Continuation of Chapter 2,  FEW CHOOSE TO LISTEN from

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 from reality.

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....

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.

To continue now with our passage from the manual:

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.

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).

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 -- God:
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; italics mine).
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 spiritual strivings.

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 can 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 than appropriate.

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 confusion:

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:

                        Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow; a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing (V.5).
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.

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).

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, 6-7;
2:1-2, 4; italics mine).

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:
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. She wrote:

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 A 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 on 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.



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