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The Silence of Salvation: Hearing the Melody

  • August 15, 2018

Volume 16 Number 4 December 2005
Kenneth Wapnick, Ph.D.

Jesus and the Relinquishment of Judgment

A previously written article, “Learning to Listen,” focused on the importance of setting aside our personal (read: special) needs, so that we may truly be able to hear the calls for help and love from another, and answer them and our own call as well. I had referred there to the metaphor of silence in music, and on being able to hear the “silence between the notes,” to quote the great violinist Isaac Stern. That article was also somewhat parallel to my 2003 workshop “Healing: Hearing the Melody.”[1] In this current article, I would like to re-visit the idea of listening to another, emphasizing its impossibility as long as we judge. Parallel to this, of course, is the important theme in A Course in Miracles of asking the Holy Spirit for help, or looking to Jesus as our model for learning.

Moreover, the Christmas season is always a good opportunity for reminding ourselves of the importance of turning to Jesus, specifically to learn to be like him, setting aside our ego’s judgments, their place taken by his radiant vision of forgiveness and love. In 1975, Jesus gave an important message to Helen, one I frequently cite as a caution to students asking Jesus for specific help with specific problems, even, when as in her case, the sincere desire is there to be of service to another. Helen had asked Jesus what she should say to someone dealing with a difficult situation. This was his response:

Do not forget if you attempt to solve a problem, you have judged it for yourself and so you have betrayed your proper role. Remember you need nothing, but you have an endless store of loving gifts to give. But teach this lesson only to yourself. Your brother will not learn it from your words or from the judgments you have laid on him. You need not even speak a word to him. You cannot ask, “What shall I say to him?” and hear God’s answer. Rather ask instead, “Help me to see this brother though the eyes of truth and not of judgment,” and the help of God and all His angels will respond (Absence from Felicity, p. 381).

We shall return presently to this important idea that it is not our words that teach others, but the demonstration of our ego-free love, the love that Jesus symbolizes for us. Thus does he want us all to ask his help that we hear as he hears, and so respond non-judgmentally—with love rather than attack, vision and not judgment.

The implications here are clear. Since there is no way we can ever know what another truly needs, we need only focus on ourselves; specifically, on getting our egos out of the way. It is but the ego’s arrogance that would lead us to believe we could know what is in the best interest of others, and therefore how we should respond verbally or behaviorally. This salient point is underscored in the following passage from the manual for teachers:

The aim of our curriculum, unlike the goal of the world's learning, is the recognition that judgment in the usual sense is impossible. This is not an opinion but a fact. In order to judge anything rightly, one would have to be fully aware of an inconceivably wide range of things; past, present and to come. One would have to recognize in advance all the effects of his judgments on everyone and everything involved in them in any way. And one would have to be certain there is no distortion in his perception, so that his judgment would be wholly fair to everyone on whom it rests now and in the future. Who is in a position to do this? Who except in grandiose fantasies would claim this for himself? … Wisdom is not judgment; it is the relinquishment of judgment. Make then but one more judgment. It is this: There is Someone with you Whose judgment is perfect. He does know all the facts; past, present and to come. He does know all the effects of His judgment on everyone and everything involved in any way. And He is wholly fair to everyone, for there is no distortion in His perception (M-10.3; 4:5-10).

What we can know, however, is that the healing of another’s needs is what we need: the undoing of the false belief in separation. In other words: “To perceive the healing of your brother as the healing of yourself is … the way to remember God” (T-12.II.2:9). Relinquishing judgment—the ego’s weapon of separation par excellence—is therefore the means of being healed, for it restores to awareness the shared need and purpose of God’s separated Sons. Indeed, as Jesus tells us, this is the essence of his course (M-9.2), for true judgment is not possible for a split mind.

“Mute, blind, and dazzled”: Healing with Jesus

The great early-twentieth-century poet Rilke frames our discussion in his poem “Gong.” It is one of a large number of French poems this Czech poet wrote, though his greatest work was in German. Here is the second stanza:

We must close our eyes, renounce our mouths,
remain mute, blind, and dazzled:
with space utterly shaken, what touches us
wants no more from our being than attention.[2]

It is the silence of our senses—mute, blind, and dazzled—that allows us to be without judgment, and attentive to the plaintive cries of others. It is the silence of truth’s oneness that allows us to hear the answer: hearing another’s call for love as our own echoes the truth beyond all seemingly disparate life. This premise of fundamental unity underlies, for example, the core teaching of Buddhism: compassion for all sentient beings. Beyond distinctions made between right and wrong, or good and evil, rests a simple truth—in the words of Harry Stack Sullivan, the founder of the school of Interpersonal Psychiatry: We are all more human than otherwise. This commonality of human existence is the suffering we share, and it is the pain inherent in life here to which we need pay attention. Unrecognized, the source of this pain—guilt—remains in the shadows of our mind, there to be continually projected in disguised forms that prevent its undoing. These forms all contain judgments—of others or ourselves—and these unforgiving thoughts protect the guilt that has been projected outward (W-pII.1.2:3).

An axiom in psychotherapy states that one cannot understand when one judges; judgment being the shadowy projection of separation that keeps people apart, while understanding reflects the light of true communication that binds us together, the etymological meaning, incidentally, of the word religion. Thus, learning to listen means learning to give up judgment. This fundamental principle of salvation enables us to listen to others, in muted silence, blind to the ego’s judgments, and dazzled by people’s fervent call to be proven wrong about the preconceptions of their problems and, indeed, their very selves. In releasing the barriers of judgment that hinder communication, the belief in separate interests is undone. The forms of the problem are gone beyond, that we may look upon the single content of separation. Healing occurs as we mirror to each other the shared purpose of salvation: hearing the forgotten melody and remembering the love that is our true and shared Self.

For this healing to occur, it is necessary that we entirely shift our perspective on the world and the nature of its multitudinous problems. Throughout A Course in Miracles, Jesus tells us that there is only one problem: the decision to believe in the ego’s separation; and one solution: changing our minds to believe in the Holy Spirit’s Atonement. That is all. This is the content that underlies all concerns and remedies the world presents, and to believe in any one particular form of problem or solution is to subscribe to the ego’s first law of chaos: there is a hierarchy of illusions (T-23.II.2:1-3). That way madness lies, to quote King Lear, for it leads us still further into the ego’s insane thought system of separation, differentiation, and specialness. Yet, under Jesus’ firm but gentle guidance, we are led back from the throes of madness to his sane approach to illness: all symptoms are but calls for help and healing—the reminder that no thought of separation, guilt, or attack has the power to take God’s Love from us. Thus we can remind our ill brothers and sisters that they have simply chosen falsely, but can just as easily choose again—love instead of fear, peace instead of conflict, life instead of death. As we read in “The Function of the Teacher of God” from the manual:

To them [the ill] God's teachers come, to represent another choice which they had forgotten. The simple presence of a teacher of God is a reminder. His thoughts ask for the right to question what the patient has accepted as true. As God's messengers, His teachers are the symbols of salvation. They ask the patient for forgiveness for God's Son in his own Name. They stand for the Alternative. With God's Word in their minds they come in benediction, not to heal the sick but to remind them of the remedy God has already given them. It is not their hands that heal. It is not their voice that speaks the Word of God. They merely give what has been given them. Very gently they call to their brothers to turn away from death: “Behold, you Son of God, what life can offer you. Would you choose sickness in place of this?” (M-5.III.2).

If the problem is our having chosen as our teacher the ego’s raucous shrieks of separation—sin, guilt, fear, and death—then salvation’s healing is the Holy Spirit’s silent melody of Atonement. This, again, is the content underlying all forms that but seem to be the instruments of healing. It is in the silence beyond the words that healing actually occurs, as we saw above that the true music is found in the silence between the notes. Thus does Jesus instruct us about the irrelevancy of words:

Strictly speaking, words play no part at all in healing. …  God does not understand words, for they were made by separated minds to keep them in the illusion of separation (M-21.1:1,7).

We are repeatedly instructed in A Course in Miracles that salvation (forgiveness, the miracle, Atonement) is undoing, and does not involve any behavioral intervention, such as words or prayers we may speak to another. Since it is only the mind’s decision for the ego that is the sickness or problem, undoing this decision by choosing the Holy Spirit as Teacher is the one healing. This is why Jesus asks that we take him as our model for learning (e.g., T-5.II.9-12), and in Helen’s poem “A Jesus Prayer,” we pray that we become like him, which living in the silence of healing brings about:

A child, a man and then a spirit. So
I follow in the way You show to me
That I may come at last to be like You.
What but Your likeness would I want to be?

There is a silence where You speak to me
And give me words of love to say for You
To those You send to me. And I am blessed
Because in them I see You shining through.
(The Gifts of God, p. 82)

To become like Jesus, therefore, means to be silent to the ego—mute and blind—so we may hear the dazzling silence of God. In that silence, words are meaningless, for love transcends the specific and thus cannot be known by the body, but only by the mind that has chosen to leave the dream—if only for an instant—and rejoin the oneness that is beyond the ego’s separation. Thus we read in the workbook another reference to the inadequacy of words to express the ineffable nature of salvation:

Oneness is simply the idea God is. And in His Being, He encompasses all things. No mind holds anything but Him. We say “God is,” and then we cease to speak, for in that knowledge words are meaningless. There are no lips to speak them, and no part of mind sufficiently distinct to feel that it is now aware of something not itself. It has united with its Source. And like its Source Itself, it merely is.

We cannot speak nor write nor even think of this at all. It comes to every mind when total recognition that its will is God’s has been completely given and received completely (W-pI.169.5:1-6:2).

In sum, as long as we are in the world, judgment is inevitable. Our attacking others is the norm, without which we do not believe we can survive. And so we walk the earth as separated selves, seeing everyone as separated, too. The innocence of God’s Son becomes shrouded in veils of judgment, and Heaven’s silent melody of love is drowned out by the strident sounds of the world of differences and attack. Yet, taking Jesus’ hand, the sharp edges of the ego’s thought system dissolve, and we are softly still, resting in his presence and sharing his vision of non-judgment and love. As he tells us in an oft-quoted line about forgiveness:

Forgiveness … is still, and quietly does nothing. … It merely looks, and waits, and judges not (W-pII.1.4:1,3).

To Judge One Is to Judge All

Once again, judgment is inevitable and unavoidable to all of us who wander in the world, “uncertain, lonely, and in constant fear” (T-31.VIII.7:1), and so what is the right-minded way to look at judgment—ours or another’s? If we see our attacks as coming from fear of love, these can only be defenses, regardless of the form they take. After all, no one who accepts the love within could ever attack anyone else. It would be impossible. Therefore, we can conclude that a person attacking another does not feel this love inside. Yet if that love is truly there, as it must be in everyone—We are all more human than otherwise—then it must be the fear of this love that drives us to defend against it by attack—blatantly or subtly—in thought, word, or deed. Thus do we all suffer from the same fear, defending against love by ensuring that we remain separated, forever protected against its encroachment.

The following is a helpful rule of thumb to guide us along salvation’s silent path of non-judgment: Any judgment we would make of another that we would not also make of everyone, comes from the ego. This rule has no exceptions, for the Love of God makes no exceptions. And so, if we are tempted to judge one Son of God—public or personal figures in our individual dreams—as evil and beyond redemption, we need stop and consider whether we would make the same judgment about Jesus, or any other symbol of an ego-free and all-loving person. Similarly, if we judge Jesus as loving and good—God’s innocent Son—would we exclude the one we have made our symbol of evil from that benevolent judgment? It cannot be that one Son is good and another evil if the oneness of God’s creation is to be recalled in memory. To be sure, within the illusion of time there are differences, but these are inherently transient and thus superficial. As Jesus says of himself: “I am in … [no] way separate or different from you except in time, and time does not really exist” (T-1.II.4:1). And he adds: “All my brothers are special” (T-1.V.3:6), which clearly means we are all special, along with him, thus voiding the common exclusionary usage of the word.

Since love is perfect oneness, our defense against this love is to see only separation and differences—the hallmark of specialness—yet when the doors of perception are cleansed, to use William Blake’s evocative phrase, it will be this fear of love we can know, in ourselves and in all people. To hear this universal call, we need only be still and listen to the cry behind the words, to feel the despair of hopelessness beyond the symptoms. Our differing belief systems are ultimately irrelevant to this new vision, for they are but vehicles we use to convey the underlying response of love. And so, to hear these songs of love or fear, and only these, we need to be quiet within, to come without needs unto the figures in our dream. In that inner silence, we recognize that we all have the same two melodies running through our minds, determining what we think, feel, and do.

The first of these melodies is love and healing, and the second is the fear of love and healing. The latter is what we typically call resistance, and in the end, it is this fear for which we listen. Once heard, we simply touch it with gentle hands, and its hardness softens and dissolves in a duet of healing whereby two disparate voices blend together and sound as one. Resistance never responds to analysis or judgment, but only to the kind reminder that love is unaffected by fear, and so the need to resist is futile. Thus we must wait patiently, and true patience is born of the certainty of outcome (M-4.VIII). Healing occurs when we are able to remind others that love waits quietly beyond the clouds of guilt, fear, and attack, and all they need do is be that presence of quiet patience. They indeed do nothing but be still.

In that silence, beyond the neediness that distorts perception, we come to understand that what appears to be problems or pathology is only a special form of fear, the same fear of love that cowers in each of us. To the extent we believe in this identity, we shall fear the melody of forgiveness that recalls to mind—literally—the song our true Self still sings to all who cross our path, and whom we had heretofore sought to exclude from love, as we sought to exclude ourselves. Yet in the presence of the soundless song of love, the discordant noise of separate and selfish identities must fade and disappear. Jesus’ vision has come to replace the ego’s judgment, and we include all people—“in holy welcome”—in our forgiving embrace, emulating the Christ of Helen’s first poem, “The Gift of Christmas”:

Christ passes no one by. By this you know
He is God’s Son. You recognize His touch
In universal gentleness. His Love
Extends to everyone. His eyes behold
The Love of God in everything He sees.
No words but those His Father’s Voice dictates
Can reach His ears. His hands forever hold
His brothers’, and His arms remain outstretched
In holy welcome.
(The Gifts of God, p. 95)

This, then, is the challenge to all of us as students of A Course in Miracles: not to exclude anyone from our forgiveness. Our willingness to practice this lesson reflects our willingness to silence the ego’s harsh sounds, and thus awaken from the dream and return home. Only through the absence of judgment—reflecting Heaven’s oneness here—can we leave the ego’s thought system of separation, differentiation, and fragmentation.

Ending the Dream in Silence

Our prayer to ourselves should echo Lorenzo’s words to Jessica in The Merchant of Venice, which bespeak what could be the happy fate of all our relationships, if we so choose:

Here will we sit, and let the sounds of music
Creep in our ears: soft stillness and the night
Become the touches of sweet harmony. (V,i)

Thus do we see each of our daily encounters as fresh opportunities to sit in silence while the soft sounds of music enter our hearts and minds, sweetly harmonizing our heretofore special relationships into the beautiful melody that reflects our love for Jesus, and his for us. This blazing silence that ends the ego’s dreams of guilt and evil is movingly portrayed in the second stanza of Helen’s poem “Conversion”:

There is a silence into which God’s Word
Has poured an ancient meaning, and is still.
Nothing remains unsaid nor unreceived.
Strange dreams are washed in golden water from
The blazing silence of the peace of God,
And what was evil suddenly becomes
The gift of Christ to those who call on Him.
His final gift is nothing but a dream,
Yet in that single dream is dreaming done.
(The Gifts of God, p. 61)

The final dream is the complete forgiveness that undoes separation, and touches all people—the “good” and “bad” alike, victims and victimizers—in its healing embrace. With the sounds of separation’s battle stilled, the harsh voice of specialness silenced, our minds are free to recognize the one Son Whom God created as Himself. Salvation’s song re-enters our hearts that guilt had turned to stone, and an ancient melody begins to stir once again, heralding our awakening from the ego’s dream of death. The sounds of earth have vanished, and but for an instant longer we hear the silent music of forgiveness, until even that is gone, leaving only the true silence in which creation is joyfully reborn in the holy Name of its Creator:

All little things are silent. Little sounds are soundless now. The little things of earth have disappeared. The universe consists of nothing but the Son of God, who calls upon his Father. And his Father's Voice gives answer in his Father's holy Name. In this eternal, still relationship, in which communication far transcends all words, and yet exceeds in depth and height whatever words could possibly convey, is peace eternal. In our Father's Name, we would experience this peace today. And in His Name, it shall be given us (W-pI.183.11).

[1]Published as a CD set, MP3 Download, DVD, and MP4 Download.
[2]The Complete French Poems of Rainer Maria Rilke, Tr. Poulin, A.; Graywolf Press, St. Paul, 2002, pp. 52-54.