"They are sitting in the basement of a church or an American Legion post or an after-hours hospital cafeteria. Fluorescent lights buzz overhead. There is an urn of coffee. There is a basket which is passed around at some point which everybody who can afford to puts a dollar in to help pay for the coffee and the rent of the room. In one sense they are strangers who know each other only by their first names and almost nothing else about each other. In another sense they are best friends who little by little come to know each other from the inside out instead of the other way round, which is the way we usually do it. They do not know each other's biographies, but they know something about each other's frailties, failures, fears. They know something too about each other's strengths, hopes, gladness and about where they have found them. They do not give each other advice. They simply give each other stories about the good and the bad of what has happened to them over the years. Though they do not use such images to describe it, they tell each other of the glimpses they have had from time to time of the sunlit meadow beyond the confining dark, of the great Lion who from time to time has stooped his golden head and breathed on them. In other words, they tell each other their secrets, and as you listen to them, you hear among other things your own secrets on their lips.

"They could hardly be a more ill sorted lot. Some are educated, and some never finished grade school. Some are on welfare, and some of them have hit the jackpot. Some are straight, and some are gay. There are senior citizens among them and also twenty-year-olds. Some groups are composed of alcoholics and some, like the ones I found my way to, of people who have no alcoholic problem themselves but come from families who did. The one thing they have in common can be easily stated. It is just that they all believe that they cannot live fully human lives without each other and without what they call their Higher Power. They avoid using the word God because some of them do not believe in God. What they all do believe in, or are searching for, is a power higher than his own which will make them well. Some of them will simply say that it is the power of the group itself.

"They are apt to begin their meetings with a prayer written by my old seminary professor Reinhold Neibuhr: 'God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.' They are apt to end with the Lord's prayer: 'thy will be done . . . give us this day our daily bread . . . forgive us as we forgive . . . deliver us.' 'To lend each other a hand when we're falling,' Brendan said. 'Perhaps that's the only work that matters in the end.' As they live their lives, they try to follow a kind of spiritual rule, which consists basically not only of uncovering their own deep secrets but of making peace with the people they have hurt and been hurt by. Through prayer and meditation, through seeking help from each other and from helpful books, they try to draw near any way they can to God or to whatever they call what they have instead of God. They sometimes make serious slips. They sometimes make miraculous gains. They laugh a lot. Once in a while they cry. When the meeting is over, some of them embrace. Sometimes one of them will take special responsibility for another, agreeing to be available at any hour or day or night if the need should arise.

"They also have slogans, which you can either dismiss as hopelessly simplistic or cling on to like driftwood in a stormy sea. One of them is 'Let go and let God' — which is so easy to say and for people like me so far from easy to follow. Let go of the dark, which you wrap yourself in like a straitjacket, and let in the light. Stop trying to protect, to rescue, to judge, to manage the lives around you — your children's lives, the lives of your husband, your wife, your friends — because that is just what you are powerless to do. Remember that the lives of other people are not your business. They are their business. They are God's business because they all have God whether thy use the word God or not. Even your own life is not your business. It also is God's business. Leave it to God. It is an astonishing thought. It can become a life-transforming thought.

"Go where your best prayers take you. Unclench the fists of your spirit and take it easy. Breathe deep of the glad air and live one day at a time. Known that you are precious. Remember the license plate and learn to trust. Know that you can trust God. Know that you can trust these people with your secrets because they have trusted you with theirs. The meeting in the basement begins with all of you introducing yourselves. 'I am Fred . . . I am Mary . . . I am Scotty,' you say, and each time the rest of the group responds with 'Hi, Fred . . . Hi, Mary, . . . Hi, Scotty.' Just by getting yourself there and saying that, you have told an extremely important secret, which that you cannot go it alone. You need help. You need them. You need whatever name you choose to give the One whom Lewis named Aslan. 'Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer an supplication make your requests known to God. And the peace that passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.' (Philippians 3:6-7).

"I do not believe that such groups as these which I found my way to not long after returning from Wheaton, or Alcoholics Anonymous, which is the group they grew out of, are perfect any more than anything is perfect, but I believe that the church has an enormous amount to learn from them. I also believe that what goes on in them is far closer to what Christ meant his church to be, and what it originally was, than much of what goes on in most churches I know. These groups have no buildings or official leadership or money. They have no rummage sales, no altar guilds, no every-member canvases. They have no preachers, no choirs, no liturgy, no real estate. They have no creeds. They have no programs. They make you wonder if the best thing that could happen to many a church might not be to have its buildings burn down and to lose all its money. Then all that the people would have left would be God and each other."

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