by Bree L.

Dunkin, a member attending the Swedenborgian meeting for the first time, said, “This is truly a gem in San Francisco. It’s one of the oldest landmarks and a real Zen place to meditate and pray.” The meditation meeting is a chance to reconnect with the origins of A.A. on a spiritual level.

The sanctuary is built almost entirely of wood such as the strong manzanita tree trunks overhead supporting the roof and manzanita branches placed above the altar. The catch is nothing is symmetrical (although not so obvious as one looks around). This unfinished affect reflects the Swedenborgian belief nothing is ever completely finished, and our own A.A. statement about progress not perfection, since nothing is ever truly completed. 

Its unfinished affect reflects A.A. ideas about progress, not perfection

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “Emanuel Swedenborg . . . saw and showed the connection between nature and the affections of the human soul” (The American Scholar). There is also a connection between A.A. and the Swedenborgian Church. Lois Wilson’s maiden name was Lois Burnham. She was the granddaughter of scholar Reverend N. C. Burnham, founder of the Swedenborgian Academy of the New Church, Pennsylvania, in 1876. Lois was also a first cousin to world-famous Chicago architect Daniel Burnham, family friend and aesthetic mentee of Reverend Joseph Worcester, the Swedenborgian minister who designed and built this church. 

Bill W.’s wife Lois was the granddaughter of the founder of the Swedenborgian Academy

Every Tuesday evening at 7:30 p.m. there is a candlelight gathering in the Fireside Room of the Swedenborgian Church at 2107 Lyon Street. The adjacent dining room also houses a dining table used many years ago by William James and his family. This is the same William James who wrote the book Varieties of Religious Experience referenced in Appendix II in the Big Book of A.A.

The meeting begins with a few moments of silence followed by the Serenity Prayer. The Serenity Prayer is followed by this statement from As Bill Sees It: “The other steps can keep most of us sober and somehow functioning. But Step Eleven can keep us growing, if we try hard and work at it continually.” The secretary reads an introduction to A.A. ending with Step 11.

Swedenborg saw connections between nature and the human soul

Swedenborgian detail photos by navarre

Next is a message about meditating by John G., who started this unique meeting. He expands upon the anonymous April 1969 Grapevine piece, “Seeking Through Meditation,” stating meditation had been neglected because so few know about it. Meditation is awareness, attention and listening. For one who has spent a lifetime drinking it is hard to listen, especially to one’s self. The summary is: as one’s attention drifts, one begins again. The reading suggests there need be no dismay, no discouragement and no judgement. Also, no success, no failure—just the gentle willingness to start over.

Meditation is awareness, attention and listening

The 20-minute silent meditation begins with a mindful, group recitation of the Third Step Prayer. A peaceful tranquility overtakes the entire room. After the meditation newcomers, birthdays and visitors are recognized. The meeting is then open for discussion.

The sharing has a quiet tone that honors the respectful atmosphere. This is followed by the seventh tradition and a thank-you for all the trusted servants taking care of the meeting. There is no recitation of “How It Works,” traditions or promises, yet there is a feeling of going back to the roots of A.A. and what it stands for. The meeting ends with a group recitation of the Seventh Step Prayer. 

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