Keeping an Eye on The Big Picture

I very much enjoy my new home group, and I don’t particularly mind that they wind up with The Lord’s Prayer instead of the Serenity. The sound of human voices in worship is always stirring, and the prayer is poetic, its rising cadence leading up to the climactic phrase about power and glory forever and ever. I eyescan’t, however, make myself say The Lord’s Prayer, because it’s a Christian prayer and I am not, either culturally or spiritually, a Christian.

I understand that we are human, and live human lives, so our spirituality is likely going to be determined by whatever human culture has formed us. I realize I am in North America and there are a ton of people here who are straight up New Testament, I’ve no objection to being where I am.

Here’s my problem; what if I was a Hindu? Lots of Gods, Fathers, Mothers, Uncles, Elephants, Tigers…Or what, if in my language God was pronounced Allah? Don’t tell me there’s not one alcoholic still suffering who happens to be Muslim, we’ve all violated one dictate of our religion or another.

I feel a bit silly sometimes not saying the Our Father aloud. When did I get so delicate? I’m not the kind to make a big stand on this sort of thing. I don’t feel I am betraying my Jewish roots by saying a Christian prayer anymore than I did by performing oral sex on total strangers in exchange for a liter of vodka, but I figure one of the perks of sobriety is that you don’t have to put anything in your mouth that makes you uncomfortable.

It’s not that I don’t like to hear the prayer, I don’t have any objection to anyone else saying it. It’s just that, for me, it’s a kind of small idea of a higher power.

Because, if you think about it — though if you accept one image of the Eternal as true while rejecting all others as false, which you do when you envision God solely as a Father, there’s a lot you have to avoid thinking about — religion springs from human culture. It is a culturally specific way of understanding the divine and giving meaning to human life. So how long have humans been around? I mean in comparison to —you know —infinity, which stretches out both behind and ahead of us. If the big bang happened at midnight, the human species is about a millionth of a second old. Human culture, with our religions, even less. I think we might need to be thinking Bigger Picture here.

When we think about a Higher Power don’t we want something Eternal, something vast and moving and elemental? Something stronger, older, and more permanent than a collection of culturally specific myths and stories accruing to certain geographic regions on an admittedly lovely and unusual planet, but one that is but one of an uncounted number of planets in an uncounted number of galaxies?

I understand we do what we can. Our creation stories, our Gods and demons and mischievous talking animals are our specific ways of envisioning something larger than ourselves. We are all products of our environment and we seek as we have learned to seek, with the tools we are given by our parents, peers and landscapes. I love the sound of the Big Book: the frozen music of the 1930’s. Phrases like “the road of happy destiny” and even “to the wives” simply tell me this was written by a group of certain men, at a certain time. Bill W himself was a product of his culture, which was white, Yankee and well meaning. He is part of a tradition of spiritual seekers from the North Eastern United States, New England transcendentalists like Thoreau, Emerson, even Walt Whitman, though Bill W himself went to great lengths not to appear more everyday.

But Bill seemed to instinctively understand that the suffering alcoholic came in other varieties than Straight, White, Male and Christian. He wrote that AA would always hold to its core principles but that it would, and needed to, be open to various changes that would not alter its mission but make it more inclusive. After all, a Higher Power can be anything as long as it’s more powerful than you and your compulsions.

So while I would never object to any form of prayer any group said in its true spirit, I will always prefer the God of the Serenity Prayer, who is not Male, Christian or anyone’s Father. I do not envision this as any more likely, than God is a many armed whirling dancer or a dancing woman who made a bridge over a river with the feathers from a twelve winged bird, and I find the last two images a bit more congenial at any rate. That said, I don’t reject any one’s God, it’s just that I want Everyone’s to be present and accounted for.


by Emily Carter Roiphe

Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.