Interpretation and the Future of the Course

by Robert Perry

Interpretation. That thorny word. We Course in Miracles students tend to approach the Course as a revealed scripture brought to us from a pristine realm beyond the human. And yet, ironically, before we can understand it and put it to work in our lives, it has to pass through the very human filter of interpretation. This can feel like obtaining the purest mountain spring water on earth, and then pouring it into a dirty cup before drinking it.

This uncomfortable predicament has spawned a profusion of perspectives on interpreting the Course. The following is a partial list of ones that I have heard or read:

• We need to affirm the validity of all interpretations. There is no one "right" interpretation. The Course means what it means to you.

• "The only authoritative voice for A Course In Miracles meaning is each person's own connection to the Voice for God, the Holy Spirit, within their minds" (stated on the homepage of an ACIM website).

• The Course's surface meaning is largely metaphorical, often saying the opposite of its real, underlying meaning. We need to reinterpret its statements—decode its metaphor—in light of its nondualistic metaphysics.

• Since there's only one truth, we need to interpret the Course in a way that makes it consistent with the one truth expressed by all spiritual teachings.

• The right interpretation comes from listening to the right authority. The Course means whatever a particular someone who is "in touch" says it means—someone enlightened, in communication with higher beings, or close to the original story of the Course.

• Since other students and teachers seem to know what they are talking about, I will interpret the Course according to the things I hear repeatedly from them.

• The Course is meant to make no sense on the surface level. That way, it will tie up your brain in unsolvable riddles, so that it can then bypass your conscious mind and speak to a deeper part of you.

• Rigidly interpreting the Course according to the literal meaning of its words is fundamentalism. Even the Bible says "the letter killeth."

• We shouldn't interpret the Course. We should just feel it, know it, and live it.

• The Course is written on different levels in order to address people at different levels of development. Depending on the level on which you are reading it at the time, you can legitimately take away very different meanings.

• Yes, we will have different interpretations, but we shouldn't discuss them or make them important. Only the ego thinks such differences make a difference. And only the ego talks about them. Taken seriously, interpretations just cause separation.

• When we interpret, we are interpreting words, and words are just symbols of symbols, twice removed from reality. We need to stop emphasizing words and go beyond them to experience.

• We can't really ever know what the Course means. Why emphasize interpretation when it is doomed from the start?

No wonder the Course community is so splintered! Each of the perspectives I list above represents a starting point for one's whole relationship with the Course. As a result, we may have the same book (although these days, even that's in question), but we relate to it in such vastly different ways.

There is something else I see in the list above. I see a general shying away from interpretation as conventionally understood. Normally, you have a block of words on a page, and you simply ask, "What do those words say? What was the author trying to convey with them?" To me, all the perspectives I list above seem to subtly avoid that more usual, straightforward approach to interpretation. They either say that there is another way to approach interpretation—a deeper or more personal way—or they say that we should downplay interpretation altogether.

Personally, I think downplaying interpretation represents a kind of profound denial. I say that because whatever the Course is in itself, interpretation utterly determines what it is for us. Interpretation, and only interpretation, takes the Course from being a series of strange markings on paper to being something meaningful and something alive for us. If, for instance, we interpret the Course as mainly being about hating the world (which some have done), that's what it will become for us. Indeed, if (to use a ludicrous example) we were to interpret it as being about strangling kittens, that's what it would become for us. Whatever the Course is for us, it was made that by how we interpreted it.

So rather than trying to shy away in embarrassment from interpretation, we need to face it full on. Once we do, I think the first thing we need to ask is, "What did Jesus think about interpretation?" After all, he is the author. It is his course. Thankfully, he did not leave us without indicators of what his approach is. Indeed, there are so many that there isn't space here for a truly adequate treatment. However, the following quotes, drawn from the Course as well as the Urtext (the Course's original typescript), reveal clearly the general outlines of his approach:

The reason why this [section] is so short, despite its extreme importance, is because it is not symbolic. This means that it is not open to more than one interpretation. (Urtext)

You have surely begun to realize that this is a very practical course, and one that means exactly what it says. (T-8.IX.8:1)

I have made every effort to use words which are almost impossible to distort, but man is very inventive when it comes to twisting symbols around. (Urtext version of T-3.I.3:11)

This course is perfectly clear. If you do not see it clearly, it is because you are interpreting against it. (T-11.VI.3:1-2)

I…have made it clear… (T-2.II.1:2) I have also made it clear… (T-3.V.1:3) I have made it perfectly clear… (T-6.I.5:1) I have been careful to clarify… (T-1.VII.5:4)

I meant it literally (T-7.III.1:7). The word is used quite literally here (Urtext). The sense is very literal (T-10.V.1:6). Think not that this is merely allegorical (T-18.VIII.1:4).

Be very careful in interpreting this. (Urtext)

Do not read this hastily or wrongly. (M-29.7:3)

Just re-read them and their truth will come to you (Urtext). Refer to point 1 and re-read now (Urtext). Re-read the actual quote (Urtext). Read these lessons carefully (T-4.In.3:11).

The section on psychic energy should be re-read very carefully, because it is particularly likely to be misinterpreted until this section is complete. (Urtext)

I could include many more passages along these same lines, but from just this brief list, a clear pattern emerges. We can summarize this pattern in four points:

1. The Course is not meant to be "open to more than one interpretation." Jesus has a particular meaning that he is trying to convey.

2. He is trying to express that meaning in the clearest way he can, making "every effort to use words which are almost impossible to distort."

3. The lack of clarity, then, doesn't come from him, but from us. We are prone to "twisting" his words, "interpreting against" them, almost willfully misinterpreting what he says.

4. To correct for this, we must be willing to "be very careful in interpreting." We must resist the temptation to "read this hastily or wrongly," and instead read and "re-read very carefully."

In short, we have to counteract our tendency to turn Jesus' clarity into our confusion by approaching the interpretive act with the utmost care.

This entire picture is contained in a particularly interesting passage in which Jesus was reviewing Helen and Bill's mistaken thoughts over the course of a day. As part of that review, here is what he said:

[Bill] was discourteous when he told you that he wanted to keep the original copy of the notes, having decided to have them Xeroxed on his own will, and then justifying it by a very slight misinterpretation of what I said about "useful for others." In fact, if he will re-read the actual quote, he will see that it really means "useful for him." You had interpreted that way, and frankly this was pretty clear to me at the time. But this sort of thing happens all the time. (Urtext)

Bill had decided on his own that he (not Helen) needed to keep the original copy of Helen's Course dictation ("the notes"), because he needed to photocopy it. This was actually a discourtesy to Helen, but Bill justified it by misinterpreting Jesus' comment about the notes being "useful for others." To correct his misinterpretation, Jesus suggests that Bill "re-read the actual quote" and see what "it really means." In fact, "useful for others" actually meant "useful for Bill." Helen had interpreted it correctly, and Jesus himself was "frankly…pretty clear" on what he meant by it (is Jesus actually using sarcasm here?). The irony in this story is that Jesus really meant that Bill was supposed to apply the notes to himself, rather than be discourteous to Helen by seizing them for his photocopying crusade. And this is not an isolated incident. Rather, it is a typical example of a general tendency. As Jesus says in concluding, "But this sort of thing happens all the time."

What a parable of Course interpretation! There is some fundamental discourtesy in us that wants to misinterpret the Course in the way this discourtesy wants—basically, to justify itself. Instead, we need to go back and "re-read the actual quote," so that we can see what "it really means." For there is something it really means; it does not have multiple valid interpretations. Its real interpretation would be perfectly clear to a less biased observer (such as Helen in this case), because it was "frankly…pretty clear" to the author.

Here we have no less than a new vision of Course interpretation. To be quite honest, it doesn't fit with any of those perspectives I listed above. I regret to say that it goes against the majority of what I see students doing with the Course. Where we want to expand the range of what a passage might mean, affirming all possibilities, Jesus wants to collapse that range down to one. Where we want to bypass the surface meaning and have the real meaning unlocked by inner guidance, personal preference, or nondualistic metaphysics, he sees no need for this, as his words were already clear and plain. Where we want to use his words loosely as our initial takeoff point, liberally mixing in our own experience, learning, and inspiration, he wants to drag us back to those words and have us read and re-read, cranking out a careful interpretation the old-fashioned way.

And yet, however different is his approach, its benefits are almost beyond belief. Let me go through those benefits as I see them:

First, this really can be done. If we truly carefully read and interpret, we can come very close to hitting the bull's-eye of what Jesus really meant. Yes, interpretation is a tricky and subjective business. I don't think it's ever perfect. Yet any given Course passage is surrounded by a whole host of clues about the meaning of that passage. And to the extent that we are willing to fully submit our interpretations to the verdict of those clues, to that same extent our interpretations can get increasingly more accurate. In the end, I believe that we can get extremely clear about what Jesus meant.

Second, as a result of this, we can to a significant degree actually contact Jesus' thought, rather than our own expectations. This, to me, is what is exciting about good Course interpretation. My own thoughts and expectations are honestly pretty boring. Yet when I pay close attention to what is on the page of the Course, I contact a thought that is not my own, that I never would have generated on my own, because it frankly towers above my own. That is exciting.

Third, when we contact Jesus' thought, what we find is immeasurably more rich, original, thought-provoking, practical, and transformative than what our own expectations would project onto that passage. The feeling I often get from students is that we don't want to be confined to the literal meaning of the Course. That would be thin, dull, restrictive. But if we can treat its words as evocative symbols that enigmatically point to a myriad of possible meanings, then we can have a real richness of meaning. This may be true of other texts, but my experience of the Course could not be more opposite. When I stick to Jesus' actual words, when I drag myself back to read, reread, and carefully interpret, I find an endless gold mine of original wisdom, which sees me exactly as I am now, yet which then lifts my mind into new perspectives, perspectives that have never been voiced anywhere else.

Fourth, in this scenario, we have only one final authority for how we understand the Course, the authority of what Jesus put there on the page. In the current scenario, we have countless authorities. We have the authority of our own feelings and inner guidance, the authority of what works for us or fits with our experience. We have the authority of Course lore—things that everyone "knows" about the Course—and the authority of general spiritual wisdom. We have the authority of particular teachers who claim enlightenment, or channel Jesus, or talk to higher beings, or were present at the Course's beginning. In my opinion, we have too many chiefs, too many cooks. As a result, the real authority, Jesus himself, has to take his place in the crowd, as one tiny voice among many. Wouldn't it be nice to say to all these other authorities, whatever their status, "Thank you very much for that. Now let's test it against what's on the page"?

Fifth, this way would actually allow for broad agreement among us about the Course. Wouldn't that be wonderful? I believe that we are all hurting over the distressing lack of agreement about what the Course says and what the Course is. We may never actually feel so alone as when we are in a room full of other Course students. Yet there is a potential basis for broad and substantial agreement: We all have the same words on the page in front of us (with minor exceptions), and those words, read very carefully, really do point to one particular meaning. Wouldn't it be great if we collectively had our eyes on that page, so that we could collectively see—and agree on—that one meaning?

Sixth, identifying that one meaning, to an ever more full and accurate degree, could become a community-wide collaboration. The fact is that understanding the Course is far too big a job for any one person. We really need to pool our talents in a project that would span generations. Such collaboration would be possible because we would all be playing by the same rules—his rules. In this collaboration, countless individuals would contribute different pieces of a gigantic puzzle. No one's interpretations would be privileged just because they were that person's interpretations. Everyone's contributions would stand or fall by the simple yardstick of what's on the page. Can you imagine the Course community pervaded by this collegial, cooperative spirit? Isn't this vision of everyone contributing to an ongoing "collaborative venture" more attractive than the fragmented collection of little kingdoms that we have now?

I said earlier that one's approach to interpretation is the starting point for one's whole relationship with the Course. The same thing is true of Jesus' approach to interpretation. It could become a whole new starting point for us, individually and collectively. It could become the beginning of a whole new future for the Course. Everything we did with the Course, all the effects it had on us, all the effects it had on the world through us, could be different. Everything could be different.

Unfortunately, in its first thirty years, the Course has started off on a very different track. And once momentum has built down a certain track, it is not easy to switch tracks. Could our loose-knit Course community ever jump over to this new track? The choice, as always, is up to us.

20 Comments

  1. Mary Benton
    Posted July 24, 2012 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    Robert,

    In the light of your article "Interpretation and the Future of the Course" I would like to present an interpretation of Chapter 25, Section 6 : "The Special Function." (T-25.VI) including discussion of some other relevant passages in the Text.

    I have already suggested that students read Chapters 25 and 26 in order to understand what the Course means by the term "special function". On further consideration I would say that reading the whole Course is necessary for really understanding this subject. The Course is all one piece, a seamless web of meaning. Everything connects with everything else and must be understood in the light of everything else.

    To set the broad context for the discussion I will quote the following passage about the function of forgiveness:

    This is your part in bringing peace. For you have asked what is your function here, and have been answered. Seek not to change it, nor to substitute another goal. This one has been given you and only this. Accept this one and serve it willingly, for what the Holy Spirit does with gifts you give your brother, to whom He offers them and when, is up to Him. (T-22.VI.8 : 3-7)

    The immediate context in which "The Special Function" appears is Chapter 25. Throughout this chapter the subject is forgiveness, a change in perception from insanity to sanity, from attack to love and justice, from specialness to union. In particular, it is talking about our special relationships. Thus:

    You and your brother stand before Him now, to draw aside the veil that seems to keep you separate and apart. (T-25.I.4 : 6)

    It is talking about forgiveness:

    Forgive your brother, and you cannot separate yourself from him nor from his Father. (T-25.II.10 : 1)

    And about our function:

    …it is still your only function to behold in him what he sees not. (T-25.II. 8 : 7)

    These themes continue. In the last paragraph of Section 5 ("The State of Sinlessness") which immediately precedes Section 6 ("The Special Function"), we are still talking about forgiveness:

    In your forgiveness will you understand His love for you ; through attack believe He hates you …look once again upon your brother… (T-25.V.6 : 4-5)

    Section 6, "The Special Function" (T-25.VI) proceeds as follows:

    Paragraph 1 discusses forgiveness and healed perception. (T-25.VI.1)

    Paragraph 2 discusses the darkness that impedes the clarity of true perception. (T-25.VI.2)

    Paragraph 3 discusses the wish to see that brings the gift of light to our perception of our brother, thus releasing our function for each other:

    Would you behold your brother? God is glad to have you look on him. He does not will your savior be unrecognised by you. Nor does He will that he remain without the function that He gave to him. Let him no more be lonely, for the lonely ones are those who see no function in the world for them to fill ; no place where they are needed, and no aim which only they can perfectly fulfil. (T-25.VI.3 : 2-6)

    In this context Paragraph 4 speaks of the special function and the need we all have to find our special function and fulfil it. The last sentence in the paragraph reads:

    Nor is the plan complete until he finds his special function, and fulfils the part assigned to him, to make himself complete within a world where in completion rules. (T-25.VI.4 : 3)

    Paragraph 5 follows immediately with a conclusive statement:

    Here , where the laws of God do not prevail in perfect form, can he yet do one perfect thing and make one perfect choice. And by this act of special faithfulness to one perceived as other than himself, he learns the gift was given to himself, and so they must be one. Forgiveness is the only function meaningful in time. It is the means the Holy Spirit uses to translate specialness from sin into Salvation. (T-25.VI.5 : 1-4)

    This paragraph tells us point blank that the special function is actually forgiving someone, changing our perception of him, making a special choice in relation to him in an act of special faithfulness to him. The words on the page are very clear and seamlessly connected to the surrounding context. There is no ambiguity whatever. The special function is not something else, it is forgiveness. This is the crucial point.

    Paragraph 6 continues the theme of undoing specialness and thereby undoing the world of separation.

    Paragraph 7 ( the final paragraph in Section 6) closes with a powerful passage reinforcing the meaning of the special function already established:

    Only in darkness does you specialness appear to be attack. In light, you see it as your special function in the plan to save the Son of God from all attack and let him know that he is safe… This is the function given you for your brother. Take it gently, the, from your brother's hand, and let salvation be perfectly fulfilled in you. Do this one thing that everything be given you. (T-25.VI.7 : 6-10)

    So ends Section 6, "The Special Function". It clearly shows us that the special function is the nitty gritty of actually forgiving someone, seeing him sinless, seeing him as he really is. As we can see by now this is no small thing. In fact it stands at the heart of the Course. It is the central teaching of the Course around which everything revolves.

    Later sections in Chapter 25 continue the theme of the special function making clear the radical change in perception that is called for; literally a change from madness to sanity. (T-25.VII.8 :2)

    Chapter 26 continues the theme:

    Consider once again your special function. One is given you to see in him his perfect sinlessness. (T-26.II.6: 5-6)

    We learn what a big picture is involved:

    The miracle of justice you call forth will rest on you as surely as on him. Nor will the Holy Spirit be content until it is received by everyone. For what you give to Him is everyone's, and by your giving it can He ensure that everyone receives it equally. (T-26.II.6: 8-10)

    We begin to get a glimpse of the depth of healing Jesus is talking about, the healing resulting from our forgiveness of our brother:

    What seemed once to be a special problem, a mistake without a remedy, or an affliction without a cure, has been transformed Into a blessing. (T-26.II.7 : 5)

    These extraordinary statements, and many others like them, we need to ponder in the depths of our being so we can begin to understand what this Course is asking of us, and why. It is asking us to forgive. The whole picture is nothing less than the salvation of the world, much of which will be beyond our individual scope and understanding. We don't really know how our own tasks of forgiveness fit into the larger picture, but they will fit in, and will extend on the wings of the Holy Spirit through our own healed perception and through a myriad of people and situations we know nothing about.

    The essential thing is firstly to understand what the special function is. I can only recommend that every student read carefully the section "The Special Function", as well as taking note of its context. Ultimately its context is the whole Course, into which it fits perfectly. The Course is a unified thought system.

    In this article I have attempted to show what the Course means by the special function, so we can begin to understand what our part might be. It is likely to be in our lives right now. Are we willing to accept our part and live it? How do we find our special function? We find it when we are ready to forgive and be forgiven, to release and be released.

    See, then, the power of sinlessness within your brother, and share with him the power of release from sin you offered him. To each Who walks this earth in seeming solitude is a savior given, whose special function here is to release him, and so to free himself. In the World of separation each is appointed separately, although they are all the same. Yet those who know they are all the same need not Salvation. And each one finds his savior when he is ready to look upon the face of Christ, and see Him sinless. (T-20.IV.5 : 2-6)

    Mary Benton

  2. Michael
    Posted July 24, 2012 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    Robert,

    I could not agree more with your basic stance and conclusions regarding this matter.

    This particular issue really is critical. The Course itself is constantly reminding us to follow the Holy Spirit as our guide to salvation. We are also reminded not to try and devise our own plan of salvation apart from Him. It only requires a basic introduction to the material to begin to sense that the thoughts, perceptions and wisdom of the Spirit is quite alien to our own. So it becomes — in my humble opinion : ) — a matterof basic arrogance to start with the Course and then discard it's implicit guidance by a self-serving interpretation of the same. There will always be, unfortunately, those individuals who chose to be less than intellectually honest with themselves. And ever sadder, those who choose the deceptiveness of their own hearts over the truth of God. (I guess we all fall into that category to some extent don't we?)

    Yet the point I'm wanting to make is this:

    There must be somewhere, a somebody — or a whole group of somebodies — who refuse to make this mistake. Who refuse to devise there own "Course" and are willing to accept guidance (as delivered) from a higher source. There must be those who are in every way earnest for the hope of salvation and are willing to be led beyond the mere thoughts that their own mind would offer them. In my estimation — this can only be done by approaching Course interpretation in the manner and with the care that you have detailed in this article. Thank you for working to lay this foundation upon which those who seek something beyond ourselves can build.

    In all sincerity,
    Michael

  3. Anonymous
    Posted July 24, 2012 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    Robert,

    The Course is what it is. What it is is Truth.

    How one interprets the Course personally is a function of the Holy Spirit within that person — the one true Teacher.

    Any attempt to 'interpret' Truth will only bring illusion. Truth is Truth, and only Truth is true.

    Every 'individual' journey to the goal is bound to be different — based on an individual's specific need. Only one's internal Teacher is worthy to make those decisions.

    All roads lead to New York City. However, the journey will be decidedly different for each traveler, depending upon the travelers starting point. I cannot follow your road – and you cannot follow mine. There is no 'best' route. The 'best' route is the one that is best for you.

    The willingness to accept the Truth — all or parts of it at a given time — is not something that can be determined 'for' one, but must be accomplished 'by' one.

    The Course is, at its core, an individual map that serves for all, regardless of starting point. I believe that what you are trying to arrive at here is a 'one size fits all' interpretation. This cannot be, for an interpretation is just that — an interpretation. The Truth can only be interpreted when it still appears to contain illusion.

    Truth cannot BE interpreted. It is what it is. All that is necessary is that the mind open itself more and more, until Truth is realized. The speed at which this occurs must be determined by the mind itself, in conjunction with the Holy Spirit.

    Who would be the interpreter of the real meaning of the words for me? No one. Would you accept my interpretation? Or perhaps Wapnick's? Should any single person be asked to accept our joint interpretation? No indeed.

    In my humble opinion, I believe that any attempt to arrive at a generally accepted, universal interpretation of that which needs no interpretation is a dangerous path

  4. Mary Anne Buchowski
    Posted July 24, 2012 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    I can't even begin to express my gratitude for your recent article, "Interpretation and the Future of the Course" and how deeply moved I was by it.

    It corrects the mistaken perception that anyone who seeks to really know how Jesus wants us to interpret his teachings is being "holier than thou" and divisive, sowing seeds of separation in the Course world.

    This is not about one person trying to be right, to be the authority; it's about wanting to be faithful to Jesus and how he wants us to interpret and live his teachings. It's about letting him be the authority! I can't imagine Jesus ever saying, "Okay, guys, I'm leaving now. Here are my teachings; see them however you want; do with them whatever you want."

    I have had my own share of issues with authority, and even used to pride myself on upholding the slogan "Question Authority," but Jesus is one authority I don't want to question. How can anyone but he be the final authority on his teachings? Why would I think that I know better or claim the right to be my own authority on them? Why would I think that such and such a person knows better, even if he or she claims to?

    Perhaps this is not really about denying the authority of any one worldly Course teacher, but about denying the authority of the author of the Course! Even as we purport to be following Jesus' teachings, perhaps we are subtly resisting them by refusing to accept their one meaning. Perhaps encouraging all of these different meanings and interpretations of Jesus' teachings is just the ego's way of making sure we don't really get what Jesus is teaching. Perhaps it's just the ego, "quick to cite the truth to save its lies" (W-pI.196.2:2). After all its "life" is at stake! Perhaps the apparent divisiveness in the Course world is just the ego's way to ensure separation, thus "proving" that there can't even be oneness among Course students. "You see; how can these teachings be true if even the students of those teachings can't get together on them?! I told you you'd be better off following my teachings."

    The last part of your article brought tears to my eyes, Robert. Your desire for accepting Jesus as the one authority on his own teachings and for a "community-wide collaboration" to find his one meaning speaks to a deep yearning in me. I am so glad that Jesus loves us so much that he came back to set the record straight. We got it wrong the last time, both by yielding to a worldly authority (the Church) and by splintering off into different groups, and I yearn for us to get it right this time around.

    Your article for me–and for others, I hope–is a clear call to join in common purpose, to rally behind Jesus, and take a stand for truth–the truth he is trying to teach us, not our own individual "truths." Thank you so much, Robert, for sounding this call. My prayer is that it is heard and answered.

    • Robert Pery
      Posted July 24, 2012 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

      Mary Anne,

      Thank you so much for your heartfelt words. I'm glad you brought out what you did at the end. People don't realize that as long as we are each interpreting according to our own rules, each of us, to some extent, will be an island unto ourselves. It's only when we answer to a common set of data (the words of the Course) interpreted according to common rules, that we can actually join in a common endeavor around this path. I know this can work because, as you know, the Circle has always operated on this principle. We have had a number of teachers and writers here-myself, Allen, Greg, Nicola, you-from various parts of the country and the world. And, as you also know, what has knitted us together has not been a common bending to my interpretation. My opinions don't actually count for all that much around here. I have to support them just like anyone else. What has knit us together is a common devotion to what is there on the page. That really does provide a basis for us to come together. And that can happen with five people or with five thousand or five million.

  5. Loretta
    Posted July 24, 2012 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    I think you're right on regarding interpretation. "Cranking out a careful inter­pretation the old-fashioned way," carefully reading and rereading, watching for relative and nearby clues, and best of all, listening to Jesus' thoughts as opposed to our own, all adds up to "interpretation" that is meaningful and spiritually salutary.

    I say if we're not doing this it's because we're lazy. It's much easier not to study and accept someone else's "interpretation" as our own. However, as teachers of God, I for one think we are called to study…not jump to popular or even unpopular conclusions….study, pray, study, ask questions, "pool our thinking," after all, isn't this every teacher's responsibility?

    Loretta

    • Robert
      Posted July 24, 2012 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

      Loretta,

      You're right. There is no shortage of laziness among spiritual students. By temperament, I am actually pretty lazy. I think what happens, though, is that any laziness we come in with tends to be supported by today's spiritual marketplace, which, like the commercials on TV, tends to tell us that we can have it all without any work, or that if we are working, it's a sign that we just don't get it.

  6. Janet
    Posted July 24, 2012 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    I found your article "Interpretation and the Future of the Course" to be helpful in several ways. First, it listed some of the bizarre perspectives on Course interpretation. Secondly, you provided us with a list of some statements from the Course about interpretation and the meaning of words. Perhaps the most significant of these is "I have made every effort to use words that are almost impossible to distort, but it is always possible to twist symbols around if you wish" (T-3.I.3:11). Finally, you offer some suggestions, and it is to this part that I would direct the bulk of my comments.

    My husband Robert and I discussed this article at length. These comments include input from Robert, a philosopher of religion and author of the Course-based book God, Self, and Evil: A Miracle Theodicy. My input is based on my work as an elementary school teacher with focus on reading instruction.

    Interpretation is a cognitive activity that should be preceded by comprehension. It appears to me that many students of the Course are struggling with reading comprehension. Rather than acknowledging and overcoming their limitations in reading, they turn to the bizarre perspectives you listed. They can read the words on the page. The vocabulary is not advanced. But the concepts are abstract. Often the only way to understand is to finish reading the entire Course. Multiple readings of the entire Course are helpful. At other times, some prior knowledge needs to be brought to the text. Considering the errors I have observed, I offer the following partial list of strategies.

    Knowing the etymology of words enables comprehension. Knowing word origins facilitates understanding by directing the reader to the literal meanings of words. In the Course Jesus refers to the etymological meaning of transferred in T-5.I.6:5-6. "Perception is not knowledge, but it can be transferred to knowledge, or cross over into it. It might be even more helpful here to use the literal meaning of transferred, or 'carried over,' since the last step is taken by God."

    Knowing the literal or etymological meaning is not enough. The reader must also be aware of the specific referent for which the author uses the term in question. For example, Jesus uses mind "to represent the activating agent of spirit, supplying its creative energy" (C-1.1:1). The word you needs particular attention. The distinction between "you who identify with the ego," "you who see your brother sinless," and "you as God created you" needs to be understood. In other words, the referent may change with the context.

    Recognizing the author's purpose is an ability that some students seem to lack. Whether this is due to lack of ability or lack of willingness, I cannot say. Jesus' purpose includes providing us with a curriculum that has a unified goal. We are studying a unified thought system. Sometimes students take a sentence that was meaningful in one context and apply it to many others, as if the author's purpose is to give us a series of proverbs or aphorisms. The statements "…forget this course…" (W-pI.189.7:5) and "Trust not your good intentions" (T-18.4.2:1) are just two examples.

    In conclusion, while I agree rereading carefully and getting clues from surrounding sentences are helpful suggestions, rereading often needs to be done with the mindful application of reading comprehension strategies.

    Janet

    • Robert
      Posted July 24, 2012 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

      Janet,

      Thank you for this. I agree that reading comprehension methods would be a huge help. I often find myself looking up words in the dictionary, or watching their meanings flex as they appear in different contexts in the Course. I think at the base of this issue is the fact that the Course, as works of English go, is not an easy read. It does take work, lots of work, including lots of rereading, as well as lots of forming and testing (and discarding) of hypotheses. When standing before such a daunting task, I think we tend to take the easy path, as you say, and turn to bizarre, almost magical solutions for unlocking the meaning, solutions that are essentially substitutes for plain old mental elbow grease.

  7. Greg
    Posted July 24, 2012 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    When it comes to interpreting the Course, what difference does it make whether or not a student believes the Source is Jesus? I am well aware of the many statements and remarks, primarily in the Text, which either directly say or simply imply that Jesus "dictated" (channeled) the work to Helen Schucman. But for me, that belief, held or not is, overall, irrelevant. This doesn't mean that I'm not interested in the topic of authorship, but it does mean that when it comes to interpretation of the Course, who wrote it is a moot issue for me.

    I've just read George E. Fandt's book Beyond Christianity to the Christ. In Chapter 6 ("Spiritual Libraries"), as well as in other places, Mr. Fandt discusses the Course. In this chapter he makes some very good observations about the significance of the belief that Jesus is the author of the Course. He is quite blunt when he says, "I believe the course suffers because there are those who attribute its authorship directly to Jesus." I find myself quite in agreement with his arguments against believing in its literal authorship by Jesus. But again, believed or not, I fail to see the importance of this belief with respect to learning what the Course has to teach.

    Curiously, I believe I learned about Mr. Fandt's book on Circle's website. If so, then I would assume that you have read the work. And if you haven't, you may want to read Chapter 6 at a minimum.

    This brief message does not give adequate explanation of my position on the topic. So let me add one more observation from Mr. Fandt's book that I think makes the point of my concern about authorship very well indeed:

    …when conveying truth through personality, the channeler behaves as a stained glass window, contributing its own colors. A great deal of [channeled material] is attributed to an external authority or source and is presented as if the consciousness of the individual channels were not involved; however, I believe there is no such thing as an ego functioning as a perfectly clear channel. (p. 181)

    Thank you for initiating this lively discussion. I will continue to follow it in forthcoming issues of A Better Way.

    • Robert
      Posted July 24, 2012 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

      Greg,

      I think it does make a difference if you believe the source is Jesus. Of course it does. Imagine you are learning guitar, and in one scenario your teacher is Andrés Segovia and in the other it's the amateur guitarist from next door. Even if they are taking you through the same material, you will approach their teaching quite differently and experience it differently. That's not to say that the author of the Course really is Jesus (a difficult thing to establish). It's just to say that we can't sidestep that issue by saying it doesn't matter. And we also can't sidestep it by saying that the channel always colors things. Maybe in this case the channel didn't, or did so very minimally.

      But all of this is really beside the point of my article. The main point of my article is that how we interpret the Course matters, and that we should interpret it in the way that the author thought we should. You could go through my article and every time I say "Jesus" substitute "the author," and the same points would be made. Whoever the author really was, surely if we are following his course as our guide, then we should interpret it in the way he suggested. That's really all I'm arguing for.

  8. Steve
    Posted July 24, 2012 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    Just finished reading A Better Way #78, "Interpretation and the Future of the Course." Loved your observations, such as that we currently have so many "chiefs/cooks" that Jesus' voice is in danger of being lost in the crowd. Also where you pointed out how Jesus, during the scribing process, frequently corrected "innocent" attempts to "muddy" a passage's meaning, by firmly steering it to a single meaning-his intended meaning, sometimes over Helen's recurring protestations that Jesus was thereby being "judgmental." (Accuracy and clarity don't leave our protesting egos any of the interpretive "wiggle-room" they thrive on!)

    Another of your comments that really hit home for me was where you said, "I believe we are all hurting over the distressing lack of agreement about what the Course says…We may never actually feel so alone as when we are in a room full of other Course students." Extremely poignant.

    And I strongly feel that whenever we actually chronically discourage discussion and courteous disagreement amongst ourselves, it serves only to "protect," not truth, but beliefs we inwardly know run counter to the Course. Otherwise, why not be willing to first be mutual "good listeners," followed by faithfully consulting the Course for answers to questions raised? Otherwise, so akin to, say, a student enamored of the school's "uniform," but who dislikes getting his/her "answers" from the assigned textbook!

    I loved Amy Speach's feedback. "This isn't about getting to a state of inner peace so I can go around being blissful in the midst of all the suffering…. If a bunch of us are wandering around calling ourselves Course students…coming across….as self-absorbed, flakey, and out-of-touch…if we are withdrawing from the suffering…and the world's problems…we actually serve as barriers to it [the Course.] We add to the problem, in ways that could be devastating…" Bravo, Amy! I don't think I've ever heard it put any better, and wish your response was a "must-read" for all Course students.

    Certainly, the sooner we get over our misapprehension that concern for "correct interpretation" is judgmental in the negative sense (attempting to "judge" the "reality/worthiness" of God's children), the sooner the Course community as a whole will hopefully prioritize seeking only Jesus' intended meaning for his course. A hurting world awaits our doing nothing short of that as our starting point.

    • Robert
      Posted July 24, 2012 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

      Steven,

      I appreciated a number of the points you made. I especially appreciated you pointing out how we tend to discourage the interpretive act itself. We view the discernment involved as judgmental, or the discussion and disagreement involved as combative and unspiritual. That has always struck me as odd. At that point, you are wrong no matter what interpretation you arrive at, even if you arrive at the right one. You are wrong simply because you are trying to find the right interpretation and emphasizing the importance of the right interpretation. At that point, as you imply (and as Mary Anne said earlier), it's as if the enemy we are defending against here is that right interpretation. It's as if that is the threat that we have to keep away. What a strange perspective. I actually plan to explore this very point more fully in the next issue. So I'll hold my tongue until then.

  9. Joyce
    Posted July 24, 2012 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    Ever since I was introduced to ACIM in 1983 I have had the privilege of being on my own with my studies of it. I didn't have a "teacher." I began teaching it in 1985 due to being asked by my Yoga students-they wanted a way to live the kind of life which I led and although I didn't consider myself a teacher of the Course I followed its guidance by doing what was asked of me by my brother. This gave me the impetus to take time out of my life to dedicate myself to studying what was on the page. It meant reading and rereading over and over again-my mind would switch off, I would fall asleep, I'd need to wash the windows, but reread I did and still do. I still do, not to reinterpret or reach another level, but merely to remind myself of the thoughts that I know I want to have when I seem to get caught up in the ego's thoughts. I need to remind myself of the Course's central teaching of innocence and forgiveness.

    I absolutely trust Jesus words, and trust that HS will correct my mistaken thoughts. It's all there in ACIM. How could I possibly try to interpret it from my wonky mind? If I'm having a challenge and am not at peace, its because of my wonky thinking. If I had the answers in my wonky mind I wouldn't need ACIM. I do have the answers, but they were so blocked by all of my metaphysical and theological conditioning that my time was spent in conflict. I decided to give up all my previous understanding of what things meant and brought them under the auspices of ACIM.

    My single-pointed stance has brought challenges-some of my group members don't like it. However, Truth, or the right-minded road to Truth, can not be harmed by challenge. My only function is to love those who want to deny what "it" says on the page, and see their innocence. I have no reason to enter into their "debate" and I continue the process of forgiveness which is at the heart of ACIM. I just keep suggesting that they might want to read or reread the book. I could never have understood ACIM without reading and rereading, and doing exactly as it requests. I needed to humble myself-confess that I didn't know how to find the peace, joy, and the light that I so knew was what I wanted to return to. Giving up my own thoughts was not easy, but absolutely necessary, so I understand the reluctance of those who want to hang onto their thoughts. My compassion for them emphasizes my compassion for myself, and allows me to forgive myself more easily all of my own misthoughts and need for self importance and separation.

    When forgiveness becomes a habit it takes on a naturalness which is very unlike the conflict of the past. The option to "not forgive" is just such a waste of time and denies the peace of God.

    ACIM has allowed me a happiness which had eluded me-but I had to want to be what it promised me, then do what it asked me to do, in order to have what it promised me.

    So thank you Robert for your article. I relate and concur.

    • Robert
      Posted July 24, 2012 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

      Joyce,

      As you know, I fully agree with the need to read and reread and stick with what's on the page. However, on the other hand, I find that I need to combine that with a constant openness to what's there but what I haven't seen yet. I think it's vital to assume that even if we are being true to what's on the page, there is so much of his vision that still eludes us, even on that very page. I feel that the Course is full of undiscovered treasure, treasure that is standing right in front of us, if we have eyes to see. So when I read, I tend to keep my wonky mind busy, looking for the treasures I haven't yet discovered, the ones that are hiding in plain sight, if I will only pay attention to the clues.

  10. Margret
    Posted July 24, 2012 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    I have been wanting to write to you for some time about the boomeritis quiz ("Miracles Boomeritis Quiz," A Better Way #77), but either found myself with some time but without my quiz results, or had my quiz results but no time to write. Now, finally, I am taking the time, and I have my results with me.

    In general, I found the newsletter took me a long time to read and digest. I must admit, I think that I am still trying to determine that if the way I am living or following now with my life is truly the way appointed me. It isn't meant for us all to be Mother Teresa, is it? I mean that perhaps our own Westernized middle class life, with its seemingly "normal" challenges is the "appointed way," and we need to just focus on the Course's messages through living it, with our brothers that we encounter. At least until I get a better awareness, that is what I am doing. I would appreciate any thoughts you or Greg Mackie (who actually contributed this-and I understand is a marathon runner) might have on this approach.

    Now, to the boomeritis quiz. I scored a 12. Half of those points came from questions 29 ("Any time we start talking about differences and disagreements, we are in ego. The truth sees no differences, only oneness") and 31 ("Only the ego wants to be right, and only the ego calls something wrong. Spirit is beyond such distinctions, which of course are just judgments") alone, which I found interesting, as they all relate to the ego. This, then gives me the opportunity to be aware of these perceptions, and to take further steps to work on keeping/getting boomeritis out of my study. Thank you for the quiz, it is now and can for the future give me a good checklist of sorts to evaluate my level of boomeritis, as time and my study progresses.

    • Greg Mackie
      Posted July 24, 2012 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

      Margaret,

      Thanks for your comments in the boomeritis quiz. I wanted to address your question about the "appointed way," which I'm guessing comes from my recent articles about finding our part in God's plan for salvation. I think that on the level of content we are all called to be like Mother Teresa (though this will take time and practice, of course). On the level of form, it is such an individual matter; everyone's particular function is different, and stepping into it is an ongoing process. I'm still learning more about mine every day.

      I think that to find our "appointed way," our special function in God's plan for salvation, we need to do two main things: 1) Devote ourselves to daily walking the Course's path as Jesus laid it out. This is the foundation for whatever function we have. 2) Continually ask for guidance about our function, and move in whatever direction we feel we are led, trusting that more will be revealed as we progress. I do think that for many of us, our special function will be in the context of a "Westernized middle class life." Mine certainly is. Yet at the same time, I believe that many of us will be called to be far more actively helpful to others than we have been so far. Jesus really wants us to be miracle workers. But the form will certainly vary from person to person, and we really need to tune in to our guidance to find out what it is.

  11. Prem Prakash
    Posted July 21, 2014 at 7:38 am | Permalink

    Greetings all,
    I am coming a bit late to this discussion. I very, very much enjoyed your writing, Robert. Thank you. I’ve been a student of the Course for close to 30 years now. I’ve found it’s highly unlikely that I am not interpreting the Course based on my own limitations, on my efforts to deny what it is saying. For me, a helpful attitude to everything about the Course is, “How the hell would I know?”

    I think Jesus wrote the Course, I think it is helping me, I think it is taking me home. But I have been so wrong about so many things in this life, I could be wrong again. Besides, how could I, in my current state, possibly understand or evaluate something as sublime as the Course?

    Interestingly, this attitude is far from depressing. It seems to help me “hang loose,” and, on a good day, stay open to learning, rather than defending what I think I already know.

    Thanks, again, Robert, for you extraordinary work with COA.

  12. Nicci Barker
    Posted July 21, 2014 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    over the years, as i have continued to study the text while working with the workbook and the day to day and moment to moment practice of forgiveness (which undergoes constant deepening), there has seemed to be an ongoing deepened understanding of Jesus’ teachings in the Course.

    interestingly, as this has been happening, something else has arisen: i am experiencing something that feels less like understanding, and more like an undoing of misunderstanding ~ layer upon layer, a letting go of needing to understand ~ a shift away from cognitive acquisition and toward a quiet trust in the Course Voice, and an inner relationship with It (which presents for me as Jesus). i am spending more time in present moment awareness, the Holy Instant, and relying on the Guidance i find there: as i am reading the text, practicing a lesson, studying the writings of a Course teacher, washing the dishes. it seems that my steps along this path are quickening as a result…i am experiencing more peace and availability to my brothers. there is less fear based grasping thoughts; Love is more accessible.

    when i am in the company of my friends who are studying the Course, most of the time the interest is in discussion of interpretation. i’m in there for that, and as a result often go away with a deepened commitment and strengthened perseverance, for which i am grateful. but i find myself yearning more for a sharing of how this path is impacting my brother’s and sister’s experience in their day to day lives. always and ever, looking for Christ’s face behind the veil. thank you all for your thoughtful sharings.

    endless Love, nicci

  13. Sara Follett
    Posted July 21, 2014 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

    This is a favorite subject of mine. I try to live by the article in The Holy Encounter of May/June, 2008, by Roger Walsh. ( He is a psychiatrist who authored 3 books on Course Quotes.) I have saved the article as a PDF but I don’t think I can put that on here. ( I would like to email the PDF to Robert Perry, if possible.) There are 7 principles: The first one: . All understandings of the Course reflect interpretations. All our perceptions and understandings are tinged by subjective interpretations. . 4th principle: Reality is difficult and probably impossible to understand.
    I can’t do justice here to the 3 page article which addresses many of the issues here. Where can I send the PDF ?
    Sara Follett aka Sally

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