When I "set aside times of quiet for openness to the Holy Spirit" (Quaker Advices & Queries No.3); when I "step back and let Him lead the way" (A Course in Miracles Workbook Lesson 155), I need to trust that I will receive Guidance.
The Guidance won't always come immediately. And, when it does come, it won't always be in the form of words. So I need to be attentive to those messages from the Universe, from whatever direction they may come.
In the last two weeks, I've had two reminders of this...
Seeing this hydrangea in bloom in my garden among the skeletal remains of last summer's blossoms recalled my mind to this line from A Course in Miracles: "And everywhere the signs of life spring up, to show that what is born can never die, for what has life has immortality". (W-p11.13.5:4.)
The following week, I came downstairs to find another reminder from the Universe staring me in the face on my doormat. "You deserve better," the flyer proclaimed. Better insurance cover for my boiler? Or, perhaps, better than the state of mind I'd got myself into by entertaining thoughts of separation and of lack:
"The truth about you is so lofty that nothing unworthy of God is worthy of you."
"Here’s a quiz question for you…" said Eric. "No looking at your books! Which lesson title is so central to the Course's teaching that it appears in the Workbook three times? Do you give up?"
"'God is but love and therefore so am I?'" suggested Mark.
"Not quite, but it’s a good guess. It’s actually very close: 'I am as God created me.'"
Daisy began looking it up in the contents. "Lesson 94," she said. "...Lesson 110... and Lesson 162!"
"Maybe Jesus ran out of fresh ideas," said Christopher.
"If we believe we can alter, or destroy, or tarnish what God created, are we not in effect saying we’re more powerful than God? And isn’t that the height of arrogance, however we dress it up? So it isn’t humble to feel guilty. It isn’t modest to feel unworthy. But nor is it a sin! It’s simply a mistake… a false idea about the Son of God. And that, dear friends, is the Course in one lesson."
"Or in three," said Christopher.
Eric raised his eyes to the ceiling.
The above is an extract from Peter M Parr's forthcoming new book, Encounters with A Course in Miracles, to be published in 2020.
A Course in Miracles uses religious-sounding language. For some Course students, words like 'Christ', 'forgiveness', or even 'miracle' may carry unhelpful associations. While the Course interprets these words differently from how they've come to be used in traditional Christianity, when we read them the likelihood is that we'll interpret them through the filter of our previous learning. That may make it harder for us to engage with the Course's teaching wholeheartedly and with an open mind.
It's important to remember that words are only symbols. They point beyond themselves. If I talk about the Holy Spirit, for example, and that doesn't resonate, translate it into language that does… Maybe 'Inner Guide' or, as Quakers might say, 'the promptings of love and truth in your heart'.
One word which can often be a particular barrier is 'God'. I trust that "God is Love" (1 John 4:16 is, for me, one of the most beautiful Bible verses). Nevertheless, perhaps unconsciously, the word God still carries associations of a stern father figure. So, when I read the word God in the Course, to remind myself that this is not the judgmental (man-made) 'god' I may have heard about in the past, I add “…Who is Love”.
For example, in Lesson 44, I read, "We cannot see truly apart from God, Who is Love." If my perception is clouded by thoughts of judgment or condemnation; if there's a lack of love, I'm not seeing truly.
In the Course, some words are virtually synonymous... God is Love. (See Workbook Lesson 103, "God, being Love, is also happiness"; and Workbook Review V, "God is but Love, and therefore so am I."). God is also Oneness. (See, for example, Workbook Lesson 169 5:1-2: "Oneness is simply the idea God is. And in His Being, He encompasses all things."; and Text 27:VIII.6:2: "Into eternity, where all is one, there crept a tiny, mad idea, at which the Son of God remembered not to laugh".)
Exchanging one word with its synonym sometimes helps me shed fresh light on what a 'tricky' passage may be saying. Take this one: "The world was made as an attack on God" (Workbook, Part II, 3.2:1 - 'What Is the World?' section). That's a dramatic statement, but I find it hard to get my head around. But if I read it as, "The world was made as an attack on Oneness", I'm still being authentic to its intended meaning (I think) - and it begins to make more sense. The world, with it myriad forms, witnesses to separation... and, of course, separation appears to deny Oneness.
Here's another example, drawn from Lesson 51 of the Workbook: "I have judged everything I look upon, and it is this and only this I see. This is not vision. It is merely an illusion of reality, because my judgments have been made quite apart from reality". To say that 'my judgments have been made quite apart from reality', is to say they've been made apart from God (or apart from the 'Voice for God', which the Course uses interchangeably with 'Holy Spirit'). God is Love. If my judgments are made apart from God, they'll be lacking love.
To quote from the new book I'm writing: "God, Who is Love, creates only like Himself. And what doesn’t arise from God can’t exist in reality. Thoughts that we’re separate, or sinful, or anything less than whole don’t come from God. If we accept that, those thoughts can’t be real. And what isn’t real can have no effect on reality. The world we perceive is built on meaningless thoughts of separation. But neither our thoughts nor their effects alter the truth of who we are, or make the slightest dent in God’s love."
From time to time, I'll post some picture quotes, where I've replaced the original word used in the Course with its synonym. I'll also post them to my Pinterest site. In the quote below, the original is, "The world was made as an attack on God" (Workbook, Part II, 3.2:1 - 'What Is the World?' section).
"There was a care on my mind so to pass my time, as to things outward, that nothing might hinder me from the most steady attention to the voice of the True Shepherd." (John Woolman, writing in the 1740s)
In his journal, the Quaker John Woolman writes of the temptations, or distractions, that he and his contemporaries faced. Two he mentions are spirits (alcohol) and spending money on fine apparel (clothing). Today, the range of distractions is much wider: the internet; films and box sets on demand; and planes, trains and automobiles that make it so much easier to explore the world, near and far. Our choices appear almost limitless. To quote the old Microsoft advert: "Where do you want to go today?"
But perhaps, in truth, this seeming myriad of choices can be reduced to one. Ours is the same decision that John Woolman had to make: which voice do we choose to listen to? Will we jump to the tune of our ego, or will we take heed to the promptings of Love?
The voice of my small, separate, self would have me seek "things outward" to complete me - but it is never satisfied with what it gets. If I observe its urges carefully but don't immediately act on them, I may discern another voice. This is the voice of what Woolman called the "True Shepherd", and which we might call our Greater Self. If we give that loving voice our steady attention, and remain true to it alone, it may lead us to a simpler life - one with fewer distractions. It will surely lead us to greater fulfilment and peace.
I blogged some time ago about one of my biggest outward distractions - the internet. I go on-line with good intentions, but frequently I fall down a rabbit-hole on YouTube, or check the Polish lower-division football scores. The longer I sit in front of the screen, the harder I find it to pull myself away. I wonder what Woolman would have made of the web? I expect he would reflect on whether or not it helped him to stay in touch with his Inner Guide. If he found it a hindrance, he would lay the distraction aside.
I sometimes think there should be a 12-steps programme, similar to Alcoholics Anonymous, for people who are addicted to their computers, television or phones.
In the absence of such a group, I've devised my own rule (in the monastic sense of the word), which I'll try to observe from now on…
Questions for reflection
What outward things may be hindering you from paying steady attention to the voice of the True Shepherd?
What rule might help you remove those blocks to Inner Peace?
In all three synoptic gospels (Mark, Matthew and Luke), Jesus is recorded as asking his disciples, "Who do people say that I am?"
The disciples' response demonstrates the extraordinary effect Jesus must have had on people who he met: "Some say [you are] John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets". At a stretch, confusing Jesus for John the Baptist could have been a case of mistaken identity: John was a contemporary of Jesus who had recently been executed. But Elijah or Jeremiah? These were prophets from centuries before whose lives were recorded in the Jewish scriptures! Did people really see Jesus as a somehow a re-embodiment of one of them?
The gospel accounts then have Jesus put a direct question to his disciples: "Who do you say that I am?" It is Peter who answers, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God".
Jesus doesn't deny this, though in the accounts of Mark (which was the first of the surviving gospels to be written) and Luke, he does warn Peter not to speak about him to anyone - perhaps because he realised Peter's description would, very likely, be misunderstood.
It isn't recorded in the gospels, but I wonder whether, at any time, Jesus may have asked his disciples another question: "Who do you say that you are?"
If he had done, would any among them have responded in a similar way… "We are all Christ, all of us one Son of the living God"?
Such a view would be seen as heresy by many Christians. But I can imagine Jesus's lips turning upwards into a smile if any of his disciples had uttered those words.
Was the message of Jesus that he was different from the rest of us, but that we can save ourselves from punishment for our sins if we believe in his unique identity as Son of God? Or was it, perhaps, that we are not separate from one another, confined within perishable bodies; we are eternal spirit, creations of the One Spirit? Yes, we have wandered off awhile to make our own way, but one holy instant we will remember our Divine inheritance and - as prodigal sons and daughters - return Home to be welcomed back into our Father/Mother's loving embrace.
In the third in a series of blog posts, I continue my exploration of doorways to an inner state of peace.
3. If you lose touch with kindness, be present.
Being present more of the time is perhaps the one thing I could do that would most improve the quality of my life.
I remember an English teacher who would sometimes arrive late for class, pop his head around the door to say “I’m here” and then immediately disappear again for another five minutes. Too often, I am like that teacher – here but not really here. I’m present in body, but not in mind. While eating breakfast, I’m thinking of other things: the latest developments on Brexit, the implications of last night’s football scores, a project at work. I rush through my porridge, which could be a simple pleasure to savour at the start of the day. Before I know it, I’m brushing my teeth, then in my car driving to the station, fretting over whether I’ll have enough time to buy my ticket and what I’ll do if the queue is too long and I miss my train. I’m either looking forwards or backwards, but am rarely right here now with what is.
Quaker mystic Thomas Kelly called this surface living. He observed that living in this way has brought on the world’s tragedy. This is because when we’re not conscious of our thoughts, those thoughts become our masters. Without awareness, they drive our actions – “Hurry up! I want it now! Got to look out for myself!” – and take away our freedom to choose how we respond. We experience stress and anxiety, symptoms of a lack of inner peace. And, as we act without consideration or care, we contribute to disharmony in the world.
There is a quality in some things – fresh snowfall, an encounter with a fox or badger near my home – which stops me in my tracks, interrupts my thought-stream and brings me back to the here and now. In that state of present awareness, wonder can enter and peace returns.
We can cultivate presence by practicing mindfulness as we go about our daily activities. Here are some examples:
Mindfulness lessens stress and increases wellbeing. It nourishes our relationships – how different is a conversation with someone who is fully present, compared to one with a person whose mind is elsewhere, or who is simultaneously checking their phone?
Finally, presence allows our Inner Guide to make Itself known. How can Spirit speak to us, or through us, if we don’t give It a word in edgeways because of the constant chatter in our head? How can we sense the promptings of Love and Truth in our hearts if we’re not aware of the subtle feelings in our bodies, being identified completely with our thoughts?
To hear the music rather than the static, we need to be tuned in. Presence leads us toward inner quiet; inner stillness. I’ll explore this further in a future post.
In the second in a series of blog posts, I continue my exploration of doorways to an inner state of peace.
2. If you lose touch with Christ, be kind.
In a state of unity consciousness, Love requires no conscious effort. It simply is. In the physical world, our experiences of Oneness are fleeting, “for now we see only a reflection as in a mirror” (1 Corinthians 13:12). But when awareness of True Self fades, we can still make a conscious decision to be kind.
The Dalai Lama famously said, “My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.” Imagine if that were everyone’s creed.
After a tough day at work recently, I stopped off at a café that I visit from time to time and bought a slice of carrot cake to enjoy on my way home. When I got on the train and opened the box I discovered... TWO slices of cake. (I'd only paid for one.) This little act of kindness from the waitress brightened my day. I really could have my cake and eat it!
Being the recipient of an act of kindness feels great, but being the one who offers kindness is equally rewarding. As I reflected in the booklet Things to Remember, “When I warm to people, it warms my heart. When I offer love, I expand; I feel more fully alive. When I give of myself, I do receive. This I know experientially”.
Conversely, when I’m not kind – when I show a lack of care or consideration for others – I retreat further from my True Self. Physically, I experience this as a shrinking; a hardening or clenching within my body; a tangible lack of ease.
Being kind to others brings me joy, and a sense of peace. I don’t have to believe in oneness to experience its effects.
As an important aside, we need to be kind to ourselves too. Remember, “Love your neighbour as yourself” (Mark 12:31). At a deep-seated level we may think ourselves unworthy of love and compassion. (Have you ever chided yourself as “stupid”, or metaphorically beaten yourself up, when you’ve made a mistake?) But if God Loves me – and God must, for “God is Love” (1 John 4:16) – who am I to disagree?
Next time: The way of presence.
I blogged recently to share some guidance for a perfect day which came to me during a period of reflection. It suggested four doorways to an inner state of peace: being Christ, being kind, being present and being still. I want to explore each of these doorways in a little more depth.
1. First, be Christ
As noted in the original post, “Christ” in this context refers to Our True Self, which is Love. It is that in us which remains forever as It was created. Instead of “Be Christ”, we could equally say “Be Whole. Remember your oneness with all, and live in that Light.”
As long as I identify with my small separated self - which I do every time I judge; every time I think only of my own needs - I deny my true nature.
How can I shift from separate self to awareness of oneness? My physical eyes testify to a world of separation: situations I judge as good or bad, things I delight in and others I fear. But this is perception, not reality. It is the out-picturing of my inner state of mind. I look on separation because I have chosen to. But I have freedom to make another choice.
To experience my Christ-Self, I must see as Christ. Eyes of Love see beyond appearances. “Christ’s vision… does not look upon a body, and mistake it for the Son whom God created. It beholds a light beyond the body; an idea beyond what can be touched, a purity undimmed by errors, pitiful mistakes, and fearful thoughts of guilt from dreams of sin. It sees no separation. And it looks on everyone, on every circumstance, all happenings and all events, without the slightest fading of the light it sees.” (A Course in Miracles, Lesson 158. 7:1-5.) When A Course in Miracles speaks of forgiveness, this is what it means. For me as a Quaker, these words also provide a clear and poetic description of ‘answering that of God in everyone’.
At the start of a period of contemplation, I find it helpful to remind myself that “My mind is not in my body. My body is in my mind. My mind is part of God’s.” By letting go of my false identity as an ego and as a body, I am freed from narrow self-interest and fear. My function becomes to shine forth the Love that I am.
If I use Christ’s vision and that alone, judgement falls away. I find “a peace so deep and quiet, undisturbable and wholly changeless, that the world contains no counterpart” (ACIM Lesson 305). In this peace, I experience my True Self. I know this state, but only fleetingly. Most of the time I lose touch with it and revert to body/ego-identification. That is why I need other doorways back to peace. One of these is kindness.
Next time: The way of kindness.
A friend sent me this text this morning:
Even after all this time
The sun never says to the earth,
"You owe me."
With a love like that.
It lights the whole sky.
(Poem by Hafiz.)
Peter Parr: Quaker, writer, A Course in Miracles student and former member of the British minigolf team. (Actually those are all just roles I play. Words can't describe who any of us really are.)