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.