Commentary on What Is Salvation

by Allen Watson

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Salvation is a promise, made by God, that you would find your way to Him at last. It cannot but be kept. It guarantees that time will have an end, and all the thoughts that have been born in time will end as well. God's Word is given every mind which thinks that it has separate thoughts, and will replace these thoughts of conflict with the Thought of peace. W-pII.2.1:1-4

To begin with, it will help to realize that the Course does not attach the same meaning to this word as does traditional religion. "Salvation" carries, for most of us, the connotation of some impending disaster from which we are "saved." From hell, for instance. From some terrible punishment. From the consequences of our wrongdoing. The picture often used in traditional Christianity is of a drowning man being thrown a life-preserver; "Throw out the lifeline," the old Gospel hymn says. The Course directly refutes this idea:

Your Self does not need salvation, but your mind needs to learn what salvation is. You are not saved from anything, but you are saved for glory. (T-11.IV.1:3-4)

Salvation in the Course is a "life preserver," but not in the same sense. It does not save us from death; it preserves us in life. It is a guarantee that death will never touch us: "Salvation is a promise, made by God, that you would find your way to Him at last" (1:1). We are not in danger of destruction, never have been, never will be. The Course's version of salvation does not reverse a disaster; it prevents the disaster from ever happening.

Before time began, God made His promise, a promise that "cannot but be kept" (1:2). That promise guaranteed that time, and all the mess we appear to have made in time, would have an end, and ultimately be without any effect at all. It guaranteed that life cannot end, that holiness cannot become sin, that Heaven cannot become hell. It guaranteed that there could never be more than an illusion of separation and a dream of suffering and death. It promised that the ego could never become real, that no will independent of God could ever arise. It defined the end from the beginning, and made it perfectly secure. We will find our way to God at last, because God has promised that it will be so.

How does salvation work? The essence of it is stated here in a single sentence: "God's Word is given every mind which thinks that it has separate thoughts, and will replace these thoughts of conflict with the Thought of peace" (1:4). The instant our mind had a thought of conflict, God's Word was implanted in our mind as well. Before disaster could even begin, the Answer was given.

You and I, who think of ourselves as separate entities, are such minds, which think that they have separate thoughts. But God's Word has been implanted in us; the truth lies beneath all our self-deception. From within, the Thought of God is quietly working, waiting, moving to replace all our thoughts of conflict. The thoughts of conflict are myriad, taking thousands of forms, each in conflict with the universe and most in conflict with each other. The Thought of peace is one. It is the one remedy to every thought of conflict, whether it be hatred, anger, despair, frustration, bitterness, or death. The Thought of God heals them all.

The remedy lies within me, now. This is salvation: To turn within to the Thought of peace, and find it there within myself.

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The Thought of peace was given to God's Son the instant that his mind had thought of war. There was no need for such a Thought before, for peace was given without opposite, and merely was. But when the mind is split there is a need of healing. So the Thought that has the power to heal the split became a part of every fragment of the mind that still was one, but failed to recognise its oneness. Now it did not know itself, and thought its own Identity was lost. W-pII.2.2:1-5

The Thought of peace that is our salvation "was given to God's Son the instant that his mind had thought of war" (2:1). No time intervened at all between the thought of war and the Thought of peace. Salvation was given instantly when the need arose. In a beautiful image, the Text says that "not one note in Heaven's song was missed" (T-26.V.5:4). The peace of Heaven was completely undisturbed. And having been answered, the problem was resolved for all of time and all eternity, in that timeless instant.

Our discovery of salvation, however, takes time. Or at least seems to. A poor analogy: Imagine that you are suddenly burdened with a ten thousand dollar tax bill for a hitherto unexpected reason, but at that very instant, someone deposits one million dollars into your checking account. You could spend a lot of time trying to raise the needed money if you didn't know about the deposit, but actually all you need to do is nothing, because the problem is already solved. Your only need, then, is to stop trying to solve the problem, and learn that it has already been answered.

Before the thought of separation (or war) arose, there was no need for a "Thought of peace." Peace simply was, without an opposite. So in a certain sense we could say that the problem created its own answer. Before the problem, there was no answer because there was no need of one. But when the problem arose, the answer was already there. "When the mind is split there is a need of healing" (2:3). It is the thought of separation that makes the thought of healing needful, but when the healing is accepted, or when the thought of separation is abandoned, healing is no longer needed. Healing is a temporary (or temporal, related to time) measure. There is no need of it in Heaven.

As the Course says of forgiveness, because there is an illusion of need, there is need for an illusion of answer. But that "answer" is really simple acceptance of what has always been true, and always will be. Peace simply is, and salvation lies in our acceptance of that fact. Salvation, as the Course sees it, is not an active divine response to a real need. It is, instead, an apparent response to a need that, in truth, does not exist.

This is why the Course calls our spiritual path "a journey without distance" (T-8.VI.9:7) and, indeed, "a journey that was not begun" (W-pII.225.2:5). While we are in it, the journey seems very real, and often very long. When it is over, we will know that we never left Heaven, never traveled anywhere, and have always been exactly where we are: at home in God. The journey itself is imaginary. It consists in learning, bit by bit, that the distance we perceive between ourselves and God is simply not there.

To our mind, the separation is real. "The separation is a system of thought real enough in time, though not in eternity" (T-3.VII.3:2). "The mind can make the belief in separation very real" (T-3.VII.5:1). The mind experiences itself as split, separated from God, and with one fragment of mind separated from other fragments. This is our experience in time, and it is "real enough" in time, although it is not real in eternity. In truth, the mind is not actually split; it is simply failing to recognize its oneness (2:4). But within that one mind, the experience of separation seems real.

Think of nearly any dream you have had in which you are interacting with other people. You are yourself in the dream, and there are other characters. Perhaps someone is making love to you. Perhaps you are arguing with someone, or being chased by a monster. Within the dream, every character is distinct and separate. The other people in the dream may say or do things that surprise you, or that you do not understand. And yet, in fact, every one of those "other characters" exists only in your one mind! Your mind is making them up. In the dream there is separation between the characters. In reality, there is only one mind, and different aspects of that mind are interacting with one another as if they were separate entities.

This, according to the Course, is exactly the case with this entire world. It is one mind, experiencing different aspects of itself as if they were separate beings. Within that dream the separation between the different characters seems to be clear and distinct, unbridgeable. And yet the mind is still one. The one mind does not know itself; it believes that "its own Identity was lost" (2:5). But the Identity was not lost in fact, only in a dream.

And so, within each fragment of the mind that is failing to recognize its oneness, God implanted the Thought of peace, "the Thought that has the power to heal the split" (2:4). This "part of every fragment" (2:4) remembers the Identity of mind. It is a part that is shared by every fragment. Like a golden thread running through a piece of fabric, it binds us all together, and draws the seemingly separated fragments constantly toward their true oneness. This Thought within us knows that "nothing has ever happened to disturb the peace of God the Father and the Son" (W-pII.234.1:4).

This Thought, implanted within us by God, is what we seek when we become still within the holy instant. By quieting all the separated thoughts, we listen for this Voice within us, speaking of our oneness, our wholeness, our eternal peace. This Thought has power to heal the split, to dissipate the seeming solidity of our illusions of separation, and to restore to the Sonship the awareness of its unity. "[Salvation] restores to your awareness the wholeness of the fragments you perceive as broken off and separate" (M-19.4:2).

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Salvation is undoing in the sense that it does nothing, failing to support the world of dreams and malice. Thus it lets illusions go. By not supporting them, it merely lets them quietly go down to dust. And what they hid is now revealed; an altar to the holy Name of God whereon His Word is written, with the gifts of your forgiveness laid before it, and the memory of God not far behind. W-pII.2.3:1-4

To participate in salvation is not the addition of a new activity, but the letting go of our ancient drama of dreams and malice. To be saved is to stop supporting our illusions, to cease adding fuel to the fire of anger, attack, and guilt that has ravaged our minds for eons. Salvation is not a doing but an undoing. It is to end our resistance to the flow of love, both the flow from God to us, and the flow from us to God and to our brothers. Salvation means we stop inventing excuses not to love. It means we stop inventing reasons why we are not worthy of it.

"The ego has no power to distract you unless you give it the power to do so" (T-8.I.2:1). The only power the ego has is what we give to it; it uses our own power against us. All ego illusions are funded by our investment in them. When we withdraw that power, and stop our support of the ego's illusions, they "quietly go down to dust" (3:3). How is the ego undone? By our choice to no longer support it.

"The secret of salvation is but this: That you are doing this unto yourself" (T-27.VIII.10:1).

When we stop supporting the mind's illusions, and they fall down into dust, what is left? "What they hid is now revealed" (3:4). When illusions are gone, what remains is the truth. And the truth is a wonderful reality within ourselves. Instead of the malice, pettiness, and evil we fear to find within us, we find "an altar to the Holy Name of God whereon His Word is written" (3:4). The truth that lies behind all the masks, the misdirection, the subtle deceptions of the ego, is an altar to God within my own heart, a sacred place, an ancient and eternal holiness.

There are treasures lying before this altar. And they are treasures I have put there! They are the gifts of my forgiveness. And it is only a short distance, a moment of time, from this place to the memory of God Himself (3:4).

The discovery of the holy altar to God within my mind is the result of doing nothing; of failing to continue my support of the ego's illusions, of refusing any longer to give my mind to the ego and its purposes. The discovery of what is true about me, and the memory of God that follows from it, all grow out of my willingness to question the illusions and let them go. I do not need to build the altar or rebuild it; it is there, behind the mists of self-deception. The way to truth is through the exposure of the lies that hide it. Deep within me, communion with God continues uninterrupted, waiting only that I turn from the lies that tell me otherwise. I can turn to that altar now. I can brush past the curtains that hide it, and enter God's Presence, and find my Self waiting there.

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Let us come daily to this holy place, and spend a while together. Here we share our final dream. It is a dream in which there is no sorrow, for it holds a hint of all the glory given us by God. The grass is pushing through the soil, the trees are budding now, and birds have come to live within their branches. Earth is being born again in new perspective. Night has gone, and we have come together in the light. W-pII.2.4:1-6

If the altar to God is within me, yet remains largely hidden from my habitual awareness, what I need to do is to "come daily to this holy place" (4:1). This is the practice of the holy instant recommended by the Text (see T-15.II.5-6 and (T-15.IV), a premeditated turning aside from our routine activities to bring our minds into this holy place, with Jesus at our side ("Let us come…and spend a while together" [4:1, emphasis mine]). If you are open to it, it seems to me that Jesus is here asking us to spend some time, daily, with him, in God's presence. If the figure of Jesus is somehow discordant for you, picture an anonymous spiritual guide, perhaps representing your higher Self. With him or her, you enter this temple, stand by the altar, and spend time there in communion with God.

We need to form this habit of bringing our minds into the holy instant, reminding ourselves of the presence of Jesus (or the Holy Spirit), remembering this altar to God within ourselves, with His Word written on it (3:4). That Word, I think, is the Word of salvation, the promise He made that we would find our way to Him (1:1). It is the Thought of peace, which will replace our thoughts of conflict. This meeting place is where we experience the unbroken communication between ourselves and God. This is where we bathe in the flow of love that streams constantly between the Father and the Son.

Chapter 14, Section VIII of the Text describes this holy meeting place, and says:

All this is safe within you, where the Holy Spirit shines. He shines not in division, but in the meeting place where God, united with His Son, speaks to His Son through Him. Communication between what cannot be divided cannot cease. The holy meeting place of the unseparated Father and His Son lies in the Holy Spirit and in you. All interference in the communication that God Himself wills with His Son is quite impossible here. Unbroken and uninterrupted love flows constantly between the Father and the Son, as Both would have it be. And so it is. (T-14.VIII.2:10-16)

And so it is. This is what I want to know and experience daily, in coming to this place. Here I bring my guilt and fear and lay it down, accepting Atonement for myself. Here my mind renews its contact with its Source. Here I rediscover the unending communion which is mine, my inheritance as God's Son. Here my nightmares are all banished, and I breathe the fragrant air of Heaven and of home.

When we come daily to this holy place, we catch glimpses of the real world, our "final dream" (4:2). In the holy instant we see with the vision of Christ, in which there is no sorrow. We are allowed to see "a hint of all the glory given us by God" (4:3). The goal of the Course for us is to come to the place where we carry this vision with us always; where our minds are so transformed that we see nothing but the real world, and live a life that is one continuous holy instant. That time may seem far off to me, but it is much nearer than I believe, and in the holy instant I experience it as now. It is by repeatedly coming to the holy instant, repeatedly immersing our minds in the vision of the real world, that this world becomes the only reality to us, the final dream before we waken.

In this happy dream, "earth is being born again in new perspective" (4:5). The images of grass pushing through the soil, trees budding, and birds coming to live in their branches speak to us of springtime, of a rebirth after a long winter. The images stand for the new perception we have of the world, in which our spiritual night is gone, and all living things stand together in the light of God. We look past illusions now, past what has always seemed like solid reality to us, and see something more firm and sure beyond them, a vision of everlasting holiness and peace. We see and hear "the need of every heart, the call of every mind, the hope that lies beyond despair, the love attack would hide, the brotherhood that hate has sought to sever, but which still remains as God created it" (W-pI.185.14:1).

Here, in the vision of the real world, we "hear the call that echoes past each seeming call to death, that sings behind each murderous attack and pleads that love restore the dying world" (T-31.I.10:3). We see that the only purpose of the world is forgiveness. "How lovely is the world whose purpose is forgiveness of God's Son!" (T-29.VI.6:1).

"How beautiful it is to walk, clean and redeemed and happy, through a world in bitter need of redemption that your innocence bestows upon it!" (T-23.In.6:5).

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From here we give salvation to the world, for it is here salvation was received. The song of our rejoicing is the call to all the world that freedom is returned, that time is almost over, and God's Son has but an instant more to wait until his Father is remembered, dreams are done, eternity has shined away the world, and only Heaven now exists at all. W-pII.14.5:1-2

We turn from the world to the holy place within; we enter the holy instant, where our illusions fall because we no longer support them, and we begin to see with the vision of Christ, seeing the real world. And then we return to the world. "From here we give salvation to the world, for it is here salvation was received" (5:1). This movement is repeated again and again in both Workbook and Text: Away from the world of dreams-into the holy instant-returning to give salvation to the world. The Course does not plan for us to retreat from the world, but to save it. It does not urge us into a withdrawn, contemplative life, but urges us from within the state of mind we find in contemplation to offer what we have found to the world.

"The song of our rejoicing is the call to all the world that freedom is returned" (5:2). Our inner healing bubbles over in a "song of our rejoicing," and that song, that ebullient joy, becomes the very thing that calls the world back to its freedom. Nothing is so healing as a person whose face is radiant with joy. It is not so much that we come to the world preaching a new religion (see W-pI.37.3:1-2), but that we transform it by our joy. We represent a new state of mind. As the Manual puts it, we "stand for the Alternative" (M-5.III.2:6). We save the world by being saved.

Salvation results not in a perfect material world, but in a state in which "eternity has shined away the world, and only Heaven now exists at all" (5:2). As we enter more and more fully into the holy instant, and the vision of the "real world" it brings, we are literally hastening the end of time itself. The phrase "the real world" is in actuality an oxymoron, a self-contradictory pair of words, for the world is not real (see T-26.III.3:1-3). The real world is the goal of the Course for us, and yet, when we have attained it fully, we will barely have time to appreciate it before God takes His last step, and the illusion of the world vanishes into the reality of Heaven (see T-17.II.4:4). The nightmare is gradually translated into a happy dream, and when all the nightmares are gone there is no longer any need for dreaming; we will awake.

Salvation, then, is the process of translating the nightmare into the happy dream, the process of undoing the illusions, the process of removing the barriers we have built to love, the process, in short, of forgiveness. The experience we are now in is our classroom. The reason we are here is to learn the truth; or rather, to unlearn the errors. The Course urges us to be content with learning, and not to be impatient. We will not be, and cannot be "abruptly lifted up and hurled into reality" (T-16.VI.8:1). It would terrify us, like a child in kindergarten abruptly being made President, or a first-year piano student being forced to do a solo recital in Carnegie Hall. Each of us is exactly where we belong, learning just what we need to learn. Let us, then, enter wholeheartedly and joyously into the process, practicing our holy instants, receiving our little glimpses of the real world, each one assuring us of the reality of our goal, and the certainty of its attainment.