Applying the Course to Hurricane Katrina

by Robert Perry

This article consists of Robert's notes for a class taught in Sedona on September 6, 2005. It includes his record of class responses to some of the exercises.

In the past week (this class took place on Tuesday, September 6th), Hurricane Katrina has become a national obsession. We have been shocked by images the likes of which we thought we'd never see in this country. Different ones of us have had different reactions, but with all of us our hearts have gone out to the victims and, with most of us, our minds have searched for someone to blame. In this class, I'd like to apply the Course to this disaster. But first, I think we just need to talk about our very human reactions to it. As the Course often emphasizes, we need to be honest about those reactions and look calmly on them, before we can shine them away with the light.

Discussion: What has been your human reaction to Katrina? Which images have stuck in your mind the most? Who have you been tempted to blame?

A few in the class admitted that they either weren't all that aware of what was going on, or felt strangely removed from it. Others expressed strong feelings. One person said she had been swinging between depression and anger all week. A couple people had friends in that area, and this made them more identified with what was happening there. For most of the people in the class, it was topic that evoked strong emotions that were very close to the surface.

Course Passages

[The association of free will and imprisonment, which comes from placing your mind under the ego's tyrannous control] can be internally controlled only if external conditions are peaceful. This is not safe, because external conditions are produced by the thoughts of many, not all of whom are pure in heart as yet. (Urtext)

What I'm interested in is the very last part of this. It says that our inner stability shouldn't depend on external conditions being peaceful. Why? "Because external conditions are produced by the thoughts of many, not all of whom are pure in heart as yet." A great deal is said in this one line. First, it characterizes external conditions as flowing from the thoughts of what we can safely assume to be countless individual minds. External events, you could say, are a product of collective dreaming. Second, the dreaming minds are not pure. Jesus heavily qualifies this, saying "not all of whom are pure in heart as yet." But we know what he means. Those dreaming minds are nuts. Therefore, they will not dream peaceful conditions. They will not dream pure conditions. If your peace is riding on what they dream, your peace is riding a wild bronco. Sooner or later you will get thrown off.

One more point: the phrase "pure in heart" comes from the Beatitudes: "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." Thus, if those who aren't pure in heart are dreaming world events, then what will you not see manifest in those events? God.

The world you see is the delusional system of those made mad by guilt

The world you see is the delusional system of those made mad by guilt. Look carefully at this world, and you will realize that this is so. For this world is the symbol of punishment, and all the laws that seem to govern it are the laws of death. Children are born into it through pain and in pain. Their growth is attended by suffering, and they learn of sorrow and separation and death. Their minds seem to be trapped in their brain, and its powers to decline if their bodies are hurt. They seem to love, yet they desert and are deserted. They appear to lose what they love, perhaps the most insane belief of all. And their bodies wither and gasp and are laid in the ground, and are no more. Not one of them but has thought that God is cruel. (T-13.In.2:2-11)

I return to this passage frequently, because it is so revealing of where the Course is coming from. It begins by saying that the world is not a real place, but a delusional system—an integrated system of beliefs that flies in the face of reality. It further claims that this delusional system is centered around the core delusion of guilt. This seems like a very radical claim, yet then Jesus says that all you need do to verify it is "look carefully at this world." He then goes ahead and does this observation exercise for us. He follows the human life cycle from its painful beginning to its painful end. How does this prove that the world is "the delusional system of those made mad by guilt"? The key lies in the transitional sentence: "For this world is the symbol of punishment." We seem to be punished from birth until death. Whoever made this world, then, must believe that we are guilty and deserve the punishment we are always getting here. Yet if God knows us as guiltless, then the world must be an expression of our own delusion of guilt. It must be we who made this place, and did so to punish ourselves for bottomless guilt.

If we combine this with the earlier passage, we get a perspective on the source of Hurricane Katrina. Guilt is the core impurity within those impure hearts. Guilt is the impurity at the root of the dreaming process, causing the mass mind to dream conditions that are not only less than peaceful, but are also downright punishing. So there is some collective guilt behind this hurricane (as behind other hurricanes and natural disasters). It is a dream of punishment for a crime we never really committed.

Yet, as the previous passage said, it is up to us to not rest our inner stability on external conditions being peaceful. And it is up to us not to get the message from stormy conditions that we are being punished for our guilt. Rather, we are punishing ourselves needlessly for a guilt that is delusional.

Either life is real or death is real

The curious belief that there is part of dying things that may go on apart from what will die, does not proclaim a loving God nor re-establish any grounds for trust. If death is real for anything, there is no life. Death denies life. But if there is reality in life, death is denied. No compromise in this is possible. There is either a god of fear or One of Love. The world attempts a thousand compromises, and will attempt a thousand more. Not one can be acceptable to God's teachers, because not one could be acceptable to God. (M-27.4:1-8)

It is impossible to worship death in any form, and still select a few you would not cherish and would yet avoid, while still believing in the rest. For death is total. Either all things die, or else they live and cannot die. No compromise is possible. For here again we see an obvious position, which we must accept if we be sane; what contradicts one thought entirely can not be true, unless its opposite is proven false. (W-pI.163.6:1-5)

These two passages express the Course's basic philosophical stance. It is a fundamentally either/or stance. If you have two opposites, either one is real or the other is real. They both can't be real, because they totally contradict each other. So it is with the case of life and death. They are absolute opposites. Therefore, only one can be real. "Either all things die, or else they live and cannot die." Therefore, unless we are willing to accept that the soul dies and angels die and the Holy Spirit dies and God dies, then we must accept that life is the only reality, and that death is just a mirage. And by "life" the Course means unlimited life—life of the limitless mind and spirit, not life of the body (which the Course says was never alive in the first place). And if we decide that only life is real, then we can look on the aftermath of Katrina with equanimity. It can only be a dream of death, however dark the dream may be, for in the daylight of reality only unlimited life is real.

God did not create Katrina, and so it is not real

With eyes closed, think of all the horrors in the world that cross your mind. Name each one as it occurs to you, and then deny its reality. God did not create it, and so it is not real. Say, for example:

God did not create that war, and so it is not real.

God did not create that airplane crash, and so it is not real.

God did not create that disaster [specify], and so it is not real.

Suitable subjects for the application of today's idea also include anything you are afraid might happen to you, or to anyone about whom you are concerned. In each case, name the "disaster" quite specifically. Do not use general terms. For example, do not say, "God did not create illness," but, "God did not create cancer," or heart attacks, or whatever may arouse fear in you. (W-pI.14.4:1-5:4)

Here is another angle on the Course's basic philosophical stance. God is the only Source, and therefore what doesn't come from God simply isn't real. And since God is Love, only that which is loving can come from God. The Course is adamant in seeing this world and its disasters as not coming from God's Will. And that is why we can be released from them. If they are not God's Will, they are not real. They are just a dream.

Exercise: apply the above practice to Katrina. Say, "God did not create Katrina, and so it is not real." Then move on to more specific things about this disaster, such as "God did not create the flooding [or looting, or homelessness, or polluted water, or loss of property], and so it is not real." Keep going through things about this disaster that have upset you, applying this line to each one. See if you can't feel a sense of relief. True, in a sense these things happened, but they happened only in a dream, and dreams can't really kill anyone. Dreams can't cause any real destruction.

The resurrection was the definitive demonstration of the real relationship between life and death

The Resurrection demonstrated that nothing can destroy truth. Good can withstand any form of evil, because light abolishes all forms of darkness. The Atonement is thus the perfect lesson. It is the final demonstration that all of the other lessons which I taught are true. Man is released from all errors if he believes in this. The deductive approach to teaching accepts the generalization which is applicable to all single instances, rather than building up the generalization after analyzing numerous single instances separately. If you can accept the one generalization now, there will be no need to learn from many smaller lessons. (Urtext)

This profound passage portrays the resurrection as the definitive demonstration of the real nature of reality. We may see the finality of death demonstrated all around us, but those are false demonstrations. Those are like the demonstrations of some cheap vacuum cleaner, where the demonstration seems to prove how good the product is only because of some sleight of hand. The one demonstration that revealed the real relationship of life and death was Jesus' resurrection. Our job is to accept this one demonstration and apply it to all those instances in which death seems to have the final word. So let's do that with this instance. Let's try to see the resurrected Jesus as symbolizing the reality of all those who seemed to be crucified by this storm. In truth, they are resurrected now, and one day that resurrection will be manifest. For in the end, life always has the final word, for life was the only thing that was real all along.

"Father, forgive them for they know not what they do"

In the Urtext, in talking about the Nazi's "final solution," Jesus told Helen,

I shed many tears over this, but it is by no means the only time I said, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do." (Urtext)

I find this to be a very poignant passage. It is a passage in which Jesus in no way holds himself apart from the events of the Holocaust. He not only says that he shed many tears over it, but he also says, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do." This, of course, is the line he is reported to have spoken at his own death. He is superimposing his own crucifixion over the Holocaust. He is thus identifying the victims of the Holocaust with himself. And he is extending forgiveness to the soldiers who murdered the Jews, just as he did to the soldiers who crucified him as a Jew all those centuries ago. Here, then, is a perspective in which everyone is affirmed and lifted up, both "perpetrators" and "victims." How different this is from our usual perspective, which pities (and thus debases) the "victim" and blames and condemns the "perpetrators."

The applicability of this to situations in our lives is revealed when we ask what Jesus meant by this line in the gospels. What exactly was it that "they" didn't realize they were doing? The implication, of course, is that they didn't know that they were crucifying the Son of God. And that's what the Germans didn't know. And that's what the people we hold as being to blame in the aftermath of Katrina didn't know. And that's what we don't know.

Think of the people you see as to blame in this situation. With each one say, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do." You might even add, "They know not that they are crucifying God's Son," and perhaps even, "They know not that God's Son cannot be crucified." As you feel a shift with each one, go on to the next, until you have gone through several of the parties you see as to blame. Finally, thinking of your own act of blaming these people, say, "Father, forgive me for I know not what I do."

"Forgiveness ends all suffering and loss"

d Forgiveness paints a picture of a world where suffering is over, loss becomes impossible and anger makes no sense. Attack is gone, and madness has an end. What suffering is now conceivable? What loss can be sustained? The world becomes a place of joy, abundance, charity and endless giving. It is now so like to Heaven that it quickly is transformed into the light that it reflects. And so the journey which the Son of God began has ended in the light from which he came. (W-pII.249.1)

Can you imagine such a world, a world where there is no more anger or attack, where no one loses anything, and no one suffers, a world of nothing but joy and endless giving? We think this is made possible usually either by political reform or by the Hand of God sweeping down, punishing the wicked and lifting up the righteous. Yet this paragraph says that the new world will come about through forgiveness. That is the most powerful agent of change there is. We so often think, "Well, if I forgive that person, won't I just be giving him permission to do it again?" Yet what forgiveness really does is give him permission to change. Within the loving space of forgiveness, people feel free to make changes they've always wanted to make yet felt powerless to.

We have a job, an assignment

As long as any mind remains possessed of evil dreams, the thought of hell is real. God's teachers have the goal of wakening the minds of those asleep. (M-28.6:2-3)

Teacher of God, your one assignment could be stated thus: Accept no compromise in which death plays a part. (M-27.7:1)

Though we live far away, we have a responsibility. Yes, we should contribute aid. Of course we should do that. But we have a further responsibility. It is our "one assignment" to accept no compromise in which death plays a part. That is how we waken the minds of those asleep. We refuse to accept any form of death as real. In this situation, have we been fulfilling our one assignment?

We can be the eye of the storm

Yet there will always be this place of rest to which you can return. And you will be more aware of this quiet center of the storm than all its raging activity. This quiet center, in which you do nothing, will remain with you, giving you rest in the midst of every busy doing on which you are sent. For from this center will you be directed how to use the body sinlessly. It is this center, from which the body is absent, that will keep it so in your awareness of it. (T-18.VII.8:1-5)

This is the concluding paragraph of "I Need Do Nothing." This section has told us to have an instant in which we enter into complete mental stillness (non-doing). In that instant, the Holy Spirit will enter our minds and set up a permanent place of non-doing, a place of rest, inside of us. This place will be the "quiet center of the storm," clearly a reference to the eye of the hurricane. If we will establish that quiet center within us, no matter where we are, we can be the eye of the hurricane. How have we been an eye of this storm? Have we been?

Our internal quiet can heal nature, and restore the hope of those who witness that healing

The Course does suggest that our mental quiet can actually heal nature:

Each hour that you take your rest today, a tired mind is suddenly made glad, a bird with broken wings begins to sing, a stream long dry begins to flow again. The world is born again each time you rest, and hourly remember that you came to bring the peace of God into the world, that it might take its rest along with you.

With each five minutes that you rest today, the world is nearer waking. And the time when rest will be the only thing there is comes closer to all worn and tired minds, too weary now to go their way alone. And they will hear the bird begin to sing and see the stream begin to flow again, with hope reborn and energy restored to walk with lightened steps along the road that suddenly seems easy as they go. (W-pI.109.6-7)

It is very easy to miss the scenario painted in this passage. First, we do our hourly practice period, in which we do the very thing we were told to do in "I Need Do Nothing"—we enter into a time of pure mental rest. Then, healing power goes out from our quiet time and heals a "stream long dry" and "a bird with broken wings." Finally, there are tired minds, minds "too weary to go on their way alone." These minds are so heavy with the weariness of life that they are not sure they go on. Each step becomes like lifting a lead weight. But then they "hear the bird begin to sing and see the stream begin to flow again." Now they are no longer weary. They have "hope reborn and energy restored to walk with lightened steps along the road that suddenly seems easy as they go."

Can you see what happened here? We did not heal the tired minds directly. No, our quiet healed the bird and stream, and then, as the tired minds witnessed the rebirth of nature around them, they felt reborn. They felt hope again. If only we could harness this power! For is this not exactly what is needed in the current crisis?

Can our inner quiet heal conditions out there in nature? If "external conditions are produced by the thoughts of many, not all of whom are pure in heart as yet," why can't our loving thoughts, our pure hearts, make a difference? This is our calling, to have a quiet mind that is quiet because it does not see the dance of death as being real, because it accepts no compromise in which death plays a part. This is not to say that we do not act, that we just sit there. Jesus told Helen that "The real members of my party are active workers." But that action should extend from the quiet center within. As "I Need Do Nothing" said, "For from this center will you be directed how to use the body sinlessly." If we can establish that internal quiet, we will find ourselves using the body in new ways, as an expression of the silence within, rather than the frenzy within.

"There is no death" prayer

This prayer from Lesson 163, "There is no death. The Son of God is free," draws us into this calling. Praying it is a way we can fulfill our calling. The prayer asks that we may enter a mindset in which we become God's messengers because we see no death, only the glorious reflection of His Love. It is put in the first person plural and I suggest that we pray it as if we are praying it with our fellow Course students and with those caught up in the aftermath of Katrina. I recommend taking five or ten minutes and going through it repeatedly, for it will deepen each time. Fix a line in your mind, then close your eyes and pray that line, and then go on to the next. Pray each line as sincerely as you can. Know that as you do, some of those tired minds in the Southeast, too weary to go on their way alone, will suddenly feel their "hope reborn and energy restored."

Our Father, bless our eyes today.
We are Your messengers,
and we would look upon the glorious reflection of Your Love which shines in everything.
We live and move in You alone.
We are not separate from Your eternal life.
There is no death, for death is not Your Will.
And we abide where You have placed us,
in the life we share with You and with all living things,
to be like You and part of You forever.
We accept Your Thoughts as ours, and our will is one with Yours eternally.
Amen.(W-pI.163.9:1-8)

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