Christian Living and A Course in Miracles

I am reading Louis Dupré’s “Reflections on Roberto Mangabeira Unger’s The Religion of the Future” published in The Journal of Religion. I could care less about Unger’s book; Dupré is my bread and water these days.

Specifically, Dupré helps me contextualize the challenge of living Christianly, especially when “Christianly” is so deeply entwined with A Course in Miracles, which can be so weird, misogynistic and self-aggrandizing.

Question: given this life so clearly given, which appears to include free will, what shall we do? How shall we live? What shall be our values?

A Course in Miracles does a terrible job answering these kinds of questions, mostly because it’s not designed to answer them. It really is just a year-long course that aims at liberating our thinking from familiar patterns, thus allowing us to experience mind in a more substantial and creative way.

Tara Singh, who probably more than anyone else functioned as a quasi-teacher for me, was insistent on bringing the course “into application.” He aligned his small community to Mother Theresa’s order, yoking the course to intentional communal living and service.  Even Ken Wapnick, whose antipathy towards the body was surpassed only by Helen Schucman’s, shifted his teaching in the last decade or so of his life to “living with” A Course in Miracles.

In other words, I think “how shall we live” is a nontrivial question, avoidance of which begets confusion and disorder. There is, as Brother Thetford said, another way.

Louis Dupré defines living religiously as ” . . . a full, practical commitment to a Godly life, purified of hidden selfishness and open to a future that is more than a project of one’s own making.” In other words, the garden prayer of Jesus: “Not my will but thine be done.” Living this way is oppositional to a culture which emphasizes our will and desire. We want everything – from sex to world peace – on our terms.

Dupré asks us to reconsider.

A religious person’s primary task has never consisted in overcoming the world, or in humanizing it, or in struggling with it. He or she will undoubtedly face these tasks, yet all of them, as well as the virtues we shall have to practice in realizing them, must be preceded by a receptive, passive attitude toward an event in which I had no active part: some mysterious power must first touch me.

Ah . . . But what power? God? Love? Earlier in the review, Dupré acknowledges that “Christian separation between the level of human experience and that of nonhuman nature” is “objectionable” though he prefers to phrase it as “the split between nature, including human nature, and a supernatural realm.”

I think that’s a good definition of separation, which is not a historical or metaphysical event, but rather an evolutionary process by which we somehow managed to convince ourselves that we’re better than – other than – the world of our observation. This is nonsense, of course. And most of us intellectually get Krishnamurti’s observation that the “observer is the observed.” But to live that way turns out to be a pretty high psychological hill to climb . . .

If we set aside a supernatural realm (i.e., ascended masters, Helen Schucman’s reincarnated self, lights et cetera), and focus on the natural realm – what is given – then we find ourselves faced with a problem: what touches us? What constitutes God? For once we allow the cosmos to be as it is given, the mysteries bleed out and all appears less as a Father-driven hierarchy than a messy mossy welter with nary a boss in sight. It’s less organized than organizing itself in time according to principles that appear to have more to do with surviving rather than loving.

And yet!

Loving is real! Loving is a thing. And Love, which I suggest manifests in our living as cooperation and coordination, the recognition we are playing together a non-zero sum game, is a human quality; thus, it is a natural quality. But it is not the only quality and it doesn’t always fare well, even with humans. Take a look at the headlines coming out of Belarus. But still.

This is why Dupré’s emphasis is not on acting – which he agrees is fundamental to religious living – but rather on listening, for it is only in listening that we learn whether we can and should act and then to what ends. “Thy will not mine be done” means listening so that I can actually learn what “thy will” means.

And that is super hard, because our minds are trained to to heed the “me first and me only” voice. The collective – caring for others, including starfish and elephants, cannabis plants and moonlight – is an afterthought, a side effect. There is another way.

Dupré says – and I think he is right, and I think this is what A Course in Miracles, for all its wackiness, is saying too – is that caring for the other is what God is all about. Caring for and about others requires coordination and cooperation which is Love which is God which is caring for and about others.

Indeed, Dupré suggests this “call to listen before acting” is a universal feature of all the major religions. “Great religious revolutions did not start in a burst of enthusiasm, but in a sound from beyond heard by men and women in silent waiting.”

This waiting, says Dupré, must be “totally open to the unknown.” For Christians – including those of us toiling in the marginal arbors of ACIM – the future is mystical because it’s all about listening, communing with the One who speaks in us apparently apart from us but not actually apart but in a way that’s hard to express and . . .

Well, we don’t have to express it. Or rather, it expresses as us when we are receptive and stop insisting that we know what shape or form or process it should take. Our spirituality acts in the world, yes, but its action always bends towards deepening our shared fundamental receptivity to love.

Or so it occurs to me on Friday morning a little after dawn, reading and writing, happy in the way my favorite scriptures promise means the Lord is near, and happy too.

Reality, Coffee and A Course in Miracles

A Coffee Mug

If I give attention to the mug of coffee an arm’s length over to my right, what happens.

I see a mug. The mug has a form which is amenable to description. The mug also has a story – where it came from, how everyone knows it’s “Sean’s/Dad’s coffee mug,” et cetera.

The mug has a function. The function could shift a little – it could hold water or tea instead of coffee. But it won’t write a poem. It won’t start a war.

The mug is not permanent. It will break if dropped.

The mug is a little mysterious. I don’t know when it will cease to exist in its particular form. I don’t know its origins (who made it, where it was made, et cetera).

The mug is impervious to me. It works for everyone equally. If you stole it, it would hold coffee just fine.

So. Is the mug real?

I would say: the mug works. It coheres. It fits into my living in a helpful way. It doesn’t create problems by having preferences.

On that view, yes. The mug is real.

Yet if I don my ACIM Teacher hat, then I say: of course the mug is not real. It can be threatened and “nothing real can be threatened (In.2:2). Also, “nothing unreal exists” (In.2:3).

Therefore, the mug is not real.

Not Just A Coffee Mug

May I back up? And go slower?

The mug works. It fits helpfully into a world in which living happens. It helps living happen. How could it not be real?

Because, on the ontology proposed by A Course in Miracles, the mug is emphatically not real (because it can be threatened et cetera).

Is this apparent contradiction a problem?

The answer is: maybe. Or: you tell me.

The answer can also be: who cares.

Another answer is: it depends.

I have pointed out before that attention given to an object (here a mug, there a maple tree) will bring the whole universe into being, as well as the void from which the universe emerges.

You can look at the coffee mug and see both the universe and the void. Neat!

If you do that exercise a few times, and reflect on what it reveals, then you will see that the mug (or the maple tree or whatever) is neither real nor not real.

But “neither real nor not real” is, in a critical way, semantic bullshit. It’s not really helpful. And – if you’re trying to harmonize your living with the ontological premise of A Course in Miracles (which is tricky but not impossible) – it’s false.

If you conclude – as I do when I do the exercise proposed – that the mug is neither real nor not real, then you have made an error of the following kind: you intended to travel to Boston and you stopped in Cambridge.

There is nothing wrong with Cambridge – far from it – but Cambridge is not Boston. You can change your goal – you can say that you really meant to travel to Cambridge in the first place – and undo the error that way.

Or you can go on into Boston.

Boston

Is the mug real?

What do you really want to know? Why do you really want to know it?

The mug works. It holds your coffee. If it falls and breaks, thus confirming the lawfulness of your suppositions about classical physics. It’s part of an extended narrative that integrates many threads into a fabric, unifying self and other. It serves as a teaching device by which you are allowed to perceive the universe and the void from which the universe emerges.

Truth is what works. Real is what works.

Welcome to Boston, friend.

Fine, you say (on the Cambridge city line). But that’s not what A Course in Miracles says will restore to my memory the peace of God (In.2:4). Have you forgotten, Sean, that

Nothing real can be threatened.
Nothing unreal exists (In.2:2-3).

No. I haven’t. At this point in my life, I doubt I could forget it. The course guides me like an antique compass which mostly always works but sometimes gets a little wonky and can be hard to hold. There are better tools but I do have a fondness for this one.

Let me try and show what I mean by that. I said this a moment ago:

The mug works. It holds your coffee. If it falls and breaks, it confirms the lawfulness of your suppositions about classical physics. It’s part of an extended narrative that integrates many threads into a fabric, unifying self and other. It serves as a teaching device by which you are allowed to perceive the universe and the void from which the universe emerges.

What happens if – rather than focus on the primary noun (the mug) – we give attention to the verbs in that phrase, especially the positive ones related to the mug?

Works, confirms, integrates, serves . . .

“Boston”

Does shifting attention that way shift our thinking?

For me – in my learning experience, in this classroom we construct together – yes, it does. Now, rather than playing on the beach of the concrete and specific, we are swimming in the waters of abstraction.

I mean that we are no longer talking about a “mug” but about “works, confirms, integrates, serves . . . ”

That might feel awkward. Our thinking tends towards images which are usually nouns to which adjectives can be applied. Kind women, appetizing cakes, peaceful pastures . . .

And then we act accordingly. Hug the woman, eat the cake, paint a watercolor of the pasture . . .

When we focus on verbs rather than nouns, we look at processes which cannot be easily objectified but which literally unfold as we give attention to them.

The image is always dead but abstraction (looking, seeing) is alive.

So ask: can “works, confirms, integrates, serves” be threatened?

I can eliminate the mug in the sense of smashing it to a fine dust and throwing the dust in the river.

It’s less clear how I can eliminate “works, confirms, integrates, serves.” Even if I somehow forgot – or revert to a state when I didn’t know – the words “works, confirms, integrates, serves,” the principles they denote remain effective and active in my living.

And even if I could – somehow – disavow both the words and the denotated principles from my living, they would go on in yours.

[the mug does not care for whom it holds the coffee – there is so much potential for healing and peace in that one simple insight!]

When we perceive this level of abstraction, we perceive a fluidity that doesn’t neatly fit into the categories of right and wrong, real or unreal.

At that level, the mug as such is no longer so important; “works, confirms, integrates, serves” is important. And even the specific words dissolve pretty quickly. Who needs them? In the sea of abstraction, there is no fear of going down.

It is only the body that can drown. Or suffer without coffee.

The words “works, confirms, integrates, serves” are just symbols for concepts that are indifferent to symbols. That is, the concepts transcend language but in the positive sense of remaining amenable to description without being limited by it.

That is, we can talk about “works, confirms, integrates, serves” until the mug literally melts in the furnace of time without ever impairing “works, confirms, integrates, serves.”

The Point

What am I trying to say here?

I am pointing out that questions of real or unreal are not as interesting as they appear at first glance. The physical comes and goes. What is material comes and goes.

But you can handily reach levels of mind where the coming and going appears less rigid and less susceptible to threat. You can give attention to abstraction.

That is what A Course in Miracles is trying to get us to do.

Giving attention to abstraction does not undo the physical (which would be a silly impossible project anyway – bodies can’t undo bodies). Rather, giving attention to abstraction allows us to live in a lighter way, a way that is less restricted to or ruled by what is physical.

Let me offer a concrete example.

When my old dog Jake died, a lot ended in my living. A kind of satisfactory walking, a kind of relating to forests, a form of non-intellectual companionate joy . . .

All gone. Utterly and without possibility of recall. I will never walk with Jake through the forests of Worthington and Vermont again.

But living did not end. Love did not end.

Please do not think I am denying grief.

I merely point out that grief arises in love and love does not pass.

This is observable. And it is worth observing.

Over and over it is worth giving attention to love which does not pass.

Eventually, you will see that love does not even pass – and life does not even pass – when the body you call your own draws a last breath and its eyes darken.

All the stories about death that we tell – Jake is here but not here, the dead live on in memory, my dead father visits in another form, ancestors guide me in dreams, Heaven and hell are actual destination spots conditional on behavior – dissolve in the presence of our awareness of love which does not pass.

“What is real” is an ontological question that distracts us from what is here. We can give attention to what is here and learn from it. It enjoys teaching us; it longs to be known.

One thing it teaches is: stop worrying so much. Stop chasing the wild geese of philosophy and theology and whatnot. As Mary Oliver says, “let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.”

For it does love. It loves to love. Loves love.

Mug Redux

The deeper I go into my coffee mug, the more peace is given. I say “given.” That’s not quite right. It’s more in the nature of remembering the peace that is always here – peace that can neither be given, nor taken away, which is how it is peace.

There is yet a sense that this peace is perceived by a body and experienced by a body, word of which is shared by a body with other bodies. This is not a concern. It is not a problem to be solved.

One simply goes on as one goes on and allows the living they are doing to be what it is. Deep questions, half-assed philosophies, good cups of coffee, friends and family with whom to partake of it . . .

We find it is sufficient. We find it is enough, beyond threat, as if coffee in a mug – and a friend or two to share it with – were the point all along.

Seeing Lights in A Course in Miracles

Yesterday, I talked about the so-called light episodes of Lesson Fifteen in A Course in Miracles. My basic position is: don’t worry about them. They aren’t important.

I want to say more about why they are not important. Or maybe how.

The world we see is a coarse-grained symbol of what A Course in Miracles calls the real world (CITE). However, from the perspective of bodies, we cannot know that real world because our bodies – and their function – are located in the image. They are the image.

An image is itself a real enough thing, but it is not the thing to which it points. It is really important to be clear on this distinction. A picture of my daughter is not my daughter. If my daughter is hungry, I don’t feed the picture.

Arguing otherwise is like saying that a character in a video game can suddenly become aware of the world outside the game. The character can be aware of the game world, sure, and she can act in the game world because she is brought forth with, in and as the game world. But she cannot reach beyond that world. You can’t actually talk to the character you play in Skyrim.

“Light episodes,” and experiences like them, are simply items on the long list of things that can happen in the context of bodies in the world with other bodies. In and of themselves, they mean nothing.

However, since we have no neutral thoughts about “light episodes,” we do not see any neutral “light episodes” (W-pI.17.2:4). We see no neutral apple pies, no neutral puppies and no neutral “light episodes.”

Therefore, we have to relate in a responsible way to the meaning that appears with the light episode.

If we take our personal experience of light episodes and translate them as testimony unto our spiritual growth and potential, then we have simply allowed ego to claim yet more of the world for its grim litany of death.

Regardless of what you may believe, you do not see anything that is really alive or really joyous. That is because you are unaware as yet of any thought that is really true, and therefore really happy (W-pI.3:2-3).

What is just another illusion should be – like all illusions – gently set aside as we give attention to what is beyond – in a generative creative sense – appearances. Everything is always changing – is there something that does not? How do you know? Can you stabilize in it? Give it away? Point to it with words? The goal of A Course in Miracles is to go beyond ego-based narratives as we answer these questions. Why create an elaborate and ultimately unsustainable image of love named “light episode” when the real thing is just . . . given to you?

Love is literally here, now. Ask to see the real world and then gaze about you in complete faith you are not alone and behold – the real world is given. It is here. It is this: this this. And if we add even a microdot of our own to it . . . then it disappears, blurred beyond recognition.

Joy and peace are so simple and we just . . . go on depriving ourselves. Why?

Well, in part because we don’t remember that joy and peace are given and, when we begin to intuit that they are, we can’t figure out how to accept them. We still think we have to do something, or that something has to happen. It can’t be this simple! And so again, we bring ego and falseness to what is clear, simple and present.

Thus the egoic bonfire goes on raging as “this body” in “this world.”

When it comes to the supernatural, the “grander” the story – in a past life I was a disciple of Jesus Christ! I no longer have an ego! I see lights everywhere all the time! – the further we are from the felt and quiet revelation that nothing need be done; we are already home in God.

The body’s adventures and misadventures – regardless of how exciting or sexy or special we make them out to be – are always just the body’s adventures and misadventures. No matter how how amazing or depressing or otherworldly or mundane, they always arise in and point back towards bodies.

Seeing lights – or hearing voices or communing with ascended masters or whatever – are merely things that appear to happen to bodies. They are less common, perhaps, than eating ice cream or sneezing, but they are still just embodied events in the world.

And as such, they mean nothing. Nothing. If they matter to us – as experiences we desire or experiences we claim have occurred to us and are thus indicative of our relationship with God, Christ or Spirit – then we are lost. We are just playing the ego’s game by the ego’s rules.

There is – there is always – a better way.

Yes, Lesson Fifteen suggests that these light episodes are signs that we are opening our eyes at last (W-pI.15.3:4) and that they prepare the way from illusion to knowledge (W-pI.15.3:7).

That is a healthier way to see them. They are not signs that we’re special, but signs that we’re finally getting our shit together. We’re finally taking the course seriously. We’re stubborn beginners whose stubbornness is finally beginning to dissolve.

But remember! Even when given to narratives that bring us closer to God, the light episodes are still illusions. They are still just symbols. And as such, they are no more or less valuable to our learning of the curriculum than, say, eating ice cream or misplacing our glasses. This is the secret that liberates us from self-identity strictly locked in the confines of bodies: all things that happen in the world and to and through bodies are the same.

Even things which makes us feel holy and loved and blessed, like light episodes.

A Course in Miracles gently invites us not to fixate on ideas like reincarnation and other psychic or supernatural powers.

The emphasis of this course always remains the same; -it is at this moment that complete salvation is offered you, and it is at this moment that you can accept it. This is still your one responsibility . . . Heaven is here. There is nowhere else. Heaven is now. There is no other time (M-24.6:1-2, 4-7).

Ask yourself: if I am not right now in reality, then where would I be? What place exists that God did not create?

Thus, I cheerfully accept the coming and going of light episodes and all the other experiences that make it seem as if a veil is about to be drawn revealing my authentic angelic self. Who cares? Light episodes, dark episodes. Blue episode, red episodes. This story and that.

If you really want a light episode and you haven’t had one, then drop some acid or invest in prisms or go visit a disco after fasting for a couple of days. If you’ve got a “preconditions to awakening” checklist, then go ahead and check stuff off it.

If you’ve already had light episodes and secretly believe their special signs to you from Jesus, then fine. Go behave the way you thinking Lightbringers-from-Jesus are supposed to behave.

Sooner or later, we get tired of the coming and going, and tired of the struggle to be special or become special, and we just surrender. Then we realize that light episodes (like eating and sex and playing with puppies) are akin to billboards advertising Boston right outside the city line. Yes we can stop driving and celebrate the image of Boston. But why do that when the real thing is literally right there?

Light Episodes in Lesson Fifteen of A Course in Miracles

I want to talk briefly about the so-called “light episodes” in Lesson Fifteen of A Course in Miracles. We get worked up about them – people see the lights and worry why are they seeing lights, or are secretly proud they’re seeing lights, or they do not see lights, and worry why are they not seeing lights, and are envious of those who do.

The “light episodes” are confusing because they reinforce the idea that unusual physical occurrences are extra-persuasive evidence of God’s special favor. They are not. God does not play favorite; you do.

In truth, “light episodes” – like all episodes of the body’s journey through the world – are neither more nor less important, neither more or less meaningful, than any other experience.

It is important to keep in mind that, as a general rule, A Course in Miracles is neutral with respect to bodies. It doesn’t advocate specific physical rituals or diets; it doesn’t curtail sex or exercise or recreation. The body is simply the means by which the world appears to us.

The world and everything in it – including our bodies – are images. Images are like symbols – they represent something, but they are not the thing they represent. If I take a picture of you, I have an image of you – but I don’t have you.

What a given image means depends on who or what is doing the looking and interpreting. An apple pie has meaning for me, but it would not have much meaning for a tick. Cell phones have meaning for me but to flowers they don’t even exist. A picture of a stranger is meh, but pictures of my kids and Chrisoula are in every room of the house.

Our default mode of gazing at the image of the world – and the millions of image comprising it – is to interpret them through the lens of ego. How does this help me? What do I have to do to get it? How can I keep others from getting it, except the one or two people I truly love?

A Course in Miracles – like many spiritual, religious, psychological and philosophical traditions – comes along and says “that’s a backwards, upside-down, way of living. There’s a better way.”

And then it proceeds to teach us how to re-interpret all those images. In terms of A Course in Miracles, this “reinterpretation” is the work of the Holy Spirit, who is the idea of healing in our mind, and who understands the ego’s language (its symbols and rules for working with symbols) and Heaven, where interpretation is replaced by knowledge, in which the many pieces and perspectives neatly harmonize in unity.

We don’t know what’s what, but the Holy Spirit will carefully interpret what we see and think, and bring it into alignment with inner peace. Or so the ACIM story goes.

All of this – studying the course, heeding the Holy Spirit, aligning with inner peace – are just dream events in a dream dreamed by a self that is itself a dream. Awakening is a dream event; understanding is a dream event.

“Light episodes” are dream events.

Now, since in the context of the dream, where everything has to mean something – stand for something, represent something, as is the ego’s wont – “light episodes” are going to appear to mean something. They are going to be signs of something.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with this.

Unless.

Unless you think that what those episodes mean is right, or better than somebody else’s understanding, or perfectly aligned with God, or whatever. Which is going to happen because that’s what ego does. Basically, seeing lights – or not seeing lights – becomes a way of separating from your sister or brother.

And there is a happier way.

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.[]