Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Continuity or Discontinuity?

Recently I found a comment in a post made by Ingeborg Kuhn on the Yahoo forum on "The Disappearance of the Universe," and it moved me deeply. Inge and I have had dialogues on forum and off for quite a while and I'm always grateful to read her posts, because of her honesty in working with the material, equally in asking her questions as much as in responding to others. Clearly, as so often, the gift is that when someone asks a question, and one is in a position of answering, that is an opportunity to remember the answers which are available to us, but which often times we forget, so it is the gift of the questioner to help us remember the answer, and so it is that in the process that is the Course, Students and Teachers are interchangeable and the same. And we always go this path WITH our brother.
Here now is what Inge wrote:



Reading it led me to a reflection, which was strongly reinforced also by teaching a recent workshop at The Wellness Center at Riverside Church in NY. To some degree it has been necessary in the early going of the Course to make a clear distinction between the Course and the teachings of Christianity. In a way the cause célèbre of that was perhaps the early (and premature) enthusiasm in Unity Church which led to weaving the Course into the liturgy in many Unity Churches until the church leadership apparently (and correctly) recommended that this should not be done. Ken Wapnick has mentioned in workships speaking to this point with Unity members over the years, in which he set out the clear differences, and why it would not be helpful to mix the two. His books on the topic clearly serve to clarify many of these issues, most specifically his book with Father Clarke "The Course and Christianity: A Dialogue," which is a particularly lovely book, since it is a dialogue between two friends who clearly respect each other's very different views, and who wrote the book exactly to help people clarify the differences, in order to avoid confusion.

However the process of the Course clearly goes beyond this for those who feel it is their path, as manifested in particular in "The Disappearance of the Universe," (DU for short) and soon in Gary Renard's sequel to that book, which is now due September 1st (see www.garyrenard.com). The positive link to the Thomas Gospel as it is represented in DU, puts the emphasis on a direct identity of the pre-Pauline Jesus who we find clearly represented in that Gospel with the Jesus of ACIM. Both are clearly non-dualistic teachers and teachings, which are identical at heart, even if the language is different because it reflects a different time and place. And so it is that in finding this continuity between Jesus then and Jesus now, one would consider that the only discontinuity is the Pauline theology, and the religion it brought about, which calls itself Christianity. This material dovetails nicely with all the places in the Course where Jesus in fact reflects that he has been misunderstood.

It also reminds me of what the Course says of the separation in general:
The cause of pain is separation, not the body, which is only its effect. 2 Yet separation is but empty space, enclosing nothing, doing nothing, and as unsubstantial as the empty place between the ripples that a ship has made in passing by. 3 And covered just as fast, as water rushes in to close the gap, and as the waves in joining cover it. 4 Where is the gap between the waves when they have joined, and covered up the space which seemed to keep them separate for a little while? 5 Where are the grounds for sickness when the minds have joined to close the little gap between them, where the seeds of sickness seemed to grow?
unquote (ACIM:T-28.III.5)
So that, if we come from a Christian background it is helpful to appreciate the differences of the Course teachings from Christianity, in order not to get confused. But once we gain clarity on the identity of Jesus, and the continuity of his teaching, what stays with us is the continuity, and not the temporary deviation.

The next obvious question is perhaps: How bad is it for us to have misunderstood Jesus? And one could rest assured that at least the Jesus of Course would say: "Not bad at all, it's natural, it's no big deal, but it helps if you become aware of it."
Or, as in fact he says in the Course in the fifth article in the Clarification of Terms section, titled "Jesus - Christ" :

Is he the Christ? 2 O yes, along with you. 3 His little life on earth was not enough to teach the mighty lesson that he learned for all of you. 4 He will remain with you to lead you from the hell you made to God. 5 And when you join your will with his, your sight will be his vision, for the eyes of Christ are shared. 6 Walking with him is just as natural as walking with a brother whom you knew since you were born, for such indeed he is. 7 Some bitter idols have been made of him who would be only brother to the world. 8 Forgive him your illusions, and behold how dear a brother he would be to you. 9 For he will set your mind at rest at last and carry it with you unto your God.
unquote (ACIM:C-5.5)

And here it is very clear that it is us who need to forgive him for our preconceived notions (illusions) of him, which is typically the traditional Pauline view of a suffering savior who died for our sins on the Cross, for it is a very guilt-inducing image. The point is that we who are children of the ego, thinking our life is the daily drama of time and space, automatically reinterpret his non-dualistic teaching in a dualistic way, for which Paul was only the protagonist. So the point is not that Paul was wrong but that Paul was our teacher, showing us clearly how we all misunderstand Jesus, and among other things understand the resurrection as being of the body, instead of of the mind as Jesus clearly taught (Thomas) and teaches in the Course (and inside of all of us through his presence in our minds as our Internal Teacher).

Invariably then, when people begin to grasp this, they wonder if they can stay a member of their church, and the answer obviously is that you can indeed, you just can't take the theology as seriously, just as much as you can't take anything seriously in this world once you realize that who you really are is IN this world, but not OF it. The tiny mad idea really was just silly, and not a mortal sin, as the ego makes it out to be, in order to keep us under its whip, and continues to make us tapdance in what we mistakenly call our "life."

Conversely, I might ask myself how or why I could teach a Course workshop in a church. The good news there is that there are lots of churches nowadays who have adjunct facilities for workshops. There is no reason that only the new age conference centers such as the Open Center and the Omega Institute could give workshops that draw hundreds of people. Clearly churches could also do this, if they have the facilities, and thus there could be a broadening of the role of the church. These developments could certainly lead to a broadening of the social relevance of the church, where I could certainly attend a service as I periodically do at St. Barts, sometimes have at Riverside and St. John's the Divine, which is one of my favorite churches in New York City. And so church members could well attend a Course workshop either at their church or elsewhere, and Course students could attend religious services with friends and family, without necessarily buying into the specific religion or theology. As with everything, the only practical difference in what you do lies in who you do it with, with Jesus or the ego.

And thus, as the continuity of Jesus from then till now becomes more apparent to you in your work with the Course, and it becomes clearer and clearer to you that the problem is not if somebody else misunderstood him (be that Paul, or the Christians), but that you yourself misunderstood him, and now you are learning to let him into your life more and more as he is in his eternal reality, then you can happily join with your brothers in whatever celebration or joint activities you choose. And churches indeed in many cases have the facilities where workshops could well be held, and the interest in this material is growing, in the churches and outside of it.

A corollary to these comments is the fact that even people who come to the Course not from a Christian background, will inevitably have to come to grips with the fact that they do believe in the Crucifixion, in terms of content, if not form. The point being that the essential psychological makeup in which we are caught up as children of the ego is that of a victim, and Jesus' dying on the Cross as the world sees it, symbolizes victimhood. Hence the Course tells us, in a passage that is perhaps the Course's equivalent to the Biblical quote of "take up your cross and follow me" :

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.
This single lesson learned will set you free from suffering, whatever form it takes. 2 The Holy Spirit will repeat this one inclusive lesson of deliverance until it has been learned, regardless of the form of suffering that brings you pain. 3 Whatever hurt you bring to Him He will make answer with this very simple truth. 4 For this one answer takes away the cause of every form of sorrow and of pain. 5 The form affects His answer not at all, for He would teach you but the single cause of all of them, no matter what their form. 6 And you will understand that miracles reflect the simple statement, "[I] have done this thing, and it is this I would undo."
Unquote (ACIM:T-27.VIII.10,11)

That is the path of Salvation which Jesus teaches for all time, by which we follow him out of the world of duality and into his Kingdom of non-dualism, in forgiving him more and more for not being the dualistic Jesus we made of him, and learning to listen to the non-dualistic Jesus within, who is calling us to follow him out of the ego's world of conflict, fear, and impermanence.

Copyright, © 2006 Rogier F. van Vlissingen. All rights reserved.