Make This Year Different: How the Course Would Have Us Approach the New Year

by Robert Perry

As the new year arrives and you ponder making yet another set of resolutions, it may interest you to know that A Course in Miracles has its own ideas about the new year. In the final days of 1966 and the initial days of 1967, Helen Schucman took down a series of references to the new year. Though personally directed to Helen, these references are surprisingly universal. It is hard to imagine a person on the spiritual path who would not relate to them to some degree. In this article, I will go through the meatiest of these references and let you see for yourself if they apply to you.

"Accept the holy instant as this year is born"

The first passage comes at the end of Chapter 15. It is the conclusion to the Course's discussion about how to really celebrate Christmas.

This is the time in which a new year will soon be born from the time of Christ. I have perfect faith in you to do all that you would accomplish [in the new year]. Nothing will be lacking, and you will make complete and not destroy. Say, then, to your brother:

I give you to the Holy Spirit as part of myself.
I know that you will be released, unless I want to use you to imprison myself.
In the name of my freedom I choose your release, because I recognize that we will be released together.

So will the year begin in joy and freedom. There is much to do, and we have been long delayed. Accept the holy instant as this year is born, and take your place, so long left unfulfilled, in the Great Awakening. Make this year different by making it all the same. And let all your relationships be made holy for you. This is our will. Amen. (T-15.XI.10)

"The time of Christ" is a fascinating term in the Course. It refers both to Christmastime and to the holy instant. It combines the two because the Course wants us to combine the two. It wants us to celebrate Christmas by entering a holy instant. That is what the above practice is for. In it, we release someone in our life from the demands we have laid on him or her, and if we do that with sincerity, we will be released from the ego's prison and enter into a holy time, the time of Christ, in which the original Christmas event is repeated in us. This is how Jesus asks us to celebrate Christmas.

From this time of Christ, a genuinely new year will be born. Just as the calendar year is born from Christmastime, so our own new year will be born from our own time of Christ. This will not just be a new year chronologically. It will be a new kind of year, a year that is qualitatively different. How will it be different? It will be different because by entering this holy instant, we are consenting to join Jesus in his work, a work that here is called the Great Awakening. The actual Great Awakening was a religious revival that swept through the New England colonies in the 1730's and 1740's, sparked by the preacher Jonathan Edwards. Jesus is clearly using that religious movement as a metaphor for the global spiritual awakening that he is in charge of. He's been at this, of course, for a very long time, and all that time he has reserved a place for us in this great work. However, our place has been "long left unfulfilled," while we have been meandering through one year after another, living each one very much like the last. As a result, our work with him has "been long delayed."

What makes this a new kind of year, then, is that this is the year we take our place in the Great Awakening. This begins with truly releasing one brother. By doing that, we sign a contract with Jesus to release all brothers, and this purpose becomes the central theme of the year. It is what has the power to make all our relationships holy. It is what can "make this year different by making it all the same." In a normal year, we constantly jump around between different purposes. This year, however, our only purpose will be fulfilling our part in the Great Awakening. And if we give everything in the year one purpose, then we will experience everything in the year as the same. As the Course says elsewhere, "What shares a common purpose is the same. This is the law of purpose" (T-27.VI.1:5-6).

So this is one of the Course's visions of the new year. We have a holy instant of releasing one brother, and through doing this we are led to a desk that has been gathering dust for perhaps thousands of years, a desk with our name on it. We then sit down, roll up our sleeves, and assume our part in the company's mission, our place in the Great Awakening. And this becomes the keynote of our year, a year of joy and freedom, a year of our relationships being made holy, a year that is all the same because everything in it is dedicated to a single purpose, that of awakening all our brothers.

Can we relate to this? Do we sense that perhaps there is a desk sitting somewhere with our name on it, a desk that has been gathering dust, waiting for us, for a long, long time? Do we sense that if we found that desk and cleared it off and sat down and really got to work, our life would be qualitatively different? Finally, is it possible that releasing just one person from the iron chains of our relentless expectations could lead us to that desk?

"This year determine not to deny what has been given you by God"

Do not interpret against God's Love, for you have many witnesses that speak of it so clearly that only the blind and deaf could fail to see and hear them. This year determine not to deny what has been given you by God. Awake and share it, for that is the only reason He has called to you. His Voice has spoken clearly, and yet you have so little faith in what you heard, because you have preferred to place still greater faith in the disaster you have made. Today, let us resolve together to accept the joyful tidings that disaster is not real and that reality is not disaster. (T-16.II.8:1-5)

This paragraph sketches an ironic picture, one that is so reminiscent of Helen Schucman's Kafkaesque mindset that we can be sure it was addressed directly to her. In this picture, we have someone who has placed her faith in disaster, and not just disaster in general; the disaster she herself has made. This disaster is for her the central feature of reality. It is the first cause; that which has more power than anything else.

Yet something has broken into the calm certainty of her disaster. God's Voice has spoken to her. Things have happened to her that are "witnesses" that testify to the reality of God's Love. The news they convey is even called "joyful tidings," a reference to the "good tidings of great joy" that the angels gave the shepherds when Jesus was born. These occurrences in her life are not subtle. Both the Voice and the witnesses are said to have spoken "clearly." Indeed, they have spoken "so clearly that only the blind and deaf could fail to see and hear them." God, in other words, has shown up in this person's life in a way that is so obvious that anyone could see it. It's as plain as the nose on her face.

This is obviously talking about what has happened to Helen in the eighteen months since she and Bill joined in a better way. She has had dreams and visions that beckon her to a higher calling. She has experienced remarkable synchronistic events that convey a clear message. And a voice has begun speaking to her, speaking with a wisdom that is not of this world.

At this point, you would think that anyone would see that the night is over. The light has come. God has arrived. But not Helen. She sees the witnesses to God's Love, but she mercilessly cross-examines them, seeking to poke holes in their testimony. She hears God's Voice, but she is unable to muster much faith in it. The disaster is so patently real, so historically impervious to all attempts at solution, that it is hard to take seriously some pie-in-the-sky Voice of hope. Despite all the miracles she has seen and all the wisdom she has heard, her faith in the disaster stands firm. The Voice and the witnesses are details buzzing around the edges; they are easily batted away by her skepticism.

Imagine that someone you care about has been in sorrow for years and years, and finally the good news shows up, that which solves everything, and yet this person's sorrow goes on without missing a beat. How would you react? What would you say? You would probably say something more or less like what Jesus says to Helen: Wake up and look at the evidence. Stop trying to dismiss it. The case for despair is not air-tight. Rather, what is air-tight is your faith in despair, and this faith is leading you to dismiss the evidence, to shut your ears to the joyful tidings that are so resounding that only the deaf could fail to hear them.

As the way out of her denial, Jesus asks Helen to make a new year's resolution: "This year determine not to deny what has been given you by God….Today [which was January 1], let us resolve together to accept the joyful tidings that disaster is not real and that reality is not disaster." He asks her to dedicate the new year to reversing the natural tide of her despair and dismissal. He asks her to face the witnesses to God's Love in her life and accept their testimony. He asks her to resolve with him to really hear the joyful tidings that have been echoing all around her, the good news that Christ has been born again to her.

Helen's situation sounds almost comical, yet are we really so different from Helen? Have we never experienced something miraculous that failed to brighten our overall outlook? Have we never seen concrete evidence of God's care that still failed to crack the core of our pessimism? Have we never managed to brush aside joyful tidings? Then perhaps Helen is not the only one who should dedicate the year to rousing herself from despair and listening to the angelic witnesses that have been sent to her. This year perhaps we should determine to stop denying what has been given us by God.

"This year invest in truth"

You have never given any problem to the Holy Spirit He has not solved for you, nor will you ever do so. You have never tried to solve anything yourself and been successful. Is it not time you brought these facts together and made sense of them? This is the year for the application of the ideas that have been given you. For the ideas are mighty forces, to be used and not held idly by. They have already proved their power sufficiently for you to place your faith in them, and not in their denial. This year invest in truth, and let it work in peace. Have faith in Him Who has faith in you. Think what you have really seen and heard, and recognize it. Can you be alone with witnesses like these? (T-16.II.9:1-10)

This is the paragraph that follows the one we just examined, and it continues the same themes. In its opening lines, you can almost hear Jesus say, "Will you just pull your head out of the sand and look at the evidence in front of you? Is it not true that whenever you have really given a problem to the Holy Spirit, He has solved it? And isn't it true that whenever you try to solve things by yourself, you just create more of a mess? Isn't it time to put two and two together here?"

The paragraph ends with the same themes we explored above as well: "Think what you have really seen and heard, and recognize it." Helen has seen and heard wondrous things, but she hasn't really considered what they mean. She hasn't really recognized what they imply. They imply, quite simply, that she is not alone. They imply that God is with her, and that He has faith in her, in spite of all her resistance. Would it be unreasonable for her to have faith in Him?

What is new in this paragraph is the middle part, which begins with, "This is the year for the application of the ideas that have been given you." As her chief gift from God, Helen has been given the ideas of the Course. These ideas are not empty theory. They are not just a head-trip. Rather, "the ideas are mighty forces." They have the power to work miracles. Yet they can only do so if she uses them. Actually, she has used them a little, enough for them to prove their power. They have therefore earned her faith, but she still has not given them her faith. Indeed, she puts more faith in their denial than in them. And so, rather than using these powerful engines, she mostly keeps them parked in the garage. They could take her places she's never been before, they could whisk her away from the disaster she has made, but they just sit there, unused.

Therefore, Jesus urges her to make this the year in which all that changes. "This is the year for the application of the ideas that have been given you." "This year," he says, "invest in truth"—invest in the Course's ideas, rather than in their denial. Give them the faith that they've earned. And above all, use them, apply them.

What Course student can't identify with Helen here? We've seen the ideas work again and again, so why don't we use them more frequently? Why do we still stand before them wondering if, in this situation, they are really in our best interests? Why, when faced with messy relationship issues, do we eye the Course's prescription to forgive with such ambivalence and even suspicion, as if forgiveness has never proven itself to us before?

If we share Helen's problem, it is only logical to assume that we must also share the solution she was given. Who of us couldn't benefit from making this the year when we really apply the Course's ideas? Those ideas that bowl us over when we read them, that work miracles when we use them, but that mostly stay parked in the garage? Imagine what might happen to your life if you really went for it, if you really gave this year to putting into practice all that you have learned from the Course.

Conclusion

Now that we have explored these three passages, we can see that they are really three pieces of a single picture. It is first of all a picture in which we chronically hold God at arm's length. He has reserved a place for us in the Great Awakening, and we do mean to assume it someday, but we keep putting it off. He has sent us witnesses that speak of His Love for us, but we don't listen because we'd rather be depressed. He has sent angels to sing to us the joyful tidings of Christ's birth in us, but we just turn the radio up. His Voice has given us ideas that could clean up the disaster we have made, but we don't feel like using them. Surely we have enough self-honesty to see ourselves in this picture.

Again and again, Jesus' prescription is the same: Make this the year in which you no longer hold God at arm's length. How you do this may seem mysterious, and I'm sure that the form would vary from person to person, but in essence it's pretty simple: You determine to stop denying what He has already put in front of you. He has given you a place in the Great Awakening. So take it. He has sent you witnesses of His Love, concrete evidence that He is with you. So acknowledge them. He has given you ideas that are mighty forces. So use them.

This, of course, is the same basic idea that fuels conventional new year's resolutions. There's something that we have known we should be doing, we just keep not getting around to it. But the new year gives us a chance for a fresh start, and so we resolve that, this year, we will finally bite the bullet and do it. We will finally take those ten pounds off. We will finally get in shape. We will finally stop smoking. Jesus is making use of this same idea, only taking it much, much further. He is not talking about little details like procrastinating about health issues. He is talking about the biggest procrastination of them all: putting God off.

So as the new year rolls around, let us ask ourselves, "How have I been putting God off? How have I been keeping Him at arm's length? How has He shown up in my life in ways that I have not acknowledged and have not made use of?" It will surely help to take a moment, close your eyes, and ask these questions of God, and listen for an answer. Once you have done this, perhaps you will have the strength to take the next step and actually make a resolution with Jesus. He did say to Helen, "Let us resolve together," so why not take him up on his offer? If you do, you just might succeed in making this year truly different, different from everything that has gone before.

One Comment

  1. Mary Benton
    Posted December 31, 2012 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

    A beautiful article, Robert. Happy New Year to you and the Circle Community.

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Printer Friendly Version

Free E-Newsletters: A Better Way (Monthly)  Circle News (Weekly)