Does Hell Exist?

By Greg Mackie

The idea of hell has a strong hold on the human imagination. Virtually every religious tradition has some version of it. In the West, even people who have never been inside a church are familiar with the traditional image of hell as a fiery, underground abode where horned devils with pitchforks torment the damned for eternity. But does it really exist?

Most educated people in the West no longer think so, but there are exceptions. Fundamentalist Christians believe that hell is quite real indeed-the literal lake of fire into which anyone who does not accept Jesus Christ as his or her Lord and Savior is thrown. And I read an article about a sermon given by the former pope, Benedict XVI, in which he declared that hell “really exists and is eternal, even if nobody talks about it much any more.” Speaking to a local church in Rome, he warned that those who don’t repent of their sins are in danger of falling into “eternal damnation—the inferno.” Vatican officials later clarified that while hell is real and eternal, the Pope was not claiming that it is a physical place. Rather, he was expressing the view of the Catholic catechism that hell is a “state of eternal separation from God,” to be understood “symbolically rather than physically.”

What does A Course in Miracles say about hell? There are a number of references, the gist of which can be boiled down to three broad points. First, hell is the afterlife abode the ego tells us is our inevitable destination: that place of eternal separation from God and everlasting punishment that has had such a grip on our imagination. “The ego teaches that hell is in the future” (T-15.I.4:3); “it offers you immortality in hell” (T-15.I.3:5). The ego is constantly whispering in our ear that we are guilty sinners who deserve everlasting punishment, so hell is the only appropriate eternal residence for us. Strikingly, the Course tells us that we have internalized the ego’s message so well that, whatever our conscious beliefs, deep down all of us really do believe hell exists and we’re headed there. “The belief in hell is inescapable to those who identify with the ego” (T-15.I.4:1) and accept its verdict of guilt (see T-15.I.6:5). This is the underlying source of our fear of the future.

Second, hell is this world. “Hell is only what the ego has made of the present” (T-15.I.7:2). This statement may sound surprising at first blush, but it makes a lot of sense if you think about it. After all, hell is a state of separation from God and a place of punishment for sin. Doesn’t that describe this world very well? We do feel very separate from God here, do we not? And does it not seem that we’re constantly being punished for some nameless crime, punishment that takes the form of all the suffering we experience in this world? We may proclaim with Louis Armstrong “What a wonderful world,” but underneath our affirmations, who among us hasn’t looked at life on earth-both the horrors of the world at large and his or her own personal sufferings—and secretly (or not so secretly) concluded that this must be hell? In fact, one of those Vatican officials commenting on the Pope’s sermon said that one reason the afterlife version of hell doesn’t hold the terror it once did is that “the world wars and totalitarianisms of the 20th century created a hell on earth as bad as anything we can imagine in the afterlife.” That may be so, but from the Course’s standpoint, things like the Holocaust and the Soviet Gulag are simply extreme examples of the hell that is everyday life.

Finally, the Course gives us good news that is cause for joyous celebration, given what we’ve seen in the first two points: “There is no hell” (T-15.I.7:1). Neither the afterlife version nor the earthly version of hell is real at all. Hell is purely a figment of our tormented imagination, the projected nightmare of our own guilt for the sins we think we have committed against God and our brothers. Hell cannot truly exist in any form, because we have never been separate from God, have not sinned, and therefore do not deserve punishment of any kind.

Therefore, the Course both agrees and disagrees with the fundamentalists and the Pope. It agrees with them that hell is separation from God. However, it disagrees with them on a major point: In its view, hell is not real or eternal. Thank God! We will feel like we’re in hell here as long as we keep listening to the ego and accepting its verdict of guilt. But we can make a different choice right here and right now: We can listen to the Voice for God instead, Who overturns the ego’s verdict and affirms our perfect innocence. When we accept the Holy Spirit’s verdict, this world will be transformed from hell to a reflection of Heaven. And when this transformation is complete, we will not merely go to Heaven, but will realize that we never actually left Heaven. Only Heaven is real and eternal. To leave the nightmare of hell forever, all we need do is wake up.

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A Portrait of a Model Course Student

by Robert Perry

Have you ever thought about trying to become a model Course student? For many of us this may have connotations of being a Goody Two-shoes, of forcing oneself to conform to an artificial mold in order to gain the approval of some abstract standard or vague authority figure. Yet most of us have striven to be a model something: a model salesman, stamp collector, housewife, sports fan—something. Why not instead aspire to become a model student of A Course in Miracles? Doing all that the Course asks promises to deliver happiness undreamt of, peace never-ending. Do the other things we have tried to master promise anything close to that?

Assuming that we want to be a model Course student, what would that look like? The Course at one point says, “Learn to be a happy learner” (T-14.II.5:3). What would a happy learner look like in the context of the Course? If one happily threw oneself into the Course and did everything it said, what things would one find oneself doing? What areas would one be moving into and mastering?

What follows is my attempt to answer that question. It is not meant to be a complete answer. Many of you, I am sure, will think of things I left out. I wrote this as a list for myself of my personal aspirations, and so it may skewed to the aspects of the Course I relate to. However, I hope you will find it valuable food for thought. After having read my list, you may even want to write up your own.

Most of the items on this list, as expressed, are rather lofty. This means that you may be tempted to see them as signs of what a failure you are as a Course student. I suggest, therefore, that rather than seeing them as sources of guilt, try seeing them as magnificent goals to aspire to, goals that hold out the promise of genuine happiness.

A model Course student

…would make slow, deep, thoughtful study of the Text a cornerstone of his daily life; would experience reading the Course as an act of drinking from a life-giving spring, and would be drawn, even compelled, to visit this spring often; would see every word as written personally to him, every sentence as having his name on it, every paragraph as laying out his personal road to the happiness he has always desired; would hunger to understand its thought system and to make it his own, make it the source of his own feelings, perceptions and attitudes.

…would see the practice laid out in the Workbook as the most joyous and rewarding thing he could do with his mind, and so would engage in this practice as frequently and naturally as one would daydream about a new lover; would awaken with God being the first thing on his mind; would spend time each morning immersed in Course-based prayer and meditation; would voluntarily turn his mind to God many times each hour throughout the day; would have formed an automatic habit of responding to every upset with inner practice; would see this practice as the real solution to every problem; would eagerly look forward to his next quiet time of resting with God; and would conclude his day once again sunk deep in prayer and meditation.

…would see extending forgiveness from his mind to the minds of others as the purpose of his life on earth, the sole purpose behind his words and his deeds; would devote each interaction to releasing others from their burden of guilt; would see this releasing as the bottomless well from which he drew his own happiness; would be a true light in the lives of those he knew, a genuine blessing to the world.

…would be aware of his special function, the special form in which he was meant to extend forgiveness, and would devote his life to this function; would rise in the morning and see each day as an arena for carrying out this function; would see no reason for staying on earth once this special form of his function had been completed.

…would be totally devoted to any pupils he had been given to guide through the Course; would pray for their progress and envision their journey already completed; would constantly watch his mind for wrong-minded perceptions of them and release these perceptions to the Holy Spirit.

…would be an effective healer, whose mere presence could heal illness, dispel anxiety and bring hope to the despondent; would be such a powerful beacon of forgiveness that he could shine its light into the most ancient of wounds, allowing those wounds to come to the surface and vanish in the light of truth.

…would have established authentic, solid and frequent contact with the Holy Spirit; would conduct his special function according to his guidance, not according to his plans and desires; would ask and listen to the Holy Spirit frequently throughout each day; would see the Holy Spirit’s plan as the blueprint for his life, as the total governing principle behind his earthly journey; would live only to play his part in the Holy Spirit’s plan for the salvation of the world.

…would have more or less mastered the art of relationship; would see his relationships as the proving ground where his inner work either bore fruit or was shown to be fruitless; would be the most wonderful person to be in relationship with: loving, forgiving, generous, devoted, infectiously happy; would be able to maintain long-term, committed relationships that only grew more loving over time, but would also feel committed to casual acquaintances and strangers on the street; would be in each relationship to selflessly give, not to bargain and trade; would constantly watch for and release the inner temptation to indulge in specialness; would be engaged in perhaps several holy relationships (relationships in which he had joined with another in a holy purpose) and would be experiencing these relationships advance ever closer to their goal of being pure manifestations of the Divine.

…would be refreshingly honest about his ego, quite aware of its patterns and its usual tricks, and, rather than defending them, freely speak of them; would watch for and actively take note of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that were ego-inspired, and, once noticed, would step back and observe them, see right through their innocent masks to their murderous core, and dispassionately offer them to the light as if they were not even his.

…would have become accomplished in accepting and extending miracles; would be able to enter the holy instant, the birthplace of the miracle, at will; would experience the miraculous release from his own fears and judgments, as well as the miraculous releasing of others, as everyday events; would frequently see things happen around him that are supposed to be physically impossible; would be convinced based on experience that nothing could imprison him.

…would see Jesus as standing at the center of his life and at the heart of his mind; would view Jesus as a dear friend who is showing him what friendship really is, as an older brother from his forgotten family who has sought him out and is bringing him back home, as his beloved teacher whose boundless wisdom and caring guidance is progressively saving him from the hell he made.

…would have become a master of forgiveness, so that nothing could stand in the way of his vision of the innocence in all things; would spend all day clearing his eyes of any perception of the sinful, the attacking, the imperfect, so that he could spend all day gazing on the Christ in everyone; would know that this true perception is the supreme happiness and peace on this earth and would move into that peace more deeply with each passing day.

…would regard God as his all-in-all, his Father in the only true sense of the word, his origin, his destiny, his home, his very being, his Guide for the journey, the single aim of all his living here; would know that God was with him always, would feel Him by his side and in his mind, and would occasionally drop into intimate, unmediated communion with Him; would feel inexpressible gratitude to God for creating him and for keeping his Identity untouched and perfect in spite of all he has seemingly done; would regard God’s Love as the nourishment of his being, as the true food that sustains him, the true air he breathes; would see his entire journey through time and space as being aimed at one single event of unparalleled significance: his final awakening in the Arms of his Father, where he will forget the world and spend eternity in boundless joy.

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A Way of Living That is Not Here

By Emily Bennington

During a retreat at an abbey outside of Charleston, South Carolina I met two women I will never forget. The woman in the hat is Polly and the woman in front of her is Felicia.

On the first night of the retreat we were asked to share our experience of a group meditation and, when it was her turn, Felicia said she didn’t participate because she doesn’t close her eyes in group settings. I remember feeling a sense of compassion for her in that moment because I assumed only an experience of real trauma would cause someone to be so fearful around strangers.

Later that same evening Polly mentioned “the incident at Emanuel” and – while she didn’t explain or expand on that remark – at the next break I immediately sat down beside her.

“Polly,” I said, “do you attend Mother Emanuel Church?”

She looked me right in the eye and enunciated every word as she said “I was in the room.” I tried to meet her gaze but my own eyes filled with tears and all I could say was, “I’m so sorry.”

“Felicia,” Polly continued, gesturing to her friend across the room, “lost her son right in front of her.” We both sat there in stunned silence before I said softly “…to someone you invited into your Bible study…and that’s why she won’t close her eyes with a group.”

“Yes,” said Polly. “We were praying and right before it happened I saw a light I thought was the Holy Spirit but found out later it was a laser.”

Google ‘Mother Emanuel shooting’ and you’ll see what hatred can do. You’ll see the headlines and the horror, but what you won’t see is the way these women are attempting to rebuild their lives through truly unshakable faith and a willingness to forgive.

“He told me he left me alive,” Polly said of the shooter, “so I could share the story.”

Polly and Felicia had come to the abbey in search of a way to heal in a sacred setting that would allow them to be alone with God. They wanted to step away from the world in order to better handle the world – a true gift of monastic retreats.

In Lesson 155 of the Workbook, Jesus speaks of “a way of living in the world that is not here, although it seems to be.” The idea is that in between rejecting the world (the path of the monk) and embracing the world (the path of the rest of us), there is a middle way in which we adopt the content of the monk’s life and the form of everyone else’s. In other words, we “walk to God,” but we walk a path in which we look like others, so that, as a result, they are inspired to follow by our example.

This is what struck me about Polly’s story. According to the shooter, her job was to be a walking reminder of the pain of that awful day. Thus, she seemingly had only two choices: She could have isolated herself into a cocoon of misery or she could have infected everyone around her with it.

But Polly, along with Felicia, chose a different way. Rather than being ambassadors of heartbreak, they have chosen to be ambassadors of healing. While I doubt you’ll ever read about either of them in the news, they live with the quiet eyes and serene forehead that inspire those they touch – and I’m so grateful to be among those touched by them.

On the final day of the retreat, when we were all sitting in silent meditation once again, I was thinking of Felicia and praying for her and her son. As I was reflecting on her strength and her example of forgiveness, I opened my eyes, fully expecting to meet Felicia’s gaze from across the room. To my surprise and delight, however, that didn’t happen.

Her eyes were closed at last.

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And Now It Belongs to the World

by Robert Perry

On May 28, 2004 , the copyright on A Course in Miracles passed away for good. That was the last day that the Foundation for A Course in Miracles (FACIM) could appeal the judgment by Judge Robert Sweet, signed on April 27, which voided the copyright. A Course in Miracles will now be forever without copyright. To put that more accurately, the First Edition of the Course (minus the Clarification of Terms, which remains under copyright) will be forever without copyright. FACIM still holds the copyright on the Second Edition, the numbered edition. However, since virtually all of the words in the Second Edition are also in the First Edition, what FACIM owns is primarily the numbering system, not the words. Those words can be used by anyone, in any way.

The judge did not release the earlier versions of the Course— the Hugh Lynn Cayce version, the Urtext, and Helen Schucman’s shorthand notebooks—from copyright. He decided that they were not a part of the Course’s copyright. Both sides have told me that this matter is now closed. As a final step, Endeavor is now proceeding with the attempt to void the trademark/servicemark on the name “A Course in Miracles” and the acronym “ACIM.”

It has taken so long to reach this moment that it may be difficult to fully appreciate it. It has been twelve years since—following the publication of Marianne Williamson’s A Return to Love —the copyright holder of the Course first began to limit the ability of authors to quote from the Course. Things got extremely tight in 1999, when FACIM was given the copyright and threatening letters were sent to a number of Course centers, churches, and Internet discussion groups. At that time, a real pall fell over the Course community as several lawsuits, and a lot of acrimony, sprang up.

That pall has taken its toll. Authors have been afraid to quote from the Course, students have felt disillusioned, and the Course has understandably been somewhat in decline in the world, or so it appears. Study group numbers are down from their high several years ago, there are fewer centers and newsletters, there have been no bestselling books based on the Course in a long time, and the conventional wisdom in the publishing industry is that A Course in Miracles is yesterday’s news. Now when I mention the Course to people, I sometimes hear, “Oh yeah, wasn’t that popular about ten years ago?”

But now that pall has been lifted. People are free to use the words of the Course however they see fit. Bestselling authors such as Marianne Williamson can quote from the Course as much as they want. Collections of Course passages, like the Gifts from ‘A Course in Miracles‘ series by Roger Walsh and Frances Vaughan, can be created again. Course commentators can quote extensively in their works; indeed, new commentators may step forward. Songwriters can publish songs which put the Course’s words to music. Internet discussion groups can quote freely without fear of being shut down.

This freedom, however, does have a downside. Since anyone can now publish the Course, we may soon have new versions of the Course in which wording has been freely altered to accommodate the publisher’s sensibilities. Many are concerned that chaos will result, as the public becomes confused about exactly what A Course in Miracles really is.

The question, therefore, naturally arises: Is this freedom a good thing? In the rest of this article, I would like to offer my own views on this. Personally, I feel that the ideal would have been for the Course to be under copyright, but with that copyright held in a generous and liberal way, as it was from 1976 until 1992. However, given that that was not going to happen, I do think that complete freedom from copyright is best. Yes, I expect abuses of one sort or another, but I would rather that the Course be free, and that we as a community try to deal with abuses when they come up, than it continue to labor under restrictions.

Three stories have shaped my sense about this. The first is the story of It’s a Wonderful Life, the classic Frank Capra movie starring Jimmy Stewart. When it debuted in 1946 it was not a huge hit with either audiences or critics, and afterwards slipped quickly into obscurity. What transformed it into the Christmas classic it has become was the expiration of its copyright in 1973. Because of this, any television station could show it for free, as often as it wanted, and so the movie started to play constantly between Thanksgiving and Christmas. People began recognizing what a remarkable film it was. Many made it a family tradition to watch it each year. Critics revisited it and decided it was one of the best films ever made. It soon became the staple of American holiday culture that it is today. The downside to this was that the movie was colorized, something which both Capra and Stewart strongly objected to but which neither could stop. In my mind, however, this was a small price to pay for It’s a Wonderful Life being lifted from obscurity into one of the most beloved and acclaimed films of all time. I think something similar could happen with the Course—the voiding of its copyright could lead to it becoming far more acknowledged and respected than ever before.

The second is the story of the scribing and publication of A Course in Miracles, a story which contains striking parallels with the Course’s copyright saga. The Course’s original custodians were sincere but fallible human beings who didn’t grasp the true nature of the story they were part of. They didn’t believe the Course was meant for a wider audience, and so they kept it under a cloak of secrecy, locked up in their closet, so to speak. Yet it was not destined to remain there. It was as if the Course’s unseen author would not let it be contained, and worked from behind the scenes to liberate the Course from their closet and give it to the world.

It is not hard to see that history has repeated itself. For those who believe the Course was written by Jesus, it is not a stretch to assume that he has done it again, that he has liberated the Course from yet another closet, in service of his larger designs for it. If so, he used an unlikely vehicle: Endeavor Academy , which has always been a controversial organization, both in Course circles and beyond. Yet Jesus has a penchant for using unlikely vehicles, as the story of the Course amply attests. Whatever else one may think of Endeavor, in this matter we all, I believe, owe them a debt of gratitude.

The third is the story of Jesus, not the story of his life but the story of his influence on Western culture. In Jesus Through the Centuries, Jaroslav Pelikan charts the many ways in which different eras have viewed Jesus. One of Pelikan’s more interesting conclusions is that as the power of the Church began to wane after the Middle Ages, respect for Jesus actually grew. Each ensuing secular age found in him an exemplar of its highest values. It was as if the walls of the Church were too confining for Jesus, as if he had something to give the world that was so big that it could only be given once he had been liberated from those walls. Pelikan concludes the book with these stirring words:

The later chapters of this book show that as respect for the organized church has declined, reverence for Jesus has grown. For the unity and variety of the portraits of “Jesus through the centuries” has demonstrated that there is more in him than is dreamt of in the philosophy and Christology of the theologians. Within the church, but also far beyond its walls, his person and message are, in the phrase of Augustine, a “beauty ever ancient, ever new.”

Pelikan then closes with a line that sounds as if it was written for the current situation:

And now he belongs to the world.

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Your Real Life: A Visualization

by Robert Perry

Picture your life as you currently think of it: your home, your family and friends, your customary activities, your place of employment. Think of your status, your achievements, your health, and your bank account.

Now realize that this life is only a shadow of your real life, not your real life in Heaven, but here on earth.

We will now try to imagine this real life, which cannot be seen with your eyes.

Picture yourself on a path, a straight path which stretches endlessly toward the horizon.

On either side of the path is a forest one could easily get lost in.

This is the path to God, and far off in the distance you see the path end at the gate of Heaven, behind which glows a light of unearthly beauty and radiance, the light of God.

Your life is not one of movement within the world or within society, but one of movement (or lack thereof) along this path.

When you forgive, you take a step forward.

When you truly desire the goal of God, you step forward.

When your mind is on auto pilot, thinking the same old thoughts, even if your outer life takes a giant step forward, you stand still.

When you give way to a grievance or to fear, you step off the path and begin wandering in the trackless woods.

When you experience a miraculous shift in perception, you are lifted up and fly forward, sometimes for miles. Imagine that occurring. Feel what that would be like.

When you perform an act of genuine love toward another (see this happening), you are again lifted up and fly forward.

Your life is only about one issue: reaching the goal of God. Nothing else matters.

Success takes only one form: progress toward that goal. No other kind of success is real.

Thus, progress on this journey is often at odds with what you call progress in your outer life.

“Some of your greatest advances you have judged as failures,

and some of your deepest retreats you have evaluated as success.” (T-18.V.1:6)

This sounds like a solitary journey, but it is not.

The further you travel, the more you realize that you are not alone.

You only seemed alone because of the bubble of your self-concern.

In truth, throngs of people are traveling with you.

Look around, and see them walking happily with you. All of you are walking together toward the light of God, joyous with anticipation.

Certain ones around you are meant to help you. When you stumble, they give you their hand and lift you up so you can keep walking.

Others, you are meant to help. When they feel weak, you let them lean on you so they can continue. When they wander off the path, you lovingly call them back.

Still others are meant to be your mighty companions, with whom you always walk hand-in-hand, sharing the journey together.

Try to let it sink in that this is your real life. This is the only thing really going on here.

“We walk to God. Pause and reflect on this.

Could any way be holier, or more deserving of your effort, of your love and of your full intent?

What way could give you more than everything, or offer less and still content the holy Son of God? We walk to God.” (W-pI.155.12:1-5)


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These Words Dispel the Night

By Mary Anne Buchowski

I’ve had a close relationship with the written word as far back as I can remember. I received my first books on my eighth birthday. King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table opened me to a lifelong quest for peace, equality, and justice. Toby Tyler and Ten Weeks with a Circus beckoned me to adventure beyond my limitations and comfort zone into a new world. Little Women offered me the model of a strong and creative young woman, unbound by gender constraints. I walked miles to our local public library and read right through the shelves of books in the children’s section. Novels about girls who overcame the limits of their life situation, had adventures, followed their dreams, and found happiness taught me that so could I. Nonfiction books satisfied my thirst for knowledge and understanding. As I look back on those days, I can see that the books I read prepared me for the day I would open the pages of A Course in Miracles.

I’ve had a personal relationship with the words of the Course from the moment I opened the book. I knew instantly that what I was reading was the truth, that Jesus was writing these words, and that they were meant for me. My thirst for truth, understanding, and knowledge, would be satisfied within its pages, as would my quest for peace and happiness and the desire to overcome the limitations of my life as I knew it.

Over the years since I first embraced the Course, my relationship with its words and with their author has deepened steadily. Just as my childhood books opened me to new worlds, the Course continually opens me to a whole new world of meaning. However, this is not a fictional or a physical world, but the real world, one lit with true meaning.

When I read its words, I don’t just read through or over them, as I might a novel. I read them slowly and intentionally, paying close attention, and taking them personally. When Jesus asks a question, I assume that he wants me to answer it, instead of casually reading it as if it were just part of the narrative. I often read as if Jesus is speaking to me directly. I imagine hearing him addressing me by name, really wanting me to learn what he’s teaching. If I’m not clear about the meaning of something, I’ll stop and reread it, searching out the meaning. I sometimes stop and ask Jesus to help me understand what he means––“after all, you did write these words.” In this way, the words don’t remain just words on the page, but words that are meant to teach me, show me, open me to that new world of meaning.

The words of the Course also transport me into a new experience. Jesus writes so beautifully and poetically. When I really take in his words, letting them find a home in me, and allowing the Holy Spirit to fill them with all the meaning they have, they become a door to a transformative experience that goes beyond words.

It’s primarily the practices and prayers of the Workbook that do this for me and certain passages from the Text that touch me deeply. One such passage is, “For still deeper than the ego’s foundation, and much stronger than it will ever be is your intense and burning love of God and His for you” (T-13.III.3:8). Sitting with that idea for a while, repeating the words slowly and thoughtfully, allowing them to reach into my heart and mind always has a profound emotional impact on me.

I start and end my practice periods and meetings with “I am not a body. I am free. For I am still as God created me” (W-Re.6.In.3:3-5). I’ve taken Jesus at his word when he asks me to make this a part of every practice period! As I practice, I repeat the words, not by rote but sincerely and intentionally, really focusing on each sentence, trusting that by doing so, one day I will have “finally accepted [the words] as the truth” (W-284.1:5).

I’m far from fully believing and living the Course’s words, but “perhaps today, perhaps tomorrow” (W-124.9:1), I will. They haven’t yet dispelled the night, but they are dispelling it, making inroads into my mind and heart slowly and surely, leading me beyond the words to “the wordless, deep experience” of God and His love (W-PtII.In.12:2).

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“Be Sure His Waking Eyes Will Rest on You”

by Robert Perry

This is one of my favorite sections in the Course. It is short, quite moving, and very beautiful. It provides another slant on the heart of salvation as the Course sees it, yet this slant is one that is probably surprising, and perhaps even a bit jarring, to most Course students. I’ve laid certain paragraphs out in iambic pentameter to highlight the beauty of the material. And I’ve underlined words that were emphasized in the original dictation but are not italicized in the published Course.

Because this section provides such a different slant on things, I’m going to start with a story, one that exemplifies what this section is talking about. It is called “Mr. Gillespie.”

Mr. Gillespie
by: Angela Sturgill, Chicken Soup for the Soul

When I was in seventh grade, I was a candy striper at a local hospital in my town. I volunteered about thirty to forty hours a week during the summer. Most of the time I spent there was with Mr. Gillespie. He never had any visitors, and nobody seemed to care about his condition.

I spent many days there holding his hand and talking to him, helping with anything that needed to be done. He became a close friend of mine, even though he responded with only an occasional squeeze of my hand. Mr. Gillespie was in a coma.

I left for a week to vacation with my parents, and when I came back, Mr. Gillespie was gone. I didn’t have the nerve to ask any of the nurses where he was, for fear they might tell me he had died. So with many questions unanswered, I continued to volunteer there through my eighth-grade year.

Several years later, when I was a junior in high school, I was at the gas station when I noticed a familiar face. When I realized who it was, my eyes filled with tears. He was alive! I got up the nerve to ask him if his name was Mr. Gillespie, and if he had been in a coma about five years ago. With an uncertain look on his face, he replied yes. I explained how I knew him, and that I had spent many hours talking with him in the hospital. His eyes welled up with tears, and he gave me the warmest hug I had ever received.

He began to tell me how, as he lay there comatose, he could hear me talking to him and could feel me holding his hand the whole time. He thought it was an angel, not a person, who was there with him. Mr. Gillespie firmly believed that it was my voice and touch that had kept him alive.

Then he told me about his life and what happened to him to put him in the coma. We both cried for a while and exchanged a hug, said our good-byes and went our separate ways.

Although I haven’t seen him since, he fills my heart with joy every day. I know that I made a difference between his life and his death. More important, he has made a tremendous difference in my life. I will never forget him and what he did for me: he made me an angel.

You’ll no doubt see the relevance of this story as we go along.

Paragraph 1

Condemn your savior not because he thinks he is a body. For beyond his dreams is his reality. But he must learn he is a savior first, before he can remember what he is. And he must save who would be saved. On saving you depends his happiness. For who is savior but the one who gives salvation? Thus he learns it must be his to give. Unless he gives he will not know he has, for giving is the proof of having. Only those who think that God is lessened by their strength could fail to understand this must be so. For who could give unless he has, and who could lose by giving what must be increased thereby?

Question: When we as Course students talk about someone being our savior, what do we usually mean? How exactly does this person save us? What does their saving of us look like in normal worldly terms?

The class pointed out that we normally see someone as our savior because they push our buttons, and by doing so, bring our ego to the surface, where we can be aware of it and let it go. Someone pointed out that calling someone “my teacher” often means the same thing. It means, “They do such aggravating things that bring my anger to the surface, but they are really my savior, my teacher.”

Here, in this passage, however, is a very different concept of someone being my savior. He saves me, not by pushing my buttons and flushing my ego to the surface. He saves me in a more straightforward sense, by giving me salvation. Indeed, a definition of savior is given: “Who is savior but the one who gives salvation?”

This paragraph, in fact, sketches a whole process, which we can assemble if we reorder the ideas in it. First, my savior thinks he is a body. And how do people act when they think they are a body? They need food, they need sex, they need comfort. They need to feel like a special body, with a special place in the world and people who treat them as special. And they fear hunger and lack of sex and discomfort and injury and ordinariness. And so they use their bodies to look out for all these things. If you, as an outside person, serve these needs, great, you get used, you get consumed. If you don’t serve these needs, fine, you get ignored. And if you get in the way of these needs, too bad, you get run over.

Now we can see why Jesus says, “Condemn your savior not because he thinks he is a body.” The fact that he thinks he is a body is the root of all of our condemnation of him. It is what causes him to do all those things that push our buttons. It is what causes him to perform his function as “savior” in the usual sense. But this is not how he fulfills his role as savior in the sense we find here.

From this low starting point, he needs to go on a journey. The journey begins when at some point he starts taking up his function of “saving you.” He starts giving you the salvation he possesses within him, and as he gives, he doesn’t lose what he gives, he increases it. For giving it proves to himself that he has it within himself, and thus increases his awareness of it. Through giving salvation, he finally learns “he is a savior.” And only once he learns that he is a savior can he remember his reality, which lies beyond his dreams, beyond his body. “But he must learn he is a savior first, before he can remember what he is.”

Paragraph 2

Think you the Father lost Himself when He created you? Was He made weak because He shared His Love? Was He made incomplete by your perfection? Or are you the proof that He is perfect and complete? Deny Him not His witness in the dream His Son prefers to his reality. He must be savior from the dream he made, that he be free of it. He must see someone else as not a body, one with him without the wall the world has built to keep apart all living things who know not that they live.

The paragraph opens by continuing a theme from the last paragraph, that how giving works with God is the template for how it works with us. When God gave us our being, when He gave us strength (first paragraph) and perfection, when He shared His Love with us, do we imagine that He lost? Do we imagine Him feeling drained, as if all the strength had gone out of Him? Probably not (although Greg joked that in the Bible He had to rest on the seventh day). We probably imagine that He felt an expansion, an increase, not a decrease. This paragraph says that His gift of perfection and completion was the proof that He is perfect and complete. Creating His masterpiece was the proof of the mastery within Him.

As giving works in God, so it works in this world. Just as God didn’t lose by giving, so we don’t lose by giving. Just as God’s gift only provided proof of His perfection, so our giving only provides proof of the presence of salvation in us. It provides proof that we are a savior.

This discussion about God’s giving contributes another point as well. Since God giving perfection to us is the proof, the witness, that God is perfect, that means that each creation of God, each person, is the witness to God’s perfection, at least when he is reflecting who he really is in this world-when he is fulfilling his role as savior. Thus, when our brother is performing his role as savior, he is being God’s witness in this world.

Then we have this puzzling line “Deny Him not His witness in the dream His Son prefers to his reality.” How do we not deny God His witness? How do we make sure that God is not without a witness to His perfection in this crazy dream? This will be answered as the section proceeds.

The next sentence continues talking about “he” but now the “he” is not God but our brother again, our savior. It says that before our brother can be free of the dream he made, he must become a savior. “He must see someone else as not a body, one with him without the wall the world has built to keep apart all living things who know not that they live.” This is the active ingredient. This is how he saves. He may believe he is a body, but his function is to see others as something beyond the body. And by doing this, he eventually awakens to his own reality beyond the body.

But is this how we think of the people in our lives? That they are here to free themselves from the dream by seeing beyond our body and awakening us to the spirit we really are? This may be how we think of spiritual masters, but about our friends, our co-workers, our neighbors?

Discussion: What problems do you think might come out of seeing people as being called to save us through seeing the Christ in us?

I think the main problem is that it seems to put salvation out there. Everything we’ve been taught says that “my salvation comes from me” (Lesson 70). If someone else is my savior, doesn’t that put responsibility outside of me-exactly where my ego has been trying to put it? We’ll see that this section has an answer for this apparently thorny question.

On the other hand, there are advantages to seeing people in this way. For one, it is a much more ennobling view of them as our savior, wouldn’t you say. Think about the contrast: savior as button-pusher vs. savior as one who sees into my very being and awakens me to the holiness of it. Both views may help me see another’s behavior in a new light, but which one gives a more exalted view of the person?

Paragraph 3

Within the dream of bodies and of death
is yet one theme of truth; no more, perhaps,
than just a tiny spark, a space of light
created in the dark, where God still shines.

In a world of ego, a world in which minds appear as hunks of flesh, which are driven to serve only their own hunger, which battle each other incessantly before they all end up in the grave, a world in which the truth has been forgotten in the total absorption with self, the madness can seem to be seamless. However, there “is yet one theme of truth.” It is small, just a tiny pinhole, but it is still there, like a tiny star shining in the blackness of night, “a space of light…where God still shines.” At this point we naturally wonder: What is it?

Discussion: Every person, every culture, every religion, every philosophy has its own idea of what the best thing in this world is. Let’s name some of the different things that are considered the pinnacle of what can be found in this world.

The class mentioned: Security, democracy, health, love, romance, Jesus, the cross, peace on earth, ending world hunger, beer, freedom, birth of a baby, a gold medal, natural beauty.

Now let’s look at what this section says is the “tiny spark,” the one true thing that can happen in this untrue world. The answer is given us over the next five lines:

You cannot wake yourself. Yet you can let
yourself be wakened. You can overlook
your brother’s dreams. So perfectly can you
forgive him his illusions he becomes
your savior from your dreams.

That first line is a doozy. “You cannot wake yourself.” This seems to go against everything we believe. To resolve the tension, we may instantly leap to assume that it is the Holy Spirit Who wakes us up. But that is not what this section says. To see what it does say, we can just string the next sentences together: You can let yourself be wakened by overlooking your brother’s dreams (forgiving him his illusions), at which point he becomes your savior from your dreams.” To say that he saves you from your dreams is the same as saying that he wakes you up, right? To compress it even further: You cannot wake yourself, but you can let your brother wake you up. Are we comfortable with this message?

The scenario is this: You first forgive your brother, and because something holy came out of you and blessed him, he now sees something holy in you, something that transcends your body. As the Course says elsewhere, he sees in you more than you see (T-14.II.4:4). And by seeing this in you, he is the one who teaches you that it’s there. He awakens you to its presence. He teaches you that you are an angel.

This is how this section resolves the tension between “my salvation comes from me” and “you cannot wake yourself.” It is my forgiveness that unleashes my savior to give me the salvation I cannot give myself.

Question: Try to think of a time when this happened in your life-where you truly overlooked someone else’s faults and sins and foibles, and saw something transcendentally worthy in him. And then, as a result, he saw something transcendentally worthy in you, and awakened your awareness of that. Or maybe it was the other way around-where you started out on the receiving end.

This —this exchange of salvation, this holy encounter-is the one holy thing that can happen in this unholy world. Why?

The world is a dream of bodies struggling, eating and dying. It is every one for himself. It is a jungle out there. This exchange of salvation, this “holy interaction” (P-2.V.5:8), is the complete reversal of the dynamic that rules the world. It is one person stepping outside conventional self-interest to give to another, even in the face of being attacked. And then it is that other person stepping outside of his own bubble to return the gift. Both have reached beyond the bubble of self-interest and now both are no longer alone. For a brief time, they have left the battlefield that covers this earth.

True forgiveness is a step completely outside the ego. The last thing the ego wants to do is forgive. When I have been apparently hurt by you, the ego wants me to look out for my needs and attack yours. Instead, forgiveness (at least on the level of appearances) seems to look out for your needs while ignoring mine. It does the exact opposite of what the ego wants to do. To overlook my brother’s dreams-the very dark dreams that seemingly hurt me-goes against every instinct for self-preservation I have.

The gift I gave seemed to be given outside me, to my perpetrator, given at the expense of my own self-interest. Yet it was such a pure gift, so totally free of ego, how could it not bless me? It will bless me by waking up my savior, who will return the gift to me (this explains the line “Deny Him not His witness in the dream His Son prefers to his reality”). He cannot wake himself; he needs my egoless gift of love. And once he receives it, he will do for me what I cannot do for myself. He will awaken me with a similar gift of egoless love. This joint extension beyond the separate self to save another, this mutual gift of salvation, is the one heavenly thing that can happen on this shadowy, egocentric earth. This is the spark that shines within the dream.

Let’s now continue with our paragraph:

And as you see
him shining in the space of light where God
abides within the darkness, you will see
that God Himself is where his body is.
Before this light the body disappears,
as heavy shadows must give way to light.
The darkness cannot choose that it remain.
The coming of the light means it is gone.
In glory will you see your brother then,
and understand what really fills the gap
so long perceived as keeping you apart.
There, in its place, God’s witness has set forth
the gentle way of kindness to God’s Son.
Whom you forgive is given power to
forgive you your illusions. By your gift
of freedom is it given unto you.

The next lines describe what sounds like an ecstatic experience, an experience of the “space of light where God abides within the darkness.” You thought the space between you and your brother was space that keeps you apart, space that was occupied by his body, “the wall the world has built to keep apart all living things.” Yet now your brother’s body has vanished, and you see that this space is actually filled by God Himself. To your surprise, you see your brother shining with the glory of God Himself.

What is “the gentle way of kindness to God’s Son”? It is, I think, described in the very next line: “Whom you forgive is given power to forgive you your illusions.” This is the way we are kind to ourselves, the way we remember that we are God’s Son. We forgive, and thereby empower our savior to do this saving of us.

That phrase “is given power to forgive you your illusions” bears scrutiny. What gives him this power? I think we can see this from two angles. First, he is given the power to see the holiness in you, because he has been on the receiving end of it. As the Text says elsewhere, “The joy of teaching is in the learner” (T-16.III.7:4). It’s the receiver who understands the true worth of the gift-and the true worth of the giver. Second, you will more likely be open to receiving the gift of forgiveness from someone to whom you have given that same gift. It will probably make more sense to you if that’s who gives it to you. Think about the Mr. Gillespie story. Would the girl in that story have given anyone else permission to make her an angel?

This brings up a core issue: Once we forgive another, we have to let him save us. We have to let him be our teacher, to let ourselves be wakened (to use the words of our section). We have to give him a certain kind of seniority when it comes to this key issue: Are we forgivable? Are we holy? Even if only a moment before, we were wearing the hat of teacher/healer/forgiver, we now have to wear the hat of student/patient. We have to realize that when it comes to our own nature, we, for now, are hopelessly biased. We are not in a position to see. We don’t see our own holiness, not really. We are stuck behind a mountain and can’t see the sun. We have to be taught our holiness by the eyes of someone who sees in us more than we see, someone who has been profoundly blessed and forever changed by the holiness in us. That is what happened to the girl in the story, and that is what needs to happen to us. Are we willing to let our brother be our teacher, not as button-pusher, but as revealer of our hidden holiness?

Paragraph 4

Make way for love, which you did not create, but which you can extend. On earth this means forgive your brother, that the darkness may be lifted from your mind. When light has come to him through your forgiveness, he will not forget his savior, leaving him unsaved. For it was in your face he saw the light that he would keep beside him, as he walks through darkness to the everlasting Light.

When we hear that line “Whom you forgive is given power to forgive you your illusions,” our first thought is probably, “But can I trust him? How do I know he won’t he just take my gift and run?” This paragraph is meant to answer those concerns. “When light has come to him through your forgiveness, he will not forget his savior, leaving him unsaved.” This is really pictured in terms of a travel image. It’s as if we are both in chains, unable to move ahead. But then the light of love shines from your face, and frees me to move on. How can I now forget you and leave you behind, still stuck in your chains? I’m going toward the everlasting Light, but I’m not there yet. The light in your face is my only light for now. Your shining face is the little light that reminds of the greater Light to which I go. What else would I do but make sure you stay beside me?

Trusting my brother in this sense is an ego-transcending gesture. How can we truly be free of the ego and say, “I trust no one”? We Course students tend to be firmly esconced in the virtues of individualism. No one saves me but me! Yet the Course clearly says, “Specialness [the hallmark of the ego] is a lack of trust in anyone except yourself” (T-24.IV.1:1). Learning to trust that our brother will return the gift, being willing to let him save us-these are essential attributes of the mind moving in the direction of egolessness.

Paragraph 5

How holy are you, that the Son of God
can be your savior in the midst of dreams
of desolation and disaster. See
how eagerly he comes, and steps aside
from heavy shadows that have hidden him,
and shines on you in gratitude and love.
He is himself, but not himself alone.
And as his Father lost not part of him
in your creation, so the light in him
is brighter still because you gave your light
to him, to save him from the dark. And now
the light in you must be as bright as shines
in him. This is the spark that shines within
the dream; that you can help him waken, and
be sure his waking eyes will rest on you.
And in his glad salvation you are saved.

This paragraph completes the image begun in Paragraph 3, the image of your ecstatic experience of the “space of light where God abides within the dream.” You have seen your brother’s body shined away, and your brother shining with the glory of God. Now your brother steps forth from the heavy shadows (the body) that have hidden him, “and shines on you in gratitude and love.” He shines all the brighter because the light in you has been given him. And now his shining causes you to shine just as brightly as him. And he has saved you.

The imagery here is ecstatic, but the way it looks when it actually happens may be quite ordinary. It may just be someone really thanking you, with an unusual depth of sincerity, for the gift you gave. As in our story, it may be running into someone at a gas station. But if you had eyes to see it, what is really going on is what is described here: Your savior is stepping out from behind heavy shadows and shining on you in gratitude and love, and causing you to shine.

The section concludes with yet another image. If you wake someone up, you can be sure his waking eyes will rest on you. This is literally true, of course. But here it is a metaphor: If you wake someone up spiritually, you can be sure that his loving gaze will first bless you with the gift of illumination.

What I find so moving about this section is that it says quite plainly, twice, that this exchange of salvation is the one spark of light in this dark, nightmarish world. It is a world full of separate bodies pursuing their separate interests, a world full of lonely, warring egos. There seems to be no light, no hope. Yet in this seemingly endless blanket of darkness, there is “yet one theme of truth; no more, perhaps, than just a tiny spark, a space of light created in the dark, where God still shines” (3:1). Rather than going about my business, pursuing my separate interests, caught up in my ego, I can reach out beyond my ego. I can overlook your ego, for no selfish reasons whatsoever. And if I do, you will spontaneously reach beyond your ego to bless me. You will shine on me in gratitude and love, again, for no selfish reasons whatsoever. Both of us will have lifted our heads out of the daily grind of getting our separate needs met. Both of us will have given the other a gift he cannot give himself. Both of us will overlooked appearances and seen “someone else as not a body, one with him without the wall the world has built to keep apart all living things” (2:7). Two people will have reached beyond their egos in order to benefit another, and in the process will have realized that they are one. And this, says the Course, is the one true thing that can happen in this untrue world.


Begin by asking the Holy Spirit, “Who is the main person You want me to see as my savior right now,
my savior who is called to waken me by giving me salvation?”
Choose the first person that comes to mind.
Begin by thinking about the dreams you have trouble overlooking in this person.

Now realize that those dreams seem so bad because they get in the way of things you want from the world,
Yet the only thing that matters in this world is overlooking his dreams.
For you are simply unable to wake yourself. You’ll never do it without his help.
Yet you have “the power to release your savior, that he may give salvation unto you” (T‑21.II.3:8).
Now have a sense of overlooking his dreams,
seeing past them to the holiness in him.
Have a sense of forgiving him his illusions.
Nothing is more important in this world.
“Forgive your brother, that the darkness may be lifted from your mind.”
“So perfectly can you forgive him his illusions he becomes your savior from your dreams.”

See him now shining in the space of light where God abides within the darkness,
and as you do, you see that God Himself is where his body is.
Before this light his body disappears, as heavy shadows must give way to light.
In glory do you see your brother now, shining with divine radiance.
This glory is what really fills the gap so long perceived as keeping you apart.

Trust that now that light has come to him through your forgiveness,
he will not forget you, his savior, leaving you unsaved.
For it was in your face he saw the light that he would keep beside him,
as he walks through darkness to the everlasting Light.

Now let him be your savior, your teacher.
Realize that he sees in you a holiness you cannot see,
And that this sight is your salvation.
Give him seniority in this one area.
Let him give you his gift. Take it in.
It is only your ego that would refuse it.
See how eagerly he comes, and steps aside from heavy shadows that have hidden him,
and shines on you in gratitude and love.
He is himself, but not himself alone.
He is God’s witness, shining on you God’s evaluation of you.
The light in him so bright because he carries the light God gave him and the light you gave him.
And now the light in you must be as bright as shines in him.

Within the dream of bodies and of death is yet one theme of truth;
no more, perhaps, than just a tiny spark, a space of light created in the dark,
where God still shines.
This is it.
This is the spark that shines within the dream:
that you can help him waken,
and be sure his waking eyes will rest on you.

Posted in Forgiveness and relationships | Comments closed

“As You Teach So Shall You Learn”


by Robert Perry

A favorite idea in the Course

As you teach so shall you learn. (T-5.IV.6:4)

As I have said before, “As you teach so shall you learn.” (T-6.I.6:1-3)

Only by teaching it [the lesson of love] can you learn it. “As you teach so will you learn.” If that is true, and it is true indeed, do not forget that what you teach is teaching you. (T-6.III.2:6-8)

And as you teach salvation, you will learn. (W-pI.121.7:6)

You cannot teach what you have not learned, and what you teach you strengthen in yourself because you are sharing it. Every lesson you teach you are learning. (T-6.III.1:9-10)

How do we teach?

To teach is to demonstrate….Any situation must be to you a chance to teach others what you are, and what they are to you. (M-IN.2:1,10)

Teaching is done in many ways, above all by example. (T-5.IV.5:1)

Yet we can realize our function here, and words can speak of this and teach it, too, if we exemplify the words in us. (W-pII.14.2:5)

Teaching is a constant process; it goes on every moment of the day, and continues into sleeping thoughts as well. (M-IN.1:6)

The simple presence of a teacher of God is a reminder. His thoughts ask for the right to question what the patient has accepted as true. (M-5.III.2:2-3)

1. If you teach an idea, you will learn that idea is real and has effects on you

Teach attack in any form and you have learned it, and it will hurt you. Yet this learning is not immortal, and you can unlearn it by not teaching it. (T-6.III.3:9-10)

The only way to have peace is to teach peace. (T-6.III.3:3)

2. If you teach an idea, you will learn that that idea is in you, is yours

Teach only love, and learn that love is yours…. (T-6.III.4:9)

3. If you teach an idea, you will learn that that idea is you

Teach only love, and learn that love is yours and you are love. (T-6.III.4:9)

Your teaching teaches you what you are

Therefore, what extends from the mind is still in it, and from what it extends it knows itself. (T-6.III.1:2)

Whenever you are with a brother, you are learning what you are because you are teaching what you are. (T-8.III5:8)

You teach him this [that he is damned, separate from you and from God forever], and you will learn of him exactly what you taught. (T-21.VI.6:3)

We awaken through what we teach others

You are not yet awake, but you can learn how to awaken. Very simply the Holy Spirit teaches you to awaken others. As you see them waken you will learn what waking means, and because you have chosen to wake them, their gratitude and their appreciation of what you have given them will teach you its value. They will become the witnesses to your reality, as you were created witnesses to God’s. (T-9.VI.5:1-4)

An exercise

Think of a recent incident in which you thought about or treated someone harshly or unkindly.

Can you see that you were teaching the idea of attack?

Can you see how, by teaching that idea, you taught yourself that it was real and had effects on you? How does it feel to believe that attack is real and has effects on you?

Can you see how, by teaching that idea, you taught yourself that that idea was in you? How does it feel to believe that attack is in you?

Can you see how, by teaching that idea, you taught yourself that that idea is you? How does it feel to believe that you are attack?

Now think of a recent incident in which you thought about or treated someone genuinely lovingly.

Can you see that you were teaching the idea of love?

Can you see how, by teaching that idea, you taught yourself that it was real and had effects on you? How does it feel to believe that love is real and has effects on you?

Can you see how, by teaching that idea, you taught yourself that that idea was in you? How does it feel to believe that love is in you?

Can you see how, by teaching that idea, you taught yourself that that idea is you? How does it feel to believe that you are love?

In light of this exercise, is it possible that the quality of your thoughts (in terms of love or attack) is the prime force in teaching you who you are?

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Rules for Decision

by Robert Perry

The Fast Track: Do Not Let Opposition Get a Foothold

Morning: establish a “set” for the day (rule #1)

1. Establish your goal: imagine the ideal spiritual day that you want today (ideally, write it down on a note card).

2. Tell yourself, “There is a way in which this very day can happen just like that.”

3. Means: Determine to decide everything with the Holy Spirit. Say, “Today I will make no decisions by myself.”

Frequent reminders all through the day (rule #2)

Whenever you can…

1. Remind yourself of your goal for the day (it helps to pull out your note card).

2. Tell yourself, “If I make no decisions by myself, this is the day that will be given me.”

Asking for guidance

1. Ask the Holy Spirit as often as you can about what you should do.

2. Refrain from deciding what situations mean. That will cause you to:

  • decide what the problem is and what the question is
  • set a range for acceptable answers
  • be afraid His answers will fall outside your range and so refuse to ask Him

The Quick Restorative: When Opposition Arises, Get Back on Track Quickly

When you notice you’ve hit a situation in which you refuse to ask for His guidance:

1. Review “once again the day you want” (6:1). (Pull out your card and look at it.)

2. “Recognize that something has occurred that is not part of it” (6:1).

3. Realize that you have defined the problem, the question, and the range of the answer.

4. Say, “I have no question. I forgot what to decide.” (This means: “I don’t know what needs solving about this situation. I forgot that I was deciding only with the Holy Spirit today.”)

5. Return to asking Him what to do in this situation. (This returns you to the fast track.)

The Longer Restorative: Reason Yourself Back Into Wanting to Ask the Holy Spirit

If you still fear to ask His guidance in this situation:

1. Say to yourself, “At least I can decide I do not like what I feel now” (resistant to asking).

2. Tell yourself, “And so I hope I have been wrong” (about my view of this situation, a view which includes the idea that asking the Holy Spirit is dangerous).

3. Say, “I want another way to look at this” (situation, so that I won’t be afraid to ask).

4. Say, “Perhaps there is another way to look at this. What can I lose by asking (the Holy Spirit for His direction)?”

5. Return to asking Him what to do in this situation. (This returns you to the fast track.)

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Accept No Compromise in Which Death Plays a Part

by Greg Mackie

Nothing in our lives seems so certain as the fact that we will die. For this reason, perhaps no question has been more central to humankind than the question of death and its meaning. What is death? Is it a bitter cosmic joke? A welcome end to a life of pain and suffering? A natural part of the circle of life? The gateway to eternal life in Heaven? These answers and many more have been offered to a question that has undoubtedly been pondered from the very beginning.

This question has become especially relevant for me, as my life has recently been touched by death. In the last several months, I’ve been working with someone who is facing a terminal illness, and during this same time, three members of my and my wife’s family have died. These encounters with death have prompted me to reflect a great deal on the Course’s teachings about death, especially Section 27 of the Manual for Teachers, “What is Death?” I have focused in particular on this section’s teaching that the world has made endless compromises with death, and that the function of the teacher of God is to make no compromise with it. As I’ve sat at my dying grandmother’s bedside, attended one memorial service after another, shared my beliefs about death with those who’ve asked, and consoled grieving family members, my burning question has been: How do I, as a Course teacher, fulfill my function of making no compromise with death, especially when confronted with the actual physical death of loved ones and the reactions of those who are impacted by it?

This article is my answer to that question. In it, I will briefly discuss Section 27’s teachings about death and the compromises we make with it. Then I will take a closer look at some of the specific compromises the world makes with death, many of which I witnessed in the course of my recent encounters with death. Finally, I will discuss how to make no compromise with death—both what this means on a practical level, and how to truly let go of our compromises. The teachings of A Course in Miracles on the subject of death, while certainly challenging, are ultimately liberating. I hope to convey at least some of the liberation I’ve felt as a result of contemplating these teachings and applying them to my own life.

What is death?

Section 27 tells us that “death is the central dream from which all illusions stem” (M-27.1:1). Thus, death is much more than simply the cessation of bodily functioning; it is the whole idea that we can change our eternal life as God created it to a state of corruption, imperfection, limitation, and lack. It is the basic template behind every illusion of deprivation or suffering that we experience, including fear, pain, sadness, hunger, and anger. (This article, however, will focus primarily on physical death.) Given its fearful nature, death cannot possibly be real, because God is only Love, and fear is completely alien to Him. Furthermore, God created only life, and so death cannot exist, for what God created can have no opposite.

Yet we humans believe without question that death is real, and since we dearly want to believe in love as well, we try desperately to reconcile death with the idea of a loving Creator. In short, we make compromises with death, trying to find a place for it in the grand scheme of things, so we can affirm life and life’s Creator in spite of the incontrovertible “fact” of death. In the Course’s words, these compromises are our “vain attempts to cling to death and yet to think love real” (M-27.6:9).

But in spite of these vain attempts, the fact remains that death is not real, and it is totally irreconcilable with life and love. And so the section rejects in no uncertain terms the compromises we attempt to make with death:

If death is real for anything, there is no life. Death denies life. But if there is reality in life, death is denied. No compromise in this is possible. There is either a god of fear or One of Love. The world attempts a thousand compromises, and will attempt a thousand more. Not one can be acceptable to God’s teachers, because not one could be acceptable to God. He did not make death because He did not make fear. Both are equally meaningless to Him. (M-27.4:2-10)

These lines have always struck me deeply. They are so uncompromising; in one fell swoop, they sweep away a whole herd of sacred cows. Our beliefs about death (especially our belief in its reality) are among the most sacred of our sacred cows, and yet the Course summarily dismisses them all. In their place, it tells the teacher of God that he has one function and one function only: “Accept no compromise in which death plays a part” (M-27.7:1).

How do we, as aspiring teachers of God, fulfill this challenging function? I will have more to say on that later. But first, I’d like to focus on some of the specific ways in which the world compromises with death.

The world’s compromises with death, and the Course’s response to them

What are some of those “thousand compromises” that Section 27 talks about? How do we try to reconcile death with a loving God? The following is a list of compromises that I can think of, along with the Course’s response to them. I’m sure there are many more. All of them are rooted in the unquestioned assumption that death is real; you could preface each of these with the words, “Death is real, but…” The Course’s ultimate refutation of them all, as we’ve already seen, is to declare death totally unreal.

One word of warning before I go through the list of compromises: Some of the teaching here may come off sounding pretty harsh (though, as we’ll see, what is really harsh are our compromises). Given the Course’s uncompromising stance on this subject, it is very difficult to discuss it without offending some sensitivities. These compromises, as I mentioned, are sacred cows for many of us, and having them dismissed so bluntly and completely can sting. But the Course clearly wants us to confront our compromises with death, and so I ask that you read the following with an open mind, setting aside your sensitivities for the moment and allowing your assumptions to be challenged. Now, on to the list of compromises:

Death is a natural part of the “circle of life.”

According to this compromise, death is good because it is part of an ongoing natural cycle of birth and death, in which individuals may die, but nature as a whole lives on. Death only seems tragic to us because we don’t see it from the larger perspective of the whole. If we did, we would see that death is nature’s way of giving birth to new life, and thus an essential part of the circle of life.

This is a very popular view in our environmentally conscious time; the “circle of life,” along with everything “natural,” is regarded by many as the Holy of Holies, to be worshipped as God (or Goddess). It is eulogized in everything from Ecclesiastes to ecofeminism, from the Tao Te Ching to The Lion King. It even appears in children’s books about death, like The Tenth Good Thing about Barney, in which a child whose beloved cat Barney dies is consoled by the fact that Barney’s decomposing body helps the flowers grow.

But is this view really that comforting? The Course thinks not. As far as the Course is concerned, the so-called circle of life is really a circle of death: “And so do all things live because of death. Devouring is nature’s ‘law of life'” (M-27.3:6-7). These are devastating words, but it is hard to argue with them. All living things live off of the carcasses of other living things, whether of cattle or of carrots. The entire world is just one big feeding frenzy in which everything is devouring everything else—what Robert Perry likes to call the “circle of lunch.” And the fact that the whole goes on even though individuals die is little consolation. It is like saying of a brutal war, “Sure, individual soldiers die, but the good news is that the war goes on.” If we look without blinders on the laws of nature, it is hard not to conclude that the god who made them up must be a cruel god indeed. How could a god who made death real (and such an integral part of his system) be anything else?

Death brings peace, either through oblivion or through a peaceful afterlife.

This popular compromise sees death as the great escape from the pain of living in the world. It has two basic versions. The first says that when I die, I simply become a totally unconscious nonentity, and so I will be free of pain. True, I won’t have any joy either, but since I’m unconscious, I won’t know that, and so it’s okay. The second says that when I die, I will go to some sort of peaceful eternal afterlife that is free of pain, like the Heaven of traditional Christianity. Either way, I will have peace because I have escaped the pain of being in a body.

The Course clearly refutes this view. It tells us that “there is a risk in thinking death is peace” (T-27.VII.10:2). Why? Seeing death as peace is risky because this idea is actually an ego ploy to get us to seek death (consciously or unconsciously), which is exactly what the ego wants us to do. Oddly enough, the ego sponsors both versions of the idea that death is peace. On the one hand, it encourages us to “leap from hell [this life] into oblivion” (T-15.I.5:3). But on the other hand, it also encourages us to believe that death is the way to eternal life (see T-6.V(A).1:1-2). To the ego, it doesn’t really matter which we choose; either way, we will be choosing death. When we listen to the ego, we “see in death escape from what [we] made” (M-20.5:2). But in truth, “death cannot be escape, because it is not life in which the problem lies” (M-20.5:4). The only real life is our life in God, and this life is forever untouched by death. Seeing death as an escape from the painful “life” of the body is no solution at all; the Course would have us see instead that “nothing is accomplished through death, because death is nothing” (T-6.V(A)1:2). Seeing death as escape simply reinforces our belief that death is real.

Death is okay, because although the body does die, the soul lives on in some form.

This compromise obviously includes those who believe that death is the gateway to a peaceful eternal afterlife, as discussed above. But it is broader, because it also includes those who do believe life continues after death, but don’t necessarily believe that death will bring immediate peace. It is the category for those who believe that the soul is in a process of gradual evolution and growth, either moving from body to body (reincarnation) or going on to different dimensions of one sort or another (astral planes, etc.) to continue the learning process.

The Course specifically rejects this compromise in Section 27 of the Manual: “The curious belief that there is part of dying things that may go on apart from what will die, does not proclaim a loving God nor re-establish any grounds for trust” (M-27.4:1). This flat rejection may seem surprising at first. Isn’t it true that we go on after the body dies? Yes it is, but the clue to what the Course is targeting here is in the words “apart from what will die.” It is targeting the belief that we have a real body that really does die, but fortunately, we have this other part of us, the soul or spirit, that lives on. The point is that if God created anything that could truly die, then He is not a loving God. The body does seem to die, but it is only an illusion in our minds that was never alive to begin with. Believing that our body really dies but our spirit lives on is just one more way to insert into God’s deathless creation the idea that death is real.

Death is okay, because the memory of the deceased lives on.

I heard this one a lot at the memorial services I attended. It says that while the person who dies is really dead, we can take consolation in the fact that as long as her loved ones remember her, she lives on in their hearts. The memory of all that she gave them and all that she stood for is still with them, and in that sense she still “lives.” (This one is often applied to great historical figures like Gandhi or Martin Luther King, Jr.)

I can’t find a specific refutation of this idea in the Course, but it seems to me that the line I just quoted above (M-27.4:1) would apply to this as well. This compromise is just another way of saying, “Part of her is really dead, but part of her lives on.” And this version of that idea is particularly grim, because the only part of her that lives on is a fading memory in minds that themselves will eventually die. Like the other compromises, this one proclaims loud and clear that death is real.

Death makes us appreciate life more.

I heard this one on a Bill Moyers television special I watched recently entitled On Our Own Terms. On this program, which was about new ways of relating to and caring for the dying, a number of people who were facing imminent death were profiled. The idea some of them expressed is that the very impermanence of life makes it precious. Therefore, death is good, because it is a kind of “time limit” that forces us to make the most of the limited time we have. If life were really unlimited, we’d probably get bored and not really appreciate it. Death fixes that problem by getting us to live every moment as if it were our last.

Yet the Course, characteristically, completely overturns the idea that the impermanence of life makes it more precious. Real life, according to the Course, is permanent by definition, being eternal. The Course even makes permanence the standard by which to measure what we value:

If you choose a thing that will not last forever, what you chose is valueless. A temporary value is without all value….What fades and dies was never there, and makes no offering to him who chooses it. (W-pI.133.6:1-2,4)

If we value something because it will not last, how much do we really value it? It must not be very good if the only thing that gives it value is the fact that it will end. Valuing the impermanent because it is impermanent is a way of appreciating death, not life. It is another way to make death real.

Death is a great mystery; we cannot know its meaning, but must accept it and trust that God must have some benevolent purpose for it.

This is the last resort for everyone who still clings to the belief in the reality of death, but can’t bring himself to wholeheartedly accept any of the other compromises. It is the great escape hatch for theologians stumped by the question of how to reconcile death with a loving God. The idea here is that however horrible death (or any form of suffering) may seem, God is Love, and so there must be some benevolent purpose for it. While we don’t know that purpose now, perhaps we will sometime in the future. Until then, we must simply accept the mystery of death, and trust that God had a good reason for creating it.

But this final compromise of appealing to mystery is another that the Course specifically refutes. It rejects the entire notion of mystery, telling us unequivocally, “God has no secrets” (T-22.I.3:10). Addressing the idea that God gives us suffering and death for a benevolent purpose which He will explain later, the Course is clear that such a God would be a god of punishment, not a God of Love:

Why should the good appear in evil’s form? And is it not deception if it does?….And you seek to be content with sighing, and with “reasoning” you do not understand it now, but will some day. And then its meaning will be clear. This is not reason, for it is unjust, and clearly hints at punishment until the time of liberation is at hand. (T-26.VIII.7:1-2,6-8)

God does not give us pain now in exchange for a juicy reward later. “He does not lead you through a world of misery, waiting to tell you, at the journey’s end, why He did this to you” (T-22.I.3:11). The meaning of death is no mystery; it has no meaning, because it is nothing. It is not real, and so we must not accept it.

How do we fulfill our function of making no compromise with death?

Now we turn to the question that prompted this article. The short answer is really very simple, and has been alluded to a number of times already: If all these compromises are rooted in the belief that death is real, then the way out of these compromises is to recognize that death is not real. This, indeed, is what Section 27 of the Manual tells us:

What seems to die has but been misperceived and carried to illusion. Now it becomes your task to let the illusion be carried to the truth. Be steadfast but in this; be not deceived by the “reality” of any changing form. (M-27.7:3-5)

To make no compromise with death, then, means to deny the reality of death. But as succinct as this answer is, it leaves two vital questions unanswered: First, what does making no compromise with death mean in practical terms? Second, how do we truly let go of our compromises with death? I will now answer these questions in turn.

What does making no compromise with death mean in practical terms?

In answering this, it might perhaps be helpful to first discuss what making no compromise does not mean. First, it does not mean denying that we believe in death, and deluding ourselves into thinking that we will not experience death within the illusion. On the contrary, the Course wants us to acknowledge our belief in death squarely, and not attempt to sweep it under the rug, as so many of us try to do when faced with death. The whole point of targeting our compromises with death is to show us just how deep our investment in death really is, and how grim the implications of our belief in death really are. Acknowledging our belief in death (and the inevitable effect of that belief: that we and those around us will die, at least within the illusion) is not a compromise with it; rather, it is the first step toward questioning that belief and ultimately renouncing it.

Second, it does not mean that we should confront people who are facing death with the Course’s challenging teachings about it. This cannot be too strongly stated. We should accept no compromise into our own minds, but that doesn’t mean that we should try to argue other people out of their own compromises. Dying and grieving people need love and support, not attack; the last thing they need is someone ripping away the very things that they are clinging to for solace. Besides, some of the compromises, particularly the ones that emphasize life after death in some form, have a grain of truth in them: “There is always some good in any thought which strengthens the idea that life and the body are not the same” (M-24.2.8). We can honor whatever truth there is in other people’s compromises, even as we refuse to accept the compromises ourselves. Above all, in deciding what to say and do to help dying and grieving people, we should always turn to the Holy Spirit for guidance. He knows what they need; we do not. Praying for guidance was a real lifeline for me in my recent encounters with death. While I’m sure my hearing of Him was far from perfectly clear, I am convinced that my responses were a lot more loving than they would have been if I had relied on my own judgment alone.

Third, it does not mean that the Holy Spirit has no positive use for the experience of physical death. While the idea of death is of the ego, the form of death is actually neutral, just like every other form. Even though physical death is caused by the ego (unless the mind is totally healed, in which case physical death is a conscious decision to lay down the body when we no longer have a use for it—see S-3.II), the Holy Spirit can still use that death as an opportunity for forgiveness, love, and joining. Even within the most difficult and painful death, the Holy Spirit embeds the one lesson that He would teach through everything we experience: “Forgive, and you will see this differently” (W-pI.193.3:7). The death of a loved one can truly be a beautiful experience when viewed from this perspective. I personally was privileged to witness and experience a lot of love and forgiveness as a result of the deaths in our family.

All of which brings us back to our initial question: What does making no compromise with death mean in practical terms? In a nutshell, it means inwardly denying the reality of death, even while outwardly working with the form of death. It means doing everything we feel guided to do outwardly to deal with death as a form—helping the dying, consoling the grieving, acknowledging and planning for our own death, etc.—while at the same time affirming that the true Self of everyone is forever deathless. Now, it will likely be a very long time before we fully recognize the truth of this affirmation. But until we do, our job as Course students and aspiring teachers of God is to practice this, gently but firmly denying that death is real, and affirming the truth that death is unreal. This is the practice that will one day lead us to full recognition of the truth.

How do we truly let go of our compromises with death?

I’ve already mentioned one practice above, and certainly there are many other Course practices that can help with this. But here, I want to focus on two steps that are suggested by the teaching of Section 27 of the Manual: 1) Look honestly at our compromises with death, and 2) Let go of those compromises through forgiveness.

The first step is pretty straightforward: We need to take an honest, unflinching look at our compromises with death, and realize just how brutal and fearful their implications really are. We’ve already done some of that in this article, but let’s take a closer look at those implications now. The assumption behind all of our compromises, as we’ve seen, is that death is real. Yet if death is real, what does that really say about our nature and about the nature of our Creator? No matter how much we try to dress it up, I think all of us realize on some level that death just isn’t a good thing. This is reflected in the fact that we reserve the death penalty for our most horrible criminals. And herein lies a clue to what death really says about us: It says that we are horrible criminals, guilty sinners who rebelled against God and now sit on Death Row, awaiting His final punishment for our unforgivable crime. “The sinful warrant only death and pain” (W-pI.101.2:4). If this is so, what can we do but fear God? “He is not Father, but destroyer. He is not Creator, but avenger” (M-27.5:7-8). All of this leads to the grim, inevitable conclusion: Our nature is corruption, and the nature of our Creator is fear. This picture is so terrifying that we must make compromises with death. We must find a way to make death look like love, so we can keep the bitter “truth” safely out of sight.

Once we clearly see what death really implies about us and our Creator (and recognize just how undesirable these implications really are), the next step follows naturally. If our belief in the reality of death is rooted in our perception of ourselves as guilty sinners in the hands of a punishing God, then the way to undo our belief in death is forgiveness, the recognition that, however real our “sins” may appear to be, in truth we are innocent Sons of a loving Father, who remain as incorruptible as the moment He created us. Our true nature is purity, and the true nature of our Creator is Love. No crime was committed, and so we have never really been on Death Row. This is the recognition that will one day overcome not only our compromises with death, but death itself:

And what is the end of death? Nothing but this; the realization that the Son of God is guiltless now and forever. Nothing but this. (M-27.7:7-9)

In practical terms, realizing that the Son of God is guiltless means forgiving our brothers. As the Course puts it, “You have called [your brother] guilty of your sins, and in him must your innocence now be found” (S-2.I.4:6). Forgiving our brothers means overlooking everything in them that speaks of corruption and death—their bodies, their personalities, their “sins”—and seeing instead the Christ in them: the deathless, eternal Self Who has never sinned, the true Self Whose Identity we share. By constantly overlooking everything in our brothers that seems to sin, suffer, change, and die, we deny the reality of death. By seeing our oneness with our brothers, we recognize that if death is unreal for them, it is unreal for us as well. Seeing death as unreal, we will no longer need to compromise with it. Seeing death as unreal, we will no longer be distressed by physical death, because we will realize that it has no effect whatsoever on the true Self of those who “die.” And seeing death as unreal, we will recognize that God is pure Love, a kindly Father Who gives only life to the Son He loves.

Final thoughts

In closing, I want to encourage you to really spend some time reflecting on your current views of death, and weighing them against the Course’s uncompromising standard. As I said above, this may be challenging, but it is ultimately liberating. At least that has been my experience. Personally, my response to the Course’s teachings about death has been a huge sigh of relief, and I found them immensely comforting in my own recent encounters with death. For me, there is something so incredibly freeing in the teaching that death is pure illusion, and that the reality of my loved ones is totally unaffected by it. This thought reassures me as I contemplate my own death as well. And best of all, the recognition that God did not create death or suffering of any kind frees me to love Him with absolutely no fear and no reservations. He is a gentle, loving Father Whom I can trust completely. No other teaching I have found has given me this kind of comfort.

We have all pondered the question of death, and many of us have tried very hard to reconcile death with a loving God. But can it really be done? I don’t think so. We have attempted many compromises with death, but I think if we are honest with ourselves, we will have to admit that these compromises are all deeply unsatisfying. I think that no matter how hard we try to compromise with death, something deep within us knows that death and love just don’t mix. “There is either a god of fear or One of Love” (M-27.4:6). There is either a god of death or One of Life. We cannot have both; we must choose one or the other. If we want the God of Love, we must choose the God of Life.

Isn’t the God of Life a lot more satisfying than our compromises with death? If our answer is “yes,” then let us make a firm decision to “accept no compromise in which death plays a part.” Actually giving up our compromises will take time and practice, but setting the goal is the first step to its accomplishment. If we commit our minds to this goal, the day will come when we finally recognize the truth about death, the only answer to the question of death that will ever really satisfy: “There is no death. The Son of God is free” (W-pI.163.Heading).

If you would like to learn more about the Course’s teachings concerning death, as well as how to apply those teachings in your own life, I recommend Allen Watson’s booklet What is Death?It can be ordered from the Circle of Atonement Bookstore.

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