“Did You Know,” by an anonymous South Bend Professor: Seeking guidance in the Oxford Group was often a group activity. A.A. did not use this particular sort of group session for obtaining spiritual direction for their activities, but we need to talk about it a little here in order to give a full account of what the earliest A.A. people encountered at the very beginning, when they were still participating on a regular basis in the ordinary Oxford Group meetings.
A number of Oxford Group members would gather together and have what they called a “quiet time.” A.J. Russell, in his book, “For Sinners Only,” described several of these group sessions which he had witnessed in England around this same time. All the members would sit in silence and pray, each with his or her own pencil and guidance notebook, writing down any thoughts running through their minds which seemed as though they might have been inspired by God in one way or another.
I cannot think of any really close parallel to this in earliest Christian history. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, some of the Puritans—and also John Wesley and some of the early Methodists—carried notebooks, but these were called spiritual diaries, and they were more like continuously running A.A. fourth and tenth steps: they monitored their spiritual state in those notebooks on a daily and even hourly basis, looked for patterns indicating persistent character defects, and (just as in one part of St. Ignatius Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises), measured their progress in eliminating old character defects from their lives. Although many of the Puritans believed strongly in divine guidance, they did not use little notebooks, to the best of my knowledge, to systematically record what they found when they prayed for guidance.
The closest thing that can be found in earlier Christian history to these Oxford Group sessions, where they sought group help as a communal effort, would perhaps be Quaker meetings, where the members sat together in silence and sought direct inspiration from the Inner Light. The Quakers (or Society of Friends, as they referred to themselves) were founded by a man named George Fox, who began his preaching in 1647. They rejected ornate church sanctuaries and ordained clergy, and gathered for meetings without any rituals or liturgy, sitting silently until a member of the group felt the Inner Light urging him or her to speak God’s word. That person would then speak quietly to the group.
The Quakers were extremely influential in the eighteenth century in both England and the English colonies in North America, and prefigured some of the practices of the A.A. movement later on, not only in seeking the Inner Light (what A.A. author Richmond Walker in his book Twenty-Four Hours a Day called coming into contact with a spark of the divine within our souls), but also in many other ways, such as some parts of the A.A. organizational structure.
It is nevertheless difficult to see very much in the way of any direct connection between the Quaker movement and the Oxford Group, or between the Quakers and A.A. For the most part we seem to be dealing with parallel developments arising out of certain common assumptions found frequently within the English speaking Protestant Non-conformist tradition (going back to the seventeenth century and even earlier), which were simply carried out in more radical fashion by the Quakers, the Oxford Group, and Alcoholics Anonymous.
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