Artistic Techniques Used in A Course in Miracles

by Greg Mackie

(Note: This article is a companion piece to my two-part series of articles on the Course as a work of art: Appreciating the Masterpiece, Part 1 and Appreciating the Masterpiece, Part 2.)

The Course uses numerous artistic techniques to bring greater impact to its message. Specifically, since it is a book, it uses techniques drawn from literature and poetry (sometimes adapting the techniques of music). Here are just a few of the many techniques the Course uses, with examples:

Alliteration: The recurrence of initial consonant sounds (which I have underlined in the examples). (Note: In addition to the repeating "d" sounds I have underlined in the second example, this example also uses alliteration with "w" and "l"):

The hush of heaven holds my heart today. (W-pII.286.Heading)

[Death] holds an image of the Son of God in which he is "laid to rest" in devastation's arms, where worms wait to greet him and to last a little while by his destruction. Yet the worms as well are doomed to be destroyed as certainly. And so do all things live because of death. Devouring is nature's "law of life." (M-27.3:4-7)

Allusion: A brief, passing reference to something the reader is expected to be familiar with. The Course alludes most often to the Bible, but also alludes to other familiar cultural symbols, and quite frequently to itself. Like leitmotifs (see below), allusions call to mind something we have seen before, and bring to mind the entire web of meaning associated with that thing. When the Course uses allusions, it often adds a twist that is uniquely its own, a twist that makes its point. In the first example here, the allusion is to the Bible (Matt. 5:29); in the second, to a well-known tombstone inscription:

If you perceive offense in a brother pluck the offense from your mind, for you are offended by Christ and are deceived in Him. (T-11.VIII.12:1)

"Rest in peace" is a blessing for the living, not the dead, because rest comes from waking, not from sleeping. (T-8.IX.3:5)

Iambic pentameter: The most common poetic meter in English-language poetry, used in large portions of the Course (including the entire Workbook from Lesson 99 on). It consists of ten-syllable lines, each line with five "feet" of two syllables each, with the accent on the second syllable. Thus: "I loose · the world · from all · I thought · it was" (W-pI.132.Heading).

To get a feel for the musical quality of the Course's iambic pentameter, it can be helpful to break up sentences into ten-syllable lines, as in this example:

Let us be glad that we can walk the world
And find so many chances to perceive
Another situation where God's gift
Can once again be recognized as ours! (T-31.VIII.9:1)

Note: Breaking up sentences into iambic pentameter is also a great aid in memorizing passages for use in Course practice.

Imagery: The use of words that paint a vivid, concrete picture, an image. The Course presents many of its abstract ideas in the form of emotionally charged, even humorous images:

See how life springs up everywhere! The desert becomes a garden, green and deep and quiet, offering rest to those who lost their way and wander in the dust. (T-18.VIII.9:2-3)

Can you paint rosy lips upon a skeleton, dress it in loveliness, pet it and pamper it, and make it live? (T-23.II.18:8)

Leitmotif: As used by the German opera composer Richard Wagner, leitmotifs are short musical phrases that symbolically represent characters, objects, emotions, situations, and ideas. The Course uses leitmotifs as well—only instead of a musical phrase, the Course will use a short verbal phrase, which, as in Wagner's operas, brings to mind the thing it represents, and all the layers of meaning associated with that thing, each time the phrase is repeated. (Note: in the Course, leitmotifs are not always repeated word-for-word, but may appear in slightly altered form, or as close synonyms that express the same idea). Examples of leitmotifs in the Course include "the fear of God," "the veil before the face of Christ," "reason would tell you…," "the little gap," and "the memory of God."

Metaphor: A figure of speech in which one thing is imaginatively identified with another (compare with "simile" below) in order to suggest an analogy or comparison between the two things. One of these two things is the idea being expressed (also called the tenor), and the other is the image used to convey the idea (also called the vehicle). The image acts as a metaphor for the idea; sometimes the image will then become a symbol for the idea (see "symbol" below). In this example, a stage magician's magic trick (the image) acts as a metaphor for time (the idea):

Time is a trick, a sleight of hand, a vast illusion in which figures come and go as if by magic. (W-pI.158.4:1)

Note: The term "metaphor" can also be used more broadly to refer to figurative language in general. In this sense, "metaphor" or "metaphorical" is the opposite of "literal."

Personification: Imaginatively giving personal, human attributes to an impersonal entity, object, or idea. The most prominent example of this in the Course is the personification of the ego, which is often described in vivid, personal terms, but in fact is only an idea in the mind. Here are two more examples, in which fear and death are personified, respectively:

Fear's messengers are trained through terror, and they tremble when their master calls on them to serve him….Its messengers steal guiltily away in hungry search of guilt, for they are kept cold and starving and made very vicious by their master, who allows them to feast only upon what they return to him. (T-19.IV(A).12:3,5)

For [death] seems to hold all living things within its withered hand; all hopes and wishes in its blighting grasp; all goals perceived but in its sightless eyes. (W-pI.163.2:2)

Rhyme: The Course does not use rhyme often, but does so on occasion:

I am not a body. I am free.
For I am still as God created me.
(First occurrence, W-pI.rVI.In.3:3-5)

I thank you, Father, for these holy ones
Who are my brothers as they are Your Sons. (T-31.VIII.10:1), (line break mine)

Simile: A figure of speech in which one thing is said to be like another (compare with "metaphor" above):

Atonement stands between [the future and the past], like a lamp shining so brightly that the chain of darkness in which you bound yourself will disappear. (T-13.IX.1:8)

Symbolism: Using one thing to stand for or represent another. Many of the Course's images are symbols that represent ideas the Course is trying to convey. This generally takes the form of metaphor or simile. For example, the image of God's loving Arms symbolizes His everlasting love and protection. Other symbols in the Course (and the things they symbolize) include: the face of Christ (the innocence and holiness in all things); thorns and lilies (condemnation/crucifixion and forgiveness/resurrection); and the inner altar (the place in our minds which contains what we are devoted to and worship).

Wordplay: Finally, the Course makes use of plays on words, often with humorous effect. Here are a couple of my favorites (notice that the first one is also a Biblical allusion):

Remember that "yoke" means "join together," and "burden" means "message." Let us restate "My yoke is easy and my burden light" in this way; "Let us join together, for my message is light." (T-5.II.11:3-4)

The case [you have built against yourself] may be fool-proof, but it is not God-proof. (T-5.VI.10:6)

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  • […] people have found the literary style of A Course in Miracles worthy of investigation.  This post by Greg Mackie is a notable instance of this.  The style element I recall the most is the use of iambic pentameter, or “da-Da da-Da da-Da […]

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