A hammer is mostly useless if you don’t know what it is for. You cannot dig very well with it. It’s not helpful when baking bread. And even when you learn its purpose – to help build – it is only truly useful in the presence of boards and nails.
That is the nature of our power of decision, our capacity to choose, which was given to us in creation. It accomplishes nothing until we know what it is for. It seems meaningful to choose between Buddhism and Christianity, or between Catholicism and A Course in Miracles, but it’s not. It seems meaningful to choose between working to eradicate world hunger and being an investment banker, but it’s not. It seems meaningful to choose between owning in the country and renting in the city, but it’s not.
Here in the world, all our choices are simply a matter of form. It is like a game of dress-up. We can put different clothes on and pretend we’re kings and queens or hobos or little match girls but only the surface – only the superficial – changes.
Seek not escape from problems here. The world was made that problems could not be escaped. Be not deceived by all the different names its roads are given. They have but one end . . . All of them will lead to death (T-31.IV.2:5-8, 11).
Our study and practice of A Course in Miracles leads us to this place: we see at last the utter futility of the world. We see that for all its seeming alternatives – in religion, in politics, in culture, in psychology, in class – the world offers nothing but a road to death. And since choice has no meaning where the end is sure and inevitable, we see at last that our choices in the world of form are empty and meaningless.
It is very hard to look at this truth clearly and steadily and not feel fear and sadness. Everyone who looks at this truth sees at first only sacrifice: I have to give up my children? My walks with dogs? My sacred correspondence with other ACIM students? Baking bread? Bluets? Gardening? Sex?
A lot of us – me included – turn away at this point. It’s easier, or seems to be. And some who stay, simply give up. The stakes are very high at this juncture. Very high.
There is no choice where every end is sure . . . Men have died on seeing this, because they saw no way except the pathways offered by the world. And learning they led nowhere, lost their hope (T-31.IV.3:1, 4-5).
Both of these outcomes – turning away and giving up – are premised on hopelessness. They seem natural. Nobody escapes them entirely.
But we are urged to indulge neither one of them. Why? Because it is only when we see the complete lack of choice offered in the world, that we open to another alternative. From this low point – and it absolutely feels low and depressed and hopeless – our greatest learning begins in earnest.
It is like the hammer. We’ve been carrying this tool around for years. We’ve been trying to dig holes in the desert with it, and trying to make cups from clay with it, and trying to scratch stories in the dirt with it. And it never works! Or it works only bluntly and poorly.
And then – just as we’re about to say the hell with it and throw it away into the bushes – we turn the corner and find a pile of lumber, some saw horses, nails of varying sizes, a level and some chisels, and even a blueprint.
Suddenly, we understand. Suddenly, the tool is meaningful.
Like that, when we stop trying to exercise our power of decision in the world – when we see it cannot meaningfully be used there – then it will be given us to see where we can use it.
No longer look for hope where there is none . . . From this lowest point will learning lead to heights of happiness, in which you see the purpose of the lesson shining clear, and perfectly within your learning grasp (T-31.IV.4:6, 8).
Every choice the world offers us – from how we’d like our steak cooked to whether we’re going to follow Jesus or the Buddha – is illusory and thus mistaken. Death is the only end the world truly offers. This is all A Course in Miracles aims to teach us: our power of decision is useless here in the world, but there is an alternative.
There is cause for hope. And it lies in no small part on rejecting – on refusing to accept – the idea that any solution or victory or progress can exclude our brothers and sisters. We are going to Heaven together, and we cannot go until we are all of gathered and ready.
[a]ll the lesson’s purpose is to teach that what your brother loses you have lost, and what he gains is what is given you (T-31.IV.8:5).
Thus, the alternative is revealed as we stop looking for meaning where it cannot be found. It is revealed when we stop investing in choices that are choices in form only. It is revealed when we trust – even in the face of apparently crushing hopelessness – that God has not left us.
So we grow still and attentive. We look closely at what we choose. We stare down sacrifice and withdraw faith from illusion. We trust each other without condition or qualification, and in that trust, remember God.
And then – in that memory – our power to choose becomes powerful indeed.