Episode 15, Lesson 7: On Visiting Our Country’s Past Again for the First Time

Welcome to Episode 15 of “A Course in Miracles for Social Justice Activists.” I’m your host, Mike Rivage-Seul. Today we’ll examine together Part 1, Lesson 7 of The Course’s Workbook for Students. It’s found on pages 11 and 12 of the text. Its central idea reads: “I see only the past.”

For our purposes here, I’d express today’s main idea like this: “I see only the past as portrayed by my keepers as shadows on the wall of our cultural cave.”

However we express it though, today’s lesson is setting us up to leave the past aside and consider everything anew, as if for the first time.

In fact, the text goes on to explain that this idea (I see only the past) is the basis of all the Workbook lessons we’ve practiced so far. In the text’s words, seeing only the past:

“Is the reason why nothing that you see means anything.
It is the reason why you give everything you see all the meaning that it has for you.
It is the reason why you do not understand anything you see 
It is the reason why your thoughts do not mean anything. 
It is the reason why you are never upset for the reasons you think.
It is the reason why you are upset because you see something that is not there.”

As we have seen, The Course considers the past as “unreal.” Its events unfolded in yesterday’s present. But that present is gone forever. It is now “unreal.” However, the fact remains that what we’ve learned through past experience determines what we see in the present. In mundane terms, it’s only because of the past that we know what cups, pencils, shoes, hands, and faces are for. It’s almost impossible to view such items as if we didn’t know their purposes.

In political terms, what we see in our world is also largely governed by what we learned as children — in this instance, about our country’s history. As we saw earlier, the shadows on our cave’s wall have established controlling ideas in our minds that determine what we see. Controlling ideas have taught us for instance, that America is the greatest in the world, that it’s a democracy, that its Founders were nearly saintly men, that the policeman is our friend, and that all of us are equal under the law. All those ideas prevent us from looking at our country with new eyes – from seeing it as it “really” is today.

(And, as we’ll see, if we understand what we’ve learned in the past against the eternal and lasting Ground of Being that alone is real (in the sense of eternal and lasting) we’ll reconceive our learnings from the past in a brightly critical light.) 

Politically speaking and because this podcast is about the way A Course in Miracles can move us from unreal perceptions, it’s not too early to point out that the only way we can escape our cave’s interiorized misperceptions is to leave empire’s cave altogether. It is to follow the example of the prophet Jesus by somehow “incarnating” in the imperialized world he inhabited. There, we’ll inevitably encounter stark criticisms of white supremacy, imperialism, capitalism, and patriarchy. 

Of course, you can make that happen by travel that intentionally goes beyond tourism and whose specific purpose is political education. For example, ventures like that brought me to Brazil, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Cuba, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Israel, Jordan, India, and (during my five years of graduate study in Rome) to Poland and most of the countries in western Europe. Moreover, stepping outside our cultural cave as a kind of political archeologist is best accomplished by learning the relevant languages.

But no one can learn all the world’s languages. And few can travel extensively in the less developed world as I’m suggesting.

However, we can through reading and documentary films encounter new unaccustomed visions that move us beyond seeing “only the past” as portrayed within our cultural cave. To that end, I’d suggest the following list:

  • James W. Loewen’s Lies My Teacher Told Me
  • Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States
  • Oliver Stone’s and Peter Kuznick’s The Untold History of the United States (accompanied by video documentaries for each chapter)
  • Eduardo Galeano’s The Open Veins of Latin America
  • Walter Rodney’s How Europe Underdeveloped Africa
  • Vijay Prashad’s The Poorer Nations: a possible history of the global south
  • Haitian director, Raul Peck’s documentary “Exterminate All the Brutes”

Suggestions like those terrify the controllers within our cave who carry statues before the fire that burns behind our backs. They’re afraid students like us will actually understand our manipulation at our keepers’ hands. For that reason, they hate what they vilify as “critical race theory,” but what is only seeing the past “again for the first time” from the viewpoint of those victimized by white supremacy, imperialism, capitalism, and patriarchy.

Understanding the past that way can change understandings of the world. And changed understanding (from one based on fear to understanding based on love) represents what A Course in Miracles’ means by the term “miracle.”

Please give Lesson 7 and the thoughts I’ve just shared prayerful consideration throughout this day. Several times for a minute or so, say to yourself whenever your eyes fall upon familiar objects, “I see only the past in this _____ (pencil, shoe, hand, body, face). While watching the news describing and analyzing the day’s events, say “I see only the past in this issue.”

Again, the point of all this is to deconstruct our familiar ways of seeing the world.

Until next time, then, this is Mike Rivage-Seul thanking you for listening. Please join me tomorrow for Lesson 8 of “A Course in Miracles for Social Justice Warriors.” In the meantime, God’s blessings on you all.

Please see other episodes in this series on my podcast site here.