A Course Glossary: Definitions from A Course in Miracles.

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A Course in Miracles is a modern spiritual path. Designed as an educational program in spiritual development, its aim is to completely reverse the way we perceive the world. As part of this program in changing perception, the Course employs a unique use of language, a use which initially is quite confusing. When the reader first opens the book, he or she notices many terms which are very familiar, yet which do not appear to entirely fit their context; they don't seem to make sense in the way they are used. Since this occurs quite frequently, whole sentences and paragraphs become problematic and confusing.

There is, however, a reason for this confusing habit of the Course. The meaning that we assign to words grows out of the meaning we see in life—in ourselves, in others, in the world. Yet this is the very meaning which the Course wants to transform, the very meaning which clouds our sight and makes us suffer. What the Course does, therefore, is to take the same words we use and fill them with new meaning, meaning which expresses the thought system the Course seeks to instill in our minds.

This new meaning will often be a radical transformation of a term's conventional meaning, one that purifies or corrects the ego-based connotations of the old meaning. For instance, the term "Son of God" traditionally implies that only one unique male—Jesus—was God's Son. The Course has transformed this term to one that communicates that everyone—male and female, human and non-human—is equally God's beloved extension.

Or the new meaning may be an expansion of the conventional meaning, which makes it a statement about the world as a whole, rather than about just one small part. For example, the word "fantasy" traditionally refers to a specific psychological process in which we entertain imaginary scenarios that we consider more satisfying than reality. The Course broadens the application of this term immeasurably. It claims that this psychological process is responsible for existence as we know it: our thoughts, our behavior, and even the world itself. All of this is our imaginary replacement for true reality.

Or the new meaning may be a deepening of the old, which makes a term into an entire teaching about life, rather than just a pointer to a particular phenomenon. "Anger" normally refers to an isolated phenomenon in our lives, one that under certain conditions is considered to be natural and quite useful. In contrast, the Course views anger as all-pervasive in our lives, as an unjustified, insane emotion that gives rise to our painful condition and that must be relinquished if we are to find peace.

These examples demonstrate that the Course's use of terms is neither careless nor eccentric. The terms and the meanings given them are clearly chosen with extreme care, and great wisdom lies both in the choice of terms and in the new meanings they are filled with. In researching the terms included in this book, I found, without a single exception, that the Course's use of a term was based on a penetrating insight into that word. The Course's author seemed to see before him literally everything about that word, both its essence or root meaning and all the psychological implications of its conventional usage. As a result, the Course will often turn a word's conventional meaning upside down, while at the same time carrying out its root meaning with greater purity and completeness.

Although the author of the Course admits that its terminology is not rigorously consistent on the superficial level, the consistency of thought behind a term is truly amazing. As a term is used over hundreds of pages, the various uses provide additional clues into the overall concept behind the term, fitting into it like pieces of a giant jigsaw puzzle. Along the way, the term also interacts with other terms from the Course, playing a supporting role in the overall concepts behind those terms. The end result is that each term is a study in itself, a teaching in itself. Each term is a miniature container of the Course's entire thought system.

In essence, then, to study the Course, the reader has to learn a new language, and this takes time. Learning this language is quite different from learning a foreign language. For a foreign language uses different words to express the same world of meaning as our language expresses. The Course's language is just the reverse. It uses the same words to express a different world of meaning. This unique approach to language produces a unique psychological effect. Because the Course's words are familiar, seeing those words on the page triggers their conventional meaning. Yet because these words are also being filled with new meaning, seeing them also triggers the new meaning. Each time a word is used, then, the new and the old meaning arise and meet face-to-face in one's mind. And as they do, the old is slowly shined away by the more compelling and attractive light of the new. Eventually, all the words of the Course only trigger—and thus only reinforce—the Course's new world of meaning. The end result of this process is that the ego is evicted from one of its primary houses, the house of human language.

This use of language, then, reflects the larger process the Course guides us through, in which our illusions are brought to awareness, where they meet and are replaced by the light of truth; in which we make a shift from the current meaning we see in things to a fundamentally new meaning. If we can replace the egoic meanings contained in our words, then we have gone a long way towards replacing the egoic meanings contained in our minds. And that is the goal of the Course.

This unique language style not only facilitates the Course's goals, it also reflects the Course's overall philosophy. For this is one of many examples in which the Course operates in the same way it claims the Holy Spirit operates. According to the Course, the Holy Spirit takes forms that we made for ego purposes and assigns to them a new purpose, a new meaning: that of leading us out of the ego. The Course specifically mentions that human language, which was made to disrupt communication, can be reinterpreted by the Holy Spirit to facilitate real communication (T-14.VI.6-7). Presumably, that is precisely what the Course itself has done in its use of terms. And thousands of Course students have experienced the effects of this. They have had their entire outlook on life subtly made over, perhaps without their noticing, by this initially confusing but ultimately transformative use of language. My hope is that this glossary can speed and strengthen this effect in the lives of those students who use it.

About the glossary

I have tried to reflect all of the above in the definitions in this glossary—without going so far as writing a book on each one, which, with many of the terms, would be quite easy to do. Each entry is thus somewhere in between a brief definition of the term and a short essay on the concept. As such, the entries are subjective. They represent my current understandings, understandings which I myself frequently modify. With many of the terms in this book I have gone through several changes of understanding over the years.

For me it is a given that no glossary will ever capture all the fullness and nuance of meaning contained in the Course's terms. Yet still I hope that this one will prove to be a helpful source of understanding, reflection, study and discussion for students who seek a more complete grasp of A Course in Miracles. My hope is that many of the definitions express more clearly what Course students already understand. And so far as I know, many of the definitions are new. Some disagree with understandings which have become accepted wisdom among Course students, yet which, in my mind, do not hold up when researched in the Course.

The following information will help the reader in making use of the entries (not all of the entries contain all of these elements):

Root meaning

In some of the entries the first definition is labelled "root meaning." This represents an underlying or core meaning that both the conventional meaning and the ACIM meaning have in common.

Conventional or Christian meaning

After the term is listed in bold (and after perhaps a root meaning), some entries will first give a conventional meaning or Christian meaning, before giving an ACIM meaning. This is the meaning that in my opinion the Course's use of the term is implicitly playing off of or responding to. This conventional (or Christian) definition does not attempt to capture the entire meaning, but emphasizes the meaning that seems to relate most directly to the Course's, usually by way of contrast. This part will sometimes include comments about the Course's perspective on that conventional meaning.

Bold face words

Words in bold face type refer to other entries in the glossary. They mean "see this word elsewhere in the glossary." In any given entry I have not bolded all of the words that are defined elsewhere in the glossary, only those which pertain more or less directly to the term under discussion. In this World Wide Web version, all bold faced words from the print edition are links to other glossary entries.

References

For study purposes, I have tried to include some of the more important Course references to a given term. This, however, is not a main focus of this glossary and so is not done with any kind of completeness. When the reference is in parentheses, this means the reference pertains to the sentence in which the parentheses occur, rather than to the whole entry. When the reference is not in parentheses and comes at the end of an entry, it pertains to the entry as a whole.

All references are given for the Second Edition of the Course and are listed according to the numbering in the Course, rather than according to page numbers. Each reference begins with a letter, which denotes the particular volume of the Course (T=Text, W=Workbook, M=Manual for Teachers, C=Clarification of Terms). After this letter comes a series of numbers, which differ from volume to volume:

  • T-chapter.section.paragraph.sentence
  • W-part(I or II).lesson.paragraph.sentence
  • M or C-section.paragraph.sentence

Note: In Part II of the Workbook, a "lesson" number from 1 to 14 refers to one of the "What Is" sections, which come at ten-lesson intervals.

Suggestions for using the glossary

Apart from the usual uses of such a glossary I have a few suggestions. One will have more appreciation for a term if one not only reads the definition, but also reads the references given, as well as looks up the definitions for the bolded words. One can also make the terms more practical and relevant by asking oneself how a certain situation in one's life would look if one really believed the concept behind a particular term. For instance, you might consider how a difficult interaction you had today would look if you really believed what the Course says about the term "freedom."

In addition to individual use of the glossary, I think that study groups might benefit from going over a term, or cluster of terms, a week. As mentioned above, this would be enriched by looking up the references, reading the bolded definitions and discussing application to one's life. I also want Course in Miracles newsletters to feel free to print definitions from this glossary. I would simply request that information be included on where readers can obtain a copy of the glossary for themselves, along with a line saying, "Reprinted by permission from A Course Glossary, by Robert Perry, published by the Circle of Atonement, P.O. Box 4238, West Sedona, Arizona, 86340."

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