What a wonderful day this is, to be gathered with all of you, as you celebrate the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous, and the health and healing you have come to through this fellowship. Seventy-eight years ago this month Dr. Bob took his last drink, and together he and Bill W. began to help others to stop drinking. The fellowship that was created by their work has helped countless individuals and their families – as all of you well know. It is an answer to so many prayers by so many people – prayers, I’m sure, that were cried and shouted and whispered over and over again by people who were in pain and heartache and fear, and did not know where to turn or what to do, until they found A.A. And so it’s no surprise that prayer is woven throughout the Steps, in one way or another.
Sometimes people get all tangled up in what they think about prayer – how it supposed to be, wondering if it is effective, not sure it’s worth the effort, thinking that the best place to pray is on the golf course (or wherever their favorite leisure activity is), thinking that there are only certain topics they can pray about or particular words they have to use, and wondering why in the world would God want to hear from me?
Well let’s put all that aside for the moment because, at rock bottom, prayer is talking to God - and even more – prayer is listening to God; it’s as simple as that. You can dress it up or dress it down, but ultimately prayer is about bringing your whole self – mind, body and spirit – into God’s presence, and then letting God give you what you need for the day. Note - I said what you need, not what you think you want.
Very often we human beings get mixed up about that – we mistake our desires and our wants for what we really need, as in: “I need to buy that brand new Audi” or “I need my son or daughter to get into the college of my choice” or “Lord, I really need the Giants to win this game” – I wonder how many times God has heard that prayer! Now, there is nothing wrong with having wants, or preferences or even yearnings, and things that delight us; God is not a kill-joy or some dour-faced judge who wants us to be miserable – in fact, God wants us to be happy and whole and healthy. But neither is God a divine gum-ball machine where you pop a prayer in the slot and out comes the answer or the outcome you wanted; if that is the way we approach prayer, we will be sorely disappointed. Prayer is about being in a relationship with God, our Higher Power, our Creator, our Source of Wisdom and Life – and we do best when we take the time to listen to what God has to say, as well as telling God what is on our hearts and minds.
Probably the most famous prayer – and one known to every member of A.A. – is the one we heard Steve read as part of today’s Gospel. Jesus had been taking time for prayer on his own and his followers, his disciples, asked him to teach them to pray; they wanted their prayers to reflect the new spiritual path they were following. And Jesus said this: When you pray, say: “Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.” This is, of course, what came to be known as the Lord’s Prayer or the Our Father. The version of it said in AA meetings and church services is slightly different, and if you want to know why I’ll be happy to talk about it later, but the meaning is the same.
Jesus is saying that we are to know that God is both a loving, close, attentive parent AND a divine being who is holy, completely different from us. And when we pray for God’s kingdom to come we are, most fundamentally, praying for God’s will to be done - and not our own - for God’s purposes to be fulfilled for the world, for our families, friends, and neighbors, and for ourselves.
Jesus tells us to ask for our daily bread: simple, basic, what we need for each day – food, shelter, guidance, clothing, strength, sobriety, companionship, joy; there is no genuine human need or concern that we cannot bring to God on a daily basis.
Then there’s forgiveness – that’s a big one. We all need forgiveness – from God and from other people - because we all (every single one of us) makes a mess of things, hurts another person, does something we know we shouldn’t, finds our self in impossible situations where there is no good path forward. And when this happens we admit to ourselves and to God and to another person that we have messed up, and we ask forgiveness, and try to make amends as best we can (in the church we call this repentance) – and we also offer forgiveness to others when it is asked for.
Finally: “Do not bring us to the time of trial” or “Lead us not into temptation”, in other words, we are weak and fallible human beings who need guidance and structure and direction; in the words of one of my favorite hymns: “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it; Prone to leave the God the God I love." And so we ask God to keep us from wandering off the path and getting tangled in the weeds of life.
These are the things that Jesus taught the disciples to pray about: being in relationship with God, knowing and doing his will, being clear about what we need each day, forgiveness, and protection from our own foolishness. The Eleventh Step says it this way: Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood God, praying only for knowledge of God's will for us and the power to carry that out.
When we pray we make ourselves available to God, we put ourselves and our time and our resources at God’s disposal, for our own good and in service to others. But all of that requires far more listening than it does speaking; prayer and meditation and silence and journaling and paying attention when wise people give you good direction and counsel, are all part of listening to God, all part of opening up and being vulnerable – available to God so that God can you use you to bless others.
And that’s what Bill W. and Dr. Bob did all those years ago – they made themselves available to God, to their Higher Power, so that God could use them to bless others with hope and healing. The world still needs that today – in A.A. and outside of it; men and women and families and communities who are willing to be a blessing to others, to offer hope and goodness and strength and companionship and joy in so many different ways. And the only way we can be that blessing in the world is to stay connected to God through the prayer of our hearts and minds and souls – however each one of us does that best.
Go ahead, God’s listening – he has all the time in the world, and he’s waiting for you with open arms. Amen.
Victoria Geer McGrath
All Saints’ Church, Millington, NJ
AA Gratitude Mass
June 15, 2013