In yesterday’s class, I laid out a picture of the relationship that Jesus offers us, why we shy away from it, and why our fears represent a distorted picture. That picture struck me as so potentially useful, at the very least for myself, that I want to summarize it here. I’ll probably polish this for publication on the website, but here it is in raw form.
The relationship with Jesus is important for ultimately the same reason that all relationships are important. We come home through our relationship with other Sons of God. The value of relationship with Jesus is just another example of the value of relationships in general.
However, our relationship with Jesus does have a unique significance, for the simple reason that, unlike the other people in our lives, he stands on both sides of the divide. Buddhists liken becoming enlightened to the act of crossing a river. To use that image, Jesus stands on both sides of the river. He stands on God’s side and on our side.
He expresses this in many ways. In the early dictation of the Course, for instance, he described himself as having “feet on the ground and fingertips in Heaven,” and said, “Because my feet are on the ground and my hands are in Heaven, I can bring down the glories of Heaven to my brothers on earth.”
He also talked about himself as a bridge:
Without me the distance between God and man is too great for man to encompass. I bridge the distance as an elder brother to man on the one hand and a Son of God on the other. (original version of T-1.II.4:4-5)
Because he stands on both sides of the river at once, he is in an ideal position to lead us from one side to the other. He is like the ideal Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor: He knows exactly what it’s like to be the drunk we are now, and also knows what it’s like to be on the other side, to have achieved sobriety. And thus he knows how to get from one side to the other.
We see this in the Workbook, where he tells us:
I must understand uncertainty and pain, although I know they have no meaning. Yet a savior must remain with those he teaches, seeing what they see, but still retaining in his mind the way that led him out, and now will lead you out with him. (W-pI.rV.In.6:4-5)
This passage beautifully captures the benefits for us that flow from him standing on both sides. He understands our uncertainty and pain. He sees exactly how things look through our eyes. He knows what it’s like to be on the inside of us, because he is on the inside. And yet he also knows the view from the other side, in which our uncertainty and pain are truly meaningless. Most importantly, he remembers how he got to the other side, and this what enables him to take us there.
That is why this relationship can be so powerfully beneficial for us. Yet this same fact is why, I think, we all back off from the relationship, even if only unconsciously.
The reason is simple: He is trying to get us to change. He’s all about leading us from this side to that side. Let’s be honest: We all resist change, especially such a profound change as that. We want to stay firmly planted on this side yet still have the benefits of being on the other side. Jesus, however, is calling us out of that illusion. He is calling us to pull up stakes, to pull up the false roots we have put down, to leave our comfort zone.
We fear and resist Jesus for the exact same reason we fear and resist the Course. We may feel that we love the Course, and we probably do, but we also fear and avoid it. This fear is expressed in the many stories of students throwing the Course across the room or against the wall, throwing it in the trash, or flushing it down the toilet, page by page. But it’s also manifest in milder stories of simply putting it back on the shelf for a few weeks, or a few years, or in distorting its words so that it says what we want it to say, or in loving its inspiration but silently refusing to do what it says.
That last symptom is particularly revealing. Isn’t it odd how we can read the Workbook lessons and love their inspiring truths, but then simply refuse to do the disciplined practice they instruct us to do? Aren’t we in essence saying, “I am afraid of the control you are trying to exert over me. I want to use my time and direct my effort the way I want, not the way you want”?
The Course open acknowledges our fear and resistance of it:
You have been told again and again that it will set you free, yet you sometimes react as if it is trying to imprison you. You often dismiss it more readily than you dismiss the ego’s thought system. [Originally: “Most of the time you dismiss it, but you do not dismiss the ego’s thought system.] To some extent, then, you must believe that by not learning the course you are protecting yourself. (T-13.II.7:3-5)
You cannot separate a book from its author. By fearing and resisting the Course, we are fearing and resisting its author.
It is hard to read the Course without getting the sense that Jesus is single-mindedly devoted to a change in us that is more sweeping and profound than we have ever really considered. I remember talking to a close devotee of an American spiritual master, who said of him, “He’s not content until every last cell goes up in smoke.” You can get the same impression from the Jesus of A Course in Miracles. He’s not content until every last atom of your ego has gone up in smoke. And to this end, he urges you to question all your values, to give up all you hold dear, to discipline your mind all day long, and when you aren’t sitting down and doing spiritual practice, he wants you to get up and serve the endless needs of your brothers, rather than the needs of your separate self.
Who wouldn’t be afraid of this guy? Who wouldn’t put up barricades to keep him at a safe distance? We may love him, but we don’t want him to get too close. We may attend his weekly exercise class, but we don’t want to let him into our home, for there he’d be telling us to drop and do fifty at any time throughout the day.
You may not be aware of this fear of Jesus, but I suspect it is there nonetheless. It may not manifest in really obvious ways but only subtly. For instance, do you actually do everything he asks? If not, doesn’t that mean you fear the control he would exert and are thus keeping him at arm’s length?
I think this image of Jesus as the uncompromising agent of change tends to mingle with more traditional views of Jesus as the cosmic Judge. The first Jesus looks at our ego and says, “This is all wrong. It all needs to change or else you won’t be with God.” The other one looks at our sinful nature and says the exact same thing. We can easily envision both of them looking down with disapproval on everything we identify with.
Out of all this, I think, comes a view of our relationships in which Jesus and the people who are close to us fall into two different categories.
In the first category are the people who are close to us—friends, family, colleagues, etc. In our view, they are really with us. They are the ones who understand us, see us, and love us. They are on our side. So we can relax with them. We can let our hair down. We seek our their presence so we can be ourselves.
In the second category is Jesus. He clearly doesn’t really understand us, because if he did, he would appreciate the validity of where we are now. He would see the necessity of it given our experiences and our makeup, rather than trying to change everything. He is therefore not really on our side. He’s not really with us. Thus, rather than seeking out his presence so we can be ourselves, we equate his presence with the boss showing up. He signifies work. He signifies challenge. He represents the opposite of just relaxing and being ourselves.
Those in the two different categories finish the following sentence in entirely different ways. The sentence starts like this:
You who are sometimes sad and sometimes angry; who sometimes feel your just due is not given you, and your best efforts meet with lack of appreciation and even contempt…
Those in the first category finish this sentence with “you poor thing! I can’t believe those awful people would treat you like that.” But Jesus finishes it with “give up these foolish thoughts!” (M-15.3:1).
Thus, the first category represents approval of how we are now. The second category refuses to approve, and asks us to change how we are now. The first category equals hanging out in the hot tub. The second category means getting down to work.
The message I am getting from what Jesus says in the Course is that we have it completely wrong, that, instead, Jesus is the one who is really with us. Let’s look at some of the ways in which this comes through.
Rather than holding himself apart, the only gift he wants to give us is that of unrestricted union with him:
The gift of union is the only gift that I was born to give. (T-15.X.3:4)
Can we say that of our friends and family?
He cares so much about our happiness that he experiences our gains as his gains, our breakthroughs as his, our awakening as his:
My resurrection comes again each time I lead a brother safely to the place at which the journey ends and is forgot. I am renewed each time a brother learns there is a way from misery and pain. I am reborn each time a brother’s mind turns to the light in him and looks for me. (W-rV.in.7:1-3)
Do the other people close to us experience our gains as being equally their gains?
He understands our pain. He sees the world through our eyes. We saw this in the earlier quote (“I must understand uncertainty and pain…seeing what they see”). He gets us from the inside, because he is inside. Do the people in our lives really understand what it’s like to be us? Can they possibly really get us from the inside?
He gives us all his faith, belief, and love, because we are what he treasures:
Like you, my faith and my belief are centered on what I treasure. The difference is that I love only what God loves with me, and because of this, I treasure you beyond the value that you set on yourself, even unto the worth that God has placed upon you. (T-13.X.13:1-2)
In regard to the other people in our lives, do they treasure us so much that they invest all their faith and belief in us? Do they treasure us beyond the value that we set on ourselves? Does their valuing of us reach all the way up to the value that God has placed on us?
He sees us as so flawlessly pure and lovely that he sees us the way history as seen him—as an image of God on earth:
You do not love yourself. But in his [Jesus’] eyes your loveliness is so complete and flawless that he sees in it an image of his Father. You become the symbol of his Father here on earth. To you he looks for hope, because in you he sees no limit and no stain to mar your beautiful perfection. (M-23.5:4-7)
Do the people close to us see us as the symbol of God on earth? Do they believe that, because we are here, there is hope for the world? Do they see no limit and no stain to mar our beautiful perfection?
If we think about it honestly, I think we all know that the people who are close to us are not really with us. They are too caught up in their own egos. They have their own burdens to carry, their own dramas to live out, their own separate needs to fulfill.
Jesus, on the other hand, is truly with us, in a way that others simply can’t be, at least not yet. He alone gets us from the inside. He alone knows exactly what it is like to see the world through our eyes. He alone is really on our side, really pulling for our success, really celebrating our gains and sharing our happiness, feeling them as if they are his because they are his.
And that, of course, is why he wants us to change. He knows we are not happy now—it’s as simple as that. He wants our happiness more than we do. He is on our side more than we are.
As a result, we should feel supremely relaxed in his presence, as this beautiful passage shows:
Walking with him is just as natural as walking with a brother whom you knew since you were born, for such indeed he is. (C-5.5:6)
Think about that: It’s just as natural to be with him as it is to be with the people you feel most comfortable and at ease with. In fact, one could argue that it’s more natural, because Jesus has none of the fangs that are hidden inside even the nicest of us.
Why have we gotten it so backwards? Why have we kept Jesus at arm’s length, while inviting in those that so often betray us? I think the answer is obvious. We identify with our ego. And so the people our ego feels comfortable and at home with we feel comfortable and at home with. They are the ones, we assume, who are really with us. While the one who wants us cured of our ego feels like the alien, the intruder, the drill sergeant who wants to bend us to his foreign agenda.
To go back to the analogy of the Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor: To some degree our family, friends, and loved ones are like the people who while away the hours sharing drinks with the alcoholic at the bar. We identify with our disease, and so we feel at home with those who share our disease.
But isn’t the one who is really on our side the sponsor, the guy who has sat exactly where we are sitting and who, step by arduous step, finally found a cure for his disease? Isn’t the one who really cares about us the guy who refuses to agree with our drinking, but instead is willing to take us by the hand and lead us, despite all our bitching and moaning, to our own sobriety? Isn’t the one who is really with us the guy who stands on both sides of the river, and is willing to do whatever it takes to ferry us to the other side?
We would surely understand that if we stopped identifying with the ego so strongly and realized that we, too, exist on both sides of the river; that our real desire, our real home, and our real identity are actually on the other side. And so the one who consciously stands on the other side is one who is able to be truly with us, in a way that no one else can.