Lately – in particular this morning – I am considering the possibility that A Course in Miracles means literally what it says, and that interpretation as such is only an impediment to understanding. I don’t analyze green lights before heeding their message. Is it possible the course is that clear? That simple? That direct?
I came of intellectual age under the tutelage of brilliant women who taught me – in no particular order – deconstructionism, feminism and relativism. In a few short years, everything I thought I knew about reading and writing and being human was undone and remade. And – allowing for some tweaks, aging of parts and the slow but natural evolution of one’s thinking – I’ve hummed along like that ever since.
Thus, when I encounter any text – be it A Course in Miracles, or Old Man and the Sea, or the ad copy on the back of a cereal box – I consider it primarily a construction. If I want to truly understand it, then I have to deconstruct it – tease out its cultural influences and biases, personal and authorial symbolism, mythology and politics, its layers of psychology and shades of meaning and unmeaning. Only a thorough dissection – in the spirit of autopsy – can reveal the life of the text.
(If I were the “lol” type, there’d be one in caps after that last sentence.)
There is a lot to recommend this approach to reading, and I happen to be excellent at it. Some of my students would tell you that I ruin a lot of good poems and stories this way – it’s always a risk if you are reading passionately – but the truth is, I think this approach to reading can help us to discern and get intimate with the beating heart that underlies all writing.
So one, deconstruction. Two, relativism. In this critical mode, one doesn’t privilege any interpretation over another. I see Old Man and the Sea as a Romantic hymn to the dying masculine deal of solitude and physical strength and endurance. You see it as a cool fishing story, a sort of literary action/adventure yarn. Since interpretation is relative, neither one of us is right – or, more accurately, we are both right, and neither more than the other.
Again, I think there is a lot to recommend this approach to reading, especially in the discussion and formulation-of-theory stages. It naturally encourages a certain open-mindedness and permissiveness. It nurtures intellectual creativity.
These two intellectual ideals are baked into me and are almost never not operative. My kids, for example, understand that when we drive through a city and pass billboards, Dad is going to get a little crazy analyzing each one, linking it to the one we just passed, invoking Karl Marx, Jesus Christ, Emily Dickinson and Lady Gaga, and speculating what it all means for the future of humanity.
Yet I wonder sometimes if these techniques – for they are constructs in and of themselves, tools that one uses to approach a text and as such can be used differently or discarded or replaced altogether – are conducive to my understanding and practice of A Course in Miracles?
This morning, in what passes for prayer these days, I was thinking about time – in particular Julian Barbour’s essay The Emergence of Time and its Arrow from Timelessness – and I thought, reasonably enough, that it is not enough to have ideas about time as unreal. One wants to have the experience.
And then – as clear as a cardinal in the crystalline cold of New England in winter, in the wise, kind and feminine voice God uses when it’s essential I not miss the point – I heard “interpretation is not experience and most of what you do is interpret A Course in Miracles.”
I laughed so hard I spilled my coffee and woke my son up. It’s true! I have a few rooms in which my books are stored, ranging from the basement to the family room. But the critical shelf is in the bedroom. A Course in Miracles and its concordance figure prominently, but bracketing it is a number of Ken Wilber volumes, half a dozen books by Tara Singh, a couple by Ken Wapnick, Whyte’s The Next Development in Man, Volume 2 of McTaggert’s The Nature of Existence, Dickinson’s Collected Poems, the New American bible and the King James, the compact Oxford English Dictionary, eight books by David Bohm, all of his published dialogues with Krishnamurti and Krishnamurti’s This Light in Oneself.
Are they there because they are truly helpful? Or are they a sort of wall by which I hope to keep God at a safe – at a manageable – distance?
I am not suggesting that it’s wrong to read both deeply and widely (for the metaphorical Jordan which we are all crossing is itself deep and wide). I am not suggesting that theories of deconstruction and relativism cannot be helpful.
But I am wondering – I am considering, at the behest of She who knows better that I do – that they can also be defensive. That is, that one can hide behind their application and, in the delicious and even ecstatic web thus woven, avoid encountering Truth or Reality altogether.
This is a very simple course. Perhaps you do not feel you need a course which, in the end, teaches that only reality is true. But do you believe it (T-11.VIII.1:1-2)?
It is a good question. Tara Singh once said that every time the course poses a question, we should stop reading and not proceed until we’ve answered it.
I think that there is a necessary balance. We have to approach the course on terms that are native to us – that is what it means to say A Course in Miracles meets us where we are. It has to resonate at the personal level. That is why I read Tara Singh and you read Ken Wapnick or Marianne Williamson or whatever.
But the teacher is only the lens through which we view the course. She or he is not the course itself. And when we forget that, we are apt to get lost. Suddenly, instead of practicing the Holy Instant, I am cheerfully wandering through intellectual debates about what time is, what the present is, what the Holy Instant is. I am playing word games when I could be knocking on Heaven’s door. I can be very elitist about this – I mean, who else is reading McTaggert’s The Unreality of Time – but what good is that?
In other words, I can be the best deconstructionist and relativist on the planet and still not be healed.
And I really really want to want to be healed now.
This is why it is so important to offer our personal tools and gifts to the Holy Spirit so that they can be reconfigured to actually help us remove the blocks to our awareness of love’s presence which is – altogether now – our natural inheritance (In.1:7). That is the point of the Holy Spirit. It’s not merely an idea. It’s a principle of healing inside us awaiting activation.
The Holy Spirit is the Mediator between the interpretation of the ego and the knowledge of the spirit. His ability to deal with symbols enables Him to work with the ego’s beliefs in its own language. His ability to look beyond symbols into eternity enables Him to understand the laws of God for which He speaks. He can therefore perform the function of reinterpreting what the ego makes, not by destruction but by understanding (T-5.III.7:1-4).
Thus, when we give what the ego has made and uses to keep God at bay – in my case, these critical approaches to reading and thinking – they are given a new purpose: not to resist God but to lead us gently back to God. In other words, what the Holy Spirit really does – because we cannot possibly do it ourselves – is reinterpret us on behalf of God (T-5.III.7:7).
Many years ago, my life shifted in a tectonic way because the voice that sometimes speaks for God asked me to simply consider that everything I knew was wrong. From time to time that gentle guide returns, always to remind me to keep things simple, to remain teachable, and to say as close to Jesus as possible. Her message is always the same, a variant on what Jesus says in the Introduction to the Workbook’s third review.
Do not forget how little you have learned.
Do not forget how much you can learn now.
Do not forget your Father’s need of you . . . (W-pI.rIII.In.13:1-3).
Left to my own devices I can weave quite a lovely web – elegant in design, redolent with light, sparkling with radiant jewels as the dawn sun touches each bead of dew, shimmering in ghostly translucence when the moon’s rays sift silently through it . . .
But here’s the thing. A web is a web. It doesn’t matter how beautiful or intricate it is – its function is always the same: to catch and hold us unto death. It does not free us. Only our willing relationship with the Holy Spirit can do that.
Perhaps this time I will remember it once and for all . . .