I walk into a large room in the rear of a local nursing home. To my right, there is a small table with coffee brewing, some paper cups, creamers and sweeteners. to its right is a long folding table with some books, pamphlets, and a large folder. Two people are seated at the table facing the center of the room. \\\Behind them are two larce posters containing the 12 Steps and the 12 traditions. There is also a smaller charrt with rows and columns, filled in with first names. Two walls are lined with coaches. The center of the room contains six rows of folding chairs. The room can comfortably seat about 35. Soon the room is nearly full.
The people are of all ages and most classes, about sixty percent male. About one-third will have "greem cards" which means that they are ordered to come to this meeting as an alternative to legal punishment.
At exactly 7:00 p.m. one of the people at the table starts to read aloud from the folder. We are told that this is an "open" meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous. Our purpose is to get and stay sober and help suffering alcoholics. The seremotu prayer is shared "by those who choose to" and few simple rules and formaliities are indulged. The Twelve Steps are read in a context ("a portion of chapter five"). It is clear that this is intended as a disciplined and spiritual program. There are over 100 similar groups that will meed locally this week, and several hundred thousand groups throughout the world. Each group is autonomous, and as nearly an anarchy as is practically possible.
Then people begin to share their "experience, strength, and hope" with each other. Colorful and profane language cannot hide the fact that these people have undergone and are undergoing profound experiencs of a spiritual nature. They speak of their changed attitudes and changed perceptions of reality
After an hour, the meeting closes, all hold hands and say The Lord's Prayer. Then shaking each others arms viigorously we shout: Keep coming, it works if you work it. There is a lot of hugging.
The secpmd ,meeting is an Al Anon meeting. It takes place in a small room in a church. There is a large stained glass window depicting scenes from that church's scripture. About thirteen padded chairs are arranged in a circle. Sometimes we need to add another chair or two from a stack against the wall, usually not. The group will be mostly female, almost all middle class. We are the spouses and exes, the parents and children, the siblings and grandparents, maybe, of alcoholics. About 20 similar groups will meet in the city and adjoining counties during week The meeting will be very similar to an AA meeting .
There are no newcomers tonight, and no one has had a miserable day; so the talk is mostly about how our lives hve been bettered; we say we are more serene, more energized, more accepting, more compassionate, more ready to live and let live, The word miracle was used by one person. Was this a congreagion of mystics? Hardly! But then i remembered Evelyn Underhill's Practical Mysticism and wondered if maybe we weren;t..We do experience a new sense of well being, of connection, with new
attitudes and a new life.
Richard Rohr has said that he belives 12-Step programs are "the significant and authentic American contribution to the history of spirituality." I agree with that assessment. Because of Al Anon, there is a community where i can be supported in my own spiritual quest. The 12 Steps (and 12 traditions( are the same principles embodied in indigenous cultures, in Zen, in Sufism, in advaida, and in the mystical and ethical traditions within the Abrahamic religions. Gone is the sense of "secret knowledge." Gone is the caution to the "ignorant" to stay away. The Twelve Steps are for everyone (who really wants). Sitting in a group of ten or twenty people for an hour, people whose basic approach to life does not have to be explained to me, nor mine to them is itself a miracle. It is almost as good as spending and hour with Bob Williams.
Next: Two personal Gurus: Bob Williams and Glen K.