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Volume 23   Number 2   June 2012


WHISPERING TO THE ATONEMENT
The Gentle Way of A Course in Miracles

 

The Atonement is so gentle you need but whisper to it, and all its power will rush to your assistance and support (T-14.IX.3:2).

Introduction: A Gentle Whisper

It is always helpful as one reads, studies, and applies A Course in Miracles to remember never to leave its non-dualistic metaphysics too far behind. Otherwise, one runs the risk of giving the ego and its world—inner and outer—a reality they do not have, investing them with power to affect our mind and self. This belief reflects the insanity of thinking we are right and God is wrong, that the laws of the world of bodies do in fact determine and govern our lives—all this in defiance of the simple truth that we are under no laws but God's (W-pI.76). Such errant thoughts often lead to the belief that the ego's thought system of sin, guilt, and fear, judgment and specialness, is so awesome that it would take gargantuan efforts even to begin to scale its mountains of hate and death, let alone reach the softly sloping lawns of Heaven that are just beyond these mountains' seeming magnitude. The current article is an attempt to counteract this painful error by emphasizing the easy gentleness of the Course's path of Atonement, the road of forgiveness that reminds us to laugh at the tiny, mad idea that we could ever have separated from our Source (T-27.VIII.6:2). Through this gentle laughter we learn that we never left God, Who never left us: not one note in Heaven's song of love was changed (T-26.V.5:4).

One more point before beginning this mini-journey of gentle whispering: the only thing we should take seriously about A Course in Miracles is learning not to take seriously the problem of separation or its solution of Atonement. A gentle laughter in response to illusion is anathema to the ego, just as the Holy Spirit teaches that seriousness is the key to misery. We read in the text that "To the ego, the guiltless are guilty" (T-13.II.4:2), reflecting our resistance to letting go of the guilt that is both origin and mainstay of our separated existence. Our insane beliefs in what never happened to the contrary, the guilt-laden separation and all that ensued was nothing more than a silly mistake of choosing the wrong teacher, while the correction of guiltlessness is a simple decision for the right One—a gentle whisper to the Atonement that its "truth be true" (T-26.VII.10:3).


Nodding to God: A Little Willingness

But a tiny willingness, a nod to God, a greeting to the Christ in you, you find a burden wearisome and tedious,
too heavy to be borne
(T-24.VI.12:4).

Despite the simplicity of the Atonement's gentle whisper, a quiet nod to God seems far beyond our capabilities as our identification with the illusion is almost absolute. Even the tiniest expression of a willingness that truth be true is enough to terrify us, threatening the illusion of separation that is protected by the ego's bastions of guilt and hate—the allure of the special love and hate relationships. The ego screams in our ear that even a nod to God is too much to ask, a wearisome burden too heavy to bear. Enamored by our cherished individuality, we listen to the ego's lies and retreat into the shabby and moribund world of sadness, loss, and pain. This is the body's "life" that desperately tries to stave off its inevitable demise. We strive mightily to cheat death of its ultimate victory by doing, doing, doing. In pathetic attempts to do away with God, our Identity as His Son (Christ), and our life as spirit, we glorify the body's changeable existence of pleasure and pain, sickness and health. Our physical self, ever changing and ever dying, is the ego's defense par excellence against the truth (W-pI.136).

And so the body suffers, physically and emotionally, and our seeming savior from the suffering inherent in living here is the special relationship. This is where we cannibalize another—person, substance, event—for the love, succor, and nourishment we believe we lack because it has been denied us. Not only that, we cannibalize God by behaving in ways we believe this projected image of our stolen authority demands of us.

All this requires doing, doing, doing, and it is instructive to remember that the ego began by doing. Consequently, we believe that accomplishing anything here requires active work and effort. In fact, the body was made to do. Consider first the amount of effort and activity involved in the separation: thought, belief, feeling, and then action. It took, and still takes enormous energy and commitment for the mind to believe in illusion and deny reality.

Since ideas leave not their source and projection makes perception, what we believe inside (mind) is what we perforce experience outside (body). It is therefore an aspect of our perverse insanity that as seemingly separated persons—our physical and psychological identity—we remain eager to continue such effort, even unto exhaustion and death because it maintains the illusion of our separated self; a self whose existence we defend at all costs. Anticipating this resistance to his teaching that we are not who we think we are, and are what we have denied—the message of salvation—Jesus responds to our protests that his course is too difficult for us to learn, requiring an effort we are not able to provide:

What you have taught yourself is such a giant learning feat it is indeed incredible. But you accomplished it because you wanted to.… There is no greater power in the world [than your learning skill].… You who have taught yourself the Son of God is guilty, say not that you cannot learn the simple things salvation teaches you! (T-31.I.2:7-8; 3:2; 4:6)

In other words, Jesus is exposing the lies that seek to blame our ongoing ego existence on the difficulty in surmounting the power of its thought system, in us and in all those around us. He is not fooled by the ego's lies and stories, and does not want us to be deluded either. The problem is not the apparent difficulty—after all, how can undoing an illusion be difficult?—but our unwillingness to let the ego's thought system go: "you accomplished it [learning that the separation is true] because you wanted to." In the end it is a simple question of what we want: illusion or truth, fear or love, pain or joy.

Yet the semblance of difficulty has not left us, and within the delusional thought system that made the world it is understandable. As this doing constituted the beginnings of our separated existence as egos, and since we have never left our origin in the mind, doing carries over as the source of our separated existence as bodies. This has enacted the substitution of doing for being: spirit is, the ego does. It follows then that our life here be one of doing, doing, doing for, to repeat these central principles, ideas leave not their source and projection makes perception. Even though the idea of doing is always present in the mind as the means of separation, we perceive it outside in a body that appears to go autonomously about its daily business of survival, seeking pleasure and avoiding pain—doing, doing, doing.

Given the ego thought system that made the world, we can well understand that the body was made to carry out the dictates of the mind in specific behaviors ("Thus were specifics [the material world of bodies and things] made"—W-pI.161.3:1), their purpose being to continuously demonstrate that the thought system of separation is true: the doing of separation is not only real but has had demonstrable effects (T-27.VIII.6:2-3).

Moreover, our insane logic continues, this doing is the birthplace of what is perhaps the greatest insanity of all: God conforming to our madness of sin and guilt (T-23. II.6-8), and then demanding our doing as the only way to avoid His vengeance. The Creator has insanely agreed with us that sin is real, and can be atoned for only by lives of suffering and sacrifice, His "only begotten Son" being the prototypic example for us all. Having done something sinful to God, we must make up for it by doing something in atonement. Needless to say, this doing, doing, doing requires enormous and ongoing effort on our part as God's retaliatory wrath is never too far from us, sickness and death looming as our inevitable and just deserts.

To this madness, sane and sensible only to the insane, Jesus has a simple and unequivocal response: You need do nothing (T-18.VII). How can undoing what never happened be effortful or painful? All I need from you, our older brother beseeches us, is "a tiny willingness," "a nod to God," our simple desire to want out of the nightmare of existence:

Now you are merely asked that you pursue another goal with far less vigilance; with little effort and with little time.… But a tiny willingness, a nod to God, a greeting to the Christ in you, you find a burden wearisome and tedious, too heavy to be borne. Yet to the dedication to the truth as God established it no sacrifice is asked, no strain called forth, and all the power of Heaven and the might of truth itself is given to provide the means, and guarantee the goal's accomplishment (T-24.VI.12:1,4-5).

In the face of our complaining temper tantrums that such undoing is beyond what we can accomplish, Jesus says further:

This course requires almost nothing of you. It is impossible to imagine one that asks so little, or could offer more (T-20.VII.1:7-8).

Such a thought should make us incredibly happy, relieving us of the wearying burden of trying to atone for a sin that, like Lady Macbeth's guilt-laden and blood-stained hands, can never be eradicated. Such happiness is not the ego's response, however, for its foundation of existence is based on the citadels of sin and punishment. Yet Jesus' promise to us is that one fine day we will experience the joy of knowing that our sins are truly forgiven, never having been in reality: "the outcome is as certain as God" (T-2.III.3:10).

The purpose of A Course in Miracles can therefore be seen as helping to make this day come more quickly. Actually, the Course's one boast, if we may use such an ego term, is that it will save us time (e.g., T-18.VII.4-7). Our wish to be happy rather than right (T-29.VII.1:9) ushers in the holy instant, Jesus' answer to the ego's unholy instant when we chose separation over Atonement, sacrifice over correction. This holy instant, the home of the miracle, reflects the desire of the decision-making mind to be done with the ego's insanity of doing, doing, doing that perpetuates the illusion of sin and its effortful and not-so-gentle atonement:

The holy instant is the result of your determination to be holy.… The desire and the willingness to let it come precede its coming. You prepare your mind for it only to the extent of recognizing that you want it above all else. It is not necessary that you do more; indeed, it is necessary that you realize that you cannot do more (T-18.IV.1:1,3-5).

The above helps us to understand the nature of forgiveness, the only rule for happy dreams: it "quietly does nothing.… It merely looks, and waits, and judges not" (W-pII.1.4:1,3). Similarly the miracle:

The miracle does nothing. All it does is to undo. And thus it cancels out the interference to what has been done (T-28.I.1:1-3).

Jesus asks us to do no more than simply recognize that nothing need be done. This gentle looking at the ego's thought system of doing, which is the meaning of our asking help of the Holy Spirit, is how the gap of separation ends, along with its bitter dreams. We do not try to make dreams better, or attack and avoid them. They offer us nothing that we need, nor contain anything to oppose. Again, we do nothing except look at the substanceless ego without judgment, for this alone reveals the unreality of dreams. Very succinctly stated and echoing the above passage, we do not do, we undo. It goes without saying that we speak only of the mind's attitude, for the right mind may indeed guide us to worldly action as an extension of its love (T-18. VII.8; W-pI.184:9-11).

Examining another aspect of forgiveness, we can recognize how it reflects the shift from the ego's judgmental perceptions to the vision of Christ that sees only innocence. Recall the Course's explanation of perception:

There has been much confusion about what perception means, because the word is used both for awareness and for the interpretation of awareness. Yet you cannot be aware without interpretation, for what you perceive is your interpretation (T-11.VI.2:5-6).

This means that it is not what we see, but how we see it; not what our eyes report to our brains, but through whose eyes—the ego's or the Holy Spirit's—our decision-making minds choose to perceive what we believe is outside us. Perception is interpretation, not fact; our experiences in the world are never objective, but subjective, for we see only what we wish to see. How else could it be, given that there is no world apart from our decision-making minds:

The world is nothing in itself. Your mind must give it meaning. And what you behold upon it are your wishes, acted out so you can look on them and think them real.… There is no world apart from what you wish…(W-pI.132.4:1-3; 5:1).

Looking at the world with the ego, especially our personal world of sin, entails great effort for it means looking at the denial of reality, seeing what is not really there. Moreover, the problems that we see are virtually insurmountable, reflecting the ego's "fact" that the separation is not only true, but is a truth that can never be altered or undone. Since our fate as selves separated from the Creator is irrevocable, when we look at our spiritual life and the journey through the ego, all we see is Sisyphean struggle, struggle, and yet more struggle—all futile and hopeless. How can we get past the ego, the ego counsels us, unless we fight against it and atone for our bodily sins? And yet it is a war we can never win, for God will triumph in the end and regain through our death the special self that is rightfully His. This is why Jesus says the following in response to the belief that the locus of sin is the body, setting up an atonement path of declaring war on the sinful enemy and defeating it, all the while knowing we shall ultimately lose:

It is extremely difficult to reach Atonement by fighting against sin. Enormous effort is expended in the attempt to make holy what is hated and despised [i.e., the body].… Yet the means are tedious and very time consuming, for all of them look to the future for release from a state of present unworthiness and inadequacy (T-18.VII.4:7-8,11).

The focus on the body, once again, involves doing, which also means hard work and persistent effort—"tedious and very time consuming." This is the reason Jesus implores us to look through his eyes at the ego, remembering to laugh at the tiny, mad idea that we could ever have separated from our Source of perfect Oneness. He asks us especially to look at the ego's terrifying unholy trinity of sin, guilt, and fear, and do the following, the happy product of Christ's holy vision:

Call it not sin but madness, for such it was and so it still remains. Invest it not with guilt, for guilt implies it was accomplished in reality. And above all, be not afraid of it (T-18.I.6:7-9).

What, then, could be easier? We are merely asked to look at the ego—in ourselves and others—and remember the great cost of having chosen a teacher who so consistently leads us into lives of pain, misery, loss, and death. This is the shabby substitute we have chosen in place of the peace, joy, and love that Jesus' thought of forgiveness is offering, a thought that waits but our corrected decision. Forgiveness, like love, waits on welcome (T-13.VII.9:7). Only the ego makes the process of Atonement difficult, having us believe that God asks our blood, sweat, and tears before He would welcome us home. In contradistinction, our beloved brother teaches:

Be glad indeed salvation asks so little, not so much. It asks for nothing in reality. And even in illusions it but asks forgiveness be the substitute for fear. Such is the only rule for happy dreams (T-30.IV.8:4-7).


Molto Adagio e Pianissimo e Dolcissimo

There is no effort, and you will be led as gently as if you were being carried down a quiet path in summer (T-14.IV.6:2).

In a past article in the Lighthouse ("The Little Things of God," September 2011), I commented on how Jesus' favorite tempo was molto adagio (very slow), the point being that there is no need to feel pressured in our spiritual life, or everyday life for that matter, believing we need to wage war against the sinful body. Progress on our journey with him can truly be effortless and tension free. It is most tempting, however, to proceed with a ferocity and dedication that acts to reinforce the mindless state of existence, which delays almost interminably the mind's meaningful shift of thought systems from sin to innocence. Only the insecure who follow the ego would feel such a need.

It follows, then, that molto adagio connotes an attitude, though—to make this essential point again—not necessarily behavior. And to this tempo I now add pianissimo e dolcissimo (very softly and very sweetly) to reflect the gentleness of the pathway on which Jesus so gently leads us home. It is only our resistance that changes this to the sturm und drang intrinsic to the ego's world of guilt, punishment, and pain.

The previous section discussed the ego's need to do, a subject we now expand on. As egos, we are so very accustomed to fighting our way through life because fighting our way through Life—God and His perfect Oneness and Love—brought us and the dream into existence. For this reason it is natural to believe that we need to fight through the ego in order to become healed and ultimately to return to Heaven. And yet Jesus' way for us is gentle, patient, and quiet: molto adagio e pianissimo e dolcissimo. Recall his words on forgiveness, the specific healing path of A Course in Miracles: "Forgiveness…is still, and quietly does nothing" (W-pII.1.4:1; italics mine).

To do anything reinforces the seeming reality of the ego and commits the Course's cardinal sin of making the error real (S-2.I.3:3-4). We need do nothing (T-18.VII) because there is nothing to be done here; indeed, there is no here. Therefore, there can be no problems in the world, only the belief there are. Consider again my introductory comment about never forgetting the Course's nondualistic metaphysics, which can be succinctly summarized in its introduction: "Nothing real can be threatened. Nothing unreal exists. Herein lies the peace of God" (T-in.2:2-4; italics and boldface omitted). The fundamental unreality of the ego's thought system and concomitant physical universe need only be seen without judgment. Jesus helps us remember to laugh at the absurdity of the belief we could ever have separated from Oneness and Love, wherein our true Self was threatened by the unreal thoughts of separation and sin (T-27.VIII.6:2).

There is a fine line we need to walk: not to deny our experiences here, which Jesus tells us would be particularly inappropriate and unhelpful (T-2.IV.3:8-13), but also not to give power where it does not exist. In terms of our daily experience, this principle translates to accepting our experiences here, regardless of their forms, but not giving the world—relationships, circumstances, events, and our very bodies—power to take from our minds the peace and Love of God. And so we are repeatedly told in A Course in Miracles that its teachings are simple and easy, steadfastly and consistently pointing to the decision-making mind that needs only to see its mistake. As we read in the context of the sufferings of the body, "All that is needed [to escape from suffering] is you look upon the problem as it is, and not the way that you have set it up" (T-27.VII.2:2). Such nonjudgmental looking, the essence of the gentle tempo of Atonement (molto adagio e pianissimo e dolcissimo), is the easiest thing to do in all the universe:

When you have learned how to decide with God, all decisions become as easy and as right as breathing. There is no effort, and you will be led as gently as if you were being carried down a quiet path in summer (T-14.IV.6:1-2).

What makes possible the tempo of molto adagio is salvation's simple message, which corrects the ego's complexity and its tempo of molto agitato (very agitated). One more time, all we need do is look without judgment, the simplicity of which Jesus underscores:

How could there be another way to solve a problem that is very simple, but has been obscured by heavy clouds of complication, which were made to keep the problem unresolved? Without the clouds the problem will emerge in all its primitive simplicity. The choice will not be difficult, because the problem is absurd when clearly seen (T-27.VII.2:3-5).

Still, we argue with our teacher: "How can you say this is a gently quiet path when my relationships bring me so much pain, my physical and psychological body never ceasing to suffer Hamlet's 'slings and arrows of outrageous fortune'?"

But Jesus has a kind and gentle response to our not-so-gentle complaint: he does not ask us to give up our special relationships in form, but to transform them by changing their purpose from guilt to forgiveness, judgment to vision:

I have said repeatedly that the Holy Spirit would not deprive you of your special relationships, but would transform them. And all that is meant by that is that He will restore to them the function given them by God (T-17.IV.2:3-4).

This function is forgiveness, which shifts the purpose of the relationship from the unholiness of guilt to our learning the innocence of the holy relationship. What could be easier than to say to ourselves that we no longer want to live with the special relationship's burden of guilt and judgment, but instead want the peace and joy of the forgiven relationship? This simple transformation does change the world of our perception. When we choose the Holy Spirit 's messengers of love instead of the ego's messengers of fear, the "world will be transformed before (y)our sight, cleansed of all guilt and softly brushed with beauty" (T-19.IV-A.15:2). At last we hear the still, small Voice whispering softly in our ears that we simply made a mistake in believing the ego. Mistakes call for correction, and are not sins demanding punishment. Setting aside the arrogance of the ego's false humility, our transformed minds can hear and accept Jesus' words to us all, reflecting the glory of our Self:

There is a light in you which cannot die; whose presence is so holy that the world is sanctified because of you. All things that live bring gifts to you, and offer them in gratitude and gladness at your feet. The scent of flowers is their gift to you. The waves bow down before you, and the trees extend their arms to shield you from the heat, and lay their leaves before you on the ground that you may walk in softness, while the wind sinks to a whisper round your holy head (W-pI. 156.4).

We pause an instant now, and in the stillness of our forgiveness, we feel the hush of Heaven in our hearts, quietly calling us to the journey's end. But will we answer?


A Hush of Heaven

There is a hush in Heaven, a happy expectancy, a little pause of gladness in acknowledgment of the journey's end (T-19.IV-A.6:1).

The journey's end, though compellingly near, still awaits our final and unequivocal decision. Despite the attraction of Heaven's loving invitation that we awaken from our hellish dreams of sin, we fight against the appeal of truth and seek to drown out its soft Voice with the ego's raucous shrieks of guilt and hate. Because our fear is so great, Jesus speaks to us of indirect learning:

Undoing is indirect, as doing is. You were created only to create, neither to see nor do.… His [the Holy Spirit's] message is not indirect, but He must introduce the simple truth into a thought system which has become so twisted and so complex you cannot see that it means nothing. He merely looks at its foundation and dismisses it. But you…cannot see through it (T-14.I. 4:3-4; 5:2-4; italics mine, except for 4:3).

The fear of losing the individual, special self that is our personal identification is so great that we resist the direct learning of Atonement's simple message of love: God is, and there is nothing else. We therefore require indirect or reflected expressions of this truth. These expressions are the kind and gentle dreams of forgiveness:

So fearful is the dream, so seeming real, he [God's Son] could not waken to reality without the sweat of terror and a scream of mortal fear, unless a gentler dream preceded his awaking, and allowed his calmer mind to welcome, not to fear, the Voice that calls with love to waken him…(T-27.VII.13:4).

In these gentle dreams of our everyday experiences, our Teacher shows us how what we perceive external to us is nothing more than the mind's projected thoughts we have first chosen to put our faith in (e.g., T-21.in.1:1-5; W-pI.23.3:1-2). This helps us recognize that the way we perceive another is how we perceive ourselves, and why would we choose to remain in hell in order to justify our attacks on someone who is the same as we? As different as we appear to be as bodies, the truth is that as minds we are the same: everyone who comes here has the same wrong mind, right mind, and decision maker.

This corrected or healed perception, Christ's vision, dissolves the ego's raucous shrieks and opens our ears to hear Heaven's still, small Voice we had denied for so long. Softly, the hush of Heaven is heard in our whispering to the Holy Spirit for help, expressing the willingness to look past the frantic and frenetic noises of love and hate to the gentleness of everyone's call for help. The key to the practice of our indirect learning is kindness, for this alone unblocks our ears, washing clean the static of judgment that we may hear in our erstwhile special love and hate partners their plaintive call to return home.

It is imperative as we journey on with Jesus that we keep in mind that Heaven does not present itself to us as Handel's Hallelujah Chorus, trumpets resplendent in their greeting and choruses of angels singing Hallelujahs in joyous welcome. Rather, we hear the whispered Voice of Atonement that reflects the whispering of our little willingness to hear. Unable to love here—unambivalent love is not possible in this world of bodies (T-4.III.4:6)—we need its earthly reflection of forgiveness (W-pI.60.1:4-5) to lovingly lead us to the God we never left. Again, these are the happy and nonjudgmental dreams that will ultimately awaken us:

Dream softly of your sinless brother, who unites with you in holy innocence. And from this dream the Lord of Heaven will Himself awaken His beloved Son (T-27.VII.15:1-2).

What needs to be done to erase all thoughts of sin from our holy minds? Nothing. We simply look with kindness at one who had been the hated object of our mind's displaced guilt. Forgiveness entails seeing that just as our anger (projected guilt) was made up—the ego's hateful interpretation of what in truth was our brother's call for help in learning he is forgiven—so too was our guilt. We are not Sons of God in sin and guilt, but His Sons in holiness and love. Gone then are the ego's discordant sounds from hell, replaced by Heaven's sweet song that cleanses our ears of guilt and allows us to hear the heartbeat of Heaven so clearly in ourselves and all the Sonship, with no exceptions. The ego and its thought system of separation, sin, and specialness have merely been looked upon without judgment, and the whispered smile of Atonement welcomes the hush of Heaven into our hearts, never to wander off again.

And so we joyfully pray to the Father we only dreamt we left, thankful for His Love that never ceased to extend through our clouds of ignorance and forgetfulness. Our abode has now become the hushed silence in our minds, there to retrieve for us the innocence we thought we lost, yet which quietly brings us to our eternal rest. In joy we hear these words emerging from the silence of our grateful hearts:

The hush of Heaven holds my heart today.

Father, how still today! How quietly do all things fall in place! This is the day that has been chosen as the time in which I come to understand the lesson that there is no need that I do anything. In You is every choice already made. In You has every conflict been resolved. In You is everything I hope to find already given me. Your peace is mine. My heart is quiet, and my mind at rest. Your Love is Heaven, and Your Love is mine (W-pII.286.1; italics omitted).

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