I have long held that Lesson 169 is one of the most impenetrable and convoluted sections in the entire Course. I have banged my head up against its wall for years. I finally decided that it is not meant to be fully understandable to our separated minds. The Course says many times that these minds simply cannot encompass the truth. They are too small and truth is too big. I think that is why this lesson says, "There is no need to further clarify what no one in the world can understand" (10:1). By refusing to resolve the paradoxes of which he speaks in this lesson, Jesus is implicitly making this point all over the lesson. He is saying, "This is really beyond your understanding." So as you read this lesson, try to be OK with the paradoxes that lie unresolved on the page. Realize that all you can do is grasp crude stick figures, not the full 3-D panorama, and that once you have a rough sense of those stick figures, it is time to turn back to the practical tasks of today.
Let me try to sketch the basic progression as I understand it:
For now, we need to focus on doing our part, playing our role in God's plan to save the world. Our part is forgiveness. But this does not merely mean letting go of our resentments for the sake of our peace of mind—how we tend to think of forgiveness. It means giving forgiveness to others, letting them off the hook, relieving their burden of guilt and lifting their self-condemnation. This is how we save the world. Each of us has a particular part to play in the world's salvation, different for each. But the essence of every part is the extension of forgiveness to others.
As we do this, we open our mind to grace. Grace, as used in this lesson and the previous one, has two faces. In its ultimate form, grace is God's act of reaching down and lifting us back to Him in the final step, restoring all the knowledge we forgot as we entered our long journey within the dream. However, the main use of "grace" in this lesson is its second face, where it refers to miniature foreshadowings of the final step, in which God lifts us out of the dream and into Heaven momentarily.
These momentary experiences of Heaven allow miracles to be laid in our treasure house, miracles that we can then give to our brothers—"to all who see the light that lingers in your face" (13:2). In other words, those experiences of grace allow us to fulfill our part in the plan more fully, more deeply. And thus they prepare our mind for the final step, for the ultimate reception of God's grace which brings on the permanent awakening to Heaven.
But then again, they only seem to prepare our mind for the final step. For the fact is, the time in which we will experience the final step and be returned to the waking state has already been set. We shouldn't interpret that as "it was set for us." Rather, what happened is that the Holy Spirit took all that can be learned in time "and gave it to all minds that each one might determine, from a point where time was ended, when it is released to revelation and eternity" (8:2). In other words, the time of our release was not set for us. We set that time ourselves, from a point beyond time.
The fact is that our minds right now are outside of time, past the very last moment of time, in eternity. In that place, we already have all learning, given to us by the Holy Spirit. We already have accomplished our part in salvation, for in that place, salvation is already complete. Everyone is saved. And from that point, possessing both eternity and the totality of all learning, we decide when we step off the carpet of time. We set the endpoint of our journey through time.
And we have already set that endpoint. For remember, time is already over. In reality, there is no future. It looks like there is from where we stand, here in 2011, but this is not where we are actually standing. We are actually standing at the end of time, after the finish line, "looking back on it, imagining we make it once again; reviewing mentally what has gone by" (158.4:5).
So if the time is already set, how can we "hasten" it? Well, what is really going on is that the experiences of grace we have now merely "bear witness that the time the mind itself determined to abandon all but this [eternity] is now at hand" (7:2). In other words, our experiences of grace don't actually hasten the final step. Instead, the final step is approaching, and its approach sparks these experiences of grace. The light you see in the sky before sunrise does not bring on the sun; it is the sign the sun is approaching.
What helps to resolve this paradox (the experience hastens the final step/the final step is set and its approach sparks the experiences) is to realize that we tend to hear "the mind has determined this time" incorrectly. We hear that to mean that in the past the mind determined an event that lies still in the future. But that of course is not what is going on. The mind "has determined" that future event (the final step) not from a point in the past, but from a point beyond the future. Yet that point is exactly where we are standing right now. I sense that this is the kernel of the resolution, but I can't go any farther with it right now.
Finally, when the final step at last arrives, and we are returned to eternity, we will realize that eternity has always remained a constant state (6:7). We never left it. It was never actually interrupted. We have been there all along. It is by nature uninterruptible.
This state is something completely beyond our current comprehension. For our comprehension now falls entirely within the subject-object framework, in which we, the subject, seek to know objects distinct from ourselves. But this distinction is completely gone in eternity. In that state, God simply is, encompassing all being, filling mind every. Thus, in a sense, there is only the one Subject, knowing Himself. That is all that is happening in Heaven and in the minds of God's creations. How could we describe or even think of such a state in this world, where all our speaking, all our words, all our thoughts, assume subjects distinct from what they describe?
In the face of all of these ideas that we cannot truly comprehend at this point—returning to an eternity that we never left, a state in which there is no subject-object dichotomy, a final step that we need to hasten even though it has already been set, a future that is really the past—our response should not be to swim around in these paradoxes, and spend forever talking about them, in order to feel really spiritually cool. Our response should be to focus on practical steps within time.
What are those steps? Doing our part in God's plan, asking for grace, and, once it comes, giving to others the miracles that were laid in our mind in that moment of grace. That is what today is about.
Purpose: to ask for grace, and the temporary experience of Heaven that comes from grace. And then to return and bring to others the gifts that you received from grace.
Morning/evening quiet time: at least 5 minutes; ideally, 30 or more
Today you are again asking for the gift of grace, which will momentarily lift you into the knowledge of Heaven. Begin with this prayer: "By grace I live. By grace I am released. By grace I give. By grace I will release." The first half of this prayer asks that your mind be raised up into the daylight of reality, where you will experience pure oneness. This is the "experience we try to hasten" (7:1). This is not the final revelation that will one day come to you, in which you finally disappear from time and space altogether, but it does signify that that day is coming. This is essentially a meditation in which you are going for it all, so bring to it all that you have learned about meditation, as well as all of your desire for God.
The second half of the prayer speaks of the aftereffects of the moment of grace. Once you emerge from your instant of timelessness, people will "see the light that lingers in your face" (13:2), and you will give them the miracles that were laid in your mind in that holy instant.
Hourly remembrance: 1 or 2 minutes as the hour strikes (reduce if circumstances do not permit)
Repeat the prayer used in the longer practice, asking again for God's grace. And then thank God for whatever reflections of grace came your way in the previous hour. And ask Him how, in the coming hour, He would have you give the gifts you received in your meditation.