by Bill Wigmore
Step Eleven: Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
There’s an old saying that when all else fails, read the directions.
That may be particularly true when it comes to working the Eleventh Step. While I’ve read lots of recovery material related to the art of prayer and meditation, most authors and far too many people in 12 Step recovery, tend to glance over two rather curious words that lay at the very heart of this Step. The words are conscious contact.
The Step simply states the purpose of our prayer and meditation is to improve our conscious contact with God.
I’m sad to confess that I had somehow accumulated over twenty years in recovery before I was introduced to the real meaning of the words conscious contact. My education took place in Oklahoma City, of all places. There, almost ten years ago, a program old timer named Earl H. unlocked the mystery for me.
The key was in his explanation of the practice of Quiet Time. He said that Quiet Time was the real foundation of the A. A. program as it was practiced in the early days of the fellowship. Back then, meetings were viewed as helpful, but not necessary. Sobriety rested on faithfully practicing Quiet Time each and every morning. This practice was viewed as absolutely critical in bringing about the spiritual awakening necessary to bring about and maintain recovery from addiction.
Sadly, over the years, the fellowship itself has replaced contact with the Father. Meetings have replaced the listening time spent in the presence of one’s Maker. And even the group Quiet Time practice was reduced to the brief and often uncomfortable moment of silence that we now follow with the Serenity Prayer! No conscious contact has been the result!
What was this mysterious rite that the fellowship founders viewed as absolutely critical to sobriety? It was spending time with God each morning and quietly listening to what he had to say. Key word: Listening. Not asking for things. Not reading a Twenty Four Hour a Day Book. Not smoking a cigarette and drinking a cup of coffee while tossing off a “God, please keep me sober today” call to some Universal Presence. Not even calling your sponsor as a sort of substitute deity. No, it was Listening.
Conscious contact means actively listening to God while he speaks to you. Early AA’s expected God to speak. If God wasn’t speaking, if you couldn’t hear his Voice present in your thoughts, they believed, the problem did not lie with God – the problem lay with you. You were setting up a block to God by not letting go of something in your life, or insisting on your own outcome to a particular situation, or possibly refusing to follow the directions God had already given you.
The early fellowship practiced daily listening to God both in private and in groups and they dutifully wrote down in a notepad all the thoughts and words that came to them during Quiet Time. They believed that some, though by no means all, of the messages they received were from God and that some of these may not have been intended for them but rather for another person in their group. So they shared these messages at meetings with one another.
“Don’t take the first drink” was actually a message Dr. Bob received from Henrietta Sieberling, one of the members of his Akron Quiet Time group. The woman who heard and recorded the message didn’t have an alcohol problem, but she thought the message might be helpful for Dr. Bob! Maybe that message was meant for you and me as well!
Welcome to Step Eleven! Your life will never be the same. (Thank God!)