Sunday, June 25, 2006

Where the Rubber Meets the Road

You may complain that this course is not sufficiently specific for you to understand and use. 2 Yet perhaps you have not done what it specifically advocates. 3 This is not a course in the play of ideas, but in their practical application. 4 Nothing could be more specific than to be told that if you ask you will receive.

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. (ACIM:T-30.V.1:6,2:1-4)

Where the rubber meets the road in terms of the Course is in practicing what it says, hence the first quote refers the reader back to the question of practice, if they think the Course is failing them. The Course generously admits that it may be simple, but that doesn't mean it is easy, for the Course has a very realistic respect for our ego, which after all has managed to dream up the entire world, and is not about to roll over and play dead once confronted with the lack of a foundation to its entire illusory system. Our resistance to truly studying it, let alone practicing it is the living testimony to our ego's dislikes.

However the Course is also always very gentle with us, in allowing the fact that we should not force ourselves to do anything we're not ready for, and that simply becoming aware of the ego's shenanigans under Jesus' forgiving eye is a worthwhile first step.

In a sense Christianity in its genesis is an object lesson in how the ego thwarts Jesus' teaching. From being a teacher who asks us to take up our cross and follow him (out of this world, and into the mind where at least change is possible), and who asks us to choose "metanoia," change of mind, he becomes an idol on the cross who dies for our sins no less, and makes us feel good and guilty while we are waiting for his return. Meanwhile the very guilt producing notion that he would have died for our sins, helps us put a lid on the worst guilt feelings, and really removes the urgency of making change in ourselves, for the implicit message is that while we are sinners, we'll be OK until he comes back. So we got away with it for now, or so it seems.

In the process of developing this mythology by Paul and those who followed, what really happens is that in lieu of the teaching of a non-dualistic Jesus who still speaks to us e.g. in the sayings of Thomas, and who asks us to seek first the Kingdom that is not of this world, and to learn to be in the world but not of it, we now have a dualistic Jesus whose life on earth becomes of significance, and whose person becomes an object of worship. And theology really serves to tell Jesus what it is he taught, and which he seemingly can't object to while he powerlessly hangs on that cross on the wall -- at least until he comes back, which fortunately for us seems to slip back further all the time. Not in my lifetime...

In and of itself the Christian theology is an example of bringing the answer to the problem, i.e. dragging Jesus down from the non-dualistic reality of which he teaches into the dualistic substitute reality of the world. As the Course points out, the path of salvation is the exact reverse, i.e. bringing the problem to the answer, namely for us to follow Jesus out of this world so that we can look at the problem as it is, and not the way that we have set it up.(c.f. ACIM:T-27.VII.2:2; also W-80.2.2:passim)

Along with the development of this theology, it immediately becomes important to convince others, as Paul sets out to do on page one of his letters. For we have now substituted our teaching of the meaning of Jesus for his truth, and therefore we now need the votes to prove that we're right and he's wrong, and to the ego truth lies in numbers, since it cannot understand anything else. Truth however needs no defense, as Jesus did prove by his life, but our reconstruction of his life and meaning certainly needs defense, and ultimately of course the underlying nature of the attack becomes clear in the emergence of Christianity as a state religion under the emperor Constantine, and then even more so under the Crusades in the Middle Ages. But it all starts right away with Paul's proselytizing. Many of us recognize this dynamic in terms of our own tendencies of wanting to convince others of the merits of A Course In Miracles, for when first we realize how wonderful the Course really is, we want others to learn it, so we don't have to. Hopefully sometime early on in our practice, we'll catch our selves doing it and crack ourselves up. The Course however does not support this, by being very clear that it is just one form of the universal course, and everyone needs to decide for themselves if it is for them. Moreover it maintains that: "... the sole responsibility of the miracle worker, is to accept the atonement for himself,..." (ACIM:T-5.V.7:8), which makes it even more explicit we need focus only on our own practicing.

The other sense in which the Course is practical, is that it focuses on starting right within our own relationships, and does not ask us to go sit on mountain tops and meditate, or other forms of turning away from the world. In fact it makes clear that every relationship in our life is a starting point, and that the opportunity for change lies in turning to the Holy Spirit for guidance so that our day to day relationships may indeed be a classroom for our path of Salvation. The archetypical relationship is that of Helen Schucman, the scribe of the Course and Bill Thetford her boss. They had their challenges, but the Course is a product of their joining in pursuit of "another way," to relate to one another and other people. At one point Helen had a dream in which she saw Jesus, and remarked that he looked like Bill, and she heard Jesus say to her: "Who else would I look like?" (See Ken Wapnick's "Absence from Felicity"). Likewise in the Course it is expressed many ways that in looking at our relationships with the Holy Spirit we will come to see our Savior in our brother.

Elsewhere in the Course, Jesus refers to the bitter idols the world has made of him (ACIM:C-5.5:7), that's his comment on the very guilt producing image of the sacrificial lamb in the drama of vicarious salvation (he dies in our place, really). This idol has been used to make others feel guilty, to convert others, at the point of the sword if necessary. ("In hoc signo vinces," was the Emperor Constantine's dream experience.) Even slaves in Africa were "Christened" as they were shipped off to the New World in a pretense of "saving" them from their heretical ways, not to mention they were thus saved from conversion to Islam, as the Arab slave raiders came Westwards across Africa, similarly saving people by converting them to Islam... All of which has little to do with the love and forgiveness Jesus taught us to have for one another.

The Christian Jesus then has become an idol that is only too often used to attack others with, and produce guilt, which serves only to manipulate people, to subdue them. And so Christianity has frequently become oppressive. And yet the message of salvation always shone through in spite of the abuses for those who had ears to hear. In a recent interview on WBAI radio I was confronted with the strong desire in the black community to have Jesus be black, which is of course just as racist as having him be white, if we're back to making an idol of his body, instead of relating to him in spirit. The point in the Course is that Jesus teaches by the crucifixion that he is not his body, and only extended his love even to those who killed him, and by the resurrection he teaches that he represents the eternal love which we all are: "Teach only love, for that is what you are." (ACIM:T-6.III.2:9) He is our Internal Teacher, and we can see him in our brother, when we learn to see our brother through the eyes of forgiveness - i.e. as spirit, and as the same as ourselves.

Ken Wapnick has expressed this point as: "Jesus is a what, who looks like a who, because you think you're a who." Jesus is what the Course calls the manifestation of the Holy Spirit, and as such he is just a symbol in the dream, which can look different to different people or even at different times, as the apostles discussed in some passages in the Acts of John, where they compared notes and expressed how different Jesus appeared to all of them. This did not fit in with the Jesus mythology of the budding orthodoxy, and so it was suppressed, and did not make the canon of the New Testament. See link to Early Christian Writings on the front page of this blog, and specifically lines 87 f.f. of:

In emphasizing the human figure of Jesus, the spiritual significance of Jesus was systematically repressed. And so instead of being the Internal Teacher, who leads us home out of this world, he becomes the magical saviour who comes down to this earth to make it all good. In other words instead of leading us out of the duality of the world to the non-duality of our true home in Heaven, he validates the world in his portrayal as a magical savior who is coming back to get us in the second coming. The fact is that Salvation happens the other way around, by us leaving the world and coming to Jesus, and the Resurrection is the remembering of who we are in truth. Under the title of this article is a link to Ken Wapnick's June 2, 2006 Lighthouse article, "The world of 2+2=5," which clarifies this concept of non-duality further.

A corollary to the above is the unimportance of teachers in the formal sense. The Course is a self study program, and as the second quote at the top of this article suggests, our interepretation can only get in the way. The focus is on our practice of it, as hinted in the first quote above. First of all teaching the Course clearly is meant as practicing what it does, and thus demonstrating by examply, which may be a completely non-verbal process. Thus all students are teachers. But secondly teaching the Course can only be done successfully if the teacher knows their own unimportance in the process, in the sense that the teaching for them is only another classroom in getting their egos out of the way, and letting the spirit teach through them. All of their experience can be useful to this process, but they are only facilitating the learning of the students, as there is nothing to add and certainly no interpretations are needed. That attitude is perhaps best described in the Course as follows:

(8) You can do much on behalf of your own healing and that of others if, in a situation calling for help, you think of it this way:

2 I am here only to be truly helpful.
3 I am here to represent Him Who sent me.
4 I do not have to worry about what to say or what to do, because He Who sent me will direct me.
5 I am content to be wherever He wishes, knowing He goes there with me.
6 I will be healed as I let Him teach me to heal.
unquote (ACIM:T-2.V.A.18:8)

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