by Bill W.
Copyright © AA Grapevine, Inc, July 1962
It is the intention of the Grapevine to carry occasional accounts of spiritual experiences. To this interesting project I would like to say a few introductory words. There is a very natural tendency to set apart those experiences or awakenings which happen to be sudden, spectacular or vision-producing. Therefore any recital of such cases always produces mixed reactions. Some will say, “I wish I could have an experience like that!” Others, feeling that this whole business is too far out on the mystic limb for them, or maybe hallucinatory after all, will say, “I just can’t buy this business. I can’t understand what these people are talking about.”
As most AAs have heard, I was the recipient in 1934 of a tremendous mystic experience or “illumination.” It was accompanied by a sense of intense white light, by a sudden gift of faith in the goodness of God, and by a profound conviction of His presence. At first it was very natural for me to feel that this experience staked me out for somebody very special.
But as I now look back upon this tremendous event, I can only feel very specially grateful. It now seems clear that the only special feature of my experience was its electric suddenness and the overwhelming and immediate conviction that it carried to me.
In all other respects, however, I am sure that my own experience was not in the least different than that received by every AA member who has strenuously practiced our recovery program.
How often do we sit in AA meetings and hear the speaker declare, “But I haven’t yet got the spiritual angle.” Prior to this statement, he had described a miracle of transformation which had occurred in him—not only his release from alcohol, but a complete change in his whole attitude toward life and the living of it. It is apparent to nearly everyone else present that he has received a great gift; and that this gift was all out of proportion to anything that might be expected from simple AA activity, such as the admission of alcoholism and the practice of Step Twelve. So we in the audience smile and say to ourselves, “Well, that guy is just reeking with the spiritual angle—except that he doesn’t seem to know it yet!” We well know that this questioning individual will tell us six months or a year hence that he has found faith in God.
Moreover he may by then be displaying “spiritual qualities” and a performance that I myself have never been able to duplicate—my sudden spiritual experience notwithstanding.
So nowadays when AAs come to me, hoping to find out how one comes by those sudden experiences, I simply tell them in all probability that they have had one just as good—and that theirs is identical excepting it has been strung out over a longer period of time.
Then I go on to say that if their transformation in AA extending over six months had been condensed into six minutes—well, they then might have seen the stars too!
In consequence of these observations I fail to see any great difference between the sudden experiences and the more gradual ones—they are certainly all of the same piece. And there is one sure test of them all: “By their fruits, ye shall know them.”
This is why I think we should question no one’s transformation—whether it be sudden or gradual. Nor should we demand anyone’s special type for ourselves, because our own experience suggests that we are apt to receive whatever may be the most useful for our needs.