This year we have taken a giant and exciting step forward in our practice of the Course, and I am writing to tell you all about it.
For the past few years, Robert and I have been teaching daily Workbook classes, going through the lessons in chronological sequence as set out for us. This has worked very well, and we have learned more and had new insights each time through. However, as we approached the end of our year of Workbook practice last December, I had a strong sense that Jesus was calling us to a different way of being and of practicing in the new year. I couldn’t quite put my finger on exactly what this was, and I felt a bit nervous as the end of the year came closer and closer. Then it all came clear to me when we reached the Final Lessons and the Epilogue, and I understood that he was calling us to turn our practicing––and our lives––over to the Holy Spirit to guide from now on.
Let us turn to Him Who leads the way and makes our footsteps sure.
To Him we leave these lessons, as to Him we give our lives henceforth.
Of course, this was really nothing new. I had understood it every other time I had completed the Workbook, but never before had I felt ready for this step, and so I had gone back to doing the lessons chronologically. This time, however, it seemed very clear to me that the time had come to move on.
I understood the significance of moving on when I read Jesus’ comments in the Epilogue. In telling us that “No more specific lessons are assigned, for there is no more need of them” (W-pII.ep.3:1), Jesus seemed to be removing the firm structure that he had established for us and placing us in the care of the Holy Spirit. According to Jesus, from now on the Holy Spirit would guide us in everything. He would take on the role fulfilled by the Workbook up until now, guiding our practice, even telling us when and how to practice.
He will direct your efforts, telling you exactly what to do, how to direct your mind, and when to come to Him in silence, asking for His sure direction and His certain Word. (W-ep.3:3)
As I read the Epilogue, I had the distinct sense that, for some reason, Jesus needed to wean us of our dependence on the lessons. The reason became clear to me in his last sentence, “…of this be sure; that I will never leave you comfortless” (6:8).
This has striking parallels to the biblical account of what Jesus said to the disciples 2,000 years ago when he was about to leave them. In fact, in the King James Version, he virtually said the same words: “I will not leave you comfortless” (Jn14:18). In this farewell discourse, he went on to say, “It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate [the Holy Spirit, Comforter] will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7, NRSV). I think that Jesus knew that he had to leave in order for his disciples to take their next step and become true teachers of God. As long as Jesus was there, they would rely on him, seeing him as the Christ doing miraculous deeds that they could never do, and they would not step into their own roles as miracle workers. They would listen to the Holy Spirit speaking through him, and be guided by him in this way, but they would not really learn to listen to the Holy Spirit speaking to them directly from within themselves and turn their lives over to Him. The only way Jesus would get them to fly on their own was to leave them.
It seemed to me that, here at the end of the Workbook, he was doing the same thing with us. As with the disciples, Jesus didn’t want us to only be his followers, but to step into our roles as leaders. All through the Workbook, and especially in the “What Am I?” section (W-pII.14) and the following lessons (351-360), he seemed to be preparing us to accept our function as ministers of God in His plan for salvation. He wanted us to stop hanging onto his cloak tails. He had confidence that we were ready, and he wanted us to take our next step in becoming teachers of God. He also knew us well enough to realize that we wouldn’t do that as long as he was there for us in the form of the structured Workbook lessons. So, he released us from that structure and entrusted us to the Holy Spirit. He wanted us to shift our dependency from his lessons to the Holy Spirit within us, so, just as back then he left his disciples in the hands of the Holy Spirit, he was now leaving us Course students in those same hands. Just as his bodily form left his disciples, the concrete external form of the Workbook was leaving us. In both cases, an external source of instruction and guidance leaves so that we have to turn to the internal Source. From now on, it would be up to the Holy Spirit to guide us along the path and in our practicing, and up to us to follow, trusting Him in all things, and certain that He would lead us back home to God.
And so we walk with Him from this time on, and turn to Him for guidance and for peace and sure direction. (W-ep.5:5)
My initial reaction to this was a resounding “Yes!”, but that was followed quickly by my usual fearful “Yeah, but…” reaction. I had been through the Workbook many times and had come to count on the daily structure provided me by the lessons. I had been comfortable with practicing as asked; and practicing as asked often seemed to be as much as I could handle! As well, it seemed that there was always more understanding to glean from going through the lessons, and that seemed to be reason enough to continue along as prescribed. I felt some of what I imagined the disciples must have felt. I had come to rely on that wise and loving source of instruction and guidance, and I felt somewhat apprehensive about that being taken away from me.
Now, three months into the new year, I am thrilled about the way in which our year of walking with the Holy Spirit has been progressing, and about the way in which the Holy Spirit has been walking with us! I am very grateful for the many benefits we are reaping, for the discoveries we are making along the way, for the great sense of freedom and joy we are experiencing in the process, and for the companionship we are sharing as we take this walk together.
We start a typical morning class by checking in on how our practicing went the day before, especially in relation to our being in communication with the Holy Spirit. We share insights about the lesson, passage, or idea we practiced––being quite open about our “successes,” as well as about the challenges or resistance we experienced––and I answer questions that have come up. We then have a quiet time in which we ask what Workbook lesson or other Course idea we need to practice that day. Sometimes, one of us will have chosen an idea beforehand, only to be guided to another one which seems to be more what we really need to be practicing that day.
We are still trying out what works best for us in terms of receiving our lesson for the day. Some of the methods we are using are: “scriptural divination,” asking and then allowing the book to open where it will; practicing an idea or phrase from our morning Text reading; and sitting quietly, asking to receive, and then being given a particular Course thought or lesson. (Some people are continuing to follow the lessons chronologically, and I encourage them to call upon the Holy Spirit in their practicing, as well.) As each one of us shares our practice idea, the rest of us join in seeing the person as having a day of practicing and learning his or her lesson as intended. Following that, we have a period of practice and meditation.
Often I include some teaching; for instance, for the first week we read and discussed “How Should the Teacher of God Spend His Day?” (M-16). We also took a couple of weeks to learn and practice “Rules for Decision” (T-30.I) which we are making an integral part of our practicing this year. We feel as if we are on an adventure, the likes of which we have not known before, and we are glad to be on it together!
I have not always taken Jesus at his word about trusting the Holy Spirit, and I hadn’t anticipated that the Holy Spirit would actually step in and guide the process itself! During the month of February, we had reached a point where I knew something else was called for, but I didn’t know what. About an hour before the morning class, I still didn’t know where to go. I sat down and had a talk with the Holy Spirit, and then found myself opening the Course to “As for the Rest…” (M-29).
I was a bit puzzled about why I would be guided to that section, but as I read it, I realized why this was exactly what we needed. For the most part, we had been practicing with the Holy Spirit because we recognized that He would offer us better direction in our practicing and decision-making than we could provide for ourselves. Now, here in Paragraph three, Jesus offered us an additional––and more long-range––benefit, for deciding with the Holy Spirit was not only a practical way in which to live our lives, but also our route away from guilt and to salvation! I had read this section many other times, but I had never really seen this message, but this time I did, and I felt very excited and inspired by it. We spent the next week reading and discussing the section, and came away feeling more motivated and committed to our decision to live our lives with the Holy Spirit.
(By the way, on the same day on which I was guided to teach the Workbook class using “As for the Rest…,” Greg Mackie, up in Portland, Oregon, taught a class on how to listen to the Holy Spirit, and he focused on the same paragraphs from that section! We saw this as a confirmation––a Holy Spirit stamp of approval––on the direction we have been taking with our practicing, and another example of His presence with us in the process.)
Although we see this form of practicing as what Jesus is asking us to do, we are very clear that we would not be at this stage if we had not been developing the four-fold form of structured practicing (morning and evening quiet time, hourly remembrances, frequent reminders, and responses to temptation)set out for us by Jesus in the Workbook. I don’t think that the Workbook is meant to be gone through once and then set aside prematurely; nor do I believe that it is meant to be worked through forever and ever without moving on to “post-Workbook practice,” as we call it here. I, for one, work best within a clear structure, and if I had not been practicing within that four-fold structure for quite some time, I know that I would not have internalized it well enough to keep on track with my post-Workbook Holy Spirit practicing. That four-fold structure is still an integral part of our daily practicing, only now we are doing it under our own steam, instead of depending on being told to do it by the lesson instructions.
At the time of my writing this, we are still feeling our way along, counting on the Holy Spirit to help us. We are experiencing so many benefits and making so many discoveries along the way. We do not see this as a test of our “spiritual specialness,” but as a measure of our desire and willingness to prepare ourselves for being teachers of God. We are certain that with an attitude of confidence, desire and determination, and with a sense of the importance and holiness of this endeavor, we will succeed in letting the Holy Spirit make our practicing “a loving gift of freedom to the world” (W-pI.rVI.7:4),and our lives one long, continuous prayer to God.
[Please note: ACIM passages quoted in this article reference the Foundation for Inner Peace (FIP) Edition.]