A Course In Miracles: How Simple The Solution

I think it is natural that at some point in their practice, most students of A Course in Miracles have to step back and ask themselves what they’re doing. You read the text, you work through all the lessons in the workbook, you throw in a couple dozen books by both well-known and less well-known Course teachers and . . . you’re still having an experience of separation from God. Have we screwed up? Are we forsaken by Jesus? What gives?

The course frequently reminds us that it is easy (see, for example, T-23.III.4:1). Yet clearly this is a conditional statement. It may indeed be easy but something in us – call it resistance – seems infinitely capable of complicating it and keep separation alive and well. This may be especially noticeable when our knowledge of the course is quite extensive and our motivation sincere.

We burnish our reputation as healed people – noteworthy ACIM students – in the world, while not experiencing the end of the separation. It is as if we substitute the world’s standards for God’s. I think a lot of us have that experience. We’re the most knowledgeable member of the study group. People turn to us with questions. We must be awakened. But being admired in the world and being one with God are two different – indeed, irreconcilable – things.

Lessons 79 and 80 seem pertinent. The former is “Let me recognize the problem so it can be solved.” The problem, of course, is separation. One lesson later – lesson 80 – we are asked to learn that “my problems have been solved.” Where the problem is, there the solution will be as well. Indeed, the clear implication is that once we realize that our only problem is our perceived separation from God, then the problem is gone.

Yet what are we to do when it clearly is not gone? That is, all our knowing and our good intentions have not enabled us to recognize the separation – obviously this is so because we are still living a separation-influenced life. We are holding on to something. Despite our apparent progress – and I am happy to testify that there can be much progress shy of awakening – we are still “not there.”

I think this is a fructive state, one that we should not be in a hurry to get through. Recognizing that after so much hard work and study we are still in the ego’s grasp can be very enlightening. For one thing, it can help us to reconsider the value of our own efforts. The implication is that they may not be particularly essential. As the course says,

Put yourself not in charge . . . for you cannot distinguish between advance and retreat. Some of your greatest advances you have judged as failures, and some of your deepest retreats you have evaluated as success (T-18.V.1:5-6).

There is an Alice in Wonderland feel to that – what’s up is down, what’s down is up – that is usefully cautionary. It is not our job to evaluate salvation or the methods used to attain it because we cannot. Thus, progress in the world – the self-congratulatory pride after being especially humble and gentle and knowledgeable at a study group – may well be failure. We don’t know.

Letting go of the power of judgment is very hard. But it appears not to be negotiable.

The other thing that lessons 79 and 80 can do for us is point to a beginning, or a need for a new beginning. Gary Renard points out (in The Disappearance of the Universe, I think) that the last words of the epilogue to the workbook are very frustrating: “This course is a beginning, not an end.” We are apt to forget that. We pass through this big text and all these lessons only to learn that all that we’ve done is inch up to the starting line. Finishing it is not an accomplishment, except in the dubious way of the world.

Leaving the Catholic Church

I was writing this morning – reflecting on the evolution of my relationship with Jesus – and it occurred to me that I had never formally written about my decision to leave the Catholic church. In truth, leaving the Catholic church can seem painful and challenging – not to mention spiritually dangerous and impractical – but for me, it led to a rich revitalization of my spiritual life. I do not think I am alone in this.

Let me say first that if you’re a happy Catholic, at relative peace with its practices and traditions, then I’m happy for you. I have many friends and family members whose identity as Catholics is inspiring to others and relieving and succoring to them. This isn’t a post about shaking anybody’s cage who doesn’t want it shook.

That said, if you feel some distance between you and the church – if your perception of your Catholic faith is that it is insufficiently narrow – if it seems to place obstructions between you and your desire to know and by known by Jesus and by extension God – then I am here to tell you that making a positive change is possible. It may not be easy, but if it is the right transition for you, then you will not be asked to go it alone. You will not be asked to deal with your family or your old faith community without help. You’ll be lifted when – and to the precise degree – that lifting is needed. It’s going to be okay.

Catholic Hypocrisy

My break with the Catholic church came when the Massachusetts bishops so publicly and vociferously opposed gay marriage. It was clear to me that the loving union of two men or two women posed no threat to anyone, and that opposition to those potential unions was in fact causing pain and heartache to many people that I loved and cared about. It hurt my brothers and sisters.

It was also painfully – and sadly – striking that it was this issue that caused the men who led the church to rise up and make demands of the faithful. We weren’t castigated for cultivating riches while at best throwing sops to the poor. There was a ridiculous silence about the injustice of the death penalty. There was only a minimal and strained and intellectually deficient attempt to justify the church’s institutional misogyny.

And this was before the sexual abuse scandals came fully to light.

I had been able to make adjustments to all of this – largely by focusing on the men and women who shared the pews with me. If the church leaders were morally and spiritually bankrupt – and I believed (and still believe) that many of them were – there was always some brother or sister beside me who was authentically and dynamically making Christ real in the world.

But the gay marriage thing was – to coin a phrase – the straw that broke the camel’s back. I remember the priest reading a letter from the bishop aloud from the altar, calling on us to oppose gay marriage as a matter of Catholic doctrine. I took my daughter’s hand and together we stood up and walked out of the church. I have only been back for funerals.

This was the physical separation – the physical break. And in some respects, it was the easier break. Awkward in the moment, to be sure, but there was a rightness to it. I am glad still that I provided my child with that example.

Jesus Knocks . . .

The harder break or separation is the one that is more mental or mindful – a blend of spirituality, psychology, and intellect. It is somewhat simple to walk out of a church. Leaving Catholicism – in the deeper sense – is a more complex and subtle process.

That break takes time and, in fact, is never really accomplished. It is more in the nature of a process, an evolution in which we come closer and closer to God by looking closer and closer at the belief systems that underlay our faith. It is my experience that as those systems are gently undone, our lives begin to resemble the spiritual ideal at which those systems meant to aim. In a way that is probably confusing and even offensive to some people, I feel that I am a better “Catholic” today than I was ten years ago.

On some level, I began leaving the church when I was only a child. I experienced a significant and painful loss when I was nine and there was no way to reconcile it with the kind and loving God my parents and other adults assured me was always in attendance. The disconnect – if not yet subject to articulation – was profound and, importantly, it didn’t go anywhere for decades.

The gap widened when as a teen-ager I began to actively question the whole idea of God. How can a loving God allow for starvation of Ethiopian children? How can he allow Jews to be herded into rail cars for slaughter? If sex before marriage is wrong, then why make it a desirable option?

I began to see God as akin to a poor engineer – you know, creating a speed limit of 65 and allowing cars to be built that went 100. If he was there – in the way I was being taught – then he was either inept or in possession of a strange sense of humor indeed.

It’s not that the Catholic church can’t answer those questions – and in some cases answer them quite effectively – but that by asking them I was inviting – or embarking on – a personal relationship with God that was independent of institutional theology or influence. Because one thing was clear in those days: no matter how much I questioned, no matter how stubbornly I resisted, God – someway, somehow – remained present and open to debate. He never left.

I learned then that God longs for us and that Jesus has nothing we do not have. The mind with which we know these Truths is the mind with which God created them as true. Nothing is that isn’t God.

By the time I was in my early twenties – and a devoted Catholic, largely under the dual tutelage of Thomas Merton (and the Christian mystics who had preceded him) and Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker – it was clear that I was no longer trying to understand and appreciate God through the lens of the Catholic church but rather trying to adapt the church’s teachings to my personal living experience of Christ.

That is an important distinction and bears repeating, in part because it is the opposite of what Catholicism intends. The church was no longer the mediator of God for me. Heaven was attainable with or without it. Indeed, the notion that a human institution with such a complex and at times troubling history could act as such a mediator was hard to take seriously. I liked the church – I enjoyed the social aspects, I loved (and still love) its contemplative wing, I believed some formal structure was at least helpful if not necessary to practice faith – but I was no longer bound to it.

Let me add that my life at this time was full of kind and intelligent priests (and some nuns), men (and women) who recognized my genuine desire to know God and wanted to help me any way possible. Often, that took the form of shedding their clerical identity and meeting me as a fellow human being struggling with the burden of having fallen and seeking now to regain divine favor. I am grateful for the honesty, integrity and experience of those men and women, and I honor their choice (in most but not all cases) to remain committed to the Catholic church.

But those relationships only strengthened my conviction that we cannot truly know God in a church or through a ritual but only through the rigorous honesty of our experience.

I recalled that Jesus said knock and the door shall be opened. He was unequivocal. He did not say that only doors to the church or temple or rectory would be opened. He did not say that only the penitent or religious would see the door opened.

If the church was helpful, great. If not . . . well, it clearly didn’t rule out a relationship with Jesus.

Catholic Guilt and (Yes) Love

Gradually, my experience of being Catholic became one of quiet resignation. I was what many pejoratively call a cafeteria Catholic. I ignored what didn’t work, took what did and tried to make peace with the resultant division. I don’t think it was clear to me at the time, but I felt that compromise was the only way to retain a relationship with Jesus, and through him with God.

But of course that was a lie, and we cannot live a lie, even if it takes a long long time to see that, and perhaps longer still to act on it.

How did I see the lie and reconcile it with truth?

To answer that, I have to talk a bit about what is abstract and not easily considered in concrete terms: love and guilt.

There is a great emphasis in Catholic theology on our fallen nature. We are sinners and our sin is detestable. There is hope, though. Jesus atoned for those sins through his crucifixion and our acceptance of him activates a grace that is redemptive. That grace is not automatic, however. It requires our active participation. It can be lost. And the stakes are quite high. It is not a religion for the faint of heart!

This is the source of what many people refer to as Catholic guilt. I consider that charge unfair. So far as I can tell, guilt is a human condition regardless of what church or culture we hail from. We humans seem composed, in part, of an ontological guilt that necessitates a spiritual absolution. Catholics hardly have the market cornered on guilt, though I do not dispute its problematical nature in that tradition.

When I look back and ask why it took so long to finally leave the church (I was in my late thirties), there is only one answer, and it is awkward and uncomfortable.

I did not leave because I felt guilty and scared.

The Catholic church had presented itself and its methodology as the Way, the Truth and the Light all my life. Period. Although I was encouraged to be respectful of other religious traditions, it was understood that ours was the One. To be outside its unique fold was to be forsaken – not unloved, necessarily, but deprived of the opportunity to activate my salvation through a sacramental participation in Christ.

If you tell yourself repeatedly the bridge is going to collapse beneath your feet as soon as you step on it – and when everyone around you affirms that belief – then it is quite natural that you will fear the bridge’s demise and avoid putting it to the test.

But what you have been taught is not the bridge and they do not make the bridge. They only make your thoughts about crossing it. The bridge is its own reality.

Does that make sense? I never felt a sadness at leaving the church, the way I feel sadness when people or pets that I love die. I felt only a cold fear that I had turned my back on the one thing that could save my poor and rotten soul. That I knew better – both intellectually and experientially – was put severely to the test in those days.

What made taking those first steps possible – and remember, we are talking now about abstract steps not the actual physical removal of oneself from a church – was love. Love and a story.

When my father was a young teen-ager he was sent to a seminary in Pennsylvania to become a priest. My father is a smart and thoughtful man devoted to living his life in harmony with Jesus Christ and the Catholic church. But he was not meant to be a priest. And he knew this. Several months into his studies, he decided to leave.

You have to take my word that this was not an easy decision for him. His parents wanted very badly for him to become a priest. Many of the priests he knew – both at the seminary and back in his local parish – wanted him to take those vows. Under all this pressure, he talked to the priest who was in charge of the rectory.

And that priest – who I believe was a holy man – told my father that his calling was in the end a private matter between him and Jesus and God. If he was meant to be a priest, he would be. If not, then God would guide him otherwise.

There is great wisdom there. Following God is natural. It might not be easy, but it is right. We can trust that.

God’s love is not conditional.

I knew that if I was meant to be Catholic then nothing I did or said could separate me from that church. Jesus would lead me to where I needed to be. God loved me and his love was not contingent on my participation in one or another human institution. It was going to be okay because it already was okay.

So I took a step.

The bridge did not collapse.

So I took another. Then another.

My life now is a walk into Stillness. It is a walk into Love.

One Step Toward God

We are loved by God because God is love. There is a goodness that fuels our existence, that passes through stones and trees, through laundry on the clothesline, through the wood that forms the chicken shed, and through our bodies and out into the stars and beyond. That is God. You are an expression of God, a thought of God. You were created thus and while you can deny that, or forget that, you cannot make it untrue. You cannot undo what God did perfectly.

We are fallen in the sense that we have forgotten who we are and Who created us. As fallen women and men, we can barely discern the outline of Heaven in the broken troubled world that appears to surround us. Our recognition of our helplessness is, paradoxically, the moment of our greatest strength. It is what makes our knocking on the mystical door real and solid. It is what assures us the door will be opened and real help step into our hearts to assist. This is not a theory. It works.

All institutions – be they governments, churches, countries, corporations, recreation committees or even, yes, families – have only their own survival and benefit in mind. They may start with lofty ideals and goals but those fall apart. History will teach you this if you look at it. There is a reason that Jesus wandered from town to town, not setting up shop in Jerusalem or Capernaum. There is a reason he didn’t set up churches, didn’t create the Jesus code.

Codification is not of God because God’s law – which is one and all – is true and you can neither make Truth nor make it more True. It is and that’s enough. Our permission and participation is not needed! Gravity doesn’t work because Newton persuaded somebody to pass a law. It works because it is. So it is with Christ, and with God, and with you and me.

We meet God in the silence of our hearts, in the deep center of our being where our identity as this person in this time period in this location vanishes and there is nothing but our need and our love. We acknowledge the former and then the latter rushes in, all-consuming. See if it doesn’t work that way for you.

When I stand in my front yard, my little house fills up my vision. When I walk into the fields and look at it from a mile away or so, it is much smaller – a shred of larger fabric. If I floated overhead at five miles, it would not even be visible. It would be a dot, indistinguishable from the landscape that surrounds and merges with it.

So it is with leaving the Catholic church. When we first step away, the church fills our vision and our minds. It is big and daunting! But as we move away from the institution towards the love that is Christ, the institution becomes smaller and smaller until it is merely a single point amongst many. We have mistaken the forest for one of its trees. And it’s the forest we’re after.

There is great peace in knowing this and acting on it. There is a great potential for genuine creativity and lovingkindness. And isn’t that what we wanted all along? Union with Christ instead of membership in an organization?

Recall the New Testament story. Jesus told the disciples to go and invite everyone to dinner – everyone. He didn’t say just the poor, or only Pharisees, or make sure you exclude the Roman soldiers. He said everyone – without exception or qualification. If you think and pray on this – if you wonder how it might play out in your life, in your socio-political framework – you will see how radical – and anti-establishment, anti-institution – it is.

That invitation is the spiritual mandate of all those who profess to follow Jesus all the way to Remembering God. It is a radical equality, a radical familiarity, a radical openness. The Catholic Church surrendered this radicalism long ago. Don’t look for it there. It’s gone. It has become what it was supposed to oppose. Jesus wouldn’t recognize it.

What is left is what was always there in the first place – you and me and our desire to know God. Our personal interior experience of God, our recognition of our Christ mind through the example and model of Jesus. Our efforts to live in harmony with that power, that grace. It is hard work. It can be lonely work. It can be frightening sometimes, too.

But we are sustained in it – as we are transformed through it –  by Love.

And yes, yes. You can go back.

What Does Abundance Mean?

Before I began to practice A Course of Miracles, I accepted without question that one could measure their spiritual wellness by virtue of external conditions.

What does abundance mean? A new age dynamic blend of spiritual health and wellness. Or something like that.

And secretly – even though I actively campaigned against this idea in my life – I believed that material abundance was a sign of God’s favor. At a minimum it testified to one’s ability to partake of the world’s natural rhythms of wealth and power.

Rich and successful people were better than I was at prayer, or the law of attraction. They were more holistic. More this or more that.

Rarely did I ever stop to ask what does abundance actually mean? What’s the point of all that stuff?

It’s a good question, a worthwhile one.

Most definitions of abundance focus on the “large amount” aspect. Abundant wealth means lots of money. Abundant land means plenty of acreage. Abundant health means quarterly marathons, organic veggies and daily yoga.

But are all abundances created equal?

Or, more to the point, was there something beyond this idea of abundance, something that was even more critical to regaining my spiritual equilibrium?

A Course in Miracles introduced me to the concept – and then began helping me bring it into application – that the things of the world, be they relationships or objects or even feelings – were not real.

Moreover, it suggested that my perception of the world was fatally skewed. I had no idea what the world was for. None.

Therefore, the idea that I could usefully define abundance and then make it happen in my life, and use it as a yardstick to assess my relationship with God, got tossed out the window.

The flip side was true as well. I had long cherished an ideal of spiritual poverty. Show me a rich man and I’ll show you a needle’s eyes before which camels could only sob in frustration. That kind of thing. Unfortunately, for all my devotion to it, there was no Truth to it.

Any abundance measured in the world’s terms – be it wealth or health or whatever – isn’t good or bad.

It’s nothing.

Thus, the focus of my spiritual practice is no longer mastering mental tricks or generating a lot of enthusiasm for certain ideas. I’m not trying to fool or manipulate or control the universe.

I’m trying to let it go.

I do that by making my relationship with God – I mean actual daily sustained contact with God – the focal point of my life.

The rest of it – lack, scarcity, abundance, wealth, health, insight – is static, illusory roadblock to that interior meeting place I am – have always been – joined to the Divine, without need or want of any kind.

Undoing the Narrative I

Certain movies and other texts can help one relate to and better understand the metaphysics and even the process of awakening described in A Course in Miracles. They can bring us into contact with the narrative I – the central actor and director of our story – and see how that self can be undone, simply by seeing there is nothing to undo.

I had an example of this a couple of weeks ago with Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds.

Specifically, I found myself utterly entranced with both the film-making and the story-telling. The movie felt exquisite to me. Where a lot of movies bludgeon us with CGI effects, violence, graphic sex and language, Tarantino (at least in Basterds – not so much in earlier films) employs a scalpel. He’s inside your experience before you know he’s inside it; he’s working from the inside out.

And it hit me – a little more than halfway through the movie – that this obsession with telling an artful story, a transformative story, a gripping story, a forget-everything-and-keep-your-eyes-on-the-screen story had a spiritual correlative.

It is how the ego crafts and gives meaning to the story of its own existence. It is how and why it feels nigh on impossible to let go of our own narrative, our own personality in favor of waking up to something that is simpler, clearer and more natural. Something that is impersonal and all-inclusive.

We fall easily into the lure of our personal stories and their private meanings. I’m Irish-Catholic, a poet, a recovering drunk, a student of A Course in Miracles. I’m from the Northeastern United States, not the South and not the West. Leonard Cohen and Emily Dickinson are instructive. I struggle with caring about making money. On and on it goes. You’ve got one, too. Several, in fact.

Who is the “you” that Jesus addresses in A Course in Miracles? Is it Helen Schucman? Ken Wapnick? Gary Renard? You? Me?

We can bypass those individuals and say instead that the text addresses the observing mind which has chosen – regrettably and unnecessarily – to attach itself to the ego and its wily story. It is like an enormous gorgeous quilt confusing itself for a single fraying thread. And the thread is very good at convincing the quilt to keep on with its confusion.

So while I go crashing and stumbling through the world – healing myself, getting better, making mistakes, coming to terms, discovering new obligations, making new friends, pining for old ones – the observing mind, the Christ mind, the source mind – all of which are thoughts thought by God – simply is. No sweat, no worries. Nothing happened, so nothing to fix.

So much of what I believe I have to do – from writing this blog post to loving Jesus to helping feed my family – is contingent in some way on the magnetic personal story, the narrative composed by the ego. So many colors and tastes – so much exquisite detail – a cast to die for – such a dense and multi-layered narrative fabric. Stories within stories within stories.

And yet.

What we are after – inner peace, sustainable and non-dramatic love – is absent from that story. Ego doesn’t do love. Oh, it’s definitely a theme. There are characters who symbolize it. It pops up as an idea. But it never delivers. It can’t. Love and peace are the one thing the ego can’t – won’t ever – give us. By definition it can’t let us see this is all just a movie, just an illusion, just a dream. If it did, we’d walk away in a second. We’d leave the theater without a second thought and go straight home.

I didn’t finish watching Inglourious Basterds. It was as if a bell had rung, and once ringing, could not be unrung. I didn’t want the inspired trance of story anymore – not Tarantino’s and certainly not the ego’s. I wanted awareness – right thinking, right mind, right now.

Whatever we call waking up, it begins with awareness. It begins with the end of casualness. We begin to sense that our lives are playing out on a screen and that they are not real, at least not as we presently perceive and understand them. That invokes some responsibility. We need to discern the true from the false. Thus, something new – not of us but in us – is triggered.

As you watch your life unfold – you who long for the promise of Heaven as I do – ask what it is that the ego drama seeks to hide from you? Could it be that there is no drama? That there is no viewer, no screen, no projector? That you are It and you always have been and right now – right now – you can settle and enjoy the unalterable peace that surpasses understanding?

We are telling ourselves a story – a good one in its way – but its sole purpose is keep us asleep, hidden, angry, guilty, estranged, lonely and unproductive.

There is another way. We can give attention to the narrative – in particular the one telling it – and allow our attentiveness to dissolve them. There is no I. When the center is everywhere, there is no center.  We who never left our home are home.

A Course in Miracles Fraud

Yesterday, while searching online for some information about ACIM teachers – I am trying to better appreciate and understand what prompts people to charge money for “teaching” ACIM – I ran into two articles that threw me for a loop, distracting me from the love that is our fundament.

The first was over at EWTN which is a conservative Catholic news service. The author, Edward R. Hryczyk, quoting extensively from a Catholic priest (Fr. Benedict J. Groeschel) who knew Helen Schucman is deeply critical of A Course in Miracles. He not-so-subtly implies that it’s deceptive at a radical level – the work not of Jesus but of a demon, an embodiment of diabolical intent.

In other words, the course doesn’t just depart from traditional Catholic dogma and theology. It affirmatively seeks to lead people away from God and into hell. The priest claims as proof the pain and anguish and suffering of Helen Schucman’s last years.

Mr. Hryczyk suggests that Catholics to be gentle but uncompromising with ACIM students. He says they are usually sincere in their search for Christ, trying to fill a spiritless void, but are dangerously led astray. Their only hope is to return to the teachings and traditions of the Catholic church, as mediated by the Magisterium; helping them find that way back is the only appropriate mode of interaction.

I’m generally immune to a lot of what conservative or fundamentalist Christianity offers. Over the years, I’ve gotten pretty good at accepting where those believers are at, finding what common ground (if any) is available, and trying to steer away from any painful conflict. If there’s room for dialogue, great. If not, that’s okay, too. I don’t want to hurt people.

But I was raised Catholic – cradle to my late thirties. Two of my children are baptized. I went to a Catholic college, studied Catholic theology, and even looked into being an Edmundite priest. I believed and even when the going got really tough, I tried to keep believing. I wanted to keep the faith.

Eventually, after much prayer and contemplation and talk with friends and family, I let go of the Catholic church. It was the right decision for me and it planted the seeds of a fruitful spiritual practice that has been challenging, inspiring and transformative. I am grateful.

But that article – the priest’s confidence that he was right, the subtle allusions to an evil capable of manifesting in the world, the author’s certainty that I and others like me are bound to a gnostic philosophy that can only lead us to hell – actually shook me. I don’t like saying that – in part because it shows how I am still invested in publicly presenting some spiritual “ideal” – but the truth is, I was rattled.

And – as this post testifies – I am still sorting through that experience.

I never believed in a God that didn’t love everyone unconditionally. But I did believe in a God that was stern, demanding and judgmental. He didn’t hate me – but he was perpetually disappointed in me. And that wasn’t going to change in Heaven. I didn’t fit in the world and I had little hope that I was going to be much a right fit up there, either.

And – deep down in the recesses of my belief system – I accepted the presence of an angel who had chose to rule in hell rather than follow in Heaven. I was susceptible to his wiles. The devil was real and hot on my heels, always throwing rock bands and beautiful women and drugs and whatever else he could into my path. I was his best hope and we both knew it.

So the real risk was not rejection by the somewhat cold and elusive God, but my own acceptance of the evil alternative.

What a harsh and painful spirituality! What a painful religious narrative in which to be shackled! And clearly I have not uprooted all of it, as it has surfaced yet again. A couple thousand words written by a man I don’t know, quoting a priest I’ve never met, and all the relentlessly difficult baggage of that church and its grim stories and mythology rises to the surface.

So what does one do as a student of A Course in Miracles? How does one respond to this sort of moment?

Well, one thing that we can do is hold our “relentlessly difficult baggage” in the light. We can keep it on the table, so to speak. When the ego rears its head and runs rampant through our lives, we can simply acknowledge it and offer it to the Holy Spirit. This is what clear seeing and non-resistance are. We can’t keep secrets and know the peace of Christ, therefore whatever ugliness we’d rather hide away is going to have to lifted up into light and given to the One who knows what to do with it.

The other article that I read (since gone from the web but you can get a general flavor from this thread) appeared in an online journal devoted to the Book of Urantia. The author, Philip Eversoul, affirmatively rejects any possibility that A Course in Miracles can be reconciled with Urantia teachings. In fact, in somewhat the same spirit as the EWTN article, he points out that the course is not the work of Jesus but of Caligastia, who is the Urantian equivalent of the devil.

That article and its ideology is less frightening to me. But it did bring out my inner theological lawyer. I’m modestly familiar with the Urantia book. I don’t claim to know it extensively and I certainly am not a follower or student of that tradition. But I own it. I’ve read it. I’ve talked to people about it. And I respect it as one of many paths that are available to spiritual seekers.

Still, I believe that Mr. Eversoul was mistaken in some of his observations about the course. Notably, he concluded that A Course in Miracles claims – despite its protestations to the contrary – to be the only way to get to God (i.e., see the preface which asserts that the course is “but one version of the universal curriculum”).

Like a drunken lawyer I practically leaped to my feet to rebut the charges. I was ready to write emails, letters to the editor, a whole blog post exposing the “wrongness” of Mr. Eversoul – which is, of course, a way highlighting the “rightness” of me.

This is a different kind of conflict than with the EWTN article, but it’s still a conflict. The need to be right where others are wrong is itself wrong-minded thinking. It is fundamentally unloving. It focuses on error, on behavior and on bodies. It ignores the inherent perfection of love as our shared spiritual experience.

And, contrary to belief, this sort of ego-based argumentation is not about  correction in the name of love. It’s about keeping our own hatred and guilt hidden by projecting it out into the world.

So yes. I was surprised by the intensity of my reaction. If you asked, I would have pointed out that I’m doing a lot better than I was a year ago, three years ago, ten years ago. Because I practice the course, because I seem to be able to make contact with that still inner voice, I don’t resort to lovelessness the way I once did.

But there I was acting like a man bent on hurting others in a vain attempt to exorcise his own hurt. There was no other way to see it, no better way to frame it. I was right and Mr. Eversoul was wrong. And I was angry that he was wrong. And all I could think to do was take that spark of anger and turn it into a conflagration.

On the one hand, I am grateful for those two readings. They open new grounds for forgiveness, which is always a blessing. I don’t want to correct anybody; I don’t want to defend A Course in Miracles or attack another tradition. That’s not my job. I don’t want to fan the flames of guilt and anger and hate – my own or anybody else’s.

I want to turn the whole thing over to Jesus in whom it can be healed, according to the power of love.

And yet.

I am chastened this morning. I woke before dawn, but couldn’t roust myself from bed for a prayerful walk. Instead, I lay there wondering if I was wrong about the course. Maybe I am still Catholic. Maybe the followers of the Urantia teachings are right. Maybe there’s another path I still haven’t found yet and that’s the one that’s good and right and true.

That doubt – that ability to question even what so clearly works, and works well, where no other practice did – is the ego’s most insidious tool. It is like a sharp invisible scalpel that neatly slices through our faith and conviction. It guts our little willingness, leaving it bloody and disemboweled.

It wants me to turn back, reject the course, abandon hope and continue a confused and meaningless search for God where God can be neither found nor remembered, let alone known.

Ultimately, even this doubt must be brought up into the light and set on the table. It’s the fear that A Course in Miracles is a lie, that all my friends – old and new alike – who turn to it and share with me – are misled and thus can only mislead

“Trust me,” whispers the ego. “Follow me.”

Its voice is by turns seductive and logical. What harm can come from going to mass tomorrow? Why is the Urantia book gathering dust in the basement while A Course in Miracles is on the bedside night table?

A Course in Miracles was the first spiritual path that made clear to me that I was allowed to be happy – naturally joyful, full of inner peace. There were no arduous rituals, no impossible-to-please deities. It was unequivocal in its acceptance of other spiritual paths. It wasn’t selling itself. It was there for me if I wanted it and there were no hard feelings if I continued on my way.

It was deep, resonant, consistent and loving. I saw those qualities in it – and recognized, however dimly, that they were qualities inside of me, as well.

Never before had I felt so close to Heaven, so near to Jesus. Never before had I been so hopeful that my seeking might have an end.

But those are just words. They are symbols. And however happy I am these days, the interior remains stormy, or at least capable of storm. My conviction drifts. By the tiniest bit – recessed, nearly hidden – I cling to the old world of bodies and pain and guilt.

I remember reading somewhere Ken Wapnick saying that we should never underestimate the ego. And in my recent reading of The Obstacles to Peace, I was struck by how graphic and violent and ugly the images of the ego and its world are. Fear’s messengers bring the stuff of nightmares.

No little shred of guilt escapes their hungry eyes. And in their savage search for sin they pounce on any living thing they see, and carry it screaming to their master, to be devoured (T-19.IV.A.12:6-7).


So I keep it simple. I name the fears and the doubts and lift them up where they can be seen and forgiven. I even put them, as best I can, into words. Here you go, Jesus. Take it away. Do what you will.

He promises love. He promises peace. And all he asks in return in a little gratitude, a little willingness. He asks me to look at my brothers and sisters and see in them what they cannot see in themselves.

Love, too, would set a feast before you, on a table covered with a spotless cloth, set in a quiet garden where no sound but singing and a softly joyous whispering is ever hears. This is a feast that honors your holy relationship, and at which everyone is welcome as an honored guest. And in a holy instant grace is said by everyone together, as they join in gentleness before the table of communion (T-19.IV.A.16:1-3).

So I am grateful then – or willing to be grateful – to Philip Eversoul and Edward R. Hryczyk. I am grateful that they so carefully and in such great faith wrote the articles I read yesterday. I am grateful for their willingness to share, to be vulnerable in a public space, to try and educate, to try and save.

And I lift these words of mine – which may bring comfort, which may cause conflict – in the same spirit. Heal all of us, Jesus, poor teachers and students alike. Of ourselves we can do nothing but with your guidance and in your presence, we may slowly be moved to love.

That is my prayer, joined with that of my brothers and sisters. May you hear all of us and lead us to the home we share in God.

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A Course in Miracles: Our Special Function

A critical aspect of our study and practice of A Course in Miracles revolves around discovering and bringing into application our special function as miracle workers. How we do this will vary in form, but the fundamental content remains the same: we are always asserting the guiltlessness of God’s children (T-14.V.2:1)

As a student of A Course in Miracles, I am often frustrated with the limitations of words. In fact, it is clear that on some level they are agents of separation. Words specify and thus impair generalization. What is X cannot be Y and it certainly cannot by itself be a unified alphabet.

Yet we are here to communicate, by whatever means necessary. We have a function, a role to play in the atonement – which ends our shared mistaken belief that we are from God – and it is unique to us inside the illusory world in which we believe we live.

It is possible to make both too much of this fact and too little.

We make too much of it when we “invest” in the world. That is, when we start to compare our gifts or skills to other people in an effort to judge one better or worse. This person is a more successful writer by virtue of their book sales. That person is a better ACIM teacher because they have more speaking gigs.

Suddenly, we are focused less on our contributions to the healing contemplated by Jesus in A Course in Miracles than we are on vain compare-and-contrast exercises which can only yield frustration.

In other words, I cannot simultaneously hear the Holy Spirit’s call to heal and the ego’s call to destroy.

We make too little of our special function when we start to block it. Is that the ego I hear or the Holy Spirit? If I follow that suggestion, how will I be able to keep a roof over my family’s head? We let doubt in – quite often in the guise of (apparently) reasonable questions. So long as I’m allowing the ego to henpeck my function to death, then I’m not going to fulfill my function.

I can’t stand by idly while the ego performs its execution by degrees.

For me, answering the call to write without judgment is a form of healing. And it’s hard. It’s hard because writing itself is challenging, but it’s also hard because my ego has gotten very subtle and seductive in its efforts to keep me silent. This almost always takes two forms: the desire to steer clear of the perils and pitfalls of spiritual pride, and a belief that by avoiding right work I remain poor as the world defines it and thus have an honorable badge attesting to my devotion to Jesus.

There is some value in both of these ideas, but my investment in them is unhealthy. I use them to stop (or impede) the work I am called to do. They are the raucous jeers I listen to in lieu of the Holy Spirit’s gentle song of guidance.

As I have pursued this blog – and related writing projects – I am always given opportunities to see how the ego messes with me. How it sets up traps, promotes circular reasoning, brays and prattles to keep me frozen, submissive, fearful, uncertain.

Yet I am also able to witness the Holy Spirit’s capacity for inducing miracles with just a shred of willingness on my end. New friends show up. People ask questions that I need answered myself. Wisdom flows over the transom and I drink it like a sinner left too long in the desert.

On Level One, there is one child of God and it’s us – all of us, without exception or qualification. Thus, what happens on Level Two – where this blog is, where I am, and where you are reading it – is an illusion. We cannot really make any changes on Level Two because it’s akin to drawing pictures in a pool of water.

We have to change our mind on Level One.

Yet – somewhat paradoxically – the only real way to do that is to interact with the images and ideas that we encounter on Level Two. We have to forgive them – the mouth-watering cheesecake, the boss who fires us, the illness that wracks us or our loved ones. It’s all grist for the mill of forgiveness.

The course teaches us that our special function is “the special form in which the fact that God is not insane appears most sensible and meaningful to you” (T-25.VII.7:1).

The content is the same. The form is suited to your special needs, and to the special time and place in which you think you find yourself, and where you can be free of place and time, and all that you believe must limit you (T-25.VII.7:2-3).

So it’s okay to be who you are – who you believe you be, the very best that you believe you can be. Be a healer or a teacher. Be a successful business leader. It’s all the same because it’s all part of the one dream we’re having – the dream of separation. Yet by forgiving those dream elements in front of us – by giving them over to the Holy Spirit, by choosing to look at them with Jesus instead of the ego – we empower those Holy Teachers to undo illusions for us. We learn that a child of God “cannot be bound by time nor place nor anything God did not will” (T-25.VII.7:4).

What is undone on Level Two is undone for all of us. You are not called to heal the dream for you alone – but for me, too. For all of us.

And the more we do it, the easier – the more natural – forgiveness becomes. And that in turn opens up new playing fields in which forgiveness opportunities abound. We are sleepers chained to an unhappy dream, bound to a nightmare of our own making. But our special function – that still voice inside that whispers go here, do that, say this, write that – is the opening through which all healing and all love flows.

Pry that opening wider with forgiveness – engage the dream with the willingness to have it undone for you. Then it will be undone for all of us, brothers and sisters alike. Heaven itself asks for nothing less; it can offer nothing more.