One Sunday November 16, 2008, Rev. Mo Benson addressed the congregation at the Community Miracles Center in San Francisco, CA. What follows is a lightly edited transcription of that lecture.
Good morning family! First off, I’d like to thank Reverend Tony and Reverend Larry for trusting me enough to let me come up here to talk about A Course In Miracles.
What I’m going to talk about today is the importance and power of purpose. I said it that way because I like the alliteration, but it’s not to be confused with a book that was written a while back called The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren. The only thing I know about that book is that he talks about five purposes given to each of us by God. Those are worship, discipleship, fellowship, ministry, and evangelism. You can probably tell that those don’t resonate with me, (laughter) but they probably resonate with a lot of people so, if they wish to go down that path then that’s certainly fine for them.
The dictionary defines “purpose” as “something set up as an object or end to be attained.” For myself, an example would be that for 11 years I have belonged to what is called a Men’s Division. That’s a group of men who have an organizational purpose. Each division is made up of teams and the teams have their own team purposes – and often what we do among the teams is talk about our own personal purposes. I personally like to call them a higher purpose rather than just a purpose because, for me, and maybe for some others in this room, it would seem that my basic purpose is to maximize pleasure and minimize pain. Can anybody relate to that? (laughter) That’s a very hedonistic purpose to be sure, and that would simplify everything to be sure. If it brings some degree of pleasure, you do it and if it brings some kind of pain, you avoid it at all costs if possible!
So, that’s why I want to speak of my purpose as a “higher” purpose, something higher than that, and that’s what we do. One thing that the Men’s Division organization talks about, our so-called “technology”, is an exercise we call CPR. This stands for context, purpose, and results. Anytime we lead an exercise, manage a meeting or event, we’re required to do a CPR and that’s just what it says – we make a list of your expected results, the purpose, and our context. Now, for me, the most important part is the “P” part, the purpose, because that’s what we’re aiming at. That’s the reason why we’re doing this thing, whatever it is, and that is the power of the purpose. You keep the purpose in mind and that serves as your guidepost that tells you if you’re erring in the wrong direction or not. Certainly, you can say in fact, I have a purpose for this talk I’m giving today. I could say to myself “do I want to include this” and ask if it serves my purpose or not. It’s up to me. It’s just part of the equation, to ask yourself if it serves your purpose or not. So knowing your purpose is very important.
I talked about a basic purpose for me as being to maximize pleasure and minimize pain. Unfortunately, the Course tells us that “Pain compels attention, drawing it away from Him and focusing upon itself. Its purpose is the same as pleasure, for they both are means to make the body real. What shares a common purpose is the same. This is the law of purpose.” (T.27.VI.1:3-6)
What the Course is saying is that pain and pleasure are both the same since they share the same purpose. It’s all to make the body real. In the Course, whether you thought about it or not, the purpose is everything! Purpose is mentioned over 650 times. The Course will tell you the purpose of the ego, the purpose for Holy Spirit, the purpose of the world, the purpose of the body. All throughout the Course there is a purpose for everything. Purpose is very important in the Course.
The Course is very explicit on this. It says “This is the question that you must learn to ask in connection with everything. What is the purpose? Whatever it is, it will direct your efforts automatically. When you make a decision of purpose, then, you have made a decision about your future effort; a decision that will remain in effect unless you change your mind.” (T-4.V.8-11) So, there you go. That’s the same thing that I was just talking about. It’s going to point to your future actions depending on what your purpose is. Your actions either serve that purpose or they don’t.
I want to share a story which is why I brought this topic up today. A few years ago, around 2004 or 2005, my wife Marci and I attended a workshop that was being put on by Candace and DavidPaul Doyle – commonly known as “the Doyles.”** (laughter) This was the first time we had ever heard them or saw them, and this was a workshop about listening to the Voice of the Holy Spirit. That’s what it was about. It was an all-day workshop. We went through different levels, and, toward the end, part of the exercise was to get into a quiet meditative state. Then we were directed to ask a question of the Holy Spirit. We were supposed to keep our eyes closed and write the answer to whatever our question was. Now, did I ask for the winning lottery numbers? Noooooo! (laughter)
What I did was – I had the arrogance, audacity, the temerity to ask for an experience of specialness. As I look back on it, I asked the Holy Spirit what my purpose was. And I got this answer – literally, when I read what I wrote, and I kept that paper for a long time. It was hard to read because, well, have you ever tried to write with your eyes closed? I wanted to make sure that I got the words right for what I heard. What I heard was this. This was my purpose, “Bring peace to all you meet. See them exactly as they are. Love them, bless them. Be of good cheer.”
I have used that. I told my teammates in the Men’s Division that that was my purpose. I was impressed! That sounds good, doesn’t it? (laughter) Yeah, I was impressed by it. The Course says, “A purpose is attained by means, and if you want a purpose you must be willing to want the means as well. How can one be sincere and say, “I want this above all else, and yet I do not want to learn the means to get it?’” (T-20.VII.2.6-7)
Here you have a purpose. Are you willing to do what it takes to attain that purpose? That what that is saying to me.
So what I decided, upon reflection – it took me a while – I mean, here’s this great purpose, sounds good. I wrote it down many times. It sounds simple, but it’s rather like the Course – it’s very simple, but it’s not so easy. I also figured that I was arrogant in asking for this experience of specialness, because I thought that you could just go to the Holy Spirit and say “give me my purpose because I’m different than everyone else” but really, when you think about that purpose that I just told you about, that’s all our purpose – the purpose for everybody. The Holy Spirit knew that and denied me my moment of specialness. He gave me the purpose for everybody. That was clever of Holy Spirit! (laughter)
Basically, I look as these four lines as four elements and I asked, “What am I going to do with this?” Also, the other question that came to my mind, was this voice that gave me this purpose – was it the Holy Spirit or was it the ego? Often times that’s a question when you hear something. Where is this guidance coming from? Which is it?
I’m going to tell you the process that I went through with that, and you can decide for yourself what voice I heard. Here I had these four elements. I decided that I would deconstruct it. In other words, I would look at each element and think about these four lines.
The last line, looking at it from the end back to the beginning, was “Be of good cheer.” Now, I believe Jesus says that in the Bible, allegedly. He also says in the Course “In this world you need not have tribulation because I have overcome the world. That is why you should be of good cheer.” (T-4.I.13.10-11)
Now, I interpret that as meaning not to take the world seriously. Okay. That sounds simple enough. It’s much easier to forgive the world if you don’t take it seriously. Why do we do that? Because the world is illusion. How can you take illusion seriously to begin with? But, I have some trouble with that. I really admire comedians who can look at the absurdities of the world and then find humor in them. That’s what makes them successful comedians. We have a friend who is a well-known stand-up comedian. He has specials on HBO and all that, and he is a long-time Course student. He is able to do just that – look at various aspects of the culture, see their absurdity, make up jokes and make us laugh about them. Laughter is what they say. It makes good medicine. It makes us all feel better. We shouldn’t take this all that seriously, and I’ll never forget that. Marci and I saw him is Las Vegas and one of the lines he says is that he played an engagement at a convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and all they wanted to hear were knock-knock jokes! (laughter) So that’s how I took that last line to be of good cheer, not taking the world seriously.
The previously line before that says, and this applies to all the people that I meet, “Love them and bless them.” I had to stop and think about that. How do you do that? Well, I can love everybody I meet by accepting them and not judging them. I can bless them. To bless is a prayer to glorify, by wishing the best for each person. Sounds simple to do, but you know yourself, probably driving down the highway offers a good chance to test that out – to love all of the other drivers and bless them – and also looking only at your shared interests instead of your separate interests. You’re all on the highway together trying to get from one place to another rather than “I’m more important than the rest of you, I need to get home before all of you.” So that’s my way that I think I’m going to do it.
I haven’t mastered these steps. I look at these as four separate elements, and I’m going to master each one of them. That’s my purpose, and I invite you – as it’s our purpose – to engage in this as well. I think that’s what the Course is asking us to do.
The Course says “When a brother acts insanely, he is offering you an opportunity to bless him.” (T-7.VII.2.1) So, it’s pretty easy to look around and see our brothers acting insanely – at least our version of insanely. We really only need to – going back to look at humor in the world – watch television for just a few minutes to see absurdity and how insane things would seem to be. Watching previews of The Real Housewives of Orange County, or watching drug commercials that tell of side effects such as “spontaneous oily discharge.” You have to laugh at these things! (laughter) They expect you to buy that.
The third part of the purpose I was given was to “See them exactly as they are.” I’ve been thinking about that one as well. What that means to me is not to criticize my brothers and sisters, or listen to other people’s criticism of them. We have a lesson in the Workbook that says “Let all things be exactly as they are”, (W-pII.268) and that’s what it is referring to here. Do not criticize and do not listen to other people’s criticisms – see our brothers and sisters exactly as they are. The Course also says “In love was I created, and in love will I remain forever. What can frighten me, when I let all things be exactly as they are?” (W-pII.268.1.5-6)
The first line of my purpose, and you could almost boil it down to just this line, is “Bring peace to all you meet.” That was a tough one. I had to ask myself what that meant. How do I do that? The Course will tell you that to learn something you must teach it, and to teach something you must demonstrate it. What that’s saying is first I have to have peace in order to bring peace to all I meet. So it’s putting the responsibility back on me to find a state of peace – of inner peace. The Course says to reach this state of peace is, as it talks about in the Manual for Teachers, going through the “Development of Trust” (M-4.I.2.A) There are six stages in the development of trust that lead you to a state of peace.
I need you to follow with me here because I’m going to tell you what these six stages are, and then you can decide along the way where you think you might be.
The first stage is called a “period of undoing” (M-4.I.A.3.1) “It seems as if things are being taken away, and it is rarely understood initially that their lack of value is merely being recognized. How can lack of value be perceived unless the perceiver is in a position where he must see things in a different light? He is not yet at a point at which he can make the shift entirely internally. And so the plan will sometimes call for changes in what seem to be external circumstances. These changes are always helpful. When the teacher of God has learned that much, he goes on to the second stage.” (M-4.I.A.3.3-8)
We’re talking about the feeling that something is being taken away, but really we’re only recognizing that it’s just not valuable to us anymore.
The second stage is called a “period of sorting out. ” (M-4.I.A.4.1) “He will find that many, if not most of the things he valued before will merely hinder his ability to transfer what he has learned to new situations as they arise. Because he has valued what is really valueless, he will not generalize the lesson for fear of loss and sacrifice. It takes great learning to understand that all things, events, encounters and circumstances are helpful. It is only to the extent to which they are helpful that any degree of reality should be accorded them in this world of illusion. The word ‘value’ can apply to nothing else.” (M-4.I.A.3.3-7)
This is very similar to the first one in that we are sorting out what we value from what we don’t, realizing in the first stage that this is what is causing us to feel that we are giving something up.
The third stage is called the “period of relinquishment.” (M-4.I.A.5.1) “If this is interpreted as giving up the desirable, it will engender enormous conflict. Few teachers of God escape this distress entirely. There is, however, no point in sorting out the valuable from the valueless unless the next obvious step is taken. Therefore, the period of overlap is apt to be one in which the teacher of God feels called upon to sacrifice his own best interests on behalf of truth. He has not realized as yet how wholly impossible such a demand would be. He can learn this only as he actually does give up the valueless.” (M-4.I.A.5.2-7)
So, all along, the Course is about not looking for what’s real, but what is unreal. What has no value? It’s a deductive process. I was alluding to this the last time I talked about the “digital” nature of the spirituality of the Course – the removing of what is not true and keeping what is.
The fourth stage is called the “period of settling down.” (M-4.I.A.6.1) “This is a quiet time, in which the teacher of God rests a while in reasonable peace. Now he consolidates his learning. Now he begins to see the transfer value of what he has learned. Its potential is literally staggering, and the teacher of God is now at the point in his progress at which he sees in it his whole way out. “Give up what you do not want, and keep what you do.” How simple is the obvious! And how easy to do! The teacher of God needs this period of respite. He has not yet come as far as he thinks. Yet when he is ready to go on, he goes with mighty companions beside him. Now he rests a while, and gathers them before going on. He will not go on from here alone” (M-4.I.A.6.2-13)
We come then to the fourth stage where we find a little peace. This is the peace of God that we say we want. If you’re doing the Workbook where you say “I want the peace of God.” (W-pI.185) There is a difference between the peace of God and the temporary ego-respite that you might feel. When you’re sitting in a chair in a nice location doing something that you like to do and you feel at that moment that everything is peaceful, but it wouldn’t take much to come along to disturb that. That’s a temporary ego-respite rather than the peace of God that cannot be disturbed.
Stage number five is called the “period of unsettling.” (M-4.I.A.7.1) “Now must the teacher of God understand that he did not really know what was valuable and what was valueless. All that he really learned so far was that he did not want the valueless, and that he did want the valuable. Yet his own sorting out was meaningless in teaching him the difference. The idea of sacrifice, so central to his own thought system, had made it impossible for him to judge. He thought he learned willingness, but now he sees that he does not know what the willingness is for. And now he must attain a state that may remain impossible to reach for a long, long time. He must learn to lay all judgment aside, and ask only what he really wants in every circumstance.” (M-4.I.A.7.2-8)
You can see that it’s getting a little more difficult as we go along here, or so it seems. Even though He says it’s simple. (laughter) He doesn’t say it’s easy.
The sixth stage is the “period of achievement.” (M-4.I.A.8.1) “It is here that learning is consolidated. Now what was seen as merely shadows before become solid gains, to be counted on in all ‘emergencies’ as well as tranquil times. Indeed, the tranquility is their result; the outcome of honest learning, consistency of thought and full transfer. This is the stage of real peace, for here is Heaven’s state fully reflected. From here, the way to Heaven is open and easy. In fact, it is here. Who would ‘go’ anywhere, if peace of mind is already complete? And who would seek to change tranquility for something more desirable? What could be more desirable than this?” (M-4.I.A.8.2-10)
So, here you have it. Six stages are talked about in the “development of trust” (M-4.I.2.A) that lead to the state of peace that we all want. By having that peace we can demonstrate it to our brothers and, therefore, teach peace.
When I looked back on this, I think that I jockey back and forth between stages two and three right now, and that’s fine.
Now to reiterate what the Course says earlier, here’s something that I want you to take home. It’s actually a reiteration of something I said earlier. “The test of everything on earth is simply this; “What is it for?” (T-24.VII.6.1) That’s the same as saying, “What is its purpose” “The answer makes it what it is for you. It has no meaning of itself, yet you can give reality to it, according to the purpose that you serve.” (T-24.VII.6.2-3)
I would like to end this a little differently. Would everyone please join hands with the persons seated next to you.
“When brothers join in purpose in the world of fear, they stand already at the edge of the real world. Perhaps they still look back, and think they see an idol that they want. Yet has their path been surely set away from idols toward reality. For when they joined their hands it was Christ’s hand they took, and they will look on Him Whose hand they hold.” (T-30.V.7.1-4)
Thank you very much. That’s my talk for today. Y
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This article appeared in the April 2009 (Vol. 23 No. 2) issue of Miracles Monthly. Miracles Monthly is published by Community Miracles Center in San Francisco, CA. CMC is supported solely by people just like you who: become CMC Supporting Members, Give Donations and Purchase Books and Products through us.