Bill Wilson replied personally to letters from many Alcoholics Anonymous members.
Seven Years Before He Died Bill W Wrote to Paul; an Alcoholics Anonymous member in Mackay, Queensland, Australia.
October 28, I964
My dear Paul,
Thanks very much for the stirring account of your most genuine spiritual experience. I need not say that this is a gift of Grace that was no doubt made possible by your condition of extreme deflation that preceded it. Your sudden projection into what for you was a new world of consciousness and reality can enable you to do, and to be, what was hereto for was impossible. In my view, this is the essence of these gifts.
Whether you will use your new discovery well or badly depends largely, I think, upon your willingness. But in any case, you can never be the same again. With these observations I’m sure you are certain to agree.
Though many theologians hold that these sudden experiences amount to a special distinction, if not a divine appointment of some sort, I often question this view.
For, as you rightly observe, every human being, no matter what his attributes for good or evil, is a part of the divine spiritual economy. Therefore, each of us has his place and I cannot see that God intends necessarily to exalt one over another.
Therefore it becomes highly necessary for all of us to accept whatever positive gifts we receive with a deep humility, always bearing in mind that our negative attitudes were first necessary as a means of reducing us to such a state that we could be ready for a gift of the positive ones via the conversion experience. Your own alcoholism and the immense deflation that finally resulted is indeed the foundation upon which your recent experience rests.
In this connection, I wish you would secure two books without delay: – William James’ “Varieties of ‘ Religious Experience” and Raynor Johnson’s “The Imprisoned Splendour.” These books will afford you a view of the varieties of these experiences. But more importantly they will depict the circumstances under which conversion experiences occur. There is also a third book well worth your while. It was written by a psychiatrist called Bucke who himself had a conversion experience. Title of the volume is “Cosmic Consciousness.” These would be available in any large library.
You may be interested that Raynor Johnson, a scientist, is a Master of Queens College, the University of Melbourne. Because of his high scientific rating, he is all the more convincing as he examines the subject of mystic experiences something in which he now believes himself.
Sudden and cataclysmic experiences such as yours and mine do occur now and then in AA. However, the usual transformation in typical AA members proceeds at a much slower pace. Hence they are not so spectacular but they can be equally efficacious. Their fruits are the same and their mechanism is identical. They have the property of re motivating the recipients all out of proportion to any particular belief, association or discipline. These, too, are gifts – just as good as those we have received.
Even sudden – experience can have its disadvantages. In my own case, I suffered for some time with the conviction that I was divinely appointed to fix up all the drunks in the world. In short, I was using my gift as a reason to play God – something I make no doubt you are trying to avoid. Absolutely nothing happened until the deflation of failure got me back on the track. No alcoholic recovered so long as I took that tack.
So while the spiritual experience charges all of us with increased responsibility to grow in His likeness and image, and to help others do likewise when possible, we must always realize that these experiences and their fruits do not constitute earned virtues, excepting to the degree that we voluntarily try to make some use of them.
Of course I, myself, have been used to trigger a train of events that now appears as Alcoholics Anonymous. So have all the other people in that chain. The result is already considerable and quite spectacular. So the natural effect of this development is to make one feel that he is something very special indeed, and the world acclaims Alcoholics Anonymous and its founders as a great personal success story. Of course this isn’t really a fact – A.A. is not a success story in the usual sense, it is rather an expression of great suffering, capitalized by God’s Grace into positive values. In the public mind, the quantity of the result registers very large. If, for example, A.A. today still consisted of only I00 members, no one would give it a second thought.
Nevertheless I think you and I understand that it is not the quantity that counts, it is the quality of any effort in relation to the handicap encountered that is the actual measure.
I am very sure that Brother Lawrence, a monastery kitchen boy of your Church, was not at all concerned with saving the world; he simply took great joy – spiritual joy in the execution of humble tasks and in simple duties. This example has been largely lost in the world of today but the quality of Brother Lawrence still registers with us who are acquainted with him.
Saint Francis of Assisi, the recipient of a great conversion experience, simply exclaimed, “What if I tried to do, in all things, as the Master did?” This was his simple, yet profound motivation. And this he expressed in his Prayer which begins, “Lord, make me a channel of Thy peace” To me, this Prayer is the greatest statement of spiritual values that I may ever know.
While every theologian says that a man’s chief vocation should be his own salvation meaning in more modern terms, I suppose, that he should be the most concerned with his own emotional and spiritual development – I think this can be overdone. In the Church, all devout men and women believe that they are in contact with the whole truth, and I would be the last to deny that they are.
However, I was so conditioned in early life that I seem to be unable to accept some of the central theological propositions – though I must say that theologically speaking, I tend to move in the direction of conservative Christianity. Like yourself, I am still searching, but neither with such fear, haste of preoccupation that I can do nothing else – a difficulty that apparently that has beset you. In my view, this is a needless handicap; I think God only required us to try to do better in respect of who we are and where we happen to be.
Cocksureness on the one hand can result in bigotry; rebellion on the other can bring us pain. Neither of these, in my belief, are punishments inflicted upon us by, God, these are simply conditions which we are expected to try to outgrow; part of the paraphernalia of the divine Schoolhouse, if you like.
In this connection, you might take a look at those familiar AA cliches: “First Things First,” “Easy Does It,” and.” Live and Let Live.”
Well, I’ve been rambling on. Sometimes I write letters for the record, thinking they may possibly be of later use, and this is one of them. I hope my communication may be useful to you.
Always the best. Bill Wilson
P.S. It seems to me that your comments on the sometimes corruption and authoritative setup of the Church are rather beside the point. For myself, I always marvel at the survival of the church under these conditions. Other societies come and go, but the Church Is still very much with us. This can only be attributed to the spiritual soundness of its message and the host of the devout in all centuries who have kept the, faith and have practiced what they preach.
From the Queensland, Australian AA Pathfinder