One of the aspects of reading A Course of Love that I really enjoyed, aside from the feeling it evoked of having Love itself shovel coal into the furnace of my heart deep into the night, was the string of observations Jesus made about this experience we’re having as personal beings. Paragraph after paragraph, Jesus tells us about who we are, in ways he couldn’t have known, unless he’s been in there… through doubt, through confusion, through desire, through ecstasy… with us…
It is clear that Jesus knows what it is like to be human, and to be a human in a state of becoming. Jesus knows, for instance, what it is like to face temptation, but in a beautiful example of the way Jesus’ observations gently tease apart our incomplete or distorted concepts, Jesus explores the notion of temptation in ways I would not have considered. We’re used to thinking about temptation- or at least I was- in terms of that feeling of being drawn to moments or experiences that come like a craving, which, if we indulge, we know will lead ultimately to some form of undoing. We are tempted to eat foods that aren’t nourishing, but taste good. We are tempted to abuse drugs and alcohol because of the momentary pleasure- (or perhaps for deeper-seated reasons). Along those same lines, we may be tempted by sex, money, fame, and glory. We are tempted by the fleeting satisfaction of “justified anger”, of revenge and reprisal, of the feeling of righteousness.
I wanted to write about temptation after ethics- or rightness and wrongness- because I think these concepts are intertwined. Temptation seems to pull us to the “wrong” side of the coin, and part of our human experience is to face the ongoing challenge of resisting this tug, in some cases to the extent that it can feel as though we are resisting ourselves, in order to choose what is “best” for us.
In A Course of Love, however, Jesus speaks about temptation in an altogether different way. For starters, he never really speaks about any of the “should’s” that we so often associate with our temptations- the things we “should” avoid, the things we “shouldn’t” do, or the things we “should” do. Jesus even goes so far as to decry the often stated goal of being good. In Chapter 4 of the Treatise on the Personal Self, Jesus says, “[This course] will not tell you to leave behind your addictions or to go on a diet or a fast. It will not even tell you to be kind. It does not tell you to be responsible and does not chide your irresponsibility. It does not claim that you were once bad, but by following these tenets you can become good… It merely calls you to sanity by calling you to let go of illusion in favor of truth.”
The temptations Jesus asks us to look at in A Course of Love are not the ephemeral pleasures of the physical world that we typically associate with temptation, but the very patterns or systems of belief we have long held, and by which we have defined ourselves, many of which we still view as positive and necessary. We may view the effort to learn and become a better person, for instance, as an important aspect of who we are, as part of what defines us and makes our lives meaningful, but this is precisely the type of mindset Jesus refers to as a form of temptation. How can that be?
The answer is that if we wish to fulfill the desire in our hearts to live by the truth, we will have to accept that the truth is within us. We will have to stop looking for it, if we are to live as beings who have found it. We will have to stop showing up for the school from which we’ve already graduated… How many dark nights of the soul do we need to be complete? Once our hearts have been cracked open, how many wallops must still be delivered? How many excursions into despair and euphoric epiphanies will we require to accept once and for all that we are at home in Love? They’re both harrowing and delicious… but they’re not the Peace of God…
In short, Jesus encourages us in A Course of Love to deny the temptation of the known–the temptation to return to all the good intentions and heart-opening experiences that got us here, rather than stepping across the threshold into everlasting unity, and the Peace of God. This is challenging stuff, or certainly can be. It is for me. (I thought it was all about the journey! What do you mean we’ve arrived!?)
Temptation is the urge to forget what I have found once again, to walk back down the mountain and curl up beneath a tree, and wake up an ignorant pauper, so I can justify this madness, this insatiable longing for what I can never be without… Sounds tempting, doesn’t it!?