He helped me see that my own conception of God in my early sobriety wasn't unique, and something much more important: the program gave me full freedom on this matter.
In AA, I've met people who believe in a goddess or in extra-terrestrials as well as people who believe their Higher Power is a state of awareness or consciousness. I've even met a Freemason who understands the program as an extraordinary tool for building what he calls "the temple in man" out of the wreckage of the past.
To me, these were simply other alcoholics. Personally, I don't like labels. "Alcoholic" is the only label I can accept easily in an AA meeting. Every religion or belief system has its own language, terms, and definitions. I don't have to think about such things when working the program. In AA, I've found a freedom I'd been longing for since my childhood.
The program, I think, requires a little more than how we think or believe. We're not dealing with religion, but with spirituality. As said in the Big Book, "The spiritual life is not a theory. We have to live it." And as Bill W. put it in the June 1961 Grapevine: "We cannot grow very much unless we constantly try to envision what the eternal spiritual values are."