Thursday, April 21, 2011

We Are All – Works In Progress

By Jeremy K. Finkeldey
I let go of my television habit one year ago this coming May 1st so I am out of touch with the ‘reality’ of world news. I know there was an earthquake in Japan and the president’s name is Obama and my daughter lives in California and my son in Ottawa and my other son in Holland, PA. I still know basically everything I need to know. And yet it’s strange how different life is without that steady diet of media that is based on fear, guilt, greed, power, partisan political conflict, and human control – and, all the other things ego is attracted to.

I won’t lie and tell you “oh, the lights have really come on for me since I eliminated TV and I feel like such a better, more healthy, person… etc.” Stopping TV addiction does not, in itself, eliminate ego or its attendant misery. The truth is, of course, that other forms of ego have managed to slip in and fill the gaps created by my practice of non-TV. But I have faith in the idea. It’s a simple idea – I am what I consume physically, mentally, and spiritually. If I am willing to cooperate with the Holy Spirit in terms of what I consume (and what I do with what I consume), I will eventually get back to awareness of the truth that, as A Course In Miracles states, “I am as God created me.” (A Course In Miracles, W-110) This very important teaching from A Course In Miracles goes on to say:
“… this one thought would be enough to save you and the world, if you believed that it is true. Its truth would mean that you have made no changes in yourself that have reality, nor changed the universe so that what God created was replaced by fear and evil, misery and death. If you remain as God created you fear has no meaning, evil is not real, and misery and death do not exist. 2 Today's idea is therefore all you need to let complete correction heal your mind, and give you perfect vision that will heal all the mistakes that any mind has made at any time or place. It is enough to heal the past and make the future free. It is enough to let the present be accepted as it is. It is enough to let time be the means for all the world to learn escape from time, and every change that time appears to bring in passing by 3 If you remain as God created you, appearances cannot replace the truth, health cannot turn to sickness, nor can death be substitute for life, or fear for love. All this has not occurred, if you remain as God created you. You need no thought but just this one, to let redemption come to light the world and free it from the past.” (A Course In Miracles, Workbook Lesson 110:1-3)
Sorry for the long citation but I just felt that every word of it was SO important and inspirational. Can you imagine a world in which ‘fear has no meaning, evil is not real, and misery and death do not exist’? Such a world DOES EXIST.  It is the product of spiritual practice. A Course In Miracles calls it the “real world.” Buddha called it “the Pure Land.” My favorite revelator, Emanuel Swedenborg, called it “the Lord’s kingdom.” In his theological work entitled Secrets of Heaven, Swedenborg explains that if we could all give up our ego-based need to be theologically ‘right’ and could instead “make love to the Lord and charity toward the neighbor the principal of faith… the Lord’s kingdom would come upon the earth.” (Emanuel Swedenborg, Secrets of Heaven 1799:4, emphasis added)

We are talking about a change of mind here.  In the real world, the Pure Land, the kingdom of God - everything is connected and we are all One. The change of mind is a shift in perception away from awareness of the ego’s world of separation and discord and towards an awareness of Oneness and accord. In a church service the other day (NewChurch LIVE), the teacher of God referred to the biblical book of Mark, in which Jesus Christ is recorded as having said:
The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15)
Now the teacher’s point was, what if Jesus Christ simply meant, “the Kingdom of God is very close. Change your mind and believe in this good news”?

So I did some digging and here’s what I came up with. The Latin root from which the word “repent” is derived (“poenitere”) means to ‘feel regret’. But is that really what Jesus Christ meant when he supposedly said “repent”? The kingdom of God is at hand. Feel regret, and believe in the gospel? I don’t think so. I like the NewChurch LIVE teacher of God’s interpretation.

First of all, He wasn’t speaking Latin at the time. Secondly, what He supposedly said He said in Aramaic which was then recorded in Greek. The Greek that was translated as “repent” was the word “metanoia.” Metanoia means “change your mind.” I’m thinking there is considerable room for meaning to get lost in the translation if it goes from Aramaic to Greek to Latin and finally to English!

According to A Course In Miracles, guilt (or feeling regret) is counter-productive when you are trying to change your mind and shift your perception in the direction of the real world. Guilt reinforces error.
“…  "sin" … cannot be undone by repentance in the usual sense, because this implies guilt. If you allow yourself to feel guilty, you will reinforce the error rather than allow it to be undone for you.” (ACIM, T-5, VII, 5:2-5)
This shift in perception from the illusory world of the ego to the real world of Oneness is what A Course In Miracles means in its use of the word “miracle.” A miracle is a shift in perception that reminds you that you are “as God created you.”

Can you look at your experience and see how this works? I have discussed this with many people. Some get it right away but others have a very hard time seeing guilt as being counter-productive. They feel sure that the miracle of guiltlessness and of seeing yourself currently being “as God created you” will turn you into a sociopath without a conscience. This comes from the fairly standard Christian teaching that feeling bad about yourself will inspire you to change. This turns out to be false. At best, guilt might get your attention for a little while but never enough to actually facilitate the change. It’s way more likely that guilt will grow to become shame than that it will help you to change your mind. Here is one Course student’s take on the subject of changing your mind. Here’s Lisa:

But, as Course teacher Marianne Williamson says:
“Some people… would rather die than change their minds….” (Williamson, A Return To Love, p. 237)
Fortunately “conscience” does not equal “guilt.” Conscience equals reality-based change.
Also, 18th century mystic Swedenborg would advise us to work against the perception and belief that we are the ones doing the positive change. The reality, he says in so many words, is that the Lord is the ‘doer.’ We are works in progress and the Lord is supervising and performing the construction project of us.
In regard to each of us as ‘individuals’, Swedenborg writes:
“… a person... is led by the Lord, and he takes no step into which and from which the Lord does not if by the hand... The Lord does this without the person’s knowing it, because if he knew it he would disturb the continuity of that process by leading himself.” (Emanuel Swedenborg, Apocalypse Explained 1174)
And when it comes to the whole human race, he explains:
“… the human race throughout the whole world is under the guidance of the Lord, and… everyone from infancy even to the end of his life is led by Him in the most individual things and his place foreseen and also provided. [2] From these things it is clear that the Divine Providence of the Lord is universal because it is in the most individual things; and that this is the infinite and eternal creation which the Lord provided for Himself by means of the creation of the universe. Man does not see anything of this universal providence; and if he did, it could not appear to him otherwise than as passers-by see the scattered heaps and collections of materials from which a house is to be built; while the Lord sees it as a magnificent palace with its work of construction and enlargement continually going on.” (Emanuel Swedenborg, Divine Providence 203:1-2)
We are all construction projects - Divine works in progress.

Schucman, H. and Thetford, W. (2007). A course in miracles: Combined volume. Third edition. Mill Valley, CA: Foundation for Inner Peace.
 Swedenborg, E. (1949). Divine providence. Wm. Dick & E. J. Pulsford (Trans.). London: The SwedenborgSociety. (Original work published 1764)
 Swedenborg, E. (1960). The apocalypse explained. J. Whitehead (Trans.). New York, NY: Swedenborg Foundation. (Original work written c. 1757-1759 and first published posthumously in Latin in 1870)
 Swedenborg, E. (1965). Secrets of Heaven. J. F. Potts (Trans.). New York: Swedenborg Foundation. (Original work published c. 1749-1756)
 The Holy Bible (NKJV). (1982). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
 Williamson, M. (1993). A return to love: Reflections on the principles of A Course In Miracles. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright @ 2010 Jeremy K. Finkeldey; All rights reserved.

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.


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.