The power of prayer is its ability to unite us with the love that is God. That love, in turn, is what enables us to be freed from the egoic point of perception – this event is happening to me and will have this or that effect resulting in a changed (for the better or the worse) me.
I know people – including some fairly well-recognized teachers of A Course in Miracles – for whom freedom from the egoic self results in a kind of super-charged self. More self-confidence, more health, more wealth. A glorified self.
It’s as if ACIM simply purges our annoying habits of self-destruction, offers a few good strategies for meditation, an upbeat lingo for talking about God and voila! The way is cleared for a new you that runs marathons, lights up every room into which it strolls, rakes in money without even trying and never experiences a moment of doubt or fear or guilt or hesitation.
This is an understandable – if regrettable – offshoot of the shallow self-help, new age culture dominated by Oprah and Dr. Phil. Intentions were probably noble but the end result was an immature and indulgent focus on the self that enriched a few popular teachers while the world and our souls, such as it is and such as they are, kept on tripping merrily into hell.
We set wellness by the world’s standard – the glorification of the body – even though we are far too “sophisticated” to actually admit it.
I know because I lived – live – it. When I got to college, I hung out with what we called “crunchy granola” types. We were spiritual heirs to the 1960’s – going to Dead shows, eating mushrooms, wearing tie dye and Birkenstocks.
We were all reading Leo Buscaglia’s Love and Scott Peck’s The Road Not Taken. We went to therapists, not because anything was really wrong, but because if you were interested in health and wellness then you had to sift through the emotional detritus that flooded your heart and messed with your head. Thus I learned that I was broken, but that wholeness was possible. Men’s groups followed, twelve-step groups, half-assed efforts at Zen Buddhism, over-the-top efforts at Catholicism.
I am not saying that those things are bad in and of themselves. Certainly I still admire a lot of the people with whom I shared those experiences. And it’s the prerogative of the young to be naive and idealistic.
But nobody ever told us that we were in pursuit of a self that could do nothing but bring us pain, destruction and death. Nobody told us that all the navel-gazing wasn’t going to lead anywhere because it couldn’t. We weren’t healing ourselves and we weren’t fixing the world.
We were falling deeper into the illusion of self that blocks the way to God.
To say this, of course, is one thing – we all know how to say it, and we all do – but to bring the idea behind it into application . . . that is A Course in Miracles.
The closer I read the text, and the more I practice it the lessons, the more uncompromising it appears. The clearer its premise of fundamental undoing becomes.
We are not learning a new method, but unlearning the dozens and dozens that do not work. It requires diligence. It requires commitment. It is an undertaking that we do not understand and cannot do alone.
The only obstacle to God is the imaginary self that we have created in God’s place. We worship that self. We live in a culture that worships it. At all times, the world seeks to co-opt our freedom of choice and turn it towards the false god of the self.
This is serious stuff. One begins to understand better the language of the desert fathers, the old saints. Saint Paul warned the Ephesians that they battled “evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.”
We scoff at that kind of language. We know better. Or we think we do. But Bob Dylan said it, too:
Now there’s spiritual warfare, flesh and blood breaking down
You either got faith or you got unbelief and there ain’t no neutral ground
The enemy is subtle, how be it we are so deceived
When the truth’s in our hearts and we still don’t believe?
Even Leonard Cohen wondered. What did they mean, he asked in his grim prophetic song The Future, “when they said repent, repent?”
Students of A Course in Miracles have set foot on a path towards natural joy and eternal peace. The promise is clear. The way is simple but apt to be obscured. All that we are – all that we believe – all that we dream – stands in the way of our identity in God.
And if letting go was easy, then we would never have fallen so far. Prayer is the beginning of the way back.