Respecting The Magnitude of A Course in Miracles

By Kenneth Wapnick, Ph.D.

From The Message of A Course in Miracles, Conclusion to Volume 2, which is entitled Few Choose to Listen, copyright 1997 
by the Foundation for A Course in Miracles
A Course in Miracles provides one of the most important statements ever witnessed to by mankind. It teaches us that not only is the world illusory -- and therefore not created by God -- but that the physical universe was indeed made as an attack on our Creator (W-pII.3.2:1). Thus Jesus explains the motivation for the world's seeming existence, not to mention the purpose behind the individual life of each of us who believe we walk this earth. Understanding the Course's unique contribution to world spirituality has been the principal burden of All Are Called, while Few Choose to Listen has accented the ego's attempts to diffuse this powerful teaching. Fearful of the implications of what A Course in Miracles truly teaches, the ego has tried to present the Course in its own image and likeness, substituting its littleness for the true magnitude of Jesus' vision. In fact, given the need of the ego to preserve itself by denying the truth that would extinguish its existence, it will probably take decades (if not centuries) for this gift to be understood and fully integrated. Correcting student errors early on in the Course's earthly life will help ensure that such integration will take place, and that the purity and power of its message will survive.

Two quotations from the world of music -- from the 19th -- century pianist-composer Franz Liszt and the 20th-century conductor Bruno Walter -- provide us with a suitable framework within which we conclude this book's discussion of the ego's attempts to sabotage a student's study of A Course in Miracles. In their remarks, these two musical giants could well have been speaking of A Course in Miracles and its students.

In a 1870 letter -- a reference I, unfortunately, cannot locate* -- Liszt wrote regarding Richard Wagner's beautiful though lengthy music-drama, Die Walkure:

Great works should be embraced entire, body and soul, form and thought, spirit and life. One ought not to carp at Wagner for his lengths -- it is better to expand one's scale to his (italics mine).
Wagner's operas (or music dramas as he called his mature works) broke new ground in the musical and operatic world, not only for the composer's daring harmonies and integration of music and drama (Beethoven and Shakespeare were his models), but for the extraordinary expanse of his works. The third act of Die Meistersinger alone, for example, exceeds in length a considerable number of complete operas in the standard repertory. Wagner's was a flawed genius to be sure, but a genius nonetheless. And Liszt's comment relates to the fact that attempting to change the Master's work was not only disrespectful to Wagner's art, but was also depriving the listener of a powerful if not profound musical experience.

Our previous discussions of the ego's need to perpetuate its little self help us to understand what Liszt was saying, as true now as it was in the 19th-century musical world. Paraphrasing that great pianist, we may say that instead of expanding our little scale to the heights of A Course in Miracles, we scale the Course down to ourselves, finding all manner of justifications for doing so. As long as we prefer the ego's story over the Holy Spirit's, it will be the ego's fearful message that we hear, choosing not to listen to the Course's saving message of awakening from the dream of individuality and returning home. Thus, our statement to ourselves, "I do not want to see what this is saying," becomes: "The Course is not saying this." And so the message is given to our brains to change A Course in Miracles to mean something other than what it is truly teaching.

Inevitably then, instead of bringing our ego's illusions to Jesus' truth in A Course in Miracles, we end up dragging down the Course's truth to conform to our illusions. Examples on the level of form include attempts to change the masculine terminology on the grounds A Course in Miracles is unfair to women, or to remove the offensive Christian language because the Course seems to exclude members of other religions. Some even have tried to de-emphasize the religious language on the basis that the Course excludes practitioners of non-theistic spiritualities. Channeled writings have already appeared -- some of which purport to be from Jesus -- stating not only that their source is the author of A Course in Miracles, but also claiming to improve on the original by correcting, elucidating, simplifying, de-intellectualizing, or even transcending the Course. All of these, not surprisingly, de-emphasize, distort, or simply dismiss the Course's non-dualistic metaphysics as being irrelevant at best, or nonexistent at worst.

This de-emphasis on the metaphysics of A Course in Miracles has given rise to a strong anti-intellectual movement regarding the Course, not too dissimilar from a more general movement that can be noted in our society today. This movement has also been associated with the overemphasis on experience and feelings that has overrun psychology and society at large, a movement whose contemporary roots date back to the post-World War II period of t-groups, sensitivity training, and the Gestalt psychology of Fritz Perls. Students of A Course in Miracles may therefore argue that understanding its theory is irrelevant, and that study of the text is a waste of time, clearly ignoring this previously cited caution at the end of the first chapter in the text:

This is a course in mind training. All learning involves attention and study at some level. Some of the later parts of the course rest too heavily on these earlier sections not to require their careful study. You will also need them for preparation. Without this, you may become much too fearful of what is to come to make constructive use of it. However, as you study these earlier sections, you will begin to see some of the implications that will be amplified later on (T-I.VII.4; italics mine).
In addition, as was covered in Chapter One, many students emphasize the workbook at the expense of the text, rather than viewing each book as a companion to the other. The mistake here is similar to what we saw in the previous chapter. It reflects the same unconscious error of believing that our ego identification is weak and can be easily discarded, leaving our minds open to receive -- instantaneously and joyously -- the Word of God. This anti-intellectual stance is thus in many cases the expression of a fear of looking at the ego thought system in all its ugliness. As we have commented before, no one really wants to deal with the horrifying sin and guilt our egos have convinced us is our reality.

Thus, rather than carefully reading the text -- which lays out the brutal nature of the ego thought system, necessitating our dealing with it -- a student may dismiss such discussions of the ego as not important. Again, this misses the whole point of A Course in Miracles' efficacy as a spiritual teaching, and discounts the inherent unity of its curriculum, which does depend on understanding and recognizing our investment in perpetuating the ego's thought system, precisely by not looking at it. As we have already discussed, it is in not looking at the ego that it is allowed to survive as a thought system in our minds. To be sure, A Course in Miracles is not always easy to understand, let alone practice. Yet the ultimate difficulty does not really lie on a conceptual or intellectual level, but rather is found within the teaching itself. This teaching, as we have discussed throughout the book, strikes terror in minds which still identify with the ego self. And it is this very ego self that is so threatened by what Jesus presents to us in his Course. I should underscore that the attempt to dismiss as irrelevant the high intellectual level of the Course's teachings also reflects a denial of what A Course in Miracles is. It is an intellectual system, at least in form, and there already exist many fine spiritual systems -- ancient and contemporary -- that are non-intellectual. All these are as valid as the Course in their potential to lead their serious students to God. To deny A Course in Miracles its particular uniqueness is to diminish its contribution, just as forcing a non-intellectual approach into a Procrustean bed of the intellect would wreak equal havoc on that system. Moreover, it is important to realize that working through Jesus' intellectual presentation leads one to an experience of peace, and that experience, not a mere intellectual understanding, is the true goal of the Course.

Therefore, students should pay careful attention to A Course in Miracles' teachings on the ego, and should resist the temptation to change the form to suit their personal requirements. Above all, to close with the theme with which this book opened, one should have humility as one stands before its magnitude. As we have seen, speaking of God, Jesus urges us to "Be humble before Him, and yet great in Him" (T-15.IV.3:1), meaning that we are great because of our Identity as God's Son, and yet we are humble because He is our Creator and Source, and we need His help (through the Holy Spirit) to awaken to our reality as His Son. Likewise, we should feel the humility of recognizing the learning we need accomplish before we can remember our Identity as Christ. Trying to change, distort, or scale A Course in Miracles down to our size is an expression of the ego's arrogance, not our advanced spirituality. One would do well to remember a statement made by Bruno Walter, perhaps the greatest Mozart conductor of this millennium's closing century.

It needs some maturity to understand the depth of emotion which speaks in Mozart's seeming tranquillity and measure. ... I was ... fifty when for the first time I was audacious enough to perform the G Minor [Symphony #401]. I ... had such a feeling of' responsibility and of the difficulty to perform it .... And I wondered at all the young conductors who, without any qualms, just went ahead and conducted all these works which asked for such depth of feeling and such maturity of technique.**
Clearly, people do not have to be fifty before they can feel they have understood A Course in Miracles, or are prepared to teach it. However, we should be able to accept with humility the need to learn from this wonderful gift from Heaven, rather than to allow the ego's arrogance to tell us that, since the Love of God is all that we now experience, we have already learned and mastered everything the Course can teach. True humility, in the spirit of Bruno Walter's attitude towards Mozart, would have us welcome gladly the truth that in this world we have much to learn. Thus, we gratefully accept the spiritual tool and inner Guide that would teach us how to remove "the blocks to the awareness of love's presence" (T-in.1:7), and return home at last to the Love that lies --liberally paraphrasing the inspiring words of Dante's beatific vision of his Commedia -- beyond the sun and all the other stars.***
* It is quoted in Martin Bernheimer's article, "Die Walkure: The Chronology of a Music Drama," that accompanies the RCA Victor recording of that work (LD 6706).
** From a recorded conversation with Arnold Michaelis, included in the Columbia recording
of Walter conducting various Mozart works (ML 5756).

*** The original Italian reads: "L'amor che muove il sole e I'altre stelle."
Commedia: Paradiso, XXXIII, 145.

<=RETURN TO INTRODUCTION: "Humility Versus Arrogance"

LINK TO ARTICLE: "A Simple Clear and Direct Course"


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