This book about prayer, forgiveness, and healing is inspired by The Song Of Prayer – a 22-page extension of the principals of A Course In Miracles. Except for Part II of the Workbook, prayer might not seem to be a major theme of ACIM. Yet in The Song Of Prayer Jesus teaches that prayer is the greatest gift God gave us at our creation. Healing and forgiveness are useful temporary tools used to undo duality, but true prayer is eternal.
It is interesting that Jesus gave us The Song Of Prayer and the pamphlet Psychotherapy, after the apparent completion of ACIM. It is almost, as if in hindsight, that Jesus wanted to teach something important, something that was not already fully covered in the course. He also gave us The Song Of Prayer as a correction, or clarification, because of students misunderstanding ACIM teachings about prayer, forgiveness, and healing.
Because of a background in monastic life, Centering Prayer, and contemplative prayer, I value this teaching dearly. This teaching on prayer that uses the metaphor, the ladder of prayer, describes levels of prayer as the rungs on a ladder from earth to Heaven. Jesus teaches us not only how to pray, but also how not to pray. True prayer is contingent on true forgiveness. Both are necessary as we journey back to paradise lost. The integration of forgiveness and prayer leads to healing. The quality of our prayer is determined by how we are in relationship with both God and each other. Our prayer is also contingent on our sense of identity.
In The Song Of Prayer Jesus teaches us how to discern the differences between true prayer and false prayer, true forgiveness and false forgiveness, and true healing vs. false healing. In order to do this he presents many examples of false and true versions of prayer, forgiveness, and healing.
In The Song Of Prayer Jesus teaches us to leave the form that forgiveness takes up to Jesus or the Holy Spirit, and not put it in an earthly frame. He uses the terms, forgiveness-for-salvation, forgiveness-to-destroy, forgiveness to kill and the word sister only in The Song Of Prayer.
The third and final chapter of The Song Of Prayer, Healing, emphasizes that true healing is of the mind. If the mind is healed of the guilt it believes in, then the mind can experience pure joy and the kind of gentle and holy death that Jesus describes in this chapter. One might expect that a course in making miracles might teach about miracles of healing, and ACIM does. The chapter Healing in The Song Of Prayer is only seven pages long, yet in unpacking that chapter, the corresponding chapter in The Ladder of Prayer kept growing larger and larger until it was 83 pages long. In an attempt to provide a more comprehensive account the ACIM’s teaching on healing I include the course’s teaching from all other parts of ACIM.
ACIM is about 1250 pages of dense, concentrated, Shakespearian style writing that is almost overwhelming in its size, style, and content. There is so much there to study, for lifetimes, that what could the 22-page teaching, The Song Of Prayer, really add to the immense course? Quite a bit, surprisingly. So much, in fact, that I decided to unpack it and share it.
The Teaching About a Holy Death
From the same paragraph above in The Song Of Prayer, Jesus begins an important teaching about death, that lasts less than five short paragraphs. Since I plan to die and overcome the Christ, Jesus teaches an alternative to that ego plan:
Yet there is a kind of seeming death that has a different source. It does not come because of hurtful thoughts and raging anger at the universe. It merely signifies the end has come for usefulness of body functioning. And so it is discarded as a choice, as one lays by a garment now outworn. (S-3.II.1:8-11)
This different kind of death is not death but seems like death. The body seems to die, but I am not a body, and What-I-Am cannot die, nor be attacked, nor be sick. The ego’s version of a fearful death involves hurtful thoughts and raging anger at the universe.
The alternative to an angry death is described clearly: It merely signifies the end has come for usefulness of body functioning. Then Jesus uses a nice metaphor to describe this kind of death. The body is put away like worn out clothes, or clothes that no longer fit. Why would I wear jeans that are so tight they cause pain? I naturally take them off, because they hurt, just as I would quickly pull my hand off of a red-hot wood stove. I hope I am getting too big for my breeches.
Naturally, I fear death, and the older I get, the closer it seems, the larger it looms, and the quicker time passes. Death is approaching me faster and faster, as the concrete approaches after I fall off the empire state. But look how Jesus describes it:
This is what death should be; a quiet choice, made joyfully and with a sense of peace, because the body has been kindly used to help the Son of God along the way he goes to God. We thank the body, then, for all the service it has given us. But we are thankful, too, the need is done to walk the world of limits, and to reach the Christ in hidden forms and clearly seen at most in lovely flashes. Now we can behold Him without blinders, in the light that we have learned to look upon again. (S-3.II.2:1-4)
This kind of death is joyful, peaceful, and quiet. The result of this kind of death is gratefulness and thanksgiving. I thank the body for its service and I am also grateful that the need is done to walk the world of limits, and to reach the Christ in hidden forms and clearly seen at most in lovely flashes. In this finite world of limits, we cannot know the infinite, and we only reach Christ in lovely, flickering flashes. Upon this kind of gentle death we receive a great blessing, to be able to behold Christ as He Is: Now we can behold Him without blinders, in the light that we have learned to look upon again. Hence the Heavenly song of gratefulness and thanksgiving described by Jesus from the first paragraph of The Song Of Prayer.
I remember a passage from the Manual For Teachers: where Jesus teaches that the true conditions of our homecoming are a grateful heart and thankful mind. And Love is not far behind:
Remembering the name of Jesus Christ is to give thanks for all the gifts that God has given you. And gratitude to God becomes the way in which He is remembered, for love cannot be far behind a grateful heart and thankful mind. God enters easily, for these are the true conditions for your homecoming. (M-23.4:5-7)
Gratefulness is the heart of prayer. In prayer I thank God for forgiveness and healing and accept these graces that He already gave to all. This gratefulness grows into the Divine Love we share. This shift from ungratefulness to gratefulness is accomplished gradually by the Holy Spirit. She waits patiently for me to accept the Atonement for myself. As I am willing to accept the truth of sinlessness and defenselessness I respond with tremendous thanksgiving. The more I experience forgiveness, the more grateful I become. Forgiven much, I thank much and love much.
Jesus continues to share a positive view of death. He calls it liberty and a gentle welcome to release. Death is not forced on me.
We call it death, but it is liberty. It does not come in forms that seem to be thrust down in pain upon unwilling flesh, but as a gentle welcome to release. If there has been true healing, this can be the form in which death comes when it is time to rest a while from labor gladly done and gladly ended. Now we go in peace to freer air and gentler climate, where it is not hard to see the gifts we gave were saved for us. For Christ is clearer now; His vision more sustained in us; His Voice, the Word of God, more certainly our own. (S-3.II.3:1-5)
This form of a good and gentle death, however, comes with a condition. The condition is this: if there has been true healing. Just in case I hope that this kind of liberated death is not conditional, Jesus will repeat this teaching in the next paragraph, and repeat it again in the one after that. Remember, true healing that allows this kind of death is of the mind not the body. Jesus describes this good death in positive terms: it is time to rest a while from labor gladly done and gladly ended. I wonder if to rest a while refers to coming back again after a rest? Otherwise, this peaceful rest is eternal, and not a while. The beatific descriptions of this form of death go on: Now we go in peace to freer air and gentler climate, and, Christ is clearer now.
In this form of death, this gentle passage to a higher prayer, I let go of the ways of earth. The response to this kind of transition is a grateful heart and a thankful mind. In fact, this holy death can only be accepted with gratitude.
This gentle passage to a higher prayer, a kind forgiveness of the ways of earth, can only be received with thankfulness. Yet first true healing must have come to bless the mind with loving pardon for the sins it dreamed about and laid upon the world. Now are its dreams dispelled in quiet rest. Now its forgiveness comes to heal the world and it is ready to depart in peace, the journey over and the lessons learned.
But before death can happen as real blessing, true healing must have come to bless the mind with loving pardon for the sins it dreamed about and laid upon the world. The condition for this peaceful form of death is repeated, but expanded and Jesus gives a definition of what this true healing is: the mind is blessed with loving forgiveness for the mistakes I thought I made, and I withdraw the judgments I projected onto the world, and onto others. Judgment and condemnation make the world an evil and sinful place, full of separated sinners. When this healing happens in our seemingly defiled mind, the only place we need healing, and the only place healing can happen, then we can rest in peace. The nightmare of separation, sin, guilt, fear, sickness, and death is over. When I realize true forgiveness-for-salvation, I am ready to depart in peace, the journey over and the lessons learned. What do the four it and its refer to above? Our mind.
This vision of a holy death that Jesus presents is not the version of death that the world offers. The world’s view of death is cruel and unusual punishment, painful proof of serious sin. To the world, death is not a blessing, but a curse, something to be avoided and feared, an execution prepared to pay in pain the price for sin.
This is not death according to the world, for death is cruel in its frightened eyes and takes the form of punishment for sin. How could it be a blessing, then? And how could it be welcome when it must be feared? What healing has occurred in such a view of what is merely opening the gate to higher prayer and kindly justice done? Death is reward and not a punishment. But such a viewpoint must be fostered by the healing that the world cannot conceive. There is no partial healing. What but shifts illusions has done nothing. What is false cannot be partly true. If you are healed your healing is complete. Forgiveness is the only gift you give and would receive. (S-3.II.5:1-11)
If I share the world’s view of death, it means that the mind seems to linger in prison, unhealed, yet. When I was depressed, I had a two-sentence, six-word philosophy: First I suffer. Then I die. I was not thankful or grateful. Anything good and kind that happens here is quickly taken away, a trick to tempt me to find love here where there is not even hope of finding love. The special love relationship is the ego’s biggest gun. The ego pursues its goals with fanatic insistence:
The ego is certain that love is dangerous, and this is always its central teaching. It never puts it this way; on the contrary, everyone who believes that the ego is salvation seems to be intensely engaged in the search for love. Yet the ego, though encouraging the search for love very actively, makes one proviso; do not find it. Its dictates, then, can be summed up simply as: “Seek and do not find.” This is the one promise the ego holds out to you, and the one promise it will keep. For the ego pursues its goal with fanatic insistence, and its judgment, though severely impaired, is completely consistent.
When I was suicidal I did not know what a holy death is: opening the gate to higher prayer and kindly justice done. The healed mind views death as reward and not punishment. Again the condition required for this form of death is given. This enlightened experience of death must be fostered by the healing that the world cannot conceive. That is the third time in three paragraphs that Jesus teaches the condition required for a good death. It is rare that I hear a teaching only once and get it. There is good reason why Jesus uses so much repetition. How does He describe the ego’s judgment? It is completely consistent and severely impaired. It is consistent in its impairment. What is the higher prayer, that death opens the gate to? It is the song of thanks, Love, and union in Heaven, as described in the first introductory paragraph of The Song Of Prayer.
Healing is whole or it is not: there is no partial healing. A healing, that only replaces one illusion for another, exchanging a dream of sickness for a dream of health, is not the mind healing that permits a holy death: What but shifts illusions has done nothing. I do not receive a partial healing and I cannot accept a compromise: What is false cannot be partially true. If I am healed, I am healed completely, and here is the evidence of that healing: Forgiveness is the only gift you give and would receive. If the mind is healed, I will not judge, condemn, or attack anyone. I will not project guilt onto anyone. I will only give and accept forgiveness-for-salvation. Healing is evidence of true forgiveness, and true forgiveness is evidence of healing.
This teaching about the mind healing needed for a holy death is stated first in the Text. In this quote the result of this healing is described as revelation with lasting effect:
Only the healed mind can experience revelation with lasting effect, because revelation is an experience of pure joy. (T-5.I.1:3)
In order to experience pure joy, this mind healing is needed. Pure joy is the state of a healed mind. A holy death is not the only benefit. We cannot experience pure joy and guilt at the same time. They are not compatible.
I love how consistent the course is. Here is more confirmation regarding sickness, death, and responsibility for the cruel choices I made, from Lesson 152:
No one can suffer loss unless it be his own decision. No one suffers pain except his choice elects this state for him. No one can grieve nor fear nor think him sick unless these are the outcomes that he wants. And no one dies without his own consent. Nothing occurs but represents your wish, and nothing is omitted that you choose. (W-pI.152.1:1-5)
No one dies without his own consent. I may not remember this consent just as I do not remember making a decision to be sick.
The last sentence of this section (below) is a joyful statement describing the liberation and reward that death allows the truly healed mind: At last the gate of Heaven opens and God’s Son is free to enter in the home that stands ready to welcome him, and was prepared before time was and still but waits for him. (S-3.II.6:4) A home was prepared for us before time happened, and still waits for us. That gives true hope. I may seem houseless now but I am hoping for that home.
There is one more paragraph in this section that returns to the teaching on discernment between false and true healing. False healing focuses on the body only and does not heal the cause of sickness that is in the mind, not the body:
False healing rests upon the body’s cure, leaving the cause of illness still unchanged, ready to strike again until it brings a cruel death in seeming victory. It can be held at bay a little while, and there can be brief respite as it waits to take its vengeance on the Son of God. Yet it cannot be overcome until all faith in it has been laid by, and placed upon God’s substitute for evil dreams; a world in which there is no veil of sin to keep it dark and comfortless. At last the gate of Heaven opens and God’s Son is free to enter in the home that stands ready to welcome him, and was prepared before time was and still but waits for him. (S-3.II.6:1-4)
A healing that correctly focuses on the mind may lead to a physical healing, but that is not its true intention. Jesus says the body may follow in healing, or not. On the third page of the Text, He first presents this teaching in the 35th miracle principal: Miracles are expressions of love, but they may not always have observable effects. (T-1.I.35:1) Observable effects refer to the body. If the mind is healed, I do not observe it like I do the body. Mind is not visible, but it is knowable.
It is not the true healer’s intention to heal the body. If that is my intention, then I am an unhealed healer and make the mistake of praying for the echo, the overtones of the true healing, instead of the true song of healing. It is important to understand the difference. It is easy to be impressed with acts of bodily healing but is it a miracle, or magic? False healing, that does not heal cause, is always temporary. Even in true healing of the cause, if the body follows, that bodily healing is temporary, though the mind healing is complete and permanent.
Faith in false healing must be exchanged for God’s solution to the nightmare detour into fear: a forgiven world, viewed through the understanding vision of Christ: a world in which there is no veil of sin to keep it dark and comfortless.
This concludes the second section of the chapter on healing, about learning the difference between true and false healing, and the blessed teaching about dying a holy death. The teaching about death occurs in the chapter on healing because of the prerequisite for a holy death: the true healing of the mind.