It is helpful sometimes to distinguish between the plan of salvation – which is very much in God’s hands – and our day-to-day affairs, which fall within the ambit of our discretion. We have a responsibility to be engaged in our lives – to plan meals, play with our kids, change the oil in the truck, get enough exercise, etc. The key is undertaking these activities with what I call right investment. That is, we are not confused about what those activities mean in our lives – they are not, in and of themselves, salvatory. Our salvation is in God’s hands and under God’s direction. Whether we have spaghetti with tofu or with meatballs tonight is not going to change the way to Heaven.
We are apt to confuse the two, believing that what we do – especially when we do it in a spiritual frame of mind – is a valuable contribution to God’s plan. I fall into this trap all the time. I decide that I have to write about this issue instead of that one, or take this teaching gig and not that one, or make my physical health a priority so I can be around a long time. There’s nothing wrong with those plans per se. Why not be kind to ourselves by eating good food and exercising? Why not try to write about subjects that we feel knowledgeable about and have an interest in?
But as regards salvation – those decisions are essentially meaningless. One is as useful as the other.
Real freedom comes when we begin to approach the activities of our daily lives as inherently meaningless – or neutral, if you find meaninglessness troubling. We are deeply resistant to this idea that what we do doesn’t matter – that no choice is superior to another, that they’re all equal. But in an odd way, it is precisely this willingness to see all our activities as equal that begins to provide the very peace and freedom that we are after in the first place. It is hard to be in a state of conflict when everything in our perception is equal. Conflict depends on inequality. Equality obviates it.
As our perception stabilizes, our capacity to practice forgiveness naturally expands and extends. We are called to forgive everything, without exception. It is very hard to do this when we insist on parsing our life into degrees of good and bad. We remember to forgive the tragic death of a loved one, but we forget to forgive that delicious sushi buffet. We remember to forgive the co-worker who yelled at us in a meeting but we forget to forgive the boss who gave us an extra day off. We play favorites with our life, forgiving this and loving that, and thus we remain devoted to our bodies, to the personal narrative to which we believe they are attached, and to the world in which they seem to dwell.
Forgiveness is not itself an action. Yet oddly it is not passive. It is more akin to awareness, a way of paying attention. We notice what is going on inside of us. We notice our response to that sushi buffet, to that chattering co-worker. We make contact with our anger or our frustration (or our pleasure) and we do it without judgment. We withhold that inclination to make anger bad, to say that frustration impedes our progress as spiritual people, or to allow pleasure to dissuade us from our spiritual path.
When we stay close to that inner condition, we become familiar with it. The emotions that seethe and roil below the surface lose their ability to intimidate us. Then we can make contact with the emotions that are below the surface, below the frustration or anger or pleasure – namely, guilt and fear. For me, guilt and fear are amorphous – they’re big and abstract, hard to get hold of, and hard to relate to the specific details in the external world. A theologian might call them ontological. But they are the foundation that was laid by the separation – we feel guilty for having (supposedly) broken from God and we fear retribution for having assumed his authorial power.
When you are in touch with your guilt and fear, you are truly being blessed. It doesn’t feel it, but you are in the presence of Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Dismantling that grim base is beyond our ability. Our job is only to get to it – to find it and hold it in the light, allowing the power that is in us (Jesus and the Holy Spirit) but not of us to shine it away. We are in the hands of a divine physician.
That is the purpose of the world – and of our lives in the world: to bring us into deeper contact with the interior blocks to our awareness of love. This is all that A Course in Miracles wants to accomplish. It doesn’t matter what our career is, what role we play in the community, what our position is in the family. Everything is grist for forgiveness – that gentle awareness in the presence of Jesus. In fact, that’s all everything is.