THE COURSE'S USE OF LANGUAGE
THE SYMBOLISM OF DUALITY,
Continuation of Chapter 2, FEW
CHOOSE TO LISTEN from
Volume Two of THE
MESSAGE OF A COURSE IN MIRACLES®
By Kenneth Wapnick, Ph.D.
There are several places in A Course
in Miracles where Jesus discusses the nature and role of symbols, and
it would be instructive to look at some of these now, as further evidence
of his awareness of the difference in his Course between symbol
and reality. We begin with the question in the manual for teachers that
specifically addresses the role of words (or symbols). This provides us
with the clearest statement in the Course, already considered in part,
about the difference between words and meaning, form and content:
Strictly speaking, words play
no part at all in healing. The motivating factor is prayer, or asking.
What you ask for you receive. But this refers to the prayer of the heart,
not to the words you use in praying. Sometimes the words and the prayer
are contradictory; sometimes they agree. It does not matter. God does not
understand words, for they were made by separated minds to keep them in
the illusion of separation. Words can be helpful, particularly for the
beginner, in helping concentration and facilitating the exclusion, or at
least the control, of extraneous thoughts. Let us not forget,
however, that words are but symbols of symbols. They are thus twice removed
Pausing for a moment, we can better understand
Jesus' relatively abstract words here with a specific example. As we have
seen, A Course in Miracles speaks of God weeping over His separated
Sons (T-5.VII.4:5). This clearly implies, if taken literally, that God
has a body containing tear ducts, not to mention His having thoughts that
have made the separation real and powerful. But given this teaching about
words being symbols of symbols, we can understand the passage about God's
tears this way: "Tears" is the word (the first symbol) that contains
the image or picture (the second symbol) of God's weeping,
and this represents the reality that God loves us. Since the Love
of God is abstract and non-dualistic, beyond the split mind's ability to
understand, Jesus resorts to the symbol that reflects this Love. Rather
than our believing in the God of the ego's fairy tale Who is angry and
vengeful, Jesus would have us believe instead, in these early stages of
our journey of awakening, in the God of his corrected fairy tale Who truly
loves us, independent of what we believe we have done to Him. And all this
presented in a way we can relate to and understand. But if these words
are taken literally, we would find ourselves back in our childhood world
of fairy godmothers, Santa Claus, and a Sugar Daddy for a God.
As symbols, words have quite specific
references. Even when they seem most abstract, the picture that comes to
mind is apt to be very concrete. Unless a specific referent does occur
to the mind in conjunction with the word, the word has little or no practical
meaning, and thus cannot help the healing process....
To continue now with our passage from
The sleeping Son of God has
but this power left to him [the power to decide]. It is enough. His words
do not matter. Only the Word of God [the Atonement] has any meaning, because
it symbolizes that which has no human symbols at all. The Holy Spirit alone
understands what this Word stands for. And this, too, is enough.
Truth, therefore, cannot be really be expressed
in words, but only pointed to. It is the truth that is essential, not the
symbol itself. In an important passage from Lesson 189, we see another
clear statement of the need to move beyond symbols to what alone is real
Is the teacher of God, then, to avoid
the use of words in his teaching? No, indeed! There are many who
must be reached through words, being as yet unable to hear in silence
[Jesus obviously would have his own Course students in mind here]. The
teacher of God must, however, learn to use words in a new way [as Jesus
is exemplifying for these teachers in A Course in Miracles].
Gradually, he learns how to let his words be chosen for him by ceasing
to decide for himself what he will say. This process is merely a special
case of the lesson in the workbook that says, "I will step back and let
Him lead the way." [W-pl. 155] The teacher of God accepts the words which
are offered him, and gives as he receives. He does not control the direction
of his speaking. He listens and hears and speaks.... God's teachers have
God's Word behind their symbols. And He Himself gives to the words they
use the power of His Spirit, raising them from meaningless symbols to the
Call of Heaven itself (M-21.1:1-2:3; 3:7-4:9; 5:8-9 italics mine).
Simply do this: 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 (W-pI.189.7).
Another specific example where Jesus clarifies
the seeming inconsistency of his words, discussed before in All
Are Called (pp. 317-21), comes in workbook Lesson 194, "I place
the future in the Hands of God." At first blush this title seems incongruous
with the timeless reality of God Who can obviously have no notion of a
future, not to mention the incongruity of the lesson's obvious symbolism
of our formless Creator having Hands. But one must go beyond the words
and symbols to the lesson's real meaning, which is clearly stated in the
fourth paragraph of the lesson:
God holds your future as He
holds your past and present. They are one to Him, and so they should be
one to you. Yet in this world, the temporal progression still
seems real. And so you are not asked to understand the lack of sequence
really found in time. You are but asked to let the future go,
and place it in God's Hands. And you will see by your experience that you
have laid the past and present in His Hands as well, because the past will
punish you no more, and future dread will now be meaningless (W-pI.194.4;
One of Freud's great contributions to the
study of dreams was his delineation of the manifest dream content
versus its latent content. The manifest content referred to the
parts of the dream -- the figures, objects, and events that constitute
its form, the story of the dream -- while the latent content pointed to
the meaning that lay beyond the dream's manifest symbolism. Thus, two analysts
of differing persuasions could obviously agree on the dream's manifest
content, but could ascribe totally different meanings to what the dream
is saying. To use a simple example, a Freudian would tend to interpret
a church steeple in a person's dream as a phallic symbol, possibly reflecting
sexual conflict, while a Jungian might see instead a symbol of the dreamer's
Returning to the workbook lesson, what
Jesus is teaching is not the manifest content that we should literally
place our future in God's Hands, but rather the latent content that we
should abandon the ego's insane yet vicious notion that our guilt demands
punishment at the hands of a vengeful deity. And therefore we can
trust His Love and safely place our future in His Hands. In other
words, Jesus is not teaching us that we should blithely give up
our personal, social, and work responsibilities, destroy our insurance
policies, etc., because the world is an illusion and God will provide if
only we place our future in His Hands. But he is teaching us that
the ego's insane thought system of sin, guilt, and fear is unreal. Thus,
God is not the vengeful Father of our ego's fairy tale, but the loving
Creator of Jesus' corrected fairy tale that is the symbolic substitute
for the ego's distorted set of images.
To digress briefly, students make the
same mistake with the section in Chapter 18 in the text, "I Need Do Nothing"
(T-18.VII), or the statement in Lesson 135: "A healed mind does not plan"
(W-pI.135.11:1). These statements are often interpreted to mean that one
need do nothing in the world (like hold a job, meet family responsibilities,
plan for the future, etc.) because God or the Holy Spirit will take care
of us. But what these passages really mean is that one should not
do anything or plan on one's own (with the ego), but rather should
always go to the Holy Spirit or Jesus for help. Thus, these are not calls
to turn one's back on the world, but rather calls to bring one's ego perceptions
of the world to the Holy Spirit's truth within. In that way, one's responses
will be filled with His forgiveness and love, rather than with the ego's
hate-filled specialness which is sometimes veiled by denial, appearing
to be holiness, advanced spirituality, or love. We shall leave an in-depth
discussion of the Holy Spirit's function for a later chapter.
And so this lesson of the ego's inherent
untrustworthiness is taught to Jesus' students in the language and form
they can understand. You do not tell little children, for example, upset
that they have done something wrong and therefore have run away from home,
that they do not have to be afraid since Daddy does not even know that
they exist, and besides, they only think that they have misbehaved
and have run away. Rather, you comfort them by letting them know that Daddy
is not upset with them, will not punish them, and moreover, that he weeps
over his loss and yearns for the children's return. Therefore, once again
Jesus concludes for his younger siblings who are studying his Course: You
entrust your future to your Father's Hands, since He only loves you and
will not cause you any harm.
In summary, therefore, these various
passages must be understood on the level of the content of God's
Love for His children (itself, of course, an anthropocentric metaphor),
expressed through the form of an earthly father's love for his child.
Since we are still very much children in the spiritual life -- "You are
very new in the ways of salvation"
(T- 17.V.9:1) Jesus tells us -- the
Course's gentle and loving use of language at this level is certainly more
It cannot be emphasized enough that
a student of A Course in Miracles must always be able to distinguish
between the symbol (manifest content) and its meaning (latent content).
The reader should recall this telling passage from the third obstacle to
peace, which has Jesus issuing just such a warning about this potential
Remember, then, that neither
sign nor symbol should be confused with source, for they must stand for
something other than themselves. Their meaning cannot lie in them, but
must be sought in what they represent (T-19.IV-C.11:2-3; italics mine).
The Course's dualistic words are the symbols
or signs that point to their non-dualistic source of truth, and students
of A Course in Miracles should always heed Jesus' clear admonition
not to confuse them; otherwise, the meaning of his teachings will inevitably
become distorted and lost.
A student of A Course in Miracles
must therefore understand metaphoric language ("sign and symbol"), just
as a student of poetry must understand how and why words
are used, without taking them literally. For example, Macbeth laments at
the end of his life:
Clearly, Shakespeare is not having his
fallen hero speak here about candles or actors in a play, but rather is
using poetic symbols as a way of offering a tragic commentary about the
meaninglessness of life. Needless to say, analyzing these words would literally
destroy their meaning and significance in the play, not to mention ruining
the genius of Shakespeare's poetry.
Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow; a poor
That struts and frets his hour upon
And then is heard no more: it is a
Told by an idiot, full of sound and
Signifying nothing (V.5).
The following passages well illustrate
Jesus' clear awareness of the use of symbols in A Course in Miracles
as reflections of the truth, since the non-dualistic nature of truth
cannot be expressed directly from one to another:
... God is not symbolic; He
is Fact (T-3.1.8:2).
Very specifically in this next passage,
we see Jesus' clearly implied "admission" that he has at other times in
the Course used words symbolically (or allegorically), although in this
instance he is making it clear that he has not:
True vision is the natural perception
of spiritual sight, but it is still a correction rather than a fact.
Spiritual sight is symbolic, and therefore not a device for knowing. It
is, however, a means of right perception, which brings it into the proper
domain or the miracle. A "vision of God" would be a miracle rather than
a revelation. The fact that perception is involved at all removes the experience
from the realm of knowledge. That is why visions, however, holy, do not
last (T-3.III.4; italics mine).
The reflections you accept into the
mirror of your mind in time but bring eternity nearer or farther. But eternity
itself is beyond all time. Reach out of time and touch it, with the help
of its reflection in you.... Reflect the peace of Heaven here, and bring
this world to Heaven. For the reflection of truth draws everyone to
truth, and as they enter into it they leave all reflections behind.
In Heaven reality is shared and not
reflected. By sharing its reflection here, its truth becomes the only perception
the Son of God accepts.... You on earth have no conception of limitlessness,
for the world you seem to live in is a world of limits (T-I4.X.1:2-4,
2:1-2, 4; italics mine).
It is only the awareness of
the body that makes love seem limited. For the body is a limit
on love. The belief in limited love was its origin, and it was made to
limit the unlimited. Think not that this is merely allegorical, for it
was made to limit you (T-18.VIll.1:1-4).
In one of Helen's letters to me, dealing
with circumstances that are tangential to our subject here, she discussed
symbols and a mutual friend's inability to understand how to use them.
This is a letter I feel just has to
be written, and written as soon as possible. It has to do with fact and
allegory and the somewhat uncertain borderline between them .... Freddie
does not understand symbolism; the dear boy can't even understand how a
thing can stand for something else. Bill [Thetford] went over this with
him, and all he could grasp was if you see something it's there. It's not
that he's stupid, Heaven knows, but he just can't seem to get beyond
facts, so he can be mistaken just because of that (Absence
from Felicity, pp.346-47; italics mine).
Thus, if students of A Course in
Miracles are not able to get "beyond facts (or symbols)," they can
be easily mistaken in their understanding of what is truly being said.
And so the deeper meaning of the Course will always remain hidden to them,
not by Jesus' design, but by their own fear. It was in anticipation of
this difficulty leading to inevitable distortion, that Helen would frequently
comment that A Course in Miracles was only for five or six people.
She recognized how difficult this Course was, and how terrifying it would
be for people's egos. And so, in light of all the distortions students
have made and continue to make with the Course, based upon their fear of
what it says, one can very easily be tempted to make the statement that
Course in Miracles was not written for students of A Course
in Miracles; that is, the Course is not for those who so readily jump
their own bandwagon and seek to make A Course in Miracles into something
it is not. Rather, it is for those relative few who would be willing to
"step back and let him lead the way" (W-pl.155), allowing Jesus' wisdom
in the Course to lead them through the ego's dark tunnel to the light that
awaits at the end of the journey.
SEVEN, Begin Chapter 3 - THE COURSE'S USE OF LANGUAGE II
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