Sunday, July 15, 2012

Exodus Revisited

A Course in Miracles firmly stands in the context of the Abrahamic religious tradition, and it is for that reason that I named this blog as I did. I also realized that life had prepared me for appreciating that context to a great degree because I had intensely studied the scriptures earlier in my adventures of searching for God. I had learned Hebrew to read the Old Testament as it should be read, I had read my New Testament in Greek ever since my early teenage years, all as a way of getting closer to the text. I periodically studied the  Quran, though I never got into Arabic. More often I dabbled in Sufi traditions, where I was often deeply touched by the intense spirituality of such masters as Al Hallaj, who taught me the depth of the word Islam, surrender, and Tierno Bokar, who teaches so clearly that jihad is simply the inner struggle of dealing with the temptations of the ego. As the Course would have it, those always boil down to attempts to convince the son of God he is a body.

Temptation has one lesson it would teach, in all its forms, wherever it occurs. It would persuade the holy Son of God he is a body, born in what must die, unable to escape its frailty, and bound by what it orders him to feel. It sets the limits on what he can do; its power is the only strength he has; his grasp cannot exceed its tiny reach. Would you be this, if Christ appeared to you in all His glory, asking you but this: 
Choose once again if you would take your place among the saviors of the world, or would remain in hell, and hold your brothers there. 
(ACIM: T-31.VIII.1) 
At a sufficiently high level of abstracation, one can appreciate the connections of the Course teachings to the Bhagavadgita, to Advaita Vedanta, and Buddhism, and there are plenty of connections worth exploring for those who are familiar with those traditions, but very clearly, first and foremost, the Course is pitched at those who stand in the Abrahamic traditions, and primarily the Judeo-Christian one, which has so much permeated Western culture.

All of the great religions have their so-called esoteric, or mystical traditions, which for the most part are but the lay rendering of spiritual growth discussed in terms of their specific traditions, and which rest on some level of appreciation of the symbolic nature of those traditions, viewing them as parables of an inner process, which is the journey to spiritual awakening. Fundamentally the whole notion of "esoteric" arises only from looking at spiritual traditions without understanding, from an ego frame of reference and at times it then deteriorates into ritualistic meta interpretation of the parables of tradition, of which the Jewish Kabbalah is one of the extreme forms.

In the book of Mark, Jesus speaks of the opening of the understanding, which he performs on the apostles. In A Course in Miracles, there is mention of the fact that: "And it is recognized, that all things must be first forgiven and then understood" (ACIM:T-30.V.1:6). This is tantamount to the same teaching, since forgiveness means joining with Jesus, and choosing his judgment in lieu of the ego's judgment. The path of forgiveness means practicing discipleship of Jesus, and following his teaching. Even if we may fall down many times, we can get up again, and keep on working on it. It is the path of practice and it is the inner journey, the journey from the head to the heart, or as the Course would have it "a journey without distance to a goal that has never changed" (ACIM:T-8.VI.9:7). In terms of the teachings, their meaning is revealed to us from experience, and in the process the symbolism of much of our tradition begins to speak to us on a whole new level, exactly because we start to appreciate the symbolism of our own life, for when we forgive, and join with Jesus in the process, we start to see past the form to the content.

Along these lines a fascinating new book appeared recently by Robert Rosenthal, titled From Plagues to Miracles, and in it the author looks at the book of Exodus, and the account of the journey towards salvation Old Testament style, which of course is just another form of the inner journey which A Course in Miracles is all about. The book is clearly based on an integration of both the author's own inner journey, including his familiarity with A Course in Miracles, and his experience as a psychiatrist and psychotherapist, so that both his own experiences and patient experiences feed into helping us see through the symbolism, and open up a deeper understanding of the nature of the journey for ourselves. At this point we transcend the form of the manifest story, and we get in touch with the content, the inner story, again with our own inner experience as the central teaching/learning opportunity.

This book is a gem, and I shall write about it more in depth in due course. It is firmly rooted in the tradition of A Course in Miracles, without making familiarity with it an issue, so the reader can appreciate it with any background. It is also the story of the author's own discovery of the significance of Passover, as a universal symbol, completely from the awareness, as the traditional etymology of the word Israel (Ish-Ra-El, the man who sees God) would suggest, that it is an expression of mankind (the sonship) in exile, in the diaspora, and in the Egyptian exile in particular. As such it is the precursor to the story of the prodigal son in the New Testament, and its relevance never diminishes, as our growing inner experience lets us relate to it more and more deeply.

Copyright, © 2012 Rogier F. van Vlissingen. All rights reserved.