Weekly Questions and Answers, 10/16/2002

This week's questions:
Q #1: A question about the Christian language of the Course.
Q #2: A question about the practice of religious rituals.

Q #1: It seems that at some point all theologies converge, and in so doing, they leave behind their individual forms and become pure Truth. I am having trouble dealing with this because - it implies that the Christian forms of the Course are … (forgive me) … disposable and temporary. Knowing this I sometimes find myself becoming impatient with the continuous anthropomorphism of the text, and wish it would be more direct. Needless to say, this interferes with my personal progress, though not with my reverence. In your experience is this a common phenomenon? Does it pass with time? Is it just an ego-strategy? How should I handle it?

A: The Course’s Christian context has been a problem for students right from the beginning, and they have raised the same important question you have. To restate and slightly expand your question, why does a universal message have to come in such a specific religious framework? And does that not inevitably breed further separation, at the same time denying the universality of the specific religion?

Indeed, the Christian language of A Course in Miracles, not to mention the presence of Jesus throughout the material, can pose a great challenge to many students. If their ego is looking for a way to invalidate the material, or throw up obstacles to learning, then Jesus and Christianity can be helpful allies in this battle against the truth. On the other hand, asking the Holy Spirit for help can introduce yet another classroom in which forgiveness of our specialness can happily be learned.

While one would never want to restrict A Course in Miracles to a particular cultural group, it can nonetheless be said that in the main it is directed towards a Western audience. Its language, cultural expressions, and Freudian, Platonic, and Shakespearean elements, all speak to a reader comfortable within the Western tradition. And it can certainly be said that the predominant influence in the Western world for the past 2000 years has been Christianity, with Jesus clearly being the dominant figure, either as symbol of the love of Heaven, or the special love (and hate) of the ego. And so there could not be a Western student -- Christian, Jew, agnostic, or atheist -- who in one way or another has not been affected by Jesus or the religions that have evolved in his name. Thus the Christian framework of A Course in Miracles provides a natural opportunity for students to practice forgiveness of their past experiences.

In the end, of course, all specific symbols disappear into the Oneness of God. But until that day arrives, we need specifics to be the little steps of forgiveness we take towards attaining the non-dualistic reality that lies beyond all dualistic concepts and beyond all symbols. As the workbook says: "God will take this final step Himself. Do not deny the little steps He asks you take to Him" (W.pI.193.13:6,7). Thus, the Christian anthropomorphisms reflect our own anthropomorphic view of ourselves, since in truth we are not bodies or specific persons, but non-human thoughts in the mind. However, as long as we identify with the specific person whose image we see every morning in the bathroom mirror, then, again, we need a learning curriculum that uses specific symbols that meet us in the condition in which we think we exist (T.25.I.7:4). Christianity provides us with one of those sets of symbols, and for the opportunity it offers we should all be grateful.

Q #2: As a relatively new student of the Course, I miss the rituals I used to practice from my religious upbringing. Are there any things that a student can do without violating the teachings of the Course?

A: It is true that there are no rituals in A Course in Miracles, since its focus is always on changing our minds not our behavior. However, there is certainly nothing inherently "wrong" with students practicing anything that fosters their spiritual growth with the Course. There are very, very few shoulds or should nots in the curriculum. As we are told in the manual, "The curriculum is highly individualized" (M.29.2:6), and so students would do well to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

The only caution would be not to have the ritual become a substitute for the inner work. As Jesus states in the workbook: "Rituals are not our aim, and would defeat our goal" (W.pI.rv.III.in.4:2). And in the manual: "Routines as such are dangerous, because they easily become gods in their own right, threatening the very goals for which they were set up." (M.16.2:5).

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