Monday, June 26, 2006

Déjà vu all over again

It seems we're going through all the same things now with the Course, as happened in the early years of Christianity. One important difference however is that this time we have his words pretty well intact, and not subject to the many distortions of the transmission of 2000 years ago.

The Course emphasizes in many ways that it is a practical Course, as in:
You have surely begun to realize that this is a very practical course, and one that means exactly what it says. 2 I would not ask you to do things you cannot do, and it is impossible that I could do things you cannot do. 3 Given this, and given this quite literally, nothing can prevent you from doing exactly what I ask, and everything argues your doing it. 4 I give you no limits because God lays none upon you. 5 When you limit yourself we are not of one mind, and that is sickness. 6 Yet sickness is not of the body, but of the mind. 7 All forms of sickness are signs that the mind is split, and does not accept a unified purpose.
unquote (ACIM:T-8.IX.8)

And it highlights a favorite ego delaying tactic, namely demanding answers to many questions it has -- our false self asking our true Self to legitimize itself, a variant on attack as a defense -- as in:
The ego will demand many answers that this course does not give. 2 It does not recognize as questions the mere form of a question to which an answer is impossible. 3 The ego may ask, "How did the impossible occur?", "To what did the impossible happen?", and may ask this in many forms. 4 Yet there is no answer; only an experience. 5 Seek only this, and do not let theology delay you.
unquote (ACIM:C-in.4)

It also points out that what comes natural is not difficult, and our ego interference can only complicate matters:
It is this that makes the holy instant so easy and so natural. 2 You make it difficult, because you insist there must be more that you need do. 3 You find it difficult to accept the idea that you need give so little, to receive so much. 4 And it is very hard for you to realize it is not personally insulting that your contribution and the Holy Spirit's are so extremely disproportionate. 5 You are still convinced that your understanding is a powerful contribution to the truth, and makes it what it is. 6 Yet we have emphasized that you need understand nothing. 7 Salvation is easy just it asks nothing you cannot give right now.
unquote (ACIM:T-18.IV.7)

In quotes in the New Testament Jesus asks again and again that we take up our cross (take responsibility for our lives) and follow him. But instead what happens is that instead of following him to his Kingdom that is not of this world, we develop a theology around him and graciously give him a role in our world. That is the story of early Christianity. The Thomas Gospel has the most unspoiled quotes of Jesus, but even in Mark, which has relatively little Pauline influence, we can see that often the apostles are "not getting it," and are portraied in their often failing struggles of following Jesus in all meanings of the word. Yet with more and more editing in later Gospels the emphasis shifts to how the apostles did get it and go to tell the world, the chief architect of Christian proselytizing always being Paul.

And then the mythology of the early church, in which Peter is bombarded into the first Pope (Vicar of Christ!), and apostolic succession posited as a would-be proof of legitimacy, fully establishes the notion that Jesus is a truth "we" have and the heathens out there don't. And that launches the aggression that has characterized Christianity much of the time.

In the meantime however, the docetic passages in the Acts of John indicate strongly that even in the time following the crucifixion some were grappling with an understanding of Jesus as a manifestation of God's love, which could take any form. Here it is (from
87 Those that were present inquired the cause, and were especially perplexed, because Drusiana had said: The Lord appeared unto me in the tomb in the likeness of John, and in that of a youth. Forasmuch, therefore, as they were perplexed and were, in a manner, not yet stablished in the faith, so as to endure it steadfastly, John said (or John bearing it patiently, said):

88 Men and brethren, ye have suffered nothing strange or incredible as concerning your perception of the , inasmuch as we also, whom he chose for himself to be apostles, were tried in many ways: I, indeed, am neither able to set forth unto you nor to write the things which I both saw and heard: and now is it needful that I should fit them for your hearing; and according as each of you is able to contain it I will impart unto you those things whereof ye are able to become hearers, that ye may see the glory that is about him, which was and is, both now and for ever.

For when he had chosen Peter and Andrew, which were brethren, he cometh unto me and James my brother, saying: I have need of you, come unto me. And my brother hearing that, said: John, what would this child have that is upon the sea-shore and called us? And I said: What child? And he said to me again: That which beckoneth to us. And I answered: Because of our long watch we have kept at sea, thou seest not aright, my brother James; but seest thou not the man that standeth there, comely and fair and of a cheerful countenance? But he said to me: Him I see not, brother; but let us go forth and we shall see what he would have.

89 And so when we had brought the ship to land, we saw him also helping along with us to settle the ship: and when we departed from that place, being minded to follow him, again he was seen of me as having rather bald, but the beard thick and flowing, but of James as a youth whose beard was newly come. We were therefore perplexed, both of us, as to what that which we had seen should mean. And after that, as we followed him, both of us were by little and little perplexed as we considered the matter. Yet unto me there then appeared this yet more wonderful thing: for I would try to see him privily, and I never at any time saw his eyes closing (winking), but only open. And oft-times he would appear to me as a small man and uncomely, and then againt as one reaching unto heaven. Also there was in him another marvel: when I sat at meat he would take me upon his own breast; and sometimes his breast was felt of me to be smooth and tender, and sometimes hard like unto stones, so that I was perplexed in myself and said: Wherefore is this so unto me? And as I considered this, he . .

90 And at another time he taketh with him me and James and Peter unto the mountain where he was wont to pray, and we saw in him a light such as it is not possible for a man that useth corruptible (mortal) speech to describe what it was like. Again in like manner he bringeth us three up into the mountain, saying: Come ye with me. And we went again: and we saw him at a distance praying. I, therefore, because he loved me, drew nigh unto him softly, as though he could not see me, and stood looking upon his hinder parts: and I saw that he was not in any wise clad with garments, but was seen of us naked, and not in any wise as a man, and that his feet were whiter than any snow, so that the earth there was lighted up by his feet, and that his head touched the heaven: so that I was afraid and cried out, and he, turning about, appeared as a man of small stature, and caught hold on my beard and pulled it and said to me: John, be not faithless but believing, and not curious. And I said unto him: But what have I done, Lord? And I say unto you, brethren, I suffered so great pain in that place where he took hold on my beard for thirty days, that I said to him: Lord, if thy twitch when thou wast in sport hath given me so great pain, what were it if thou hadst given me a buffet? And he said unto me: Let it be thine henceforth not to tempt him that cannot be tempted.

91 But Peter and James were wroth because I spake with the Lord, and beckoned unto me that I should come unto them and leave the Lord alone. And I went, and they both said unto me: He (the old man) that was speaking with the Lord upon the top of the mount, who was he? for we heard both of them speaking. And I, having in mind his great grace, and his unity which hath many faces, and his wisdom which without ceasing looketh upon us, said: That shall ye learn if ye inquire of him.

92 Again, once when all we his disciples were at Gennesaret sleeping in one house, I alone having wrapped myself in my mantle, watched (or watched from beneath my mantle) what he should do: and first I heard him say: John, go thou to sleep. And I thereon feigning to sleep saw another like unto him [sleeping], whom also I heard say unto my Lord: Jesus, they whom thou hast chosen believe not yet on thee (or do they not yet, &c.?). And my Lord said unto him: Thou sayest well: for they are men.

93 Another glory also will I tell you, brethren: Sometimes when I would lay hold on him, I met with a material and solid body, and at other times, again, when I felt him, the substance was immaterial and as if it existed not at all. And if at any time he were bidden by some one of the Pharisees and went to the bidding, we went with him, and there was set before each one of us a loaf by them that had bidden us, and with us he also received one; and his own he would bless and part it among us: and of that little every one was filled, and our own loaves were saved whole, so that they which bade him were amazed. And oftentimes when I walked with him, I desired to see the print of his foot, whether it appeared on the earth; for I saw him as it were lifting himself up from the earth: and I never saw it. And these things I speak unto you, brethren, for the encouragement of your faith toward him; for we must at the present keep silence concerning his mighty and wonderful works, inasmuch as they are unspeakable and, it may be, cannot at all be either uttered or heard.

94 Now before he was taken by the lawless Jews, who also were governed by (had their law from) the lawless serpent, he gathered all of us together and said: Before I am delivered up unto them let us sing an hymn to the Father, and so go forth to that which lieth before us. He bade us therefore make as it were a ring, holding one another's hands, and himself standing in the midst he said: Answer Amen unto me. He began, then, to sing an hymn and to say:

And yet we see in ourselves and around us the ego's tendency to want to interpret the Course and build theologies around it, just like we once tried to interpret Jesus, and found religions in his name. The Course is very clear that understanding follows from forgiveness, and not the other way around:
And it is recognized that all things must be first forgiven, and understood.
Here,(in the world, Ed.) it is thought that understanding is acquired by attack. 2 There (in the Real World, Ed.), it is clear that by attack is understanding lost. 3 The folly of pursuing guilt as goal is fully recognized. 4 And idols are not wanted there, for guilt is understood as the sole cause of pain in any form.
unquote (ACIM:T-30.V.1:6,2:1-4)

And this is the answer then and now, the point is not in getting lost in theological speculation about the Course, but in practicing what it says, and in growing in understanding at Jesus' hand, as we follow him on the way back home. We grow ears to hear and eyes to see by following him, not by arguing with him. Christianity with its history of two thousand years of splits, battles and prosecutions already has shown us where theology leads.

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

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