In online Quaker Meeting for Worship this morning, someone spoke about Jesus' exhortation to love our enemies (see Luke 6:27). She asked how can we love our enemies, in particular those in positions of power. (Donald Trump, not the most popular figure among liberal-minded Quakers, got a specific mention.)
After several minutes, I felt that familiar pounding in my chest - and knew that I had to speak. It's the first time that I've given vocal ministry in an online Quaker Meeting. These are the words which came to me:
How do we love our enemies?
Jesus didn't agree with his enemies; with those who crucified him. He didn't like what they did. But he forgave them.
Forgiveness is an unconditional expression of love. It's central to the teaching of A Course in Miracles. Indeed, The Course might easily have been called 'A Course in Forgiveness'.
The Course tells us that forgiveness is our function (Lesson 62 of the Workbook); that it's the key to happiness (Lesson 121); that it offers everything we want (Lesson 122). In my new book, Encounters with A Course in Miracles, I devote a chapter to exploring what forgiveness is - and how we can open ourselves to forgive.
To quote from Encounters, "In the world's eyes, to forgive a person means to pardon them for some wrongdoing. Their action caused us hurt but, because we're nice people, because we're charitable, we deign to forgive them. They're guilty and deserve condemnation, but instead we overlook their offence.
"In the Course, forgiveness is something very different. It's a letting go of judgment, which helps us to see one another as we really are. It's the prerequisite for recognizing our oneness with our brothers and God."
But how do we forgive Donald Trump (or insert here the name of your own personal bogeyman)?
To understand the how of forgiveness, we might begin with the why. Forgiving another is a way of loving ourselves. To forgive means to let go of guilt. It doesn't matter whether the guilt is directed at ourselves (owned) or at others (projected). For as long as we hold on to guilt, we won't be at peace.
Perhaps we aren't ready yet to let our hurt or our anger go. And that's okay. The first step is simply to notice our feelings. And then to acknowledge that, if we wanted to, we could choose peace instead.
Can we really see peace when Donald Trump posts his latest tweet - and once again his words go against our deepest-held values and beliefs?
Ask yourself this.
"Is God withholding peace from us? And if God isn't, then who is? Donald Trump? If we think that, we're giving him power over our own happiness. He's not simply the President, he's become the ruler of our mind." (Encounters with A Course in Miracles.)
Encounters with A Course in Miracles will be available in July 2020.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
As I interpret these words, Jesus is recalling us to the Christ Self – which He was and is, and which is our innermost Identity too.
"Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls." (Matthew 11:29) We are weary and burdened on a soul level – an inevitable consequence of believing we are separate individuals, apart from the Whole, doomed ultimately to wither and die. To borrow the analogy used in Chapter 15 of John’s gospel, we are living our lives as branches that have been cut from the vine.
Sometimes, when working at my computer or carrying out some household task, I catch myself becoming impatient; wanting the task to be over so that I can move on to the next – more interesting – thing. Completion of the task has become my goal, and I’ve lost touch with my primary purpose, which is about my state of mind.
My primary purpose can be described variously as being at peace; being whole; forgiveness (as understood in A Course in Miracles); coming to Christ; remembering my Self.
Whenever I find myself getting impatient, hurrying, agitated or not at peace, it is time to pause, take a deep breath and, as John Butler advises, "feel my feet on the ground". Can I now resume the activity and be at peace? If not, it would be better to step away from the activity and give my mind space and time to return to stillness; to return to Christ.
That is the yoke I yearn to take upon me. And it is my primary task.
“I rest in God.” This thought will bring to you the rest and quiet, peace and stillness, and the safety and the happiness you seek. “I rest in God.” This thought has power to wake the sleeping truth in you, whose vision sees beyond appearances to that same truth in everyone and everything there is. Here is the end of suffering for all the world, and everyone who ever came and yet will come to linger for a while. Here is the thought in which the Son of God is born again, to recognize himself.
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.
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.)