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Reading A Course in Miracles: Perception vs. Knowledge

The balance between knowledge and perception is is a critical idea in the text of A Course in Miracles, one that can feel simply semantic but actually bears study. The two terms are going to be used too often – and are too central to the overall strategy of mind-training – not to understand. Plus, as usual with ACIM, it’s not as simple as cracking a dictionary and taking notes. Amongst other things, Jesus has a touch of the logophile to him.

We live in the world of perception. This is what our bodies are for – they help us mediate and interpret the separation. With perception, everything is a question of degree. It’s malleable. You say tomato and I say tomahto. It is changeable which means that it can’t be known, it can only be perceived – in time and in space.

This is more okay than we’re apt to realize. In some ways, A Course in Miracles simply teaches us how to straighten out our perception. As Jesus says in this section, until we are capable of correct perception, knowledge is impossible (T-3.III.1:10). Hence, we shouldn’t rush to grandiose statements about how our bodies are unreal and time is an illusion. Rather, we should be using time and matter to sharpen our focus on Heaven, on awakening. When awakening becomes our unified goal – the only thing that we want, the sole filter through which we perceive – then we are ready to take the tiny slip of a step over into knowledge.

Perception is subject to loveless or loving influence. We can perceive with Christ-like love or we can perceive with fear and guilt. Our goal as miracle workers is to transition from a mindset of guilt and fear to one of love. This is a process, the very process through which the workbook aims to guide us. It is critical to be honest with ourselves in this regard. Pretending that we’re spiritually advanced, denying and projecting reams of negative emotion . . . this impairs our ability to perceive with our right mind. We have to start at the beginning. We have to be willing to be where we are, who we are, in hope – certain hope – that a peaceful and glorious end is sure.

This is why perception is associated with both miracles and doing (T-3.III.5:9). Because of its transitory nature, it is subject to radically positive changes of mind – i.e,, the miracle. And it inspires action – loving gestures, the extension of day to day miracles, all of which are simply efforts to remind us of who and what we are – and who and what our brothers and sisters are. Diligence in this regard is a virtue. The capacity to subject the whole of our experience to one question – what is it for – is the surest way to salvation.

Knowledge, as the course construes it, precedes the miracle, activity and the entire world of perception. Jesus invokes the profound biblical statement from John 8:58 that “before Abraham was, I am.” Reflecting on the apparent confusion about verb tenses there can be quite helpful. Abraham is the human father of the tribes of Israel. He is imagined as a physical body in time – thus he is subject to the past tense because, like all selves imagined in bodies, he comes to an end. God – “I” – remains in the present tense because he is the present. There is no past or future. God is not in eternity – God is eternity, beyond both time and matter.

Thus, knowledge falls outside the realm of our ability to talk about it – other than with vague and/or abstract references to some future condition which we can only imagine. It literally boggles the rational mind. Knowledge is Truth – it cannot be edited or altered or changed in any way. In Truth, there are no questions. There are no progressions, retreats, interpretations or judgments. Truth is. I am.

Don’t sweat this! Our goal is simply to correct our perception, to align it more and more with that of God. When that happens – symbolized in this section as essentially getting the “inner altar” clear and shining, with the atonement at its center – then God will be able to communicate with us in an unfettered way. That’s outside the ambit of our physical selves. We aren’t responsible for it. All we need to do is find that interior altar and tend to it. We need to accept the atonement.

God is. And we’re getting there, one step at a time.

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