Volume 24 Number 1 March 2013
Kenneth Wapnick, Ph.D.
Keep Your Eyes on the Prize
Remembering Our Purpose
Part 1 of 2
"Keep Your Eyes on the Prize" is a folk song that became prominent during the American civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, though the song was composed as a traditional gospel hymn well before World War I. Its lyrics were adapted by civil rights activist Alice Wine to encourage other activists to continue on, persevering in the face of any and all obstacles. Recorded by many notable singers, including Duke Ellington/ Mahalia Jackson, Odetta, Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, and Bruce Springsteen, the song was the title of the 1987 PBS documentary series about the civil rights movement. The song's moving refrain, Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on, serves as the theme of this article, for in A Course in Miracles Jesus asks us similarly: "Keep your eyes on the prize (salvation), remember your purpose, and hold on to me as you journey along to reclaim your rightful inheritance as God's Son and return home."
Remembering Our Purpose
Our lives have become so much with us that it is often difficult to remember the right-minded purpose for our coming into the world, which is to learn the lessons of forgiveness that would lead to the prize of salvation, the penultimate step before ending the dream of exile and awaking to the God we never left (T-10.I.2:1). We also tend to forget what first attracted us to A Course in Miracles: the "something" (or "someone") that spoke to us as we opened its pages. In the end, this "something," regardless of its form, can be nothing less than the attraction of love for love (T-12.VIII). Few would deny the Course's unmistakable authority, with its voice being gently authoritative but without the harsh authoritarianism of many spiritual texts or teachers. Whether or not one accepts the dictating voice as that of Jesus, no one could doubt that its loving and gently wise nature is consonant with the Presence the sane world has associated with him for over two millennia.
Indeed, the purpose of the workbook's year-long lessons is to train the mind to keep its eyes on the prize, remembering our daily purpose of healing relationships, from the moment our eyes open in the morning to the time we go to sleep, and then on through the night until our eyes reopen to greet the new day. As Jesus reminds us:
Forget not that the healing of God's Son is all the world is for. That is the only purpose the Holy Spirit sees in it, and thus the only one it has. Until you see the healing of the Son as all you wish to be accomplished by the world, by time and all appearances, you will not know the Father nor yourself (T-24.VI.4:1-3).
We need to recognize that the world is not too much with us, despite Wordsworth's wonderful poem, and as tempting as it is to identify with his words, or Hamlet's: "How all occasions do inform against me…." To the contrary, it is the ego that is too much with us and informs against our right-minded intentions, given that power by the mind's own decision.
This is another way of saying that we need to forget the world's purpose of amassing more and more toys of specialness, regardless of their cost, and remember our daily purpose of promoting the healing of the mind's faulty belief system of guilt and judgment. Hour by hour, minute by minute, even second by second, we aim to recognize our true identity in the world of separation as dreaming minds, and not the dream figures of bodies, "the 'hero' of the [ego's] dream" (T-27.VIII). We need to constantly and consistently inform our days with the thought that our ultimate purpose is to awaken from the dream of separation, and our specific purpose is the daily practice of forgiveness, the sine qua non for achieving the prize of salvation. "How should the teacher of God spend his day?" in the manual for teachers summarizes this daily attitude throughout each twenty-four-hour period of our lives (M-16.4-5). In fact, we should begin each day with the thought that God is our only goal (W-pII.257-60):
…let him [God's teacher] but remember that he chooses to spend [quiet] time with God as soon as possible, and let him do so…as soon as possible after waking…(M-16.4:3,7).
And then again at night, just before retiring:
If possible, however, just before going to sleep is a desirable time to devote to God. It sets your mind into a pattern of rest, and orients you away from fear (M-16.5:6-7).
Jesus urging us in this way is reminiscent of words written over fifteen hundred years ago, when St. Benedict wrote the Rule that has been the foundation of Western monastic life, up to the present.1 This holy man wrote that as soon as one awakes, before even "heeding the necessities of nature," one should remember God, and all through the day as well. He wrote: "In all things God may be glorified" (in omnibus glorificetur Deus). Indeed, "Let them prefer nothing whatever to Christ" (Christo omnino nihil praeponant). Benedict's exhortation to his monks—today and those he has grandfathered throughout the centuries—reflects what A Course in Miracles has taught us to recognize as the shift from body to mind, form to content, the ego to God.
The Course's version of this thought emphasizes the negation of the ego's negation of our Source, the decision-making mind maintaining vigilance only for God and His Kingdom (T-6.V-C) by foreswearing the trinkets of nothing the world attempts to convince us are worthwhile, if not salvific. This saying "not no" (T-21.VII.12:4), allows the truth of our Self to surface in our minds as we bring the darkness of illusions to the light of truth. Thus we read in the text:
Your task is not to seek for love [or truth], but merely to seek and find all of the barriers within yourself that you have built against it. It is not necessary to seek for what is true, but it is necessary to seek for what is false (T-16.IV.6:1-2).
Inevitably, then, our experiences would be for the glorification of God and His Son, sharing the common purpose of choosing the means (forgiveness) for achieving Jesus' end (salvation). Here is what our internal teacher asks us to keep in mind, the thought of invulnerability that would undo the ego's lies and stories:
There is one thought in particular that should be remembered throughout the day. It is a thought of pure joy; a thought of peace, a thought of limitless release.… You think you made a place of safety for yourself.… It is not so.… Your defenses will not work, but you are not in danger.… Recognize this, and they will disappear (M-16.6:1-3,5,11,13; italics mine).
The key word here is thought, which is the sole province of the mind, not the body's brain. Just as Benedict was not really speaking of the forms of monastic life but an attitude, neither does Jesus speak of behavior in his course. Indeed, the need for ongoing corrections to the sixth-century saint's vision of dedication to truth—recall the Course's words: "Let, then, your dedication be to the eternal…" (T-19.I.16:1)—led to the rise of different forms of Benedictinism and other religious orders, and then the inevitable corrections within these corrections. And on and on, up to and including the present day. These changes can be directly traced to the perennial confusion of form and content, mind and body.2 As Jesus said in a discussion of the special relationship, with a not-so-veiled reference to the Catholic religions and their sacrament of the Eucharist (communion at Mass):
Whenever any form of special relationship tempts you to seek for love in ritual, remember love is content, and not form of any kind. The special relationship is a ritual of form, aimed at raising the form to take the place of God at the expense of content. There is no meaning in the form, and there will never be. The special relationship…[is] a senseless ritual in which strength is extracted from the death of God, and invested in His killer as the sign that form has triumphed over content, and love has lost its meaning (T-16.V.12:1-4).
To attain the prize of salvation, therefore, we need to learn to keep our eye on the content of our minds, the decision to be wrong or right minded: to choose the ego and its thought system of separation, sin, and specialness, or to decide for Jesus and his corrective thoughts of forgiveness, healing, and peace. That is why remembering the aforementioned thought should be our primary focus throughout the days of our lives. What else could be more important than identifying with this idea, which is indeed our protection, salvation, and very life? What indeed in this valueless world of illusion could possibly be more valuable to us than this thought's remembrance? Workbook Lesson 133 is helpful in this regard by reminding us to lay aside what later is referred to as our "sharp-edged children's toys," the ego's most unsatisfying offerings of specialness (W-pII.4.5:2):
You do not ask too much of life, but far too little. When you let your mind be drawn to bodily concerns, to things you buy, to eminence as valued by the world, you ask for sorrow, not for happiness. This course does not…try to substitute utopian ideas for satisfactions which the world contains. There are no satisfactions in the world (W-pI.133.2).
Even more pointed are the reminders in these two prayers to God from Lessons 257 and 258, "Let me remember what my purpose is." and "Let me remember that my goal is God.":
Father, forgiveness is Your chosen means for our salvation. Let us not forget today that we can have no will but Yours. And thus our purpose must be Yours as well, if we would reach the peace You will for us (W-pII.257.2).
Our goal is but to follow in the way that leads to You. We have no goal but this. What could we want but to remember You? What could we seek but our Identity? (W-pII.258.2)
As any teacher knows, learning is commensurate with motivation. The challenge confronting all teachers, and Jesus is no exception, is to motivate their students to learn. This is no small feat when it comes to letting go of the ego, which seems to be our self. After all, we are choosing to undo who we believe we are, the reason for these words near the end of the text:
There is no statement that the world is more afraid to hear than this:
I do not know the thing I am, and therefore do not know what I am doing, where I am, or how to look upon the world or on myself (T-31.V.17:6-7).
And so Jesus needs first to convince us that we are not the person/self with which we identify, but a decision-making mind that is the true source of our distress and peace, subject only to its choice.
In A Course in Miracles we see Jesus repeatedly reminding us of the joys found in learning his lessons of forgiveness and letting go of judgment (e.g., T-3.VI.3:1; W-pI.107). It is the carrot of peace and happiness that he promises will be our prize if we follow him. Indeed, we all need a teacher to instruct us in the wiles of the special relationship, its slippery slopes of "salvation" being so alluring to our ego's need to deny love. We are so easily and frequently enticed by the seductive substitutions of the ego's desire to drown out God's Voice (see T-24.II.4-5) and dismantle the edifice of forgiveness, within which It would have us dwell. While this Teacher can often take an earthly form, it must never be forgotten that this human form is merely the vehicle for returning to the mind's content of our true Teacher, the Voice the Course calls the Holy Spirit. Because we fear the abstract, we need to use the "indirect" specifics to lead us to the nonspecific, nonspecial love that is our home away from home (see T-14.I). Sometimes, an external teacher is needed to represent our inner teacher, who in turn is the symbol of the Teacher that at the end of the journey is revealed to be our right mind's voice, purified of all worldly thoughts, needs, and aspirations. Jesus is the specific and personal name A Course in Miracles uses for this inner teacher.3 We turn to him now, and this coming to our elder brother symbolizes the content of the decision-making mind's turning away from the ego's illusory prize and to the true prize of salvation from the madness of sin and guilt. As is said of Jesus in the teachers' manual:
…turn to one who laid all limits by, and went beyond the farthest reach of learning. He will take you with him.… In him you find God's Answer. Do you, then, teach with him, for he is with you; he is always here (M-23.6:8-9; 7:7-8).
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1. The Holy Rule of St. Benedict. 1949 edition, trans. by Rev. Boniface Verheyen, OSB.
2. I remember from the relatively brief times I spent in monasteries how the monks would sometimes remain faithful in form to Benedict's mandated practice of silence, but had sufficiently mastered the art of sign language to be able to tell jokes without speaking. This hardly reflected the spirit of Benedict's Rule—"…coarse jests…or speech provoking laughter, we condemn.…"—but demonstrated instead the triumph of form (physical silence) over content (the thoughts they held with God—W-pI.rIV), the hallmark of the special relationship.
3. It goes without saying that a symbol remains a symbol, and if one does not relate to either the Holy Spirit or Jesus, than any other symbol of a non-ego, non-judgmental presence in the mind would work as well. I have simply followed what is said in the Course: "Helpers are given you in many forms, although upon the altar they are one.… But they have names which differ for a time, for time needs symbols, being itself unreal. Their names are legion, but we will not go beyond the names the course itself employs" (C-5.1:3,5-6; italics mine).