A Natural Serious Happiness

Often when I am tired there is some slipping, as if the the energy necessary to sustain my fear and guilt and anxiety – that mode of thinking A Course in Miracles calls the ego – cannot be borne, and so is set aside, and in its place appears a quiet awareness, a natural and serious happiness.

And so I sit by the window as the sun is eclipsed by the horizon, books scattered around me, and stare not at the poems and prose but rather outside to where laundry strung along the clothesline fills with fading sunlight and wind, the sleeves of our shirts reaching for the sky, while beneath them, in flailing shadows, chickadees and mourning doves scavenge for seeds.

Does the mind clear a little? Or soften? Something happens.

The ego is trying to teach you how to gain the whole world and lose your own soul. The Holy Spirit teaches that you cannot lose your soul and there is no gain in the world, for of itself it profits nothing (T-12.VI.1:1-2).

There is such a patient and reassuring loveliness in those clear simple sentences. We cannot lose our souls. Two thousand years we’ve been fighting to save them, enmeshed in a fierce battle with eternal stakes, lashed on by Cotton Mather’s stern prose and Jonathan Edwards’ “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” and it was all for naught. There was always another way. Bill Thetford was right.

A Course in Miracles comes along and says our spiritual warfare is an error. More, it is an illusion, altogether without effect. A wisp of cloud trailing off to nowhere. That which is does not set conditions. Therefore there are no consequences.

Can you imagine it? No consequences? If we believed it, we would instantly be at peace, our concepts of right and wrong not even a dim memory.

But we don’t believe it: we play at believing it. We say it – or write it – but it remains an idea, an ideal, a goal. We’ll get to it someday.

Mallow-colored contrails float through the deepening sky. Pine trees darken and mourning doves leave the shadowed limbs for day’s last meal. I think of Jesus faint with hunger in the desert, refusing the devil’s challenge to turn stones into loaves of bread, a way of saying he would not deviate, would only accept that which God offered.

When we say that’s what we want too, do we know what we are saying? Are we ready?

We are in the nature of love itself but in a state of forgetfulness, a self-induced trance, a misremembering of identity. We lose love in a moment of fear and then compound the error a thousand ways a thousand times. And all that is called for is a simple return to stillness – not even the return, really, but the willingness to return. How little would suffice to restore our minds to their natural grace.

And yet . . . Sometimes I forget even that much, gratefully charmed into dreary exile. A handful of violets in the shadow of wild rhubarb, vivid rainbows sparkling on garden quartz, chipmunks lecturing from the fallen gutter where they stow seed and hide from neighborhood cats . . .

Over and over I fall for the world – its images and narratives – and the self it reinforces by gathering all the loveliness in. I fall for it and my forgetfulness deepens.

Emily Dickinson warned me. Remember, she said, God’s table is

spread too high for us
Unless we dine on tip-toe.
Crumbs fit such little mouths,
Cherries suit robins;
the eagle’s golden breakfast
Strangles them.

What God or Gods would ask you to struggle for spiritual sustenance? Would offer it up so sparingly, so meanly? What God would force us to beg for crumbs so near to – and yet so far from – the bounty of Heaven?

And yet – somehow – the robins find their sweet cherries, the eagles their chickens and hares. What would strangle one suffices to fill the other. Perhaps it is not so bad . . .

Two thousand years ago, Jesus said that even though two sparrows are sold for a penny – valued so cheaply by the world – “not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.”

True enough, said Dickinson. But:

God keeps his oath to sparrows,
Who of little love
Know how to starve!

What have we taught ourselves in our long separation? What hunger have we named our own? What Gods have we created to cast a blessing on such a dubious enterprise?

The same year (1861) that Dickinson was telling us it was time to rethink God, she also modeled what such rethinking might resemble. She pronounced herself “Inebriate of air,” drinking “a liquor never brewed,” a veritable”little Tippler/Leaning against the – sun,” astounding saints and angels with her casual proximity to Heaven, her confidence that she owned a place there, as we all do, without qualification or equivocation.

Indeed – still within that close sequence of poems (195, 207, 213 – 1999 Belknap Press Reading Edition) – musing on the open secrets of the skies passed to hills, from hills to orchards and from apple trees to daffodils, she told God he could keep those secrets because “it’s finer – not to know.”

She might have also said  that we already know and merely need to remember it. Certainly, she remembered it. Her poems and letters are a map that we might remember too.

A Course in Miracles says that our remembrance is not far off.

A little while and you will see me, for I am not hidden because you are hiding. I will awaken you as surely as I awakened myself, for I awoke for you . . . Trust in my help, for I did not walk alone, and I will walk with you as our Father walked with me (T-12. II.7:1-2, 5).

This is not the Christ of crucifixion and sorrow – whose fatherly God builds such exclusive tables – but rather the Christ with whom we share a mission to “escape from crucifixion, not from redemption” (T-12.II.7:4).

So I close the books; I turn from the north-facing window and walk to the south. A quarter moon, softened by a faint bower of mist, hangs a little above the treeline. For a moment you could convince yourself it was trying to decide: should I fall or should I stay?

It falls; its light fades. Mourning doves and chickadees retreat to hidden nests, the laundry is collected. Wordiness is a pale approximation of the Love I am bent on recollecting but for now it has to do. Dickinson knew. We are “trudging to Eden, looking backward,” she said. We are making do with crumbs, for now. We are seeing our hunger anew, going where it takes us.

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