In my late pre-teen years I was fortunate to have, for about six weeks, as a substitute Sunday school teacher, a professor of religion and philosophy from the University of Texas. I feel sure now that, if the church elders had known what this man did, they would have crucified him summarily. In order to move us away from trying to understand the Bible microscopically by quoting scripture out of context, he would ask us to name any subject, theological, moral or spiritual, and he would defend both sides of the issue using Bible passages. Fornication, incest, alcohol, dancing -- he could defend or deny the sinfulness of any and all of these by quoting limited passages and therefore encouraged us to approach the Bible as a whole. He also demonstrated the difficulty with translation and interpretation in attempting to make up specific dogmas and rules of moral behavior. He taught that Christianity was much more a religion of the heart than one of behavior. For this and to him I will be eternally grateful and, as a result of his teachings (as well as increasing awareness as I grew) I left the organized church at the age of 12 never to return.
There is no question that we can rationalize and justify just about any position by using our own interpretation of certain passages from A Course in Miracles. This has been done by so-called "Christians" for about 19 centuries and it should not be hard to see where that has gone. Our fundamental problem in studying the Course is that we do not know how to read it. A Course in Miracles written from an absolute, not relative perspective. All of our so-called "thinking" is relative, comparative and conditioned by the past. It therefore interferes with the actual understanding of the Course. I would like to take but one passage from the Course on the subject of abundance to demonstrate what I mean.
"Only those who have a real and lasting sense of abundance can be truly charitable." [T52/58]
For the meaning of the terms in this passage I will first and foremost reference only the Course to itself as much as possible and, after that, as a secondary source, reason. Every attempt will be made to avoid conventional definitions or socially understood meanings.
Let us begin with "only" -- this clearly implies exclusivity. Therefore, the meaning is clear: there is no one who does not meet the criteria set forth who can be charitable. Those who do not have a real and lasting sense of abundance cannot be charitable. Beyond exclusivity however this word "only" is based in "one." Using that, this phrase could be heard as "[The realization of] One[ness] who [by nature] has a real and lasting sense of abundance can be truly charitable."
Moving on to "have" -- here we find our first "curve ball", so to speak. A Course in Miracles says to "Remember that spirit knows no difference between having and being." [T67/73] It repeats this theme in 8 different passages in 4 different chapters. So, in a sense, the Course says that only those who realize that they ARE a real and lasting sense of abundance can be charitable. This makes no sense within the historical context of our learning, but as we proceed its meaning may become clear.
Next is "real and lasting" -- in Course terms these are not only synonymous but identical and the two are, no doubt, used together for reinforcement and emphasis, a beautiful poetic technique. The meaning of "real" is inescapable. For this we reference the Introduction:
"Nothing real can be threatened.
Nothing unreal exists."
Anything which can be threatened does not exist. If the sense of abundance can be threatened, it is not real and does not exist. What is threat? For this let us refer to the second part of this phrase, "lasting". Since A Course in Miracles is absolute, it obviously means eternally lasting, changeless. Repeatedly the Course attempts to teach that only the changeless is real. Time and time again it points to the shifting, changing inconstancy of the world as the fundamental source of fear. It seems quite clear that "real and lasting" means changeless and invulnerable to time, attack or loss. This phrase is the key to understanding this passage. It clearly says that any sense of abundance which can change or be threatened in any way is not only false, it does not exist.
"Sense" is rather tricky in that the Course says that "To sense is not to know." [Lesson 4] clearly implying that this entire statement is applicable only to the field of perception and is a way of attempting to define right or true perception. Here it cannot mean "sense" in its most literal meaning in that real and lasting abundance belongs to the province of Spirit and therefore cannot be seen, heard, smelled, tasted or touched. Therefore it is reasonable to assume that the Course means some sort of inner feeling, awareness or attitude.
Now we come to "abundance." here we must stop and put away all of our past learning; forget everything we ever knew about the meaning of this word. In this culture I observe an almost automatic and inextricable attachment of the concepts of money and materiality to abundance. In all of the Course material the word "abundance" is used only 15 times. Nowhere is this word associated with any material concept or value and, if it is associated with anything at all, it is with "miracles". If we attempt look to a synonym like "supply" we find it used only 11 times and most often associated with "strength." Neither of these words is directly associated with person, place or thing. The phrases "material abundance" and "divine supply" do not appear at all anywhere in A Course in Miracles or associated materials. So, what could this possibly mean? One of the fundamental principles of A Course in Miracles is that "The truth is simple; it is one, without an opposite." [T508/546](1) It does use "false", "the body", "illusions", and "my thoughts" in talking about the "opposite" of truth. However, since these are all unreal, then according to the most fundamental principle of A Course in Miracles, they DO NOT EXIST; they have no cause and no effects. In the language of duality, "abundance" means the opposite of lack. In Course terms, however, relative or temporary abundance has no meaning and absolute abundance would mean the absolute absence of lack or any perception or possibility thereof. So, as long as the possibility of lack or loss exists in the mind, there is NO potential of abundance for that mind. The author of the Course even pokes some gentle and loving fun at us when he says, in Lesson 76, "You really think that you would starve unless you have stacks of green paper strips and piles of metal discs." The one feature of A Course in Miracles which the relative mind does not like or even understand and attempts to avoid and evade is its absolute uncompromising unequivocality. Abundance then is a state of mind in which loss is impossible. Can this be attained by the acquisition of finite articles which always shift and change, come and go?
Momentarily, let us look at "be". As we have seen, in Course terms having and being are the same, as are giving and receiving. So to be charitable also means to have the capacity not only to give charity but also to receive it. To have it is to be it is to give it is to receive it. This, of course, sounds like double-talk and will be perceived as such by the relative mind which makes distinctions among these various "functions".
Finally, what does it mean to be "charitable"? Here is where we are most likely to fall in the trap of thinking we know. For most of our modern Christian history, charity has been equated with the giving of alms, the performance of public works for the "less fortunate", philanthropy, particularly of the material variety. A Course in Miracles uses the word "charitable" only 5 times and, other than the passage under consideration, it is used in a rather sarcastic and negative way, pointing to the fallacy of our temporal concept of charity. The Course continues this exposure of the falseness of the world's charity in Lesson 126 and The Song of Prayer, but it does give us a rather clear definition of its meaning for the word beginning in Chapter 2 of the Text,
"Healing is an ability that developed after the separation, before which it was unnecessary. Like all aspects of the belief in space and time, it is temporary. However, as long as time persists, healing is needed as a means of protection. This is because healing rests on charity, and charity is a way of perceiving the perfection of another even if you cannot perceive it in yourself. Most of the loftier concepts of which you are capable now are time-dependent. Charity is really a weaker reflection of a much more powerful love-encompassment that is far beyond any form of charity you can conceive of as yet. Charity is essential to right-mindedness in the limited sense in which it can now be attained.
"Charity is a way of looking at another as if he had already gone far beyond his actual accomplishments in time. Since his own thinking is faulty he cannot see the Atonement for himself, or he would have no need of charity. The charity that is accorded him is both an acknowledgment that he needs help, and a recognition that he will accept it. Both of these perceptions clearly imply their dependence on time, making it apparent that charity still lies within the limitations of this world. I said before that only revelation transcends time. The miracle, as an expression of charity, can only shorten it. It must be understood, however, that whenever you offer a miracle to another, you are shortening the suffering of both of you. This corrects retroactively as well as progressively." [T23/27]
Its use of this word is consistent in a number of other passages throughout the Text and several Workbook lessons. So, "charity" is not an activity, but a way of seeing -- it IS right perception. As for "help" in the passage above, the Course cautions us, "Do not attempt to 'help' a brother in your way, for you cannot help yourself." [T201/216] Only the Holy Spirit is truly helpful and by seeing a brother through right perception or charity, one sees the perfection that always already exists and in that seeing healing is accomplished for both.
I leave you to your own discovery of the ultimate meaning of this passage, but I hope that this exercise has offered a demonstration of the fallacy of interpreting the Course utilizing our traditional definitions of the terms as well as a different and more profound way of reading and understanding A Course in Miracles.
1. echoed in T616/662 and Lesson 152