Weekly Questions and Answers, 07/30/2003

This week's questions/topics:

Q #215: How should I pray?.
Q #216: Why is any happiness brought about by the Course so fragile?
Q #217: Is it really true that "the world I see holds nothing that I want"?
Q #218: How important are the "light" episodes mentioned in the Course?
Q #219: How would the Course view demonic "possession" and "stigmata"?
Q #220: Why did Jesus have to die for our sins?

Look up a specific question by date or question no.

Q #215: The Song of Prayer, p. 6, says that praying for material things is not what prayer is. This is only a call for hiding our guilt and a call for enemy (our own). Then is the correct way of praying a prayer of gratitude only? How do we deal with our internal desires? If our only goal is knowing God, how do I pray? Should I be in silence? Praying with others is then both looking to God? How do I deal with wishful thinking?

A: This beautiful scribed piece, The Song of Prayer, came in response to the way in which students of A Course in Miracles were using the Course. Many students thought that the Course was telling them to ask Jesus or the Holy Spirit to heal their bodies, fix things, solve problems in the world, and get them what they wanted. So Jesus teaches us in The Song of Prayer what true prayer is. He tells us, first, that it is not wrong to ask for material things; and in fact, as long as we think we are individuals living in the world, we cannot avoid praying that way (1.I.2:3). Prayer, he says, is like a ladder that we are climbing, and as we make our way up, our prayer will take a different form, because our needs will change. We will have less and less guilt as we practice forgiveness, and "without guilt there is no scarcity. The sinless have no needs" (1.I.3:5,6). Thus, at the top of the ladder -- when we are advanced teachers of God -- we will not experience lack of any kind, we will not perceive separation, and therefore our prayer will be just a song of gratitude. But that is at the top of the ladder.

On the lower rungs of the ladder, we experience all kinds of needs and desires. That is normal. We need to be gentle about that and not deny them. If we are honest, and we acknowledge that they are coming from a faulty perception of ourselves, we will not be held back by them. Asking for specifics is not wrong; and feeling guilty about the fact that we have needs and desires is never helpful, nor is fighting against them. We need only say "That is where I am right now; and when I am less fearful, I will allow more love to come in, and I will not experience lack or scarcity." It is so important to remember that this is not a course in sacrifice or asceticism. This is a slow process, a gentle one, and we do not jump from the bottom of the ladder right up to the top. There are many steps in between, and if we are doing the best we can wherever we are, nothing more is ever asked of us. As we practice forgiveness, the form of our prayer will change of itself.

Our prayer on the lower rungs is always to ourselves, that we would ask the help of Jesus or the Holy Spirit to look gently and without judgment at our ego thoughts, and to see our interests as shared with everyone else’s. When we have "enemies," we have already seen our interests as separate from, and in conflict with, others. That is when we need to ask for help to have our own minds be healed through forgiveness. When our need to have an enemy is recognized and then healed, we will have advanced closer to our true state of oneness, and then praying with someone will simply be a joyous acknowledgment of our Oneness as Christ, and the Oneness of Christ and God. Asking-out-of-need will no longer have any meaning.

Q #216: During the 12 years that I have been a student of A Course in Miracles, I have seen a very unsettling pattern. I achieve a temporary state of being that I have yearned for, experiencing real happiness, absence of pain, a wondrous sense of connectedness. Then something really tiny happens in time and I suddenly experience being invaded. Before I know it, all the happiness and sense of balance and love are totally gone. The guilt that follows is more unsettling, and any return to the previous state of mind has become impossible, resulting in a feeling of deep loss. I seem to flow into states of mind of either bright or gentle light, to find myself suddenly thrown back into darkness. Even the darkness emits rays of light. The whole of the pattern is like traveling though a series of experiences that cannot be explained in terms of the world: from black to white and back to black. The effect of the experiences however is to lose respect for myself and others, since my attitudes seem to be swinging to diametrically opposed points of the 'compass'. My question then is: if the goodness I think I experience can be punctured so easily, how real is it, really?

A: The pattern you describe is not really an unusual one, although the specific form it is taking may be somewhat unique to you. Until we accept the Atonement for ourselves (T.2.V.4:4; T.9.VII.2: T.14.III.10:1,2), we will continue to alternate between our right mind and our wrong mind. The real problem is not the vacillations you experience but your judgments of them. Certainly, the shifting is likely to be experienced as unsettling, especially while you see yourself as at the mercy of the returns to darkness. What will be helpful to recognize, even if it is just intellectually at first, is that it is your own fear of the light and peace and happiness that plunges you back into the darkness. Jesus knows that this will happen to all of us, observing that "as the light comes nearer you will rush to darkness, shrinking from the truth, sometimes retreating to the lesser forms of fear, and sometimes to stark terror" (T.18.III.2:1). There is a decision that you are making, buried deeply in your unconscious, to invite in "something really tiny" to disrupt your experience of happiness. For if you allow yourself to continue with this experience indefinitely, all boundaries around the self you think you are will dissolve and you will no longer identify with that self. And that "loss" of self is terrifying to any ego-identified mind. Fear and judgment and guilt are the ego’s favorite antidotes to experiences of peace and love, for they reinforce our identification with the separate self. After all, it is only a separate self with its self- imposed boundaries that can experience "being invaded."

A key in all of this is to recognize that the state of happiness is not something that you need to "achieve" and that your yearning for it only denies the power of your own mind to choose against it. If you can ask for help in uncovering your own fear of the light, and begin to observe your vacillations without judgment, without imposing the categories of desirable and undesirable (for all polarities are from the oppositional ego thought system), the power that these negative experiences seem to hold over you will begin to subside.

As we travel along the path of forgiveness, we will allow ourselves glimpses of the real unchanging happiness that comes only at the end of our journey. But only when we truly know that we are not the self we now think we are, only when we know we are not in this world and so can not be its victim, will we be open to the real happiness that never changes and the real peace that can never be disturbed.

Q #217: Given that the prose of A Course in Miracles is not always logical, as in a scientific text, and that the reader must be willing to "decipher" so to speak intentional ambiguity -- even apparent contradictions -- in its message, I have problems sometimes even understanding basic tenets of its teachings. To wit, Lesson 128, "The world I see holds nothing that I want." Should I take this literally or not? If so, should I take this to mean that I have nothing to learn or benefit from existing on this plane? Do I not benefit from seeing kindness, humility, compassion in fellow Sons of God? If, as is stated in paragraph 2, sent. 3 "The only purpose worthy of your mind this world contains is that you pass it by, without delaying to perceive some hope where there is none" why don't we all just commit mass suicide and "move on" to His palace, so to speak? If not taken literally, it appears there is a built-in conundrum of being told to "move on," yet being trapped in this three-dimensional existence. Could you kindly elaborate?

A: This is one of those statements that Jesus means quite literally. When he says that passing the world by is the only purpose worthy of our minds, he is simply stating a fact, because he holds our minds in much higher esteem than we ourselves do. And when he says there is no hope in the world, he again is simply stating a fact -- we are setting ourselves up for repeated failure and depression if we continue to try to find our happiness in the world. None of this is intended to coerce us or shame us into giving up the world, although the ego would want us to perceive his statements in that light. It is that Jesus simply can offer us no compromise that in any way honors or validates the ego and its effects, when he sees through all its duplicitous deceptions and knows the desolate and desperate outcome that following its dictates must bring to us. That is only kindness on his part, even if we don’t perceive it that way yet. Jesus points to the truth, but he always acknowledges the power of our minds to decide for ourselves whether or not to accept his words. And he does not judge us if we do not (T.8.IV.6).

So Jesus is not telling us that we must give up the world -- he knows we’re not yet ready to let it go, although not for the reasons we think we still want it. It’s just that from his perspective, which he is trying gently to lead us toward, the world, as an illusory projection of an illusory thought of guilt and attack in the mind, can have no value in itself. Its only value comes from the purpose that we give to it. And so while we believe our reality is on this illusory plane of existence, the world can serve the purpose of providing us our lessons in forgiveness, for it is made of the projected guilt in our minds, now seen outside ourselves.

You have suggested there is value in seeing a brother’s acts of kindness, humility and compassion, and that is consistent with the Course’s view that, while we think we are bodies, they are the means we seem to have for communication with each other. But nevertheless, seeing your brother’s acts as kind or humble or compassionate is an interpretation you give to his intentions and not anything intrinsic in the behaviors themselves. Someone else may observe the same behaviors and perceive them in a completely different light -- the point being that it is our intentions that affect how we see the world. The only real communication occurs between minds, contrary to what our experience seems to tell us (T.8.VII.2,3,4). Always, Jesus’ goal is to lead us away from a focus on the world and back to the mind, where everything is happening, since ideas do not leave their source (T.26.VII.4:7,8,9; W.pI.132.10:3).

As for mass suicide as a way to leave the world, the Course makes it clear that death is not an answer, since "life" in the body in the world is not the problem -- guilt in the mind is (see Question #135 for a much more in depth discussion of suicide from the Course’s perspective). And so it always to the mind and its beliefs that Jesus attempts to direct our attention. For there is no trap except the one we have set and ensnared ourselves in, by our own false beliefs about who we are. And by practicing forgiveness -- of the world and of ourselves -- we can, over time, release ourselves from the chains of guilt we seem to have made to imprison ourselves.

Q #218: The discussion of light episodes in Lesson 15 seems anomalous in that it is virtually the only time in which A Course in Miracles uses a physical phenomenon to measure spiritual progress. (The other examples, such as Lesson 122 2:3 and Lesson 155.1:3, are obviously meant to be poetic.) In fact, people I know, including myself, who feel they have made great progress with the Course do not recall such experiences. Is it possible that this was a result of Helen’s ego coming through temporarily during early resistance to the scribing process?

A: The reference in Lesson 15 pertains to a problem with some religious experiences that a friend of Bill Thetford’s was having. It was put in by Jesus specifically to alleviate this friend’s anxiety about visions of light that he was finding quite frightening; thus, "Do not be afraid of them" (W.pI.15.3:3). (See Absence from Felicity, p. 306, under "Bill’s Journal.")

Although the reference suggests that all students may have these "light episodes," it was not meant to be a criterion of progress with the Course. It can be understood as a symbol of the non- material light of forgiveness.

Q #219: How does A Course in Miracles view the issues of demon possession which some religious organizations treat as real? Does the Course really claim that evil does not exist? Does the Course claim that there is no battle between Good and Evil? And, I am sure it states somewhere in the Course, if my memory is correct, that we do not heal but God does. How then does the Course explain faith healers? I am referring to the legitimate cases supported by the Catholic Church, cases involving individuals that have the stigmata. If the crucifixion is not important they why would these people be afflicted with the wounds of the crucifixion?

A: One of the fundamental differences between Christian theology and A Course in Miracles is the Course teaching that sin is not real. In Christianity, the belief that sin is real is at the root of its entire belief system; it is synonymous with evil. These are, therefore, mutually exclusive teachings, and the beliefs and practices that follow from them are also mutually exclusive. In Christianity, the idea of sin is given different expressions in form, one of which is demon possession. In Christian thought, both sin and evil represent a will in opposition to God’s. This is the nature of sin. The Course, on the other hand, teaches that there is no sin, and no opposition to God’s Will is possible: "…sin is not real, and all that you believe must come from sin [e.g. demon possession] will never happen, for it has no cause. Accept Atonement with an open mind, which cherishes no lingering belief that you have made a devil of God's Son. There is no sin" (W.pI.101.5:2,3,4). "What is opposed to God does not exist…." (W.pI.137.11:3).

Clearly what does not exist cannot do battle with what is real. According to the Course, only God is real. What appears to do battle in the world is the ego’s made-up idea of what is "good" conflicting with the ego’s made-up idea of what is "evil." This is the battleground that is home to the ego thought system, but the Course tells us that it is not real. The Course teaching in this regard can be summed up: sin is not real, and so there can be no demon personifying sin; evil does not exist, and so there cannot be a battle between good and evil.

For a Christian believer, the crucifixion and the wounds of the crucified Jesus are very real. Inspired by devotion to these beliefs, a person with a very deep desire to share the sufferings of the crucifixion as a way of identifying with the historical Jesus could experience the physical manifestation of the wounds of the crucifixion, known as the stigmata. However, even the Catholic Church acknowledges that these physical marks can be caused by an intense psychological state, not divine intervention. This neither negates nor proves the person’s devotion. The stigmata has been experienced by persons who were psychologically imbalanced, as well as by those, such as St. Francis of Assisi, who are believed to be a saints. As with everything, the Course brings our focus to the content, never the form. All form, stigmata included, can be the result of the ego’s choice to separate, or, the choice to join in the mind with the Holy Spirit, Who reflects God’s love in the dream. The Course does not say the crucifixion was not important; it reinterprets it: "The message the crucifixion was intended to teach was that it is not necessary to perceive any form of assault in persecution, because you cannot be persecuted" (T.6.I.4:6). Christianity teaches that God’s innocent Son, Jesus, died to atone for the sins of humanity, and thus reopened the gates of Heaven that were shut when Adam and Eve committed the original sin. The Course teaches that the gates of Heaven were never shut, and there is no sin. God’s one Son is made up of the entire Sonship, including Jesus (not exclusively Jesus). This one Son cannot be harmed, cannot suffer, and cannot die. All this is true, according to the Course, because the separation never happened, and the world and the body are not real. The events that occurred in the life of the historical Jesus have been interpreted by those who wrote down the Gospels, and by the leaders of religious institutions in accord with their belief system. We who identify with our bodies and believe in suffering and death bring these beliefs to our view of the crucifixion of Jesus. We assume that what would be true for us, if we were crucified, was true for him -- that he felt betrayed and victimized, suffered agony, and died. Since Jesus did not identify with the body, and knew his true identity as a Son of God, this was not his experience of the crucifixion.

The Course teaches that true healing is of the mind, and only of the mind. This is accomplished through forgiveness, and leads to the undoing of the belief in the separation. This healing will result in peace, and may or may not have any manifestation in form. If true healing of this nature occurs, whatever happens in form is irrelevant. The mind that chooses to believe in the separation and the reality of the body can also choose to make the body sick. The Course is teaching us that another choice is also possible -- the mind can choose against sickness. When a person seeks help in healing from a faith healer and the body is healed, it is because a choice for healing was made in the mind. The person then joins with the faith healer in the shared purpose of healing. This is true even when no physical contact occurs (M.5.II.2,3,4;III.1,2). The choice in the mind of the individual is the only explanation for any healing that occurs. The ultimate healing is awakening from the dream of separation, which is accomplished by undoing our belief in separation. Nothing really happens except that we will no longer be asleep, and will know ourselves in our true identity as God’s one Son. This is what is referred to when the Course says: "Healing does not come directly from God, Who knows His creations as perfectly whole. Yet healing is still of God, because it proceeds from His Voice and from His laws" (T.7.IV.1:4,5). What proceeds from His Voice and from His laws is the truth of who we are. It is healing in the sense that the mind will no longer be made sick or insane by the thought of separation.

Q #220: I was taught that Jesus had to die for us to be forgiven for our sins. That never made any sense to me. If God is just, why would he make an innocent man die in order to forgive me? Why couldn't he just forgive us in the first place? What does A Course in Miracles say about this?

A: The Course reinterprets the crucifixion, as well as the idea of sin and forgiveness. You were taught the meaning of the crucifixion that Christianity holds sacred, as were all Christians. It is the story of redemption according to Christianity. The message the Course teaches is not based on the forgiveness of sin, to the contrary: "…the content of the course never changes. Its central theme is always, ‘God's Son is guiltless, and in his innocence is his salvation.’"(M.1.3:4,5). There is no need for forgiveness from God, much less for redemption through crucifixion. Forgiveness, as taught by the Course, is a process of undoing the belief in separation. It is the means by which we learn to no longer identify with the ego, which eventually leads to our awakening from the dream of separation. It has nothing to do with sin, because as the Course tells us, there is no sin: "God's Will for you is perfect happiness because there is no sin, and suffering is causeless" (W.101.6:1). Since the thought of separation is an illusion, and God knows only our wholeness as His one Son, He would not "make an innocent man die in order to forgive" anyone. He would be a cruel God indeed if He required the death of His Son to appease His anger. The Course tells us that not only does God not require crucifixion or sacrifice, He does not even judge His Son: "God does not judge His guiltless Son. Having given Himself to him, how could it be otherwise?" (T.11.VI.7:6,7). Clearly it is not possible to follow the thought systems of both Christianity and A Course in Miracles, for they are not compatible, nor comparable teachings. It may be helpful for you to read the sections "The Message of the Crucifixion" (T.6.I) and "Atonement without Sacrifice" (T.3.I) for the Course’s teaching on the crucifixion and innocence.