There is something about A Course in Miracles that brings out the academic in many students. It brings out the intellectual. The text is both abstract and complex in its consideration of big subjects like God and time and reality. In the ACIM community there is a lot of energy around being right and wrong – which teacher we read, which edition we read, whether we partake of other spiritual traditions.
There is nothing necessarily wrong with any of that. If you are interested, and have some facility for it, asking big questions, exploring complex texts, and talking the material out with others can be fun and interesting. I do it often.
But unless our goal is to be professors of A Course in Miracles, the intellectual approach is not – in, of and for itself – sufficient. It is like the oil and the wick without a flame to set it alight.
When my father died, it wasn’t my intellectual understanding of the course that helped me. Indeed, as he died and for many days after, my philosophical clarity and open-mindedness – the sum and substance of all my scholarship – just vanished. I did not reach for it and it did not offer itself.
I remember watching and listening to Dad breathe his last breaths. Would I be okay? What would it be like to live in a world without my father? Was he in pain? Was there any last thing I could do for him? It was all an unknown future and it was only seconds away.
But I wasn’t scared. Each time one of those “big” questions arose, it was gently answered by an awareness of the loving relationships that comprised “my” life. In course parlance, these were special relationships that were transformed into holy relationships because they were no longer about what one could get, but about what one could give.
I knew that my wife, Chrisoula, was with me. In those moments I perceived her less as a body – less as “my wife” and more as an unshakable ground enveloping me in a way that went beyond my ability to describe. I knew that my children were with me – that they would trust me to help them understand what was happening and find a way through it, however hard or confusing it got. All the love was present; nothing could undo it.
That night, driving home from the hospital with my family, there was a big soft moon in the summer sky. A lot of our drive was along a river: I would look at the moon, then at the river rippling with moonlight, then at the moon again. There was a clear and simple sense that what passes, passes, but that something remains. There was no need to name it – God or Love or Truth or Awareness. It was sufficient that it was unmistakably present. I was held by it; we were all held by it, the living and the dead alike.
My practice of A Course in Miracles is – relatively speaking – intellectually rigorous. That is not the only way to approach the course, nor even the best way, but for me it it is a helpful and natural way. I read deeply and widely, reflect carefully and then, when it seems to be all worked out, I rip it up and keep going.
The suggestion here is not that my response to my father’s death was especially graceful or unflawed. There was – there remains – sadness and confusion. Life goes on; the body has its experiences. I stumble along like everyone else.
Rather, the suggestion is that the intellectual work of studying A Course in Miracles is basically prefatory in nature – it matters, but it’s not all that matters. It’s not even most of what matters. You can do a lot of work to put up a tent, but then you get in the tent. You don’t put up another one.
Looking at the moon, then at the moon’s reflection, and then at the moon again was a kind of exercise in perception pointing to a deeper truth. The one image was not separate from the other; if one was absent, the other was absent as well. Concepts of causation and division dissolved. God is not something from which we fell or literally separated from a long time ago. God is more in the nature of that from which we rise and to which we return, which rising and returning functions as an appearance.
Lesson 223 of A Course in Miracles puts it this way.
I was mistaken when I thought I lived apart from God, a separate entity that moved in isolation, unattached, and housed within a body. Now I know my life is God’s, I have no other home, and I do not exist apart from Him. He has no Thoughts that are not part of me, and I have none but those which are of Him.
Some people like the image of a wave. It rises from the ocean and falls back into the ocean. It looks briefly separate – its own form, its own movement – but it is always only the sea.
I like eddies in a brook myself. If you look closely, you will see that the current is really many little currents – they spin off here and there, they create other currents, they merge with those currents, reemerge from them. But they always dissolve back into the larger flow from which they arise. They are always just the brook seen a certain way.
It is good to read ideas like that and agree or disagree with them. It is good to dismiss them or take them to heart. But what is really lovely and stunning is to see it for oneself: not as someone else’s idea that we learned in a book, but as a clear and simple fact of our own experience.
I point here to the difference between a lived fact and a remembered or projected fact. The former is what A Course in Miracles calls “knowledge;” the latter, “perception.” Our academic study will refine our perception; it can be a critical component of our “purification” (as in “[M]iracles are everyone’s right, but purification is necessary first) but sooner or later we are brought into relationship with holiness itself. Holiness – wholeness – presents itself.
A better way of saying this is that we become aware of the holiness – the relationships – by which our natural wholeness is unobscured. This holiness – manifest in these relationships – is already extant. It is already given. We don’t “do” anything – it’s not about learning or prayer or doing good works. Rather, it is there – it is present, unconditionally so – and the effect of its being clouded is gone.
We might think of the moon: its light is a fact whether it is hidden by clouds or on the other side of the earth. We don’t create its shining, we can’t “move” clouds or rearrange the earth’s position in space to make the shining better or clearer or more “here right now.” But we can “know” the light is there, and sometimes we can see it clearly, which confirms our knowing. In time, we no longer need to literally “see” the moon to know it is there. It is there.
Lesson 69 says this about what it is given and our awareness of what is given.
Have confidence in your Father today, and be certain that He has heard you and answered you. You may not recognize His answer yet, but you can indeed be sure that it is given you and you will yet receive it.
So we have to be the ACIM student that we naturally and presently are. We have to take the teacher we are called to take and work with them. We have to live the life that right now appears before us. Nothing needs to be explained or even understood. The gift of our attention to that which is showing up is sufficient; it is more than sufficient.
Life in the world naturally include adversity, frustration, pain and loss – sometimes intensely so. That is okay. Our study of A Course in Miracles does not relieve us of life. Rather, it opens us up to life so that we can perceive it as it is in fact, as it is in truth – absent judgment, absent special narrative, absent personal goals.
The secret, if there is one, is simply that what we call “God” is in fact nothing other than this: this this.