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A PORTRAIT OF A COURSE IN MIRACLES STUDENT AS AN ARTIST
Kenneth Wapnick, Ph.D. Introduction In his early autobiographical novel A Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man, James Joyce’s alter ego, Stephen Dedalus, draws on Aristotle in a discussion of aesthetics, where he distinguishes between improper and proper art. The former is kinetic, meaning its purpose is to excite and elicit emotional movement in the observer, listener, or reader, as in pornographic or didactic art. The focus of the creator here is external, for it is on the audience’s response. Proper art, Stephen continues, is static, insofar as it is interested only in the art itself—the internal—not its elicited or desired reaction. We may extend this understanding not only to artists as creators, but as performers. Whereas creators can be faithful to their inspiring Muse and not to the art’s effect on others, performers likewise can be faithful to the inspiration’s source, and not to their special ability to arouse emotion in their audiences. A discerning public can tell the difference between proper and improper artists and performers; those who remain true to the genius of the inspiration as opposed to those who care only for the external gratifications—in Freud’s famous words regarding the artist: the pursuit of honor, power, and love. Analogously, we may say that Jesus is asking us in his course to be proper students; namely, to focus only on the right mind, the source of true inspiration, without concern for our special interests as means of meeting our special needs from special people, substances, or things, which always focus on the body. In other words, Jesus’ goal for his students is to have them become artists, or, to borrow the term from the manual for teachers, advanced teachers of God. Some of these thoughts were the basis for my recent workshop, “Art and A Course in Miracles: Reflections of Holiness,” and will be expanded upon here. Form and Content—Symbol and Source A great artist—creator or performer—is able to take the inspirational content of the Holy Spirit and transmute it into the form of artistic expression. It is this blend of form and content that is also the hallmark of a right-minded teacher of God, described for us in the workbook: It would indeed be strange if you were asked to go beyond all symbols of the world, forgetting them forever; yet were asked to take a teaching function. You have need to use the symbols of the world a while. But be you not deceived by them as well. They do not stand for anything at all ... [and] become but means by which you can communicate in ways the world can understand, but which you recognize is not the unity where true communication can be found (W-pI.184.9). The world’s symbols thus become the vehicle in which we express the content of forgiveness, much as creative artists use the specific forms of their particular art—e.g., music, literature, painting—through which flows their non-specific inspiration or content. Thus Jesus asks us to speak the language of our peers, dress in the style of the day, respond appropriately, as do most people—yet to do so
or lifestyles—although such changes in form may sometimes occur—but we do seek to change our attitudes or manner of thinking: Changes are required in the minds of God’s teachers. although you are indeed (W-pI. This confusion of form and content is the subject of a discussion early in the text on level confusion. for instance. because it always entails the belief that what is amiss on one level can adversely affect another. or in the late 18th-century. Two of its greatest figures were Fra Filippo Lippi and his pupil Sandro Botticelli. magically hoping that would change the content. exemplifying a love that is not of this world. but shift the internal content from the ego’s separate interests to the Holy Spirit’s forgiving vision of shared interests. nor do you seem to be distinct from them. your eyes are quiet. Sickness. is the result of level confusion. but only with the mind’s content of guilt. where dozens and dozens of composers wrote music utilizing the classical forms of the period. leads all the rest..1:1-3. It is most unlikely that changes in attitudes would not be . . Thus. Beyond the differences in form— what the world would term the sacred and the profane— lay the single content of a love devoid of ego. or associate with “holy” people. form becomes sterile and empty. yet their subjects were as different as night from day.. Regarding form and content. thus.. as students of A Course in Miracles we do not necessarily change our partners.e.. although it seems to be.. The message for students of A Course in Miracles is clear: do not judge the form in anything.2:2-5). Lippi’s painting was of the Blessed Virgin (Madonna with the Child and Two Angels). though you smile more frequently. from specialness to inspiration. the true challenge for Course students is to retain the external form. the content of our lives has become much different. professions. goddess of romantic love (The Birth of Venus). has nothing to do with the form. in many Elizabethan authors who wrote in the style of the day. for all mistakes must be corrected at the level on which they occur.IV. The body can act wrongly [e.. 5:3). and Botticelli’s was of Venus. in the context of sickness and healing: the world believes that sickness occurs on the level of the body. like Abou Ben Adhem’s. Without the content’s right. but there remains only one Mozart.g. This contrast between mere form and genuine inspiration is seen. or behave in ways they believe are consistent with a spiritually advanced person: i. consider this example from the Italian Renaissance. become sick] only when it is responding to misthought (T-2. We have referred to miracles as the means of correcting level confusion. Therefore. This is an important point. . We are distinct because while our form may be the same as others. yet Shakespeare’s name. Your forehead is serene. for students of A Course in Miracles are often tempted to change the form. but look immediately to the content—whether examining the outer expressions of one’s life or those of others. when it truly exists only on the level of the mind: Sickness . choose “spiritual” professions.minded inspiration. This may or may not involve changes in the external situation. Each painted— among the world’s great works of art—feminine figures of remarkably simple beauty. You do not change appearance.155. You walk this path as others walk.. Thus they might seek to use the language of “Course-speak” with people who do not understand the words.2 differently: There is a way of living in the world that is not here.. Only the mind is capable of error. eat “rightminded” foods.
it naturally extends and appears as form. ignoring the mind’s thoughts. form is not independent of content.III. not by . and content inspires form. Indeed. It cannot work the other way around: effect does not generate cause. Teach rather that I did not die by demonstrating that I live in you (T-11. as it is with content. The implication of this understanding for Course students is that the emphasis need always be placed on the cause. so often to the exclusion of the love within: Whenever any form of special relationship tempts you to seek for love in ritual.VI. In the world of art. in other words. Examples confusing form and content abound in our world—on all levels. which can only be experienced from within. as well as many others. Only then can we remember our identification with the true Source. Thus if the mind chooses the content of guilt. when one focuses only on the external level of the body. rather than seeking to change the cause by modifying the effect. While ritual and symbol can indeed have an important place in religious or spiritual practice. and not form of any kind.3 the first step in the newly made teacher of God’s training (M-9. rather than on creation’s internal and inspirational source— proper art. Jesus is quite pointed in his remarks about religious practice.V. where the emphasis is placed on the external effect. allowing the effect to flow naturally from it. we demonstrate Jesus’ loving presence in our minds. the body cannot affect the mind. while effect means body or form. the effect to return to its cause. and the context of the following passage.1:1-2. for example. the effect must inevitably be pain and suffering. Reality is ultimately known without a form. Therefore.1:1). We therefore need the symbol to lead us back to the source. unpictured and unseen (T-27. In spirituality. for instance.4). we are really treating the all-important theme of cause and effect. the world of externals was specifically made to conceal the truth of the right mind. There is no meaning in the form. riveting attention on ritual and behavior to the exclusion of inner conversion—from the ego’s thought system to the Holy Spirit’s—denies the truth. In other words. they must be seen only as means to lead beyond themselves to the reality of God’s Love— the path through form to the Formless: As nothingness cannot be pictured. so there is no symbol for totality. and the effect shifts to peace. Thus Jesus exhorts students of his course to be faithful to his message of forgiveness and resurrection. Change one’s mind to the Holy Spirit’s content of forgiveness.12:1-3). for the decision to exclude the mind is a decision for the ego. the effect will always be of the ego. aimed at raising the form to take the place of God at the expense of content. mind determines the body. including the artistic and spiritual. Cause is synonymous with mind. The special relationship is a ritual of form. demonstrating it by having their very lives become a work of art that exemplifies his content of love: Teach not that I died in vain. which runs through A Course in Miracles like a silken thread uniting the fabric of Jesus’ teaching. as the external figure of Jesus was the right mind’s manifestation of the Holy Spirit’s Love (C-6. cause precedes effect. In discussing special relationships.7:3-4). In discussing form and content. makes it clear he is directing his comments toward formal religion’s emphasis on ritual. and there will never be (T-16. remember love is content. Once we rejoin the love in our minds. The relationship between these two distinct categories goes in one direction. Many passages in A Course in Miracles—implicit and explicit—caution us against this practice. we see this practice in what we discussed above as improper art.5:1-2).
having come to stand for the Alternative. Lesson 154 concludes with these inspiring words that summarize our function as God’s teachers and Jesus’ artists: The world recedes as we light up our minds. By becoming one with his content of forgiveness and love. He said of himself: Music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy. In the workbook lesson “I am among the ministers of God. and I am Bacchus who presses out this glorious wine for men and makes them . This wise Trappist monk well understood the importance of the true artist/monk’s integration of form and content.2). For as we prove that we accept no will we do not share. to return to Joyce’s formulation. Though his life was hardly a paragon of spiritual attainment. thus allowing ourselves to stand before the world of darkness and reflect our decision for light.6). and realize these holy words [“I am among the ministers of God”] are true. and what our function is. as it is the function of any true artist—uniting form with content. The messages that they deliver are intended first for them. We demonstrate Jesus’ healing message of forgiveness through moving past the outer forms of our lives (the body) to the ego’s hidden content (the wrong mind). Such acceptance ensures that our lives. but by joining with him there. And it is only as they can accept them for themselves that they become able to bring them further. Beethoven nonetheless had an intuitive sense of the importance of his musical genius for others. which sets them off from those the world appoints. It is the wine of a new procreation.” Introducing the manual for teachers.4 our words or actions. 1).III. Now we demonstrate how they have changed our minds about ourselves. and we will recognize what we received (W-pI. are lived properly rather than improperly. our many gifts from our Creator will spring to our sight and leap into our hands. That is our function. reinforcing this lesson in ourselves at the same time. they did not write the messages they bear. while the former deliver them first to themselves: There is one major difference in the role of Heaven’s messengers.” Jesus compares his messengers to the world’s: the latter deliver their messages only to others. receiving to prepare themselves to give (W-pI. symbol with source.2). and on to the decision for the Holy Spirit’s Atonement (the right mind). and to give them everywhere that they were meant to be. They are the message sent to us today from our Creator. As Thomas Merton wrote in his autobiography The Seven Storey Mountain. speaking of his artistic parents: “The integrity of an artist lifts a man above the level of the world without delivering him from it” (p. It is their accepting the message of Atonement that distinguishes true students of the Course from those paying mere lip service to it.154. Jesus explains that to teach is to demonstrate (M-in. a reminder to choose again (M-5. but they become their first receivers in the truest sense. Like earthly messengers.154. we educate the Sonship about making the right choice. The Function of the Artist and Teacher of God In his notes accompanying the Artur Schnabel recording of Beethoven’s complete piano sonatas. music critic Irving Kolodin wrote: “Every great artist who appeals to the higher tastes and deeper instincts of the public is an educator.14). for only through integrating creative inspiration with life’s outer forms can artists or the spiritually advanced proclaim their authentic message of deliverance from the thought system of the world.
The nonspecific love can only be true to itself if it is non-exclusive in its extension. the gift can only extend through the mind of God’s one Son. We accept the gift of love from its Giver. if it is used truly. And God ordained.IV. Come up here. It does mean. Thus Jesus tells us at the end of the text: To your tired eyes I bring a vision of a different world. Vickers was speaking of great artists—including in that category creative geniuses such as Einstein—and we can adapt his thoughts to how Jesus would see his teachers. In fact. to embrace them..5:1-5). In a more humble fashion it echoes Beethoven’s sentiments. As it does. In my March 2001 Lighthouse article. the greatness of the tragedy of Othello. and you will have the reward of experiencing the absolute beauty of Fidelio. .. a great tenor of the last generation. for otherwise you will behold it not. be grateful. this time from the perspective of the artist rather than creator. as we read in a passage familiar to many Course students: The value of the Atonement does not lie in the manner in which it is expressed. Nov. . I have a great sense of gratitude toward the giver of that gift. that it be for you (T-31. as Vickers’ above words make clear. and having done so. to illustrate the point of the current article. Yet this a vision is which you must share with everyone you see. Our specific selves would always pick and choose the recipients of our gifts. and you will have the reward of experiencing the absolute beauty of the peace of God and the greatness of His Love. Yet this form has nothing to do with the one through whom the gift flows. that it is the highest level of communication of which he is capable now (T-2. give it to your audience. Share it with me” (New York Times. without exception. Arts & Leisure section).VIII. paraphrasing Vickers: Come up to the mind with me. I present his remarks again. as well as reflecting Jesus’ previously quoted comments on Heaven’s messengers: I am humble before the gift that was given to me.8:4-7). . “The Light of Heaven to the Eternally Blind. I can’t stand it when people think what they have was given to themselves. its nonspecific content takes whatever form is most helpful. in slightly expanded form. Teachers of God thus have the function of reminding all their brothers and sisters. so new and clean and fresh you will forget the pain and sorrow that you saw before. This means that a miracle. 19. to say to them: “Come up here with me. And it was a gift. it will inevitably be expressed in whatever way is most helpful to the receiver. however. in loving kindness.5 drunk with the spirit. Come up here. without exception. ensuring that the gift remain not given because it has not been truly received. use it. to attain its full efficacy.” I quoted from a New York Times interview with Jon Vickers. Know this peace. This does not necessarily mean that this is the highest level of communication of which he is capable. Know these feelings. This means that it embraces all. The gift that I gave to an audience—and I was very blessed in that I had the power to do it—[was to] reach my arms through the proscenium arch to pull the audience in. Share it with me. Whether you’ re Albert Einstein or Placido Domingo. must be expressed in a language that the recipient can understand without fear. 2000. To give this gift is how to make it yours...
that “nowhere does the Father end.2:3-6. that we may be the true receivers of the gifts He gives (W-pI. since there is nothing here to be done—the real problem is the guilt in the mind. and perfect because they know they are children of Holiness. Thus they are free of all interferences to the extension of love through them. for they hear the pain in every living thing.12:4). He needs our feet to bring us where He wills. Because they are ego free. and the love the . and carry them to those whom He appoints. the Son begin as something separate from Him” (W-pI. No one in this separated world but feels the fatal thrust of fear. calling out for hope and succor. they have no special needs demanding special satisfaction from special people. it has never ceased to radiate the truth of Heaven. seeing in their light-filled teachers what they have longed to remember in themselves—the sacred place where the artist has become the art. He needs our hands to hold His messages. helpful. Kindness.132. These teachers demand nothing of themselves or anyone else.VIII. In the minds of these spiritual artists is the awareness they need do nothing except love. As spiritual artists. kind. Thus do they. and in constant fear” (T-31. indeed. Helpfulness. Following their content—not necessarily their form—the world’s weary wanderers open to the journey with love as their guide. Their bodies become empty vessels through which the Atonement’s non-material principle can flow. for advanced teachers know that the darkness shrouding the light of Christ in God’s Son has no power to affect the truth that shines in all—equally and as one.6 Conclusion: The Portrait Becomes Reality We can now paint a portrait of advanced teachers of A Course in Miracles as artists. lonely. Above all.11:2-4).67.” they have nothing to fear or defend. How could they not be. Recognizing there is no distinction between Creator and created. they say and mean these words. articulating what they know to be the truth: Holiness created me holy. Kindness created me kind. but never leaving the mind that is itself love. In the presence of this love. the teacher the Teacher. become manifestations of the voice-less Voice for God (C-5:12): He needs our voice that He may speak through us. those who have fully integrated the content of love with their outer lives.7:1). along with all members of God’s Sonship. that those who wait in misery may be at last delivered. Helpfulness created me helpful. And He needs our will united with His Own. believing their sin has condemned them to the eternal hell of a life outside the Kingdom of Love. others on the journey find their hope that the light does indeed shine in the midst of the ego’s darkness. they are infinitely patient with the fearful ones. like Jesus. these teachers/artists radiate the love they know to be their Source and their Self.154. knowing they have and are everything. Thus artists of A Course in Miracles become holy. Perfection created me perfect (W-pI. they can be kind “to everyone who wanders in the world uncertain. and Perfection. italics omitted). which happily embraces others still too fearful of accepting it directly. This clears the way for love to do through them. since ideas leave not their source? And so their love extends outward. along with Jesus. Exemplifying the perfect integration of content and form that Merton envisioned for the monk he aspired to become. Unfazed by the world’s “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.
as part of Him. . for they are truth (T-14. holiness is not a reflection. God is no image. You can reflect Heaven here.. but rather the actual condition of what was but reflected to them here. There. hold Him in them in truth. and His creations. Therefore Jesus reminds us of his ultimate goal for us—to undo all spots of guilt.IX.5:1-2. thus allowing Heaven’s light to be reflected in our healed minds until we become the Light we had been reflecting—the portrait having disappeared into Heaven’s Inspiration: In this world you can become a spotless mirror.7 Love. in which the Holiness of your Creator shines forth from you to all around you. because of the reflection of holiness in them. They do not merely reflect truth.. 8:4-7). are ready at last for Heaven. Those who have learned to offer only healing. .