Purpose: To take a stand against every form of death; to realize that, unless God is dead, death itself must be unreal. To look past the outward appearance of death (which is all around us), and see the true life which shines in all things. Thus we release all those who worship the idea of death.
Morning/evening quiet time: At least five minutes; ideally, thirty or more.
Begin with the prayer at the end of the lesson (this is the Workbook's first prayer). Make it your prayer for the day. It asks that God bless your eyes, to give them power to see beyond the illusion of death that confronts you everywhere, and to see the eternal life that shines in all things. Through this sight, you abandon the religion of worshipping death, and you rescue others from this same dangerous cult.
After the prayer, do whatever you feel guided to do with the practice period. Since the prayer focuses on seeing with Christ's vision, you may want to try to sink down in your mind and join with the Christ in you, so that His eyes become your eyes.
Hourly remembrance: One or two minutes as the hour strikes (reduce if circumstances do not permit).
Repeat the idea. You may also want to pray the prayer again; I highly recommend that. Then thank God for His gifts in the previous hour, and let His Voice tell you what He wants you to do in the next hour.
Response to temptation: Whenever you are tempted to believe in a form of death.
Forms of death include anything where life—in the broadest sense of the word—appears to be losing the battle. This would include sadness, fear, anxiety, doubt, anger, envy; in short, any negative emotion (see 1:2), as well as sickness and physical death. In the face of these, immediately repeat the idea for the day. Realize it means that life and death cannot both be real, since they contradict each other. And since life is of God and God can't be killed, unlimited life is the only reality there can be. We are not imprisoned by the power of death. We are free in God's unlimited life.
When the Course says, "There is no death," it is not talking about the death of the body. In fact, elsewhere it states that the body does not die, for the simple reason that it never has lived (T-28.VI.2:4); T-6.V(A).1:4). To talk of physical immortality and to base it on ACIM is foolishness. How could what never lives live forever?
"Death," says the lesson, "is a thought" (1:1). Not an event in the physical world, but a thought. In its simplest form it is the thought "Life ends." It is from this root thought that many different forms spring forth. Sadness is the thought of death. Fear is the thought of death. Anxiety is the thought of death. Lack of trust is the thought of death. Concern for the body is the thought of death. Even "all forms in which the wish to be as you are not" are really variants on the thought of death (1:2). My concern with my body and wishing to lose weight is a veiled form of a death thought. Part of the motivation to avoid being overweight is to "live longer." But if the body is not alive at all, what are we talking about?
Even the apparently spiritual thought of desiring to leave the body behind and to be free of it is a way of seeing physical death as some sort of salvation. "My body is a wholly neutral thing" (W-pII.294.Heading). It is neither a holy thing, destined to exist forever if we become sufficiently spiritual, nor is it a trap, prison, or real limitation on spirit. Being in a body does not keep me from being completely spiritual. Being in a body does not make me an ego. Rather, it is being an ego that makes the body!
In the world's way of thinking, death is the only certainty. Everything else is "too quickly lost however hard to gain" (3:1). As the Preacher of Ecclesiastes cries, "Vanity of vanities! All is vanity, futility and striving after wind" (Eccl 1:2, 14, paraphrased). Wealth, luxury, family, friends, nothing satisfies, and nothing lasts forever. Death takes them all in the end. Death never fails to triumph over life.
The Course says that to accept this thought system—which we all do to a greater or lesser degree, and far more extensively than any of us recognize—is to proclaim the opposite of God (death) "as lord of all creation, stronger than God's Will for life" (4:3). Each apparent triumph of death is a witness that God is dead (5:1-3). He Whose Will is life could not stop this death, so He must be dead. And as we watch the deadly drama, we "whisper fearfully that it is so" (5:4).
We may respond by saying we don't want to believe it. We don't want to worship death; we don't want to die; we want to believe in God and believe in life. In fact, however, we do want to believe in death, at least in certain forms of it. We've already pointed out that anger is a death thought. In anger, we want something or someone to "go away" or "not be," which in its essence means we want them to die. We actually hold on to guilt because we think guilt is useful; we are afraid that without guilt everything would be chaos. Guilt or condemnation is a judgment that some certain aspect of things does not deserve to exist. It is a wish for death, death of part of ourselves or of another. And certainly we hold on tenaciously to "the wish to be as you are not" (1:2).
We try to compromise. We want to hold on to certain death thoughts while letting others go. The lesson says this is impossible. You can't "select a few [forms of the death thought] you would not cherish and would yet avoid, while still believing in the rest" (6:1). Why? Because "death is total. Either all things die, or else they live and cannot die. No compromise is possible" (6:2-4).
If death exists at all, it totally contradicts life. It is life's opposite; surely that is clear. The lesson says, "What contradicts one thought entirely can not be true, unless its opposite is proven false" (6:5). In concrete terms we could paraphrase these words in this way: Death contradicts life entirely, and cannot be true unless life is proven false. The reverse is also true: Life contradicts death entirely, and cannot be true, unless death is proven false.
If God is the Will to life, how can death exist? Something must be there contradicting His Will, something more powerful than God. Anything more powerful than what we call God must actually be God, the real God. So if we are saying death is real in any form—physical death, or anger, or envy, or fear—we are saying death is God, and the God of life is dead.
Here again we find an echo of the profound words from the Text's introduction: "Nothing real can be threatened. Nothing unreal exists" (T-In.2:2–3). Life cannot be threatened. Death does not exist.
"The idea of the death of God is so preposterous that even the insane have difficulty in believing it" (7:1). It is absurd to believe that God died! Yet, the point the Course is making here is that this is what we must believe if we believe in death in any form.
"Death's worshippers may be afraid" (8:1). He's speaking about us, about you and me. We are afraid of death, let's be honest about that.
And yet, can thoughts like these be fearful? If they saw that it is only this which they believe, they would be instantly released. (8:2-3)
In other words, can the thought that God died be fearful? It is so patently absurd, so utterly ridiculous, so absolutely, obviously untrue. If we saw that this is what we are believing, when we believe in death in any of its myriad forms, we would be instantly released. We would laugh at ourselves!
Belief in death is just another form of the "tiny, mad idea" at which "the Son of God remembered not [i.e. forgot] to laugh" (T-27.VIII.6:2). If we truly saw that worry about physical death, sadness, anger, envy, anxiety, fear, doubt, mistrust, concern for bodies, and the desire for change are all just forms of the idea "God is dead," we would laugh at them! We would see that all of this is no big deal, all of it is just a silly idea that is downright impossible and therefore nothing to worry about at all.
There is no death, and we renounce it now in every form, for their salvation [those around us who believe in death] and our own as well. God made not death. Whatever form it takes must therefore be illusion. This is the stand we take today. And it is given us to look past death, and see the life beyond. (8:5-9)
No one is saying this is easy. In the illusion of time it does not happen overnight. In practice, it takes countless repetitions, constant vigilance of the mind, until we learn to uproot and deny all the forms that denial of truth has taken in our minds. To believe in death in any form is to deny life and thus deny truth. Our function here is "to deny the denial of truth" (T-12.II.1:5). It is to recognize the thoughts based on death and see they are simply silly and meaningless.
When I find myself being worried, anxious, or sad, I can ask myself, "Is God dead?" Somehow I find that helps me see the absurdity of it all. I lift a bag of groceries and the bottom falls out, spilling food all over the floor, and I am flushed with anger and deep sadness, in the form of feeling sorry for myself. Suppose in that moment I ask myself, "Is God dead?" For that is what my anger and sadness is proclaiming: God is dead. It suddenly seems so absurd for me to leap from spilled groceries to the death of God, so absurd I can laugh. And pick up the groceries.
More seriously, perhaps I experience "a great loss." My loved one dies, or perhaps I go through a wrenching divorce. The sorrow seems unending, and I feel as if life is over. "Is God dead?" In contrast to the magnitude of God, my personal [and illusory] loss is as nothing. Do I really believe that what happens in my little life can destroy the reality of God? Of course not. Especially if what I believe happened isn't even real.
Naturally in such profoundly disturbing circumstances I don't recover as quickly as I might over a bag of spilled groceries. Yet the same thoughts suggested by this lesson can be of immense comfort. Nothing dies. Nothing real can be threatened. Whatever form death takes must be illusion. When a body "dies" nothing really dies. When a divorce rips a beloved body out of my experience, nothing has truly been lost. I've been attached to an illusion, but God is still alive.
The pain and agony of loss through death or divorce can continue for months. Denying what I feel is simply not healthy, and I do not mean to suggest that we should attempt to stuff our grief with idealistic affirmations that "Death isn't real" and "Nothing has been lost." Rather, as the Course so often suggests, I can simply look at what I am thinking and feeling and recognize that, however real it feels, it is based on a denial of the truth. I can remind myself, "I'm believing that death is real, and loss is real. I'm believing that God is dead, and that's just a foolish notion. This pain, which I am indeed feeling, is therefore not real and is nothing to be concerned about. I'm okay, and God is still alive."
You might call it lucid living, similar to lucid dreaming. Although the experience you are going through seems terribly real, and the grief and sadness are real in proportion to your belief in the reality of the loss, there is still a part of you that is aware that you are dreaming, that you are being fooled by an illusion. You are fooled by the illusion, you do suffer the grief and sadness, but part of you knows it isn't really real.
That's all the Course is asking us to do. We're not being asked to abruptly jettison our feelings and our misthoughts. All the Course asks is that we recognize that they are based on a lie, that really they are proclaiming God is dead, and that simply isn't true. If we do that, the Holy Spirit will do the rest. Bit by bit, gradually (so it seems to us), the shadows of illusion will begin to lift from our minds. The form of "life beyond" the death we see will begin to take on definition and shape in our minds, and the illusion will become more and more shadowy. Our belief in death's many forms will weaken, and our belief in life will strengthen. The events of the illusion will have less and less effect on us, and we will experience the second phrase of this lesson's title: "The Son of God is free." We will know that we are eternally alive, and always have been, and there is nothing to fear.