This is one of my favorite sections in the Course. It is short, quite moving, and very beautiful. It provides another slant on the heart of salvation as the Course sees it, yet this slant is one that is probably surprising, and perhaps even a bit jarring, to most Course students. I’ve laid certain paragraphs out in iambic pentameter to highlight the beauty of the material. And I’ve underlined words that were emphasized in the original dictation but are not italicized in the published Course.
Because this section provides such a different slant on things, I’m going to start with a story, one that exemplifies what this section is talking about. It is called “Mr. Gillespie.”
by: Angela Sturgill, Chicken Soup for the Soul
When I was in seventh grade, I was a candy striper at a local hospital in my town. I volunteered about thirty to forty hours a week during the summer. Most of the time I spent there was with Mr. Gillespie. He never had any visitors, and nobody seemed to care about his condition.
I spent many days there holding his hand and talking to him, helping with anything that needed to be done. He became a close friend of mine, even though he responded with only an occasional squeeze of my hand. Mr. Gillespie was in a coma.
I left for a week to vacation with my parents, and when I came back, Mr. Gillespie was gone. I didn’t have the nerve to ask any of the nurses where he was, for fear they might tell me he had died. So with many questions unanswered, I continued to volunteer there through my eighth-grade year.
Several years later, when I was a junior in high school, I was at the gas station when I noticed a familiar face. When I realized who it was, my eyes filled with tears. He was alive! I got up the nerve to ask him if his name was Mr. Gillespie, and if he had been in a coma about five years ago. With an uncertain look on his face, he replied yes. I explained how I knew him, and that I had spent many hours talking with him in the hospital. His eyes welled up with tears, and he gave me the warmest hug I had ever received.
He began to tell me how, as he lay there comatose, he could hear me talking to him and could feel me holding his hand the whole time. He thought it was an angel, not a person, who was there with him. Mr. Gillespie firmly believed that it was my voice and touch that had kept him alive.
Then he told me about his life and what happened to him to put him in the coma. We both cried for a while and exchanged a hug, said our good-byes and went our separate ways.
Although I haven’t seen him since, he fills my heart with joy every day. I know that I made a difference between his life and his death. More important, he has made a tremendous difference in my life. I will never forget him and what he did for me: he made me an angel.
You’ll no doubt see the relevance of this story as we go along.
Condemn your savior not because he thinks he is a body. For beyond his dreams is his reality. But he must learn he is a savior first, before he can remember what he is. And he must save who would be saved. On saving you depends his happiness. For who is savior but the one who gives salvation? Thus he learns it must be his to give. Unless he gives he will not know he has, for giving is the proof of having. Only those who think that God is lessened by their strength could fail to understand this must be so. For who could give unless he has, and who could lose by giving what must be increased thereby?
Question: When we as Course students talk about someone being our savior, what do we usually mean? How exactly does this person save us? What does their saving of us look like in normal worldly terms?
The class pointed out that we normally see someone as our savior because they push our buttons, and by doing so, bring our ego to the surface, where we can be aware of it and let it go. Someone pointed out that calling someone “my teacher” often means the same thing. It means, “They do such aggravating things that bring my anger to the surface, but they are really my savior, my teacher.”
Here, in this passage, however, is a very different concept of someone being my savior. He saves me, not by pushing my buttons and flushing my ego to the surface. He saves me in a more straightforward sense, by giving me salvation. Indeed, a definition of savior is given: “Who is savior but the one who gives salvation?”
This paragraph, in fact, sketches a whole process, which we can assemble if we reorder the ideas in it. First, my savior thinks he is a body. And how do people act when they think they are a body? They need food, they need sex, they need comfort. They need to feel like a special body, with a special place in the world and people who treat them as special. And they fear hunger and lack of sex and discomfort and injury and ordinariness. And so they use their bodies to look out for all these things. If you, as an outside person, serve these needs, great, you get used, you get consumed. If you don’t serve these needs, fine, you get ignored. And if you get in the way of these needs, too bad, you get run over.
Now we can see why Jesus says, “Condemn your savior not because he thinks he is a body.” The fact that he thinks he is a body is the root of all of our condemnation of him. It is what causes him to do all those things that push our buttons. It is what causes him to perform his function as “savior” in the usual sense. But this is not how he fulfills his role as savior in the sense we find here.
From this low starting point, he needs to go on a journey. The journey begins when at some point he starts taking up his function of “saving you.” He starts giving you the salvation he possesses within him, and as he gives, he doesn’t lose what he gives, he increases it. For giving it proves to himself that he has it within himself, and thus increases his awareness of it. Through giving salvation, he finally learns “he is a savior.” And only once he learns that he is a savior can he remember his reality, which lies beyond his dreams, beyond his body. “But he must learn he is a savior first, before he can remember what he is.”
Think you the Father lost Himself when He created you? Was He made weak because He shared His Love? Was He made incomplete by your perfection? Or are you the proof that He is perfect and complete? Deny Him not His witness in the dream His Son prefers to his reality. He must be savior from the dream he made, that he be free of it. He must see someone else as not a body, one with him without the wall the world has built to keep apart all living things who know not that they live.
The paragraph opens by continuing a theme from the last paragraph, that how giving works with God is the template for how it works with us. When God gave us our being, when He gave us strength (first paragraph) and perfection, when He shared His Love with us, do we imagine that He lost? Do we imagine Him feeling drained, as if all the strength had gone out of Him? Probably not (although Greg joked that in the Bible He had to rest on the seventh day). We probably imagine that He felt an expansion, an increase, not a decrease. This paragraph says that His gift of perfection and completion was the proof that He is perfect and complete. Creating His masterpiece was the proof of the mastery within Him.
As giving works in God, so it works in this world. Just as God didn’t lose by giving, so we don’t lose by giving. Just as God’s gift only provided proof of His perfection, so our giving only provides proof of the presence of salvation in us. It provides proof that we are a savior.
This discussion about God’s giving contributes another point as well. Since God giving perfection to us is the proof, the witness, that God is perfect, that means that each creation of God, each person, is the witness to God’s perfection, at least when he is reflecting who he really is in this world-when he is fulfilling his role as savior. Thus, when our brother is performing his role as savior, he is being God’s witness in this world.
Then we have this puzzling line “Deny Him not His witness in the dream His Son prefers to his reality.” How do we not deny God His witness? How do we make sure that God is not without a witness to His perfection in this crazy dream? This will be answered as the section proceeds.
The next sentence continues talking about “he” but now the “he” is not God but our brother again, our savior. It says that before our brother can be free of the dream he made, he must become a savior. “He must see someone else as not a body, one with him without the wall the world has built to keep apart all living things who know not that they live.” This is the active ingredient. This is how he saves. He may believe he is a body, but his function is to see others as something beyond the body. And by doing this, he eventually awakens to his own reality beyond the body.
But is this how we think of the people in our lives? That they are here to free themselves from the dream by seeing beyond our body and awakening us to the spirit we really are? This may be how we think of spiritual masters, but about our friends, our co-workers, our neighbors?
Discussion: What problems do you think might come out of seeing people as being called to save us through seeing the Christ in us?
I think the main problem is that it seems to put salvation out there. Everything we’ve been taught says that “my salvation comes from me” (Lesson 70). If someone else is my savior, doesn’t that put responsibility outside of me-exactly where my ego has been trying to put it? We’ll see that this section has an answer for this apparently thorny question.
On the other hand, there are advantages to seeing people in this way. For one, it is a much more ennobling view of them as our savior, wouldn’t you say. Think about the contrast: savior as button-pusher vs. savior as one who sees into my very being and awakens me to the holiness of it. Both views may help me see another’s behavior in a new light, but which one gives a more exalted view of the person?
Within the dream of bodies and of death
is yet one theme of truth; no more, perhaps,
than just a tiny spark, a space of light
created in the dark, where God still shines.
In a world of ego, a world in which minds appear as hunks of flesh, which are driven to serve only their own hunger, which battle each other incessantly before they all end up in the grave, a world in which the truth has been forgotten in the total absorption with self, the madness can seem to be seamless. However, there “is yet one theme of truth.” It is small, just a tiny pinhole, but it is still there, like a tiny star shining in the blackness of night, “a space of light…where God still shines.” At this point we naturally wonder: What is it?
Discussion: Every person, every culture, every religion, every philosophy has its own idea of what the best thing in this world is. Let’s name some of the different things that are considered the pinnacle of what can be found in this world.
The class mentioned: Security, democracy, health, love, romance, Jesus, the cross, peace on earth, ending world hunger, beer, freedom, birth of a baby, a gold medal, natural beauty.
Now let’s look at what this section says is the “tiny spark,” the one true thing that can happen in this untrue world. The answer is given us over the next five lines:
You cannot wake yourself. Yet you can let
yourself be wakened. You can overlook
your brother’s dreams. So perfectly can you
forgive him his illusions he becomes
your savior from your dreams.
That first line is a doozy. “You cannot wake yourself.” This seems to go against everything we believe. To resolve the tension, we may instantly leap to assume that it is the Holy Spirit Who wakes us up. But that is not what this section says. To see what it does say, we can just string the next sentences together: You can let yourself be wakened by overlooking your brother’s dreams (forgiving him his illusions), at which point he becomes your savior from your dreams.” To say that he saves you from your dreams is the same as saying that he wakes you up, right? To compress it even further: You cannot wake yourself, but you can let your brother wake you up. Are we comfortable with this message?
The scenario is this: You first forgive your brother, and because something holy came out of you and blessed him, he now sees something holy in you, something that transcends your body. As the Course says elsewhere, he sees in you more than you see (T-14.II.4:4). And by seeing this in you, he is the one who teaches you that it’s there. He awakens you to its presence. He teaches you that you are an angel.
This is how this section resolves the tension between “my salvation comes from me” and “you cannot wake yourself.” It is my forgiveness that unleashes my savior to give me the salvation I cannot give myself.
Question: Try to think of a time when this happened in your life-where you truly overlooked someone else’s faults and sins and foibles, and saw something transcendentally worthy in him. And then, as a result, he saw something transcendentally worthy in you, and awakened your awareness of that. Or maybe it was the other way around-where you started out on the receiving end.
This —this exchange of salvation, this holy encounter-is the one holy thing that can happen in this unholy world. Why?
The world is a dream of bodies struggling, eating and dying. It is every one for himself. It is a jungle out there. This exchange of salvation, this “holy interaction” (P-2.V.5:8), is the complete reversal of the dynamic that rules the world. It is one person stepping outside conventional self-interest to give to another, even in the face of being attacked. And then it is that other person stepping outside of his own bubble to return the gift. Both have reached beyond the bubble of self-interest and now both are no longer alone. For a brief time, they have left the battlefield that covers this earth.
True forgiveness is a step completely outside the ego. The last thing the ego wants to do is forgive. When I have been apparently hurt by you, the ego wants me to look out for my needs and attack yours. Instead, forgiveness (at least on the level of appearances) seems to look out for your needs while ignoring mine. It does the exact opposite of what the ego wants to do. To overlook my brother’s dreams-the very dark dreams that seemingly hurt me-goes against every instinct for self-preservation I have.
The gift I gave seemed to be given outside me, to my perpetrator, given at the expense of my own self-interest. Yet it was such a pure gift, so totally free of ego, how could it not bless me? It will bless me by waking up my savior, who will return the gift to me (this explains the line “Deny Him not His witness in the dream His Son prefers to his reality”). He cannot wake himself; he needs my egoless gift of love. And once he receives it, he will do for me what I cannot do for myself. He will awaken me with a similar gift of egoless love. This joint extension beyond the separate self to save another, this mutual gift of salvation, is the one heavenly thing that can happen on this shadowy, egocentric earth. This is the spark that shines within the dream.
Let’s now continue with our paragraph:
And as you see
him shining in the space of light where God
abides within the darkness, you will see
that God Himself is where his body is.
Before this light the body disappears,
as heavy shadows must give way to light.
The darkness cannot choose that it remain.
The coming of the light means it is gone.
In glory will you see your brother then,
and understand what really fills the gap
so long perceived as keeping you apart.
There, in its place, God’s witness has set forth
the gentle way of kindness to God’s Son.
Whom you forgive is given power to
forgive you your illusions. By your gift
of freedom is it given unto you.
The next lines describe what sounds like an ecstatic experience, an experience of the “space of light where God abides within the darkness.” You thought the space between you and your brother was space that keeps you apart, space that was occupied by his body, “the wall the world has built to keep apart all living things.” Yet now your brother’s body has vanished, and you see that this space is actually filled by God Himself. To your surprise, you see your brother shining with the glory of God Himself.
What is “the gentle way of kindness to God’s Son”? It is, I think, described in the very next line: “Whom you forgive is given power to forgive you your illusions.” This is the way we are kind to ourselves, the way we remember that we are God’s Son. We forgive, and thereby empower our savior to do this saving of us.
That phrase “is given power to forgive you your illusions” bears scrutiny. What gives him this power? I think we can see this from two angles. First, he is given the power to see the holiness in you, because he has been on the receiving end of it. As the Text says elsewhere, “The joy of teaching is in the learner” (T-16.III.7:4). It’s the receiver who understands the true worth of the gift-and the true worth of the giver. Second, you will more likely be open to receiving the gift of forgiveness from someone to whom you have given that same gift. It will probably make more sense to you if that’s who gives it to you. Think about the Mr. Gillespie story. Would the girl in that story have given anyone else permission to make her an angel?
This brings up a core issue: Once we forgive another, we have to let him save us. We have to let him be our teacher, to let ourselves be wakened (to use the words of our section). We have to give him a certain kind of seniority when it comes to this key issue: Are we forgivable? Are we holy? Even if only a moment before, we were wearing the hat of teacher/healer/forgiver, we now have to wear the hat of student/patient. We have to realize that when it comes to our own nature, we, for now, are hopelessly biased. We are not in a position to see. We don’t see our own holiness, not really. We are stuck behind a mountain and can’t see the sun. We have to be taught our holiness by the eyes of someone who sees in us more than we see, someone who has been profoundly blessed and forever changed by the holiness in us. That is what happened to the girl in the story, and that is what needs to happen to us. Are we willing to let our brother be our teacher, not as button-pusher, but as revealer of our hidden holiness?
Make way for love, which you did not create, but which you can extend. On earth this means forgive your brother, that the darkness may be lifted from your mind. When light has come to him through your forgiveness, he will not forget his savior, leaving him unsaved. For it was in your face he saw the light that he would keep beside him, as he walks through darkness to the everlasting Light.
When we hear that line “Whom you forgive is given power to forgive you your illusions,” our first thought is probably, “But can I trust him? How do I know he won’t he just take my gift and run?” This paragraph is meant to answer those concerns. “When light has come to him through your forgiveness, he will not forget his savior, leaving him unsaved.” This is really pictured in terms of a travel image. It’s as if we are both in chains, unable to move ahead. But then the light of love shines from your face, and frees me to move on. How can I now forget you and leave you behind, still stuck in your chains? I’m going toward the everlasting Light, but I’m not there yet. The light in your face is my only light for now. Your shining face is the little light that reminds of the greater Light to which I go. What else would I do but make sure you stay beside me?
Trusting my brother in this sense is an ego-transcending gesture. How can we truly be free of the ego and say, “I trust no one”? We Course students tend to be firmly esconced in the virtues of individualism. No one saves me but me! Yet the Course clearly says, “Specialness [the hallmark of the ego] is a lack of trust in anyone except yourself” (T-24.IV.1:1). Learning to trust that our brother will return the gift, being willing to let him save us-these are essential attributes of the mind moving in the direction of egolessness.
How holy are you, that the Son of God
can be your savior in the midst of dreams
of desolation and disaster. See
how eagerly he comes, and steps aside
from heavy shadows that have hidden him,
and shines on you in gratitude and love.
He is himself, but not himself alone.
And as his Father lost not part of him
in your creation, so the light in him
is brighter still because you gave your light
to him, to save him from the dark. And now
the light in you must be as bright as shines
in him. This is the spark that shines within
the dream; that you can help him waken, and
be sure his waking eyes will rest on you.
And in his glad salvation you are saved.
This paragraph completes the image begun in Paragraph 3, the image of your ecstatic experience of the “space of light where God abides within the dream.” You have seen your brother’s body shined away, and your brother shining with the glory of God. Now your brother steps forth from the heavy shadows (the body) that have hidden him, “and shines on you in gratitude and love.” He shines all the brighter because the light in you has been given him. And now his shining causes you to shine just as brightly as him. And he has saved you.
The imagery here is ecstatic, but the way it looks when it actually happens may be quite ordinary. It may just be someone really thanking you, with an unusual depth of sincerity, for the gift you gave. As in our story, it may be running into someone at a gas station. But if you had eyes to see it, what is really going on is what is described here: Your savior is stepping out from behind heavy shadows and shining on you in gratitude and love, and causing you to shine.
The section concludes with yet another image. If you wake someone up, you can be sure his waking eyes will rest on you. This is literally true, of course. But here it is a metaphor: If you wake someone up spiritually, you can be sure that his loving gaze will first bless you with the gift of illumination.
What I find so moving about this section is that it says quite plainly, twice, that this exchange of salvation is the one spark of light in this dark, nightmarish world. It is a world full of separate bodies pursuing their separate interests, a world full of lonely, warring egos. There seems to be no light, no hope. Yet in this seemingly endless blanket of darkness, there is “yet one theme of truth; no more, perhaps, than just a tiny spark, a space of light created in the dark, where God still shines” (3:1). Rather than going about my business, pursuing my separate interests, caught up in my ego, I can reach out beyond my ego. I can overlook your ego, for no selfish reasons whatsoever. And if I do, you will spontaneously reach beyond your ego to bless me. You will shine on me in gratitude and love, again, for no selfish reasons whatsoever. Both of us will have lifted our heads out of the daily grind of getting our separate needs met. Both of us will have given the other a gift he cannot give himself. Both of us will overlooked appearances and seen “someone else as not a body, one with him without the wall the world has built to keep apart all living things” (2:7). Two people will have reached beyond their egos in order to benefit another, and in the process will have realized that they are one. And this, says the Course, is the one true thing that can happen in this untrue world.
Begin by asking the Holy Spirit, “Who is the main person You want me to see as my savior right now,
my savior who is called to waken me by giving me salvation?”
Choose the first person that comes to mind.
Begin by thinking about the dreams you have trouble overlooking in this person.
Now realize that those dreams seem so bad because they get in the way of things you want from the world,
Yet the only thing that matters in this world is overlooking his dreams.
For you are simply unable to wake yourself. You’ll never do it without his help.
Yet you have “the power to release your savior, that he may give salvation unto you” (T‑21.II.3:8).
Now have a sense of overlooking his dreams,
seeing past them to the holiness in him.
Have a sense of forgiving him his illusions.
Nothing is more important in this world.
“Forgive your brother, that the darkness may be lifted from your mind.”
“So perfectly can you forgive him his illusions he becomes your savior from your dreams.”
See him now shining in the space of light where God abides within the darkness,
and as you do, you see that God Himself is where his body is.
Before this light his body disappears, as heavy shadows must give way to light.
In glory do you see your brother now, shining with divine radiance.
This glory is what really fills the gap so long perceived as keeping you apart.
Trust that now that light has come to him through your forgiveness,
he will not forget you, his savior, leaving you unsaved.
For it was in your face he saw the light that he would keep beside him,
as he walks through darkness to the everlasting Light.
Now let him be your savior, your teacher.
Realize that he sees in you a holiness you cannot see,
And that this sight is your salvation.
Give him seniority in this one area.
Let him give you his gift. Take it in.
It is only your ego that would refuse it.
See how eagerly he comes, and steps aside from heavy shadows that have hidden him,
and shines on you in gratitude and love.
He is himself, but not himself alone.
He is God’s witness, shining on you God’s evaluation of you.
The light in him so bright because he carries the light God gave him and the light you gave him.
And now the light in you must be as bright as shines in him.
Within the dream of bodies and of death is yet one theme of truth;
no more, perhaps, than just a tiny spark, a space of light created in the dark,
where God still shines.
This is it.
This is the spark that shines within the dream:
that you can help him waken,
and be sure his waking eyes will rest on you.