Prayer and the nature of prayer and meditation have always been at the heart of the AA 12-step program, both in a formal and informal sense.
Whilst there are many interpretations of what terms prayer and meditation can mean, perhaps the real strength of AA lies in the phrase ‘God as we understood him’ , taken from step three, which also means that prayer and meditation can be freely interpreted in whatever way someone chooses.
There are a number of what may be called more formal prayers that are used in AA, some developed from AA tradition, and some that can be found in AA literature.
The Serenity Prayer
This is a prayer that was informally adopted by early AA members, and is still widely used both in meetings and by individuals in their daily lives. AA uses the short version,
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and wisdom to know the difference.
There is a longer version of the original prayer, written by Reinhold Niebuhr whichh can be found here. Many people have found that this short version can act as a form of daily meditation, something that people can repeat to themselves internally and silently when in difficult or challenging situations.
It seems to have a power and appeal beyond its more obvious meaning.
Step Three Prayer
This refers to the prayer found in the book Alcoholics Anonymous, in the section on step three, which many people say as a means of formally taking step three as part of their recovery program. Some people believe that it is a one-off process, others do it on a daily basis and others do it on a more as and when needs basis.
What it actually means to people will obviously differ significantly, but many do take it in a slightly symbolic way as being an indication of being willing to move forward with the AA recovery program.
Step Seven Prayer
This is another more formal prayer, again found in the book Alcoholics Anonymous section on step seven, that people will say once they have decided to do step seven having completed the previous six.
Again its meaning is open to broad interpretation as people understand it, but for many it is a re-affirmation of a willingness to move in a particular direction in terms of the AA recovery program.
The step seven prayer and the step three prayer are both written in language that was common in a religious sense in the 1930s. Some people find this quite comforting, others find it somewhat off-putting and would prefer more modern-day language.
AA has always been very clear that people are free to interpret and choose the language of these prayers in any way that work for them, and that what is important is the intent behind the prayer, rather than any specific wording or ritual that may be performed.
The St Francis prayer
This is a well-known prayer by St Francis of Assisi, which is referenced in the book 12 steps and 12 traditions, written by Bill Wilson, one of the co-founders of Alcoholics Anonymous.
It is used more as an example than anything else of how prayer and meditation can be helpful, and gives useful insights into Bill Wilson’s own struggles with depression, and how it helped him overcome it.
The prayer itself comes from the Christian tradition, but as with a lot of prayer, can be widely interpreted depending upon the person’s own individual approach to the questions of God and spirituality.
The Lord’s prayer
This is perhaps the most contentious prayer in AA, not so much because of the prayer itself, but because it is widely used as a way of closing or finishing a number of AA meetings.
The Lord’s prayer is also commonly known as the Our Father, and is widely used in the Christian tradition. In fact, it could be said that it is the central prayer of most Christian liturgy.
The Lord’s prayer was adopted for use by a number of early AA groups, which were more inclined to associate themselves with formal religion than AA meetings do today.
The fact that a number of AA meetings still use it today is largely historical in nature, but does present real problems for people who do not wish to associate themselves with a formal religion in any way.