8/30/06

Christianity and A Course in Miracle

A Course in Miracles is a modern, in-depth, commentary on the message of the Christian Gospels. Jesus of Nazareth's message is the essential foundation of the Course. The primary means for us to explore this connection is through an understanding the New Testament, even if some of the Course's symbolism is purely contemporary. The Course itself assumes that its readers are familiar with the stories and characters in the Gospels. There are a thousand, or more, direct and indirect biblical references embedded in the Course. These give the Course a rich and multi-layered texture to those familiar with the Scriptures. Likewise, the writings in the New Testament take on an entirely new significance when revisited in the light of the Course's message.

One function of a miracle is to shake up stagnant and erroneous perceptions, as an aid to learning. The Course begins by challenging our basic understanding of what a miracle is, by expanding the definition of a miracle and by elaborating basic principles. It then proceeds to shake up the basic theological dogmas of Christianity. The Course firmly looks away from sacrifice and suffering as the basis for salvation, and toward the eternal life of spirit present now. Ultimately, it catalyzes our conceptions about the reality of the world and separate individual identity, by focusing upon the possibility of a direct mystical perception of the essential unity of God and creation. It does all this while simultaneously affirming the life, miracles, teachings, and resurrection of Jesus 2000 years ago, and presenting him as a practical role model for everyone today. "What would Jesus do?" is transformed into, "What would this look like if seen through the eyes of Christ?" To learn from the Holy Spirit and to use Jesus as a role model, according to the Course, one must be willing to question every pre-existing belief and value. This prospect is bound to be unattractive for those who are satisfied with the status quo of established church traditions, and it is unsettling to even those who are not. This is as it should be. One of the basic principles of miracles is that they are unsettling.

The Birth of Holiness

The Course does not place any special significance upon Jesus' physical birth. In fact, it doesn't even mention it at all. To understand why, it is useful to have some idea of the way in which the Course views bodies in the physical world. All that is needed is to look around and simply observe that everything you see is in a state of constant flux. There is nothing you can look at, with a few exceptions (like the largest geologic features), that existed 500 years ago. Likewise, if we could fast-forward 500 years into the future, most everything you see now would not exist then. This includes your own body.

What we think of as the physical world is generally not radically different from day to day, but given enough time even the mountains will slide into the sea and the sun will grow cold. Thus, the physical world is a temporary thing, and human bodies have even less permanence then most of the other things of the world.

The Course suggests that God does not create temporary things that have beginnings and endings. This is not all that different from the ideas expressed by Jesus in the Gospels when he cautioned, "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal." Matthew 6:19 Throughout the New Testament and throughout the Course, there is a distinction drawn between the dual nature of humankind - one physical and ephemeral, and the other spiritual and eternal. This is even alluded to in the Book of Genesis with its dual creation stories. In the first chapter of Genesis, on the sixth day of creation, God created humankind "in his own image." But, in the second chapter of Genesis, after the seventh day of creation, Jehovah "formed man from the dust of the ground." Many students of the Bible have interpreted this as an acknowledgement of the dual nature of humanity.

Although some, but not all, of the Gospels attempt to make Jesus' body into something unique and divine from birth, there is nothing in the New Testament to indicate that Jesus though of himself that way, and A Course in Miracles certainly does not do so. If Jesus' body was a unique instance of divine creation, there is no good explanation offered in the Gospels why that body suffered and was destroyed as easily as any other body.

The Course mentions Christmas as the time to celebrate the birth of holiness into the world, which could be any time, or ideally, all the time. It is generally accepted today that December 25th does not correspond to the date of Jesus' actual birthday, which is unknown. The December date was selected by the early church fathers to correspond with and to supplant pre-existing pagan festivals. In the Course, Christmas is viewed as a state of mind embracing joy, for "the time of Christ is meaningless apart from joy."

The sign of Christmas is a star, a light in darkness. See it not outside yourself, but shining in the heaven within, and accept it as the sign the time of Christ has come. He comes demanding nothing. No sacrifice of any kind, of anyone, is asked by him. In his presence, the whole idea of sacrifice loses all meaning. For he is host to God. And you need but invite him in who is there already, by recognizing that his host is one, and no thought alien to his oneness can abide with him there. Love must be total to give him welcome, for the presence of holiness creates the holiness which surrounds it. No fear can touch the host who cradles God in the time of Christ, for the host is as holy as the perfect innocence which he protects, and whose power protects him. A Course in Miracles, Chapter 15


Jesus, the Man and Role Model for Humanity

A Course in Miracles does not offer a historical narrative of Jesus' walk on earth 2000 years ago. Instead, the Course deals mainly with his ideas, interpretations, and meanings, although it does offer corrections for several statements that the Gospel accounts have put into Jesus' mouth. Specifically, the Course denies that Jesus ever actually said, "Think not that I came to send peace on the earth; I came not to send peace, but a sword," Matthew 10:34, or that he felt betrayed by Judas. Rather, the Course takes the Gospel stories as givens, and assumes that the reader is familiar with them.

Jesus states in the Course, "I was a man who remembered the soul and its knowledge," he acknowledges his disciples, and he mentions several by name.

My brothers slept during the so-called "agony" in the garden, but I could not be angry with them because I had learned I could not be abandoned. Peter swore he would never deny me, but he did so three times. He did offer to defend me with the sword, which I naturally refused, not being at all in need of bodily protection. A Course in Miracles, Chapter 6

Naturally enough, the Course focuses mainly on miracles, but leaves it to the reader to apply the general principles of miracles to the specific examples given in the Gospels. The Course states that miracles enable man to heal the sick and raise the dead, and asks, "Why is it strange to you that faith can move mountains? This is indeed a little feat for such a power."

The Course gives an extensive and detained discussion of the healing power of miracles, a rational explanation of how they work, and also why they frequently do not work. According to the Course, miracles are natural, but the basis of miracles cannot be briefly summarized except to say that the barrier to the miraculous is fear. According to the Course, we are afraid of miracles, afraid of love, afraid of each other, and afraid of God. Fear is the essential existential problem that keeps us alienated.


The Meaning of the Crucifixion

If Jesus' crucifixion and physical death are the pivotal facts of Christianity, as many believe, then the Course and Christianity have very little in common.

"The crucifixion did NOT establish the atonement. The resurrection did. This is a point which many very sincere Christians have misunderstood . . . If the crucifixion is seen from an upside-down point of view, it DOES appear as if God permitted, and even encouraged, one of his sons to suffer BECAUSE he was good. Many ministers preach this every day." A Course in Miracles, Chapter 3

Many believe that Jesus' death on the cross atoned for all sin for all time in the same way that the Jewish practice of ceremonial animal sacrifice on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, made good for the annual accumulation of sins by the people of Israel. This is the theory of Jesus as a divine scapegoat. In fact, the word "scapegoat" derives from the Yom Kippur temple sacrifice practice, and not the Passover lamb.

The actual circumstances of the crucifixion during the Jewish holy days of Passover forced the early Christian church to use the analogy of the sacrificial lamb whose blood was use to mark the lintels and doorposts to protect the Israelites from the angel of death during the final plague of Egypt, the killing of the first-born. The logic, it seems, is that sacrificing the life of God in human form would be a lot more powerful than sacrificing the life of an animal, and Jesus' spilt blood would provide more potent protection. The fundamental problem is the idea that we need an intermediary to protect us from God, and it contradicts Jesus' statement in the Gospels, quoting Hosea 6:6, "But go ye and learn what this means, I desire mercy, and not sacrifice." Matthew 9:13

The Course offers another interpretation of the Gospels that fit the facts more appropriately. Jesus' physical body was crucified and died, not to protect us from God's wrath, but to demonstrate through his resurrections that we are, in fact, safe from the angel of death.


Mystery of the Resurrection

In the Gospel accounts of the resurrection we have four slightly different versions of the events on the first Easter Sunday. In the Gospels of Mark, Luke, and John, the women arrived in the morning to discover the stone already had been rolled away from the empty tomb prior to their arrival. One might get the impression from this sequence of events that Jesus' dead body was re-vitalized in the same manner that Lazarus was raised from the dead, and that rolling away the stone was a physical necessity for Jesus to walk out of the tomb. In the Gospel of Matthew, however, the stone is moved in the women's presence after they arrived, for the purpose of showing them that the tomb was vacant.

Messages related to A Course in Miracles indicate that Jesus' body dematerialized in the tomb sometime before that Sunday morning. "The body disappears, and no longer hides what lies beyond. It merely ceases to interfere with vision." The mysterious image on the Shroud of Turin, if it is the actual burial cloth Peter found in the empty tomb (John 20:6), may be the tangible trace evidence of that unprecedented event.

Course materials specifically relate that the resurrected Jesus "came in the flesh." See 1st John 4:2.

I did assume a human form with human attributes afterwards, to speak to those who were to prove the body’s worthlessness to the world. This has been much misunderstood. I came to tell them that death is illusion, and the mind that made the body can make another since form itself is an illusion. They did not understand. But now I talk to you and give you the same message. The death of an illusion means nothing. It disappears when you awaken and decide to dream no more. And you still do have the power to make this decision as I did. A Course in Miracles, Special Messages

The decision that Jesus of the Course speaks of here is the decision to look past the glittering unreal temptations of the ephemeral world, and to find joy in the unwavering beauty of God's true creation. It is a decision to embrace God's will as our own, not out of any onerous sense of obedience, compulsion, or fear of painful consequences, but in recognition that doing God's will is the only source of true happiness.

God holds out his hand to his Son to help him rise and return to him. I [Jesus] can help because the world is illusion, and I have overcome the world. Look past the tomb, the body, the illusion. Have faith in nothing but the spirit and the guidance God gives you. A Course in Miracles, Special Messages

Conclusion

If the miracles of Jesus, his teachings, and his resurrection are what define Christianity, then A Course in Miracles is not only compatible with the Christian faith, it is a welcome complement and amplification of its teachings. The Course makes rational sense of the Gospels in ways that mainstream Christian discourse has not been able to approximate, while at the same time it provides specific instructions to a direct and personal mystical experience of spirit. The Course, therefore, is in essence a practical guide to the miraculous.

"Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also, and greater works than these shall he do." John 14:12

The Course affirms that Jesus of Nazareth walked the earth as a man; that he had disciples; that he was crucified and died in the flesh; that he was resurrected in the flesh; that he is always with us as a living spirit and available to each of us when we turn to him; and that his on-going purpose is the salvation of the world and everyone in it. His message is unchanged in A Course in Miracles: Love God, love your brother as yourself, and judge not. "For many are called, but few are chosen," of Matthew 22:14 is revised in the Course to read, "ALL are called but few choose to listen."

8/28/06

Sheryl's Blog

Sheryl Valentine's new book "Oh God, It's Me!" (Amazon) was published this spring, and I recommend it as a very practical approach to applying ideas from the Course.

Sheryl also has a blog. A recent post there talks about one of my favorite prayers from the Course. (Sheryl's blog)

I must have decided wrongly, because I am not at peace.
I made the decision myself, but I can also decide otherwise.
I want to decide otherwise, because I want to be at peace.
I do not feel guilty, because the Holy Spirit will undo all the consequences
of my wrong decision if I will let him.
I choose to let him, by allowing him to decide for God for me.

. . . which is found in Chapter 5, Section 8 of A Course in Miracles

8/24/06

Myths of the Course

There are so many factual inaccuracies surrounding "A Course in Miracles" it is difficult to know where to being correcting them, or if it is even worth the time. These myths are treasured by those who repeat them, so setting the record straight can be tiresome.

Anyway, myth number one is that Helen Schucman never made any money off the Course.

Well, she did. She received royalty payments until the day she died in 1981, and her husband Louis continued to receive those royalty payments until he died in late 1999.

. . . .and I can prove it. So there.