The Veil Before Christ’s Face

It is important that we not confuse the veil that obscures Christ’s face with the face of Christ itself. The veil terrifies us; but Christ integrates us instantly and wholly into Love. So long as we are scared, even to the tiniest degree, we¬† behold the veil before Christ’s face, and not Christ itself. We don’t need to denigrate ourselves for doing this; it happens. It’s okay. We all do it. But we can help each other undo it, too.

The veil before Christ’s face is a symbol. It represents the fear and guilt that underlie our experience of separation from God and Love. Thus, the veil is not external, though sometimes what is external can help us to get a handle on where and how to look for it. There is a point in one’s practice of A Course in Miracles where the interior landscape begins to clarify and we can move around in it easier. So we know where to go to look at the fear and the guilt, and we know the safe spot to which we can safely retreat, regain strength and come back again.

This is the work! It is why we study the course – to learn how to look in a gentle sustainable way at the blocks that stand in the way of Love, which is to say: the fear and guilt that function as a veil obscuring Christ. Nothing else matters. Our income tax bracket, our broken marriage, the books we haven’t read, the bottles of booze people we love kill themselves in . . . none of it.

All that matters is looking at the veil in order to learn that the veil is not there.

The veil hangs dark and heavy and still – more like a wall of iron with terrifying faces painted on it in blood – inside of us. It’s there when we’re burying a beloved dog and it’s there when your child gives us a Valentine even though it’s April. The outside means nothing to it. Don’t look for the veil in what is external. Don’t look for anything there – not even Christ.

All we are learning to do – all this lifetime and this study and this practice is for – is look at the veil. And when we make contact with it, then all that matters is coming back to it over and over until at last we are ready to draw it aside and give attention to what it has long kept hidden from us.

The veil across the face of Christ, the fear of God and of salvation, and the love of guilt and death, they are all different names for just one error; that there is a space between you and your brother, kept apart by an illusion of yourself that holds him off from you, and you away from him (T-31.VII.9:1).

This is not hard to understand intellectually. We are one and our failure to recognize this is the separation. So the atonement is simply the acceptance of our oneness. Our brothers and sisters are not apart from us and we are not apart from them.

We know this at the level of mental thought. But we do not feel it as the truth of our being. And so we do not live it. I look around the room as I write and you are not here. You are in your room, with your prayers and your books and your people. And thus I still labor under the illusion that my body and your body are what really matters. Thus do I perceive the gap that separates us as real. Leonard Cohen sang about this very beautifully in his song Closing Time.

I loved you for your beauty
that doesn’t make a fool of me
You were in it for your beauty too
and I loved you for your body
there’s a voice that sounds like God to me
declaring, declaring, declaring that your body’s really you

We get confused. The world seems so real to us. The way it tastes and feels, smells and sounds. The way other folks arise in it as friends and enemies and lovers. Parts of this world are so lovely, we can’t imagine giving them up. Parts are so horrifying, we can’t even allow ourselves to think about them. Our bodies please us one day but fail us the next. We try to understand it and figure it out and make it mean something, but it doesn’t. It can’t. Not consistently. This world was made to hide the face of Christ, not reveal it.

Sooner or later we see this function of the world and at last let it go. We close our eyes and grope for the hand within – the hand of Jesus, who leads us to the Holy Spirit, who perfectly enfolds us and leads us gently and surely to the veil that we have placed between the Love that is God and everything else and helps us pull it aside. Nothing is real except what lies on the far side of the veil. The whole journey was a dream: only this is real.

When one reaches this place, it is possible to become frozen for what feels like a lifetime. We find ourselves wanting another spiritual practice or a better teacher or improved life circumstances or another run with psychotherapy or a new exercise regimen. And all of this – however appealing, however apparently logical – is merely a form of delay. All any of it means is that we are going to come back to this moment again later. Why wait? Why postpone love?

If you are reading this, it is because you have done the work and found the companions who both guide you to the veil and then stand beside you while you decide whether – finally – to reach out and brush it aside. If my word counts for anything: there is no better time and we are not joined for any better purpose.

We do not need to be afraid of God any longer. We do not need to be separated from Love any longer.

Let us join together in a holy instant, here in this place where the purpose, given in a holy instant, has led you. And let us join in faith that He Who brought us here together will offer you the innocence you need, and that you will accept it for my love and His (T-19.D.i.9:6-7).

We stand with each other in order that we might each turn within and find the imagined source of darkness and pain. We are joined as one that we might look at guilt and fear and see it dissolved. The veil before Christ’s face is undone in our mutual service and attentiveness. And seeing it – and knowing our brothers and sisters stand with us, and that we are joined by the mightiest of companions – we at last are ready to undo it. We reach out with trembling fingers towards this last obstacle to Love: it shifts: disappears: and then . . .

The Means of Grace

I often say that we are in this awakening thing together. This can sound like a bit like the coach rallying the team for a big game. On some level, it is that. It’s good to know that you share my commitment to practicing A Course in Miracles, and to awakening, whatever that means. On a long and sometimes frightening journey, supportive companions are a blessing.

But on a deeper level, we need each other not only to say “good job!” or “hang in there!” but also because it is not possible to wake up alone. We are literally one another’s savior and – in one of those metaphysical twists you can spend lifetimes deciphering – we give to each other the power to awaken us.

It’s like I want to go to Boston and I have the car and the keys but it’s not until I give you the keys and say would you drive me to Boston that I can actually go.

It only seems like we’re alone. It only seems like we can do this ourselves.

You cannot wake yourself. Yet you can let yourselves be wakened (T-29.III.3:4-5).

And how do we “let ourselves be wakened?”

You can overlook your brother’s dreams. So perfectly can you forgive him his illusions he becomes your savior from your dreams (T-29.III.3:6-7).

Simple. And yet . . .

This has always been one of the trickier parts of the course for me. It invokes relationship. Some of you know – because I write about it a lot – that most mornings I wake quite early and walk with my dog in the woods and fields. Then I come back and drink tea and pray and study and then ease into writing.

Those are sanctified hours for me. Yet – and I am only just learning this – they are somewhat empty if they do not translate to the balance of the day. What good is salvation if it disappears as soon as my five-year old daughter pokes her head in and asks will I make blueberry pancakes?

Indeed, a salvation – a Heaven, say – in which I have to grit my teeth over students who didn’t read the assigned Emily Dickinson poems, grouse about having to clean the bathroom, or feel aggrieved because I actually have to cook dinner for my family isn’t much of a Heaven at all.

And so the movement in my practice these days is into relationship – I am working on accepting that my brothers and sisters (in all their myriad forms) are not impediments to grace but the very means by which grace reveals itself. It’s not that solitude is bad or that I can’t carve out chunks of time to pray and study – I can and even should – but that I have to be careful of the inclination to parse experience into what is sacred and what is not.

As I have written about recently, there is no middle ground in this process. If I am willing to really look into that – to undo my resistance to it – then it can bring a helpful clarity. It can facilitate a real peace.

I am drawn these days to the course’s introduction. I remember seeing it for the first time in my aunt’s house on Cape Cod. It was electric – so much so that I had to close the book and put it away for many years! But now I find in its uncompromising directive the key to a peace that cannot be undone.

Nothing real can be threatened.
Nothing unreal exists.
Herein lies the peace of God (In.2:2-4).

Like Polaris – like Basho’s haiku – those lines restore a sense of purpose and certainty. They reawaken the awakening energy. In their calm insistence that confusion is optional and the end sure, I am able to remember why I am here, and you too.

Within the dream of bodies and of death is yet one theme of truth; no more, perhaps, than just a tiny spark, a space of light created in the dark where God still shines (T-29.III.3:1).

Forgive me – reflect that loveliest of lights – so that I can make my way back home! And I will do the same for you, as best I can.

Make way for love, which you did not create, but which you can extend. On earth this means forgive you brother, that the darkness may be lifted from your mind. When light has come to him through your forgiveness, he will not forget his savior, leaving him unsaved (T-29.III.4:1-3).

So yes. We are in this together. And I say: thank you. Thank you and thank you and thank you!

The Solution is Simple (That’s Why I Resist It)

There is a great story in the Zen tradition that you probably know. A farmer’s horse runs away leaving him with no means to work the fields. “What a pity,” his neighbors say. “Poor you.”

“We’ll see,” says the farmer.

The next day the horse comes home leading three wild horses. “That’s great!” say the neighbors. “Lucky you!”

“We’ll see,” says the farmer. “Maybe it’s good, maybe it’s not.”

The next day his son tries to work one of the new horses. It throws him and his leg breaks. “Wow,” say the neighbors. “That’s really too bad.”

The farmer replies, “maybe it’s bad. Maybe it’s good, though. We’ll see.”

The next day the army comes through, drafting able-bodied youths for war. Obviously they can’t take the farmer’s son. “Incredible news!” the neighbors say.

And the farmer – who is obviously a very patient man – says, “maybe it’s good. Maybe it’s bad.”

And on and on it goes.

In that story, I’m the neighbor. Every day I tell the farmer what’s good and what’s bad. Then I go to the coffee shop and babble about Heraclitus’ river. Then I go home and lecture my kids that time and space aren’t real.

I’m so busy being wise and making sure everybody knows it that the Truth – and the faith that makes seeing Truth possible – are altogether lost to me.

It’s a recurring theme lately. I let go and a grace so deep and still appears, leaving me silly with joy and then . . . I take seriously the idea that “I” did something serious and important and so ought to do it again. And then we’re off to the Separated-from-God races.

A Course in Miracles puts it this way:

You are still convinced that your understanding is a powerful contribution to the truth, and makes it what it is. Yet we have emphasized that you need understand nothing. Salvation is easy just because it asks nothing you cannot give right now (T-18.IV.7:5-7).

I tend to skip over that last sentence because its implications are so powerful. The whole course in right there. Whatever salvation requires is already quite literally at hand. I don’t have to do another ACIM lesson, re-read Tara Singh, meditate more or wake up at 4 a.m. and walk the dog through snowy woods while muttering in the direction of Jesus.

Those are the rituals the egoic self offers in place of the simple truth that if I’d like to wake up – like right now – then I can.

If I am willing to really read that sentence – if I am willing to give it some space – then I am going to have to see that the reason I am not saved yet is because I don’t want to be. I’m not ready. I am still deeply, even cunningly resistant to Love. And while that doesn’t make Jesus pound whiskey in a backwoods roadhouse, it also doesn’t leave me especially happy or peaceful.

And I really want to be happy and peaceful.

So what do I do? More and more it doesn’t seem especially complicated. When I am unhappy and in conflict it is because I am keeping Jesus – that loving symbol of the healed mind – at a distance. Since that’s the problem, the solution is to invite him back.

When I don’t walk my dog, I get irritated. And it’s funny in a way. Sometimes I’ll be talking to Chrisoula, telling her that I didn’t walk Song yesterday and here it is 9 a.m. and I still haven’t walked her and why do I do this to myself? And to her? Why is life so full and busy that I forget about my dog? Is it because I hate God? Or God hates me? Does God hate dogs? Why do I love being separated from truth so much? Maybe I should read some Ken Wapnick or Krishnamurti. Maybe I should write a blog post. Maybe I should return to the Catholic church and go to confession. Maybe . . .

And Chrisoula will say gently, “why don’t you take Song for a walk right now?”

I forget how simple the solution is. I like talking and thinking! The first time I sat in a Zendo, the teacher said that we were going to practice not paying attention to our thoughts and I was like, “wow, you must have really boring thoughts.”

She was right though. The Truth needs nothing at all from us. It’s not an insult. It’s freedom. And it’s ours whenever we’re ready.

The Journey Ends in Love

There is a certain pattern to my practice of A Course in Miracles. Lately it has become more pronounced. I stumble into a state of genuine happiness and peace. It’s heavenly, if you’ll forgive a cliche. But then – after a minute or a few hours, sometimes even a day or two – doubt and fear enter. I doubt the feeling is real or that I’m worthy of it. I fear losing it.

In response to that fear and doubt, two things happen simultaneously. First, I clutch at the peace, trying to make it mine because I don’t trust God. I don’t trust the peace. Second, I become dismissive. “Oh well. I don’t really want that love anyway. Find some sucker, Jesus.”

And then, sure enough, I am separated from the love of God. And it hurts. It hurts so much.

Here is what I am learning right now: it is important to see that I am choosing against Love. I don’t want to see that and I certainly don’t want to say it. But it’s true. I want the Love that Jesus offers to be conditional. I want an external God to offer and then jerk it away, like a cat toying with a mouse. That’s how God is, right? Cruel and spiteful, delighting in my misery.

If I can convince myself that this is true, then there is nothing to be done. It’s not my choice to be unhappy; it’s just how it is. I am God’s victim.

That’s the lie that allows me to blame someone else – God and Jesus, in this case – for my unhappiness.

In a way, we preserve the egoic self – we make it real – by defending it against these imagined attacks from God.

There is a wonderful line in the course that asks us: do you prefer that you be right or happy (T-29.VII.1:9)?

Be glad that you are told where happiness abides, and seek no longer elsewhere. You will fail. But it is given you to know the truth, and not to seek for it outside yourself (T-29.VII.1:10-12).

Sometimes I feel that somewhere, somehow, I whispered “yes.” I thought God wasn’t listening. Probably I hoped he wasn’t. But he was. He sent Jesus and the Holy Spirit. He sent other helpers, too. And they have taught me so patiently. Their lesson is so simple: I am doing this to myself. And so I can choose not to do it. They will help.

No more than that, but no less either. It is enough.

Before this Love – even with such teachers beside me – I am scared. I don’t want to lose myself – small, sad and pathetic as that self is. I think it’s all I have. To surrender it and live in God . . . what is that but annihilation? What is that but loss?

And so it goes. It is too late to turn back and tarrying has become so painful. “Follow me,” says Jesus. “You who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”

One or two steps only and the journey ends where it began: in Love.

Forget Your Inner Feelings

From time to time I talk to students of A Course in Miracles who feel bad that they still experience guilt and anger and fear and sorrow and whatever other icky emotions you can name. How can it be after all the lessons and study and prayer? Aren’t we supposed to be deliriously happy all the time? Attended by ascended masters? Personally visited by Jesus? How is it that we’re still exhibiting all those nasty human traits? We should be angels by now!

I hear that. I have days where my expectations of spiritual growth or nirvana or what have you get in the way of peace. I eat too many potato chips and think, a holy man wouldn’t have done that. Or I space out in front of Netflix. Or I am insufficiently worried about nuclear war or too casual about banking regulations. It’s always something.

That is the egoic self at work. It likes problems – personal problems, global problems, problems on sitcoms, problems with the neighbors. It just chews through them like bears in a blueberry patch. It is especially fond of the spiritual ideal – our personal image of the holy man or woman. It can toy with the self for years with that image, that ideal. Maybe lifetimes. It’s quite a cycle. I’m not holy but I want to be holy so I’ll do this thing which is holy and okay now I’ve done it and I’m not holy so I’ll try this other path . . . It’s tiring! And like hamsters on the proverbial wheel, we never really get anywhere.

Here’s a better approach – one consistent with the teachings of A Course in Miracles: don’t worry about your inner feelings. Don’t worry about matching up to any ideal that you project. That’s just static. It’s got nothing to do with what you are in truth and nothing to do with realizing that truth.

Just let it go.

Take a look at section seven of the seventeenth chapter of the ACIM text. The subject is the need to be faithful – in our brothers and sisters and in our selves. It is teaching us that only the mind can solve a problem – as soon as a problem appears unsolvable it is because we have decided that the body is going to be part of the solution. But take special note of how the course addresses this particular body/mind confusion.

. . . bodies cannot solve anything. It is their intrusion on the relationship, an error in your thoughts about the situation, which then becomes justification for your lack of faith. You will make this error, but be not at all concerned with that. The error does not matter (T-17.VII.3:5-8).

The emphasis in italics is mine. The course takes for granted that we’re going to confuse body and mind. And it doesn’t care! It’s not relevant. It has nothing to do with waking up. Can you sense how liberating this is? How it frees us entirely and forever from consequence? The activity of the egoic self – it’s about me and my progress, me and my improvement, me and my standing in the community, and so on and so forth – is a given. And it’s without effect.

You can relax. You can breathe. You don’t have to resist those “bad” feelings. They’ve got nothing to do with anything that matters.

Use not your faithlessness. Let it enter and look upon it calmly, but do not use it (T-17.VII.5:3-4).

You can substitute “anger” for faithlessness. You can substitute “lust.” You can substitute “indifference.” Whatever you name those feelings which you judge as negative and which you have decided impede your waking up to Oneness in God, plug them into that phrase. And be very clear about the directive: you can let those feelings enter – don’t fight them in any way, don’t get all alarmed and panicky about them – but don’t make use of them. That’s all. It is like Gandhi said so many years ago – it wasn’t that he didn’t have anger in him. He did. He just chose not to identify with it. And in that choice, he was liberating from having to act on it in any way.

Your anger (or guilt or fear or whatever) is not a problem – your belief that your anger is a problem is the problem. So let it be. Let the inner feelings come and go and don’t freak out about them. Stay focused. You want to be peaceful and loving. You want to be in the Kingdom of Heaven. Okay. That is the goal. That’s all you need to do.