I have long had a special fondness for Lesson 323, "I gladly make the 'sacrifice' of fear." I especially love the prayer in that lesson, which I have memorized and used often. In this article, I want to share what I have come to see in that prayer.
Here is the only "sacrifice" You ask of Your beloved Son;
"Here" in this line refers to the lesson title: "I gladly make the 'sacrifice' of fear." No wonder it's a sacrifice we "gladly" make. No wonder the word "sacrifice" is put in quotes. How much of a sacrifice can it be to let go of all fear?
Now, in this first line of the prayer, we learn that this is the only "sacrifice" God asks of us. We usually see God as asking a great many sacrifices of us. There is so much we seem to have to give up on the way to God, so many of life's easier pleasures. This, of course, is why we hesitate to travel too quickly in His direction. Yet could it really be true that the only thing He asks us to give up is fear?
The wording, however, doesn't say the only "sacrifice" God asks of us. It says the only one He asks of His beloved Son. To speak of God's beloved Son, of course, brings to mind Jesus, and we all know what sacrifice we associate with him. In that light, this line represents an even greater reversal of expectations. Here we thought that God asked His beloved Son to sacrifice his very life, dying an unimaginably brutal death, all to pay the debt that humanity owed to God, so that humanity could be reconciled with Him again. And yet we are told that in reality, all God asks His beloved Son to sacrifice is fear. You cannot have a more nontraditional view of God's request for sacrifice than that. And yet, if His Son really is beloved, what other sacrifice would He ask?
You ask him to give up all suffering, all sense of loss and sadness, all anxiety and doubt,
This line expands on the notion of "sacrificing" fear. It breaks that notion down into giving up three sets of things: 1) suffering, 2) a sense of loss and sadness; 3) anxiety and doubt. With the second set, notice how loss and sadness are closely related. We are usually sad, after all, because of loss. Notice how the two items in the third set are likewise related. Anxiety and doubt are both unpleasant forms of uncertainty. They both undermine us. In fact, all of the feelings on this list, including the umbrella emotion of fear, are undermining.
How wonderful, then, to think of just giving them up. Imagine being free of all such emotions, of all feelings that undermine us. If we could do this, isn't that something to do "gladly"?
Yet we don't normally think that we can do this. Rather, these feelings seem involuntary, thrust upon us by outside happenings. This line, however, clearly implies they are not. If we can voluntarily give them up, then we must be voluntarily holding onto them in the first place. We must be clinging to them, in spite of how unpleasant they are. We must see our very survival as at stake. We must see their unpleasantness as a small price to pay for a much larger benefit they carry. As a result, something in us must view the giving up of them as a very real sacrifice indeed. I think we are meant to see this ironic note in the lesson title, to understand that in our eyes it does seem like a sacrifice to give up fear.
In praying this line, I like to focus on each of the three parts in turn. I'll say (changing it to first person) "You ask me to give up all suffering," and then say, "Okay! I'll give up all suffering," and then have a sense of doing just that. And then I'll go on to the next part: "You ask me to give up all sense of loss and sadness," and do the same thing with it. It makes the line far more meaningful and experiential.
and freely let Your Love come streaming in to his awareness,
What a beautiful line! Let's begin with the word "freely." To let something come streaming in freely suggests letting it come in without impediment, without obstruction. Which raises the question, what was the obstruction? It must have been that list of undermining emotions, for now that I have given up those emotions, God's Love can freely come streaming in. Now my hanging onto those emotions becomes even more ironic. Not only were they painful, but they blocked me from experiencing God's Love. And I still hung onto them.
Maybe it's even stranger than that. Maybe I hung onto that list of painful emotions in order to keep out God's Love. Maybe that was the matter of life and death that kept me clinging to them. Maybe they were a means to my real goal of survival. Maybe I saw letting them go and thus letting in God's Love as equivalent to my annihilation.
Let's turn now to the image of God's Love streaming into my awareness. What else streams into our awareness? Light, of course. Its rays stream into our eyes and so into our minds. So God's Love is being subtly framed as rays of light streaming into our open mind. It's a lovely image.
I often pray this line in the same way that I reported with the previous line. I say, "You ask me to freely let Your Love come streaming in to my awareness," and then say, "Okay! I'll freely let Your Love come streaming in to my awareness," and then just have a sense of letting that happen, as freely as I possibly can.
healing him of pain, and giving him Your Own eternal joy.
Apparently, the pain we let go of in that earlier line didn't entirely go. It only goes, it seems, when God's Love comes in and heals us. Yes, we have let go of our grip on that pain. We are no longer clutching it with white knuckles. But relaxing our grip doesn't completely erase it. Rather, doing so leaves room for God's Love to come in and truly erase it.
It's very easy to miss the import of this final part of the sentence. To understand it, you have to appreciate the situation. We have been stuck in our suffering, sadness, and fear for ages. They have been like dark clouds that blocked out the sunshine of God's Love. Thus, we have not just felt sad and fearful, we have felt alone and unloved. Now, however, the clouds have disappeared, and the sunshine of His Love is shining onto our faces and into our hearts.
What happens when someone who has been alone and unloved is suddenly wrapped in a profound love? His pain is healed and replaced with joy. On a smaller level, isn't that why as a child we sought out our mother's arms when we were hurt? Isn't that why as adults we say, "Can I have a hug?" We know that if we can only be wrapped in a loving embrace, all the pain will go away. We know that love will make it all better.
This healing of pain and giving of joy, then, is a direct result of God's Love coming in. You may think I am wringing too much out of this line, but the Course is replete with images of us finally entering into God's Love and being healed of all the pain of our long journey. Here are a few examples:
And all my sorrows end in Your embrace. (W-pII.317.2:5)
I need but turn to Him, and every sorrow melts away, as I accept His boundless Love for me. (W-pI.207.2:3)
The graciousness of God will take them gently in, and cover all their sense of pain and loss with the immortal assurance of their Father's Love. (T-14.IX.4:3)
In all of these passages, we find the same scenario. We have been away from God, and thus alone and in pain. But we finally come back to Him, and His Love makes all the pain go away. That is exactly what is happening in this prayer. As His Love comes streaming in, the pain of eons is healed and replaced with joy. Specifically, as our minds are emptied of our pain, they are filled with His joy. What an exchange!
As I pray this line, therefore, I imagine this happening. I imagine God's Love streaming into my awareness like a river of light. Then I imagine myself enveloped in such a profound love that all the pain of my journey melts away, to be replaced by God's Own joy.
Such is the "sacrifice" You ask of me, and one I gladly make;
The entire prayer thus far (which has been one very long sentence) has been in the third person. It has all been about God's beloved Son, about him. Now in this line, we apply all of that to ourselves: "Such is the 'sacrifice' you ask of me." We are God's beloved Son. We are "sacrificing" all of our undermining, debilitating emotions and thus opening our awareness to God's Love.
When I pray this line, I like to emphasize "gladly": "one I gladly make." How could we not be glad to make a "sacrifice" like this?
the only "cost" of restoration of Your memory to me, for the salvation of the world.
This remark about "cost" is crucial to the entire train of thought here. It's a reference to the psychology of sacrifice. Think about it on the human level. If I have wronged someone and thus created a rift in the relationship, I know that I need to somehow pay, to make a sacrifice, before I can enjoy the benefits of that relationship once more. It might take the form of a sorrowful apology. It might be a gift I give that person. It might just be punishing behavior I need to accept from that person without complaint. In one way or another, though, I need to pay before that relationship is restored to me.
We have quite naturally carried that way of thinking over to God. We see ourselves, in our selfishness, egotism, and baseness, as fundamentally out of accord with God. We believe this has created a rift in our relationship with Him. To have that relationship restored to us, we therefore assume that we need to shell out. We need to make sacrifices and thus pay off our debt to Him. We need to humble ourselves and kiss His ring, so that He will say, "All right, we're good here," and again open up His blessings to us. We thus get the blessings, but at a price, a price that we often consider to be too steep.
This exact thinking, of course, is what has controlled the traditional interpretation of the crucifixion, which, as you recall, was obliquely alluded to at the prayer's beginning.
This prayer turns this whole view completely on its head. In the process, it offers us an entirely different vision of the journey to God. In the old view, God asked us to pay our debt to Him, in the form of sacrificing our pleasures, our comforts, our personal interests. Even if His beloved Son had done the greater sacrifice, we were still asked to make our smaller ones. If we did—and only if—He would bring us into His inner circle. Like a spouse who had received proper payment, He would stop holding back His Love, and our relationship with Him would be restored.
In this new view, we are His beloved Son. And in His overwhelming Love for us, all He asks us to give up is our fear, our sadness, our anxiety—all those feelings that undermine us. When we do, we will discover that these same feelings were blocking, like a boulder in a stream, the ceaseless flow of His Love to us. And with that blockage out of the way, the journey to Him is complete. Thus, there is no payment, no sacrifice, no bargaining with the Eternal. All He asks is that we give up that boulder of pain, so that the river of His Love can flow freely into our awareness once more.
We thus receive God for no cost at all. Yet it's not only us—the world does, too. Look at the above line: "the only 'cost' of restoration of Your memory to me, for the salvation of the world." As God is restored to my awareness at no cost, the world is reconciled to Him as well. No one has to pay anything.
Anyone can see that this new vision is vastly more preferable. And as Course students, we would all probably embrace it on an intellectual level. Yet the Course would claim that we are all still saddled by the old vision, even if on an unconscious level. Its hidden presence within us is why, for instance, we balk when asked to do the work—to study the Text, or practice our Workbook lesson, or extend to our brothers. Something in us is saying, "This payment seems too steep to me. Perhaps it does get me closer to God, but if He is the One asking this sacrifice of me, don't I want to keep some distance between me and this devouring God?"
Therefore, we need to consciously make the switch from the old vision to the new one, realizing that any dragging of our feet along the path is due to the remaining presence of the old one. Praying this prayer can help us make the switch. Therefore, I highly recommend spending time with it and praying it over and over again. Make it personal and interactive in the ways I suggest above, or in your own ways. And see if it doesn't slowly brighten your orientation toward God and toward your entire spiritual journey.