[Please note: ACIM passages quoted in this article reference the Foundation for Inner Peace (FIP) Edition.]
(This article originated as notes for a class I taught here in Sedona. To preserve its full usefulness, I have decided to leave it in that format, complete with written exercises. I would encourage you to take out a sheet of paper and do them, either by yourself or with a group.)
What is the role of loving God in A Course in Miracles? Many of us grew up in churches in which loving our Creator was central. There was no question that we were supposed to do it. Yet, as Course students, chances are that we have considerable confusion on this topic, and for various reasons. For one, God is so transcendent in the Course. He can seem so beyond this world and our little lives that He seems too far away to be relevant. For another, loving God may remind us too much of the religion of our childhood, which may have left us with the impression that our job was to fill God’s voracious appetite for praise. We may have noted that the Course is critical of this emphasis, saying that God “has no ego with which to accept such praise” (T-4.VII.6:3). For whatever reason, I find that the topic of giving love to God seems to be almost taboo in Course circles. It just doesn’t seem to be talked about.
What is your relationship with the notion of loving God? What is your history with this idea and where are you with it now? You might just want to write a brief account on a separate sheet of paper.
What does the Course have to say on this topic? To answer this question, I will begin by appealing to the prayer for Lesson 225, which gives us a wonderful snapshot of how the Course views this idea:
Father, I must return Your Love for me, for giving and receiving are the same, and You have given all Your Love to me. I must return it, for I want it mine in full awareness, blazing in my mind and keeping it within its kindly light, inviolate, beloved, with fear behind and only peace ahead. How still the way Your loving Son is led along to You! (W-pII.225.1)
There are three main themes I want to draw out here:
1. We give love to God because we first received Love from Him.
Notice that we don’t just work up this love for God because it’s the right thing to do. Our loving Him is an act of returning the Love He has already given us. He loves us first; our love is a response to that. He, in fact, has not just loved us, but has given all of His Love to us. That is an overwhelming idea; it is simply too big for our minds to comprehend. However, to the extent we do believe it, loving God becomes completely natural. It is not a conscious choice; our heart simply responds. When someone has given all of his love to us, and given it for completely unselfish reasons, we naturally and spontaneously love him in return. To put this differently, when we genuinely receive, our natural response is to give. This is one implication of the Course’s dictum that “giving and receiving are the same” (mentioned six times in the Course, one of those being in the prayer above).
2. We give love to God because we want to fully receive the Love He has given us.
Notice how the prayer says “I must return it, for I want it mine in full awareness” (italics mine). You return His Love because doing so makes you fully aware of the Love from Him you have already received. This is a another side of “giving and receiving are the same”: when you give, that causes you to receive. As a result of your gift, the inner content that you gave grows greater inside you. It increases. You had already received it (or you couldn’t have given it), but now you have received it even more fully.
What this means is that your love of God is sandwiched in between two layers of His Love for you. You love Him in response to His Love and in expectation of receiving His Love more fully. You don’t just love Him because it’s your duty and He is the great and powerful King.
3. Fully receiving His Love transforms our whole journey.
Most of the prayer speaks in moving terms of what it’s like to be aware that God loves you. Let’s look at each phrase by itself:
- blazing in my mind: Just imagine God’s Love for you blazing in your mind.
- and keeping it [my mind] within its [God’s Love’s] kindly light: Imagine your mind kept, held, embraced within the kindly light of God’s Love.
- inviolate: Held in this kindly light, your mind would be totally inviolate—free from violation, injury and desecration, its sanctity untouched.
- beloved: Is there a better feeling in the world than to feel truly, totally beloved?
- with fear behind: Imagine feeling so loved that you felt as if literally all fear was behind you.
- and only peace ahead: Imagine feeling so loved that all you could see ahead of you was peace.
- How still the way Your loving Son is led along to You! This final sentence speaks of how we will journey home when we love God (when we are His “loving Son”) and hence become aware of His Love for us. We will be led home in complete stillness, with all fear behind us and only peace ahead. Try to imagine this—journeying through life with your heart full of love for God and your mind shining with His Love for you, walking toward Him in pure stillness, seeing nothing but peace on the path that stretches before you. This is the end result of loving God: a life at peace because it is infused with the “full awareness” of His Love for you.
How do we come to love God?
But how exactly do we find this love for God within ourselves? To begin with, we don’t have to manufacture it. According to the Course, it’s already there, as an essential part of our being: “For still deeper than the ego’s foundation, and much stronger than it will ever be, is your intense and burning love of God, and His for you” (T-13.III.2:8). This passage claims two things: first, that every single one of us has an absolutely consuming love for God; second, that this love is actually far stronger than our identification with our separate identity.
How, then, do we uncover this “intense and burning love for God”? The main way the Course seems to suggest is through gratitude for His Love for us. Lesson 298, which has us repeat all day, “I love you, Father,” opens with this telling remark: “My gratitude permits my love to be accepted without fear” (W-pII.298.1:1). This is the key. If we are grateful to God for His love for us, we will not be afraid to love Him. Right now, we all feel love for Him deep inside, but we fear to let this love come to the surface. Simply being told, “You ought to love God” will not wipe away the fear. Instead, we must see and feel that God loves us, then let a natural response of gratitude arise, and this will allow our buried love for God to come to the surface without frightening us.
So our initial task is to look for the evidence that God does indeed love us. I can think of four classes of evidence:
1. Eternal truths about your reality
The following are mentioned by the Course as expressions of God’s Love:
- “You are changeless, for the Son He loves is changeless as Himself” (W-pI.123.3:2).
- “Your value far transcends your meager gifts and petty judgments of the one whom God established as His Son” (W-pI.123.3:5).
- The beauty and dignity of your spirit, which “stand forever as the mark of the Love of God for His creations” (T-4.I.12:5).
- The grandeur of your true Self, which God created “out of His Love” (T-9.VIII.4:8).
- The safety of your true Self, which is protected by God’s Love (T-10.I.1:4).
Do you have some belief in the above ideas? As a Course student, you probably have at least some. If you do, can you see them as expressions of God’s Love? For instance, can you see that God creating you changeless is an expression of His Love? What sort of God would create a creature whose being was in constant flux, so that his very identity was constantly uncertain and insecure? That’s not loving. Can you see that God creating you with beauty and dignity is an expression of His Love? That one perhaps is easier. Go through all of the bullet-points above and see if you can see God creating you that way as an expression of His Love.
Now try telling yourself:
My changelessness is a result of the fact that God loves me.
My limitless value is an expression of God’s Love for me.
The beauty and dignity of my spirit come from the fact that God loves me.
My grandeur is really a result of God’s Love for me.
My eternal safety is a product of God’s Love for me.
What thoughts or feelings arose in you from repeating those lines? Did it cause you to see these eternal truths about your reality differently? If so, how? You might want to write down your answers on your sheet of paper.
2. Evidence that He is leading you home
The Course emphasizes that God’s leading us home is evidence of His Love for us. It tells us that we should be thankful that
- “…your Father has not left you to yourself, nor let you wander in the dark alone” (W-pI.123.2:2).
- “…He has not abandoned you” (W-pI.123.3:1).
- “…in our solitude a Friend has come to speak the saving Word of God to us” (W-pI.123.5:2).
In looking over your spiritual journey, do you see signs that not all of the impetus has come from you, that there has, in fact, been a guiding hand on your journey? Can you see that God has been sending you light in different forms to guide your path? For example, perhaps the Course came into your life in such a way that you could see it was literally sent to you. Write down on your sheet of paper one example from your life that you see as God sending you something in order to guide you along the path to Him.
We often are thankful that such experiences show up, but do we take them as evidence that God loves us? How does it feel when you think of the experience you just wrote about as actual evidence that God loves you, as a kind of love note from God? You might imagine that God sent you this event as a way of telling you, “I love you, Son, and I want you home with Me.” Imagine Him saying that to you and, if you will, write down how it feels to do so.
3. Inner blessings on the path
We probably think of the inner benefits we experience along the path as the result of the working of a kind of higher natural law—when we choose peace, we experience peace. This is appropriate, but it is also appropriate to see these inner benefits as an expression of God’s Love for us. We can see peace as a blessing from a God Who loves us. Please write down some inner experience that in your mind qualifies as a miracle, some instance in which fear or anger or upset was lifted from your mind and replaced by positive emotions.
Does it change your view of that experience to see your inner shift not just as the workings of the laws of the mind, but specifically as an expression of God’s Love for you? What thoughts arise in you from thinking of it this way? Please write those down.
4. Interpersonal blessings on the path
When we see God (through the Holy Spirit) as working in our lives, we may feel grateful, but we still may not make the connection that every such event is a sign of His Love. The Song of Prayer describes all instances of God (through His Voice) working in our lives as echoes of a primary sound, which it describes in this way: “The real sound is always a song of thanksgiving and of love” (S-1.I.2:9). The form is just an echo; the content is always God singing of His Love for you. Perhaps the highest blessing in this regard is the people that God sends into our lives. The following passage is particularly interesting along these lines:
Something good must come from every meeting of patient and therapist. And that good is saved for both, against the day when they can recognize that only that was real in their relationship. At that moment the good is returned to them, blessed by the Holy Spirit as a gift from their Creator as a sign of His Love. (P-3.II.5:1-3)
This passage tells a remarkable story which we might easily overlook. Every time a patient and therapist get together, some good comes out of it. No matter what happens between them, even if their relationship goes sour and they see no good in it whatsoever, all of that good is saved. It is saved in provision for (that is the meaning of “against” in this passage) “the day when they can recognize that only that was real in their relationship.” What an incredible line! Then, on that day, all the good that they pushed away and failed to appreciate is returned to them “as a gift from their Creator as a sign of His Love.” This adds up to an amazing punch line: all the good that is shared by you and another person is a sign of God’s Love for you, and so is the fact that He saves that good for you until you are finally able to see it and appreciate it.
In light of this, pick a person in your life and try to write down the essence of the good that has transpired between you and that person. You may even want to ask the Holy Spirit: “What is the good that has been shared by this person and me?” It’s not important that you get it exactly right, just that you get some sense of the good that has been there.
Having written that down, now tell yourself, “That good was a gift from my Father as a sign of His Love for me.” Repeat it over and over again, sometimes with eyes closed, sometimes looking at what you wrote. Try to let this love note from God all the way in. How does it feel when you do so? Again, please write your answer.
Expressing our love for God
Now we are ready to turn our attention to feeling love for God. In the space below, please write a prayer to God. Begin by looking over the above four categories and your written answers. Take your time in looking them over and letting their implications sink in. Realize that He has always been there, always loving you, even while you had not a clue. As the magnitude of it all sinks in, let the gratitude you feel toward God well up in you. Then express that gratitude in your written prayer. As you do, see if this gratitude does indeed permit your love for God to come into your mind without fear. If so, express that love in your prayer. If it’s there, don’t be shy—tell God that you love Him. It feels good. If it’s not there, be honest about that, too. You might even mention that you want to uncover your love for Him and ask for His help in doing so.
Finally, close by repeating the opening line from the prayer for Lesson 248: “Father, my ancient love for You returns” (W-pII.248.2:1). Say it with as much meaning and feeling as you can honestly muster. This poignant line speaks of a love that was your whole existence so long ago, a love that was so powerful that even when you left it, it could never die; it could only slumber deep in your mind, waiting for the moment when you would let it be your whole existence once again. Perhaps that moment has come. Say, “Father, my ancient love for You returns.”
I hope this article and its exercises have helped to give you a sense of permission to love God, not as a way of satisfying His ego or placating His anger, but as a healthy expression of gratitude and as the natural condition of your being.