Light on the Longing for Atonement

We are all seekers. It is our condition. It seems that we were born empty – with the God-shaped hole that Sartre spoke of – and that our lives are consequently a journey towards fulfillment. We are born separated, longing for atonement.

So that is the apparent structure of life: the movement from fragmentation to wholeness.

Yet in order to reach that end – that state of grace – we must be clear: and we must be honest. The decision of how to define joy and peace is our own, and we will seek those goals according to the terms we choose. Our shared will with God merits no less.

Yet clearly we can choose illusion over reality. The world is bereft precisely because we define joy and peace on its terms: a different partner, a different look for our bodies, a monastic hut instead of family, a higher income, whatever.

Even those of us who are sincere and attentive to our spirituality fall into this trap. I know I do. My practice of A Course in Miracles would be so much more fruitful if I just didn’t have to teach writing . . . If I could just devote myself full-time to the Course . . . If I could just render my entire life a spiritual retreat . . .

When we depend on external conditions to make us happy, then we have confused cause and effect, and have resigned ourselves to the mercy of illusions. Fear and guilt are simply the effects of choices that we make, and make again, over and over.

Everyone seeks for what will bring him joy as he defines it. It is not the aim, as such, that varies. Yet it is the way in which the aim is seen that makes the choice of means inevitable, and beyond the hope of change unless the aim is changed (T-25.IV.1:5-7).

Stay with that! Be clear about your definition of joy. Don’t lie to yourself and don’t judge yourself. It is clarity about the helpfulness (or unhelpfulness) of the goal that will enable us to choose again.

Perception’s basic law could thus be said, “You will rejoice at what you see because you see it to rejoice.” And while you think that suffering and sin will bring you joy, so long will they be there for you to see. Nothing is harmful or beneficent apart from what you wish (T-25.IV.2:1-3).

The last line – “nothing is harmful or beneficent apart from what you wish” – is the law by which our salvation is assured. Our peace and joy rest on that foundation. If we deny it, we suffer a while longer. If we accept it – and accept the responsibility for vision implicit in it – then our joy is assured.

It is imperative that we make time to examine our intentions: to find the terms we have set for joy and peace. So long as even a wisp of cause remains in the external world, then we – and it – shall remain bereft.

Nothing we perceive – a pile of money, a beautiful body, a gorgeous field, a sick child, a bomb-cratered street – is either good or bad except as we will. It is a picture of utter neutrality, susceptible only to the light or shadow we choose give to it.

It is your wish that makes it what it is in its effects on you. Because you chose it as a means to gain these same effects, believing them to be to be the bringers of rejoicing and joy. Even in heaven does this law obtain (T-25.IV.2:4-6).

In prayer – in a state of communion with Christ – be ruthless in your questioning of what purpose you give the world. Its purpose reflects nothing but your definition of joy and peace. And you seek according to the terms you set. If you see sadness and violence and scarcity and pain, then make contact with that within you which has the power to create a different vision. It is there, waiting on you to activate it.

These ideas may not be so challenging at the level of the intellect, but to realize them fully – at the level of experience, at the level of truth – is another matter. It is that to which we must dedicate our practice: restoring cause and effect to their rightful place, and bringing to the light our power of creation.

What we create in Love can only beget Love. This is not a function of what is outside of us, but rather within. We are not so far away now from the Truth of this – our shared power of Creation – and its graceful application. I write it and you read it – together we are creating it – because we are almost ready to be the Light that ends all suffering and conflict forever.

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 . . . This you can bring to all the world, and all the thoughts that entered it and were mistaken for a little while. How better could your own mistakes be brought to truth than by your willingness to bring the light of Heaven with you, as you walk beyond the world of darkness into light? (T-25.IV.5:1-4, 11-12)

Do not relegate this to simple metaphor. See in it the truth of what you are and what you can do. At least be willing to see that.

In quiet today – in the stillness of the Christ within – let us look closely and honestly at our definitions of joy and peace and the conditions we place on them. And finding them wanting, let us choose to see them instead in terms of Love, which is the light of Christ, so that we might know joy and peace now – literally right now – and in that knowledge, that Holy Instant, offer them to all our brothers and sisters forever.

{ 4 comments… add one }
  • Bet Carbery May 1, 2013, 6:58 am

    Something else I don’t get Sean – giving up the world. I am a keen hillwalker. Once up there I feel so free and connected to the landscape. Everything connected with hillwalking – boots, OS maps, walking stick, rucksack, even thermos flask, is to me a passport to joy and liberation. I obviously know that I am going to have to let this go at some point (advanced age or death) but as far as I am concerned I am going to milk it as much as I can. Am I at odds with the Course?
    Thanks for your help

    • Sean Reagan May 1, 2013, 12:51 pm

      Oh no! You are right on par with the Course!

      Bet, every day for me begins with a walk. Usually before the sun rises, the dog and I head out into the fields and forests and walk several miles. It is itself a prayer and I cannot imagine a spiritual practice without it. Period. When you wrote that hiking for you “is a passport to joy and liberation” I literally – well, almost literally – shouted, “right on sister (or brother – sorry!)!”

      Here in this world of illusions and dreaming, we choose our symbols of awakening. Mine are dogs, walking, Emily Dickinson, bluets and forget-me-nots, cardinals, the moon, the smell of lavender, baking bread, bear sightings and swimming at night.

      They are not God; but for me, they are the images in which the light that is God most clearly shines. And so I am very grateful for them, and I turn to them as often as possible, and I pay close attention to them because I know that in my love for them – in my celebratory and ecstatic and joyful experience of them – I am learning how to know God. They are literally teachers and I try to be a very attentive and diligent and grateful student.

      In time, that experience – of hillwalking, of baking, of sitting by a patch of flowers – will translate into all our experience. We’ll stop parsing life up – well, here’s a nice hill, so now I’m close to God – and start just seeing God everywhere, in all things, and all people.

      I’m not there yet, but each step on each morning walk takes me a little closer. You too! We are wading through miracles straight for the Heavenly high ground . . .

  • Bet Carbery May 2, 2013, 6:34 am

    Thank you Sean – I get you. You’ve set me straight.
    I love how you talk about your dog. What companions they are. My border collie (who was a great climbing mate) died last year. I’m thinking about another one in the near future.
    Thanks again – you cleared things up

    • Sean Reagan May 3, 2013, 7:59 pm

      No problem, Bet. Yes, walking with dogs – that’s the ticket. My beloved dog Jake died a couple of years ago. I still have Song (Thai word for two). They are such faithful and nonjudgemental companions. I love every animal really, but dogs own a special place in my heart. It’s hard to put into words. Somehow they join me in solitude and help to deepen it.

      Enjoy the hills!

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