If you would know your prayers are answered, never doubt a Son of God. Do not question him and do not confound him, for your faith in him is your faith in yourself. If you would know God and His Answer, believe in me whose faith in you cannot be shaken. Can you ask of the Holy Spirit truly, and doubt your brother? Believe his words are true because of the truth that is in him. You will unite with the truth in him, and his words will be true. As you hear him you will hear me. Listening to truth is the only way you can hear it now, and finally know it.
The message your brother gives you is up to you. What does he say to you? What would you have him say? Your decision about him determines the message you receive. Remember that the Holy Spirit is in him, and His Voice speaks to you through him. What can so holy a brother tell you except truth? But are you listening to it? Your brother may not know who he is, but there is a light in his mind that does know. This light can shine into yours, giving truth to his words and making you able to hear them. His words are the Holy Spirit's answer to you. Is your faith in him strong enough to let you hear? (T-9.II.4:1-5:11)
These paragraphs have always puzzled me. I have studied them and taught them, but I'm not sure I have ever truly understood them. Are they saying that I should believe any old crazy thing my brother says? Or are they saying that my faith, if strong enough, can turn my brother into some sort of oracle, whose eyes will roll back in his head as he channels the Holy Spirit and answers all my questions?
Recently, someone just as puzzled as myself wrote to me, asking for clarification of these paragraphs, and while responding to him I had an insight, which I'd like to share with you. What I realized was that, in the early dictation of the Course, Jesus would often interpret other people's words in ways that were strikingly reminiscent of what these paragraphs are talking about. Suddenly, in light of those examples, these paragraphs made sense to me.
Let me first just outline the process that seems to be sketched in these puzzling paragraphs, and then I'll go through the examples.
First, you don't doubt a brother. You don't question him. Rather, you decide that he is a Son of God who deserves your faith rather than your doubts. This, however, does not mean you have faith that he will always do the right thing. It means that you have faith in his essential goodness, no matter what he may do behaviorally.
Second, your faith in him allows you to hear the Holy Spirit speaking through his words. This, of course, is the puzzling part. What does that mean? I have to believe that what you are hearing is probably not the surface meaning of his words. I assume that your faith illumines a hidden element in his words, something perhaps between the lines, which comes from the Holy Spirit within him. Just as your faith tunes you into his beneath-the-surface identity as God's Son, so it also tunes you into the beneath-the-surface meaning in his words.
Yet how does this happen? How do you hear something in his words that is not what he consciously intends? And are you just making it up if you do?
The sense I get from these paragraphs is that, for this to work, the Holy Spirit has to be on both the sending side and the receiving side. First, the Holy Spirit is in your brother's mind, expressing His message as a hidden presence in your brother's words, a message that your brother probably isn't aware of. We have all had the experience of sensing in the words of others hidden attitudes and feelings that they themselves may not know about. This is just another version of that same idea. Rather than someone's words subtly revealing their own unconscious feelings, they are subtly conveying the Holy Spirit's unconscious wisdom.
Second, your faith in the Holy Spirit in your brother's mind will allow that Spirit to "shine into yours" and there play the role of decoder. He will become the interpreter in your mind that reveals to you the hidden truth that He placed in your brother's words.
This process of believing in the Holy Spirit in your brother and then hearing the Holy Spirit speak to you through your brother is, according to this section, how your prayers are answered.
That, I think, is the gist of these two paragraphs. But what does this look like? Without specific examples, the whole thing can seem hopelessly vague and can remain quite puzzling. This is where those examples from the early Course dictation come in. In those early months, Jesus commented on all sorts of things, from things that Helen and Bill said and did to psychology, mathematics, and even cryogenics. And, as I said, several comments he made look suspiciously like examples of the ideas we have just discussed. In those comments, Jesus would hear something in what someone expressed that seemed to go well beyond what that person consciously intended to say. I'll now go through those examples, all but the last of which I have drawn from the Urtext, the original typescript of the Course.
A holy Freudian slip
(Tell B. that his slip about (rivet) should be noted. Some slips reach consciousness from the un-Christ-controlled subconscious, and betray lack of love.)
But others (slips) come from the superconscious, which is in communion with God, and which can also break into consciousness.
His slip (rivet) was an expression of a Soul gaining enough strength to request freedom from prison. It will ultimately demand it.
Here, Bill has made a slip of the tongue, saying "rivet" instead of whatever he wanted to say (and, unfortunately, we don't know what that was). Jesus latches onto this slip, seeing it as what we might call a "holy Freudian slip." Rather than expressing Bill's hidden darkness (which is how we often think of Freudian slips), it expresses his soul's hidden yearning for freedom. Like a true Freudian, Jesus is seeing unconscious meaning in Bill's slip, yet unlike Freud, he sees that meaning coming from the spiritual element in Bill. This idea that Bill's soul is "slipping" through in his speech is not so different from our two puzzling paragraphs talking about the Holy Spirit coming through in one's speech.
Bill not understanding his own vital contribution
Bill, who has made a number of vital contributions to our joint venture, made a major one a while ago, which he himself did not appreciate or even understand. If we recognize its value together, we will be able to use it together, because it is an idea, and must therefore be shared to be held.
When Bill said that he was determined "not to see you that way," he was speaking negatively. If he will state the same idea positively, he will see the power of what he said.
Here Bill said that he was determined "not to see [Helen] that way." Jesus says that Bill "did not appreciate or even understand" what a vital contribution this was. He says that if Bill would just phrase it in the positive—"I'm determined to see her in God's way"—he would "see the power of what he said." So Bill's words contained this vital contribution to their joint venture, yet Bill did not even understand that contribution. You get the feeling that Bill's statement was a case of some deep spiritual awareness bubbling to the surface in his mind, an awareness that he voiced but did not fully grasp. It was left to Jesus to hear the Holy Spirit speaking through him.
Cervantes not understanding the real point of his own book
Destroying the devil is a meaningless undertaking. Cervantes wrote an excellent symbolic account of this procedure [Don Quixote], though he did not understand his own symbolism. The real point of his writing was that his "hero" was a man who perceived himself as unworthy because he identified with his ego and perceived its weakness. He then set about to alter his perception, not by correcting his misidentification, but by behaving egotistically.
Jesus is saying that Cervantes didn't understand the real meaning of his own symbolism. That's a pretty gutsy claim, but let's give him the benefit of the doubt and look at what he means. Don Quixote, according to Jesus, was a negative symbol, an example of a man who identified with his ego and as a result perceived himself as weak and unworthy. But then he tried to correct this perception, not by letting go of his ego, but by puffing up his ego, by playing the hero, by going out and battling evil—"destroying the devil." Yet it was all just fantasy. The giants he fought were just windmills. The whole enterprise was in vain. And this was the real point of the story, Jesus says, that all of our attempts to solve the ego's weakness by puffing it up are just acts of fantasy, the vain attempts of someone who has lost his mental balance.
What strikes me about this is that the symbolism really works. Seen in this way, Don Quixote becomes a great symbol for the Course's teaching about the foolish journeys our ego undertakes as it vainly tries to solve the problems it creates. Maybe this was the message the Holy Spirit was whispering into Cervantes' ear. Maybe this was the real inspiration behind Don Quixote, and Cervantes just didn't hear it clearly enough.
The childish superstition that started out as something profound
NOTE: The very old Jewish practice of changing the name of a person who is very ill, so that when the list is given to the Angel of Death, the person with that name will not be found.
This is a good example of the curiously literal regression which can occur in very bright people when they become afraid….
Actually, the Jewish superstition about changing the names was a distortion of a revelation about how to alter or avert death. What the revelation's proper content was that those "who change their mind" (not name) about destruction (or hate) do not need to die. Death is a human affirmation of a belief in hate.
Here, Jesus remarks on an old Jewish superstition that if you change someone's name, the Angel of Death will not be able to locate him and so cannot carry him off to the land of the dead. Like most superstitions, this one is based on some very simple-minded, childish thinking. Jesus basically says as much, calling it a "curiously literal regression."
Yet Jesus goes on to say that it was actually a distortion of a true inspiration, which was that "those 'who change their mind' (not name) about destruction (or hate) do not need to die." The superstition said that if you change your name, the Angel of Death can't find you. But the original inspiration from the Holy Spirit said that if you change your mind, the principle of death cannot find a home in you. That's not childish at all. It is actually kind of profound.
The idea that this "was a distortion of a revelation" is important. It says that the superstition originated from the Holy Spirit. It started out pure. But by the time it came out, it had been warped into something else. Now it was this simple-minded superstition, this "curiously literal regression." It makes you wonder how many childish statements are actually distortions of true revelations.
Biblical writers not understanding their own writings
We can see the same principle operating when Jesus interprets biblical passages in the Course:
"Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord" is easily reinterpreted if you remember that ideas increase only by being shared. The statement emphasizes that vengeance cannot be shared. Give it therefore to the Holy Spirit, Who will undo it in you because it does not belong in your mind, which is part of God.
"I will visit the sins of the fathers unto the third and fourth generation," as interpreted by the ego, is particularly vicious. It becomes merely an attempt to guarantee the ego's own survival. Actually, all it really means is that the Holy Spirit in later generations retains the power to interpret correctly what former generations have thought, and thus release their thoughts from the ability to produce fear anywhere in the Sonship. (T-5.VI.7:1-8:3; last sentence is the Urtext version)
Obviously, what "Vengeance is mine" originally meant was, "Don't take vengeance on your brothers. Leave it to Me. I'll make sure they get theirs." But Jesus sees a purer, higher meaning there. Now it means, "Don't take vengeance on your brothers. Give the idea of vengeance to Me, and I'll undo it for you, for an unholy idea like that does not belong in your holy mind."
Likewise, "I will visit the sins of the father unto the third and fourth generation" meant just what it says. Yet again Jesus sees a higher meaning there. His interpretation implies that those sins of the fathers, left uncorrected, will trickle down and continue to do harm in future generations. However, even in those later generations, the Holy Spirit still has the power to visit them and correct them, so they can do no more damage. The meanings are almost opposite. One says, "Even after you're dead, I'll make sure that your children and grandchildren suffer for what you did." The other says, "The natural motion of your mistakes is to go on causing harm indefinitely. But don't worry, at any time I can correct them and thus protect your descendants, as well as the entire Sonship, from them."
I don't think that Jesus is just being naïve and believing the biblical writers actually had these higher meanings in mind as they were writing. He knows full well the frightening meanings these Bible verses were intended to convey. He is simply carrying out his own counsel. His sight is penetrating so profoundly into these words that he actually perceives the original inspiration behind them, an inspiration that got warped and obscured as it passed through the writer's mind and out of his pen. And he is able to see so deeply into these words because he sees so deeply into those who wrote them. There, buried in their minds under layers of ego, he sees the Holy Spirit.
It makes you wonder. What is coming out of our brothers' mouths that we are not hearing? What otherworldly truths are they uttering, unbeknownst to us and even to themselves? What would we hear if we only had ears to hear? Would it perhaps be the answer to all our prayers?
This strikes me as a new understanding of what it means to listen. The good listener hears what a speaker is trying to say. The great listener hears more than that. He hears the speaker's buried desires, aspirations, and pain coming through in his words. But the holy listener hears even more. He hears the divine element within the speaker, giving forth spiritual truths that far exceed the speaker's conscious wisdom.
How can we begin to listen in this way? How can we begin to hear what the Holy Spirit is telling us through our brothers? I am tempted to say that I don't have a clue how to answer that question. What Jesus does in these examples seems so far beyond me. Yet the fact is that that question has a very simple answer: "Never doubt a Son of God. Do not question him and do not confound him….Remember that the Holy Spirit is in him."