The Course has been referred to as a symphony, a work of poetry, a holographic work of art and literature, a mind training curriculum. During the past year, I began thinking of the Course—and especially the Workbook—as a beautiful landscape. Its flat lands and plains are easy to navigate, just as early Lessons are easy to understand. Its rivers and forests give us peaceful places to sit and meditate, which the Workbook encourages us to do again and again. But perhaps most amazing of all, the landscape gradually morphs into one that's filled with towering mountains that reach far beyond the clouds and challenge us to climb their heights so we, sisters and brothers all, can remember Who we are. So we can save the world. Can you imagine such a landscape?
We begin our journey through the flat lands and plains as we study the early lessons in Part I of the Workbook. Those lessons are short and simple; easy to navigate. For instance, Lesson 5 teaches “I am never upset for the reason I think.” How clear and straightforward! Understanding what it means, at least on its surface, is no more difficult than walking across a grassy plain, then finding a place to rest and relax in the shade of a tree. It will only be much later that the Workbook begins to reveal the deeper truth and importance of these apparently simple first lessons.
As we continue our journey through the Workbook we find our walk is taking us toward a forest where our egos begin to feel challenged. They still want to be firmly in control of everything at this stage, don't they? For instance, Lessons 65, “My only function is the one God gave me,” may trip up the ego, causing it to ask “How can I relinquish all other goals I've set for myself? I've got too many important things to do!” We may need to find solace by re-reading the advice given in the Introduction to the Lessons: “You need not believe them, you need not accept them, and you need not welcome them. Some of them you may actively resist.” But still we forge ahead and hope God's grace will carry us further along through the Lessons in spite of our resistance and confusion.
By the time we've reached Lesson 189, we're well into the foothills. This lesson may lead us to wonder, maybe even to doubt, that we can make it to the top of the mountain. For this lesson asks us to do things that seem impossible. “Be still and lay aside all thoughts of what you are and what God is, all concepts you have learned about the world, all images you hold about yourself. Empty your mind of everything it thinks is either true or false or good or bad, of every thought it judges worthy and all the ideas of which it is ashamed. Hold onto nothing. Do not bring with you one thought the past has taught nor one belief you ever learned before from anything. Forget this world, forget this course, and come with wholly empty hands unto your God.”
“How can anyone do that?” ego demands to know. But then, as we continue on our way through subsequent lessons, we begin seeing the challenge of Lesson 189 as a “teaser.” It's simply asking us to stretch, to consider the possibility of finding a “place” in mind that's different from our usual experience. We begin to realize the goal of coming with an empty mind to God need not be taken literally—not yet, anyway. For these lessons are “tune ups” that give us “practice” and get us ready for the climb that lies ahead.
Then, one day, we arrive at “Part II” of the Workbook. There, the landscape becomes more dramatic, exciting and imbued with power. Giant mountains peaks stand high above the plains, forests and rivers. The lessons in Part II intend to give us direct experience of God and the Holy Spirit. They are materially different than the lessons that went before them in Part I. Those earlier lessons were focused on teaching and learning new perspectives. Part II invites us to go far beyond learning. It invites us to open our minds to a direct experience of God as Lesson 189 envisioned, and as Robert Perry discusses in his Open Mind Meditation article.
The Introduction to Part II reinforces that idea:
“Words will mean little now. We use them but as guides on which we do not now depend. For now we seek direct experience of truth alone. The lessons which remain are merely introductions to the times in which we leave the world of pain and go to enter peace. Now we begin to reach the goal this course has set and find the end toward which our practicing was geared.”
Just like the mountains, the lessons of Part II reach toward the light. For instance...
Lesson 301 stands like Mount Everest.
And God Himself shall wipe away all tears.
1 Father, unless I judge I cannot weep. Nor can I suffer pain or feel I am abandoned and unneeded in the world. This is my home because I judge it not. And therefore is it only what You will. Let me today behold it uncondemned through happy eyes forgiveness has released from all distortion. Let me see Your world instead of mine. And all the tears I shed will be forgotten, for their source is gone. Father, I will not judge Your world today.
2 God's world is happy. Those who look on it can only add their joy to it and bless it as a cause of further joy in them. We wept because we did not understand. But we have learned the world we saw was false, and we will look upon God's world today.
This lesson leads to the end of judgment and the Happy Dream. It's the “place” where we use our body's eyes and ears begin perceiving a new, happy world. Not the ego's world filled with fear and terror. It's the world God Wills for us to experience, to enjoy, to love. We are being led to God's vision of love. Perception begins to fall away, to be replaced by “true perception”—the forerunner of Vision—that leads us to understand Reality.
Lesson 313 teaches yet another truth.
Now let a new perception come to me.
1 Father, there is a vision which beholds all things as sinless, so that fear has gone and where it was is love invited in. And love will come wherever it is asked. This vision is Your gift. The eyes of Christ look on a world forgiven. In His sight are all its sins forgiven, for He sees no sin in anything He looks upon. Now let His true perception come to me that I may waken from the dream of guilt and look within upon my sinlessness which You have kept completely undefiled upon the altar to Your holy Son, the Self with which I would identify.
2 Let us today behold each other in the sight of Christ. How beautiful we are! How holy and how loving! Brother, come and join with me today. We save the world when we are joined. For in our vision it becomes as holy as the light in us.
This wondrous lesson, taken at the top of a mountain, tells us “There is no sin.” What else could be more profound! All that ego has held up as sin disappears in this lesson. To know there is no sin is to reach ever closer to Atonement; to Knowing God is Love, that God IS and nothing else need be said.
Finally in Part II, we reach the end, which is also a beginning at Lesson 361-365.
This holy instant would I give to You.
Be You in charge. For I would follow You,
Certain that Your direction gives me peace.
1 And if I need a word to help me, He will give it to me. If I need a thought, that will He also give. And if I need but stillness and a tranquil, open mind, these are the gifts I will receive of Him. He is in charge by my request. And He will hear and answer me because He speaks for God, my Father, and His holy Son.
As we sit in quiet meditation with these words to guide us, we know our Father gives us everything we need. Stillness. Tranquility. All we need to express His Holy Will, which is ours as well. We know our Father gives us gifts we seek once we have given ourselves to Him.
And so, from that lofty vantage point, we might sit and look back on the landscape of the Course. We would thank it for its early, simple lessons. Those simple plains and rivers and forests that are so easy to navigate, but that hold so much more to learn than we at first realize.
We would thank the Course for its intermediate lessons that sometimes seem so challenging. Such lessons ask us to do things ego finds impossible, but then they lead us to profound new understandings that make learning possible. As we learn from each lesson, we spend more time with God and less with ego. Perhaps that shift is the very definition of learning.
And, finally, we'd thank the Course for its final lessons that carry us beyond learning and bring us home to the heart of God.
Thank you Father, Jesus, Holy Spirit and all Teachers of God who help us travel through this landscape, who help us navigate the plains and rivers; who help us climb the mountains; and who help us realize that we can all reach God through forgiveness. Thank you for teaching us that loving our brothers and sisters is the path to salvation, and a way to once again sit beside our Father.
Photo Credit: Kjell Olsen. Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License http://bit.ly/1JjoKwN