Question: How does A Course In Miracles define “miracle”?
Answer: I was teaching two brand new A Course In Miracles students recently. We started at the “Introduction” to the Text. During our discussion of the “Introduction” we studied the meaning of these lines:
“Nothing real can be threatened. Nothing unreal exists.” (OrEd.Tx.In.4)
I told them that in A Course In Miracles Jesus uses unique definitions for many words, in this case “real,” “unreal,” and “exist.” I told them that as they study ACIM, they need to be alert for cases where Jesus is using words with definitions different from our usual definitions. Then, when they realize that he’s using different definitions, they need to be alert to each use of the word so that they can gradually determine what Jesus’ definition of the word is.
When we turned to Chapter 1 and began to read Section I, “Principles of Miracles,” I told them to be watching for Jesus’ definition of the word “miracle.” I mentioned that we traditionally think of a miracle as a manifestation of divine power with results that we consider to be impossible under the physical laws – such as walking on water, conjuring bread and fish for five thousand out of thin air, or healing the blind with a touch – but that A Course in Miracles would give a broader definition to “miracle.”
Aside from what they had heard from me, neither of my students had any prior exposure to A Course in Miracles. Neither had any exposure to the “conventional wisdom” that circulates among ACIM students.
At miracle principle number one we read:
“There is no order of difficulty among miracles. One is not ‘harder’ or ‘bigger’ than another. They are all the same. All expressions of love are maximal.” (OrEd.Tx.1.1)
At miracle principle number three we read:
“Miracles occur naturally as expressions of love.” (OrEd.Tx.1.3)
At that point one of my students piped up with, “In A Course In Miracles, ‘miracle’ means any expression of love.” The other student agreed.
I mentioned to them that if they engage with the larger A Course in Miracles community they’ll encounter a different concept, the idea that a miracle is a “shift in perception,” by which students mean a shift in inner perception, or a change in the way that we feel and think.
I think my students identified the correct definition of miracle. This definition is repeated at least four more times in the book:
“Miracles are a kind of exchange. Like all expressions of love, which are always miraculous in the true sense, the exchange reverses the physical laws. They bring more love both to the giver and the receiver.” (OrEd.Tx.1.9)
“Miracles are expressions of love, but it does not follow that they will always have observable effects.” (OrEd.Tx.1.49)
“I know that miracles are natural because they are expressions of love.” (OrEd.Tx.4.68)
“We once said there is no order of difficulty in miracles because they are all maximal expressions of love.” (OrEd.Tx.7.19)
So we have six cases of Jesus defining “miracles” as “expressions of love.” In addition, we have the following passages which essentially say the same thing in different words.
“A miracle is a service. It is the maximal service one individual can render another. It is a way of loving your neighbor as yourself.” (OrEd.Tx.1.18)
“Miracles are natural expressions of total forgiveness. Through miracles, man accepts God’s forgiveness by extending it to others.” (OrEd.Tx.1.21)
“The miracle, on the other hand, is a sign of love among equals.” (OrEd.Tx.1.78)
“The miracle is much like the body in that both are learning aids which aim at facilitating a state in which they are unnecessary. When the Soul’s original state of direct communication is reached, neither the body nor the miracle serves any purpose. While he believes he is in a body, however, man can choose between loveless and miraculous channels of expression.” (OrEd.Tx.1.86)
What we’re seeing here are passages that indicate miracles are behaviors which express love from one human to another. It’s important to note that miracles may also be from the Holy Spirit to a human:
“Do you think that what the Holy Spirit would have you give He would withhold from you? You have no problems which He cannot solve by offering you a miracle. Miracles are for you.” (OrEd.Tx.14.69)
When A Course In Miracles says “You have no problems which He cannot solve” (OrEd.Tx.14.69) I have to think this means not only our inner problems but also our worldly problems. It may seem a little odd to think of the Holy Spirit as conducting behavior, but when He makes a book fall off a shelf or heals a sick or broken body, what else are we to call it? The idea that the Holy Spirit behaves in the way that ACIM asks us to behave makes perfect sense. It makes as much sense for the Holy Spirit to express love to us as for us to express love to each other.
My search for clues as to the definition of miracle was not exhaustive because, according to the search engine at the Course In Miracles Society (CIMS) website, the terms “miracle” and “miracles” occur 687 times in the Original Edition. I did not study each and every one of them in the process of writing this article.
I think the difference between “expression of love” and “shift in perception” is very important. “Expression of love” pertains to behavior undertaken by one child of God on behalf of another, and “shift in perception” pertains to changes of mind that are subjective within the mind of the individual child of God. If we are commonly replacing Jesus’ definition of miracle, a definition which means a type of behavior in relationship, with a different definition of miracle, a definition which does not necessarily involve either behavior or relationship, then we have to ask ourselves whether we are negating Jesus’ meaning and losing an essential aspect of A Course In Miracles.
Before I started writing this, I did a Google search to see whether I was right about the prevalence of the idea that in A Course In Miracles “miracle” means an inner shift of subjective perception. I searched for “a miracle is an expression of love,” using quotation marks to get the exact phrase, and got 969 hits. I did the same thing with “a miracle is a shift in perception” (using quotation marks) and got 68,900 hits. That makes a ratio of 71.1 to 1 in favor of “shift in perception” over “expression of love.”
I went back to Google and searched <miracle shift in perception> with no quotation marks and got 3.51 million hits. The first hit started with:
“‘A miracle is simply a shift in perception from fear to love.’ With that definition in mind, I am going to be much more conscious of all the miracles I see in my life.” No attribution was given for the definition, in spite of the use of quotation marks.
The second hit started with this: “‘A miracle is a shift in perception.’ – A Course In Miracles.” I want to make it clear that this web site places those words in quotation marks and attributes them to ACIM. No chapter and paragraph reference is given, of course, because the quote does not actually occur in ACIM.
The third hit was about miracles involving a shift in perception, rather than being a shift in perception, so it wasn’t really relevant to my search.
The fourth hit was an extensive article by Robert Perry titled “What is a Miracle?” Some of the points that Robert makes in his article include the following:
“I would like to take issue with calling a miracle a ‘shift in perception.’”
“The terms ‘miracle’ and ‘shift in perception’ have become so synonymous among Course students that even raising this question feels a little bit like cussing in church.”
“... The Course never calls a miracle a shift in perception. The closest it comes to doing so is when it says that the miracle ‘entails’ (FIP.T-1.II.6:3) or ‘introduces’ (FIP.T-5.II.1:3) a shift in perception – two words that leave a lot more room than saying that the miracle is.” (sic) (The emphasis is mine, not Robert’s.)
Robert’s article is based on the FIP/FACIM version of A Course In Miracles. The first quote to which Robert refers is “However, the miracle entails a sudden shift from horizontal to vertical perception.” (FIP.T-1.II.6.3) This sentence from the FIP/FACIM version, along with the context both before and after, are Helen’s and Ken’s edit of the following quotation from the Original Edition, which reads as follows:
“The miracle is a learning device which lessens the need for time. In the longitudinal or horizontal plane, the recognition of the true equality of all the members of the Sonship appears to involve almost endless time. However, the sudden shift from horizontal to vertical perception which the miracle entails introduces an interval from which the doer and the receiver both emerge much farther along in time than they would otherwise have been.” (OrEd.Tx.1.82)
Although words are rearranged and the placement is quite different, the concepts presented in the two versions are the same. Miracles “entail” a shift in perception. Hey, driving our cars “entails” keeping our eyes open. It’s quite a different thing, however, to define “driving a car” as “keeping one’s eyes open.”
The second quote to which Robert refers is “This alteration of the time sequence should be quite familiar, because it is very similar to the shift in the perception of time that the miracle introduces.” (FIP.T-5.II.1.3) This is found in the Original Edition, which reads as follows:
“Healing is not creating; it is reparation. The Holy Spirit promotes healing by looking beyond it to what the Children of God were before healing was needed and will be when they have been healed. This alteration of the time sequence should be quite familiar because it is very similar to the shift in time perception which the miracle introduces. The Holy Spirit is the motivation for miracle-mindedness, the will to heal the separation by letting it go. This will is in you because God placed it in your mind, and although you can keep it asleep, you cannot obliterate it.” (OrEd.Tx.5.17)
The changes that Helen and Ken made to the sentence in question are minor changes that don’t alter the meaning. Miracles “introduce” a change in time perception. Getting back to the driving analogy, driving from one place to another “introduces” a change in my perception of my geographical location. It’s quite a different thing to define “driving a car” as “changing one’s perception of geographical location.”
Other quotes from Robert’s article include the following:
“In other words, the healing of mind, or shift in perception, is a result. This is why the miracle ‘induces’ (FIP.T-3.II.6:7) a healing of mind or introduces a shift in perception, rather than is a shift in perception.” (The emphasis is mine, not Robert’s.)
“Perhaps more surprising than any of the above is the fact that most of the Course’s (over 550) references to the miracle talk about it as an interpersonal act of extension, rather than an internal shift in perception. This, in fact, is where I think the ‘shift in perception’ phrase falls most short.” (The emphasis is mine, not Robert’s.)
I found that last quote to be very interesting for two reasons. First, I’ve noticed (and admired) for years that Robert has a habit of doing exhaustive searches in which he finds every case of a particular topic in A Course In Miracles and then studies them all together, comparing them to each other. So when Robert says that there are over 550 references to miracle (his count is less than the 687 in the *Original Edition* because he’s referring to the *FIP/FACIM* version) and that most of them talk about an interpersonal act of extension, my guess is that Robert actually studied every single use of the words “miracle” and “miracles,” put each occurrence into a category, and then counted up the number of occurrences in each category. Second, Robert’s work seems to point to the same conclusions that I came to: 1) Miracles are behaviors rather than changes in thought. 2) Miracles are behaviors undertaken by one child of God on behalf of another child of God. 3) Defining a miracle as a “shift in perception” is distinctly unhelpful in the light of what appears to be Jesus’ actual meaning of miracle.
Robert’s article can be found at:
Getting back to my Google search, the fifth hit was an article by Rev. Tony Ponticello titled “A Shift In Perception” and dated January 31, 2009. Tony’s article includes the following quote:
“Generally, in A Course In Miracles, we think of a miracle as a shift in perception. Those precise words don’t actually exist anywhere in ACIM. However, ACIM does talk about perception shifting and shifts in perception in various places, so it is inferred that a miracle is a shift in perception.” (The emphasis is mine, not Tony’s.) Rev. Tony’s article can be found at, <http://bit.ly/a_shift_in_perception>.
At this point in my Google search both Rev. Tony and Robert had confirmed my impression that the dominant position among A Course In Miracles students is to define “miracle” as an inner shift of subjective perception. Since Rev. Tony and Robert probably have as much knowledge as anyone of the various viewpoints among ACIM students and teachers, and since they were confirming the impression that I had garnered during years of study, I didn’t see any need to analyze the rest of the 3.51 million Google hits under <miracle shift in perception>.
Next I decided to search the Original Edition for the phrase “shift in perception” in an attempt to find the basis for the idea that a miracle is an internal shift in perception. According to the search engine at the CIMS website, the exact phrase “shift in perception” occurs in only three places in A Course In Miracles. The first is in Chapter 15. The sentence reads as follows:
“It is possible to do this all at once because there is but one shift in perception that is necessary, for you made but one mistake.” (OrEd.Tx.15.95)
This is part of what I find to be a wonderful passage. However, the term “miracle” occurs neither in the sentence, nor in the paragraph, nor even in the entire section “The Time of Christ,” (OrEd.Tx.15.X) so it can’t possibly be the source of the idea that the definition of miracle is “a shift in perception.”
The second of the three occurrences of the exact phrase “shift in perception” is in Chapter 16, Section IV, “Sin as an Adjustment.” (OrEd.Tx.16.IV) The paragraph reads as follows:
“The belief in sin is an adjustment. And an adjustment is a change; a shift in perception or a belief that what was so before has been made different. Every adjustment is therefore a distortion and calls upon defenses to uphold it against reality. Knowledge requires no adjustment and in fact is lost if any shift or change is undertaken. For this reduces it at once to mere perception – a way of looking in which certainty is lost and doubt has entered. To this impaired condition are adjustments necessary because they are not true. Who need adjust to truth, which calls on only what he is, to understand?” (OrEd.Tx.20.16)
Wow! I’ve thought for some time that this was one of the most problematic passages in A Course In Miracles, but I didn’t realize before that the second use of the exact phrase “shift in perception” is saying that “shift in perception” is precisely what we should not do! No matter how we understand this paragraph, it certainly can’t be the source of the idea that a miracle is a “shift in perception.” As with the first case, the word “miracle” does not occur at all either in this paragraph or in the entire section (OrEd.Tx.20.IV) in which it is found.
The last occurrences of the exact phrase “shift in perception” occur at the fifth section of the Manual for Teachers, “How is Healing Accomplished?” (OrEd.Mn.V) “Shift in Perception” is a heading above paragraphs four through seven. It also occurs in one sentence, which in context appears as follows:
“The acceptance of sickness as a decision of the mind for a purpose for which it would use the body is the basis of healing. And this is so for healing in all forms. A patient decides that this is so, and he recovers. If he decides against recovery, he will not be healed. Who is the physician? Only the mind of the patient himself. The outcome is what he decides that it is. Special agents seem to be ministering to him, yet they but give form to his own choice. He chooses them to bring tangible form to his desires. And it is this they do, and nothing else. They are not actually needed at all. The patient could merely rise up without their aid and say, ‘I have no use for this.’ There is no form of sickness that would not be cured at once.
“What is the single requisite for this shift in perception? It is simply this: the recognition that sickness is of the mind and has nothing to do with the body. What does this recognition ‘cost’? It costs the whole world we see, for the world will never again appear to rule the mind.” (OrEd.Mn.5.5-6)
This one of my favorite parts of A Course In Miracles. However, as with the other cases, the word “miracle” occurs neither in the sentence with “shift in perception,” nor in the paragraph with that sentence, nor even in the entire section. (OrEd.Mn.5). We can see that this final case is like all the others in that it can not possibly be the basis for the concept that a miracle is a shift in perception.
Like Robert Perry and Rev. Tony Ponticello, I was unable to find any support in A Course In Miracles for the idea that a miracle is a shift in perception. Like Robert, I found strong support, including six clear-cut definitions, for the idea that miracles are behaviors that express love. Having now done this study, I continue to think that my new students determined the correct definition of miracle as “any expression of love.”
There are other reasons why I think that the correct understanding of “miracle” is that it is a form of behavior rather than a change of mind. For example, in Chapter 1 we read “Miracles are everyone’s right, but purification is necessary first.” (OrEd.Tx.1.7) The purification referred to here is purification of the mind, which is forgiveness. This makes sense in light of “What you do comes from what you think.” (OrEd.Tx.2.74) In other words, miracle principle number seven is telling us that in order for what we do to consist of miracles, first we have to change what we think (purify our minds by forgiveness). The reason the dichotomy in principle seven is necessary is because the miracle takes place in the realm of behavior, and the purification takes place in the realm of thought. If the miracle were, in fact, a shift in inner perception, then it would be in the realm of thought. The miracle would be the purification and the sentence would make no sense.
Another reason why I think that the correct understanding of “miracle” is that it is a form of behavior rather than a change of mind, is the several references to “miracle-mindedness.” For example in Chapter 2 we read “We have already said that the miracle is an expression of miracle-mindedness.” (OrEd.Tx.2.63) As with the previous example, what we do comes from our state of mind. In this case, “what we do” is miracles when our “state of mind” is miracle-mindedness. Once again, if the miracle were in fact a shift in inner perception, there would be no need for the dichotomy between the realm of thought and the realm of behavior as seen in this sentence about miracle-mindedness.
A third reason why I think the correct understanding of “miracle” is that it is a form of behavior is found in Chapter 29, which reads as follows:
“You have accepted healing’s Cause, and so it must be you are healed. And being healed, the power to heal must also now be yours. The miracle is not a separate thing which happens suddenly, as an effect without a cause. Nor is it in itself a cause. But where its cause is must it be. Now is it caused, though not as yet perceived. And its effects are there, though not yet seen. Look inward now, and you will not behold a reason for regret but cause indeed for glad rejoicing and for hope of peace.” (OrEd.Tx.29.11)
The passage here is referring to miracles given from the Holy Spirit to a human. This reminds us that there are two types of miracles, one being from the Holy Spirit to a human and the other being between humans. A Course In Miracles asks us not only to offer miracles to our brothers and accept miracles from our brothers, but also to accept miracles from the Holy Spirit. For the purposes of this article, the most important part is the statement “Nor is it in itself a cause.” If the miracle were a “shift in subjective perception,” meaning a change in how we think, it would have to be a cause, because ACIM tells us in Chapter 2, that “All thinking produces form at some level.” (OrEd.Tx.2.91 ) Connecting these dots means that the miracle can not be a shift in subjective perception.
Jesus’ definition of “miracle” as “an expression of love,” which means a behavior, is consistent with the passages in A Course In Miracles that ask us to behave in ways that are helpful and to stop behaving in ways that are harmful. ACIM says we only made one mistake, which was the choice to be separate. My understanding of ACIM is that the Holy Spirit’s purpose for the realm of time, space, matter, and bodies is to give us opportunities to choose between behaviors that either support our choice to be separate or support our choice to heal the separation. Behaviors undertaken by one child of God on behalf of one or more others connect us with each other in a way that heals the separation. The change of mind that leads to miracles is necessary, but by itself it does not have the power of forging connections – and thereby healing our choice to be separate – that the behavior brings to our mirs.
I think there’s a significant portion of the A Course In Miracles community that sees this spiritual path as 1) taking place only on the level of the mind, 2) not involving behavior, and 3) not involving objectively observable results. This approach would be consistent with defining “miracle” as a “shift in perception” because it removes the miracle from the realm of behavior. I’ll mention again that if we define a miracle as something that occurs on the level of the individual mind, and if Jesus means that it is behavior undertaken between two or more, then we are negating the meaning of “miracle” that ACIM gives to it. Obviously I am not of this persuasion. My own opinion is that ACIM is like a stool that has three legs, which are 1) changing our minds, 2) changing our behaviors, and 3) changing the results that we experience in the world of time, space, matter, and bodies.
Over the years I’ve developed the impression that a significant portion of what passes for discussion about A Course In Miracles may consist of circulating ideas that are not actually found in ACIM and that are often contrary to what is in fact written between the covers of the book. If I’m right about the definition of miracle, then we have a clear and prevalent example of this problem. I think one lesson we can learn is that when we hear or read ACIM students and teachers attributing ideas to ACIM, it would be helpful if our response were “show me where ACIM actually supports that idea.”
I’d like to end with a quote from the Bible. The purpose is to illustrate that the essence of the path that Jesus offers in A Course In Miracles is the same as the essence of the path that he offered during his Earthly ministry: the way that we return to God is largely through loving behavior that we extend to each other.
“I give you a new commandment: love one another; as I have loved you, so you are to love one another. If there is love among you, then all will know that you are my disciples.” (John 13:34-35, New English Bible) Y
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This article appeared in the June 2012 (Vol. 26 No.4) 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.