Relativity, Particularity and A Course in Miracles

I want to think out loud a bit about what the other day I called “relativity” – that state or condition in which all things are of equal value. I am going to contrast it to what John Crossan in A Long Way from Tipperary calls “particularity” – an experience of self that is both individual and specific, the opposite of relativity. Perhaps this is just blather but I think there are ramifications for my practice of A Course in Miracles.

Relativity, as I mentioned earlier, was a cornerstone of my critical thinking. If somebody said that every detail in the canonical gospels was literally and historically true, and I disagreed profoundly with their conclusions, it did not mean that one of us was right and the other wrong. It meant that my truth was not their truth and vice-versa. Truth was relative. It was mutable.

I learned to value this concept in my early twenties, when I was learning how to think critically, because it helped keep me humble. My tendency then (and sometimes now, unfortunately) is to simply operate as if my idea of truth is true and everyone else is either with me or to varying degrees against me. A certain intellectual humility – any kind of humility, really – is essential because it allows us to be open to new ideas. Also, it can foster polite behavior, which was also not my strong suit. Humility through relativity meant that rather than laughing in the face of someone whose opinion about Jesus was different, you could just thank them for sharing and move on.

A Course in Miracles resonated for me in many ways, but one way it resonated was its calm certainty that it was it but one path and that there were others equally effective, equally valid (M-1.3:1-3, 4:1-2). I was deeply tired – mortally tired – of right vs. wrong, especially in spiritual and religious realms. I was grateful to accept a practice that did not have at its core the lovelessness of “we get it and they don’t.”

But relativity, for all its virtues, also runs a serious risk, one that I can say I have encountered full-bore. It is this: if all things are equal – if the truth is only what one says it is – then can anything be said to be true? If my Buddha is your Christ and both are someone else’s Attila the Hun, where does that leave us?

What did the course mean when it said that the Holy Spirit, “seeing where you are but knowing you are elsewhere, begins His lesson in simplicity with the fundamental teaching that truth is true (T-14.II.2:2)?

Part of the problem – for me – was that it is simply not possible to “understand” A Course in Miracles, much less bring its principles into application, if one is still hedging about its real value. In other words, if – as I think was true for me for a long time and, in some ways, remains true – one has not taken the course as their spiritual path, but is simply deeply intellectually curious about it, then it is going to remain lifeless and inert.

That, then, was the practical downside of buying so heavily into relativity. Rather than learn from – by walking with – the resurrected Jesus, one simply performed a detailed autopsy at the grave site. One method means life; the other is just an informed repetition of death.

This happens not so much in conscious thought – I am doing X while believing Y – but is more repressed (or projected/denied/dissociated/etc.) than that. It is a form of resistance and like most resistance, tends to cloak itself in righteousness. So a certain vigilance is called for, a willingness to learn that one is not as devoted a student of Jesus as they had hoped, and that they have a long way to go.

Here is where Crossan’s ideas about particularity become helpful. It is true, for example, that no religion is “better” or “more right” than another. I happen to be Christian but if I had been born in Japan I might as easily be Shinto. Or Buddhist. Had my parents been Jewish it is not hard to imagine I would identify as a Jew. I am this but I could as easily have been any number of perfectly valid and useful thats.

Crossan suggests – I am paraphrasing – that it is imperative we accept our particular expression of the metaphysical whole. Accept may be too passive a word. That we embrace it, consume it, and even be consumed by it. He draws an analogy to human love. I am married to so-and-so, but if I had not met her/him, I would probably have met someone else and married them. That is true but hardly conducive to the expression and realization of the particular love – the particular relationship – that I currently enjoy.

Thus, one takes on the merits the essence of relativity while simultaneously giving serious devoted attention to their own particular expression of it.

Crossan raises this issue in the context of a comparative religions course he taught, and uses it to explain how he was able to accept his own brand of Trinitarian Christianity without denigrating all those other valid expressions of the Divine, the Sacred, the Holy, the What Is.

[T]he Christian image of God-as-person was but one fundamental way of seeing-as, one perfectly valid expression of metaphysical particularity. That understanding allowed me to accept my own religion with utter fidelity without having to negate the integrity of everyone else’s. Particularity is not relativity. It is destiny (A Long Way from Tipperary, 106).

It is important in our efforts to respect other paths that we not blur our own. In a sense, walking ours with discipline and integrity is a way of honoring those others.

I am not suggesting that this all occurred to me one morning over coffee and my ACIM practice changed instantly for the better. It is – it almost always is – more in the nature of a slow reveal, the same way that Summer turns to Fall turns to Winter, quite independent of the calendar. We give attention to our practice, where it is thriving, where it appears to be stuttering, and we ask to be guided accordingly.

My passion for A Course in Miracles, my deep reverence for its integrity, and my desire to faithfully and authentically be a writerly witness to its practice are all grounded in the realization that it is but one valid expression of God, a metaphysical particularly that resonates for me and thus deserves my devotion and attention, but must not be conflated with “right for all.”

We learn not by looking without – not by lecturing others to think as we think, to practice as we practice – but rather by looking within. We learn what we are in truth by learning what the Holy Spirit asks of us. It is a tangible relationship, capable of formal manifestation, and deserves all our attention.

Your special function is the special form in which the fact that God is not insane appears most sensible and meaningful to you. The content is the same. The form is suited to your special needs, and to the special time and place in which you think you find yourself, and where you can be free of place and time, and all that you believe must limit you (T-25.VII.7:1-3).

Seek, then, particularity – not at the expense of the Whole but as its representative, as a personally perfect expression of the One Thing – call it God, call it Source. Give yourself to what resonates, so that in time it too will dissolve, leaving all of us in the undifferentiated Heaven where we began and towards we move, wedded not to the form of the travel but to the sureness of our shared destination.

{ 4 comments… add one }
  • Fred January 9, 2014, 12:07 pm

    The truth is realitive is the first law of chaos, can there be order in a dream?

    • Sean Reagan January 9, 2014, 12:22 pm

      Hi Fred,

      Thanks for reading – I hope you’re well.

      I think to the extent that one wants to see the appearance of order in a dream, then yes. Certainly one can call disorder “order,” and believe it is order, and convince themselves (and often others) of that.

      I am suggesting that giving attention to a spiritual path within the dream is a means by which we undo the dream and learn – in a real as opposed to a merely intellectual way – what Truth is.

      My experience of relativity was not helpful – particularity has been remedial because it brings me closer to the fact that Truth is not relative, not mutable.

      It is important to distinguish, too, between what we are doing at the level of the dream – where A Course in Miracles yields its effects – and what happens on the other side. Here in the world, in these bodies, it is important to seek that form and function – that order – in which we can most clearly hear the Holy Spirit and perceive – albeit dimly – God.

      Sean

  • Eric January 10, 2014, 8:22 pm

    Hi Sean,

    This blog seems to be kind of a continuation of your last blog that I was going to reply to. Since it seems that way for me, I’m going to reply to this one and kind of mesh my replies into one.

    I too resonated with the course when it said that it was but one form of the universal curriculum; valuing other paths as just as valid as the course. The course is special to me, but it is not special in the sense that it should be exalted over other paths or seen as superior to other paths. It is special in the fact that it speaks to me and it resonates with me in a very deep manner.

    I love that the course tells us it doesn’t teach us the meaning of love, for that is beyond the course. It merely attempts to help us remove the blocks to the awareness of love. The course says that it will lead to knowledge but knowledge is beyond the scope of the curriculum. It tells us that the magnitude of truth is beyond the scope of the curriculum.

    In other words, the course is not attempting to present itself as truth, but merely as one of the many fingers pointing towards the moon. As you mentioned in your last blog, it comes to us in a language we understand and resonates with our ideals/perceptions of what truth is through geographical, social, cultural influence.

    And that is another trap. When we believe that our perception of what truth is, is Truth. When we look at the course and say, “This is Truth. The course is faster. The course is more advanced, etc. etc.” The minute one thinks the course is faster than other paths, is the minute it is not.

    The course tells us in the Manual For Teachers: As the course emphasizes, you are not free to choose the curriculum or even the form in which you will learn it. You are free, however, to decide when you want to learn it. And as you accept it, it is already learned.

    Eric: We’re not even free to choose the form of the curriculum? What a statement!! Can you imagine the implications of this? This essentially means other paths other than the course are not only valid, but they HAVE TO BE VALID!. Otherwise, some of God’s family is more special, more deserving of God’s Love, while others are not.

    The more I embrace the course, the more I see what the course is pointing to in other paths. The more I embrace the course, the more beauty I see in other paths’ words. The more I embrace the course, the more I see the universal curriculum in others’ perception of truth.

    It’s funny you mention Japan, Shinto, and Buddhism. I met my wife here in the states, but she is originally from Japan and she was raised Buddhist. My father-in-law asked me if I would be willing to do a wedding ceremony in Japan for his/her family and of course I was more than willing. I got to experience and participate in something that not many westerners get to experience….a traditional Shinto wedding ceremony. It was beautiful and humbling. The shrine was over a 1,000 years old. We wore traditional kimonos. I learned what I was supposed to say in Japanese. Everything felt surreal, from the walk from outside shrine to the inside temple, to the beating of the ancient drums during the walk, the Shinto priest playing a traditional Japanese song on a recorder, to the traditions of the ceremony itself. It was an experience I will never forget.

    Through the years, we’ve gone back to Japan quite a few times. While visiting, there is something that I often do while I’m there. I tend to be an early bird. I don’t often sleep in. So I usually get up before the rest of the family, make a coffee and head out for a walk. One of the more unique features about Japan, is the fact that you can walk out of the apartment, walk a short distance to one of the many shrines throughout.

    So I grab my coffee, and depending on how far I want to walk, I walk to one of these shrines to enjoy my coffee and people watch. Something I find fascinating about some of these shrines is that even though the world around the shrine itself might be busy with people bustling to work or where ever, whenever I enter the shrine there always seems to be a beautiful quiet stillness within it. The Japanese maples are beautiful and the environment itself brings a sense of peace. It’s easy to see the lines blur between the nature loving ways of Shinto and Buddhism walking into one of these shrines and in fact, many of the people that do come to these ancient Shinto shrines often identify themselves as Buddhist, as my wife’s family, though there are a growing number of Christians in Japan.

    I enjoy finding a bench to just watch people, as they come to the shrine before work to say a quiet prayer to themselves as they kneel at the shrine or tie their prayer/fortune they wrote on a small piece of paper to the old maple tree or some other designated spot. Some sit quietly for a while and seem to be contemplating, while others kneel for what seems a second, quickly clap 3 times and pick up their briefcase to get to work in what seems to be the good morning ritual. Some of the people seem to come for the same reason as I do. To just sit and watch, being with others as they quietly come to the shrine to state their piece in peace. Sometimes people see me and look surprised (after all, I’m a 6’0 220 pound caucasian in southern Japan, where foreigners are not all that common). Sometimes there is a look of apprehension until I smile, and then often times the person relaxes a bit.

    I somehow feel a connection even as I watch from a distance. I get to see how culture, geography, society helped shape this perspective, this perception of truth. It’s like in that moment I share with those people their perception of truth, it no longer seems like their perception, but our perception, because we’re both in relationship with God/Source, Tao, etc. We’re both looking to the same moon.

    I think the more I embrace my particular path, the more I tend to appreciate other paths and see them speaking a language that I can understand.

    Eric

  • Pamela January 13, 2014, 11:38 am

    Sean, what helped me to understand the points you are making – and perhaps even expand on it a bit was the Course claim that only truth is meaningful. When we understand that everything that we or anybody else says or thinks that seems ‘inaccurate’ or ‘wrong’ is, in fact, only meaningless, we also understand that everybody, in every religion, in every path and every form of a path is saying and thinking exactly the same thing because all they are saying that is of any meaning at all is what they are saying that is True. Everything other than truth which is communicated is nothing more than : Theidndkd kddibg did cgokd borkequet.

    In other words, the meaningful content of their communication is always right, and always accurate. If we see only the truth in what they say and SEE (which is to say fully perceive that all else is nothing but meaningless) it breeds not differences but similarities and allows us to embrace every form of religion or path as right and good and noble and true because, in fact, that is all it is.

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