Saturday, April 16, 2011

On A Course In Miracles and Prayer

by Jeremy K. Finkeldey






You know, for all the greenhouse gases I am personally responsible for, you’d think I would get a little more global warming than I’ve been getting lately. No, I’m not looking to start a discussion around this controversy – at all. 


It’s just that I have been so busy lately that the only thing that could keep me at home and at the computer is this strange, extended winter we’re having here in the mid-Atlantic portion of North America. Today’s forecast – cold, overcast, heavy rains - Brrrr….. So, it has been a long time since I have made any blog posts and it’s high time I did. Maybe it’ll warm me up.


A Course In Miracles:



What I want to tell you about first is a new study group we are starting up here in my home town in the NewChurch LIVE building at 2790 Huntingdon Pike, Bryn Athyn, PA 19009. I am grateful to NewChurch LIVE for allowing us the time and space in which to have this small group. It’s a study and practice group of A Course In Miracles (here’s the group brochure). Our first meeting will be on Saturday, April 30th (2011) from 9:00 to 10:30 a.m.

For those of you who don’t know, A Course In Miracles is a course in changing the mind towards a greater awareness of the connection and Oneness we all share with each other and with God. This change in perception is the essence of what the Course defines as a ‘miracle.’ A Course In Miracles was originally published in 1976 and has garnered a global following. One decidedly Course-unfriendly website estimates exposure to A Course In Miracles to be in the neighborhood of 5 million people. The publisher of A Course In Miracles, the Foundation for Inner Peace, offers this description of how A Course In Miracles came into being.

From the scribe of it herself, Helen Schucman, we read:
"Psychologist, educator, conservative in theory and atheistic in belief, I was working in a prestigious and highly academic setting. And then something happened that triggered a chain of events I could never have predicted. The head of my department unexpectedly announced that he was tired of the angry and aggressive feelings our attitudes reflected, and concluded that, 'there must be another way.' As if on cue I agreed to help him find it. Apparently this Course is the other way." (Foundation for Inner Peace website)
Please click here for the Foundation’s description of what the Course is.

According to the Wikipedia article:
Since it first became available for sale in 1976, over 2 million copies of A Course in Miracles have been sold worldwide and the text has been translated into sixteen different languages. A Course In Miracles (ACIM) is widely distributed globally, forming the basis of a range of organized groups. The teachings of A Course in Miracles have been supported by commentators and authors such as Eckhart Tolle. However, due to ACIM's claims to "clarify" or even supersede some of the teachings of orthodox Christianity, the book has been judged negatively by some Christians."

In addition to Eckhart Tolle, other famous Course In Miracles-influenced personalities include prolific authors and educators like Dr. Wayne Dyer and Marianne Williamson. Perhaps a little less mainstream are Course personalities such as Gary Renard, Kenneth Wapnick, Gerald Jampolsky, the late Hugh Prather, Beverly Hutchinson McNeff, and many others.


Watch a YouTube video to get an idea of how a Course practitioner uses prayer in her life:






I didn’t realize what a traditionalist I was until I first encountered A Course In Miracles. Actually, I had a very brief and judgmental encounter with it in 1983 and rejected it out-of-hand. Then, about three years ago (circa 2007), it came back into my awareness via a friendship with yoga teacher Kathy Holmes who started a study group and included me in it. Having extensive theological training in the Swedenborgian faith, I initially had a great deal of resistance to my perceptions of what A Course In Miracles appears to claim. Especially the part about it’s being delivered from Jesus Christ Himself by ‘inner dictation’ to Helen Schucman. There were other theological doctrinal fine points that stuck in my Swedenborgian craw as well. But there was something powerful about the Course that kept me reading and digesting it while all along fighting it tooth and nail.

To make a long story short, when I learned to read and practice the Course for the psychology of it rather than its theology, I was able to get past that part of my ego which wants to fight and argue and be right about religion. Suddenly I was seeing abundant similarities between the ideas of my Swedenborgian training and Course ideas.


The Course itself states:

“Although Christian in statement, the Course deals with universal spiritual themes. It emphasizes it is but one version of the universal curriculum. There are many others, this one differing from them only in form. They all lead to God in the end.” (A Course In Miracles, Preface, ix)
And further:

“ A universal theology is impossible, but a universal experience is not only possible but necessary. It is this experience toward which the course is directed. Here alone consistency becomes possible because here alone uncertainty ends.” (A Course In Miracles, Clarification of Terms, Intro., 2:5-7, p. 77)

And finally:

“The ego will demand many answers that this course does not give…. in many forms. Yet there is no answer; only an experience. Seek only this, and do not let theology delay you.” (A Course In Miracles, Clarification of Terms, Intro., 4:1,3-5, p. 77)


In our quest for this 'universal experience' of God in our study group, we will perhaps look at some of the similarities between A Course In Miracles, Swedenborg's writings, and any traditions others may wish to bring as well.


Prayer:


So let's take a look at some of what the Course, Swedenborg, and a couple other sources have to say about prayer.


From a Course point of view, prayer seems to be less of a petition to God for a list of your perceived 'needs' and more of a meditative kind of communion. For example:
“The secret of true prayer is to forget the things you think you need… and let them go into God’s Hands.” (ACIM, S-1,I,4:1,3)
“Prayer is a stepping aside; a letting go, a quiet time of listening and loving… Prayer is an offering; a giving up of yourself to be at one with Love… Herein lies the power of prayer. It asks nothing and receives everything.” (ACIM, S-1,I,5:1,5;7:4-5)
Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh would add:
“The foundation of prayer is mindfulness, concentration and insight. In the Christian tradition, there are people capable of praying like that, with mindfulness, concentration, and they call it the prayer of the heart." (Thich Nhat Hanh, 2006, on Prayer; Interview with Publishers Weekly Magazine)
Similar to the venerable little monk's view, Swedenborg, whom D. T. Suzuki referred to as the 'Buddha of the North', wrote:
“… prayers are according to the nature of a person's heart… [a person’s] life and prayers make one, and … a person continually prays when she is in the life of charity, although not with the mouth yet with the heart; for that which is of the love is continually in the thought, even when she is unconscious of it.” (Emanuel Swedenborg, Apocalypse Explained 325)
Very similar in meaning is the Course's assertion:
“Prayer is as continual as life. Everyone prays without ceasing. Ask and you have received, for you have established what it is you want.” (ACIM, S-1,II,2:4-6)
Lakota holy man, Black Elk, acknowledges in his prayer his connection to and relationship with everything:

“Hear me, four quarters of the world - a relative I am! Give me the strength to walk the soft earth, a relative to all that is!” (Black Elk, Oglala Lakota)

In much the same way that A Course In Miracles invites us to become aware of the Divine within each of us, Swedenborg made the observation specifically about prayer that in order to be heard and received by God (or the Lord) the must be 'from the Lord with' the person and not from the person (i.e. from the person's ego or external self:
“… worship which is from a person is not worship, consequently the confessions, adorations, and prayers which are from the person, are not confessions, adorations, and prayers which are heard and received by the Lord; but they must be from the Lord Himself with the person.” (Emanuel Swedenborg, Secrets of Heaven 10299:2)
In the Swedenborgian paradigm, the Lord shows up in the human mind in the form of good and truth conjoined - which is then expressed in prayer:
“… truths from good… are the things in a person which pray, and the person is continually in such prayers when he lives according to them. That ‘prayers’ in the Word mean the truths from good which a person possesses, and not the prayers of the mouth, may be seen above (n. 325). (Emanuel Swedenborg, Apocalypse Explained 493)
Another way in which Swedenborg explains the dynamics of a prayerful relationship between a person and the Lord is as follows. Here we see that prayer is not necessarily a guaranteed personal pain reliever if the omniscient Lord sees that the person needs to go through the pain in order to develop spiritually:
“… the prayers of those who are in temptations are but little heard; for the Lord wills the end, which is the salvation of the person, which end He knows, but not the person; and the Lord does not heed prayers that are contrary to the end, which is salvation.” (Emanuel Swedenborg, Secrets of Heaven 8179)
That is not to say that one shouldn't bother to pray while 'in temptation' but should just remember that the Lord knows better than we do what we need spiritually. In fact, Swedenborg wrote:
“… in prayer from the Divine it is always thought and believed that the Lord alone knows whether it is profitable or not; and therefore the person submits the hearing to the Lord, and immediately after prays that the will of the Lord, and not his own, may be done….” (Emanuel Swedenborg, Secrets of Heaven 8179)
It should be noted that the way God communicates with a person in the Swedenborgian way of seeing it is by means of good and true thoughts, and, 'something like a revelation' felt in the affections of the person praying. He wrote:

“… The Lord speaks with every person, for whatever a person wills and thinks that is good and true, is from the Lord.... With those who suffer themselves to be led away by evil spirits, the Lord speaks as if absent, or from afar, so that it can scarcely be said that He is speaking; but with those who are being led by the Lord, He speaks as more nearly present; which may be sufficiently evident from the fact that no one can ever think anything good and true except from the Lord.” (Emanuel Swedenborg, Secrets of Heaven 904:1)“Prayer, regarded in itself, is speech with God, and some internal view at the time of the matters of the prayer, to which there answers something like an influx into the perception or thought of the mind, so that there is a certain opening of the man's interiors toward God; but this with a difference according to the man's state, and according to the essence of the subject of the prayer. If the man prays from love and faith, and for only heavenly and spiritual things, there then comes forth in the prayer something like a revelation (which is manifested in the affection of him that prays) as to hope, consolation, or a certain inward joy.” (Emanuel Swedenborg, Secrets of Heaven 2535)
Finally, I would just like to share three favorites on prayer. The first is from the Course which addresses why we should commune with God:
“Prayer is the medium of miracles. It is a means of communication of the created with the Creator. Through prayer love is received, and through miracles love is expressed.” (A Course In Miracles, T-1,I,11)


The next is from Swedenborg explain when we should commune with God - that is, every moment:
“By "daily" in the Lord's prayer is meant every moment….” (Emanuel Swedenborg, Spiritual Experiences 361)
Last but not least, from the biblical book of James (Jesus' 1/2 brother), what we all get from communing with God - healing:
“Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” (James 5:16)
There now, that wasn't so hard! A good way to spend a cold and rainy mid-Atlantic afternoon - reflecting and writing on prayer.


~JKF








8 comments:

  1. I enjoyed your cold afternoon blog post. Hmmmmm...many ideas to think about. Stay warm.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks Deb - Glad you enjoyed it. Staying warm is a lot easier for you all the way down there in "Dixie" isn't it?

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hey Jeremy
    Just finished Dis of the Univ. mind blowing to say the least. I am still choosing to be confused on some things maybe you could help?
    For instance todays' inspiration:
    “The things in nature are nothing but effects; their causes are in the spiritual world.”

    Arcana Coelestia 5711 Emanuel Swedenborg
    Can this be reconciled with ACIm that the universe is made up? the cause is our union with God, effect, our ego?

    ReplyDelete
  4. Prayer helps me to overcome loneliness, because in 'Prayer' I am never alone. I am just coming to the realisation that we live in 'Prayer' constantly and that God is with us always and everywhere if we so wish. Thank you for a very thought provoking post Jeremy.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thank you, PhotoProsa, for your comment! I must figure out how to set my blog to notify me by email when someone offers a comment. I just now realized that you (and Dan) had left your responses! Sorry for my delayed response time!

    First, for PhotoProsa, I love what you are saying here and the awakening it represents in you and in us all when we realize it! It is a central teaching of both A Course In Miracles and Swedenborg that God is with us “always and everywhere.” What I would ask you to consider is that aloneness is a function of your perception rather than actual reality. When we feel alone we really feel that way – but it’s not true. In my belief, God is with us always and everywhere whether we are feeling it or wishing it or not. Prayer (or communing with God) is, among other things, a way of recalibrating our personal awareness of the reality of God’s ongoing, unceasing presence. I think that one of the important things to remember when we are stressing over anything and asking God to take it away, whether it be loneliness or anything else, is that all of our experience happens for a reason. That reason is about our spiritual education process and it is clear that God, and not we in our little ego states, is the One who knows what’s best and is allowing to happen what needs to happen for our benefit. Swedenborg writes (see above):

    “… the prayers of those who are in temptations are but little heard; for the Lord wills the end, which is the salvation of the person, which end He knows, but not the person; and the Lord does not heed prayers that are contrary to the end, which is salvation.” (Emanuel Swedenborg, Secrets of Heaven 8179)

    Thanks so much for your comment. I love getting them!

    ~Jeremy

    ReplyDelete
  6. Dan, I love your question. It is one that I have struggled with as a dyed-in-the-wool Swedenborgian. God created this world and therefore it must be real, right? I’m not going to tell you that I have this one answered to my own satisfaction – but I AM working on it with the help of my Internal Teacher! Also, in my efforts to remain open to God’s teaching through the sum total of my experience, I have found a way to be comfortable with uncertainty and to await God’s leading (while still continuing the research). I ask for guidance and, in His/Her own good time and way, it gets delivered. One Swedenborgian teaching that I hold on to when contemplating your question is the one which assigns the idea that reality is relative to connection with God. Consider this:

    “… whatever comes from the Divine… is real, because it comes from the very being of things, and from life in itself, but whatever comes from a spirit's [or a person’s] own is not real, because it does not come from the being of things, nor from life in itself.… the Lord is not present in evil and falsity. The real is distinguished from the not real in this - that the real is actually such as it appears, and that the not real is actually not such as it appears.” (Emanuel Swedenborg, Secrets of Heaven 4623)

    Now there are a number of LENGTHY quotes in my notes from Swedenborg and from the Course which would further elucidate this question but I will only be able to give you the references here for space reasons. Check out:
    (Divine Providence 19)
    (Apocalypse Explained 1218:2-3)
    (Secrets of Heaven 4623)
    (HH 175)
    (Divine Providence 217:7)
    (Heaven and Hell 37)
    (A Course In Miracles, T-Intro., 2:3-4)
    (A Course In Miracles, W-132,6:2-3)
    (A Course In Miracles, T-24, Intro. 2:1 & 3-6)
    (A Course In Miracles, T-11, VIII, 3:8)
    (A Course In Miracles, T-14, XI, 3:6-7)
    (A Course In Miracles, W-132, 4:1-3)
    (A Course In Miracles, W-132, 5:1-4)
    (A Course In Miracles, W-132, 2:2-3; 3:1-2)

    To add to the drama, I will say this. In response to my quest for enlightenment on your question, I have recently (and Providentially) made friends with a certain person who has offered some very interesting information to me regarding the various editions of A Course In Miracles. It turns out that the edition most people I know use – the 3rd edition combined volume – has been (in my way of thinking) severely altered from its original form and content. I suppose ‘sanitized’ (if you will) of material which these particular egos found to be, well, not what they wanted in A Course In Miracles. Typical, right? Annoying – definitely! Anyway, the good news is, the copyright-mongers have released to the public domain A Course In Miracles in its originally typed form including the material removed by the ‘nefarious’ editors! It is called the “Urtext”. I have it on PDF and would be happy to send it to you.

    My friendly contact tells me that it contains material – which I have not looked for yet – regarding God’s role in the creation of matter. She writes:

    “One of the most significant differences is the clarification in the HLC [meaning the “Hugh Lynn Cayce” version]… is that God created the universe of matter, not the ego. Because of the plethora of revisions made in the Standard version, it was not clear and a lot of "interpretations" crept in that was very confusing.”

    So, anyway, gotta run – but I'd say the answer to your question is still under development. I will keep you posted of anything new.

    Thanks again.

    ~Jeremy

    ReplyDelete
  7. Hi Dan - Me again. I wanted to share this one with you. I think it might be one of the most important things I ever read in Swedenborg and strongly relates to your question:

    “… people have been so created that the Divine things of the Lord may descend through them down to the ultimates of nature, and from the ultimates of nature may ascend to Him; so that people might be a medium that unites the Divine with the world of nature, and the world of nature with the Divine; and that thus the very ultimate of nature might live from the Divine through human beings as the uniting medium” (Emanuel Swedenborg, Secrets of Heaven 3702)

    ReplyDelete
  8. What a fantabulous post this has been. Never seen this kind of useful post. I am grateful to you and expect more number of posts like these. Thank you very much.
    acim

    ReplyDelete