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Title: I’d like to share a little bit about the background of Lois Wilson who founded Al-Anon and Alcoholics Anonymous
Author: Fraser Trevor
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I’d like to share a little bit about the background of Lois Wilson who founded Al-Anon and Alcoholics Anonymous, and was the wife of Bill W...
I’d like to share a little bit about the background of Lois Wilson who founded Al-Anon and Alcoholics Anonymous, and was the wife of Bill Wilson who wrote the steps and co-founded AA. (Without Lois Wilson, there would not be more than 300 recovery groups around the world based on the Twelve-Step program. It was Bill Wilson himself, the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous and author of the Twelve Steps, who often said that without Lois, he would have died a drunkard’s death long before he started AA with Dr. Bob Smith.)
Then I’d like to consider how we could use the 12 steps as a tool to more deeply understand regeneration as expressed in Creation.


She was the daughter of Dr. Clark and Matilda Burnham. Her grandfather, Nathan Burnham, had been a Swedenborgian minister and served in Lancaster, PA. Her father was an active participant in the circle of New York Swedenborgians. Her family purchased a vacation home on Emerald Lake in VT.

One of the Swedenborgian families who spent summers on that lake was the Seekamp’s. Young Lois Seekamp knew the Burnham kids; in fact, she was named after Lois Burnham. Dr. Burnham was their family physician. As an adult, Lois Seekamp married George Dole – our Swedenborgian minister in Bath, Maine.

Lois’ brother, Roger, became friends with a young man who lived near the lake: Bill Wilson. When Lois was 22, Bill came to their home selling lanterns. They were married in at the NY Swedenborgian Church.

A few folks are still around who remember Dr. Burnham and Lois in church, and then remember Bill and Lois attending together for awhile.

Rev. Jim Lawrence wrote to Lois [Burnham] Wilson in 1987 asking whether her Swedenborgian roots had influenced the development of the 12 steps. She wrote back: “I don’t believe being a Swedenborgian had a direct influence, but it did much to make me ready for the message of the 12 steps which based on the 6 principles of the Oxford group.” One of the New Church ministers  [I think it was Grant Schnarr] also wrote with a similar question and got back a similar answer, with her adding that even if it were true, she wouldn’t tell anyone because of the importance of AA being separate from any religion.

Regeneration and the 12 steps

This year, our sermon focus is on the Creation story in Genesis. Swedenborg wrote that the story contains an inner meaning about our process of spiritual growth: he calls it “regeneration.” As we move through the six days of creation, we’ll talk about the 12 steps and consider how they can intertwine.

For Jan-Feb., we’re looking at the first day of creation.

Before regeneration a person is called the void, empty earth, and also soil in which no seed of goodness or truth has been planted. Void refers to an absence of goodness and empty to an absence of truth. The result is darkness, in which a person is oblivious to or ignorant of anything having to do with faith in the Lord and consequently with a spiritual or heavenly life.

Grant Schnarr’s book: Spiritual Recovery, a 12 Step Guide, uses the 12 steps to facilitate our spiritual growth. He says: “The similarities found between Swedenborg’s teachings about spirituality, and those found in the twelve-step philosophy are astounding.” [page  x]

He also says: These steps … have existed in many religions, philosophies, and psychologies throughout the ages. … they work not only for the addictive-compulsive person, but for all people who desire to grow spiritually.” [xiii]

Schnarr rewrites the first step to be applicable to everyone: we admitted that we were powerless over our destructive tendencies and that, when we followed them, our lives became unmanageable.

He points out the importance of recognizing our powerlessness.

I have come across some people – esp. women – who are not comfortable with the word “powerless.” Swedenborg has another way to talk about it:
an individual's overall spiritual devastation--a preliminary step to regeneration. (The prophets have much more to say about it.) Before we can learn what is true and be affected by what is good, the things that stand in the way and resist have to be put aside. The old self must die before the new self can be conceived.

Swedenborg gives us a universal truth: we must let the old self die before a new self can be born. To become aware of our spiritual devastation can be overwhelming. We are not who we thought we were; there is so much more hidden in our depths.
This realization can feel powerless, as we discover that so much of our inner depths are beyond our conscious control. We have to let go of the illusion that we are just our surface self, that we have control over. Letting that old self die – with its comforting illusions – is a process of grief. We must grieve the old self before we are ready to embrace our new self.

Regeneration or recovery?  Both, of course.  Our spiritual journey is enhanced by use of the 12 steps.  Whether we are striving for regeneration with recovery from an addiction -- or just regeneration -- we can benefit from Swedenborg's understanding of the Creation story AND the 12 steps of A.A.

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