Tools & Strategies – Two Way Prayer: Our Lost 11th Step

Father Bill Wigmore

Fr. Bill Wigmore has served in the addiction treatment field for over 50 years serving as counselor, clinical director and administrator at several nationally recognized treatment centers in the southwest.

A New York City native, he received his undergraduate degree in history from the University of Dayton and did post-graduate work at Columbia University.  He served in the Peace Corps, ran a group home for orphaned children in the Bronx, studied and worked on a kibbutz in Northern Israel, and was active in the Catholic Worker Movement in Wisconsin.  Bill began his addiction work when he was a member of the Jesuit Order in Detroit studying for the priesthood.  It was then that he identified his own alcoholism and has had uninterrupted sobriety since 1972.

In 2008 Bill received the Wheelock Whitney Award given to “the man or woman who has advanced the understanding of faith and science in addiction prevention and recovery.”  The award is given annually by the Johnson Institute of Washington D.C. His present efforts focus on the study, practice, and efficacy of Two Way Prayer. He has published two studies on the practice and maintains a website and podcasts that help to promote it among those in 12-Step recovery.

After twenty years active and sober in a 12-Step Fellowship, I stumbled on a life-changing discovery. It came through a chance meeting with an AA archivist in Oklahoma City who introduced me to the principles and practices of the Oxford Group from which AA drew most of its Steps and much of its inspiration. As AA’s co-founder Bill Wilson would write: “Where did we learn about moral inventory, amends for harm done, turning our wills and our lives over to God? Where did we learn about meditation and prayer and all the rest of it? The spiritual substance of our remaining ten Steps came straight from Dr. Bob’s and my own early association with the Oxford Groups….”  (Bill Wilson, The Language of the Heart, p. 298.) I soon came to realize there really are no “chance meetings” and this one encounter has changed the course of my life for the last thirty years. 

My change had to do with the form of prayer I discovered being practiced both in the Oxford Group and in the pioneering days of AA. They called it Two Way Prayer because their prayer traveled in two directions. First, it traveled to God in the form of their stated need for help and then it returned to them in the form of God’s guidance – literally, an answer to their prayer. I started doing their practice of “listening to God” and writing down the words I heard in response. It felt strange and foreign at first but at the same time it seemed to put me in the immediate presence of a Power that was infinitely loving and reassuring. A void in me was being filled – a void that hadn’t been filled in over twenty years of recovery. For a long while, I questioned, “Is this really God speaking or is just me thinking?” I finally decided, I don’t really care, because what I do know is this: If this is me it’s the best part of me I’ve ever found. Maybe the Big Book is right when it says the Great Reality is within and maybe the Church is right when it assures us that, in the form of the Holy Spirit, God has important work for us to do in this world. Here’s what the founder of the Oxford Group had to say on that subject:

The Holy Spirit is the most intelligent source of information in the world today … Divine guidance must become the normal experience of ordinary men and women. Anyone can pick up the divine messages if he will put his receiving set in order. Definite accurate adequate information can come from the mind of God to the minds of men. This is normal prayer. ( Frank Buchman, Remaking the World, p.15)

My work is getting word of this form of prayer out to members of 12 Step Fellowships. They’re surely not the only ones who could benefit but that’s the guidance I received so long ago and so often since that I’ve stopped questioning it. The guidance has led me into and out of jobs. It’s led me to ordination in the Episcopal Church. It’s led me to start teaching the practice to others whom I’ve been privileged to watch come alive with an intimacy with their Creator neither they nor I had never known before. Bill Wilson lamented, “I sort of always felt that something was lost from A.A. when we stopped emphasizing the morning meditation.” (Dr. Bob and the Good Oldtimers p. 178)   I believe Bill was right. Over time, recovery’s focus has shifted from the early emphasis on prayer and meditation to the present-day reliance on meetings, meetings, meetings. Meetings are good and meetings are helpful, but they can carry us just so far. A returned emphasis on prayer and meditation is needed and Two Way Prayer’s origins, grounded as they are within the earliest days of AA, make it a safe and transforming practice open for those both in and out of the church.

If you’d like more information on Two Way Prayer, I invite you to watch our video TWP Workshop Video or visit our website: As members of Faith Partners I know God has some special work for you to do in this world and I hope this practice may help you hear what it is. God bless!

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