“There is no answer; only an experience” (C-In.4:4).
That lovely line – all of seven words – is found in the introduction to the Clarification of Terms in A Course in Miracles. Its simplicity underscores an important tenet of the course: it is a deeply practical curriculum that aims at an experience of inner peace that is not contingent on intellectual understanding. Words only get us so far.
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
This passage was in Helen Schucman’s mind when she was writing A Course in Miracles. We find it early in Chapter Two.
If you are afraid, you are valuing wrongly. Your understanding will then inevitably value wrongly, and by endowing all thoughts with equal power will inevitably destroy peace. That is why the Bible speaks of “the peace of God which passeth understanding.” This peace is totally incapable of being shaken by errors of any kind. It denies the ability of anything not of God to affect you (T-2.II.1:7-11).
And then again in Chapter Thirteen.
The peace of God passeth your understanding only in the past. Yet here it is, and you can understand it now (T-13.VII.8:1-2).
A Course in Miracles is clear: this peace is a gift already given, yet its presence and effects are obscured by fear. This is why we need a course; this is why we need a teacher.
So if we look again at the first sentence from the Clarification of Terms, what do we see?
In context, that sentence is a gentle but specific rebuke to our attempts to reduce the course to a matter of theological or philosophical debate and speculation. The egoic mind likes to take sides. It likes to ask questions that cannot be answered. Told that our separation from God is impossible and illusory it asks: Just how did what is impossible happen? To whom or what did it happen? And so forth.
Those questions – and questions like them that dog our study of the course – cannot really be answered. They have no answer. Asking them – which is to invest int hem – is only a form of delay and resistance. The course urges us to let those questions go and turn instead towards experience. It reminds us that its only concern is “Atonement, or the correction of perception” and that “[t]he means of the Atonement is forgiveness” (C-In.1:2, 3).
A universal theology is impossible, but a universal experience is not only possible but necessary. It is this experience towards which the course is directed (C-In.2:5-6).
The point is not that understanding what the course teaches is irrelevant or unhelpful. It is a question of context. For example, forgiveness in course parlance means overlooking error, not confirming its existence by negotiating an agreement to overlook it (e.g. T-2.III.4:1). It is helpful for us to understand this.
But if we stay at that level of understanding – if we get very skilled at using words to talk and write about it only – then we are going to miss the actual lived experience of forgiveness. We are going to miss what it is like to actually not perceive error in another, and we are going to miss those moments when others see us absent our errors.
That is a mystifying and glorious and transforming experience! Logic and study can lead us to the door of it, but cannot by themselves create or otherwise substitute for it.
We have to actually forgive, and we have to actually allow ourselves to be forgiven, all as A Course in Miracles envisions.
Perhaps it is like riding a horse. A good teacher will talk to you about horses – how to be safe around them, how to communicate with them, how to be sensitive while on them and so forth. But that lesson is not very helpful if you do not sooner or later mount the horse and ride.
We want to be sensitive to this. The course was written and edited by academics and intellectuals. It is easy to slip into and set up camp in that mode. But that mode exists specifically to facilitate the direct experience of inner peace, and it is to this aspect of practice that we are called to turn. If we neglect it, it’s like ordering a hot fudge sundae and getting only an empty bowl. We need the bowl – but we really really want the ice cream.
It is often easier to study the course, and talk about the course, and have peak experiences of joy and camaraderie with other students of the course, then it is to simply turn our attention to the day-to-day experience of being. Just being in all its up-and-downness, all its this-and-thatness. But it is there – in mortgage payments, breakfast dishes, meetings at work, parenting at home, funerals and baptisms, headlines and sitcoms, sex and romance, vacation and coming home from vacation and so forth – that the course finally and fully becomes us.
Day to day – moment to moment – where is our practice? How is it functioning?
The answer to the latter question – how our practice of A Course in Miracles is functioning – can be answered simply: are we experiencing peace or are we experiencing an absence of peace?
The fruits of A Course in Miracles are inner peace – a deep and abiding interior peace that transcends the intellect because it is a gift from God made real in our capacity to give it away.
It is okay if we are not feeling peace. It’s not a crisis. That is why we have been given such a clear and direct course with such a present and effective teacher. If we are not feeling peace, then we simply give attention to the experience of not knowing peace. We simply look into it, without rushing to solve it or understand it. This is what it means to turn something over to the Holy Spirit: to hold it in awareness in a quiet, gentle and nonjudgmental way.
What happens when we are attentive this way to what is happening in our lives?
To be in the Kingdom is merely to focus your full attention on it . . . Reality is yours because you are reality (T-7.III.4:1, 3).
The peace of God dawns. Slowly perhaps, but ray by ray – in the structure of time to the embodied self that persists in belief – peace comes, and passes through us, and what remains is not a body or a self but peace itself. What remains is the gift, perennially giving itself to itself.
Thus, our intellectual study of the course – rigorous, thorough, and devoted – finds its fullness in application. It finds its fullness when we commit whole-heartedly to make it the cornerstone of this apparent human experience. Over and over we look closely at what happens and arises – the good moments, the bad moment, and the many moments in between – and wait patiently on God’s gift to clarify and reveal itself.
Rest in the Holy Spirit, and allow His gentle dreams to take the place of those you dreamed in terror and fear of death. He brings forgiving dreams, in which the choice is not who is the murderer and who shall be the victim. In the dreams He brings there is no murder and there is no death (T-27.VII.14:3-5).
It is not necessary that we understand how this will happen. Its happening is not contingent on understanding. Rather, it is contingent on willingness. The best our thinking can do is demonstrate the need for an alternative to it. Perceiving the need, we begin to give attention that it might be met. We give attention that peace might reach us from beyond the limits of understanding, and it does. It does.