When we first decided to do this newsletter on the theme of "miracles," I wasn't sure what particular topic I wanted to write about. I considered several ideas, and even made starts on a couple of them. But then, like everyone else, I was shocked out of my daily routine by the tragic events of the morning of September 11.
I suspect that I will probably always remember where I was when I first heard about it, much as people remember where they were when they heard President Kennedy was shot. I was eating breakfast, still mulling over my miracles article, when my wife Margery emerged from her room and said, "Oh my God! We have to turn on the TV—there's been a major disaster." (She had gotten this information from Internet reports.) We turned on the TV and immediately saw the recorded footage of the two planes hitting the World Trade Center towers, and the towers collapsing into rubble. We saw the devastation of the Pentagon, and the remains of the fourth airplane crash in Pennsylvania. We were stunned. At that point, work on my article came to a halt as I stayed glued to my TV with the rest of the world, watching with horror and wondering what would happen next.
Many thoughts went through my mind as that day's events unfolded, and many more have come since then. The morning after the attack happened, it became clear to me that this was the topic that I wanted and needed to write about, both because it was hard to focus on anything else, and because this situation has everything to do with the subject of miracles.
This article, then, is the result of my reflections in the week following the events of September 11. (It was completed on September 16.) By the time you read this, we will undoubtedly know much more about matters such as how many died, the impact on things like the economy and airport security, who is responsible for the attack, and the world's response to the crisis. But here, I simply want to share the immediate impact that this tragic event has had on me as a Course student and as a human being. I will share the darkness I have been forced to face, the light that has sustained me in the face of this darkness, and my hope that this tragedy will become a catalyst for healing in the world. Ultimately, this article is a call to action, an appeal to all of us to answer Jesus' call to become miracle workers and do our part for the world's salvation. The tragic events of September 11 have shown us the world's great need for healing, and it is my prayer that we will find in this crisis the impetus and the inner strength to shine the light of love and healing upon this dark and troubled world.
Our darkness: this world of impermanence, attack, suffering, and death
Seeing the death and destruction unfolding before me filled me with a profound sense of grief, not just for the people immediately impacted by the tragedy, but for the entire world in which such a tragedy could even be possible. The more I thought about what was happening, the more I realized that this was really not an unusual event—this was just another typical day in the life of the ego's world.
Yes, it was an unusual event on a form level: No terrorist attack of this magnitude had ever taken place on U.S. soil. Because of that, it is not at all surprising that it came as a huge and painful shock to us Americans, who tend to be pretty sheltered from the hardships of the rest of the world. However, the content of attack, suffering, and death that characterized this event is something that is always with us. Personally, I think the great shock we've experienced in the face of this tragedy stems at least in part from the fact that it revealed the depth of the world's darkness in a way that was so painfully obvious, we couldn't deny it. It brought to the surface the sobering fact that there is a lot more attack, suffering, and death in our world than we'd like to admit.
All we need to do is look more closely at the world around us to see the omnipresence of suffering and death. Terrorism may be relatively new to America, but it is a fact of daily life in many countries around the world. Death by "natural" causes, of course, is everyone's lot, and death by "unnatural" causes—hunger, war, disease, accidents, murder, natural disasters, etc.—happens literally every second of the day. To get a concrete idea of just how pervasive this is, consider just one of these causes: hunger. I read recently that 24,000 people per day die from hunger in this world. That's approximately one person every four seconds-six or seven people have died of hunger since you began reading this paragraph.
Indeed, human history itself is marked by death and dissolution. We hope that our civilizations and empires and monuments will last forever, but they never do. I once listened to a taped interview with Father Bede Griffiths, in which the famed priest and mystic was asked if he thought Western civilization would eventually come to an end. He said yes, and then added dryly, "They all do, you know." When he said this, I was struck by the sheer obviousness of it. Of course! Today's "Eternal City" is tomorrow's archeological dig; today's great civilization is tomorrow's historical footnote.
I mention this because, at least for me, this terrorist attack was a grim reminder that American civilization is no more eternal than any of the others. As I repeatedly watched the video footage of the World Trade Center towers collapsing—those seeming pillars of permanence and stability and American power plummeting to the ground in seconds—I couldn't help but think of this Course passage, which captures poignantly the impermanence and sense of futility that has marked human history:
You do not really want the world you see, for it has disappointed you since time began. The homes you built have never sheltered you. The roads you made have led you nowhere, and no city that you built has withstood the crumbling assault of time. Nothing you made but has the mark of death upon it. Hold it not dear, for it is old and tired and ready to return to dust even as you made it. (T-13.VII.3:1-5)
And it is not just human history that is this way—in the Course's view, natural history is no different. In nature, all things die, and nothing is permanent. Scientists believe that upwards of 99 percent of all the species that have ever existed are now extinct. The earth itself shifts and changes constantly through the forces of wind, water, volcanic eruptions, and the slamming together of tectonic plates. Even if we succeed in preserving life here in the short term, millions of years from now this earth will be swallowed up as the sun becomes a red giant star. And even the sun and stars will not last forever. Death and dissolution are at the very heart of physical existence:
What seems eternal all will have an end. The stars will disappear, and night and day will be no more. All things that come and go, the tides, the seasons and the lives of men; all things that change with time and bloom and fade will not return. (T-29.VI.2:7-9)
In short, the suffering and death of September 11, shocking and surprising as it has been for us, is not the exception in this world; it is the rule.
This tragic world, the Course tells us, is caused by one thing only: our continued decision to attack, a decision we make every time we listen to the ultimate "terrorist" in our minds—the ego. In light of this, it has been disheartening for me to hear America's leaders (and people in general) call for fierce counterattack in response to the terrorists' attack on America. Though I have heard voices for peace and moderation, in general I have been dismayed at the tone of the rhetoric. Immediately after the attack, President Bush promised that the United States would "hunt down and punish" the perpetrators, and spoke approvingly of Americans' "quiet, unyielding anger." Later on, he said point-blank, "We're at war." Other leaders spoke of "retaliation" and "revenge." Accusations flew long before there was evidence to support them, and "righteous" anger hung in the air. I saw a car emblazoned with the words "America kicks ass." Even the religious leaders I have heard speak about the attack have not really said much about forgiving the perpetrators (though one minister at the remembrance service held at the National Cathedral did pray, "Let us not return evil for evil").
Now, I don't want to be too hard on people here. Our leaders are facing very difficult choices in a horrendously complicated situation, and I can only support them and pray that they are guided by the Voice for God in their decisions. As for people in general, I understand how hard it is to forgive an atrocity of this magnitude, especially for those who have lost loved ones. For some, perhaps most, forgiveness will be a very long process. Certainly, people's lack of forgiveness itself deserves forgiveness, and I am doing everything I can to heal my own unforgiveness of those who are calling for retaliation, as well as my unforgiveness of the perpetrators of the attack. I have my own healing work to do.
But that being said, to me all of the calls for retaliation seem to be a perfect example of the ego's "face of innocence," the part of our self-concept that "believes that it is good within an evil world" (T-31.V.2:9) and uses self-defense as a rationale for attack. The Course claims that everyone has this self-concept; no doubt, the perpetrators of the attack think that they are the good guys, and they have good reasons for attacking America, the "great Satan." When I initially heard all of this saber rattling on the part of our leaders, my first thought was, "And so it continues. The solution just reinforces the problem." It seemed like just another futile battle in the never-ending war of the ego:
Attack, defense; defense, attack, become the circles of the hours and the days that bind the mind in heavy bands of steel with iron overlaid, returning but to start again. (W-pI.153.3:2)
I realize that what I've been saying here is exceedingly dark. A part of me has been reluctant to write this, because we're sad enough as it is. Yet I feel that all of this has to be said, because the Course considers it essential to look at the darkness of our illusions—without guilt—in order to get beyond them to the light. I know that this event has forced me to face my own grief, anger, and unforgiveness, and this has been a sobering experience. We are all participating in the maintenance of this world of attack, suffering, and death; the terrorist attack on America was just one, painfully obvious example of this.
Hopefully, coming to grips with this tragedy will not only help us to face our darkness, but will also awaken in us the heart of compassion. Indeed, I think it has already done that. Perhaps as a result of what has happened here, we will be more willing to open our eyes and follow the Course's injunction to see the world's crying need for healing: "Look about the world, and see the suffering there. Is not your heart willing to bring your weary brothers rest?" (W-pI.191.10:7-8).
Our light: the unreality of this world, and the changeless reality of God's Love
Strangely enough, side by side with my grief as I witnessed this tragedy, I felt a tremendous sense of gratitude and relief that none of what I was seeing was real. Now, in saying that, I'm not claiming to be at a place in my spiritual development where I really know that on a deep level. It's just that over my years of studying the Course, my conviction has grown that Jesus knows the truth even if I don't. Because of this, I have drawn great comfort just from reading and repeating to myself his assurances that this world of attack, suffering, and death is not real, even though I don't fully believe that yet myself.
Juxtaposing the darkness of what we believe we are with the light of what we really are is so characteristic of the Course. As Robert Perry is fond of saying, the Course has perhaps the darkest view ever expounded of life as we know it, yet it also has the brightest view of life as it truly is. Seeing both the darkness and the light is vitally important in the Course's system. And so, even as we are directed to look without blinders upon the world and "see what the devil [the ego] has made" (T-3.VII.5:3), we are also gently reminded that all we are seeing is pure illusion, with no effect whatsoever on the truth of who we really are. In response to our deeply rooted belief that we are sinful attackers in a cruel, chaotic world under the thumb of a vengeful God, the Course offers us God's Own promise of His eternal Love, His Own assurance that our true nature shines in Heaven eternally unchanged:
"You are still My holy Son, forever innocent, forever loving and forever loved, as limitless as your Creator, and completely changeless and forever pure." (W-pII.10.5:1)
What a beautiful and reassuring vision of reality! I have found it so uplifting in these difficult days. But to really take hold of that grand vision we need to practice it, and so I have been doing a lot of Course practice focused on denying the appearance of suffering and death in the terrorist attack, and affirming the reality beyond the appearance. I've been getting a lot out of Lesson 14 of the Workbook, which has us think of various worldly calamities and remind ourselves of the truth about them. Specifically, I've been applying its practice line directly to the terrorist attack: "God did not create that terrorist attack, and so it is not real" (based on W-pI.14.4:5-7).
In addition, along with so many people around the world, I have been doing a lot of praying. In my prayers, I have tried to extend love and peace and forgiveness to everyone involved in this difficult situation, praying that all may see the truth and be guided by the Holy Spirit in their thoughts and actions. I have been asking Jesus and the Holy Spirit to show me "the love beyond the hate, the constancy in change, the pure in sin, and only Heaven's blessing on the world" (W-pI.151.11:3). And through it all, I have tried to remember that no matter what my physical eyes are showing me, the Love of God and the vision of Christ can help me to see this differently. I have tried to see as the Holy Spirit sees, a vision that sees past this tragedy to the truth that shines like a beacon on the darkness of our world:
Unshaken does the Holy Spirit look on what you see; on sin and pain and death, on grief and separation and on loss. Yet does He know one thing must still be true; God is still Love, and this is not His Will. (W-pI.99.5:4-5)
Our hope: God's miracle workers
I have spoken both of the darkness that these painful events have forced me to confront, and the light of the Course that has illuminated that darkness for me. Now I want to speak of what I hope will come of this. The central thought that has emerged for me out of this situation has been a strengthened conviction that the world is in desperate need of the kind of miracle workers the Course aims to produce. Along with this conviction has come a strengthened desire on my part to become such a miracle worker by really walking the path the Course has laid out for me. It is my hope that this great tragedy will serve as a catalyst that will inspire people around the world, whatever their particular path, to become miracle workers in their own way—beacons of love, forgiveness, and healing in a world that dearly needs the light.
The world needs miracle workers because, in the Course's view, it is the miracle that lifts us from the attack, suffering, and death of the ego's world to the joyous reality of God's Love beyond this world. It is the miracle that brings God's eternal Love to this world and frees it from the ego's cruel laws, for "miracles…reflect the laws of eternity, not of time" (T-1.I.19:3). Through receiving the miracle—a divine healing of the mind—our perception is shifted from belief in the world's reality to recognition of God's reality. Through extending the miracle to others in our thoughts, words, and deeds, we bring that healed perception to the world and reinforce it in our own minds.
As a course in miracles, the Course never tires of extolling their benefits. In its view, the miracle is the antidote to literally everything that ails us: "You have no problems that [the Holy Spirit] cannot solve by offering you a miracle" (T-14.XI.9:2). Miracles heal the misperceptions of our minds that are the source of all problems, and in so doing, heal the physical problems that those misperceptions produce. Miracles can feed the starving, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, bring peace to the world's battlefields, and open the hearts of even the most hardened terrorists. They can move mountains, heal the sick, and even raise the dead. They can succeed where everything else fails. Thus, receiving and extending miracles is the answer; it is the way out of a world in which horrible tragedies like the terrorist attack on America can happen.
Therefore, the Course regards miracle workers as the world's greatest hope. In a discussion of teachers of God—those who have answered the call to bring healing to the world; in other words, miracle workers—the Course makes it clear that the world's salvation rests on their shoulders: "Except for God's teachers there would be little hope of salvation, for the world of sin would seem forever real" (M-In.5:1). In light of this, Jesus continually calls upon us to join his mission of healing by becoming miracle workers: "Each day should be devoted to miracles" (T-1.I.15:1). He really wants us to spend each and every day asking for healed perception and extending it to others. This is to become the focus of our lives, the reason we are here on this earth. He has given us A Course in Miracles as a means to train us in this holy function. (There are, of course, other means provided by other teachers all over the world.) And if we need an incentive to take this course, all we need do is look at events like the terrorist attack to realize just how real the need for healing is. There is great suffering in the world, and Jesus is calling upon us to do our part to alleviate it.
This is not an easy thing to learn how to do. We have a huge investment in the ego, and we need to be gentle with ourselves and others as we try to extricate our minds from its grip. This will probably be a very long process, one in which there will be setbacks as well as gains. I think the journey is often "Two steps forward, one step back." But the key is simply to start wherever we are, and keep making progress.
The good news, I think, is that we are making progress, though it may not always seem that way. In my opinion, there is evidence of our progress even in this tragedy. I have spoken a great deal of the darkness revealed in this terrorist attack, but I would be remiss if I didn't also mention the light revealed in it. Like many others, I have been truly amazed at the outpouring of love this disaster has spawned. That love has taken many forms: prayers, grief support, rescue and cleanup work, blood donations, financial contributions to the relief effort, and much, much more. The Course definitely wants us to see this as well as the darkness; part of forgiveness is making sure that we "let no little act of charity, no tiny expression of forgiveness, no little breath of love escape [our] notice" (T-19.IV(A).14:4). There are miracle workers among us. Let us not overlook their good works.
Let us remember as well that every loving thought, word, and deed makes a difference. So often in situations like this people ask, "What can I do?" Those of us who aren't in positions of worldly power may feel that we are powerless to do anything about large-scale problems such as terrorism. But this is simply not the case. Any miracle we extend to anyone will benefit everyone; the Course says that a miracle "may touch many people you have not even met, and produce undreamed of changes in situations of which you are not even aware" (T-1.I.45:2). So if we want to do something about terrorism, we can start by taking an honest look at our own acts of "terrorism" and committing to treating the people in our lives in a new way. We can replace the terrorism of anger, blame, and attack that characterizes so many of our human interactions with the resolve to love our neighbors as ourselves. As the well-known slogan has it, we can "Think globally; act locally." The key to healing the "big" problems of the world lies in healing the "little" problems that are right in front of us.
Conclusion: Each day should be devoted to miracles
In the Manual for Teachers, the Course paints a very dismal picture of the current state of the world: "Time…winds on wearily, and the world is very tired now. It is old and worn and without hope" (M-1.4:4-5). The truth of this statement was really brought home to me as I witnessed the death and destruction of September 11. We face a very uncertain future in the wake of this terrorist attack, and it is understandable that we are afraid of what the future may hold. But fortunately, there is hope: the hope represented by miracles, and those who accept the holy function of extending miracles to the world. Our problems may seem insoluble, but the Course's promise is that no matter how big, complex, or intractable those problems seem to be, miracles can solve them all. Our world may seem to be a barren desert, but let it be touched by a miracle, and it becomes something else entirely:
Miracles fall like drops of healing rain from Heaven on a dry and dusty world, where starved and thirsty creatures come to die. Now they have water. Now the world is green. And everywhere the signs of life spring up, to show that what is born can never die, for what has life has immortality. (W-pII.13.5:1-4)
Let us become rainmakers in the desert of the ego's terrorism. Let us really take this course Jesus has offered us, so that we may become the miracle workers he has called us to be. Let us devote each day to miracles, and transform this wasteland of desolation and death into an oasis of love and life.