A Course in Miracles: The Guide to Salvation

The Holy Spirit, which is our Guide to Salvation, is the idea of healing (T-5.III.2:1), which is to say, both the “Call for God” and “the idea of God” (T-5.III.2:3). And, because we are not apart from God, but live as God’s creations, the Holy Spirit is also the idea of our own self (T-5.III.2:4).

Implicit in this definition is the clarity that the Holy Spirit is not a disembodied (or vaguely embodied) agent acting in the world, but rather a complex of ideas that acts in mind.

[I use “complex” here as a noun, not an adjective, in order to indicate a unified functional whole comprised of related parts]

This is a convoluted way of observing that our longing to be healed (to know peace and love, be happy, end war and starvation et cetera) is simultaneously the recognition of our own need for healing and the means by which that healing is given to us, if we are ready to accept it.

How do we accept the means of healing? How are we healed?

By seeing the Holy Spirit – as outlined above – in our brothers and sisters. For me to see healing in you is to see you through the healing already in me and, because ideas are strengthened through sharing, to thereby strengthen healing in both of us.

Two things worth noticing here.

First, the Holy Spirit – and, thus, healing – is already given. We are not going on a journey to claim healing, or studying a book in order to learn healing, or waiting on God to administer unto us a special blessing. Healing – in its totality – is already given. It is “in” our brothers and sisters because it is “in” us and so our relationships – when they are dedicated to right seeing in this way – are the Holy Spirit.

You cannot understand yourself alone. This is because you have no meaning apart from your rightful place in the Sonship, and the rightful place of the Sonship is God. This is your life, your eternity, and your Self. It is of this that the Holy Spirit reminds you. It is this that the Holy Spirit sees (T-5.III.8:1-5).

The other thing to notice is that our role in healing is simply to be willing to see with – or through, if that is a clearer image – the Holy Spirit. The actual healing is not our job. Our task is to give attention to the Holy Spirit in us – the idea of healing in us – and to look at the world through that idea. It is the Holy Spirit that “has the task of undoing what the ego has made” (T-5.III.5:5).

Thus the subtle but nontrivial injunction: don’t trespass on the Holy Spirit’s job description. Our part is orders of magnitude less dramatic and special than our egos care to admit.

The ACIM urtext can help us flesh out this section. Often, in my experience, the urtext engenders more conflict than peace, but in this context it provides a clear example of how Helen and Bill understood the meaning and purpose of this section of the text.

In the urtext, Jesus reminds Helen of a recent incident with Bill in which Bill declares to Helen that he is determined to not see her in a certain light. This, Jesus observes, is negative – that is, it reflects what Bill will not do. Jesus goes on to say:

If he will state the same idea POSITIVELY, he will see the POWER of what he said. He had realized that there are two ways of seeing you, and also that they are diametrically opposed to one another. These two ways must be in HIS mind, because he was referring to HIMSELF as the perceiver. They must also be in YOURS, because he was perceiving YOU (T 5 E 4).

We could pause here and imagine a similar relationship in our own life, a brother or sister we are determined to not behold in a negative light (a parent, a friend, a child, a co-worker). A Course in Miracles invites us to reframe this “negative” commitment (what we will NOT do, how we will NOT see them) positively.

In the urtext, Jesus explains to Helen how this reframing works.

What [Bill] was really saying was that he would NOT look at you through HIS ego, or perceive YOUR ego in you. Stated positively, he would see you through the Holy Spirit in HIS mind, and perceive it in YOURS. What you acknowledge in your brother, you ARE acknowledging in yourself. What you share, you STRENGTHEN (T 5 E 5).

Jesus later goes on to observe that when it comes to helpfully perceiving our brothers and sisters in the world, Bill has the right idea (T 5 E 6).

Thus, this section clarifies for us how to consider our brothers and sisters and also notes that the benefits of considering them in the clear light of the idea of healing directly benefits us. We are not saved individually or apart but rather together. We are save for and through each other.

This section references another idea that I think is important in understanding and applying A Course in Miracles. I will quote it in full, then say a couple things about it.

The Holy Spirit is the Mediator between the interpretations of the ego and the knowledge of the spirit. His ability to deal with symbols enables Him to work with the ego’s beliefs in its own language. His ability to look beyond symbols into eternity enables him to understand the laws of God, for which He speaks. He can therefore perform the function of reinterpreting what the ego makes, not by destruction but by understanding. Understanding is light, and light leads to knowledge. The Holy Spirit is in light because He is in you who are light, but you yourself do not know this. It is therefore the task of the Holy Spirit to reinterpret you on behalf of God (T-5.III.7:1-7).

There are some nontrivial differences between this passage in the FIP edition and the urtext, which are discussed in the footnote below 1.

Symbols are things (words, images or ideas usually) that stand for something else. They are pointers. The word “bread” is a symbol for that stuff we dip in olive oil and eat. On U.S. roads, a green light at an intersection means proceed. “Democracy” is a word that stands for a form of government consisting of people electing their representatives. And so forth.

Symbols belong to the ego’s framework, where nothing is allowed to be as God created it but must always serve the ego’s ends.  Everything is segregated, divided and defined against everything else. Everything is a symbol, and the symbols are always shifting, and the result is confusion and strife. The result is chaos. This works for ego because ego literally is our efforts to untangle hopelessly entangled skeins and solve the many problems that entanglement seems to produce.

In Heaven – in God’s Creation – there are no symbols. Everything is known precisely as it is and there are no distinctions that require symbols in order to effectively distinguish them. What is known is known directly and does not require translation or interpretation.

In our current state of egoic thinking and framing, we cannot really even imagine what living like this would mean. Even “Heaven” and “God’s Creation” are merely symbols.

However, the Holy Spirit – who is like us in that it understands and can utilize symbols – is unlike us in that it also knows the perfect knowledge that constitutes Heaven. Therefore, it can adopt the ego’s symbolism and gently use it to undo what the ego makes with those symbols. The translation of relationships from special to holy – in a sense, relationship as miracle – is our most intimate experience of Holy Spirit.

Always the Holy Spirit undoes what ego makes in favor of what God knows, which requires no symbol to be known.

The major symbol that the Holy Spirit undoes is us! Our very selves are symbols. In the egoic mode, we are symbols of separate lives forging separate paths through a world in which there are winners and losers constantly pitted against one another. To ego, we are literal symbols of separation from God – we have separate bodies, personal narratives, shifting welters of desire and memory and preference . . .

But to Holy Spirit – which is, again, the idea of healing in our minds and in that way our guide to salvation – we can be gently steered through the appearance of the ego’s world and its symbols towards knowledge of God and Heaven.

The urtext reminds us of the simple and ordinary foundation of A Course in Miracles. Bill and Helen were learning how to be better friends to each other and, by extension, to those around them. Healing always has radial ancillary effects. Look, then, to the relationships in your life – the ones that work, the ones that don’t. The ones that challenge you, the ones that bore you. The ones where you are always giving and the ones where you are always receiving. All of them.

Can you insist on perceiving each of your partners in these relationships as holy? Can you gaze on them from the holiness in you to the holiness in them? The relationships may or may not be transformed in a formal way (e.g., T-5.III.2:8-10) but that doesn’t matter. Our dissociation from God is healed at the level of mind, where the dissociation occurred and where it is sustained.

In the end, Holy Spirit is basically a way of seeing relationship, of framing all relationships to serve the shared goal of happiness and inner peace. It is you healing me so that I can heal you so that together we might remember our shared home in God.

  1. Here is the relevant language from the urtext:

    “The Holy Spirit is the mediator between the interpretations of the ego and the knowledge of the Soul. Its ability to deal with symbols enables it to to work AGAINST the ego’s beliefs in its own language. Its equal ability to look BEYOND symbols into eternity also enables it to understand the laws of God, for which it speaks” (T 5 E 9).

    The difference between “spirit” and “soul” does not really bother me, as it does other students. I do appreciate the genderless language that is used to refer to the Holy Spirit (it’s an “it,” not a “He”). Not anthropomorphizing this concept allows us to remember that “Holy Spirit” is really an idea rather than on object or entity with whom we are in relationship (the way we are in relationship with the neighbor or a friend).

    Relating to ideas is of a different order than relating to brothers and sisters.

    Note, too, that the urtext suggests the Holy Spirit works “against” the ego rather than “with” the ego. Here, the FIP phrasing is more consistent with how the Holy Spirit actually functions – it’s not in a war with ego, it’s just translating ego’s symbols and stories in a way that brings forth love. The Holy Spirit is a lover, not a fighter.[]

May Newsletter

I sent out a newsletter this morning. If you’d like to read it, you can sign up here.

As I often say, A Course in Miracles is a course, not a spiritual path. You take the course – maybe two or three times if you’re slow and stubborn like me – and then something new happens. You are introduced to your inner Teacher, and that Teacher handles the curriculum going forward.

“Handles the curriculum” can mean studying other traditions – taking other courses, as it were – or it can simply mean attending in a general lived way the understanding and application – the lived integration of – “I am not a body” and “there is no world.”

Yet there is a sense in which we see that “ego” is simply a belief at odds with nature, and that letting go of this belief is an all-or-nothing venture. There’s no evolution to it at all. You can’t hold onto ego a little and be free; you can’t repair it or heal it or otherwise amend it.

Ego is sort of the like the bottom block of a Jenga tower. If you pull it out, the whole edifice topples. We tend to work the edges, pull the safest blocks. The edifice wobbles but never collapses. A Course in Miracles just makes the observation that it’s okay to go right to the foundation and yank it out.

How simple, then, is God’s plan for salvation. There is but one response to reality, for reality evokes no conflict at all. There is but one Teacher of reality, Who understands what it is. He does not change His Mind about reality because reality does not change (T-12.I.6:4-7).

The clarity of that insight can be oppressive, hard to sustain, and so forth. It’s scary to imagine pulling the plug on ego, because the edifice it’s constructed is dear to us. It feels like we’re giving something up – our lives. And so we turn from the precipice, back to the safer ground of spiritual routines, Coleman Barks’ Rumi poems, self-improvement through therapy or homesteading or yoga or writing about A Course in Miracles.

There are ten thousand times ten thousand ways ego has of convincing us that we’re getting rid of ego without actually touching ego. Even posts like this – and newsletters like this morning’s – are just more babble in the ego’s putrid brook.

Or that is the risk, anyway. Yet A Course in Miracles offers us one other promise: that what ego makes in hate, the Holy Spirit can use in Love to remind us that we are always home in God.

Thus my wordiness, which is not unrelated to my happiness, which is not unrelated to your happiness. We are in it together until it sees fit to remind us that our many fictions are mere distractions – including the fiction of oneness.

~ Sean

The End of Lonely Journeys

God is Justice because Love is Just. And Love is Just because it knows all Creation as one. It knows all life as equal, which undoes the grounds for different responses. What is one cannot be judged, for it cannot be divided into that which judges and that which is judged.

Thus, true Justice is not concerned with form – with the many appearances that appear as reality – but rather with the underlying content (e.g., T-14.X.7:1-6). It does not distinguish between a King and a beggar, a shepherd and a prophet, a river and the sea.

In our lives in the world – where appearances are a constant phenomenon, and judgment inevitable – to be just is to perceive in all things either love or the call for love and to know that the answer to both is the same: love.

Perceive in sickness but another call for love, and offer your brother what he believes he cannot offer himself. Whatever the sickness, there is but one remedy. You will be made whole as you make whole, for to perceive in sickness the appeal for health is to recognize in hatred the call for love. And to give a brother what he really wants is to offer it unto yourself, for your Father wills you to know your brother as yourself. Answer his call for love, and yours is answered (T-12.II.3:1-5).

When we seek justice – for ourselves or others, be they elephants, violets, migrants or the neighbor’s outdoor cat – we recognize implicitly the radical equality of all Creation. We embrace it; we welcome it. And as it is made welcome in us, it shows itself yet more to us. It makes us welcome in it. We are transformed by its presence, the way a landscape is transformed by moonlight.

Without exception, all that exists exists through and in – and is subject to – the Laws of Creation. Because all that exists shares the same Source, all that exists is Holy, and there are no degrees of holiness. What is Holy is equal unto all else that is Holy – that is how it is holy.

It is impossible to remember God in secret and alone. For remembering Him means you are not alone, and are willing to remember it (T-14.X.10:1-2).

To perceive the Holiness of Creation is to honor the condition of Justice, and to honor the condition of Justice is to know God as Love, which is to say, as Life itself.

Yet one can ask: but how? How do we perceive Holiness? How do we honor the condition of Justice? How do we know God as Love and Life itself?

In my living, which is all the living to which I can speak, the path to Holiness, Justice and Love is conjoined with the path of Understanding. Understanding is healed perception, where “healed” means “nothing is excluded via judgment.” An apple tree is a horse is a sunset is a kiss.

Everyone seeks for love as you do, but knows it not unless he joins with you in seeking it. If you undertake the search together, you bring with you a light so powerful that what you see is given meaning. The lonely journey fails because it has excluded what it find (T-14.X.10:5-7).

How does our living change when we refuse to take “the lonely journey” but instead accept one another as companions on a journey in which everything is perceived as the same?

This concept of perception is not the function of the body’s eyes or the body’s brain, both of which are rigid producers of distinction and difference and therefore judgment. To make contact with God through through Jesus, as I suggest is eminently and practically helpful, is to let go of the body’s function, which is done by relaxing our expectations and assumptions about the body’s function.

In other words, let the body do what bodies do, and let the spiritual chips fall where they may, which they always do anyway, perfectly. Eat when you’re hungry, sleep when you’re tired, and smile when the spirit says smile.

When we begin to transition from the belief that an apple tree and a horse and a sunset and a kiss are altogether undeniably different things to “an apple tree is a horse is a sunset is a kiss,” we begin to give attention not to the appearance of distinctions but rather to the light in which all distinctions appear. What brings forth the many appearances? What brings forth our feelings about them? Our ideas? What brings forth the stories in which we weave the many disparate elements of our living together? Why are we – or who are we that we should be – so desperate for a meaningful narrative with a happy ending?

There is no single answer to these questions so much as there is a practice of living justly and happily with them. The questions are not answered so much as undone. It is like bringing all your problems to Jesus, prepared for a long healing dialogue, and he just makes you tea and goes on about how beautiful and wonderful apple trees, horses, sunsets and kisses are . . .

God has no secret communications, for everything of Him is perfectly open and freely accessible to all, being for all. Nothing lives in secret . . . (T-14.X.11:2-3).

As we give attention to our experience of being embodied with other bodies in a material world – as we partake of the apparent vast, vivid and intimate complexity that is those bodies in that world – can we notice too the Light in which all of it appears?

Some people call this Light “awareness” or “consciousness.” Some of us call it “Christ.” It doesn’t actually matter what you call it – it answers to many names, including some that you and I will never know. What matters is that we experience it. By experiencing (i.e., by knowing, sensing, intuiting, understanding) the Light in which all Creation appears, then all things that appear become Holy because of the light in which they appear.

This feels like a decision we make a thousand times a day, but in fact it can be a decision we can make but once for all time. We decide to see only holiness and then all we see is holiness. Our decision is the decision to heal by asking our Teacher to teach us we are the light (T-8.III.1:1-4).

I wandered so lonely
My Life filled with sin
I wouldn’t let
my dear savior in
Then Jesus came
like a stranger in the night
Praise the Lord
I saw the light

I do not say Hank Williams saw the light – we can only testify to our own experience, after all – but he clearly understood a particularly Christian way of talking about seeing the light.

Helen Schucman did, too.

God and His miracle are inseparable. How beautiful indeed are the Thoughts of God who live in His light! Your worth is beyond perception because it is beyond doubt. Do not perceive yourself in different lights. Know yourself in the One Light where the miracle that is you is perfectly clear (T-3.V.10:5-9).

For me, the way to practice Understanding (in order to correspondingly perceive Holiness, Justice and God as Love) is to study A Course in Miracles under the tutelage of Jesus in a very pragmatic and felt – in a very realized – way. By listening to His voice and accepting His guidance – which is to substitute my will as I understand it for Jesus’s will – I “learn to undo error and act to correct it” (T-1.III.1:6).

The power to work miracles belongs to you. I will provide the opportunities to do them, but you must be ready and willing. Doing them will bring conviction in the ability, because conviction comes through accomplishment. The ability is the potential, the achievement is its expression, and the Atonement, which is the natural profession of the children of God, is the purpose (T-1.III.1:7-10).

The “opportunities” are our everyday lives and the challenges and upsets and struggles that appear to comprise them. The work, so to speak, is simply to practice living in the light of Christ – the One Light in which the miracle we are is perfectly clear.

How can we be helpful? Patient? Gentle? Kind? Non-dramatic?

The apparent enormity of this inner and outer work – and the promise of peace that is its promised outcome – can make it seem like we are scaling a thousand Mount Everests blindfolded, hands tied and without oxygen. Thus, it seems to require magic solutions – the suspension of natural laws, the operation of divine power, the presence of ascended masters, et cetera.

Yet healing – and living in a healed way with our brothers and sisters – is not so dramatic. It looks dramatic and difficult when one is looking out from need, but when we look together from Love . . .

That is a different vista altogether.

The Kingdom of Heaven is the dwelling place of the Son of God, who left not his Father and dwells not apart from Him. Heaven is not a place or a condition. It is merely an awareness of perfect Oneness, and the knowledge that there is nothing else; nothing outside this Oneness and nothing else within (T-18.VI.1:4-6).

The secret (there is no secret save for those of us who believe there is a secret) is that we need do nothing (T-18.VII.5:7). The less we do, the more Christ does, and the more Christ does, the more we see that the Atonement is finished and we are simply catching up with God.

This is another way of saying that we are finished with attack – we are no longer asserting our own limited understanding of life against life. We are letting life be. To attack a sister or brother is to interpret them according to our needs and desires. But to perceive them with the eyes of Christ – to see them in Love – in the One Light that establishes our identity in and as Christ – is salvation itself. For we do not see a separate world, but our own self projected outward. All our kindness and gentleness, however meager, is always healing, and the healing never omits us.

Justice is of Christ because it heals the confused ideas and hateful images that are born of attack. When we are unsure of what we are, we project that uncertainty, and hate what it produces. Yet when we consent to know ourselves as God knows us – which is to be just unto ourselves, as God is just in Creation – then what is projected is peace, and peace becomes us.

Perception can make whatever picture the mind desires to see. Remember this. In this lies either Heaven or hell, as you elect. God’s justice points to Heaven just because it is entirely impartial. It accepts all evidence that is brought before it, omitting nothing and assessing nothing as separate and apart from all the rest . . . Here all attack and condemnation becomes meaningless and indefensible. Perception rests, the mind is still, and light returns again. Vision is now restored (M-19.5:2-6, 8-10).

Our happiness is not of the world, because there is no world, and we are not bodies. Yet our happiness is shared and constructs a world in which – for a while yet – such sharing is possible. I give thanks for a merciful God whose Light restores to Understanding our radical equality and underlying oneness, and I give thanks for you, in whom God’s Justice becomes our reality.

Birds, Coffee and Void: Last Thoughts

But all this is silliness.

I enjoy being outdoors in the morning listening to birds.

I enjoy the light of dawn: its shy secretive blue, its slow but steady reveal of the world.

I love coffee, even bad coffee.

No more than all this! And no less either.

No mysteries. No secrets.

Just this.

This in which the one who talks too much about “void” risks being spiritually obtuse.

This in which the one who speaks of “emptiness” and “stillness” with near-evangelical fervor . . .

. . . has forgotten something and thinks “you” have it.

This in which it is clear that nobody has forgotten anything.

This in which nothing is lost.

This in which this morning I didn’t go to the barn but stayed inside, without coffee, exhausted, laying on the couch, watching light bleed through drawn curtains due east. After hours of night given to reading and prayer, all with an intensity evoking Kapleau’s description of shikan-taza . . .

. . . shikan-taza is a heightened state of concentrated awareness wherein one is neither tense nor hurried, and certainly never slack. It is the mind of somebody facing death (The Three Pillars of Zen 56).

Which in turn recalls these two questions and their answer from A Course in Miracles:

What would you see without the fear of death? What would you feel and think if death held no attraction for you? Very simply, you would remember your Father. The Creator of life, the Source of everything that lives, the Father of the universe and of the universe of universes, and of everything that lies even beyond them would you remember (T-19.IV.D.1:1-4).

Lay there unmoving. Eyes open then shut. Bird song but different, not like in the barn. Muffled a little. Traffic also different, groaning on the downslope of Route Nine past the village cemetery. The neighbor’s lambs bawl; a rooster crows.

Kapleau – he is summarizing a lecture of Yasutani-Roshi – also says:

Compared with an unskilled swordsman a master uses his sword effortlessly. But this was not always the case, for there was a time when he had to strain himself to the utmost, owing to his imperfect technique, to preserve his life. It is no different with shikan-taza (The Three Pillars of Zen 57).

How tired I am! Yet how grateful.

I live in you –
not as darkness
but as a light in which
even darkness cannot hide.

I live in you as that
which you long
to give away.

I live in you
as love.

In time, the world awakens. The mail truck from Springfield arrives, the driver calling “good morning” to M., who from the loading dock answers – quieter, knowing who is still asleep on Main Street – “good morning.”

For it is morning. Before judgment – good, bad, this or that – it is morning. Light streams over the hills, mist rises off the pasture.

How happy I am. How grateful.

More than this quiet joy this morning is not possible; less is possible, to the precise extent I insist on prerogatives that do not come from the Holy One. The secret to salvation is that we do this unto our own self (T-18.VIII.10:1). Shall we take this literally then? See what happens if we do, at least?

You have no problems, though you think you have . . . Think not the limits you impose on what you see can limit God in any way (T-26.II.3:3, 5).

Yes, so long as there is a perception of lack, then there will be a perception of problems, and so long as there is a perception of problems, then others will appear to “fill” the lack or “solve” the problem or “assuage the pain” or “reinforce the pain . . . ”

All a dream. All  dust even now blowing away. Not even dust. Not even a dream.

Only this. Always only this.

It is not given us to fool God or argue with God or negotiate with God or even to deny God. Every image and idea and act which implies the contrary is not and never was real. We need only surrender to this simple fact, and then love and peace and joy will flow over us the way sunlight floods a landscape, allowing it to be seen by eyes that know how to see.

In you I speak
in you I hear.

Between silence
and what-silence-is-not,
I wait for you to join me.

Listening to Birds with Jesus in the Void

Less poetically. Less biographically.

As a matter of experience – lived experience prior to settling into this or that language or mode of expression (science, philosophy, advaita, historical et cetera et cetera et cetera) – what happens when you listen to the birds and to the silence in which their song appears?

As an exercise, a thing done with intention and curiosity, with devotion – what happens?

You hear birds. And the sound of them variegates and complexifies as you listen, becoming not just lovely but wonder-filled. How deeply hearing goes into the two-note Spring song of a chickadee! Dylan goes quiet, Chopin goes quiet, ego goes quiet . . .

And then, between notes, you hear the silence. The rich expanse of it seemingly endless and utterly open. Oh, maybe there are other sounds, too, at first – the river in the distance, the traffic at even greater distance. Maybe the neighbors, maybe a dog.

But all these sounds – without exception – stand aside their antithesis, silence.

You listen to the silence. You give attention to it. What happens? Isn’t it almost alive? Doesn’t it almost feel like something always about to give birth to sound? This sound then that sound? This melody then that? Isn’t silence intelligent and creative? Isn’t it alive?

As you go deeper into it, you begin to see that if there were not those sounds, then there would not be this silence. Therefore, silence is not the source of sound! Whatever the source of sound is, it is the source of silence, too. What a discovery!

In this way, you begin to sense how silence and sound are like positive and negative – charges, integers, images – which, when brought together, dissolve into . . .

What exactly?

Into emptiness. Stillness. Consciousness. God.

Though as soon as you name it, you are in retreat. And it’s okay to retreat – God is not at war with you. Emptiness doesn’t care whether you stay or go. Consciousness doesn’t mind what you do or leave undone.

But still. When you name it, you also bring forth all it isn’t.

You don’t have to do that anymore. You can; you don’t have to.

And see how in all of this – this wondrous encounter with Void, this penetration into the Sacred Heart of Christ, this union with God, all the holy secrets and mysteries unraveling at the Mind’s altar – there are still birds singing, and in between the song there are still these soft silences.

And there is still the one who – hearing them – loves them. Loves them. And the love streams, pours, flows – now grateful, now amazed, now studious, now amused . . .

Only this, of course. Always only this. But also – oh my Lord – this.