The Atonement is a total commitment (T-2.II.7:1).
We don’t want to mistake those words – especially the phrase “total commitment” – for a kind of rallying cry. This is not Jesus in the role of a coach exhorting us to “give our all” or “leave nothing on the field.” He is not saying – nor implying even – that “ninety nine percent” means you lose, or that until we’re “all in” we’re doomed.
It is important to understand that the concept embodied by this sentence – in particular the two-word phrase “total commitment” – is altogether unrelated to personal effort. In A Course in Miracles, our effort is largely beside the point. What we do or don’t do is largely – not wholly but largely – beside the point.1
So what do those words mean? They mean that awakening is inclusive. Nothing is excluded from it. Not one leaf falls but is included. Not one idiot is elected to political office but is included. Not one thought you have – the so-called good ones, the so-called bad ones, and the myriad in-between ones – but is included.
Let’s consider this slowly.
If you can, go look at a tree or a plant right now. What is missing from it? It is a total plant or tree, right? It is not as if you had to go out and make a tree or a plant, or find a partial tree or plant and then complete it somehow.
The tree or plant is given to you totally. It is whole unto itself, and your contribution – beyond witnessing or observing it – is irrelevant.
In you is all of Heaven. Every leaf that falls is given life in you. Each bird that ever sang will sing again in you. And every flower that ever bloomed has saved its perfume and its loveliness for you (T-25.IV.5:1-4).
The course is referring here to a present condition that can be noticed (Heaven is a present condition presently unrecognized). The verb is present tense, not future. It is unconditional. This is reality now, not subsequent to your effort and learning.
And you can begin to experience this Heaven by noticing that the tree or plant is whole and complete, and that you need do nothing to make it so.
This is such a simple observation that we are apt to overlook it. But stay with it. Then begin to generalize it. The window through which you look at the tree – is it whole or partial? That hill in the background against which the tree is framed – is it a total hill or a partial hill? And the sky which frames the hill – is it total or partial?
Don’t play word games! Don’t say it’s a total hill but a partial mountain. That’s being clever and cleverness is a way of being evasive. Don’t say it’s a whole sky but you only see “part” of it. If you know there is “more” sky, is that knowing whole or partial?
We are talking here about an insight that is so simple and clear a child gets it without a problem, but adults overlook or overanalyze or even fight against it. But look and let your looking be its own answer: that tree – and that window – and that hill – and that sky – are given totally to you. They are whole unto themselves.
When we give attention to wholeness, wholeness gives itself back, and in that inclusive mutual giving, oneness is clearly perceived, and perception is translated into knowledge.
This wholeness – this very wholeness – is the Will of God.
Nothing before and nothing after it. No other place; no other state nor time. Nothing beyond nor nearer. Nothing else. In any form (T-25.IV.5:6-10).
Gently – very gently – can you generalize this totality or wholeness to seeing itself? To looking itself? That is, can you find one thing that is not total? That is not wholly given?
. . . [h]ealing is apparent in specific instances, and generalizes to include them all. This is because they are really the same, despite their different forms (T-27.V.8:6-7).
You might say, well, justice is not wholly given because here is an example or injustice. I say, isn’t the injustice wholly given? What is missing from it? If you add something, it is no longer injustice, it is justice. And isn’t the justice totally given?
You might say, well, I am confused about all this. And I say, isn’t your confusion wholly given? You are not confused about whether you are confused. You can’t be. Your confusion is wholly given. Everything is wholly given.
And again – gently, like leading a beloved child to pat a horse for the first time – can you generalize this wholeness unto seeing itself? To being itself? Is it not wholly perfectly given?
The purpose of the Atonement is to restore everything to you; or rather, to restore it to your awareness. You were given everything when you were created, just as everyone was (T-1.IV.3:6-7).
Of course you can perceive the seams – the tree is not the window which is not the hill which is not the sky. But on the other hand, do they not comprise a total image? And is the image apart from the seeing of it? Where is the distance? Where is the difference?
This sort of thinking is tricky to sustain, largely because it runs counter to how bodies perceive and process perception. And since we largely identify with bodies, it makes sense that we are confused when told that there is another way. But the body is just another image; it, too, is wholly given to what we are in Truth.
Thus is the body made a theory of yourself, with no provision made for evidence beyond itself, and no escape within its sight. Its course is sure, when seen through its own eyes . . . you cannot conceive of you apart from it (T-24.VII.10:1-2, 4).
In a way, what is suggested here is a kind of evidence-gathering that points beyond the partiality and limitations of the body. It is a way of thinking about perception – and giving attention to perception – that is at odds with what is familiar to the embodied self. We are seeing in what we long considered fragments, the very essence of wholeness.
So this is a hint as to what the course is talking about when it says “Atonement is a total commitment.”
Nothing is excluded. Everything is included. How could it not be so? Into what is “everything” included? To what can “everything” be added? What can be taken away from totality or wholeness? Where would you put it?
There is only wholeness, and it is wholly given.
You might say I am just being clever here. And we do have to be cautious and go slowly. Anybody can pose an apparently unanswerable question. Articulating a paradox doesn’t make us smart or wise.
But the words I am using do point to something, and it is the same “thing” that the course is pointing at, both across the text and lessons, and in the particular sentence we are studying.
We don’t have to “make” a total commitment, like football players bent on winning the Super Bowl, because in truth there is nothing to commit to and nobody to do the committing. But we can be willing to perceive the totality, or wholeness, or oneness if you like, of what is given right now.
Logic leads us to willingness. This is an essential premise of A Course in Miracles, because Helen Schucman was a fiercely logical writer. Logic gets us to where we pause and give attention. We may not know what we are looking for, but we know that looking matters. We know giving attention matters, so we give it.
And wholeness gives itself back, and in that inclusive mutual giving, oneness is clearly perceived, and perception is translated into knowledge. We “awaken” from the dream that there is such a thing as “sleep” or a self that could be other than awake and home in wholeness.
And it is so simple and clear! It is given.
This course makes no attempt to teach what cannot easily be learned. Its scope does not exceed your own, except to say that what is yours will come to you when you are ready (T-24.VII.8:1-2).
So effort isn’t the point. Simply give attention, which is happening already anyway, and what is already true will be remembered wholly in your awareness.
1. We are distinguishing – as the balance of the post makes clear – between willingness and effort. Willingness is a state of mind that allows what is given to be unconditionally accepted. Effort is a misguided attempt to force reality to conform to our personal expectations for it. It obscures the given by trying to give in its place.↩