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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Praying For Answers

"In thinking about our day we may face indecision. We may not be able to determine which course to take. Here we ask God for inspiration, an intuitive thought or decision. We relax and take it easy. We don't struggle. We are often surprised how the right answers come after we have tried this for awhile. What used to be the hunch or the occasional inspiration gradually becomes a working part of the mind."

-- Alcoholics Anonymous, pp. 86-87
In working to overcome the self-conscious mind-chatter of the ego, the central problem of the alcoholic addict, we develop what Bill W. calls a "sixth sense." A higher, God-consciousness "becomes a working part of the mind," and we are able to see and respond to life's circumstances in a manner wholly different from the way we formerly would have.

But, as he notes, in the 'Big Book' of Alcoholics Anonymous, it is far from certain that we will always be attuned to this new mode of thinking. All too often, we lapse back into our egoic self-consciousness and react to life, trying to manipulate and guide people, things and circumstances into a reality that we dictate, rather than accepting them as they are.

"Being still inexperienced and having just made conscious contact with God," Bill writes, "it is not probable that we are going to be inspired at all times." As a result, he notes, "(w)e might pay for this presumption in all sorts of absurd ideas and actions."

Writing on Step Eleven in The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, Bill addresses the difficulties that arise when we ask for guidance without having established (or re-established) the conscious contact with our Higher Power that is necessary to receive it.
"(T)he question is often asked," he notes: "Why can't we take a specific and troubling dilemma straight to God, and in prayer secure from Him sure and definite answers to our requests?"

"This can be done," he observes, "but it has its hazards. We have seen A.A.'s ask with much earnestness and faith for God's explicit guidance on matters ranging all the way from a shattering domestic or financial crisis to correcting a minor personal fault, like tardiness. Quite often however, the thoughts that seem to come from God are not answers at all. They prove to be well-intentioned unconscious rationalizations."
This is, perhaps why Dr. Bob (in the "A.A. Co-Founders" pamphlet) continued to reccommend the Four Abolutes of honesty, purity, unselfishness and love as guideposts to making difficult decisions, asking of any particular solution: Is it true or is it false? Is it good or is it bad? How will it affect others? And, is it beautiful or is it ugly?

Doctor Bob observed that running the Four Absolutes past a given problem or situation would usually provide him with the appropriate answer or course of action. Yet, he also observed that if an answer was not clear after posing the questions suggested by the Absolutes, he would consult someone else who was spiritually grounded and perhaps more familiar with a particular situation than he was.

The problem with asking for answers to specific questions or for guidance upon a particular course of action is not only that we often substitute our own answer for that of our Higher Power's, but that in all earnestness we believe that the answer comes not from our own selfish and egoic consciousness, but from God's.
"The A.A., or indeed any man, who tries to run his life rigidly by this kind of prayer, by this self-serving demand of God for replies, is a particularly disconcerting individual," Bill observes. "To any questioning or criticism of his actions he instantly proffers his reliance upon prayer for guidance in all matters great or small. He may have forgotten the possibility that his own wishful thinking and the human tendency to rationalize have distorted his so-called guidance. With the best of intentions, he tends to force his own will into all sorts of situations and problems with the comfortable assurance that he is acting under God's specific direction. Under such an illusion, he can of course create great havoc without in the least intending it."
An alternative form of prayer is that suggested by Emmett Fox in his great work, "The Sermon on the Mount," a book that many of the old-timers turned to for instructions on prayer and meditation.

Fox suggests that there are three levels or types of prayer. First, there is the petitionary prayer we are used to, but prayer that is restricted to affirming the omnipresence of God and invoking his consciousness in our lives. The second, and higher form of prayer, he notes, is that of meditation, in which we find the quiet consciousness of God. And the third, and highest form of prayer, is that of contemplation, in which we take the quiet consciousness we have found through meditation out into our lives.

Relying on affirmative and invocative prayer to bring us into the consciousness of God - and then to ask "for inspiration, an intuitive thought or decision" - many have found, is a more useful and effective mode of prayer than is asking for specific solutions to be laid out before us. Many would say, it is the only means of effective prayer.

And one may always rely on the Four Absolutes, as Dr. Bob did, in checking both the answers we come up with, and those that still elude us, when utilizing this mode of prayer.

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