A Dialogue Between Mary Benton and Robert Perry
This is a dialogue that took place between Robert Perry and Mary Benton on the subject of the special function, between September and December of 2004. Mary is an intelligent and articulate long-time student of the Course from Australia. She wrote Robert saying that she didn’t agree with how the special function was characterized in his book, Path of Light. Robert felt that that this question—what is our special function?—is so important and such a source of confusion for Course students, that he asked Mary if she would like to dialogue about it for the website.
In a spirit of dialogue I’ll mention here one issue — it’s not mentioned in my review. It relates to the Course’s teaching about the special function. The most relevant sections in Chapters 25 and 26 seem to me to be talking about forgiveness, seeing sinlessness, making a change from specialness to union. In fact we are told “forgiveness is the only function meaningful in time.” It seems to be talking about a specific case (or cases) of forgiveness we are being asked to make. This seems to me to be different from “our particular way of extending forgiveness and healing” — the definition you offer and describe in Path of Light. As I understand it, this work of extending healing and forgiveness can only come after we have made some headway in the primary forgiveness job(s) we have been given, and that primary job is our special function which may extend after that. You bring out this point brilliantly in Relationships as a Spiritual Journey where you discuss the concept of the joint special function. This doesn’t come out clearly enough in Path of Light.
The sections in the Course about the special function are very potent and specific. There is a lot there about our specific job — forgiveness. The term is not used in the Manual, although it does speak of “special gifts, born in the holy relationship toward which the teaching learning situation is geared.” The terms “teacher of God” and “healer” may be more appropriate terms for our individual roles in extension, although there is a joint special function certainly, a function consequent upon our forgiveness of a holy relationship partner, and this extension is achieved by the Holy Spirit — we may not even know about it. Of course, I’m not discounting conscious effort under His Guidance.
Am I merely being picky about terminology? In this case I don’t think so. I feel the account of the special function in Path blurs the definition the Course seems (to me) to be offering us.
You’re raising, of course, a major issue: what does the Course exactly mean by the term “special function”? My understanding is that you are saying that our special function is forgiveness, especially forgiving a particular person or persons. And, if I get you right, you are contrasting that with the way I defined it in Path of Light, which was “our particular way of extending forgiveness and healing.”
Rather than starting out by talking about how I framed the term in Path of Light, I think it’s best to back up and ask how the Course frames the term. What I’d like to do is go through a series of passages that I see as relevant, commenting on each one, and then wrap it all into one package. I’ll treat the passages in the order they appear in the Course.
Everyone has a special part to play in the Atonement, but the message given to each one is always the same; God’s Son is guiltless. Each one teaches the message differently, and learns it differently. (T-14.V.2)
Our “special part to play in the Atonement” is, I believe, a synonym for our special function. Calling it a “special part,” however, makes something very clear: that our part is somehow different from other parts; it is unique. This is overtly stated later in the passage when it says that “each one teaches this message differently.” On the content level, every part is the same; the purpose of every part is to teach the same message. But on the form level, every part is different, unique, special.
To each who walks this earth in seeming solitude is a savior given, whose special function here is to release him, and so to free himself. In the world of separation each is appointed separately, though they are all the same. Yet those who know that they are all the same need not salvation. (T-20.IV.5:3-5)
This is the first mention of special function in the sense we are talking about (two previous mentions are about the Holy Spirit’s special function). Here we find the same dichotomy of an underlying sameness contrasted with a difference or specialness on the level of appearances. The specialness in this case is that my special function is to release a particular person, a person who other functions are not designed to release. This seems to line up with what you are saying. However, if you are saying what many students say (don’t think you are, but can’t quite tell)—that my special function is to merely internally forgive this person, so I can learn my own lesson of forgiveness—then that is different from what this passage is saying. For it specifically says that my special function is to “release” this person—meaning, release him from his bondage—and that releasing him is what frees me (rather than my private, internal forgiveness being what frees me).
God is glad to have you look on him. He does not will your savior be unrecognized by you. Nor does He will that he remain without the function that He gave to him. Let him no more be lonely, for the lonely ones are those who see no function in the world for them to fill; no place where they are needed, and no aim which only they can perfectly fulfill.
Such is the Holy Spirit’s kind perception of specialness; His use of what you made, to heal instead of harm. To each He gives a special function in salvation he alone can fill; a part for only him. Nor is the plan complete until he finds his special function, and fulfills the part assigned to him, to make himself complete within a world where incompletion rules. (T-25.VI.3:3-4:3)
This is the real beginning of the term “special function” as a term applied to our function on earth, so it’s an important passage. What does it say? The first paragraph speaks of us recognizing our brother as our savior, and through that letting him have his function. (This is a theme elsewhere, that by saving our brother, we set him free to assume his function as savior.) The rest tells us about this special function. It is an “aim which only they can perfectly fulfill.” It is a “special function in salvation he alone can fill; a part for only him.” Further, it is the Holy Spirit’s use of our desire to be special, to be different and unique. So in many different ways, this function is different than other functions. As my dictionary says about the word “special,” this function is “readily distinguishable from others of the same category; unique; specific.”
Yet while in time, there is still much to do. And each must do what is allotted him, for on his part does all the plan depend. He has a special part in time for so he chose, and choosing it, he made it for himself. His wish was not denied but changed in form, to let it serve his brother and himself, and thus become a means to save instead of lose. (T-25.VI.5:8-11)
This is from the next paragraph and again reinforces the idea that we have a “special part,” some role to play in the overall plan that is different from other roles.
Your special function is the special form in which the fact that God is not insane appears most sensible and meaningful to you. The content is the same. The form is suited to your special needs, and to the special time and place in which you think you find yourself, and where you can be free of place and time, and all that you believe must limit you….Yet if [God’s] Will is seen as madness, then the form of sanity which makes it most acceptable to those who are insane requires special choice. Nor can this choice be made by the insane, whose problem is their choices are not free, and made with reason in the light of sense. (T-25.VII.7)
Here again we find that contrast between sameness of content and difference of form. The content of your special function is the same as the content of all other special functions. The form, however, is different—specifically suited to your special needs and special location in time and space. It is in this form that you will learn sanity. This form must therefore be specially chosen to be maximally sensible, meaningful, and acceptable to you. It must be chosen with utmost sanity. You cannot make this choice, for you are still insane.
The Holy Spirit needs your special function, that His may be fulfilled. Think not you lack a special value here. You wanted it, and it is given you. (T-25.VI.7:1-3)
Our special function gives us a special value here, a value that is different, distinct, unique. This reinforces the idea that special functions are by nature different from each other.
To each his special function is designed to be perceived as possible, and more and more desired….Nor is he left without escape from madness, for he has a special part in everyone’s escape. (T-25.VII.9)
Here again, “special function” is equated with a “special part”—a special role to play in the larger project of everyone’s escape from madness.
Consider once again your special function. One is given you to see in him his perfect sinlessness. (T-26.II.6:5-6)
This is very much like the earlier passage from Chapter 20. Like that passage, this one implies that what makes your function special—different from other functions—is the fact that yours is designed to save one person, while other functions are designed to save other people.
Now is the light of hope reborn in you, for now you come without defense, to learn the part for you within the plan of God. What little plans or magical beliefs can still have value, when you have received your function from the Voice for God Himself?
Try not to shape this day as you believe would benefit you most. For you can not conceive of all the happiness that comes to you without your planning (W-pI.135.25:5-26:2)
We can tell this is about special function by the reference to the word “function” and by reference to “the part for you within the plan of God.” What in this passage makes my function a special one? We are told in this lesson to come to receive our function from God’s Voice and to receive our plans for the day from His Voice. So, in this passage, what makes our function special—different from other functions—is that it is made up of specific actions we take day-to-day that others do not take.
It is not our part to judge our worth, nor can we know what role is best for us; what we can do within a larger plan we cannot see in its entirety….Whatever your appointed role may be, it was selected by the Voice for God, Whose function is to speak for you as well. Seeing your strengths exactly as they are, and equally aware of where they can be best applied, for what, to whom and when, He chooses and accepts your part for you. (W-pI.154.1-2)
This is an extremely important passage about special function, even though the term is not used. However, the language about our “part” and our “role” “within a larger plan” make it clear that it’s about special function. We were told earlier that our special function cannot be selected by us, and this passage tells us exactly how it is selected. The word “selected” (“it was selected by the Voice for God”) implies a great deal. “Select” means “choose…from a number or group.” So the Holy Spirit is choosing your particular role from a kind of menu of all possible roles. Your role, then, will be different from the rest of the roles; it will be special. How does He select it? He does so based on an unerring perception of “your strengths,” “where they can be best applied, for what, to whom and when.” So the foundation is identifying your strengths, and then comes the question of where they can be best applied, to whom they can be best applied, for what they can be best applied, when they can be best applied.
All that we are asked to do is to accept our part in genuine humility, and not deny with self-deceiving arrogance that we are worthy. What is given us to do, we have the strength to do. Our minds are suited perfectly to take the part assigned to us by One Who knows us well. (W-pI.186.2:5-7)
Here again the Holy Spirit is assigning our “part” to suit our mind’s particular characteristics (“our minds are suited perfectly to take the part”). It doesn’t say “strengths” here, but that is a likely inference, especially since the word “strength” is used and since this passage is after the previous one.
I have a special place to fill; a role for me alone. Salvation waits until I take this part as what I choose to do. (W-pII.317.1:1-2)
Here special function (or “special place” or “part”) is defined as “a role for me alone.” This is an exact match for the earlier line: “a special function in salvation he alone can fill; a part for only him” (T-25.VI.7). We don’t know what makes it special, but we can see that “special” means “different from other roles.”
Certain pupils have been assigned to each of God’s teachers, and they will begin to look for him as soon as he has answered the Call. They were chosen for him because the form of the universal curriculum that he will teach is best for them in view of their level of understanding. (M-2.1)
The word “special function” is not mentioned here, but the concept is present. What is important about this passage is that it tells us what is special about a person’s function (at least a person who is a teacher): “certain pupils have been assigned to” him. My function is special because it serves Jeff, Tom, and Bill, which is not true of anyone else’s function. On what basis were these pupils assigned to me? Because my particular spiritual path is the right one for them.
The Holy Spirit is described throughout the course as giving us the answer to the separation and bringing the plan of the Atonement to us, establishing our particular part in it and showing us exactly what it is. He has established Jesus as the leader in carrying out His plan since he was the first to complete his own part perfectly. (C-6.2:1-2)
Here as before the Holy Spirit establishes our “particular part” (“particular” means “special”) in “the plan of the Atonement.” There is some special role we have to play in the overall plan, and the Holy Spirit selects it and shows us “exactly what it is.” Jesus is the leader in the plan of the Atonement not because he woke up first, but because “he was the first to complete his own part perfectly.” If you’re in need of a manager for an overall plan, who better to lead the whole thing than the one who completed his own part in it perfectly?
Based on the above passages, I think we can safely draw the following conclusions about the meaning of “special function.”
1. Everyone’s special function is the same in content, but different in form. The content, I think, is forgiveness, as we can see in the following passages:
Salvation of the world depends on you who can forgive. Such is your function here. (W-pI.186.14:5-6)
My function here is to forgive the world for all the errors I have made. (W-pI.RIII.15.1:2)
Salvation is my only function here. Salvation and forgiveness are the same. (W-pI.99.9:6-7)
Forgiveness is my function as the light of the world. (W-pI.62.Heading)
Forgiveness represents your function here. (W-pI.192.2:3)
Let us this day accept forgiveness as our only function. (W-pII.330.1:1)
Thus, forgiveness is our function, but not our special function. “Special” means that there is something about our function that distinguishes it from other functions. This leads to the second point.
2. Our special function is our special role in the overall plan of salvation. It is our special part of the whole plan (“special part” occurred three times in the passages we looked at). In a military campaign, every soldier has a special part in that overall campaign. Just so, every person has a special part in the Holy Spirit’s overall campaign to save the world.
3. This special part is assigned to us by the Holy Spirit. He assigns it based on very individual factors:
- Our special strengths (W-154)
- Our mind’s special characteristics (W-186)
- Our special needs and special place and time (T-25.VII)
- Our particular spiritual path (M-2)
Going back to the military campaign, we can almost imagine some officer looking over a new recruit, sizing up his aptitudes, looking at what he has to offer, what he does best, and choosing his special role based on that.
In this scenario, our special strengths are the key thing. When you are picking a job for someone out of a list of potential jobs, their strengths are the thing you look to. When Jesus selected Helen for the role of scribe of the Course, he obviously did so because she had the ability to hear his voice so clearly. When the Holy Spirit selects someone to be a healer, He wouldn’t do so unless that person had the requisite abilities. From my point of view, then, Lesson 154, with its discussion of the Holy Spirit selecting our special role based on our strengths, is a crucial discussion.
A specific example of this principle can be found in the section “Are Psychic Powers Desirable?” (M-25). There, it talks about how the Holy Spirit wants to use any psychic abilities (and abilities are strengths) we stumble on:
The seemingly new abilities that may be gathered on the way can be very helpful. Given to the Holy Spirit, and used under His direction, they are valuable teaching aids. (M-25.3:1-2)
Any ability that anyone develops has the potentiality for good. To this there is no exception. And the more unusual and unexpected the power, the greater its potential usefulness. Salvation has need of all abilities, for what the world would destroy the Holy Spirit would restore. “Psychic” abilities have been used to call upon the devil, which merely means to strengthen the ego. Yet here is also a great channel of hope and healing in the Holy Spirit’s service….The Holy Spirit needs these gifts, and those who offer them to Him and Him alone go with Christ’s gratitude upon their hearts, and His holy sight not far behind. (M-25.6)
These two paragraphs tell us that the Holy Spirit wants the psychic abilities we discover in ourselves, because, first, they can be valuable teaching aids. Teaching aids are different than learning aids. Teaching aids are aids in teaching—in teaching others. Second, these abilities can be useful in salvation—they can be used for the salvation of the world. Third, they can be “a channel of hope and healing in the Holy Spirit’s service.” If we use them to serve the Holy Spirit, they can be used as a channel of healing to others.
All in all, the ability (or strength) is what opens up the potentiality to serve others in a particular way. This, of course, is exactly what happened with Helen. She discovered an essentially psychic ability, and this opened up the potentiality for her to help others by being the scribe of the Course. So, our abilities are what guide the Holy Spirit in selecting our particular way of serving others.
4. Each part is special in a number of different ways:
- Each one teaches the same message differently (T-14.V)
- Each one is assigned to save a different person (T-20.IV, T-26.II)
- Each one is assigned to teach particular pupils (M-2)
- Each one is assigned a role that is reflective of his strengths (W-154)
- Each one is assigned different specific actions each day (W-135)
- Each one is assigned a different set of where, when, for what, and to whom (W-154) (Notice how “where” and “when” match the “place and time” from T-25.VV)
In my mind, we need to simply include all of these in the overall picture. To get a sense of the overall picture, we can appeal to the analogy of the Peace Corps (rather than a military campaign). Based on my strengths in, let’s say, digging wells, I’m assigned to a serve a certain village that is without water (serving a particular collection of people), helping them dig a well (a role reflective of my strengths). This occurs in Africa (the “where”), in 2004 (the “when”), where I perform tasks specific to my function each day (assigned different specific actions each day). I’m not saying that this is a special function in the Course sense (though it could be). It’s just a useful handle for understanding the total picture.
In my own case, based on my strengths as a thinker and writer, I’ve been assigned to serve a population of Course students, with emphasis on particular people, helping them, through writing, speaking, and interpreting, to understand and apply the Course. My base is in Arizona. My time period is 1986 (when I started teaching) till the end of my life. And for the sake of this function I perform certain tasks every day (for which I try to listen to the Holy Spirit).
Now the inner content of my function is meant to be forgiveness. So my writing and speaking are supposed to be suffused with the content of my own practice of forgiveness, especially of the people I’m serving. Without that inner practice of forgiveness, my function becomes a rather hollow exercise in moving forms around. But without the outer form, my function becomes crippled in its ability to actually reach others, and thus unable to really play its part in the overall plan of salvation.
Now, as you say, and as I’ve said elsewhere, since forgiveness is the core of my function, my function may have its roots in my forgiveness of a particular central person in my life. It may be there, in that relationship, that I learned how to forgive and how to save another, and therefore acquired the beating heart of my function. But I also suspect it can work differently with different people. In Helen’s case, her function as Course scribe began before she forgave Bill, something it sounds like she never really did. But it sounds like Jesus had planned for her a greater function as a real teacher of the Course. And this function never materialized, because she never forgave Bill. That’s Ken Wapnick’s theory anyway, and I think it makes sense. So in her case (assuming Ken is right), her basic function as scribe didn’t require her to forgive this one central person, but the deeper version of her function did.
So, the special function is our special part or role in the overall plan of salvation. In content, it is the same as all other roles. But in form, it is different. The Holy Spirit has selected for us a special form of the one function (forgiveness) to suit our special strengths and abilities, as well as our special location in time and place. This special form is composed of: a role that is reflective of our strengths (such as scribe, or teacher, or writer, or therapist, or healer), particular people we are assigned to save, a specific spot in space and time, and particular actions to perform during a given day. This role may begin with forgiving a certain, central person, though I suspect that how forgiving that person relates to our role is flexible. Sometimes that forgiveness may be the beginning of our role. Sometimes it may be required in order to move into the deeper dimensions of our role.
The way I characterized the special function in Path of Light was this:
This is our own particular way of extending forgiveness and healing. The content of everyone’s function is exactly the same—we extend to others a vision of themselves as blameless and clean, as God’s Son. Yet the form in which we do this is different for each one of us, tailored to fit our unique strengths, as well as our particular culture and life situation.
I think that’s accurate, but it doesn’t mention the element of “assigned to particular people” and doesn’t talk about how it may be rooted in forgiving a particular person. It also doesn’t mention the idea of our special part in the overall plan, though that is mentioned briefly later in the discussion (“we’re filling a useful purpose, we’re playing our part in a larger plan”). So, it’s not an ideal description, but I think the gist of it is on target.
Thank you for your reply — it has helped me clarify my own understanding about this. There do seem to be some differences in our interpretation of the Course on the subject of the special function, although I am certainly not saying it is simply a matter of internally forgiving someone so we can learn our own lesson of forgiveness. We would both agree that the special function involves extension.
Both our pieces cover some of the same material from the Course, but there seem to be some differences in our approach and conclusions. Rather than go off on too many tangents I have attempted to state, as clearly as I can, my own understanding based on passages from the Course.
For me the foundation for understanding what the Course means by the term “special function” would begin with a close reading of the section in Chapter 25 entitled “The Special Function” read in the context of the whole of that chapter. As we know there are several important sections there and the subject continues into Chapter 26. As you mention, there are other relevant sections elsewhere in the text — Chapter 20, Section 4 (Entering the Ark) and in several Workbook lessons, for example, Lessons 135, 154, 186, and others. As we read the Course on any topic we find connections everywhere. In several places we learn we have a function, a part to play, a special function chosen for us by the Holy Spirit. As I understand the Course the content of our function is forgiveness, and our special function will be some form suited to us in which our perception is changed, we forgive, see sinlessness, and move from specialness to union. I wouldn’t agree with your statement that “forgiveness is our function, but not our special function”. I would say the essence of the special function is forgiveness and its extension.
What follows is my current understanding of the teaching — like you I am continually in awe of the depths the Course continually reveals. In studying this subject I have particularly noticed the importance of context.
The early sections of Chapter 25 consider our perception of the world and, in particular, our perception of our brother. We are told how seeing him as sinless shows us our own sinlessness and our oneness with him. Section 5 (The State of Sinlessness) tells us the function we and our brother have for each other is perceiving each other’s sinlessness. We are told:
Forgiven by you, your savior offers you salvation. Condemned by you he offers death to you … If you decide against his proper function, the only one he has in truth, you are depriving him of all the joy he would have found if he fulfilled the role God gave him. (T-25.V.4:5-8)
To let his function be fulfilled is but a means to let your be. And so you walk toward Heaven or toward hell, but not alone. How beautiful his sinlessness would be when you perceive it. (T-25.V.5:2-4)
All the sections in this chapter are establishing a strong context and meaning for the word “function”. Forgiveness and seeing sinlessness are two key points.
Section 6 (The Special Function) continues and amplifies the theme of forgiveness of our brother:
Would you behold your brother? God is glad to have you look on him. He does not will your savior be unrecognized by you. Nor does He will that he remain without the function that He gave to him. (T-25.VI.3:2-5)
In the very next paragraph we are told:
Such is the Holy Spirit’s kind perception of specialness; His use of what you made, to heal instead of harm. To each He gives a special function in salvation he alone can fill; a part for only him. Nor is the plan complete until he finds his special function, and fulfills the part assigned to him, to make himself complete within a world where incompletion rules. (T-25.VI.4)
Then we are presented with an opportunity to make a perfect choice in special faithfulness to our brother:
Here where the laws of God do not prevail in perfect form, can he yet do one perfect thing, and make one perfect choice. And by this act of special faithfulness to one perceived as other than himself, he learns the gift was given to himself, and so they must be one. Forgiveness is the only function meaningful in time. It is the means the Holy Spirit uses to translate specialness from sin into salvation. (T-25.VI.5)
And a bit further on:
The Holy Spirit needs your special function, that His may be fulfilled. Think not you lack a special value here. You wanted it, and it is given you. All that you made can serve salvation easily and well. The Son of God can make no choice the Holy Spirit cannot employ on his behalf and not against himself. Only in darkness does your specialness appear to be attack. In light, you see it as your special function in the plan to save the Son of God from all attack, and let him understand that he is safe…. This is the function given you for your brother. Take it gently then, from your brother’s hand, and let salvation be perfectly fulfilled in you. Do this one thing, that everything be given you. (T-25.VI.7)
The special function is a transformation of specialness and attack to sinlessness and joining — a function given to us by the Holy Spirit for our brother and ourselves.
Chapter 26 continues the theme:
Consider once again your special function. One is given you to see in him his perfect sinlessness. (T-26.II.6:5-6)
Later in the same paragraph we get an important statement about extension:
The miracle of justice you call forth will rest on you as surely as on him. Nor will the Holy Spirit be content until it is received by everyone. For what you give to Him is everyone’s, and by your giving it can He ensure that everyone receives it equally. (T-26.II.6:8-10)
This is talking about seeing sinlessness (described as the special function in this same paragraph) and its extension.
Elsewhere we are told:
Extension of forgiveness is the Holy Spirit’s function. Leave this to Him. Let your concern be only that you give to Him that which can be extended. (T-22.VI.9:2)
The Course sees the special function (forgiveness and its extension) as firstly the work of individual forgiveness we are asked to do. It sees the extension of that forgiveness as the work of the Holy Spirit, although it makes clear we do have a vital part to play.
The following is a very potent statement about what the plan entails:
When you have looked upon your brother with complete forgiveness, from which no error is excluded and nothing kept hidden, what mistake can there be anywhere you cannot overlook? What form of suffering could block your sight, preventing you from seeing past it? And what illusion could there be you will not recognize as a mistake; a shadow through which you walk completely undismayed? (T-22.VI.7)
Here we see the importance of our actually learning forgiveness in order to extend it. For a long time this may be an incomplete achievement, but the principle is important. We can’t extend what we haven’t received or learnt. The Holy Spirit can’t extend what we haven’t offered Him. Our special function is a practical task of forgiveness offered us by the Holy Spirit so that His universal special function of forgiveness can be fulfilled.
The external roles or forms in the world that may be vehicles for our work of extending forgiveness need careful discernment because they are vehicles. Are they carrying cargo or are they empty? The content of our minds would determine their relationship to the plan. As we know people could operate in any form in the world, use their talents, and even be in some “holy” form like priest or theologian, and not extend forgiveness. In speaking of the unhealed healer Jesus makes this point. An unhealed healer isn’t a healer. “By definition he is trying to give what he has not received”. (T-9.V.1:4). If I were advising anyone about the special function I would say it’s not about finding the forms, it’s about doing the work, and the first step in that work is likely to be close at hand. The forms will be there.
In relation to forms, of course our particular strengths, understanding, experience, and individuality would be crucial. These qualities would enable us, if we chose, to understand, forgive, and release the people assigned to us by the Holy Spirit. He knows we will “fit” each other in ways that are useful to His plan. Our part is special because we are uniquely able to forgive those particular people for our sake and theirs. This is quite a deep subject and we get glimpses of meaning about it in many passages, such as:
The specialness he chose to hurt himself did God appoint to be the means for his salvation, from the very instant that the choice was made. His special sin was made his special grace. His special hate became his special love. (T-25.VI.6:6-8)
This passage could mean many things. My feeling is we don’t understand in a fully conscious way how and why we are given the work we are given. We do know it will be healing for us in a very deep way if we allow the Holy Spirit’s plan to work in us.
The example of Helen and Bill is revealing. We know they needed to join in common purpose, and Helen had to make certain choices, before her role of Course scribe could emerge. Their continuing cooperation was necessary for the completion of the task. The further work Jesus had planned for them didn’t eventuate (Ken’s theory here seems sound) because they hadn’t progressed far enough in their forgiveness of each other. A sobering thought.
As we know, the Course is like a living web of meaning. There is much more in there about this subject than I have touched on here. What I have noticed in my reading (with an open mind) is the seamless simplicity of the message coming over and over again in different ways. The special function is about forgiveness and the healing of perception:
… the Holy Spirit heeds not who looks on innocence at last, provided it is seen and recognized. For just one witness is enough if he sees truly … Of each one does the Holy Spirit ask if he will be that one, so justice can return to love and there be satisfied. Each special function he allots is but for this… (T-25.VIII.11:1-6)
We can call on His help for this. (T-25.VIII.12:4-9). Furthermore we will be given the perfect, time, place and situation, specially planned for us, in which to make our perfect choice, and see the Son of God as he really is. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit we will learn what further part we have to play.
This is the gist of my understanding on the subject of the special function.
I am seeing a lot of agreement here. One thing I like is that we are playing by the same rules. We are both consulting a tapestry of references in the Course—key references on this topic—trying to understand those references on their own terms, as well as discern patterns that connect them. The sheer fact that we are playing by the same rules immensely simplifies things and makes for lots of broad agreement, which I appreciate.
You say, “I wouldn’t agree with your statement that ‘forgiveness is our function, but not our special function.’ I would say the essence of the special function is forgiveness and its extension.” Oddly enough, I would agree with you; I think what you’re saying is actually what I was trying to say. I believe that the essence of our special function is forgiveness. That’s the beating heart of everyone’s special function. That’s the saving ingredient. My point was simply that forgiveness isn’t what makes our particular function special, since it’s the essence of everyone’s function. My special function is special because I’m called to express the generic function of forgiveness in my own special way to my own special list of people whom I’m called to save.
More than once you refer to the special function as “forgiveness and its extension.” With this, I would completely agree. What I would add is that this extension will take a form that is special to me and be directed at a collection of individuals that is special to me, and therein lies the specialness of my function. Perhaps you are saying that, too.
I also agree on the importance of gaining that forgiveness/vision of sinlessness (I think these two are the same thing) so that we can extend it. You say, “If I were advising anyone about the special function I would say it’s not about finding the forms, it’s about doing the work, and the first step in that work is likely to be close at hand. The forms will be there.” I’m not sure I would go as far as that—I do think that sometimes people are ripe and their big need is to find the forms—but I agree with the spirit of it. The special function is about genuine giving, and you can’t give what you don’t have, as the Course often reminds us.
The one place where I think we might diverge a bit is when you say, “These qualities would enable us, if we chose, to understand, forgive, and release the people assigned to us by the Holy Spirit….Our part is special because we are uniquely able to forgive those particular people for our sake and theirs.” I don’t know if I have thought about it this way, but I think there must be truth in it. However, I think there is another side to it that is important to include. That is that the special qualities or abilities upon which the Holy Spirit fashions our special function point in two directions, inward and outward. First, those abilities allow us to tune into a truth or a light within us that becomes the content of what we have to give. That seems to be similar to your point—that these abilities allow us to let in the forgiveness that we are going to extend. But then they also point outward, to our brothers. The abilities make us particularly able to convey that forgiveness or light or truth to others in a way that affects those others, that helps them.
For instance, right now, we have someone doing a healing session upstairs. She has particular abilities that I am sure I have somewhere in my being, but I’m not in touch with right now. These abilities point both inward and outward. They point inward in that, with them, she is able to let into her mind a particular perception of the patient as whole and complete and perfect. This perception is not just an intellectual concept, but constitutes a truly altered state. And the abilities also point outward, in that she is able to somehow transmit this perception to the patient’s mind, so that it actually transfers mind-to-mind, and the patient then enters the same perception/state that she is in.
This, of course, is very much like what Helen was told in one of her visions, that she possessed a very powerful sending and receiving device. Her mind could receive in ways that other minds currently cannot. And her mind could also send in ways that others cannot. Both things were evident in the experience with Bill’s friend Joe:
Bill and I were working on a research report and I was concentrating on the statistical treatment of the data. Suddenly and very unexpectedly I laid the papers down and said, with great urgency, “Quick, Bill! Joe, your friend from Chicago, is thinking about suicide. We must send him a message right away.” Bill sat down next to me as I “sent” an earnest mental message to Joe. The words I used were: “The answer is life, not death.” Afterwards, I said to Bill, “I bet there was nothing to it,” but I was wrong. Bill called his friend that evening to ask him if he was all right. Joe was glad he had called; he had been very depressed, and had actually picked up a gun that afternoon, but something held him back. He put the gun down. (Absence from Felicity, p. 118)
Here you can see both the receiving (How did Helen know that Joe was thinking about suicide?) and the sending (How did her message actually reach Joe?). Here also you can see another point that I think is important: the encounter, in this case, appears to be driven by Joe’s need, rather than Helen’s need to forgive him. You could say (with some stretching) that the essence of what she is extending is forgiveness—since forgiveness is life, and she is extending life—but the reason for the extension is clearly that Joe is in need. It’s not clear that she was holding anything against Joe, that she had any resentments at all toward him.
This brings out a point which I don’t know if I see in your comments, that the need for the special function is driven both by our need to forgive (which you do include) and by the need of the person we are extending to, and that the more advanced we become in our function, the more the latter will predominate. Often, at least in my experience, the person we are called to extend to is not someone we have accumulated resentments toward, but simply someone who is in need. Yet by giving to this person, our own need is met. Indeed, the further along we are, the more I think this is how our need is met.
I’m not sure if your view makes room for this or not. Maybe it does; I just don’t see it mentioned. However, I think we are coming from such similar points of view, that our views could easily look indistinguishable. In fact, I’m not sure they aren’t!
Thanks for your response.
It still seems to me there is a fundamental difference in our views. To put it simply I believe the special function is actually forgiving someone, not a role in the world per se. Of course there are roles and functions in the world offered by the Holy Spirit continually, and all of these are part of the plan, and there is no doubt our abilities will be used, but the special function, as I read the Course, is forgiveness, neither more or less than that. I think the special function of forgiveness is the crucial step in the development of the holy relationship. The Course makes an explicit connection between the holy relationship and its the extension saying “the ark of peace is entered two by two” whereby the people will learn about their joint special function from the Holy Spirit. I believe this is the model of the special function and its extension set out by the Course. That is a to say, we forgive someone and from that point we learn about extension under the Holy Spirit’s guidance.
There seems to be a definite point of difference here, which makes it a real dialogue.
[Please note: ACIM passages quoted in this article reference the Foundation for Inner Peace (FIP) Edition.]