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Reading A Course in Miracles: The Circle of Atonement

The circle of Atonement is the unified alignment of miracle workers whose shared goal of peace creates “interlocking chain of forgiveness” (T-1.I.25:1) that strengthens both those who are in the circle as well as those are perceived as external to it.

Miracles are shifts in thinking, away from fear and towards love. Collectively, these shifts in thought become the Atonement, which is is the undoing of fear and leaves in its wake only love (e.g., T-1.I.26:2-3). It is “the natural of profession of Children of God” (T-1.III.1:10) and is a “total commitment” (T-2.II.7:1).

Thus, those of us called to the particular form of the universal curriculum called A Course in Miracles, have as our “homework” a radical yet sustainable change of mind, which both arises from and reinforces our shared guiltlessness. Any suggestion to the contrary – that we are guilty, undeserving of love, deserving of condemnation, et cetera – we take as an invitation to further heal ourselves, others, and the world that together we bring forth.

“Heal” in this case simply means to give attention to our thinking, discern between unloving and loving thoughts, and accept only the latter as helpful.

As you share my unwillingness to accept error in yourself and others, you must join the great crusade to correct it; listen to my voice, learn to undo error and act to correct it. The power to work miracles belongs to you (T-1.III.1:6-7).

In this sense, A Course in Miracles contemplates an active student body who not only learn but bring their learning into application. Our “loving thoughts” reflect the voice of Christ, making space for them and following their directive becomes our operative understanding of healing. It is the Atonement, as A Course in Miracles defines it.

We are all joined in the Atonement here, and nothing else can unite us in this world. So will the world of separation slip away, and full communication be restored between the Father and the Son. The miracle acknowledges the guiltlessness that must been denied to produce the need of healing (T-15.V.5:1-3).

This work – discerning the loving from the unloving – is only complex, difficult, mysterious et cetera when we insist on conceptualizing miracles as having varying orders, which is to say, insisting that some apparent problems are bigger or more severe or harder to solve than others.

Seeing the world in this fractious and judgmental way appears natural to us – it’s just what brains do! – and so we tend to bring miracle-minded thinking to bear in inconsistent ways. When we are upset, or are aware that others are upset, we seek the corrective power of miracles. But no person, place, thing or situation is fundamentally different from another. To the miracle – and so to the miracle-minded – they are all the same.

When we accept this equality and consistency, then our struggles with A Course in Miracles easy considerably. We no longer have to judge and decide when and whether and how to work miracles; rather, we see that they apply to everything and everyone without discrimination. What could be easier than to always work miracles?

The miracle makes no distinction among degrees of misperception. It is a device for perception correction, effective quite apart from either the degree or the direction of the error. This is its true indiscrimininateness (T-1.I.49:1-3).

Thus, our frustration with a flat tire, our sadness over a friend’s diagnosis of cancer, our anger over a recent spate of nationalist homicides and our joy with the luxury of a few spare hours to read Emily Dickinson poems are all the same. They seem to be of different orders (cancer vs. flat tire, say) and they seem to be of varying quality (homicide vs. poetry) but to the miracle, they are identical.

Thus, we give them all over to the light of miracles, which in each instance “compares what you have made with creation, accepting what is in accord with it as true, and rejecting what is out of accord as false” (T-1.I.50:1).

We don’t always recognize love, and some of what we call love is actually fear. This is why even what we call love must be subject to miracles. We inevitably learn that a great deal of our thinking is “upside-down,” including what we considered “right-side up.” It is a fact of studying A Course in Miracles that we should prepare to be surprised at what we learn.

Yet becoming happy learners in this way creates a “circle of Atonement without end” (T-14.V.7:6).

Peace, then, be unto everyone who becomes a teacher of peace. For peace is the acknowledgement of perfect purity, from which no one is excluded. Within its holy circle is everyone whom God created . . . Joy is its unifying attribute, with no one left outside to suffer guilt alone (T-14.V.8:1-4).

The circle of Atonement becomes a symbol then of how uncompromising miracle-minded thinking is. It reflects our “total commitment” (T-2.II.7:1). And it also becomes a shared foundation of our collective experience of working miracles, because it is itself an opportunity to expand the range of love.

Each one you see you place within the holy circle of Atonement or leave outside, judging him fit for crucifixion or redemption. If you bring him into the circle of purity, you will rest there with him. If you leave him without, you join him there (T-14.V.11:1-3).

The way we see our brother or sister is the way that we see our own self, and the way that we treat our brother or sister is the way that we treat our own self.

This is the secret to happiness; this is the key to salvation.

Refuse to accept anyone as with the blessing of Atonement, and bring into it by blessing him. Holiness must be shared, for there in lies everything that makes it holy. Come gladly to the holy circle, and look out in peace on all who think they are outside (T-14.V.11:5-7).

Thus, the circled of Atonement becomes a powerful teaching tool. We work together in order to heal our own self, and our togetherness allows healing to go beyond us. Our function is healing; our function is holiness. There is no other work but this.


March 2019: Housekeeping

This little post is more in the nature of a long-winded housekeeping note than anything else.

1. I sent out a newsletter (correlating a little poem of Emily Dickinson’s with ACIM principles of love and service). If you’re interested, you can sign up for the newsletter.

2. I have been rewriting old lesson posts. I began writing them back in 2011; my sincerity and devotion to that project were sound but the writing itself was rushed and a bit more biographical than necessary. Hence, rewriting.

Rewriting is not merely editing what has already been created. It is creating again. It makes something new. The process has been helpful to me, particularly in the way it has reminded me of Tara Singh’s observation that any one lesson of the course can awaken us from the dream of separation.

This is not to deny the lessons’ cumulative effect, nor to urge anyone to abandon a traditional linear approach to the curriculum. What works is what’s helpful! I merely testify to an ongoing experience of the richness of the material. It retains the viability of living scripture.

The rewrite has reached the first five lessons, if you are curious:

Lesson one
Lesson two
Lesson three
Lesson four
Lesson five

3. I would like to begin an ACIM dialogue group. My preference is to meet physically, perhaps once a month or so, for a sustained course-related sharing. I envision something along the lines of a Bohm dialogue-inspired workshop, with folks who share my approximate approach to and intensity with course material (which approach, Lord knows, is not for everyone).

I wonder if there are folks in an approximate radius to me who would be interested? I live in western Massachusetts. I am happy to travel a little (a few hours drive, say), and to be responsible for organizational details and coordinating.

If you’re interested, feel free to drop me a line or comment. Sometimes a sustained community can be a helpful resource in terms of insight and application.

4. Finally, I was going to add this material into the newsletter, but keeping that project simple matters, so I’ll post it here instead. It’s a couple of paragraphs from Eleanor Rosch, a scholar and writer whose work (especially when it comes to the nexus between religion and psychology) I find both challenging and nurturing.

To try to isolate and manipulate single factors that actually operate only systemically is like killing a rabbit and dissecting it to look for its aliveness. This is . . . a question of the kind of mind with which one perceives the world, whether in life or in science.

Opening to the wisdom in not knowing may be even more important than opening to experiences within knowing. Acknowledging not knowing is what evokes the genuine humbleness prized by every contemplative and healing tradition.

(from More Than Mindfulness: When You Have a Tiger by the Tail, Let It Eat You).

The emphasis here is primarily on epistemic humility – that is, beginning with what we don’t know, and what we don’t know we don’t know. Secondarily, it observes that what we perceive as distinct and separate tends to be an integral aspect of a system, and cannot be meaningfully considered apart from that system (nor, really, exist apart from the system – this includes, by the way, our self).

Given those premises, how shall we gaze at the world? With what sort of mind shall we approach our loving and living?

Thank you, as always, for reading and sharing with me.


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Maturana on Self as Distinction

With respect to the self, Humberto Maturana makes the following observations (in his essay “Biology of Self-Consciousness):

The distinction of the self is an overwhelming experience . . . once it takes place the distinction becomes the referential ground for all other distinctions . . .

And perhaps most critically, he observes that the “experience of the self as an object obscures its original constitution as a relation . . . ”

What we call the “self” is a distinction that is made in experience. In the same way I distinguish a coffee cup from what is not a coffee cup, I distinguish the “self” from what the self is not.

On this view, what we are calling the self is simply a kind of experience that arises in organisms capable of reflection. It is a sort of primal distinction, in that it enables all other distinctions.

That is, the cosmos comes into being in reference to the self for whom the cosmos comes into being.

So far we are not making any spiritual observations. We are simply seeing the way human perception and cognition work, which is a way of contextualizing our own perception and cognition.

We are what sees and, critically, we are also what we see. Our observations – be they of chickadees, children or chocolate cakes – are not separate from us. The appearance of separation is an effect to which we acclimate (like not seeing the blind spot that is in our eye). But it’s not a hard-and-fast rule; it’s not real.

Maturana emphasizes that tremendous power of this primary distinction. The self is overwhelming, so much so that it obscures its own origins. It might even go scurrying off after those origins, sometimes under the guise of a spiritual quest. What am I? What is Truth?

If you want to correlate this to the separation in A Course in Miracles you can, but you don’t have to. You don’t have to bring God into it at all. Indeed, bringing God or Jesus or Heaven into it is often just a way of sustaining the obscuration. Why make this harder than it has to be?

You are that which obscures what you are: you are that which asks what you are. Give attention to the distinctions that appear (what is this, what is that) and give attention to how they appear (in time and space, and in language). Separation is an appearance contingent on a mode of thinking that can – if one wants and is otherwise amenable – be undone.

But it is not a mystery. No supernatural origins or causes or methods apply. It is as simple as climbing down the ladder we climbed up, or retracing our steps on a path. And it can begin with this insight: “ladder” and “path” are analogies, and the use of analogy is separative.


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Lenten Writing: Bird-Shaped Holes

This morning I watched two tufted titmice in the maple tree at the bedroom window. They sipped from icicles on limbs that nearly reached the porch roof which is still laden with snow from recent storms. They were quick and alert, the way it sometimes feels to be happy.

They reminded me of the summer before law school and how obsessed with birds I suddenly became. I had left Vermont to live in a city close to the law school. I was lost and confused, unsure of where ambition had led me. In response I read deeply and obsessively about birds, hiked alone up and down the Seven Sisters, canoed miles of the Connecticut River between Sunderland and Northampton, sat for hours in Forest Park, all with binoculars, guidebooks and notepads.

The idea became that there was a hole in me that only birds could fill. Every time I saw a bird, the void that was so much of my being, that I pictured as a sort of hungry blackness, would fill a little. It was as if the birds were made of light. Each feathery ray illuminating me by degrees, staving off collapse.

Of course I would say it differently today. Birds – like maple trees, like children, like rivers – frame the void, which is utterly impersonal. The shape of anything is the shape of the cosmos, and that to which we give attention is already attending us, for we too are objects, living frames through which the universe spills.

For a long time I called that understanding – and its occasional embodied manifestations – holy, which was a way of making it a special private accomplishment. I regret that, of course. The desire to hoard anything as a way of excluding others from sharing it is unloving. It hurts, and the pain is not ours alone.

One learns, one does.

The tufted titmice, though. They also reminded me of how earlier last week – before Lent began – I had felt unexpectedly very close to Jesus, somewhat the way I felt in Vermont before leaving for law school. In those days, in Vermont, I wrote poems and songs and rarely spoke to anyone other than Jesus, the cardinal exception being public librarians who helped me track down obscure articles and out-of-print books. My study was the Lord and the liberation from sin proclaimed by his son. Its fruit was a dizzy sense of proximity and intimacy with Christ.

It was the same last week. If I spoke, Jesus answered. Whatever worried me, Jesus reminded me he would cover it. It was like being wrapped in a weighted blanket all day, angels murmuring pacifying hymns at all hours. I liked it. I suspected it would pass but while it lingered, I liked it.

And pass it did, slowly eclipsed by my ongoing reading, teaching, writing and house-and-homestead chores. It was good that it passed. It was. The work now is not easy and there are no guides, no maps, and no easy outs. Fellow travelers, yes. Way stations, yes. A deep sense of it-will-all-work-out, yes. But guides and maps, no. Not anymore.

And that, really, finally, was the point of this morning’s titmice. They reminded me of that period that came after that year or so of dialogic intimacy with Jesus, a period in which a vast emptiness arose in me, one that declined to be filled with familiar narratives, scriptural exegesis, institutional ritual and pre-meditated meditations.

The birds forced me into the world in a rough but focused way. Look for us, they cried. Know us better, they sang. They forced me into a relationship with attention that for all its studiousness was never not yoked to the world. The birds forced me to attend. They called me to a vivid praxis that was unexpected and confusing. Bird-watching? Really?

And yet that praxis sustained me through those early confusing years of law school, the crazy academic pressure and competition, the living in a city, the abiding uncertainty about lawyering as a career. Really, until I settled in with Chrisoula, and we moved back to Vermont and – in our stumbling way – into the homesteading life that is our (yet shaky) fundament, that bird-centered praxis was what breathed me.

What I mean to say – chirpy avian that I sometimes am – is that we do not always know the form our requisite praxis will take. Today, on the fifth day of Lent, 2019, it took the shape of two tufted titmice, these sentences and, threaded throughout, a sense that you were listening, noticing, attending, bringing me forth in love.


Lenten Writing: Attention

By asking “what shall I do?” or “how shall I do something, anything at all?” I am displacing praxis with more study. And this is the move that I want to see myself making. Not to stop myself or correct myself but simply to see it. Not as a matter of what is right or what is wrong but what is.

Of course, the distinction between praxis and study is artificial, or rather, is contrary to their fundamental unity, which is apparent (inherent) in how they are given.

In order to make distinctions, I must have already bought into (brought forth) the idea of value – that is, the idea that a thing can have value at all, and thus can have more or less value than some other thing.

Value is a concept that forces one to distinguish and this can be seen because no sooner do I make the distinction (between, say, praxis and study) then I prefer one to the other (study to praxis).

Playfully, it is study which indicates that this happens and also suggests that maybe it shouldn’t happen, at least not unintentionally, at least not without being noticed. So praxis is the subject of study, and in that sense precedes (or is distinguished from) it.

And so the quest for praxis as such is not coherent, because an effective and meaningful praxis was there all along, revealed by the very study which it had brought into being (which, in turn, brought it into being).

(The web becomes quite tangled, almost as if we are begging to be ensnared and even consumed by the one who builds the web).

So perhaps I could reframe the whole thing and say that it is not a question of being praxical, but rather being differently praxical, intentionally praxical.

That is, it is better to live a life inspired by Catholic Worker values than a life inspired by publicly mulling over one’s thinking about Catholic Worker values.

That is, go feed the hungry! Rather than think about feeding the hungry.

(Wittgenstein said, look, don’t think).

But that, too, assigns value to a distinction, which is not the new or fresh praxis contemplated by the evolution of study, this new or fresh juncture it has reached (or suggests it has reached, perhaps simply to call attention to itself yet again, for is this not how study always flirts, always insisting that it – not application – be the subject of one’s attention).

One might way then: don’t fall for the illusion of right action; don’t fall for the pretense that the self is undone in that action which secretly validates the self. Just keep writing and reading and doing what’s in front of you. Let the spiritual chips fall where they may, which they always do anyway. Just breathe. Let others breathe, too.

If the hungry need food then they will find us, or find someone else, and then  someone else – with some other form of hunger – will find us. Aren’t we all going forward with hands outstretched, palms to the heavens?

Well, what finds us today – on this fourth day of Lent 2019, at 3 a.m. in the morning – is wordiness, the play that longs to clarify itself in communion with others for whom play – this play – also has value.


Freedom is Always Relational

It seems as we look into our experience of living that we are free to adopt various means of looking into our experience of living, each of which may provide a slightly different perspective of and thus experience of living.

That is to say, the way we look at our living affects our living which affects the way we look at our living. It is circular. But it is not a vicious circle – one that traps us, like “I am a liar,” where if it’s true it’s false but if it’s false then it’s true.

Rather, it is – to borrow Francisco Varela’s turn-of-phrase – a creative circle, one that deepens and extends itself by including (rather than excluding or occluding) more and more – eventually all, if such a thing is possible – of the cosmos.

Thus, the self-referential self can learn about Buddhism and socialism, it can adopt veganism or celibacy, it can learn to play cello or run a marathon, it can go to therapy or read R.D. Laing . . . All of these apparent activities enlarge and expand the fundamental self-reference and recursion that is always underway and always underlies – and incorporates and expands – self-experience.

To put this somewhat more abstractly, or perhaps just differently, we are observers and our observation is free. It can assume different forms, pick and choose among a priori assumptions, study and amend itself, treat itself to chemical alteration through drugs, fasting, meditation, ritual. Doing so changes it and its observation.

In this way and for these reasons, a fundamental freedom underlies our experience as human observers. Realization of this freedom evokes an ethics of responsibility. Since we construct our worlds and selves, then the world and the self we construct is our responsibility.

This is less onerous than it seems. Love is natural; what is not love is love-obstructed or love-inhibited or love-denied, at either cultural or individual levels. The work is not to invent love or replace love but rather to undo the blocks which prohibit its natural extension (this reflects a natural understanding of a core principle of A Course in Miracles).

Thus, we are not called to be Buddhists but to allow others to be Buddhists. We are not called to learn to play the cello but to allow others to play the cello. Naturally, this allowance is mutual, which means that if we want to be Buddhist or cellists we can be – but not as an assertion of a personal right. Rather, it happens as a gift or blessing from the collective, the all-of-us. They – the other(s) – allow us to be Buddhists or cellists (or Buddhist cellists).

This is what it means to be free. Freedom is always relational, and what we give to others is what they can and do give to us. This is not complicated. But what obscures it can be – and often appears to be – complicated indeed. One can become obsessed with untangling the various semantic and cultural forms that obstruct love, often without seeming to obstruct it, and often while explicitly declaring they are not obstructing it.

Love is what arises naturally, and what extends itself naturally, and one merely has to notice this. It effectuates itself; it is not our job to do it. Our job, so to speak, is simply to notice it happening and, as much as possible, not get in the way (by insisting that Buddhists are better than Christians, or more spiritually mature than Zoroastrianists, or that cellos are superior to electric guitars, or that Beethoven beats Chopin but nobody beats Mozart et cetera).

This “job” can seem quite abstract. It is tempting to merely talk about love, and to describe love, and to profess one’s love for love, and so forth. It is tempting to do that because it is easier than actually loving! In order to bring love forth, it is helpful to become clear on who and what we are – and who and what the self is, which is also to answer who an what the other is, and the collective, and the many worlds we bring forth, et cetera.

Hence the importance of giving attention to self-reference, and becoming clear on how it functions. This is not a spiritual quest but a human one that can be cast in spiritual terms, if that is helpful.

Regardless of how one frames it, it is the work we have to do if we are going to establish the primacy and maximize or optimize the free expression of love as our fundament. What this means in practice is what Francisco Varela suggested was a possible human Utopia.

If everybody would agree that their current reality is a reality, and that what we essentially share is our capacity for constructing a reality, then perhaps we could agree on a meta-agreement for computing a reality that would mean survival and dignity for everybody on the planet . . .

The center of any such meta-agreement – and the ground of our ability to see that reality is always “a” reality and not “the” reality – is the question of self-reference. Varela called it “the nerve of this logic of paradise.”

I find this characterization – because it hints at spirituality without toppling in headfirst – helpful. The self is an illusion but it’s no good saying so; we have to see it, and then, having seen it, integrate it into our ongoing experience. Doing so is hard to varying degrees but peace and joy – ours and everyone else’s – is contingent on it. Why wait?


Lenten Writing: Remembering Unity

Yet this writing – which is thinking out loud – implies a division between praxis and study, which negates – or occludes, maybe – their unity, which is actually how they are given.

It is not sufficient to say that study is praxical and praxis studious. That reflects a distinction subsequent to their appearance which is always undivided.

For example, we typically don’t look at a river and its banks as a unity. We see river or banks. Yet absent one, the other cannot exist. The shape of one is the shape of the other. Given attention, their mutuality eventually blurs. Unity emerges. But it is the unity that was always there.

What other praxis is there but to give attention to all our living in order that the many instances of mutuality might blur and oneness appear? Or reappear maybe, slowly but resolutely, like the horses some mornings when they come up from the far end of the pasture hidden in mist. Their heavy footfall first, then faint outlines as if the mist were assuming equine form, and then the horses themselves, the mist falling away into the background.

We do not discover the world. We do not detect it. The world arises with us: we bring it forth, including the body whose senses bring it forth, whose senses coagulate around certain forms of lexical identity (I, we, you, Sean . . . ). All of this is given; all of this just appears. However we describe it – or explain it, if we can – our description and explanation are momentary, always eclipsed by the ongoing giving.

Husserl indicated the possibility of an “absolute radicalism” which for him implied one’s submission to a decision “which will make of one’s life an absolutely devoted life.”

This is a decision through which the subject becomes self-determining, and even rigourously so – to the very depths of his personality – committed to what is best in itself in the universal realm of intellectual values and committed, for his entire life-time, to the idea of the supreme Good . . . the subject chooses [supreme knowledge] as his veritable ‘vocation’, for which he decides and is decided once for all, to which he is absolutely devoted as a practical ego.

We give attention, perceiving the distinctions of thought and language arising, and we bracket them in order to attend the ongoing givenness of the world. It becomes our practice, our praxis, and our experience enlarges and intensifies, as if to indicate not a finite self removed from the cosmos in order to observe some sliver, but the cosmos itself in grand continuous and luminous self-regard.

This is a new way of being, this attentiveness which has no primary subject or object, but is bent only on encountering itself over and over in the ecstatic spilling of living as love. It negates nothing – not the errors that kept it from awareness once upon a time and not the stories that would slip the brackets and throw reins on a wild throat. It is light itself, love itself, the ordinary transforming itself into All.

I say (for it is not precisely what Husserl says, nor what the many Husserlian interpreters whose insight and clarity exceed my own by many factors say) give attention to the unity that is never not giving itself to you in the very form of the living that your living assumes.

Anyway, that is a way of thinking about it, for one who is tired after a long day of teaching and reading, and who wants to think about it, on this, the third day of Lent, 2019.


Lenten Writing: Praxis as Application

In a sense, praxis has to do with the exercise – with the application – of ethics and morals. Through study we develop an intuitive sense of what is good and just, what is most likely to defuse conflict and elevate the collective, the all-of-us, rather than only the individual. Through praxis we seek means by which to bring these ideals to real fruition.

“Real fruition” is a problematic phrase, though. What is unreal? For that matter, what is real?

Let’s say that I reach a conclusion that A is better of when B is better off. In general, this does strike me as practically unassailable wisdom. A world in which all people made this their singular ideal when choosing how to act would be happy, peaceful and creative. I would like to live in that world; I believe it is worth my effort and attention to try and bring that world forth.

If I simply go about my living meditating on the satisfaction of a scholarship that arrived soundly at “A is better off when B is better off” and I don’t make a deliberate effort to bring it into application, and to help others bring it into application, is that enough?

If I only say “A is better off when B is better off” but then vote for local policies which ensure B will not be better off, or treat my students differently than I would like to be treated, or treat my wife or children in ways that I would not consent to be treated . . .

I think that is incoherent.

So we could say that “what is real” is what allows for a sense of coherence in our experience. The theory, as such, has an embodied correlative. Whatever the world is, it is that in and through which theory is enacted.

A sage ACIM student – a generation older than me, who had broken bread with Tara Singh and Ken Wapnick and who studied as well with Krishnamurti – years ago ended a sustained dialogue with me because I would not renounce Tara Singh’s use of the word “application.”

That is, Tara Singh often emphasized the importance of bringing our study of ACIM into application. He developed the Joseph Plan of A Course in Miracles for the Lean Years; he literally fed the poor as a staple of his ACIM practice. This meant a lot to me; it resonated deeply and in a sustained way with my longstanding interests in the Catholic Worker and other radical approaches to hospitality, peace-making, dialogue and learning.

My friend believed – and his point was not without merit, not at all – that Singh had been confused and never found a way out of his confusion. Service unto others sounds good but it was actually a distraction from the radical nondualism A Course in Miracles envisioned. One doesn’t apply anything because the world is not real and neither is the self.

But I suggest – carefully, hopefully respectfully – that real and unreal are an unhelpful binary and that the world is merely what appears, and that within that world response also appears, and these appearances and responses are structured and lawful, and so in that experiential matrix, it can be practical and helpful to think in terms of “application.”


I suggest that praxis – integrated with devout study, arising from and informing that study in turn – is not only possible but necessary. That it cannot be separated from the appearing and responding but is part and parcel – warp and woof  – of the welter.

My old friend said, “Sean, you have a lot to learn.” Nothing since suggests that he was wrong.

But of course all of this is simply prattling about praxis, rather than being praxical, and so does not answer the fundamental question: how shall I bring forth love today?

This was written on the second day of Lent, 2019.


Lenten Writing: Living Praxically

Praxis is the way we live the life that is indicated by our study. Study directs our praxis by suggesting certain practices, approaches, methods, strategies. This reflects the clarification and contemplation aspects of our living.

Our study directs our praxis but, in turn, praxis informs our study, suggesting new directions, methods and so forth. For example, we might read a study advocating meditation as a means of enlarging our range of compassion so we adopt a meditation practice.

This is the service aspect of our living.

In this sense, praxis and study are one movement. Each makes the other not only possible but necessary. They are unified, sort of the way you cannot separate a river from its banks.

In my own living, theory and idea – created, contained and expressed in language – are predominant. Thus, clarity and contemplation are the preferred – most comfortable, most familiar – aspects of my practice.

In my own living, praxis has been mostly relegated to effect – passive, casual, and sometimes even scorned.

For a long time I was unaware of this; then, when I became aware, I found myself struggling to right the imbalance. Often I failed; often, it was clear that I wanted to fail.

This is unhealthy. Favoring one aspect of a dynamic circularity over the other minimizes the circularity’s flow and creativity. We become less effective, which means less loving, which means less happy and peaceful.

And yet.

Praxis frightens me, which is silly in one sense, since praxis is always happening anyway. It is not coherent to fear what you are already presently experiencing.

But still. Praxis cries for attention, which is to say – in this context – for intention. It wants to be executed, embodied. It wants to be brought forth and lived. What we study yearns to manifest in an embodied way that is not merely semantic and mental.

For me, my decades-long obsession with the Catholic Worker – with nonviolence, radical egalitarianism, dialogue and so forth – are the concepts that my praxis longs to breathe into being.

I have explored those topics deeply and sincerely – I have studied them closely – but my living has mostly been a poor reflection of what I have learned in that study. For the most part, I have declined to allow the two domains – study and praxis – to mingle. Rather, I have tried to keep them apart.

Again, in an important sense, that is actually not possible. We are always in praxis, however unintentionally. Thus, praxis – however feeble and unconscious – has at last reached my study and, in turn, my study – however rigidly self-contained – has finally seeped into my praxis.

A fuller and more creative unity is possible and I am at a juncture where keeping the two at a sterile distance is hard enough that I am willing to experience the utter fear of whatever it means to be intentionally praxical.

This was written on Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, 2019.


Sex and ACIM Part Two

A follow up to Sex and A Course in Miracles

Some folks point out that the urtext manuscripts of A Course in Miracles are more sexually explicit (and, generally, behaviorally explicit) than later versions. This is a just observation, which raises two issues: what edition should we read, and what, in fact, do the early drafts say about sex?

We might summarize those issues this way: what am I missing if I do not give attention to early drafts of A Course in Miracles, especially with regard to sex?

Reading the early material of A Course in Miracles reminds us that Helen Schucman and Bill Thetford were essentially performing a sort of psychotherapy with one another. They were working through their own complicated relationship, the educational and health-related context it which it was enacted, and the various underlying issues that they perceived informed those relationships and contexts.

The material’s spiritual and supernatural overtones were a way of displacing responsibility for this project; it was too scary to face in ordinary dialogue.

I am not critical of this, by the way. I am hardly exempt from projection. It is important to find ways to talk about our living, including the material that is frightening, embarrassing, shameful and so forth. One way to handle psychological vulnerability and risk is to displace it. That is, we pretend that we aren’t talking about our issues with our father, we’re talking about our past life as a slave in Roman war camps. This can be a creative and helpful way to work through material that is otherwise too difficult to face directly. As Emily Dickinson pointed out, there is nothing wrong with coming at our living “slant.”

Relatedly, assigning supernatural origins to our present unhappiness can be an effective way to talk about our unhappiness. I am not writing this material, Jesus is writing it. Or Arten and Pursah are writing it. The risk in doing this is that we may also displace responsibility for healing.

So I am not mocking Helen and Bill for their projection. It was, in its way, deeply creative. And they were smart enough and responsible enough to bring along folks at different stages that vastly improved the material. The rough drafts of their therapy became a model for lots of folks to work through what it means to be an observer. I was helped by their work; possibly you were, too.

However, I think it’s clear why they didn’t want that early material shared publicly. It is very personal – sometimes intimately so – and also makes perfectly clear that the historical Jesus was not involved in any way with the material. On the other hand, a projected Jesus – one jointly constructed by Helen and Bill, significantly based on their experiences with Christian Science as children – was very much involved.

Once one no longer asserts that the historical Jesus authored the text, then the early material become simply rough drafts, and it’s easier to respect Helen and Bill’s intention that the public edition be the one published by the Foundation for Inner Peace.

However, because of the way the early manuscript was shared, copyright for it was lost to the public domain. This was established through nontrivial litigation and opened the door for many versions to emerge, including the urtext material.

What edition should you read? The one that is most helpful. And then get on with it. If you find yourself arguing with folks about whatever edition they’re reading, then you are distracting yourself – and indulging their own self-distraction – from the work A Course in Miracles contemplates which is to become responsible for your own salvation by bringing forth love with your brothers and sisters.

All that said, what the does the urtext material have to say about sex?

Clearly, in the early stages of bringing forth and revising the ACIM material, Helen and Bill conflated sexuality with miracles, and were confused about this conflation.

Sex & miracles are both WAYS OF RELATING. The nature of any interpersonal relationship is limited or defined by what you want it to DO which is WHY you want it in the first place. Relating is a way of achieving an outcome (T 1 B37o).

This represents the course’s suggestion that we shift our focus from external changes to changes in mind. Thus, we can ask with respect to anything, what is it for? If our goal is inner peace – rather than only satiation of bodily appetites – then effective communication remains intact, which in turn makes possible remembering the love which is our “natural inheritance” (In.1:8).

In early drafts, this focus – asking what is [this or that action] for – is subsumed by an emphasis on separating mind from body, and making happiness and inner peace contingent on choosing one (mind) over the other (body).

For example the urtext material suggests that indiscriminate use our sexuality (emphasizing pleasure over communication) “INDUCES rather than straightening out the basic level-confusion which underlies all those who seek happiness with the instruments of the world” (T 1 B 37ae).

Trying to achieve happiness through external means is analogized to being in a desert. One can do anything they want in a desert but they cannot change its fundamental nature. Whatever you do, you can’t turn a desert into a lush oasis. Thus, according to the urtext, “the thing to do with a desert is to LEAVE” (T 1 B 37ae).

This endorses – obliquely because Helen and Bill had not finished thinking the material through – a mind/body duality (or body/soul, a semantic choice the early ACIM material flirted with). The overarching point – sex alone can’t make you happy – is fine, so long as it doesn’t move one in the direction of impossible physical ideals like expecting a chorus of angels to attend every orgasm or, at another extreme, abstaining from sex altogether.

The problem, as such, is never sex per se but rather the meaning and value one assigns to sex, which is what determines – and thus can shift – its purpose. If the goal of sex is to learn to bring forth love, then great. In that sense, sex can be a useful classroom. But if the goal is to celebrate the self and its apparent physical domain, well, that might net short-term bliss but it’s unlikely to facilitate the long-term change of mind the course aims to help us experience.

As I said, Helen and Bill were confused, too. Later, their shared writing project announces its intention to clarify its position on sex because it’s “an area the miracle worker MUST understand” (T 1 B 40b).

Sex was intended as an instrument for physical creation to enable Souls to embark on new chapters in their experience, and thus improve their record . . . The whole process was set up as a learning experience in gaining Grace (T 1 B 40d).

This is a spiritualized interpretation of a very conservative view of human sexuality, one that limits its function to biology.

The only VALID use of sex is procreation. It’s NOT truly pleasureable in itself. “Lead us not into Temptation” means “Do not let us deceive ourselves into believing that we can relate in peace to God or to our brothers with ANYTHING external” (T 1 B 40f).

Thus, masturbation is a sin (or error) because “it involved a related typ of self-delusion: namely, that pleasures WITHOUT relating can exist” (T 1 B 40g).

But this is silly on its face. Masturbation may take place in a solo context (and naturally may be included in consensual shared contexts) but it always involves the other. When we fantasize about someone, we are relating to them. In a nontrivial way, we are present to them and they to us. As the course points out,  “there are no private thoughts” (W-pI.19.2:3). On this view, masturbation is a natural and healthy expression of one’s sexual impulse.

The emphasis on procreation also restricts the natural range of sexual pleasure: oral sex, anal sex, cyber sex . . . None of that begets babies. Are we being indiscriminate when we give or receive a blowjob? Masturbate at a distance with the help of a phone?

Privileging the procreative impulse also raises important questions around birth control, the use of which is essential to women’s health, wellness and freedom. Are condoms an error? How about fertility treatments? How does abortion play into this?

The sex impulse IS a miracle impulse when it is in proper focus. One individual sees in aother the right partner for ‘procreating the stock . . . and for their joint establishment of a creative home. This does not involve fantasy at all. If I am asked to participate in the decision, the decision will be a Right one, too (T 1 B 41t).

On this view, the “right” view of sexuality – the one apparently endorsed by Jesus – is to a) perpetuate the species and b) make and live in creative homes and families.

But this is a narrow and heteronormative definition of family. It leaves aside folks who cannot procreate but would like to and folks who can procreate but choose not to. Critically, it also excludes gay folks. Indeed, the material emphasizes that that gay sex is inherently problematic.

. . . homosexuality is INHERENTLY (underlined) more risky (or error prone) than heterosexuality, but both can be undertaken on an equally false basis. The falseness of the basis is clear in the accompanying fantasies. Homosexuality ALWAYS involved misperceptions of the self OR the partner, and generally both (T 1 B 41ay).

So a couple of thoughts on this material.

First, as I pointed out earlier, it is quite conservative, hewing to a fairly traditional view of Christianity and family. While it may have been helpful to Helen and Bill (there are explicit personal references to their sexual fantasies, flirtations and desires in the material), its general applicability is obviously compromised.

Thus, I think there are good reasons it was excluded from later editions of A Course in Miracles that were intended for public consumption. I appreciate Helen and Bill’s desire to maintain a degree of privacy with respect to their own learning, and I think the overall conservative focus on sexuality reflects a judgment with respect to behavior that the overarching tenor of the course utterly rejects.

I asked at the outset of this post what are we missing if we do not read the urtext (or other earlier versions of A Course in Miracles), especially with regard to sex?

I submit a fair and reasonable answer is: not much. The ACIM urtext reflects a narrow, conservative and traditional Christian view of human sexuality, one that is confused about healthy sexual expression and should not be taken either literally or seriously.