[Please note: ACIM passages quoted in this article reference the Foundation for Inner Peace (FIP) Edition.]
He has asked for love, but only that he might give it to you. You do not love yourself. But in his eyes your loveliness is so complete and flawless that he sees in it an image of his Father. You become the symbol of his Father here on earth. To you he looks for hope, because in you he sees no limit and no stain to mar your beautiful perfection. (M-23.5:3-7)
I have lately been dwelling a great deal on these words from the Manual for Teachers. They come from the section entitled, “Does Jesus Have a Special Place in Healing?” In them Jesus is speaking about himself in the third person; he is the “he” in these lines. Here he speaks movingly about how he sees us, in words that are so intense we find them almost impossible to believe.
From time to time over the years my mind has spontaneously gone to these words. My knee-jerk reaction has been: How could it be that Jesus looks to me for hope? That in me he sees the symbol of his Father on earth? That in me he sees no stain to mar my perfection? These are certainly beautiful thoughts, yet so extreme and so unbelievable that my mind has naturally kept them at arm’s length. The Course’s verbiage gets a little overdone at times; we all know that. Or so said some mechanism in the back of my mind. Lately, however, this passage has taken on a whole new meaning for me.
The section in which we find this passage is about the role of Jesus, and specifically about the purpose of calling on his name. What the section says is that his name is merely a symbol.
The Name of Jesus Christ as such is but a symbol. But it stands for love that is not of this world. It is a symbol that is safely used as a replacement for the many names of all the gods to which you pray. It becomes the shining symbol for the Word of God…. (4:2-4)
Thus, his name is a symbol for God’s Love, a symbol that can replace our false gods, a symbol of the Word of God, a symbol (as we are told earlier in the section) of the Name of God (2:8).
Not only is his name a symbol, but Jesus is himself a symbol. Specifically, he was sent to us as a human symbol of God. “Would God leave anyone without…a savior who can symbolize Himself?” (7:4) Because he is a symbol of God, “in remembering Jesus you are remembering God” (3:2).
Why do I point this out? Because in the passage I quoted at the beginning, he says that he sees us as “the symbol of his Father here on earth.” How interesting. Here he sees us as a human symbol of God, yet he himself is a symbol of God. This, I believe, provides a clue into the fuller significance of the passage. Look at the passage again. Look at the things it talks about: seeing in someone an image of the Father, a symbol of the Father here on earth, someone we look to for hope, someone in whom we see no stain to mar that one’s perfection.
Imagine that you were to give people on the street a test which asked them to pick a name which was their answer to the following four questions: Who do you see as an image of the Father? Who do you see as an earthly symbol of God? Who do you look to for hope in this world? In whom do you see no limit nor stain to mar his or her beautiful perfection? I can guarantee you what name would pop up most frequently on those tests: the name of Jesus.
This passage, then, is modeled after how we see Jesus! It is modeled after our recognition of him. My belief is that our world as a whole-not everyone in it, but the majority of the world-has some kind of innate recognition of who Jesus is. We sense something in him that reminds us of a better estate, a nobler realm, a primordial purity; that, in short, reminds us of home.
Notice how the words of this passage capture what our world has seen in him. I would like now to go through those lines and reflect on how they describe our recognition of him. To begin with, we see in him a loveliness-what a word! And not just any loveliness; one that is so flawless and complete that he seems to be the actual image of God. And so history has framed him. One of my favorite lines about Jesus comes from Dostoyevsky: “There is in this world only one figure of absolute beauty: Christ. That infinitely lovely figure is…an infinite marvel.”
In this dark world, so ruled by senseless insanity, so tangled with meaningless contradictions, so fraught with pointless suffering, Jesus came as an earthly symbol of Divine Sanity, a human symbol of God. I love the words of Huston Smith (from his classic, The Religions of Man) about this: “It came to the point where [his followers] felt that as they looked at Jesus they were looking at the way God would be if He were to assume human form.” We may have resented and hated him, but still have we looked to him, as children in the midst of a disaster will instinctively look to an older, wiser figure to lead them out. Almost as a reflex action, the eyes of the world have looked to him for hope, because we see in him a wisdom not our own. We see in him a way out of the madness. If anyone can lead us out, we have assumed, it is Jesus. If he has come, there must be hope for the world.
Finally, we see him as all these things because in him we see no limit and no stain to mar his beautiful perfection. This line more than any other best describes how I personally see him. Alone among the figures of this world I see in him something I can only describe-for want of a word not yet invented-as perfection, a word I hesitate to apply to anything in this world, a word I don’t apply to anything else in this world. To me his perfection seems, like the rarest diamond, to be without stain, without flaw, without the slightest blemish to mar its unearthly beauty. Again the words of Huston Smith come to mind: “Through the pages of the Gospels Jesus emerges as a man of surpassing charm and winsomeness who bore about him, as someone has said, no strangeness at all save the strangeness of perfection.”
I realize that the above paragraphs do not reflect how everyone sees Jesus. Perhaps I am projecting my personal recognition of him onto everyone else. Yet I don’t think so. For on the whole our world seems to have responded to him as it has to no other. Every subsequent time period (at least in the West) has claimed him as its champion. Nearly every spiritual path (East and West) has adopted him as a spiritual hero, an avatar, an incarnation of God. I doubt there is any figure in history who has exercised such universal attraction and commanded such universal respect. No one wants to tangle with Jesus. No group wants to find themselves on one side and him on the other. He remains for nearly everyone a looming figure of power, an enigma, a paradox, even a disturbance, yet also an authority.
Why have I spent so much time talking about our recognition of Jesus here? Because that is the key to really appreciating the passage I am discussing. For the passage may be modeled after our recognition of Jesus. But it is actually talking about his recognition of us. Do you see what this means? It means that the shining divinity we recognize in him he recognizes in us. It means that all of the flawless, beautiful perfection we see in him, he sees in us. That is an idea so utterly foreign yet so sublime that we cannot dwell on it enough. That is what I have been dwelling on lately, and why I am writing this article.
Think back on all the things I have just said about Jesus and about our world’s recognition of him. Then realize that all of it, absolutely all of it, he sees in you. Imagine someone seeing you as so flawlessly lovely that in that person’s eyes you are an earthly image of the Divine. Imagine someone seeing you as the very symbol of God here on earth. Imagine someone thinking that while you are here, there is hope for this world. Imagine someone seeing in you literally no limit, no stain, no sins and no faults to mar your beautiful perfection. Then imagine that the person gazing on you so quietly and with such enraptured love is Jesus himself, the Teacher of teachers.
How could this be? How could it be true? Our minds fumble for an explanation, or perhaps an excuse to reject the idea. Can we really be worthy? Can we handle that much love? Maybe, we think, if we let it in we would explode. Yet perhaps we need just that. Perhaps the ego in us needs to explode, in order to leave us with who we really are. In the Course, Jesus says he sees us as something far beyond the ego, far beyond the petty human we see ourselves as. He says he is right about us and we are dead wrong about ourselves. In the face of such radical reversals of our normal perspective I find it helpful just to trust him. He has told us directly that he sees divine loveliness in us. Either he really does or he is a liar. Which one seems more likely?
Seen in this way, this passage provides the basis for a new view of all kinds of things. To begin with, of course, it can give us a new view of ourselves. As the passage says, “You do not love yourself.” In our eyes we are full of stains that have not just marred our perfection, they have blown it to smithereens. Each of us could probably make a list of hundreds of things that have made us unworthy of love: character flaws, physical imperfections, past mistakes, past attacks from others, abilities we lack, etc. In short, we don’t love ourselves. The passage states this fact and then goes on to say, “But in his eyes your loveliness is so complete….” The “but” there implies that his vision of us is the answer to our vision of ourselves. His love for us can heal our lovelessness of ourselves. Riding the crest of his love, we can come to love ourselves. In this vein, I have found it very helpful to sit down and say to Jesus directly: “In your eyes my loveliness is so complete and flawless that you see in me an image of your Father. I have become the symbol of your Father here on earth. To me you look for hope. Because in me you see no limit and no stain to mar my beautiful perfection.” You might want to try this yourself.
This passage also provides a new reason to love Jesus. Many of us have been taught that we should love Jesus out of obligation or fear. Out of obligation, because he did so much for us that we just better cough up some major gratitude. Out of fear because we all know that if we don’t lavishly praise divine beings they might just send us to hell. Yet the opening line of this passage gives the true reason for loving him: “He has asked for love, but only that he might give it to you.” All he wants to do is love us, and with that love save us from our self-condemnation. Yet while we do not love him, we will not allow our minds to receive his love for us. We will not trust it. We will not feel we deserve it. Only by giving him our recognition of him will we let in his recognition of us. He says elsewhere in the Course, “Believe that the truth is in me, for I know that it is in you” (T-11.VIII.8:4). We should believe the truth is in him, for if we do, we will trust him when he says it is in us.
This passage also provides the basis for a beautiful holy relationship with Jesus. The best relationships, the ones we dream of, are those in which both people see something wonderful in each other. Many of us recognize in Jesus a perfection that is not of this world. Yet here he is saying that he recognizes the same thing in us. What more glorious basis for a relationship! We are both in love with each other, with a love that goes beyond bodies, personalities and egocentric desires and reaches straight to the Heart of God. If we are in love with him and he is in love with us, what reason would there be to be afraid, or to feel shy and reticent, or to hold back in any way? We can give ourselves to the relationship with nothing but uninhibited joy.
In this passage we also see a profound new vision of other people. For surely this passage is not meant for ourselves alone. Jesus must be standing by other people’s sides as well, loving them with the exact same love. We, on the other hand, may be standing by their sides, but chances are we are not loving them like that. We generally see them as quite lackluster and boring, filled with flaws and blemishes, deserving of a bit of tolerance perhaps, but certainly not worthy of infinite love; maybe somewhat attractive, but surely not a symbol of God on earth. I have found it to be a useful practice to look at someone and remind myself that at the exact same moment, Jesus is looking on this same person-no matter who they are-and seeing no limit nor stain to mar his or her beautiful perfection. Then I ask myself: Who is more likely to be right: me or Jesus? Do I really think I see more and know better than he does? Do I really want to pit my understanding against his?
Finally, in all of this we see a new view of Jesus. Many of us have been taught to see him as a fearful figure of judgment and wrath, a figure who reminds us of all our sins because it was our sins that nailed him to the cross. I myself used to see him as a kind of distant hero, inspiring and beautiful, but unconnected to me. In light of this passage, we see him as an intimate friend and lover, who stands always by our sides, ceaselessly gazing on us with infinite love, wanting only to give us this vision so we can make it our own.
This is how Jesus saves us. This is his greatness. We have traditionally thought that he saved us by paying for our sins and by passing the merit he earned on to us. Yet in words that echo our passage, he says, “It is not my merit that I contribute to you but my love, for you do not value yourself” (T-10.III.6:4). We have often assumed that his greatness lay in some uniquely intimate relationship with God. Yet in the Course he claims that he reached the summit of spiritual development due to one thing alone: he “saw the face of Christ in all his brothers” (C-5.2:1). He says he became the leader in the plan for salvation, not because of his awesome experiences of God, but because of his single-minded devotion to his brothers. “My devotion to my brothers has placed me in charge of the Sonship…” (T-1.II.4:6). In other words, he reached his place because he learned how to literally disappear into perfect love and helpfulness toward us.
We all know that someone who believes in us can transform our lives. Someone who really loves us can make the world and everything in it seem to glow with new meaning. How wonderful to realize that that someone is standing beside us always, constantly offering us life-changing love. And how wonderful to realize that this unseen stranger, who believes in us with such overwhelming intensity, is Jesus himself. May we allow in his love and let it change us.