Turning Things over to the Holy Spirit: The Single Practice for Applying the Course?

For many students of the Course, turning it over to the Holy Spirit is the single answer to every difficulty, the single way to apply the Course and make it practical. While giving things over to the Holy Spirit is an extremely important part of the Course, we do not want to reduce the practice of the Course down to this single thing, for the following reasons.

It reduces the Course to a simple formula, yet the Course is not formulaic

Students tend to want to reduce the Course’s teaching or practice down to some simple formula, but the Course is not like this. It constantly introduces variety in both its teaching and practice. There are at least two reasons for this variety:

1. Variety holds our interest; it keeps us from going to sleep

Jesus said (in the original dictation) that different miracles will “be entirely different, since I direct them, because I make a point of avoiding redundancy.” He then implies that this avoiding of redundancy is necessary if miracles are going to heal, saying, “Unless a miracle actually heals, it is not a miracle at all.” The reason is obvious: for a miracle to heal, it must have impact, and redundancy deadens impact.

2. Variety allows the Course’s methods to answer all of our different needs

The Workbook says that each of its ideas contains the whole curriculum, but it also assumes that we aren’t going to see that. In our eyes, a particular idea will answer some needs but not all. Therefore, we need to use all the ideas and let them blend together to contribute to the whole of our learning:

Each contains the whole curriculum if understood, practiced, accepted, and applied to all the seeming happenings throughout the day. One is enough. But from that one, there must be no exceptions made. And so [since there will be expectations made, given that we don’t see the universal applicability of each idea] we need to use them all and let them blend as one, as each contributes to the whole we learn. (W-pI.rVI.In.2)

It negates the Workbook

The Workbook has scores of practices that are designed to answer the very difficulties that we would use “turning it over” for. Why does it give us those practices? Wouldn’t it have been better to just give us one lesson: “Turn it over to the Holy Spirit”? It’s a good rule of thumb to always beware of something that negates an entire volume of the Course.

The main thrust of Workbook practice is to replace the old meaning with a new meaning

This is my main beef with making “turning it over” a be-all and end-all: It misses the main thrust of Workbook practice.

The Course’s theory of the mind is that our experience comes not from what happens but from our perception of it. Our perception of it refers specifically to our interpretation of it. And this refers even more specifically to our interpretation of what it means. In short, then, our emotional experience flows directly from our interpretation of what things mean.

For that reason, practice in the Course is all about repeating and dwelling on a new meaning that will replace the old meaning. Often, we call to mind the old meaning and then refute it with the Course’s new meaning. A great example of this is Lesson 35. There we observe ourselves in various situations and see what descriptive terms we are applying to ourselves in those situations. Then we state those descriptive terms. For example, we might say,

I see myself as imposed on.

I see myself as depressed.

I see myself as failing.

I see myself as endangered.

I see myself as helpless.

I see myself as victorious.

I see myself as losing out.

I see myself as charitable.

I see myself as virtuous.

Then, after naming our current self-perception, we negate that and replace it, saying,

But my mind is part of God’s. I am very holy.

This change in the meaning we assign to ourselves, others, situations, events, and everything is at the very core of Workbook practice. And while “turning it over to the Holy Spirit” is a step in that direction, it is not a sufficient step.

Look, for instance, at this practice from the Text, which is a blending of turning it over and choosing a new meaning. Here, we give over our current perception of a situation and ask the Holy Spirit to decide for us what the situation means:

Take this from me and look upon it, judging it for me.

Let me not see it as a sign of sin and death, nor use it for destruction.

Teach me how not to make of it an obstacle to peace, but let You use it for me, to facilitate its coming. (T-19.IV(C).11:6-10)

This highlights a key pitfall: When we are upset by a situation, we can turn it over to the Holy Spirit—turn the form over—without turning over our interpretation of it—turn the content over. Then, handing it over can become a kind of prayer that says, “You take care of this situation for me so that it satisfies my current interpretation and the goals that stem from that.” That, of course, is exactly what we do not want to do.

Therefore, we want to give over both levels—the form and the content. We want to hand over how we see the situation as well as the situation itself. This is made explicit in “Rules for Decision” (T-30.I). There, we are told to make no decisions by ourselves, which means to let the Holy Spirit direct all our actions. The full meaning of this is then clarified:

This means that you are choosing not to be the judge of what to do. But it must also mean you will not judge the situations where you will be called upon to make response. For if you judge them, you have set the rules for how you should react to them. And then another answer [the Holy Spirit’s answer of how you should react/what you should do] cannot but produce confusion and uncertainty and fear. (T-30.I.2:3-6)

This section goes on to say that if we “judge the situations,” we will eventually find ourselves so threatened by the Holy Spirit’s guidance—since it will inevitably clash with our picture of things—that we will simply stop asking Him what to do.

The place in the Course of giving things over to the Holy Spirit

Although the Course doesn’t talk about “turning” things over, it does talk about giving things over, placing things in God’s Hands, and just plain giving things to the Holy Spirit or God. The meaning is basically the same: We are letting something go from our hands. We are not the ones handling it, managing it, controlling it. Instead, we are placing it in higher hands. The Holy Spirit (or God, or Jesus) is the One handling it, managing it, controlling it.

This, of course, is an extremely valuable thing, and a central aspect of the Course. In the end, the Course asks us to give the Holy Spirit and God our: errors, plans, decisions, interpretations, thoughts, problems, pain, secrets, dreams, sleep, abilities, bodies, practice periods, future, loved ones, minds, lives, and selves. That is quite a list! Clearly, handing things over to Him, putting Him in charge of the things we used to manage ourselves, is a key feature of the Course.

What we don’t want to do, however, is make this key feature into all features. And we don’t want to make even this feature formulaic. We want to introduce variety in how we do it, just as we include in our practice the full spectrum of how the Course trains us to apply its teachings and walk its path.

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