Rev. Diane Berke
A Course in Miracles occupies an unusual place among the world's religions and spiritual traditions. Since its first publication in 1975, the Course has sold over 1.5 million copies. It has been translated into thirteen languages; as such it is now available to 90% of the world's population in their native tongue. For hundreds of thousands of serious Course students, there is no question that working with the Course has been a life-transforming experience.
But from another perspective, the question arises: Is the Course a true spiritual path? There are lots and lots of "New Age" spiritual teachings out there these days. Is the Course simply another one, or is it something more? Does it have the spiritual gravity to weigh in along with Buddhism, Sufism, mystical Christianity and Judaism, and Vedanta as a path one can follow all the way to full awakening, or enlightenment? Unlike these other traditions, which have lineages and teachings that date back hundreds if not thousands of years and which have produced countless examples of realized beings, the Course is very new. It has been only 40 years since Helen Schucman first heard an inner voice say to her, "This is a course in miracles. Please take notes." It has been only 30 years since the Course was published. And very few people have been working with it long enough to truly embody the fullest potential of what it claims to make available.
So how can we assess the Course and its possible place among the great religious and spiritual traditions of human history? Transpersonal psychiatrist Roger Walsh first began to explore that question in a 1992 article published in Common Boundary magazine, entitled "The Perennial Wisdom of A Course in Miracles." More recently, he revisited the question in his Preface to Robert Perry's latest book Path of Light.
From extensive research and study of the world's great wisdom traditions, Walsh has determined that there are seven practices which each of the world's great religious traditions consider essential for anyone seeking to awaken to their true nature and highest potential (Roger Walsh, Essential Spirituality). These practices are redirecting motivation away from egocentric material cravings toward altruistic and transcendent goals; transforming emotions (reducing painful, destructive emotions such as fear , hatred, and anger and increasing positive, beneficial emotions such as love, compassion, and joy); fostering an ethical lifestyle; calming and concentrating the mind; developing sacred vision; cultivating wisdom; and practicing service and generosity.
Walsh suggests that one simple measure of a tradition may be whether it includes all (or at least most) of these practices. In considering the Course in this regard, he concludes that the Course both aims for the highest spiritual aspirations and includes all seven of the essential and central practices for reaching them. (Path of Light, pp, xviii xxi)
What I would like to do in this article is explore this same question from a slightly different angle. The late Wayne Teasdale, in his book The Mystic Heart, outlines what, he considered the nine elements of a mature, universal spirituality. In studying the mystical teachings of all the great religious and spiritual traditions, he found that there is universal agreement that the elements are included in and express the fullness of mature, authentic spiritual development.
These nine elements are an actualized moral/ethical capacity; solidarity with all living beings; deep non-violence; humility; spiritual practice; mature self-knowledge; simplicity of life; selfless service and compassionate action; and the prophetic voice.
Before considering each of these with respect to the Course, let me say a word about why it makes sense to focus on what the mystical teachings of the various traditions have to say, as opposed to their exoteric teachings. The Course states clearly, "Theological considerations as such are necessarily controversial, since they depend on belief and can there- fore be accepted or rejected. A universal theology is impossible, but a universal experience is not only possible but necessary." (C-Intro.2:4-5) Mysticism is the realm of direct, immediate experience of the divine, or ultimate reality. It is the deeper level of experience from which all authentic religion and spirituality springs, and is the underlying commonality that unites them all.
And so, while there is certainly value in comparing how the theology and metaphysics of the Course differ from those of other spiritual teachings, I believe that it is equally important to explore whether and how the Course as a path supports its students to tap into and express the deeper mystical truths that are our universal, shared inheritance. Indeed, the Course says that it is this universal experience toward which its curriculum is directed. (C-Intro.2:6)
The Nine Elements of a Mature, Universal Spirituality
1. Actualized Moral/Ethical Capacity
I found it fascinating a number of years ago to learn that when people came to the Buddha for spiritual Instruction, he taught them first to be grounded in clear ethical principles (based on non-harming) and in the practice of generosity (giving) before he would teach them meditation. We in the West have often wanted it the other way. We hope to attain the bliss of mystical, altered states of consciousness without having to give up any of our negative, egocentric habits. The problem with this, as psychologist and meditation teacher jack Kornfield has pointed out, "it's hard to sit down and still the mind after a day of lying, cheating, and stepping on other people."
The importance of a strong moral or ethical foundation is emphasized in essentially every great religious and spiritual teaching. So our first question of the Course is: does it support the development of such a capacity?
At first glance, the answer might appear to be no. The Course does not teach or direct us at the level of our behavior. It contains no moral code of conduct similar to the Ten Commandments or the Five Ethical Precepts of Buddhism. But a deeper exploration of this question is more revealing.
While Course is not directed at behavior per se, it is very concerned with the state of our minds, and particularly with the undoing of guilt in our minds. Since the source of all guilt is our belief in the efficacy and value of attack, whenever we do anything that in any way attacks another person, we add to the reservoir of guilt (conscious or unconscious) in our own minds. And so it is a good idea, for our own sake as well as that of others, to refrain as much as possible from behaving in ways that cause harm while we are in the process of cultivating the inner attitudes and state of mind that will render such actions more and more unlikely.
It has been said that every spiritual path or teaching has both its treasures and its shadow side - the particular ways in which it most easily lends it - self to distortion and misuse. The Course cautions us to be mindful of the possibility of our ego distorting Course teachings when it points out that "the ego, under what it perceives to be a threat, is quick to cite the truth to save its lies." (W-Pt.I.196.2:2)
The shadow side of the Course is found in the fact that it is a radically non-dualistic teaching. As a result, it directs its focus solely to the level of the mind (cause) and not to the level of behavior (effect). Sadly, there is no shortage of stories of misguided Course students who have behaved quite unlovingly toward people in their lives and justified it with distortions the Course's metaphysical teachings: "Since it's all an illusion, it doesn't matter what I do," or some variation.
But again, what the Course teaches is that our behavior always both expresses and reinforces the beliefs it grows out of. So if our actions arise from fear, or from the scarcity principle, or from the belief that I can benefit somehow at your expense, those actions will inevitably reinforce the ego thought system in our minds and mire us deeper in separation, guilt, and fear.
Typically, when we think of morality and ethics, we tend to think of rules and codes of behavior. Yet we can understand that such codes are simply intended to be like training wheels on a bicycle; they are helpful in protecting us from injury while we are learning to keep our balance without them.
Teasdale writes: “The moral dimension of the spiritual journey has nothing to do with external rules and regulations but with a fundamental, radical reorientation of the persons inner commitment to be established permanently ... in love and compassion. Once we are so established. We are then good, merciful, loving, wise, gentle. patient, and compassionate simply because that's what we are in our realized nature, not because any system tells us to be this way. ..."(The Mystic Heart. p. 113)
In this sense, I believe that the Course does contain a basic ethical teaching. This teaching, as I see it, could simply be stated, "Choose love." Or, as St. Augustine put it, "Love, and do what you will."
Every authentic spiritual tradition has, as its ethical foundation, some variation of the Golden Rule. The Course, I believe, has its own version, expressed so clearly and beautifully in this passage:
"When you meet anyone, remember it is a holy encounter .As you see him you will see yourself As you treat him you will treat yourself As you think of him you will think of yourself Never forget this, for in him you will find yourself or lose yourself ...Give him his place in the Kingdom and you will have yours." (T-8.III.4:1-5, 5:12)
In terms of the first element, then, it seems that a student of the Course, working seriously and diligently with this path, would be likely to cultivate what Teasdale means by an actualized moral and ethical capacity.
2. Solidarity with All Living Beings
The second element of a universal mysticism, or mature spirituality, is "a deep realization of the interconnectedness of everyone and everything," of "the unity undergirding all reality, being, and life." - (The Mystic Heart, p. 114)
Certainly, awakening to the unity of being is the ultimate goal of the Course, and much of its teaching is directed toward helping us begin to glimpse our interconnectedness with everyone and everything. We are taught in no uncertain terms that our brother's suffering is our suffering, his healing is our healing, his peace is our peace.
One of my favorite expressions of this profound interconnectedness is found in Workbook lesson 54, which says: "I am alone in nothing. Everything I think or say or do teaches all the universe." (W-Pt.I.54.4:2-3) Other examples from the Workbook include: '"The light of the world brings peace to every mind through my forgiveness." - "I am one Self, united with my Creator, at one with every aspect of creation, and limitless in power and in peace." - "When I am healed, I am not healed alone." - and many more.
The ultimate expression of this realization is what the Course calls the Vision of Christ. This quality of vision looks out upon creation and sees, beyond any superficial appearances of difference and divisiveness, only its own radiance, wholeness, and perfection in everyone and everything. And so we are taught that everyone is to be brought into the inclusive Circle of our forgiveness and love, with no one and nothing left out.
Teasdale points out that even in ordinary life, we may glimpse this sense of solidarity in fleeting moments. It is one of the characteristics of what psychologist Abraham Maslow called "peak experiences." The goal of our spiritual development and practice is to apply this awareness all the time. (The Mystic Heart, p. 115) Clearly the Course shares this goal, and offers a variety of methods to support us in reaching it.
And so again, a student who seriously works with the teachings and practices of the Course would be very likely to develop this sense of solidarity with all living beings.
3. Deep Non-Violence
This sense of solidarity with all living beings leads naturally to the next element of mature spirituality: a stance of deep non-violence toward all creation.
Wayne Teasdale writes, "When the spiritual life has put down deep roots, there is a natural, organic evolution into deep non-violence: the attitude and practice of non-harming. .../ / The realization of the interconnectedness of all beings brings with it a sense of the utter preciousness of all life. Every being...is precious and irreplaceable. .../ / People who have attained this inner spiritual wisdom have...a natural sensitivity toward all other persons and other creatures, and a profound awareness of the dignity and worth of everyone and everything that is." (The Mystic Heart, pp. - 116, 117)
The Course tells us repeatedly that we cannot possibly overestimate our own or our brother's worth, and that each of us is precious and irreplaceable in the Mind of God. It teaches that we are wholly loving, wholly lovable, and wholly loved, with an unassailable innocence and a grandeur beyond imagining. Any perception we hold of anyone that is out of accord with this truth is an attack on reality, a mistake and misperception to be corrected and undone.
One of the most fundamental teachings of the Course is that attack and anger are never justified. Rather, it teaches that only appreciation, gratitude, and forgiveness are appropriate responses to our brother. We are invited and guided toward a powerful transformation of perception in which the only thing we see in anyone's behavior is either an expression of love or a call for love. Because obviously the only sane and appropriate response to either is love, there can be no basis for justifying attack in any form.
This teaching is so fundamental to the practice of the Course, to the understanding and practice of forgiveness, that it is hard to imagine that someone could be a serious student of the Course and not develop this quality of mature spirituality.
The fourth element of a mature spirituality, according to Teasdale is humility. He writes "The spiritual life is impossible without humility. Humility of heart ...keeps us honest, cutting away self-deception, falsehood, and inauthenticity .It forces us to be real, even when it is uncomfortable. It rescues us .from superficiality, and compels us to always be true to ourselves and others." (The Mystic Heart, p. 126)
The Course has a great deal to say and teach about humility. First, it is relentless in unmasking the ego, which tries to disguise the valuelessness of its offerings to us beneath layers of grandiosity, arrogance, specialness, and deceit. Then it asks us to replace the ego's version of humility (which is actually self debasement) with true humility: accepting the truth that our real Identity is given us by God, and that we remain as God created us, not what we believe we have made of ourselves. True humility, according to the Course, is exchanging the grandiosity of the ego for the grandeur of our true nature as Christ.
This process of exchange involves two steps. First, we need to acknowledge and look honestly at how strongly identified we are with the ego, and how dearly that is costing us in peace and happiness, as we leave our true function unfulfilled. Second, we need to ask inwardly for help in letting go of this identification so that we can see and think differently about others and ourselves.
Again and again, the Course emphasizes that left to our own devices, we will choose against our own happiness and peace .Again and again, we are asked to have the humility to recognize, I do not know what this means. And so I do not know how to respond to it. But there is a teacher within me who does know and can guide me to peace if I will let Him. By learning to turn away from the ego - learning to stop identifying with the ego - we allow ourselves to be guided back to a truer experience and knowledge of who we are and what our purpose is.
We learn that we have whatever qualities and all the strength we need to fulfill that purpose, because those qualities and that strength have been given us by God. This recognition and acceptance is what the Course means by true humility.
Humility, at its deepest level, is simply another word for egolessness - a definition that Teasdale agrees with (The Mystic Heart, p. 128), and certainly the ultimate goal of the Course. Working with the Course and practicing its principles would therefore seem very likely to lead to developing a quality of true humility.
5. Spiritual Practice
"Spiritual practice, the work of our transformation, is the means of. inner growth and change toward human maturity ...It is critically important in authentic spirituality .../ / Daily spiritual practice is the 'technology' of inner change. Without it, such change is inconceivable." -Wayne Teasdale, The Mystic Heart, p. 128
The Course emphasizes repeatedly, in one way or another, that it is not "a course in the play of ideas, but in their practical application." (T -II. V111.5:3) The teachings and principles of the Course, no matter how brilliant, profound, or beautiful, have no transformative power in our lives until put into regular and disciplined practice.
The Course reminds us frequently of how undisciplined our minds have been, and how much suffering that "mind wandering" has brought into our experience. As a result, the Course describes itself as a course in mind training.
There are numerous places in the Text where we are instructed in how to practice in a variety of situations For instance, in Chapter 4, we are told that whenever we are not wholly joyous, we are to recognize that it is because we have thought wrongly about someone. We are instructed to ask ourselves what we have thought about this person that God would not have thought, and what we have not thought that God would think, and then to change our minds to think with God. We are also given suggestions, elsewhere in the Text, that whenever we find ourselves in a situation of conflict and insanity with a brother, we are to turn to the Holy Spirit and offer the relationship over to Him for transformation and healing. In the section in Chapter 30 entitled "Rules for Decision," we are given specific instructions for how to go about having a peaceful and happy day.
While such instructions for practice can be found throughout the Text, it is the Workbook of the Course that grounds us in systematic and structured spiritual practice. In fact, training our minds to think along the lines set forth in the theoretical teachings of the Text is the stated purpose of the Workbook. We are offered an elegantly structured system of practice designed to loosen and transform our entrenched habits of thinking and perceiving while developing a relationship of deep trust with our inner wisdom and Teacher.
The length of time required to complete the Workbook exercises - a minimum of a year, for most people longer - is geared toward firmly establishing us in the habit of practice. And the Course is quite explicit that after we have completed the formal instruction practice of the Workbook, our practice itself is ongoing. Each day, we begin and end our day in time spent with God, and throughout the day we turn inward for guidance in right thinking whenever we find ourselves not at peace.
I believe that it is worth making explicit that the fundamental spiritual practice of the Course is forgiveness. Certainly, there are aspects of a number of practices built into working with the Course: the Workbook lessons, particularly in the second half, offer a form of meditation or contemplative practice; spiritual reading and study is obviously a regular part of learning and practicing the Course; cultivating a mindset of service to others, if not behaviorally, at least in thought and prayer, is integrated into many of the lessons and principles, etc. Still, the Course makes very clear that if we do these other things but do not focus on practicing forgiveness in our relationships, we are not following the path of practice the Course is offering us.
An interesting feature of spiritual practice is that, as one develops and matures spiritually, practice becomes more and more its own reward. In other words, spiritual practice becomes less a separate activity we do in order to reap certain benefits and more something that is simply part of who we are and how we live. Our whole life becomes our practice, with every moment an opportunity to heal and awaken. Since the Course tells us that every moment of our lives is a moment when we are choosing between the ego and the Holy Spirit, between fear and love, this level of integrated practice is clearly its intention and its goal.
Thus, a student who follows the path of the Course with commitment and diligence would be very likely to develop a high level of ongoing and integrated spiritual practice.
6. Mature Self-Knowledge
Some twenty-five centuries ago, Socrates taught, "Know thyself." The Course describes the goal of its own curriculum in exactly the same way (T-8.III.5:l)
Teasdale writes, "Spiritual progress depends on a maturity in our self understanding. We must know ourselves fully. …/ / Mature self-knowledge happens when we move beyond denial - denial of our faults and limitations, our buried motives or hidden agendas - and beyond judgment of others, beyond projection onto others our own need for inner work. The more we see ourselves as we really are, rather than as our ideal self-image dictates, the more we are on the road to the fullness of the spiritual life." (The Mystic Heart, pp. 141, 142)
Without question, the Course provides an extraordinarily powerful tool for developing mature self-knowledge in the sense that Teasdale describes. Jesus urges the kind and degree of honesty described above when he says to us, "We must hide nothing from each other." (T-4.111.8:2) Over and over we are told that what keeps the ego thought system in place in our minds is simply our not looking at it, and that we must be willing to look honestly at the ego if we are to truly learn that it is not who we are.
Much of the teaching of the Course is therefore geared toward confronting and undoing our defenses of denial and projection. Many of the most powerful sections of the Text describe the horror of the ego thought system hidden beneath the surface appearances designed to hide this horror from our conscious awareness. As long as it remains hid- den, however. it is rendered inaccessible to correction and healing. And to "escape" it, we will project it out onto others and see in them what we fear and hate in ourselves. Under- standing this dynamic is, of course, key to understanding the practice of forgiveness.
Of course, it is tempting for many of us to want to skip over the difficult passages in the Text that describe the ego thought system, and to focus only on the "light and love" aspects of its teaching. But this is a misuse of the teaching, and constitutes a form of resistance to actually learning the Course and allowing the ego thought system to be undone. If we are seriously committed to studying the Course as a whole, we cannot avoid looking at the ego thought system at deeper and deeper levels, until we can finally see through it to the truth that lies beyond it.
And so, again, as a path, the Course offers a powerful means to achieve mature self-knowledge.
7. Simplicity of Life
On one level, simplicity of life refers to living our daily lives not being driven by greed, materialism, or status needs. On a more internal level, it means the capacity to maintain an inner focus on what is truly necessary.
Teasdale writes, "Simplicity has a way of focusing our attention on what is absolutely essential; it goes to the core of our attention and strips away all the distractions that compete for our attention. .../ / Simplicity clears away all the inessentials of existence and makes a life of genuine depth and meaning possible." (The Mystic Heart, pp. 150, 151)
In one of its most powerful statements, the Course says that this path will demand of us the willingness to question every value we hold dear (T-24.Intro.2:1). It tells us repeatedly that we do not know the difference between pain and joy, between what will hurt us and what will set us free. Therefore it has as one of its major learning goals to retrain our minds to recognize this difference in a meaningful way.
The process of this teaming involves recognizing that the "gifts" the ego offers us are of no real value, and redirecting our efforts toward seeking the gifts of God. Workbook Lessons such as "The world I see holds nothing that I want," "I will not value what is valueless," and "I want the peace of God" address this process directly. The various sections of the Text that help us understand the real nature of specialness and special relationships, as well as those that make clear that we can never find our security and happiness in the things of the body, address , this issue as well.
Another aspect of the Course teachings that speaks to the quality of simplicity has to do with the dynamic that drives our constant search for "more." From a psychological standpoint, greed is always driven by an underlying belief in and fear of scarcity. The Course teaches that the scarcity principle is the foundation of the ego's entire thought system. Raising this principle to the light of awareness and questioning its very foundation thereby serves to undercut the basic motivation for acquiring more than we truly need.
Finally, there is an important section in Chapter 13 of the Text in which we are instructed to let go of our own ideas of our needs and turn them over to the Holy Spirit:
"Everything the ego tells you that you need will hurt you. ... Therefore ask not of yourself what you need, for you do not know, and your advice to yourself will hurt you. For what you think you need, will merely serve to tighten up your world against the light, and render you unwilling to question the value that this world can really hold for you.
Only the Holy Spirit mows what you need. ... In time. He gives you all the things that you need have, and will renew them as lone as you have need of them. … He has no investment in the things that He supplies, except to make certain that you will not use them on behalf of lingering in time.
Leave, then, your needs to Him. He will supply them with no emphasis at all upon them." (T-13.VII.11:1,5-6, 12:1,6-7, & 13:1-2)
It is difficult to imagine that a student could work seriously with these ideas and teachings and not begin to orient away from being concerned primarily with the things of this world. Thus, at the underlying level of motivation, the Course certainly supports a life of simplicity.
8. Selfless Service and Compassionate Action
Teasdale writes, "The spiritual lift summons us to selfless service in particular. .../ / To be selflessly available to others, to respond to them in a loving, compassionate way -not a sentimental love, but an unconditional ... presence - is a sign of great spiritual and human maturity." (The Mystic Heart, pp. 153, 154)
There is no question that the Course powerfully supports us in cultivating the inward attitude and fundamental stance of service. A primary goal of the Course is to help us learn how to be "truly helpful" to our brothers and sisters in the process of their healing and awakening from the pain of our belief in separation and all the forms of suffering that arise from that belief.
A major part of this is the emphasis in the Course on learning that "to give and to receive are one in truth." To the ego, to give means to lose - what I give to another I no longer have for myself. Much of the teaching of the Course is geared toward helping us reverse this mistake -toward helping us to recognize that only what I give away is increased in me. From this awareness and understanding, "selfless service" becomes a joy. As the Manual for Teachers states, the advanced teacher of God is generous out of Self-interest.
The Course is also very clear in a number of places that we are not to be attached to the apparent results of our efforts to be of help. It assures us that all healing is received, and that all miracles bring healing, even if we cannot see their effects. In addition, the emphasis in the Course on examining our motives and being truthful with ourselves about our own specialness needs supports us in recognizing when we may be going through the motions of being of service, but actually are caught in reinforcing the ego's thought system in ourselves and the one we are attempting to "help." (The sections on "The Unhealed Healer" and "True Empathy" in the Text address these issues very powerfully.)
The translation of the perception of attack in any form into a perception of a cry for love - a brother's call for help to remember who he really is - turns even the most difficult of our interpersonal encounters into an opportunity for service. Beyond that, the Course's teaching that everyone we encounter is Christ invites us to open our hearts in love to everyone, without exception, and to offer to everyone what we would ourselves receive. This quality of vision is what allowed Mother Teresa to respond to the question of how she worked with the poorest of the poor by saying, "I see in each one the face of my beloved Lord, in all of his distressing disguises."
And so, although the Course does not focus on the level of behavior or action in the world per se, it clearly seeks to develop in its students an inward stance of compassionate, loving service that forms the very foundation of all of our relationships.
9. The Prophetic Voice
The final element of a mature spirituality that Teasdale writes about is what he calls "the prophetic voice," which he defines, most broadly, as the awakened function of leadership in the call for justice.
In one sense, this would appear to be the most problematic for the Course in terms of whether it supports the development of this quality in its students. That is largely because, in this world, what is most often done in the name of justice is to divide the world into the: guilty oppressors and innocent victimized oppressed and then attempt to force the oppressors to admit their guilt and change. Such a perception is clearly the opposite of what the Course is teaching.
At the same time the Text of the Course devotes an entire chapter - Chapter 25 - to the idea of justice, offering an entirely different understanding of what justice is than the picture painted by the ego. So let's look a bit more deeply at this whole question.
The Course teaches that the most fundamental injustice in this world - in fact, it is this injustice that gives rise to this world - is the ego's judgment that the Son of God has sinned, is guilty , and deserves to be punished. The entire world of separation reflects and plays out, in myriad forms and disguises, this original judgment - which the Course teaches represents a tragically painful injustice against the true nature of God's Son.
The entire curriculum of the Course is geared toward the undoing of this judgment, the rediscovery and reclaiming of our original wholeness and innocence as Christ. Thus, in the deepest sense possible, the Course itself is a call to justice - not for a single group of people, but for the Sonship as a whole.
In this sense, every time a student of the Course teaches another, through words, actions, or merely through choosing the miracle in his own mind, that he is sinless - that, in the words of the Course , "You have the right to all the universe; to perfect peace, complete deliverance .from all effects of sin, and to life eternal, joyous, and complete in every way, as God appointed for His holy Son (T-25.VIII.14:1) - he is expressing the prophetic voice. For, "This is the only justice Heaven knows, and all the Holy Spirit brings to earth". (T-25.VIII.14:1-2)
And what of those situations in this world that seem to demonstrate social injustice and oppression? How does the Course ask us lo respond to those? First and foremost, we look honestly (and without self-judgment) at whether we have "joined the fray" - at whether we are condemning anyone involved. If we have, we ask to have our perception corrected and healed. Then, if we are so guided, we may be moved to take action at the level of the world to help address the outer conditions.
The most helpful model for me in this regard is Jesus' New Testament teaching in which he asks, "Why are you so concerned with a speck in your brother's eye when there is a log in your own eye? First remove the log, and then you will see clearly how to help your brother."
In other words, the Course does not say that, as Course students, we should not take action to help people in this world (while we still believe there is a world, that we are in it, and that there are other people to help - which we all still do. . .) It does say that we need to let any errors in our own perception be undone so we can recognize how to be truly helpful.
We have had clear models in our own time who have demonstrated how to effectively and lovingly express the prophetic voice of a mature spiritual vision - Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela. Each of these men understood that both oppressor and op- pressed were brothers, and therefore that both were enslaved together or both were set free together. And through the power of their love, they took a stand with their consciousness, their words, their actions, and their lives for our collective liberation and magnitude.
While most of us are not called to demonstrate, in such a large scale and public way, this level of vision and depth of love, we are called and challenged to develop it. And it seems clear that the Course provides a means by which this is possible. There is one other perspective I’d like to share concerning the Course and the prophetic voice. As I was originally reflecting on this question, a friend of mind suggested that perhaps the Course is itself an expression of the prophetic voice.
Jim Wallis, in his book The Soul of Politics, writes, "…the prophetic vocation is to challenge the old while announcing the new. ... The Biblical prophets always had a two-fold task - First they were to be bold in telling the truth and proclaiming the justice that is rooted in God. ... But in addition to truth telling, the prophets had a second task. They held up an alternative vision, they helped people to imagine new possibilities."
By this definition and description, there is no question that the Course itself is an expression of the prophetic voice, for the 20th and 21st centuries, and perhaps beyond. It powerfully unmasks and describes the nightmare world of separation, and holds up for us the vision of a true alternative - the real world, the world that will be revealed to us when our forgiveness of this world is complete.
This vision sparks within us a wisp of memory - a precious memory of a home we once knew yet believed we had lost forever. We glimpse it again in holy instants, each time we choose a miracle, each time we choose peace instead of pain. And we become, at least for that instant, its embodiment in this world - its messenger, its prophetic voice. Our journey, our spiritual work, is simply to live there more and more.
We began with the question of whether the Course is a true spiritual path, on par with the great wisdom traditions of the ages. It seems clear that both the theoretical teachings and the practices offered by the Course support the cultivation of each of nine elements seen by Wayne Teasdale to be the mature expression of a universal mystical spirituality.
And so, by this measure as with Roger Walsh's assessment on the basis of the seven perennial practices - we can conclude that the Course indeed offers a true spiritual path: one which, if we work with it diligently and with a depth of commitment, can take us the whole way home.
Rev. Diane Berke, Ph. D.
The Gentle Smile: Practicing Oneness in
In this book, Diane Berke reflects upon the search for wholeness. The author, who is co-founder and senior minister of Interfaith Fellowship, draws together relevant material from A Course in Miracles, transpersonal psychology, and perennial spiritual wisdom. Berke believes that self-acceptance is essential to what she calls "living wisely and loving well." She correctly identifies judgment as the essential block to service, and discusses comparing as a hurdle in the way of sympathetic joy. True spiritual deepening comes when individuals are compassionate and practice nonattachment and equanimity.