Weekly Questions and Answers, 11/24/2004

This week's questions/topics:

Q #623  From a Course perspective, what is the significance of speaking "in tongues"?
Q #624  Isn't the Course just another opinion?

Q #625  What is the definition of the word "God"?.
Q #626  Why doesn't the Course reveal earlier that Jesus is only a symbol?
Q #627  Must I read all the Text immediately before doing the Workbook?

Chronological List of All Questions.
Interactive Index of all topics

Q #623: I have just begun reading A Course in Miracles and I’m finally getting answers I’ve long been searching for. However one thing continues to plague me. I was raised Catholic and became a born again Christian at age sixteen and began speaking in tongues. I’ve done so ever since. The bible says when you come together let two or three pray in tongues at most unless there is an interpreter. I‘ve had someone in the Course explain to me the concepts of content and form. From this I’ve concluded that the content is the Holy Spirit and the form is tongues, so that must mean (since traditional prayer has no real purpose) that tongues are merely the product of the awareness of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. When I’m speaking this language, I’m being edified or enlightened to awareness of my natural spiritual, eternal self. Then if there is an interpretation, the church has become spiritually aware (so to speak). Is this even remotely correct? Also recently, I prophesied over a dozen people whom I had never met, telling them things I could not know about them. The bible also speaks of this as a gift or manifestation of the indwelling spirit. Again I know what the bible says about what prophesying is and its applications, but I don’t entirely trust this information. I’m hoping that someone could clarify based on the principles of the Course, so I can maximize my use of these wonderful gifts.

A: Sorry, but the Course does not offer any specific interpretation for such abilities or gifts as speaking in tongues and prophesying. Comments and recommendations about them in the New Testament, such as Paul provides in his first letter to the Corinthians, come in the context of a completely different spiritual teaching, which sees both sin and the body as very real, and to try to integrate them with the Course’s teachings will most likely lead only to greater confusion with both sets of teachings. This is because the Course offers no explanation for what specifically the body does, no matter how common or unusual, or what the body may seem to do or say in relationship to other bodies, since one of the Course’s basic premises is that the world of bodies is illusory.

The Course is concerned only with purpose and not with behavior -- the distinction between content and form you mention. There is nothing inherently spiritual, and nothing that in itself would represent the Holy Spirit’s influence or indwelling, from the Course’s perspective, in speaking in tongues or prophesying. What would determine whether such activities at any particular time are spiritual or not is how they are used in that moment, which means they are no different from any other activity we might engage in. And the only two purposes they can serve are the ego’s or the Holy Spirit’s. In other words, speaking in tongues or prophesying would serve an ego purpose if, for example, the speaker sees them as special gifts from God that make him or her different from others, blessed by the Holy Spirit in a special way. And they could serve the Holy Spirit’s purpose of forgiveness if they are used to remind everyone that we are all equally blessed and loved children of God.

You may find a couple of questions that address the Course’s perspective on psychic abilities of help as you attempt to reconcile your own understandings and experiences with the Course’s teachings (Question #497 on prophecies and Question #589 on psychic abilities).

Q #624: i  Aren't all philosophies, belief in the Bible, A Course in Miracles, the Koran, etc. just opinions? What moves or motivates someone to be a Christian, Buddhist, or a Course student, etc.? Surely no one could be so presumptuous to lay claim to absolute truth. So why would anyone follow any religion when it is totally impossible to know truth? Why would you want to spend a lifetime studying A Course in Miracles when it is just another opinion? I just meditate every day and ask for direction and guidance in the most humble and honest way I know how.

ii. How did we ever get here in the first place? How did we get thrown to the bottom? Anything other than perfect love, perfect bliss is a problem. I think the explanation given in A Course in Miracles regarding the dream is, and please excuse me for using this term, a cop out. If it cannot be said that God was the cause of the dream, then Jesus must have produced it. Are we asked to believe that Jesus conjured up this dream out of nothing so as to doom himself and all of mankind to this horrible and unbelievable slaughter house? In the midst of pure goodness, the dream emerges from nowhere. Can't buy it. A Course in Miracles is just another opinion. I'm not criticizing it but at this time in my life I'm not ready to accept it either.

A: We cannot speak for other spiritual paths, but many, many students of A Course in Miracles have said that when the Course came into their lives (and the circumstances of how that happened vary greatly), it felt as if they had finally found what they had been looking for -- some adding that they didn’t even know they had been looking for anything. Others have said that what attracted them to it is that it offered an alternative to traditional biblical religions, some stating specifically that it was the Course’s teaching that God is not the creator of the world nor is He responsible for the evil in it. The Course itself came in response to the mutual commitment of two New York psychologists to find a way of relating to each other and their colleagues that was not filled with hostility and strife. Importantly, they humbly admitted that they did not know what that way was, but they would join together in finding it. In other words, A Course in Miracles did not just appear out of the blue as a full-blown theological treatise. It was the answer to a call for help. Its theology, metaphysics, and psychology are the theoretical grounding for its practical teachings on forgiveness, which is the Course’s one-word answer to the quest for a better way of relating to others -- and, it turns out, to oneself as well. Waiting for something to turn up that would have the mark of absolute truth on it would seem futile, as you yourself correctly point out.

A Course in Miracles does not present itself as the absolute truth. It says of itself that it is only one among many thousands of paths to God (M.1.4:2). It does have roots, though, in Platonism, Gnosticism, and non-dualistic Vedanta, as well as other traditions that speak of the physical world as a shadow of reality or an illusion. Tomes have been written about the problem of the imperfect coming from the perfect. The Course’s answer is that it is impossible; thus its absolute non- dualism and consequent need to rely on mythological and symbolic discourse (the dream, the ladder of separation, the carpet of time, etc.). Kenneth’s scholarly study of the Course from that point of view is contained in his book, Love Does Not Condemn: The World, the Flesh, and the Devil According to Platonism, Christianity, Gnosticism, and A Course in Miracles. Jesus addresses this by explaining that "this course remains within the ego framework, where it is needed. It is not concerned with what is beyond all error because it is planned only to set the direction towards it. Therefore it uses words, which are symbolic, and cannot express what lies beyond symbols. . . . The ego may ask, ‘How did the impossible occur?’, ‘To what did the impossible happen?’, and may ask this in many forms. Yet there is no answer; only an experience. Seek only this, and do not let theology delay you" (C.in.3:1,2,3; 4:3,4).

Echoing the plaintive appeal of countless others, St. Augustine cried out, "My heart is restless, O God, and it will find no rest until it rests in Thee." The psalmist, too, expresses his soul’s pain: "Like the deer that yearns for running streams, so my soul is yearning for you my God." Something is missing; something that belongs there is not there. We all share that deep sadness in one way or another. Again, A Course in Miracles is just one set of symbols that communicates with our mind’s and heart’s plea for truth and forgiveness. If you do not find the answer by following the Course’s path, we hope you will find it in some other way. Godspeed!

Finally, the view of Jesus implied in your question does not really correspond to the Course’s view. You seem to equate Jesus with the Son of God. Jesus is presented differently in the Course. The section in the clarification of terms called "Jesus -- Christ" defines Jesus as "one who was a man but saw the face of Christ in all his brothers and remembered God. So he became identified with Christ . . ." (C.5.2:1,2). Christ is the Son of God in Heaven.

Question #526 pertains to the same kind of perplexity you have expressed; also, Question #566 explains the use of metaphor, symbol, and the two distinct levels of discourse; and Question #10 addresses, from different angles, the question of how the separation could have happened.

Q #625: Could you please define or describe for me in detail what it is that you mean when you use the word "God". My purpose for asking this question is that for many people the word "God" means many different things. When you see the symbol "God," you sometimes think of a man with white hair or an energy source, or your higher self. At this point, I am very familiar with the illusion I have been creating. Considering the fact that many of us are so very bored here in this illusion, I would say we have pretty much mastered the state of fear. It's everywhere. I thought perhaps if I might get an idea of "God" and focus my attention on that, I would begin to live in that world.

A: Although words are used to identify God as our Creator, Source, and Father, A Course in Miracles does not define or describe God. One of the important things it teaches us about God is that we cannot use words or ideas to describe Him: "words are symbols, and nothing that is true need be explained" (T.7.I.6:4). Furthermore, words and ideas are of the body, which belongs to the world that "was made as an attack on God, …[and] to be a place where God could enter not, and where His Son could be apart from Him" (W.pII.3.2:1,4). None of the images, ideas or words we associate with God has any real meaning. It is not ideas about God, but the experience of His Love that will lead us home.

The best we can do to explain the unexplainable, is to quote the following passage: "Truth [God] can only be experienced. It [God] cannot be described and it [God] cannot be explained. I [Jesus] can make you aware of the conditions of truth, but the experience is of God. Together we can meet its conditions, but truth [the memory of God, and our Identity as His Son] will dawn upon you of itself (T.8.VI.9:8,9,10,11). Although God cannot be explained and love cannot be taught (T.in.1:6) the good news is that we do not have to understand God, and love extends naturally when fear has been removed. As the above passage indicates, our goal is but to join with Jesus (who represents the part of our minds that remembers God) to meet the conditions of truth. The truth is that we are not the bodies we have identified with, but are minds with the power to choose. The choice we make is between accepting that we are as God created us (T.23.I.7), or rejecting the truth, thus identifying with the ego (the thought of separation) and the body. Since clearly we have made a choice to identify with the body, we must begin our "journey" where we think we are, and retrace our steps back to our minds to make a different choice. We do that by becoming aware of the blocks that we have put in place to keep God away; i.e., all the judgments that keep us separate from others. Once we have taken responsibility for these judgments, we have the opportunity to allow the Holy Spirit to transform them through forgiveness, which is "… but a willingness that truth be true" (T.26.VII.10:3). This willingness to let our mistaken beliefs be transformed is all that is required. That is what we need to focus on if we truly want the memory of God’s Love to replace fear.

Q #626: In the manual for teachers of A Course in Miracles we are told, "the name of Jesus Christ as such is but a symbol" (M.23.4:1). Why isn't it revealed earlier in the text that Jesus is purely symbolic in the curriculum? The Course truly takes on a different meaning when one realizes that Jesus' role in the Course is purely symbolic.

A: The simple answer to your question is that the statement indicates the name is a symbol, reflecting the earlier statement in the manual that "words are but symbols of symbols. They are thus twice removed from reality" (M.21.1:9,10). The statement can also be understood on a deeper level, where Jesus is seen as a symbol of love, just as we are symbols of the ego’s thought system of separation. On that level, everything is a symbol, since everything is taking place in a mind that believes it exists outside the perfect Oneness of God, the only reality, for which there is no symbol and which is "ultimately known without a form, unpictured and unseen" (T.27.III.5:2).

There are not real, separate entities existing in a physical cosmos, even though that is what our senses tell us. Lesson 184 begins by saying, "You live by symbols. You have made up names for everything you see. Each one becomes a separate entity, identified by its own name. By this you carve it out of unity" (W.pI.184.1:1,2,3,4). Jesus is addressing the decision-making mind outside time and space, as he always does in the Course. Yet, in that same lesson he makes it clear that he is not expecting us to go beyond all symbols; but he also cautions us not to be deceived by the symbols of the world: "They do not stand for anything at all, and in your practicing it is this thought that will release you from them. They become but means by which you can communicate in ways the world can understand, but which you recognize is not the unity where true communication can be found" (W.pI.184.9:4,5).

"Jesus," then, is a symbol, not of the world of separation, but of the real world of love and unity. As we identify more and more with the mind and less and less with the body, we will be better able to relate to this. In the meantime, we should go right on relating to him and ourselves as individuals as long as that is our experience, keeping in mind, however, what he is teaching in this lesson in particular. He is teaching us how to use the names of things in the world to get beyond them to the "one Name, one meaning, and a single Source which unifies all things within Itself" (11:3). Our starting point, which will take us a long way, is to ask help of Jesus or the Holy Spirit to see beyond the separate, competing interests that divide us to the common purpose we all share of restoring to our awareness our unity as God’s one Son. This process of forgiveness is wonderfully described in the section in the text called "Beyond All Symbols" (T.27.III). Also, Chapter 17 in Kenneth’s book, Absence from Felicity, explains Helen Schucman’s experience of Jesus on these two levels. It helps to resolve the confusion that practically all students run into when they begin to deal with this aspect of the Course.

Q #627: If last year, I read all of the book except for the last one hundred pages and now have completed the book, is it a problem to then begin the lessons, or do I need to reread the book?

A: Aside from the specifications in the Introduction to the workbook, there are no instructions for studying A Course in Miracles. It is not necessary to reread the text to begin practicing the workbook lessons, although it usually takes more than one reading to understand the fundamental principles of the thought system the Course teaches. The only requirement for the workbook is clearly stated in the Introduction: "Remember only this; you need not believe the ideas, you need not accept them, and you need not even welcome them. Some of them you may actively resist. None of this will matter, or decrease their efficacy. But do not allow yourself to make exceptions in applying the ideas the workbook contains, and whatever your reactions to the ideas may be, use them. Nothing more than that is required" (W.in.9). It is important to focus on the content, rather than the form. What matters is making a sincere effort to follow the instructions as carefully as you can, without judging yourself when you fail. Since Jesus knows our resistance to the Course’s message is quite strong, he leads us gently. What he tells us in the text aptly applies to our workbook practice: "And if you find resistance strong and dedication weak, you are not ready. Do not fight yourself" (T.30.I.1:6,7). We are asked for a little willingness, nothing more.