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A Chapel in the Forest

Forget the world, forget this course, and come with wholly empty hands unto your God (W-pI.189.7:5).

We are strangers to ourselves and therefore to God because when we do not know ourselves, we do not know God. To know the one is to know the other, as to refuse one is to refuse both.


In the morning I write by the window, looking up now and then at the dogwood tree, its pale yellow blossoms sifting one by one into grass shining from last night’s rain. Chrisoula knows that I am struggling lately for words and comes in with a slice of butternut squash bread centered on a plate, a cup of coffee leavened with cream. She touches my shoulder; doesn’t speak. Outside, the laundry moves a little in a light breeze otherwise undetectable.


A light breeze otherwise undetectable . . .

For we never see Life or Love but only their forms: the laundry testifying to a breeze, the arching maple a witness unto wind. A light touch just so – just there – is a testament on behalf of love, as is the heart which literally quickens when she settles beside us, pulls the covers over.

Anthropologist and science writer Loren Eiseley knew this intuitively: saw it confirmed in the world about him.

It is not the individual that matters; it is the Plan and the incredible potentialities within it. The forms within Form are endless and their emergence into time is endless (The Firmament of Time 84).

This is why the image – broadly defined – matters so, and why we must not indulge the inclination to interpret it (James Hillman: let your dreams interpret you). The image – form – always arrives in its particularity as a vital symbol of Life, of what is. Yes, the fingertips of Maya lie ever upon it – how could it be otherwise – but can we see – can we close our eyes and see – that which is signified? The formless content? For it only takes form before us in order that we might recognize what informs and infuses it and, recognizing it, become it.

[I]f one were to go out into the woods, one would find many versions of oneself . . . It is almost as though somewhere outside, somewhere beyond the illusion, the several might be one (The Firmament of Time 82).

And how could it be otherwise? Eiseley’s joy is almost palpable when he declares that “[C]reation – whether seen or unseen – must be even now about us everywhere in the prosaic world of the present” (58).

As A Course in Miracles points out, in the present – the holy instant – “you will begin to understand what your Creator is, and what His creation is along with Him’ (T-15.VI.8:7). This understanding does not rely on the past and takes no thought of the future: it arises in us of its own accord, unrelated altogether to either effort or perception of personal growth.


I am saying – because A Course in Miracles is saying – that transcendence is not an action undertaken by the individuated self but is rather perception unadorned by personality or preference. This is neither a dream nor an ideal but a natural function from which we are presently alienated. But every prodigal remembers the way home: it is only a question of how honestly he can assess his misery and – more importantly – its cause.

To return home is simply to let love be love: nothing else is implicated. Nothing else could be. God is Love and Love is real. A Course in Miracles assures us that “To feel the Love of God within you is to see the world anew, shifting in innocence, alive with hope, and blessed with perfect charity and love” (W-pI.189.1:7).

To feel the love of God – to perceive this reborn world – is simply to put aside everything but God.

Empty your mind of everything it thinks is either true or false, or good or bad, of every thought it judges worthy, and all the ideas of which it is ashamed. Hold onto nothing. Do not bring with you one thought the past has taught, nor one belief you ever learned before from anything (W-pI.189.7:2-4).

We do not learn how to do this; we simply do it. We recognize that which obscures love, and our recognition is its undoing because we are no longer willing to tolerate that which separates us from Love. We are not finding a way to God; we are seeing clearly that which blocks awareness of God’s presence now.

What are those blocks? They are the conditioned brain: its preferences, definitions, ideals, memories, plans, and habits. The self that it makes and remakes, projects onto the world, then wonders that anything should go wrong. It doesn’t know better, but it could know better. There is, as Bill Thetford suspected, another way.

Conditioning is repetition and imitation. So it is undone through attention because attention can only be given to what is present, to what is here now. Even if we are giving attention to a memory or a plan, where does that memory or plan appear? Now. Here. There are no exceptions to this and – as A Course in Miracles observes in a different context – the lack of exceptions is the lesson (T-7.XI.4:2). There really is nothing else to learn. The question is are we ready?

The holy instant is this instant and every instant. The one you want it to be it is. The one you would not have it be is lost to you. You must decide when it is (T-15.IV.1:3-6).

Don’t interpret that: live it.


There is a stillness inherent in the moment which, despite its borderlessness, contains all of which I am aware. Attention moves – is given – within this stillness. All the activity of the world cannot impair its gentleness.

Be still, and lay aside all thoughts of what you are and what God is; all concepts you have learned about the world; all images you hold about yourself (W-pI.189.7:1).

So the morning passes. A family we don’t know comes by to take our bedroom set and other furniture, and come back later with a jar of homemade butter to say thank you. I grade papers, come back to the writing which – like a river – refuses to be either held or possessed. Some days are like that. Fionnghuala asks for a story. A dragonfly rests on the stairs, its wings prismatic in October sunlight.

This world – this one – “blesses you throughout the day, and watches through night as silent guardian of your sleep” (W-pI.189.2:4).

It sees salvation in you, and protects the light in you, in which it sees its own. It offers you its flowers and its snow, in thankfulness for your benevolence (W-pI.189.2:5-6).

This is the world’s offering to us: it is received through the gift of our attention. Can we see how this giving and receiving is one movement? The one completing the other? The one making possible the other? To be attentive is simply to rest in the bliss of what is: it is natural and effortless, it is a quiet joy that cannot be measured, nor even rendered in language.

How bright the stars – how soft the morning breeze – and how readily the self dissolves – when at last we see that the only way to reach God is merely to let God be (W-pI.189.8:7).


We cook the last of the peaches in honey; put them up in quart jars. Reheat last night’s pizza, share the last of the cider. Lost in wordy deserts with no indication I’ll be found, I get up and polish the prisms that hang – at my direction – in each of our bedrooms. When they dangle just so – and sunlight complies – little rainbows shimmer like gems on the bare walls. I am almost embarrassed by such bounty and largesse; almost ashamed to be so foolishly made grateful. Almost.

Emily Dickinson – first among so many travelers hefting lamps and doubling back for those who wander where wandering is no longer necessary – gently lays the markers down.

Old the Grace, but new the Subjects –
Old, indeed, the East,
Yet opon His Purple Programme
Every Dawn, is first

The world made new for no other reason that we are at last ready to see what is . . .

So the gift is given: form exists that we might perceive – through the gift of attention – the Love we are scared to feel, are scared yet to be. For the truth is that even a little love makes me cry and even a hint of beauty makes the world feel like a chapel, a tiny one hidden in the forest where morning after morning, someone always leaves me coffee . . .

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