Thursday, December 15, 2005

Peace: Content and Form - Patton at St. Mihiel

In particular there is one passage in this book which will concern me here, and it is the spiritual experience of George S. Patton on the battlefield at St. Mihiel in WorldWar I. I quote this key passage here, which was taken from Patton's diary (as per Carlo d'Este, Patton, A Genius for War, p. 260):

Patton knew that he was alive but that part of him had died; he was a little bit in both worlds. In his own words: 'I was overwhelmed by a deep feeling of warmth, and peace and comfort, and of love. I knew profoundly death was related to life; how unimportant the change-over was; how everlasting the soul--and the love was all around me, like a subdued light.'

Many things could be said about this passage, but one of them surely is that choosing the miracle is the choice for Inner Peace, and it may or may not be reflected in the external circumstances. Other famous scenes attesting to the same point would be Sri Ramakrishna dying of stomach cancer, or Jesus being crucified. Those were also examples that could hardly be characterized as "peaceful" in the external sense, yet, as Jesus says emphatically the message of the crucifixion was "Teach only love, for that is what you are." (ACIM:T-6.III.2:4)

Also the famous picture of the Buddha meditating under the Bodhi-tree comes to mind, with demons attacking from all sides, while the seat is empty, indicating that the Buddha is not even there (knows he is not of this world, being in the mind). All of these in their different ways are powerful reminders how the distractions of the world and the ego serve no other purpose but to keep us rooted here, and we have the option to choose "another way" any time we wish. That is the power of the miracle, and to go back to Jesus, speaking in the Course:

4 The real meaning of the crucifixion lies in the intensity of the assault of some of the Sons of God upon another. 5 This, of course, is impossible, and must be fully understood impossible. 6 Otherwise, I cannot serve as a model for learning.
Unquote (ACIM:T-6.I.3:4-6)

Just like Jesus did not suffer on the cross because he knew he was not his body, in the same way the Buddha did not feel attacked by the demons. In the moment of choosing the miracle Patton could not feel attacked in the midst of the battlefield. And that experience demonstrates that any of us can choose the miracle any time. Curiously, the form of Patton's life would not make us think of him in any capacity as a spiritual teacher, yet he demonstrated again and again being in touch with our spiritual essence in a way that was truly remarkable. No wonder that besides reading his Bible, he was a student of the Bhagavad Gita, and must have accepted in a way like Arjuna that it was his dharma to be the best soldier he knew how to be, and that he did in spades. I always think of that scene on the battlefield as Patton's visit with Krishna.

Any of these stories, images and experiences serve as reminders for us when we feel again that it is impossible to practice what the Course teaches - and that is what the ego wants to teach us all the time with its myriad problems, challenges and distractions - that at any time we can "snap out of it" and choose the miracle.

The Course says:
Yet there will always be this place of rest to which you can return. 2 And you will be more aware of this quiet center of the storm than all its raging activity. 3 This quiet center, in which you do nothing, will remain with you, giving you rest in the midst of every busy doing on which you are sent. 4 For from this center will you be directed how to use the body sinlessly. 5 It is this center, from which the body is absent, that will keep it so in your awareness of it.
Unquote (ACIM:T-18.VII.8)

On another level there is also a powerful reminder here that while the miracle can result in changes on the level of form, that is not the point. This is one area where the ego has a tendency to hang us up, declaring our forgiveness practice a failure if the form does not change, at which point we should remind ourselves gently but firmly that this is not the point, inner peace is.

Or again, as the Course puts it:
7 Therefore, seek not to change the world, but choose to change your mind about the world. 8 Perception is a result and not a cause. 9 And that is why order of difficulty in miracles is meaningless. 10 Everything looked upon with vision is healed and holy. 11 Nothing perceived without it means anything. 12 And where there is no meaning, there is chaos.
Unquote (

Where is that quiet center? In the NT account (Mt. 6:27-29, 33) Jesus is reported as saying: "Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit to his stature? And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lillies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:... But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you."

Here then are so many reminders that the choice for peace is ours, any time we truly want it. And thus we know deep down that any time we are hanging on to our misery, stubborn like a dog hanging to a bone, it is not the world (demons, etc.) attacking us, but it is that we are not yet ready to truly ask for "another way," it is our ego wanting to be right and making Jesus wrong.

The secret of salvation is but this: that you are doing this unto yourself. 2 No matter what the form of the attack, this still is true. 3 Whoever takes the role of enemy and of attacker, still is this the truth. 4 Whatever seems to be the cause of any pain and suffering you feel, this is still true. 5 For you would not react at all to figures in a dream you knew that you were dreaming. 6 Let them be as hateful and as vicious as they may, they could have no effect on you unless you failed to recognize it is your dream.
Unquote (ACIM:T-27.VIII.10)

So: unless and until we take up our cross (take responsibility for our life) and decide to follow Jesus, we are choosing the crucifixion, not the resurrection. The only hope for salvation is that we should remember we do have a mind, and we can laugh away the tiny mad idea with by joining with Jesus. The choice is ours. As a final reminder to be gentle with ourselves the Course also says this:

Do not despair, then, because of limitations. 2 It is your function to escape from them, but not to be without them. 3 If you would be heard by those who suffer, you must speak their language. 4 If you would be a savior, you must understand what needs to be escaped. 5 Salvation is not theoretical. 6 Behold the problem, ask for the answer, and then accept it when it comes. 7 Nor will its coming be long delayed. 8 All the help you can accept will be provided, and not one need you have will not be met. 9 Let us not, then, be too concerned with goals for which you are not ready. 10 God takes you where you are and welcomes you. 11 What more could you desire, when this is all you need?
Unquote (ACIM:M-26.4)

Copyright, © 2005 Rogier F. van Vlissingen. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The Language of Jesus

Note: by clicking on the title, the reader will find a link to a critical review of the work of George M. Lamsa.

To understand Jesus means to understand the language that he spoke. And to understand the language he spoke we need to be practictioners of his teachings in our own lives, for his words don't come to life - remain empty and meaningless - unless we accept a relationship with him in our own life and try to "follow him," in our own daily life. And like the apostles we will do so with a lot of falling down and getting back up, and learning that nevertheless the only thing we can ever count on in this life is Jesus' forgiveness.

For it is only by following his teaching in our own lives that we will come to gradually understand duality as metaphor, and we will come to appreciate that now as then Jesus teaches only in parables which do not ever reveal themselves to us except in our own personal relationship to our Internal Teacher, so that in looking with him we gradually start seeing content, not form, and finally we should have ears to hear and eyes to see.

The language of Jesus is the language of experience. Historically, Jesus the man spoke Aramaic. But the street language and commercial language of the time was Koinè, a street Greek, because the region was Hellenized. And it is very clear that the oldest and most reliable texts of the NT materials are in Greek and a few cases old Syriac. And the best, most scholarly editions of the NT are those of UBS or Nestlé-Aland (Württembergische Bibelanstalt), which are widely available, and are based on careful text-critical study of the 5000 known manuscripts of the NT materials.

Much has been made about Aramaicisms in the NT Greek. The best known work in that area was by Gustav Dalman in Germany ("Jesus-Jeshua," 1922, "Grammatik des Jüdisch-Palästinischen Aramäisch," 1905-1927, "Orte und Wege Jesu," 1924, "Die Worte Jesu," 1930) in the early 20th century, followed by Matthew Black's "An Aramaic Approach to the Gospels and Acts," of 1946. For those of us who are linguistically inclined it may or may not be worthwhile to study such materials. They address the realities of distortions in the Greek accounts resulting from the fact that the actors (Jesus, c.s.) spoke Aramaic. There may be an occasional gem to be found. I have personally studied much of this material in depth many years ago, since I learned both Greek and Hebrew in school and subsequently at least made an attempt to learn enough Aramaic to be able to follow the work of Dalman - relatively easy to do if one also has a strong command of classical Greek.
After a few years of this study I gave up in disgust, realizing that Jesus was not to be found in an archaeological dig under old rubble, but only in my own relationship with him in my life. My finding of A Course in Miracles later in life did more to progress any sense of a relationship with Jesus than any amount of study of Aramaicisms in NT Greek.

The George M. Lamsa material, most notably his translation of the Bible from the Peshitta, make an emotional appeal to the fact that Aramaic was the language of Jesus, and therefore they are presented as more accurate. However, the Peshitta was in fact a 4th century revision of earlier old Syriac manuscripts, so the route went from Greek to old Syriac to Aramaic, and then 1500 years later into English, courtesy of George Lamsa. Greek manuscripts reach back to as early as 100-150 AD. In short, the claims on which Lamsa's bases the authority of his work are emotional and not historically supportable. Now we may still be interested in his work, or the Peshitta materials in general, as much as in any variations of the text. And again, for those who are so inclined there may be a few gems to be found, but for most of it it appears to be a cumbersome detour, and hardly a shortcut.

If you want to go back to the original language as much as possible, there are lovely editions such as "The New Greek-English Interlinear New Testament," 1960, Tyndale House Publishers, Chicago, and based on the now combined UBS/Nestlé-Aland Greek texts, with interlinear English, and the NRSV in the margins. In my personal work I tend to go back to the KJV because of its enormous influence in English (including notably in ACIM), or to other modern translations when the details matter, or even directly to the Greek, if I think it is worthwhile. I doubt that it would be worthwhile to learn Greek for that purpose however.

In terms of understanding Jesus, practicing the Course is more helpful than studying all of this material. However, if one wants to develop a good critical view, the recommendation would be a KJV for historical reasons, a NRSV or NIV for a modern text (with Apocrypha), and Marvin Meyer's Gospel of Thomas, as well as perhaps Hyam Maccoby's "The Mythmaker, Paul and the Invention of Christianity," and then the Course and Disappearance of the Universe to help put it all in perspective.

I believe that what we would end up with is a view in which we must realize that the true tradition of the heart more likely ran via Mary Magdalene than via all the noise makers who left extensive track records. Her quiet near-absence from the historical record speaks volumes. In terms of the extant texts, the sayings gospels and Thomas in particular may have a higher content of actual quotes from Jesus than any of the canonical materials. So there is distortion in terms of the books themselves for no author was perfect, and transcription errors were common, as well as in terms of which materials were chosen for the canonical NT, when it was formulated ca 400 AD under Athanasius (Yes, it was that late!!!). The main distortions in later translations as well as perhaps in some of the original texts, had more than likely to do with the slant in the belief systems of those who produced those texts, and in particular the emerging Pauline theology, which was to become Christianity "proper," but quite evidently had never been taught by Jesus.

Thus the most faithful rendering into English from the best Greek texts will still suffer from the theological slant of the translator, and again from a Course perspective we may end up with a very different word choice in translations than we would if we came from a Christian/Pauline point of view. Which only serves to reemphasize the point that it is our own experiences in attempting to follow Jesus in our lives, and to practice what he teaches, which are the most valuable guidance in translation and understanding. Without that, any of the extant linguistic research is still fairly useless, since it deals only with form, not content, and can be tainted, typically and particularly so if Pauline theology guides the ultimate construction and word choices.

I decided to write about this matter at some length in this place, because this question comes up frequently in various discussion groups, on-line and off-line. It may help some of us find our best avenue to the most reliable and comfortable renditions. For the rest I can only say that intuition should be the best guide, not external authority. And Lamsa's fraudulent emotional claim to legitimacy because Aramaic was the language of Jesus, while ignoring the historically dubious standing of the Peshitta from a text-critical point of view, is an obfuscation and misleading, however sincere his intentions might have been. The eager uptake of his material by successive generations of readers says more about the underlying suspicions of church authority in readers who are looking for a better source, than it says about the scholarly value of Lamsa's work.

In conclusion I might add that e.g. Henry J. van Dyke, in "The Fourth Wise Man," truly translated Jesus' message into modern-day language, and the story reflects an advanced inner understanding of who and what Jesus is. There are numerous Christ legends which similarly reflect a deep understanding of the message. There have always been people who similarly expressed Jesus' teachings in their lives. We translate Jesus whenever we give form to the thought system of the Holy Spirit in our daily lives and in our interactions with people, by expressing the abstract thought of Love in the specifics of our daily lives, and thus "demonstrating that he lives in us," THAT is truly translating the teachings of Jesus. Translating the NT must be done from that frame of reference, but the sad truth is that most often it has only been done from a perspective of book learning and theology (teachings about Jesus), and not from practicing the teachings of Jesus. External authority can only cloud the picture, be it the specious claims of righteousness of the apostolic succession on which the church builds an aura of authority, or the mythical authority of the Peshitta.

I write these lines in deep gratitude to the teachings of Jan Willem Kaiser, who powerfully stated these points in his translation and commentary to the Gospel according to Mark ("Beleving van het Evangelie,"1950).

Copyright, © 2005 Rogier F. van Vlissingen. All rights reserved.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Take up Your Cross and Follow Me

In Mk 8:34 and 10:21 as well as in several places in the other canonical gospels, Jesus is quoted as saying the words in the title.

KJV has it as follows:
And when he had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.

J.W. Kaiser (JWK) translates this as follows (from the Dutch in "Beleving van het evangelie," 1950):
And, having called the crowd to himself with his disciples, he said to them:
'If anyone wants to follow me, he should deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me.'

In his parallel esoteric interpretation of the text JWK writes as follows:
The Master calls the many who do not as yet follow him and his disciples to himself with the all too oft forgotten word: that whoever really wants to follow him, should not go the way of self-glorification, but should face the resistance of the values of the world to the full in his soul as it is directed heavenward, and bear it like a cross.

Today we can more than ever, with our Course perspective, understand what those words meant to convey: "Take responsibility for your choice for the ego (crucifixion), and follow me." And thus this simple line states a material point of Jesus' teaching of the Atonement, which in the Course is given expression in Chapter 27 as follows:

The secret of salvation is but this: that you are doing this unto yourself. 2 No matter what the form of the attack, this still is true. 3 Whoever takes the role of enemy and of attacker, still is this the truth. 4 Whatever seems to be the cause of any pain and suffering you feel, this is still true. 5 For you would not react at all to figures in a dream you knew that you were dreaming. 6 Let them be as hateful and as vicious as they may, they could have no effect on you unless you failed to recognize it is your dream.
Unquote (ACIM:T-27.VIII.10)

In other words the point is salvation is only possible if we take responsibility for our choice for the ego, for unless we do, we could not change our mind about it either. Putting these various comments together, it is very clear how and why the "resistance" that we experience is nothing but the thought system of the ego (the world) within us which is our "cross," and that our path in following Jesus is to clear away these "obstacles to love's presence." (Course introduction) Thus the path is in effect the letting go of the ego's values, which the forgiveness process makes possible in helping us see every situation as a classroom in forgiveness, giving us the opportunity to let go of these obstacles within ourselves, which we see in the world outside only because of our split mind, which cannot see within.

In the section "The Message of the Crucifixion," in Chapter 6, the Course discusses the symbolism of the crucifixion as Jesus intended it:

You have probably reacted for years as if you were being crucified. 2 This is a marked tendency of the separated, who always refuse to consider what they have done to themselves. 3 Projection means anger, anger fosters assault, and assault promotes fear. 4 The real meaning of the crucifixion lies in the intensity of the assault of some of the Sons of God upon another. 5 This, of course, is impossible, and must be fully understood impossible. 6 Otherwise, I cannot serve as a model for learning.
Assault can ultimately be made only on the body. 2 There is little doubt that one body can assault another, and can even destroy it. 3 Yet if destruction itself is impossible, anything that is destructible cannot be real. 4 Its destruction, therefore, does not justify anger. 5 To the extent to which you believe that it does, you are accepting false premises and teaching them to others. 6 The message the crucifixion was intended to teach was that it is not necessary to perceive any form of assault in persecution, because you cannot persecuted. 7 If you respond with anger, you must be equating yourself with the destructible, and are therefore regarding yourself insanely.
I have made it perfectly clear that I am like you and you are like me, but our fundamental equality can be demonstrated only through joint decision. 2 You are free to perceive yourself as persecuted if you choose. 3 When you do choose to react that way, however, you might remember that I was persecuted as the world judges, and did not share this evaluation for myself. 4 And because I did not share it, I did not strengthen it. 5 I therefore offered a different interpretation of attack, and one which I want to share with you. 6 If you will believe it, you will help me teach it.
Unquote (ACIM:T-6.I.3-5)

In other words Jesus is not his body and he is teaching us who he really is, spirit, so we may learn through him who we really are, like him, spirit. So he is asking us to learn with him and become like him, so we don't feel persecuted if we are attacked, on the basis of the fact that the body is not who we are. It becomes even more pointed a few paragraphs down, when he says:

The message of the crucifixion is perfectly clear:
2 Teach only love, for that is what you are.
Unquote (ACIM:T-6.I.13)

In the early Christian era the words about taking up the cross were misconstrued almost immediately in the context of the profound belief in sacrifice and vicarious salvation which fairly promptly became prominent interpretations, not least thanks to Paul. Thus the misinterpretation of "following Jesus," and taking up our cross, became the "imitatio Christi." i.e. to repeat in form what he experienced in the world, namely the crucifixion, and so Christianity confessed itself in its practices to what it truly is, a religion of form over content, which serves the purpose of validating the reality of the world to its followers - the complete opposite of what Jesus taught. In the next paragraph in "The Message of the Crucifixion," he then proceeds to correct this error of Christianity by emphasizing that we are supposed to join him in the content of his experience, rather than repeat the extreme form that his particular experience took:

As I have said before, "As you teach so shall you learn." 2 If you react as if you are persecuted, you are teaching persecution. 3 This is not a lesson a Son of God should want to teach if he is to realize his own salvation. 4 Rather, teach your own perfect immunity, which is the truth in you, and realize that it cannot assailed. 5 Do not try to protect it yourself, or you are believing that it is assailable. 6 You are not asked to be crucified, which was part of my own teaching contribution. 7 You are merely asked to follow my example in the face of much less extreme temptations to misperceive, and not to accept them as false justifications for anger. 8 There can be no justification for the unjustifiable. 9 Do not believe there is, and do not teach that there is. 10 Remember always that what you believe you will teach. 11 Believe with me, and we will become equal as teachers.
Unquote (ACIM:T-6.I.6)

Furthermore besides correcting our interpretation of the Crucifixion, mostly in this section of Chapter 6, but which is touched on in many more places in the Course, the Course also makes it clear why the ego HAD to misinterpret the Crucifixion the way it did in a section of Chapter 19, under The Obstacles to Peace. There it is also made clear why we have to forgive Jesus for not being the bitter idol that Christianity made of him.

I am made welcome in the state of grace, which means you have at last forgiven me. 2 For I became the symbol of your sin, and so I had to die instead of you. 3 To the ego sin means death, and so atonement is achieved through murder. 4 Salvation is looked upon as a way by which the Son of God was killed instead of you. 5 Yet would I offer you my body, you whom I love, its littleness? 6 Or would I teach that bodies cannot keep us apart? 7 Mine was of no greater value than yours; no better means for communication of salvation, but not its Source. 8 No one can die for anyone, and death does not atone for sin. 9 But you can live to show it is not real. 10 The body does appear to be the symbol of sin while you believe that it can get you what you want. 11 While you believe that it can give you pleasure, you will also believe that it can bring you pain. 12 To think you could be satisfied and happy with so little is to hurt yourself, and to limit the happiness that you would have calls upon pain to fill your meager store and make your life complete. 13 This is completion as the ego sees it. 14 For guilt creeps in where happiness has been removed, and substitutes for it. 15 Communion is another kind of completion, which goes beyond guilt, because it goes beyond the body.
Unquote (ACIM:T-19.IV.A.17)

In other words: for the separate self to have its cake and eat it too, Jesus must die for our sins, and the "salvation" the ego sees in this is that it is now real, having been granted a right to exist because of Jesus' sacrifice. Thus the Christian interpretation of the crucifixion makes the world real, therefore makes sin real (we really did separate from God) makes the body real, equates Jesus with the body, and curiously keeps guilt in circulation, for now we can feel good and guilty over Jesus' dying for our shenanigans: after all, death is now real too.

Therefore we have to forgive Jesus at some point for NOT being the magical savior who lets us get away with it, but rather being the very unwelcome (to our ego) teacher of love, who asks that we first take responsibility for OUR choice for the separation, since if we do not first own that choice, we could not change our mind and decide to follow Jesus instead of the ego. The more we do so we can then join with him in demonstrating that he lives in us, or as the Course sums it up, giving very practical and graphical expression to the theme of undoing the crucifixion:

You will not find peace until you have removed the nails from the hands of God's Son, and taken the last thorn from his forehead. 2 The Love of God surrounds His Son whom the god of crucifixion condemns. 3 Teach not that I died in vain. 4 Teach rather that I did not die by demonstrating that I live in you. 5 For the undoing of the crucifixion of God's Son is the work of the redemption, in which everyone has a part of equal value. 6 God does not judge His guiltless Son. 7 Having given Himself to him, how could it be otherwise?
Unquote (ACIM:T-11.VI.7)

In Chapter 4, The Illusions of the Ego, there is the following statement, which also puts all this in perspective:

The journey to the cross should be the last "useless journey." 2 Do not dwell upon it, but dismiss it as accomplished. 3 If you can accept it as your own last useless journey, you are also free to join my resurrection. 4 Until you do so your life is indeed wasted. 5 It merely re-enacts the separation, the loss of power, the futile attempts of the ego at reparation, and finally the crucifixion of the body, or death. 6 Such repetitions are endless until they are voluntarily given up. 7 Do not make the pathetic error of "clinging to the old rugged cross." 8 The only message of the crucifixion is that you can overcome the cross. 9 Until then you are free to crucify yourself as often as you choose. 10 This is not the gospel I intended to offer you. 11 We have another journey to undertake, and if you will read these lessons carefully they will help prepare you to undertake it.
Unquote (

In other words, again, it is purely our choice to be crucified by clinging to the ego's values, or to chose life and join with Jesus in the resurrection. The contrast between these two choices is made very graphical on another level in Chapter 27, in a section called "The Picture of the Crucifixion," by depicting the choice for the ego's favorite role as victim as follows:

5 The sick are merciless to everyone, and in contagion do they seek to kill. 6 Death seems an easy price, if they can say, "Behold me, brother, at your hand I die." 7 For sickness is the witness to his guilt, and death would prove his errors must be sins. 8 Sickness is but a "little" death; a form of vengeance not yet total.
Unquote (ACIM:T-27.I.4)

... and contrasting it with the choice for life, which Jesus offers us, as follows:

Into this empty space, from which the goal of sin has been removed, is Heaven free to be remembered. 2 Here its peace can come, and perfect healing take the place of death. 3 The body can become a sign of life, a promise of redemption, and a breath of immortality to those grown sick of breathing in the fetid scent of death. 4 Let it have healing as its purpose. 5 Then will it send forth the message it received, and by its health and loveliness proclaim the truth and value that it represents. 6 Let it receive the power to represent an endless life, forever unattacked. 7 And to your brother let its message be, "Behold me, brother, at your hand I live."
Unquote (ACIM:T-27.I.10)

Copyright, (c) 2005, Rogier F. van Vlissingen. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Reordering the NT, post Thomas, ACIM, DU

Especially since the appearance on the market of The Disappearance of the Universe, by Gary R. Renard, (affectionately known as "DU") a precedent has been set to take a fresh look at the traditions concerning Jesus. It has been gradually recognized that the sayings Gospels such as the Gospel of Thomas (GoT) are indeed the oldest form of Gospel, often with the least amount of corruption. Theology has been struggling to come to grips with this ever since, and so are many reading groups on the gospel according to Thomas.
(Note, clicking on the title of this article will connect you to a site listing the NT Apocrypha,

Having followed some on-line discussions in particular it is clear how much people struggle with the Thomas material, in particular if they come from a Christian background. Once people begin to surmise the non-dualistic teachings reflected in this material, however, it starts to make sense, and allow a fairly coherent understanding. What is not yet clearly understood is the upshot of all this, namely the unequivocal conclusion that Jesus was not a Christian. Nor did he teach any of the major tenets of Christianity, those that led to its breaking off from Judaism and becoming a separate religion onto itself.

DU is an exploration of the Thomas connection in light of ACIM, and it shows the inner consistency of the teaching between ACIM and GoT. In the process it sets an important precedent for scholarship in this area, namely it establishes the connection between ACIM and GoT on the basis of the consistency of content, not form. This includes pointing out that once we understand the teachings, it is easy which sayings in Thomas are original, and which are somehow compromised, be it they are corrupted, or just plain additions from a different origin. Biblical scholarship has been stymied by attempting to deal with spiritual teachings on the basis of form, because of the naturally Newtonian orientation of the scholarly tradition, which rests solidly on the assumption of the primacy of material facts, dates, times, places etc. As students of A Course in Miracles, however; we necessarily see spirit as the source and the world as the effect, and we therefore must recognize the limits of this form of scholarship. And it becomes evident that traditional Biblical scholarship may be able to do some groundwork, which is useful, although it can never do justice to the material unless one knows and understands the teaching framework that Jesus represents, which involves the experience of learning to follow him in one's life, not mere book learning or learned reflection. Hence the disparaging remarks about the "scribes and Pharisees" etc. in the Gospel stories. They are the ones who elevate form over content, the effect of which is to kill the spirit, reflecting the fact that their faithfulness is to the ego's thought system instead of to the Holy Spirit.

In as much as GoT does not contain all those theological tenets that made Christianity what it is (vicarious salvation, physical second coming, Eucharist, emphasis on the crucifixion and the body, etc.) the connection GoT - ACIM further serves to "out" the contradictory thought system of Paul, which did make Christianity what it is. In the way the Course addresses and reinterprets all of the key theological concepts in Christianity, it practices very specifically what it preaches, namely to question every value that we hold, in the process holding up Christian theology as the teaching example of how the ego system works.

Others have analyzed carefully how Paul's distortions came about, the most conclusive presentation being Hyam Maccoby's Paul and the Invention of Christianity, which is a breath of fresh air in this area. The line of interpretation of Jesus which Paul founded was to become dominant, and was an important example of how the ego sets out to reinterpret Jesus and give him a role in the dream, not least to surreptitiously give meaning to the dream with the expectation of the second coming, which in and of itself is rendered meaningless (and harmless to the ego) by dint of its reinterpretation as a (future!) physical event: the ego's purpose in the first place, i.e. to reaffirm the separation at all cost. In other words, this bit of theology spiritualizes the dream, which was Paul's real mission.

The deeper we get into all of this, the more it seems desirable to disassemble and reassemble our NT in this light. The order of the books as it has come down puts Matthew first, to establish the theological tenets of the "New Covenant," establishing Christian teachings as somehow validated by the Jewish tradition, but also superior to it, superseding it. Next comes Mark, which should have really been first since it is the oldest of the canonical Gospels, and the least adulterated by Pauline influence. Luke and Acts were originally one book, with the clear objective of validating Paul's ministry, and his interpretations as well as the "Acts" which led to Christianity's becoming what it became. John is a different kettle of fish altogether, written from a much more spiritual standpoint, and much later, grappling with the concept of Jesus in a way that does not always easily harmonize with the synoptics.

Obviously once we realize that the distinction of "canonical" versus "apocryphal" was determined only by who the winners were in the battle for recognition amongst early Christians, we might now be tempted to go back and attempt a new ordering of the NT material. I could suggest the following as at least a first attempt:

Thomas, Mark, Matthew, Luke & Acts, John, Acts of Thomas, Andrew, and John, The Gospels of Peter, Philip, and Mary, Dialogue of the Savior, The Narrative of Joseph of Arimathea, The Pauline Corpus, Revelation. Next to that, our Old Testament should also definitely include the Apocrypha, as indeed a few Bible editions do today. This is only a "quick and dirty" first attempt. While there are several wonderful collections in the market place today which attempt to supplement the missing (suppressed) materials, the ones that stand out are Willis Barnstone's The Other Bible, James Robinson's The Nag Hammadi Library, Bart D. Ehrman's Lost Scriptures, but most particularly the lovely and well organized editions of Marvin Meyer, starting with his edition of the Gospel of Thomas (this edition is favored by Gary Renard), and his collections The Gospels of Mary, and The Gnostic Gospels of Jesus. For those readers who are attracted to these materials, the best guidance is to respect the obvious historical contexts, which can be very helpful, but to follow one's inner guidance to separate truth from fiction. Having a foundation in the teachings of ACIM, it becomes indeed obvious very quickly how to separate the chaff from the wheat.

Finally on the strength of the argument of inner consistency we might include the Valentinian Gospel of Truth, and in the appendix we might be tempted to include Henry J. van Dyke's "The Fourth Wise Man," as well as at least some of Selma Lagerlöf's collection of "Christ Legends." Both of these last two are part of a living tradition that straddled the ages.

The reason to include Paul at all is because we cannot deny the fact that he had a great influence, not to mention he is the prime example of how the ego system reinterprets Jesus. Therefore he is an important teacher, as much as are all the other apostles, demonstrating for us the vagaries of their own attempts to come to grips with the meaning of Jesus in their lives. In that regard their successes and failures are helpful to us all in the many moments when we are tempted to repeat their mistakes. The spirit of it is, like Ken Wapnick has said about the practice of ACIM, that the point of being a good Course student is to be a lousy Course student but forgive yourself for it. What the apostles modeled for us, is ourselves in our attempts to follow Jesus, complete with falling down and getting up again. Their greates value to us as teachers comes from allowing us to see ourselves in them and forgiving them, and ourselves through them.

As an alternative to the above, we might propose a beginners' Gospel, consisting of the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Mark, and I might recommend with it the modern rendering of Mark by Regina Dawn Akers as a parallel study text. This trio would allow us to form a profound and fresh understanding of Jesus.

If we survey these materials in the right spirit, what comes across to us more and more is the very consistency of Jesus' teachings across time and space, as well as his presence in different forms at different times. Somehow it makes his presence more present to realize that he is and always was outside the time/space hologram, as our Internal Teacher, helping us to find our way back home.

Copyright (c) 2005, Rogier F. van Vlissingen. All rights reserved.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Acting School in Reverse

Recently I was involved in a translation of Kenneth Wapnick's article "A PORTRAIT OF A COURSE IN MIRACLES STUDENT AS AN ARTIST" (Lighthouse Vol 16 Number 1, March 2005). As always, my experience of translation was that it is both impossible technically, and because of that it hightens one's integration of the meaning of any given text The only hope in translation comes from actually understanding what the author means, and rendering it anew in the other language. In other words it is about translating the content, not the form, all the while honoring the restrictions of the form relationships involved, and being faithful to the original as much as possible.

(Note: you can click on the title above to find the article.)

Re-reading this article, and with a new level of intensity, given the task at hand, I found that it offered me some interesting new connections. In particular, there is the business that in order to truly be "in-spired" in our performance (of the lead role in this movie which we call our life), we have to get the ego out of the way.

This runs counter to e.g. what we learn in acting school, which says to totally identify with the character, to the point that their emotions become our own. The mission here is making the drama very real, by taking the emotions very seriously.

Contrary to that however, our path to mastery as Course students, lies in doing exactly the reverse, namely by accepting the help of the Holy Spirit so we stop taking any of our emotions seriously at all, and as a result we can operate from a standpoint of true empathy with everyone we encounter. The shift lies in the fact that our life no longer depends on the outcome, for we now operate from the certainty that we know who we are, and it's not the character in the dream. Thus by virtue of this inner distance that comes with being the observer of the play, and we can play our roles actually better because of this new found freedom.

As Gary Renard recently pointed out on the DU forum in his posting related to his experiences with MDC, practicing forgiveness does not mean being a patsy. So when the role calls for firmly speaking up, by all means do that too. However if we are in our right minds, we won't feel attacked, and we won't attack, but just represent whatever it is the role calls for at the time. In the end of course this method of unlearning acting and taking our dream roles progressively less seriously, lessens the opportunities for drama in our lives, and helps us to get on with it rather quicker.

(c) 2006, Rogier van Vlissingen.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

ACIM and the Bible - References and some notes

In the following I want to provide at least a preliminary accounting for the specific references in the Course to the Bible and New Testament, and offer some commentary. Note that on a practical level the Bible to the Course is the KJV.

One of the interesting quotes in the Course regarding the Bible is the following:
3 Nothing the ego perceives is interpreted correctly. 4 Not only does the ego cite
Scripture for its purpose, but it even interprets Scripture as a witness for itself. 5 The Bible is a fearful thing in the ego's judgment. 6 Perceiving it as frightening, it interprets it fearfully. 7 Being afraid, you do not appeal to the Higher Court because you believe its judgment would also be against you.
unquote (ACIM:T-5.VI.3-7)

The implication here is that the Bible is neutral, in quite the same sense as the Course says "the body is a neutral thing," and the emphasis is on our interpretation of it, i.e. either with the ego or with the Holy Spirit. And in line 7 the quote indicates how it is the ego in us which is afraid of the Holy Spirit's interpretation, and to the extent that we're identified with our ego we will therefore naturally be afraid of the ruling of the "Higher Court," the Holy Spirit.

Needless to say the corollary to this is that we can read the Bible in an entirely new way, in a right minded way, if we do so with the Holy Spirit, not the ego as our guide.

The quote also paraphrases Shakespeare in The Merchant of Venice, "The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose." (I, iii, 99) Alluding to how the ego builds its own theology on the basis of scripture, bending it to its own purposes.

An exhaustive list of quotes of the word "Bible" in the Course, with some provisional characterizations looks as follows:

" The emptiness engendered by fear must be replaced by forgiveness. 2 That is what the Bible means by "There is no death," and why I could demonstrate that death does not exist."

Clearly the Course refers to the Bible saying something right, which has been misunderstood by us. In other words, the Bible here is just the book, which can be understood one way or another way, only one of which is right.

" 4 The Bible speaks of a new Heaven and a new earth, yet this cannot be literally true, for the eternal are not re-created."

Here it seems clear that the comment is on the Bible itself not saying something clearly, so it highlights a distortion in the Bible as such. This is no surprise for we know a lot about the problems of transmission of the Biblical texts over the ages, as well as there being a lot of justifiable suspicion of editorial interference.

in T-8.IX.7:1-3
"The Bible enjoins you to be perfect, to heal all errors, to take no thought of the body as separate and to accomplish all things in my name. 2 This is not my name alone, for ours is a shared identification. 3 The Name of God's Son is One, and you are enjoined to do the works of love because we share this Oneness."

Here he quotes the Bible as a reliable source, though it inevitably has not been well understood by us... and so he emphasizes how it should be understood.

"5 The Bible is a fearful thing in the ego's judgment."

Clearly here it is the ego's interpretation of the Bible that is being faulted.

"3 The Bible gives many references to the immeasurable gifts which are for you, but for which you must ask. 4 This is not a condition as the ego sets conditions. 5 It is the glorious condition of what you are."

Clearly here the reference to the Bible is in a positive sense, albeit with an amplification.

" The Bible tells you to become as little children. 2 Little children recognize that they do not understand what they perceive, and so they ask what it means. 3 Do not make the mistake of believing that you understand what you perceive, for its meaning is lost to you."

Clearly here the intention is a clarification of and extension to statements in the Bible, again seeking to prevent certain erroneous interpretations of it.

" 9 That is why the Bible speaks of "the peace of God which passeth understanding." 10 This peace is totally incapable of being shaken by errors of any kind. "

This appears to be again a very neutral quote, and an elaboration.
"The Bible says that you should go with a brother twice as far as he asks. 2 It certainly does not suggest that you set him back on his journey. 3 Devotion to a brother cannot set you back either."

Again a quote and elaboration, seeking to avert misinterpretation.

"The Bible tells you to know yourself, or to be certain. 2 Certainty is always of God."

Another case of quote and elaboration.

" The Bible repeatedly states that you should praise God. 2 This hardly means that you should tell Him how wonderful He is. 3 He has no ego with which to accept such praise, and no perception with which to judge it."

Here is where the word "Bible" seems to be more symbolic as the "ego thought system based on Biblical theology," with a strong hint that in fact the text itself may be misleading, which again because of its very dubious provenance, having passed through many hands, is not a surprise.

" 10 This is what the Bible means when it says, "When he shall appear (or be perceived) we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is."

Here again it seems to be about how the Bible has been (mis)understood more so than about what it says.

"The Bible says, "The Word (or thought) was made flesh." 2 Strictly speaking this is impossible, since it seems to involve the translation of one order of reality into another. 3 Different orders of reality merely appear to exist, just as different orders of miracles do. 4 Thought cannot be made into flesh except by belief, since thought is not physical."

That seems to be a correction of the gnostic theology of the Gospel according to John,(Jn.1:14) in other words, addressing an egoic distortion in the actual Biblical text itself.

"4 The Bible says, "Ask in the name of Jesus Christ." 5 Is this merely an appeal to magic?"

A neutral quote and an elaboration.

" 6 Yet the Bible says that a deep sleep fell upon Adam, and nowhere is there reference to his waking up."

Here again he faults our careless reading of it, implying that there was something worthwhile in the Bible, which we conveniently ignored. This is certainly true of mainstream Biblical theology, less so in some more esoteric schools, where many have in fact noted this comment very carefully, and paid a lot of attention to
it, in quite the same vein as the Course does.

"The Bible emphasizes that all prayer is answered, and this is indeed true. 2 The very fact that the Holy Spirit has been asked for anything will ensure a response."

A neutral quote.

"4 When the Bible says "Judge not that ye be not judged," it means that if you judge the reality of others you will be unable to avoid judging your own."

An expansion that addresses a problem of interpretation.

" 4 The Bible says, "May the mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus," and uses this as a blessing. 5 It is the blessing of miracle-mindedness. 6 It asks that you may think as I thought, joining with me in Christ thinking."

Another objective quote, and reinforcement of the right interpretation.


And now a very important reference to the New Testament:

T-6.I.13.The message of the crucifixion is perfectly clear:

2 Teach only love, for that is what you are.

T-6.I.14.If you interpret the crucifixion in any other way, you are using it as a weapon for assault rather than as the call for peace for which it was intended. 2 The Apostles often misunderstood it, and for the same reason that anyone misunderstands it. 3 Their own imperfect love made them vulnerable to projection, and out of their own fear they spoke of the "wrath of God" as His retaliatory weapon. 4 Nor could they speak of the crucifixion entirely without anger,
because their sense of guilt had made them angry.
T-6.I.15.These are some of the examples of upside-down thinking in the New Testament, although its gospel is really only the message of love. 2 If the Apostles had not felt guilty, they never could have quoted me as saying, "I come not to bring peace but a sword." 3 This is clearly the opposite of everything I taught. 4 Nor could they have described my reactions to Judas as they did, if they had really understood me. 5 I could not have said, "Betrayest thou the Son of man with a
kiss?" unless I believed in betrayal. 6 The whole message of the crucifixion was simply that I did not. 7 The "punishment" I was said to have called forth upon Judas was a similar mistake. 8 Judas was my brother and a Son of God, as much a part of the Sonship as myself. 9 Was it likely that I would condemn him when I was ready to demonstrate that condemnation is impossible?
T-6.I.16.As you read the teachings of the Apostles, remember that I told them myself that there was much they would understand later, because they were not wholly ready to follow me at the time. 2 I do not want you to allow any fear to enter into the thought system toward which I am guiding you. 3 I do not call for martyrs but for teachers. 4 No one is punished for sins, and the Sons of God are not sinners. 5 Any concept of punishment involves the projection of blame, and reinforces the idea that blame is justified. 6 The result is a lesson in blame, for all behavior teaches the
beliefs that motivate it. 7 The crucifixion was the result of clearly opposed thought systems; the perfect symbol of the "conflict" between the ego and the Son of God. 8 This conflict seems just as real now, and its lessons must be learned now as well as then.

This last quote offers enough material for a dissertation, yet I'll venture some notes here:
- The "Teach only love" comment counters the sacrificial theology which is primarily of Pauline origin, being not present at all in the Thomas Gospel, and not an issue even in the canonical Gospel according to Mark.
- The pointed comment of the apostles misunderstanding him is a commentary on the stories about the apostles, and their clear misunderstanding of Jesus which are very evident in the NT. The careful reader therefore should look at the stories as illustrations for the sake of our own struggles in understanding Jesus, not as a revelation of evident Christian truth, as later theology made it out to be.
- Fair to say then that the real purpose of the Gospel accounts was to help "a way in which some people may be able to find their own Internal Teacher." That is why the Gospel is known in Greek as Eu-angelion - the Good News, the Good Message.

Going beyond these specific references, we find many, many levels of "correction," relative to the Biblical/Christian conceptions of him, including the usage of major terms like crucifixion, second coming, etc. etc. etc.

In a way the Course really turns the tables on the ego system by very specifically using Christian theology as the perfect example of how the ego system works. And of course since the whole theology of vicarious salvation is of Paul and not of Jesus, we could make a whole study of that problem in and of itself.

In conclusion, "the Bible," (even if it isn't mentioned explicitly), when mentioned in the Course means either the book, and specifically the KJV, because of its influence on the English language in general, and because Helen knew it best in particular, or it means the "accepted ego-theology (i.e. of Pauline Christianity) based on the Bible." The corrections the Course offers equally fall in those two categories, addressing the imperfections of tradition such as we have it, as well as the problems of subsequent interpretation, and how the book has been read to say something else than the teachings intended.

Most importantly, throughout these comments are part of "questioning every value that we hold," as well as an invitation to read the Bible in a new, right-minded way, and leave behind the fearful interpretations that we have traditionally made of it with ego-theology.

Copyright, (c) 2005, Rogier F. van Vlissingen. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

God, Bible, ACIM, and other trouble

Throughout the Course it becomes clear that God did not create the world. Never before the Course was there any teaching, in particular not in the Judaeo-Christian cultural domain which has made this so clear. Yet it was always right in front of our faces. We just chose not to listen.

In particular the convenience of religion provided the ego with the necessary veiling so we could skip wondering about these questions, but allow ourselves to carouse in the time space hologram some more, and help ourselves to a serving of religion on Sunday mornings (or Saturday, as the case may be), in which any spiritually disturbing questions were eliminated in a homogenized, pasteurized version of substitute spirituality, which we paid priests, preachers, and theologians to provide for us, in order to keep our conscience at bay. This is part of the deal the world has to offer. Lifetime job security, in exchange for some steady donations, in order to pacify the guilt pangs from which we suffer.

In one of the more interesting direct corrections of the Bible, the Course offers the following:

11 I cannot choose for you, but I can help you make your own right choice. 12 "Many are called but few are chosen" should be, "All are called but few choose to listen." 13 Therefore, they do not choose right. 14 The "chosen ones" are merely those who choose right sooner. 15 Right minds can do this now, and they will find rest unto their souls. 16 God knows you only in peace, and this your reality.
unquote (ACIM:T-3.IV.7:11-16)

The Course has this disconcerting way of putting the responsibility right back on our shoulders, inducing a flight response many a time for any serious student, until we finally start to realize that "The secret of salvation is but this: you are doing this unto yourself." (ACIM:T-27.VII.10:1) and then we get ready to "take up our cross and follow him," to use the NT phraseology for the same thing.

More so than ever before since the publication of "The Disappearance of the Universe," by Gary Renard, with its documentation of the inner consistency between the teachings of the Thomas Gospel in particular with the teachings of Jesus in ACIM, the message is that Jesus always did and always will teach the same thing. Christianity was the aberration, the ego is the aberration.

Careful readers however, who have not let theology delay them (c.f. ACIM:C-in.4:5) and who therefore took the trouble of reading the Bible for themselves, without the convenience of theological padding, have consequently had to deal with the different forms of our relationship to God which are expressed in the Bible. To quote a comment from a theological dictionary by a German theologian (Doz. Theol. Abraham Meister, Namen des Ewigen, Mitternachtsruf Verlag Grosse Freude, Pfäffikon/ZH Schweiz 1973, p. 304 - my translation):

God has made Israel in to what it has become through His deeds and His Revelation. It was certain of its God in that, and through that of its existence. His Glory was reflected in that, more so than from creation and all that is visible. In the Old Testament the Glory of the true God is revealed by his Revelation in his chosen people by means of prophecy and by His miracles (Is. 41:22, 43:9-11, 44:7). That is a higher level of Revelation than the creation of the world.

This is a wonderful commentary, from an otherwise fairly traditional theologian, who however is a careful reader, and who keeps pointing up the material questions the Bible raises for anyone who takes the trouble to read it, rather than accept the brand name re-packaged versions that religions have to offer. In other words, while Meister and his ilk never get around to the psychological refinement that the creator God really is a projection of the ego, and the Gnostic teachings which addressed this point never reached the level of clarity of teaching which we now have in the Course, enough so that people might have heard it, the careful reader cannot escape the notion that there are (at least) two levels of God concept in the Biblical tradition, and that the inner experience of God as manifested in the prophets is of a different order than the creation of the Universe.

Another interesting example of the same occurs in the book Job, and I quote J.W.Kaiser on this, from his book "De Mysterien van Jezus in ons Leven," Servire, Den Haag, 1965, Chapter 15 "Beproeving," which I'm currently translating, and expect to publish in the next few years.

Here is what Kaiser says about the ending of Job, when the temptation is over, once Job quits listening to the ego's witnesses (his "friends"), and the Voice for God is heard by him:
For this is the secret of all doubt and all despair in Temptation, that a human being equates the blessings of Time with the blessings of Eternity. Loudly all temporal values scream as proven facts, but the Imperishable One is silent.
Until Job and his friends shut up. Then God speaks.
That is why all yielding to temptation is a relapse into the pseudo-promises of life-in-Time. But enduring a Temptation gives us the awareness, that the Angels of God serve us.
“Then God-upside-down let go of Him... and see! Angels came and ministered to Him.” (Mt. 4:11)

And in the Glossary of the same book (p. 151), he offers the following comment on Job:

Job means "who experiences hostility." The old proper names were absolutely not "accidental," in this way.
His "friends" are the three accepted principles, which no longer work, as soon as the new, God as Opponent, enters his life to remove the split from it... Their names are Eliphas=God is Force, Bildad=Son of Battle (aggression therefore) and Zofar=Chatterbox. Exactly the simple scheme, which together with the "goodness" of Job, characterizes meaningless man.
The book was extensively mutilated. The last part, which comes after "here end the words of Job," as the end of his complaint, according to experts has been added by a later editor. This does not prove that there was no ending before that. The "opener" now is Elihu=This my God. He removes from Job the semblance of having been shortchanged, the appearance of being "right" before God. And it is this which still liberates the Initiate from the irresistable pressure to feel "unfairly" treated, of being ignored and neglected. That is why the Book Job is so valuable, even today, because it lifts man above being stranded in self-justification, in bitterness, which reflects being caught up between High and Low.

In other words the whole point of the book of Job is about the inner transition from the ego's "Good God, Bad God,") towards an inner knowing of God on His terms, as he truly is, which is not possible as long as we listen to the committee in our head, the voices of the ego, who we think are our friends, but which really try to shield us from knowing who we are in truth.

Much later some gnostic schools tried to give expression to the concept of the creator God of Genesis as a lesser entity, without ever arriving at the level of clarity of the psychological explanation of the Course. Finally it is clear now that that God of Genesis and generally the angry God who appears many a time in the Old Testament is in fact the ego's projection onto God of the guilt over the separation thought, and is terrifying as long as the belief in separation is what drives our concept of ourselves as an ego.

Only with the Course do we finally find conceptual clarity about the difference between the creating of God, and the making of the ego, combined now with the psychological wherewithal to make it all practical in our daily lives. In looking back on the tradition with the clarity of the Course, we must notice that at least some hints were always there, and that many aware people over the ages struggled with these issues. Fair to say that the Bible, stripped of the theological straight-jacket of either Jewish or Christian theology, ranges all over the place, covering the creator God, the God/Devil duality of the ego, as well as the inner God. It reflects more the struggle with man's relationship to God in our particular tradition, than that it gives a homogeneous picture. That is provided by the veneer of religions which use the Bible as their "Holy Book," and proceed to tell us what it says, so we won't have to take the trouble of going on our own quest.

Copyright, (c) 2005, Rogier F. van Vlissingen. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Reformation Revisited

Martin Luther is a powerful figure for me, even with his shortcomings. The Reformation, while changing some important things, and being a major step in furtherance of a personal relationship with God, over and above the standing practices, never managed to truly break out of the "church" model of Christianity, or for that matter out of the Pauline tradition of Christianity. (Note: By clicking on the title above there is a link to a biography and a wealth of resources about Martin Luther.) I want to suggest some reflections on the true inspirations of his life, and his gift to us all.

The Course warns us of the strong tendency of our ego to meddle in the affairs of the Holy Spirit as follows:
The holy instant is the result of your determination to be holy. 2 It is the 3 The desire and the willingness to let it come precede its coming. 4 You prepare your mind for it only to the extent of recognizing that you want it above all else. 5 It is not necessary that you do more; indeed, it is necessary that you realize that you cannot do more. 6 Do not attempt to give the Holy Spirit what He does not ask, or you will add the ego to Him and confuse the two. 7 He asks but little. 8 It is He Who adds the greatness and the might. 9 He joins with you to make the holy instant far greater than you can understand. 10 It is your realization that you need do so little that enables Him to give so much.
unquote (ACIM:T18.IV.1)

And all of us who have worked with the Course know of our own experience just how hard it is to leave well enough alone. So, if Saul/Paul had a legitimate experience on the road to Damascus, the risk is too much ego interference in giving expression to that experience in his life, and that is how he could end up turning Jesus's teachings on their ear. Likewise I believe that Martin Luther also experienced the Holy Instant, and yet remained a child of his time in history, and was perhaps not ready to be radical enough, staying broadly within the church mold, even while finding it impossible not to pursue his issues which were to lead to the schism (ego!) called the Reformation. It is the same mistake all of us make a million times before we ever learn, and it merits nothing but our forgiveness, and respect and recognition for the true inspiration at the foundation of this man's thought.

In a brief bio of Martin Luther on the site referenced above, we find an interesting summary of the main theme of his life:
"But Luther himself saw the Reformation as something far more important than a revolt against ecclesiastical abuses. He believed it was a fight for the gospel. Luther even stated that he would have happily yielded every point of dispute to the Pope, if only the Pope had affirmed the gospel.

And at the heart of the gospel, in Luther's estimation, was the doctrine of justification by faith--the teaching that Christ's own righteousness is imputed to those who believe, and on that ground alone, they are accepted by God."

This is quite remarkable. In a way it would seem then that it was only ML's conditioning, misplaced loyalty to tradition, in which he kept thinking of the church as the vehicle for God's word, which made him feel the need for validation of the above by the Pope. Inner acceptance of Jesus's Good News (the name of the Greek word Euangelion, the Gospel), which in Course terms is summed up as: "Teach only love for that is what you are," (ACIM:T-6.III.2:4) would indeed suffice, no papal imprimatur needed.

Martin Luther also realized that we should go back to reading the Bible ourselves, for that the Church had gotten between a people and their God. His "Verdeutschung der Schrift" was a truly a Herculean achievement for which we must be grateful to him to this day.

However, if anything, Luther wasn't radical enough, and that is why the Reformation stayed stuck in "Christianity," for he stuck to the bad habit of misreading the Bible as the revealed word of God, rather than a collection of writings of a number of people over about 2000 years, struggling with their relationship with God, and truly ranging from the ridiculous to the sublime. Had he been able to free himself from his Christian indoctrination, and step far enough back to do that, the Bible might have revealed itself as a collection of writings which does not provide the ANSWER to who or what is God, but rather poses the QUESTION of what should our relationship to God be, for it is not coherent at all, except by virtue of the theological constructs built on top of it by either Judaism or Christianity. And the answer of course is within, is experience, and there are plenty of wonderful expressions of that to be found in the Bible.

Likewise, Luther's other main beef, against the selling of indulgences, was obviously right on point, except once again not radical enough in retrospect, for he was not a critical enough reader to see that Paul's theology about Jesus was in marked contradiction to the original teachings of Jesus, as many critical readers after him have pointed out. In particular the whole sacrificial theology that goes back to Paul's concept of vicarious salvation (we get to sin, and he dies for our sins, making the world and the body real, and thus letting the ego off the hook somewhat, but still feeling guilty), is the foundation thought on which the whole notion of indulgences was based. So while Luther argued against the practice of selling indulgences, he did not recognize that the foundation was in Paul itself, and moreover that Paul turned Jesus's teachings more or less into the opposite of what he actually taught. He might have been better off to eliminate all of Paul's writing from his version of the New Testament, yet he was too much a child of the belief in sin himself, and could not make that step.

However, I believe he was instrumental in clearing the way for many to indeed undertake having their own relationship with the Bible, and work on their relationship with God quite beyond the church context more so than before. At the same time however the translation itself becomes part of the problem, because among other things all different terms for "God" in Hebrew (OT) are translated essentially the same, so for all its good intentions the translation contributes to a theological homogenization, which is increasingly harder to untangle, unless one goes back to the original.

Finally by continuing in the church model, the Protestant church, while more liberal and open in a lot of ways, reinforced the familiar old pattern of external practice of a faith, rather than seeking the internal path. The need for teachers and preachers in the church model is simply another part of the ego script. Our relationship with God post the separation is a problem to us, because we don't want him around, and our troubled mind comes up with this projection of an angry creator God, who is mad at us for messing up his plans. The extreme inconsistencies of the Biblical literature give expression to the whole range of feelings related to God, and the God concept is not at all homogeneous. We however do not want to entertain questions, we want answers, and hence we empower theologians to explain the Bible to us, and to run the church. We donate money to the church to keep God away from us, and pacify him, so we hope he won't come after us. The church becomes merely another authority figure in the dream, including the potential for abuse in many different ways. It is merely another instance of the ego's victim/victimizer script, and codependence a central implied norm.

The difference with the Course is that Jesus is very clear that this is a self-study course, and truly the lessons lead us to the experiences which will increasingly reveal deeper and deeper levels of meaning in the words of the Course. The Course itself becomes superfluous in the end, as will all teachers of the Course--if we truly study the Course that is--for we could also form a dependent relationship with a teacher, as much as many self-proclaimed teachers offer indispensable interpretations (at least in their own minds), so that instead of a help it becomes a hindrance, and a detour. In other words, the Course properly understood is a path of disintermediation, and taking responsibility for our own relationship with our Inner Teacher, and in the end with God. The path of the church is a path of intermediation, which rests on the Pauline notion that we're all sinners. This provides plentiful job opportunities for a priestly class, and theologians etc., who are all in business for the express purpose of shielding us from the responsibility for our relationship with God.

Copyright, (c) 2005, Rogier F. van Vlissingen. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

The Samaritan Woman in John 4:1-26

In a way the parable of the Samaritan woman in John 4:1-26 embodies the essence of what this list is all about. For the water of the fathers (in time) of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, etc. (see Genesis) makes us thirst again and again, while the waters of the spirit can quench our thirst once and for all, but since we all don't know any better we go to Jacob's well to get the water that makes us thirst and we don't see Jesus, who is asking us to drink, but in reality is offering us the water of the spirit.

One way of looking at this is that the faiths of the fathers are in fact the pseudo-religions which the sonship establishes to justify and rationalize its beliefs and make the world real, and cause(!) its adventures in the world of time and space, and both Judaism and Christianity serve that same purpose. A good way of hiding that purpose is to emphasize the differences between the two, while any true spirituality will ultimately acknowledge that truth is one and that all paths must lead there in the end--for if they didn't truth would not be true.

A true spiritual path, like the Course, offers us the way out, which subconsciously we do not really want, and just like the Samaritan woman we go back to the well we know in search of more of the water that makes us thirst again (guilt!). It is the juice on which the illusion runs, which is transmitted from generation to generation and to a large degree the books of the Pentateuch, if not the entire Old Testament are the story of the sonship wandering in the world of time and space.

Here is what J. W. Kaiser writes about the parable (in "De Mysterien van Jezus in ons leven," p. 150, translation RFvV):
However the episode with the Samaritan woman contains a deeper reference to the real Israel. Not to the ten tribes which formed the Kingdom of Israel were constantly at odds with the Kingdom of Judea (including Benjamin). Not to the British Israel Movement, with their artful thought processes, in which so many idealists have been caught up. But Israel as: Man caught up in Time. Israel "fallen" into the discernment of opposites, Israel as Man yielding to the temptations of Space, Israel as Man bound to the Wheel, who imagines himself to be waiting (Semer!), but still only knows the happenings in time as reality, and thus constantly makes his children drink from that Source which makes them thirst again. Israel the Happenings in Time, which lives on in the Twelve kinds of Children, as the archetypes of the so-called Zodiac, the slide positive of earthly relativity. To save this Israel is to lead the Twelve "tribes" back to the House of the Father, to Eternity.

Written 25 years prior to the Course, this commentary shows us not only how much was always there for those with ears to hear and eyes to see, but it reminds us that the problem at all times is our willingness to listen. However, thankfully the Course is a lot more explicit, and perhaps makes it harder not to listen.

What the parable of the Samaritan woman does not capture, is the attraction to guilt. It does show her wanting, looking for the water that makes us thirst again, but it doesn't give expression to the ego's attraction to guilt, as the Course does so well in the section by that name(T-19.IV.A.i), and throughout, and which really makes us say "No!" to the water that Jezus has to offer for most of our life, before we finally begin looking for "another way." An interesting detail also is how she feels inferior to Jesus, and we might now realize that the notion of a Samaritan being inferior to a Jew is only a parabolic expression for the inferiority we feel with respect to Jesus if we identify with the ego.

The parable reflects the ultimate moment when our heart finally recognizes that we are not truly married to any of our specialness partners, which we've merely used to shut Jesus out of our lives. Seeing the truth of that and following Jesus represents accepting the Atonement for ourselves. Along the way it also clarifies how the (ego) God we worship, is a figment of our imagination, and the real God is spirit (v. 23)
Thankfully, as the Course puts it, the outcome is as certain as God. (T-2.III.3:10) So while some have doubtlessly always found their way home with the scant information contained in parables like this, the Course gives us the tools to really clear away the obstacles that keep us from accepting the love we truly are. And to stay within the parable, we learn with the Course that the way to Jesus is to forgive ourselves for telling him off when he offers us the water that won't make us thirst again, until like the Samaritan woman, we can accept it and follow his teaching in our life, but first we need to be willing to see and acknowledge that the things of time have not healed us, before Jesus can. A passage in the section Self-concept versus Self makes an interesting corollary to the parable, in which Jesus finally says to us (in verse 26): "I that speak to you am he." (The Messiah). In the Course it is stated as follows:

7 I do not know the thing I am, and therefore do not know what I am doing, where I am, or how to look upon the world or on myself.

8 Yet in this learning is salvation born. 9 And What you are will tell you of Itself.
unquote (T-31.V.17:7-9)

Copyright, (c) 2005, Rogier F. van Vlissingen. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

The Inner Teacher: Jesus, Yeshua, J, God's Help

The name Yeshua means "God's Help," or "God Helps" and it refers to the known, unknown Presence within which is always with us, and the goal of the Course is simply to help some people to find that Inner Teacher, as the Preface states.

The fundamental notion of Gnosis is the affirmation of that knowlege (=Gr. Gnosis), existing within everyone of us. Hence Gnosis in principle is the more experiential and spiritual dimension of the Judaeo-Christian framework. What became orthodox Christianity made the world real and emphasized the historical Jesus who died on the Cross, and thus made the need for external authority, manifesting most specifically in that self-proclaimed Vicar of Christ, the Pope. For if there is no Inner Teacher, and if we're born sinners, we need external authority to guide us, and that's the essence of the ego system, merely another form of the victim/victimizer script.
As a practical matter the terms Gnosis and Gnosticism, because of the plurality of systems associated with them tend to stir up possibly even more controversies than Christianity with its multifarious sects and denominations. For that reason I have elsewhere suggested a possibly clearer distinction between Johannine and Pauline Christianity, the former being an experiential path of initiation, and the latter being a moral path of observance. The former emphasizing an Inner Teacher, the latter a (more or less) historical Jesus.

Inevitably an important part of the story is that there is precsious little to be found in form of explicit historical documentation of Johannine spirituality. This is simply explained by the fact that building buildings is not a priority once we truly put the "Kingdom not of this world" as a priority. The only records are implicit, in terms of Jesus myths, in terms of the history of Chasidism, in terms of art and literature in which people gave expression to their inner experience. And a lot was simply oral tradition, which is something we routinely ignore as part of our culture, which blithely assumes that just because we can write with pen and ink, write books, and print them, that therefore everything that matters is written down. Even the briefest contemplation reveals that assumption to be patently absurd.

So as much as the historical documentation of 2000 years ago consists mostly of descriptions of the external circumstances of the life of someone named Jesus, not to mention his death, and then theology based on other peoples' interpretation of that life, the inner tradition was not much accounted for. Mary Magdalen in my view is the biggest symbol of that inner tradition of the heart, and a teaching example of the Holy Relationship. She understood Jesus to the point that she knew he would always be with her, and that in the end she was Jesus herself, and that is evidently why she was the first witness to the Resurrection, and became the apostle to the apostles. Her recent rediscovery, despite the vast amounts of nonsense that is being published, reflects an important change of consciousness, which however will remain without meaning unless we get in touch with her and the love she represents ourselves.

To skip ahead 1900 years, I'll discuss some of my own experiences next, in order to bring to life some awareness of the Inner Tradition, which mostly escapes history as we practice it today. In the early fifties, when I was an infant, my parents became acquainted with Ms. Margaretha Hofmans, who I later understood to be channeling Jesus. The popular press made her out to be a faithhealer, but in fact what she did was pray with people, not for people, teaching them how to pray, and teaching of the Presence in our Life of God's Help, which of course is merely the literal meaning of the Hebrew name Jeshua. She worked closely with Jan Willem Kaiser, pursuant to a mission they felt was theirs based on a channeled message she received in 1946. He wrote and published widely on spirituality, while she worked with people one on one.

Ms. Hofmans taught me even as an infant that God's Help was always available to us, wherever, whenever, with the proviso that unlike Santa Claus, He was not in the business of wishfulfillment, and we should be prepared to accept Help on His terms, not ours, realizing that in truth it would always be to our true best interest. From what I gather from the tradition around her, when Ms. Hofmans' channeling experience started, she identified the voice at first with her teacher in life, and I suspect it was Kaiser who helped her clarify that it was in fact the voice of Jesus. When I knew her, from about age four, that's what she would say, though she mostly confined herself to the term God's Help, or The Help. Sometimes she might refer to Christ.

Later in life I had a teacher by the name of Frits Willem Bonk, who was a former ballet dancer, who had danced with Anna Pavlova - who was certainly also a spiritual teacher to him. He became a student of Krishnamurti and J.W. Kaiser, but never wrote a word, except personal correspondence. From age 14-40 he was my de facto spiritual teacher, and I spent many hours with him, sometimes talking many hours, which meant mostly listening to the waterfall of his speaking about his spiritual experiences. Most importantly, he represented the love of Jesus to me in tangible form, to such a degree that I was very upset with God when he died. A few years later however the Course showed up, and it was clear to me that the Voice of Jesus was back in my life, with an even clearer invitation this time to learn to listen to him inside more and more, and instructions on how to do it. When in July 1991, I read the Course a chapter a day, it was as if J. was at the kitchen table with me, reading it to me. And as many times as you forget these things, that feeling never goes away completely.

The above to me describes my personal succession of forms in which the presence of Jesus in my life was tangible for me, and I could add to that many students and teachers of the Course who I know are giving expression to his love in their daily life. I believe it is important that the idea of an Inner Teacher be seen in the context of that teacher's being represented by external appearances which serve a purpose in our life as long as we think we're individuals. I refer a.o. to Ken Wapnicks article: JESUS: AN EXPRESSION OF LIMITLESS LOVE IN THE DREAM OF SEPARATION
(Volume 7 Number 4 December 1996), which can be found by clicking on the title of this post. As Ken has put it in some of his workshops and books: "Jesus is a what that looks like a who, as long as you think you're a who." That sums it up.

On a practical level, it may make sense for many, at least for a while to use other names, such as Gary Renard's solution of "J" which sort of bypasses the association with the idol that Christianity created, or the idea of God's Help, or Mary Magdalen, or Mary, etc. In the end it all comes back to the same thing for the simple reason that truth is true, and everything else isn't, and the Love these figures represent cannot fail to lead us back to our true identity as love, aware of our complete oneness with them, so they are always in our company. As the Course says: "Teach only love, for that is what you are." (ACIM:T-6.III.2.4) And the teachers who give expression to that love in our lives, be they material or immaterial, current or historical, in the end speak with only one voice, which becomes clearer and clearer as we start listening to it ourselves, giving expression to Cardinal Newman's wish as cited in Helen Schucman's "A Jesus Prayer:" "As they look up, let them not look on me, but only You." ( Helen Schucman, The Gifts of God, p. 82.)

Copyright, (c) 2005, Rogier F. van Vlissingen. All rights reserved.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Spirituality versus Spiritualizing the World

Since I'm often very clear and explicit that Paul turned Jesus's teachings upside down, I get occasional emails from Paul fans, and I thought it was time to clarify something. Saul/Paul and the Christian theology he founded are extremely useful as teaching examples of how the ego reinterprets Jesus (and we all do it!), once you understand the differences. But like anything else if we don't look at it, the learning opportunity is lost on us, and the critical difference is in looking at it with Jesus, so that indeed we can see in Paul merely a brother who dramatizes for us our own mistakes in pulling Jesus down into the world, and making the world very real, and then covering over our mistake by spiritualizing the result and dressing it up in religious sentiment, which merely obfuscates our attempt of making the world real and ourselves important. In our present time, we like to be important ACIM teachers, just as much as Paul transformed Jesus's intention of teaching the oneness of the sonship, into a togetherness of a community which subscribed to a set of beliefs about Jesus, which Paul and those who followed after were in charge of defining.

The apotheosis of this line of thinking is truly in the Nicene Creed, which truly becomes a formula of a set of rational beliefs, and almost a mantra which will magically ensure that we will go to heaven when we die: all clearly manifestations of the ego's model of the world of time and space, including the incarnation of souls into the body, meaning that the body has primacy, not the spirit, as Jesus had taught, but which was misunderstood by a religion founded in his name which celebrated the crucifixion of his body, not the resurrection of the spirit.

In terms of the transition from the teachings of Jesus to the teachings of Paul, we don't have to go far. By Romans 2:4 he starts throwing the judgment of God around, quite in contrast to Jesus whose ministry is founded on the forgiveness of sins. Regarding his views on resurrection, passages like Hebrews 11:35 make it clear that he thinks of resurrection as something after physical death. So it becomes part of what follows a good life on earth, and the notion we find in the Gospel of Thomas that this life here on earth IS death, so that Resurrection becomes waking up from this life- it is not there in Paul. Instead there is concern with convincing the neighbors.

The fine line is that true spirituality would teach that the ego is not true, whereas in any effort to spiritualize the world or anything in it, form is the cause meaning, not meaning the cause of form. That sounds abstract and elusive, but it is quite clear, in particular in the example of the crucifixion and the explanation which Jesus gives in the Course in which the meaning of the crucifixion is given as “Teach only love for that is what you are.” (T-6.III.2.4) In other words Jesus here teaches by his spiritual attitude that the world and the body are not what they seem to be. Conversely the Christian explanation of the crucifixion for which Paul lays the groundwork, sees meaning in the act of Jesus' death by crucifixion and rationalizes it with the sacrificial theology of vicarious salvation: he dies so we get off the hook. So here a pseudo spiritual rationalization seeks to justify a gruesome event, by ascribing salvific value to is.

Thus spiritualizing the world becomes simply a methodology of justifying the ego, and it is this which Christianity does throughout. It is another example of a beautiful and elaborate frames, quite in the spirit of the section “The Two Picutes,” in which it is clear that we should look for the content of the picture, and not be distracted by the form. Along these lines I can't help but remember being in Rome as a high school kid, and we got a tour of the Sta. Maria Maggiore, which is of course a gorgeous cathedral, and the Dutch priest who volunteered to give us the tour, because he overheard us speaking Dutch, waxed poetical about the golden ceiling and how it was made from the first gold Columbus had brought from the New World, and being somewhat precocious I said out loud what was on my mind: “Ah, just like I thought, it's all built on rape, murder and robbery.” The poor priest turned around and left us standing there in the middle of the tour. Yet of course this is fundamentally the picture, ever since the time of Constantine “the Great,” when Christianity really was put in the service of the state, the world and the ego in the most explicit sense thinkable, and that has never changed. Even in our own day the Pope is thought to have political relevance, and he seems quite concerned with that.

To come back to Paul for one more moment, of course there are many wonderful sections in his work and he is undoubtedly a towering intellectual figure, yet the overall influence is away from spirituality, and towards justifying and spiritualizing this life on earth. And therein lies the rub.

Rogier F. van Vlissingen, © 2006.

The Voice of One Crying in the Desert

The voice of one crying in the wilderness, as the KJV has it in Mk. 1:3. It is the soundless sound we hear at the dawning of reality on the dream-sleep of the ego-world. When the reality of who we are in truth for the first time cracks the shell of the substitute reality we have made up and superimposed upon creation as the expression of our choice for separation, and starts us looking for "another way."

I would like to suggest here that the usual historical cum phenomenological distinctions within Christianity are less than useful from the point of view of those who are looking to follow the spiritual path which Jesus represented, and which was bombarded "Christianity," only by dint of theological concepts which Paul put in Jesus's mouth through his influence on the editing of those Gospel stories which were to become "canonical," and thus included in the New Testament as the accepted wordly version and interpretation of the teachings of Jesus. That theology was the rationalization of the ego's need to separate, and provided Paul with a suitably glamorous career option.

In the following I should like to suggest that a more useful distinction is along the lines of content, not form, and moreover is very simple to make. Pauline Christianity is a reinterpretation of Jesus and his teachings, and I would suggest a complete reconstruction of who and what he was, based primarily on Paul's conversion experience on the road to Damascus. He thought he saw Jesus, and was overwhelmed with guilt about his prior prosecution of Christians, and now decided to become one himself.

As anybody knows who has spent some time in their current lifetime being a spiritual seeker of one sort or another, we are terribly likely to confuse the medium and the message, form and content, and go off on wild tangents which we then subsequently regret. Such it was with Paul. The most common form of spiritual misadventure is one in which we interpret an experience that may be of a revelatory nature in the context of the old ego framework, and thereby pervert it. And God forbid, if we're successful at it we may even start another movement or religion. Religious history is littered with those phenomena, for they become schools of thought, and various denominations within the context of church history. The most salient characteristic perhaps is that the specific teacher who developed those ideas becomes important. Paul of course is the primary example and in the end indirectly declares himself a saint, which is a convenience afforded those who help found a major institution like the church.
Paul is the primary founder of that institution in concept, since it is he who puts the core concepts of Christian theology into Jesus's mouth, through his influence on the redaction of he Gospel stories, most particularly Luke and Acts as a combined book (which it originally was), which serves the purpose of legitimizing Paul's reconstruction of Jesus, and the development of a theology based on his perceptions of Jesus, which he blithely declares to be better than the real thing. Eucharist, vicarious salvation, resurrection in the flesh, and second coming as a future event in the world, as Jesus coming TO the world, are all Pauline constructs, and reflect a dualistic teaching which makes the world real.

No wonder that it took just a few finishing touches over the next couple of hundred years, before this teaching became suited to be a state religion under Constantine the Great. Earlier, the Roman Empire saw a threat in Christianity because of Jesus' teachings that a "Kingdom not of this world" was the real deal. Under the redaction of Paul and his followers however, the world is made very real, and the Second Coming safely put off till what is for all intents and purposes infinity, so the ego can have a field day, and Emperors subsequently no longer need to see it as a threat. Constantine correctly saw the marketing opportunity for what it was and based his powergrab on the Christian hunger for recognition.

The central themes of Pauline Christianity are: making the world real by emphasizing Jesus's and God's role in it (the creator God), vicarious salvation, Jesus' exclusive claim to being God's son, and us as adopted sons and daughters, resurrection in the flesh, and a Second Coming in the future. Hell and damnation shall rain upon you and yours if you don't believe it, and a good deal of the belief in sin, guilt and fear forms the seasoning in the stew of the Pauline epistles. Very noticeable also is the need to proselytize, to convince others of the righteousness of these beliefs, and its corollary belief that our salvation will depend on convincing others. The latter is a form of attack, which was to lead to prosecutions and religious wars in the end.

The other principal manifestation of Christianity I would like to call Johannine Christianity after John the Baptist, where the emphasis is on actually following Jesus as a path of spiritual development, in which the first step is to be a follower of John, learning to transcend the ego's automatic valuation of everything in life into good and bad for our ego-based personality, but rather to learn to see everything that comes our way as a blessing in disguise, as a learning opportunity to advance our spiritual learning, a spiritual classroom. It is this John (whose role can be played by any number of people, and does not need to be any specific person, but an experience), who helps us transcend our ego-judgments and sets us on a path where in due course we will meet Jesus. "There must be another way," the now famous phrase of Bill Thetford which "led" to the writing down of the Course, is a reflection of hearing this call (the voice calling in the desert.)

Mary Magdalen, the apostle to the apostles, Valentinus, A Course In Miracles, Angelus Silezius and countless others belong in this category. The only reason not more is known of their "history" is that by definition they do not build buildings, or otherwise focus on leaving behind a lot of monuments, though there may be writings, artwork, or oral tradition. The only reason to use the term Christianity at all, when Jesus so clearly was identified as a Jew, in my view would only be historical convenience, and the fact that Jesus in the Course does refer to being a Christian in this sense a few times. However, in terms of content, arguably much of the Chassidic movement in Judaism could belong under this category, because it was a powerful reflection of Johannine consciousness, and a living expectation of the coming of the Messiah, though again often it got stuck in making the world real. The culmination of Johannine consciousness is what the Course calls the Happy Learner, at which point, like John the Baptist we can be useful to others by assisting in their baptism of life. This makes sense only if you realize that the theological constructs which Paul c.s. used to split off Christianity from Judaism as a new religion, were not taught by Jesus at all.
In fact, Jan Willem Kaiser, the Dutch author on spirituality whose work I'm translating, suggested this notion of Chassidism as a reflection of Johannine-consciousness in his writing fifty years ago. He was good friends with Prof. Martin Buber, who was also a frequent speaker at Kaiser's Open Field conferences on sprituality. We need to see the Judaeo-Christian tradition as an organic whole, and not be distracted too much by the specifics. In the end probably all of the Abrahamic religions will need to learn to understand each other much better, close relatives that they are. We might even decide that in spite of her pre-Vatican II theology, Mother Theresa might have a home of sorts on the Johannine side of this line, as might some Catholic saints, and perhaps even some Sufi teachers could easily cross over. The critical point here that it is content, not form which matters, and a living relationship with Jesus is the primary notion. A present life of the spirit.

It is in fact J. W. Kaiser who uses the disctinction between Johannine and Pauline Christianity, but he uses the term as it sometimes has been in the past, associating it with John, the beloved disciple - and that would be equally valid for similar reasons as argued above. The bottom line is that we start seeing two paths, a dualistic one in the world, which becomes a religion, and a worldly institution, and an inner path of non-dualistic spirituality, of which most evidence has been obliterated, burned, destroyed or suppressed, if any physical evidence was left behind at all.

Looking at the landscape in this manner is a convenient way of sorting through the clutter of religious phenomena. In the end it is very simple to understand why the Pauline model of Christianity, never mind all the hair-splitting, is essentially a necessity if you are to believe in the reality of the world. So is an external savior who comes to rescue us in the end. All's well that ends well, is the implied message, which is very soothing, in this not always pleasant world - no wonder Marx called religion opium for the people, except that he forgot that Marxism is a religion also.
The alternative path is the path of inner growth, of taking up your cross (i.e. taking responsibility for your life) and following him, out of this world, i.e. learning to hear and ultimately live and become his message. The Course is perhaps the most complete, thorough and consistent expression of this type of spirituality we've ever known, certainly within the Judaeo-Christian framework proper. With the addition of "The Disappearance of the Universe" as a sort of popular-language compendium and corollary to the Course the living presence of Jesus as our Inner Teacher is arguably an easier choice to make today than at any previous time in history. We might also note that Jesus in the NT really is depicted as carrying out his ministry in street language with ordinary people, and "Disappearance" brings the Course to the vernacular of today, without compromising it one iota.

Another way of looking at this distinction is that Johannine Christianity as defined here, reflects what Jesus taught, while Pauline Christianity is what the ego hears, and then turns around and explains to others in terms of reference which make sense to it. It is a translation of his message into language the world can accept without the need to wake up from the dream. Now interestingly, the second at least in an external sense kept the news alive in the consciousness of the world, if nothing else by printing piles of Bibles, and lo and behold, the Bible can be read with the right mind as well as with the wrong mind, as the Course hints several times. And so the lines are fluid in reality, and over the centuries people have come through Christianity, and transcended it in various ways to still find their inner relationship with Jesus, for it does not depend on any "right" theology, but only on experience.

The "Voice of One Crying in the Desert" ultimately is nothing else but the dualistic experience (duality is metaphor - not an actual voice) of a memory of our non-dualistic reality, which we frequently experience as disconcerting fractures in the ego's so seemingly fool proof system, an event, a remark, etc. But as the Course reminds us, the ego's system may be fool proof, but it is not God-proof (ACIM:T-5.VI.10:6). So the cracks in the system show up in a variety of ways. People who realize they never believed what they heard in Catechism class, for the explanations did not make sense, and they start looking on their own. Bill Thetford looking for "another way." Etc. all of that is the intrusion of the memory of our spiritual reality into the dualistic substitute-reality of the ego, and if we hear the call and take heed, it will be the start of our spiritual path, which is why the Gospel of Mark expresses so clearly that the coming of John is the beginning of the path of salvation (Gospel). Once we begin to follow this inner voice, it will lead us ultimately into a relationship with our own Inner Teacher.

The path of spiritual growth which we now embark upon has us get up and fall down many times, as did the apostles in the Bible. Of this process the Course in T-2.III.3:10 says: "The outcome is as certain as God." Here is the paragraph in full:

The acceptance of the Atonement by everyone is only a matter of time. 2 This may appear to contradict free will because of the inevitability of the final decision, but this is not so. 3 You can temporize and you are capable of enormous procrastination, but you cannot depart entirely from your Creator, Who set the limits on your ability to miscreate. 4 An imprisoned will engenders a situation which, in the extreme, becomes altogether intolerable. 5 Tolerance for pain may be high, but it is not without limit. 6 Eventually everyone begins to recognize, however dimly, that there be a better way. 7 As this recognition becomes more firmly established, it becomes a turning point. 8 This ultimately reawakens spiritual vision, simultaneously weakening the investment in physical sight. 9 The alternating investment in the two levels of perception is usually experienced as conflict, which can become very acute. 10 But the outcome is as certain as God.
unquote (ACIM:T-2.III.3)

Copyright, (c) 2005, Rogier F. van Vlissingen. All rights reserved.