Entering a new experience through “A Course of Love”
The whole secret to anything is found in letting it speak to you in a new way, in finding your capacity to take things in as they are. Listening to music is a good example…as is a certain kind of reading, writing, or creating. Toni Morrison said:
“I know now, more than I ever did (and I always on some level knew it), that I need that intimate, sustained surrender to the company of my own mind while it touches another’s—which is reading. … That I need to offer the fruits of my own imaginative intelligence to another without fear of anything more deadly than disdain – which is writing.”
I would like to take that idea of “intimate sustained surrender” and ask if it is something we can even begin to approach with our analytical minds. The whole secret to anything is letting it speak to you…listening in a receptive way…absorbing from within that intimacy where our minds or hearts are touched by another in such a way that distinctions between the human and the divine touch of truth fade.
Everything that comes of that “intimate sustained surrender” is very individual. We enter into a relationship. There are two of us engaged in this activity and when we allow ourselves to be swept up into that other – that other world of reading or music or art, of relationship, or of the sacred – we touch something beyond…far beyond what is touched when we’re focused on dissecting what is being said or heard, or focused on an instruction and its process, practice, or outcome.
The essential component of anything that has the capacity to touch us is in the manner of how it enters us.
This has some similarity to what is called Lectio Divina, Latin for divine reading, but only a little, and I’ll tell you what I think those connections are. One is intention toward communion with the living word. We can hear a phrase like the “living word” all our lives and never get a feel for what it means until we encounter something that feels like the living word to us. It’s as though the living word jumps off the page and enters us. It could come from anywhere – a poem, an economist, scriptural reading. The focus then, of this living word, isn’t analysis or instruction but that it has entered us.
On Wikipedia (under Lectio Divina) this example is used. It’s from Jesus’ statement in John 14:27: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give unto you.” An analytical approach would focus on the reason for the statement during the Last Supper, the biblical context and so on. But in Lectio Divina, rather than “dissecting peace,” there is an entering of peace.”
This is fairly easy when the living word is given in a rather poetic way. No matter what our intention at such times, we could swoon for feelings that arise in us.
“A door has been reached, a threshold crossed. What your mind still would deny your heart cannot. A tiny glimmering of memory has returned to you and will not leave you to the chaos you seem to prefer. It will keep calling you to acknowledge it and let it grow. It will tug at your heart in the most gentle of ways. Its whisper will be heard within your thoughts. Its melody will play within your mind. “Come back, come back,” it will say to you. “Come home, come home,” it will sing. You will know there is a place within yourself where you are missed and longed for and safe and loved. A little peace has been made room for in the house of your insanity.” ACOL 11.32
Another way we might meet a more complicated text is in feeling an almost weighty sense of truth that we yet don’t understand. We might feel as if we could ponder this living word the rest of our days without knowing why it spoke to us as it did – which you might think would be frustrating – but which, if your attitude is one of openness to being touched, moved, or dwelling with, can feel like a blessing. This sort of blessing sends you into a state of simply “being with” that statement…and maybe gives you a feeling that it’s come to say something to you, even if you don’t know what…or a sense that it will accompany you through your life, so that even if you might feel some frustration in your contemplation, it wouldn’t stop you.
“Must pain accompany love and loss? Is this the price you pay, you ask, for opening up your heart? And yet, should you be asked if you would have other than the love you would not answer yes. What else is worth such cost, such suffering, so many tears? What else would you not let go when pain comes near, as a hand would drop a burning ember? What other pain would you hold closely, a grief not to be given up? What other pain would you be so unwilling to sacrifice? ACOL 3.13
“Think not that these are senseless questions, made to bring love and pain together and there to leave you unaided and unhelped, for pain and love kept together in this way makes no sense, and yet makes the greatest sense of all.” ACOL 3.21
There’s a further element of sacred reading as it relates to “A Course of Love.” The foundation of Lectio Divina came from Origen who referred to Christ as the Word of God. In his view, Christ was the interpretive key that would unlock the message in scriptural texts.
Lectio Divina was later formalized into a four step process and I won’t get into that but just stick with the manner in which we take in whatever it is we read…as it seems that formal processes have the ability to get us caught up in the process to the extent that we forget that the process isn’t the end point.
Where we start in “A Course of Love” (ACOL) is with a shifting from the ego self to the Christ in us. It is the Christ in us, the living word, that will be relating to what is given in the messages … if we can allow it. Even if we don’t know what this means, or don’t feel particularly allowing, the idea of it, presented in ACOL’s first pages – the idea that this shift will happen – can do something to us.
The living word doesn’t only apply to the sacred as such. Maybe you’ve heard of the living word in terms of a national document. The United States Constitution is described as a living document. When that is said, it means the opposite to its interpretation – as by Supreme Court Justice Scalia – as “the words on paper.” It means the spirit of those words that continue to live and change as people and history move forward. This is important because if we don’t see our national constitutions or scripture in this dynamic way, it might still be legal to own human beings – slaves, or women. In the Bible, particularly the Old Testament, “the words on paper” taken literally, might instill the idea of vengeance as not only the way God operated, but as quite allowable in human beings. So living words mean a lot more than being revisionist.
Beyond that are the feelings evoked by our living words. Words like liberty or soul are more than dead words – they become part of us – they can even become us. This means that they are “living organisms,” and that their “meanings are dynamic,” as Peter Ludlow, a professor of philosophy at Northwestern wrote.
This kind of reading of the living word is an experience. We enter into it. This is the modus operandi by which “A Course of Love” takes up the call to the new human; a human capable of transcending the ego and creating a new world.
Here are some ways entering is spoken of within this scribed series of books (A Course of Love, The Treatises of A Course of Love, and The Dialogues of A Course of Love) presented as a new course in miracles.
“These words enter you as what they are, not the symbols that they represent.”
“Be aware of your heart, for this is where this learning enters and will stay.”
There is offered a means to enter into union (a state we cannot be taught to access), to enter into holy and personal relationship, and to recognize that each feeling requires us to enter into a relationship with it. Approaching these messages in a new way, we enter a time of non-learning, we enter Christ consciousness, we allow revelations to enter our awareness, we enter a new time.
One such aspect that is a forerunner of this new time, is called the time of tenderness:
“Where you learned to hate, you will learn to love. Where you learned to fear, you will learn safety. Where you learned to distrust, you will learn trust. And each learning experience will be a learning experience because it will touch your heart. It may be as simple as a smile from a child that melts away all the resentment you held from your childhood — because you allow that smile to touch your heart. It may be a time of weepiness and what you would term emotionalism. You may feel as if everything makes you want to cry because everything will touch you, each lesson will feel tender. 24.1
“The time to resist tenderness is over. The time to resist the tears of weariness is over. This is the time of the embrace. 24.2
“These feelings of tenderness can be seen as a sign. Welcome them as harbingers of this good news. Know that the time of tenderness is a sure path on the way home.” 24.3
Gordon Marino, writing for “The Stone,” a NYT forum for contemporary philosophers, says:
“If a primary aim in life is to develop into a caring and connected human being (admittedly, a big “if”), rather than, say, thinking of oneself as a tourist collecting as many pleasant and fulfilling experiences as possible, then surely a capacity for tenderness must play a role.”
There doesn’t have to be a split between the caring and connected human and the goal of enlightenment or fulfilling experiences…but there often is. “A Course of Love,” in taking us into our post-ego lives through the means of the whole and tender heart, creates a new hope for a future in which love, caring and connection through union and relationship – can become…not the goal…but the reality.
Toni Morrison is the author of many works of fiction. This quote is from a compilation of her non-fiction writings: “What Moves at the Margin.”
Gordon Marino is professor of philosophy and director of the Hong/Kierkegaard Library at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn.