A few days ago, reading The New Yorker, I came across a short story that took my breath away because it described the narrator undergoing an awakening experience, and the experience was being rendered in language similar to that of A Course in Miracles, using words, such as, miracle, forgiveness, earthly thoughts, and the word. Yet, the story was published in Russian in 1923 by Vladimir Nabokov, over fifty years before the publication of A Course in Miracles.
The story begins with the narrator in a heavenly state of mind, yet soon drawn out of it by a single earthly-thought. But he anticipates a miracle as he is surrounded by angels. And then a miracle occurs as an angel approaches him. The narrator pleads his earthly cause to the angel, and he asks for forgiveness. The angel answers with the word, like pouring heavenly warmth over my heart. Although he forgets the word the next morning, he is forever transformed.
I urge you now to read the short story (13 paragraphs) in its entirety.
And now I will simply, and profoundly, juxtapose passages from the story and passages from A Course in Miracles without commentary.
Swept out of the valley night by an inspired oneiric (dreamy) wind, I stood at the edge of a road, under a clear pure-gold sky, in an extraordinary mountainous land. Without looking, I sensed the lustre, the angles, and the facets of immense mosaic cliffs, dazzling precipices, and the mirrorlike glint of multitudinous lakes lying somewhere below, behind me. My soul was seized by a sense of heavenly iridescence, freedom, and loftiness: I knew that I was in Paradise.
What is the holy instant but God's appeal to you to recognize what he has given you? Here is the great appeal to reason; the awareness of what is always there to see, the happiness that could be always yours. Here is the constant peace you could experience forever. Here is what denial has denied revealed to you. For here the final question is already answered, and what you ask for given. Here is the future now, for time is powerless because of your desire for what will never change. For you have asked that nothing stand between the holiness of your relationship and your awareness of its holiness. T-21.V111.5
Yet, within this earthly soul, a single earthly thought rose like a piercing flame—and how jealously, how grimly I guarded it from the aura of gigantic beauty that surrounded me. This thought, this naked flame of suffering, was the thought of my earthly homeland.
You have been told to bring the darkness to the light, and guilt to holiness. And you have also been told that error must be corrected at its source. Therefore, it is the tiny part of yourself, the little thought that seems split off and separate, the Holy Spirit needs. The rest is fully in God's keeping, and needs no guide. Yet this wild and delusional thought needs help because, in its delusions, it thinks it is the Son of God, whole and omnipotent, sole ruler of the kingdom it set apart to tyrannize by madness into obedience and slavery. This is the little part you think you stole from Heaven. Give it back to Heaven. Heaven has not lost it, but you have lost sight of Heaven. Let the Holy Spirit remove it from the withered kingdom in which you set it off, surrounded by darkness, guarded by attack and reinforced by hate. Within its barricades is still a tiny segment of the Son of God, complete and holy, serene and unaware of what you think surrounds it.
Be you not separate, for the One Who does surround it has brought union to you, returning your little offering of darkness to the eternal light. How is this done? It is extremely simple, being based on what this little kingdom really is. The barren sands, the darkness and the lifelessness, are seen only through the body's eyes. Its bleak sight is distorted, and the messages it transmits to you who made it to limit your awareness are little and limited, and so fragmented they are meaningless.
Barefoot and penniless, at the edge of a mountain road, I awaited the kind, luminous denizens of Heaven, while a wind, like the foretaste of a miracle, played in my hair, filled the gorges with a crystal hum, and ruffled the fabled silks of the trees that blossomed amid the cliffs lining the road. Tall grasses lapped at the tree trunks like tongues of fire; large flowers broke smoothly from the glittering branches and, like airborne goblets brimming with sunlight, glided through the air, puffing out their translucent convex petals. Their sweet, damp aroma reminded me of all the finest things I had experienced in my life.
Suddenly, the road on which I stood, breathless from the shimmer, was filled with a tempest of wings. Swarming out of the blinding depths came the angels I awaited, their folded wings pointing sharply upward. Their tread was ethereal; they were like colored clouds in motion, and their transparent visages were motionless except for the rapturous tremor of their radiant lashes. Among them, turquoise birds flew with peals of happy girlish laughter, and lithe orange animals loped, fantastically speckled with black. The creatures coiled through the air, silently thrusting out their satin paws to catch the airborne flowers as they circled and soared, pressing past me with flashing eyes.
Your newborn purpose is nursed by angels, cherished by the Holy Spirit and protected by God himself. It needs not your protection; it is yours. For it is deathless, and within it lies the end of death.T-19.C.i.9:4-6
Wings, wings, wings! How can I describe their convolutions and their tints? They were all-powerful and soft—tawny, purple, deep blue, velvety black, with fiery dust on the rounded tips of their bowed feathers. Like precipitous clouds they stood, imperiously poised above the angels’ luminous shoulders; now and then an angel, in a kind of marvellous transport, as if unable to restrain his bliss, suddenly, for a single instant, unfurled his winged beauty, and it was like a burst of sunlight, like the sparkling of millions of eyes.
Around you angels hover lovingly, to keep away all darkened thoughts of sin, and keep the light where it has entered in. Your footprints lighten up the world, for where you walk forgiveness gladly goes with you. No one on earth but offers thanks to one who has restored his home, and sheltered him from bitter winter and the freezing cold. And shall the Lord of Heaven and His Son give less in gratitude for so much more? T-26.1X.7
They passed in throngs, glancing heavenward. Their eyes were like jubilant chasms, and in those eyes I saw the syncope of flight. They came with gliding step, showered with flowers. The flowers spilled their humid sheen in flight; the sleek, bright beasts played, whirling and climbing; the birds chimed with bliss, soaring and dipping. I, a blinded, quaking beggar, stood at the edge of the road, and within my beggar’s soul the selfsame thought kept prattling: Cry out to them, tell them—oh, tell them that on the most splendid of God’s stars there is a land—my land—that is dying in agonizing darkness. I had the sense that, if I could grasp with my hand but one quivering shimmer, I would bring to my country such joy that human souls would instantly be illumined, and would circle beneath the plash and crackle of resurrected springtime, to the golden thunder of reawakened temples.
Put out your hand, and see how easily the door swings open with your one intent to go beyond it. Angels light the way, so that all darkness vanishes, and you are standing in a light so bright and clear that you can understand all things you see. A tiny moment of surprise, perhaps, will make you pause before you realize the world you see before you in the light reflects the truth you knew, and did not quite forget in wandering away in dreams.W-p1.131.13
Reaching out with trembling hands, striving to bar the angels’ path, I began clutching at the hems of their bright chasubles (hooded garments), at the undulating, torrid fringes of their curved wings, which slipped through my fingers like downy flowers. I moaned, I dashed about, I deliriously beseeched their indulgence, but the angels trod ever forward, oblivious of me, their chiselled faces turned upward. They streamed in hosts to a heavenly feast, into an unendurably resplendent glade, where roiled and breathed a divinity about which I dared not think. I saw fiery cobwebs, splashes, designs on gigantic crimson, russet, violet wings, and, above me, a downy rustling passed in waves. The rainbow-crowned turquoise birds pecked, the flowers floated off from shiny boughs. “Wait, hear me out!” I cried, trying to embrace an angel’s vaporous legs, but the feet, impalpable, unstoppable, slipped through my extended hands, and the borders of the broad wings only scorched my lips as they swept past. In the distance, a golden clearing between lush, vivid cliffs was filling with the surging storm; the angels were receding; the birds ceased their high-pitched agitated laughter; the flowers no longer flew from the trees; I grew feeble, I fell mute. . . .
Then a miracle occurred. One of the last angels lingered, turned, and quietly approached me. I caught sight of his cavernous, staring, diamond eyes under the imposing arches of his brows. On the ribs of his outspread wings glistened what seemed like frost. The wings themselves were gray, an ineffable tint of gray, and each feather ended in a silvery sickle. His visage, the faintly smiling outline of his lips, and his straight clear forehead reminded me of features I had seen on earth. The curves, the gleaming, the charm of all the faces I had ever loved—the features of people who had long since departed from me—seemed to merge into one wondrous countenance. All the familiar sounds that came separately into contact with my hearing now seemed to blend into a single, perfect melody.
He came up to me. He smiled. I could not look at him. But, glancing at his legs, I noticed a network of azure veins on his feet and one pale birthmark. From these veins, from that little spot, I understood that he had not yet totally abandoned earth, that he might understand my prayer.
The Holy Spirit mediates between illusions and the truth. Since He must bridge the gap between reality and dreams, perception leads to knowledge through the grace that God has given Him, to be His gift to everyone who turns to Him for truth. Across the bridge that He provides are dreams all carried to the truth, to be dispelled before the light of knowledge. There are sights and sounds forever laid aside. And where they were perceived before, forgiveness has made possible perception's tranquil end.
The goal the Holy Spirit's teaching sets is just this end of dreams. For sights and sounds must be translated from the witnesses of fear to those of love. And when this is entirely accomplished, learning has achieved the only goal it has in truth. For learning, as the Holy Spirit guides it to the outcome He perceives for it, becomes the means to go beyond itself, to be replaced by the eternal truth.
W-p11.7. What is the Holy Spirit? 1,2
Then, bending my head, pressing my singed palms, smeared with bright clay, to my half-blinded eyes, I began recounting my sorrows. I wanted to explain how wondrous my land was, and how horrid its black syncope, but I did not find the words I needed. Hurrying, repeating myself, I babbled about trifles, about some burned-down house where once the sunny sheen of parquet had been reflected in an inclined mirror. I prattled of old books and old lindens, of knickknacks, of my first poems in a cobalt schoolboy notebook, of some gray boulder, overgrown with wild raspberries, in the middle of a field filled with scabiosa (plants) and daisies—but the most important thing I simply could not express. I grew confused, I stopped short, I began anew, and again, in my helpless, rapid speech, I spoke of rooms in a cool and resonant country house, of lindens, of my first love, of bumblebees sleeping on the scabiosa. It seemed to me that any minute—any minute!—I would get to what was most important, I would explain the whole sorrow of my homeland. But for some reason I could remember only minute, quite mundane things that were unable to speak or weep those corpulent, burning, terrible tears, about which I wanted to but could not tell. . . .
Recognition of meaninglessness arouses intense anxiety in all the separated ones. It represents a situation in which God and the ego "challenge" each other as to whose meaning is to be written in the empty space that meaninglessness provides. The ego rushes in frantically to establish its own ideas there, fearful that the void may otherwise be used to demonstrate its own impotence and unreality. And on this alone it is correct.
It is essential, therefore, that you learn to recognize the meaningless, and accept it without fear. If you are fearful, it is certain that you will endow the world with attributes that it does not possess, and crowd it with images that do not exist. To the ego illusions are safety devices, as they must also be to you who equate yourself with the ego. W-p1.13.2,3
I fell silent, raised my head. The angel smiled a quiet, attentive smile, gazed fixedly at me with his elongated diamond eyes. I felt he understood me.
“Forgive me,” I exclaimed, meekly kissing the birthmark on his light-hued foot. “Forgive that I am capable of speaking only about the ephemeral, the trivial. You understand, though, my kindhearted, my gray angel. Answer me, help me, tell me, what can save my land?”
The idea for today (God did not create a meaningless world) is another step in learning to let go the thoughts that you have written on the world, and see the Word of God in their place. W-p1.14.3:1
Have faith in him who walks with you, so that your fearful concept of yourself may change. And look upon the good in him, that you may not be frightened by your "evil" thoughts because they do not cloud your view of him. And all this shift requires is that you be willing that this happy change occur. No more than this is asked. On its behalf, remember what the concept of yourself that now you hold has brought you in its wake, and welcome the glad contrast offered you. Hold out your hand, that you may have the gift of kind forgiveness which you offer one whose need for it is just the same as yours. And let the cruel concept of yourself be changed to one that brings the peace of God.
Is it not wiser to be glad you hold the answer to your problems in your hand? Is it not more intelligent to thank the One Who gives salvation, and accept His gift with gratitude? And is it not a kindness to yourself to hear His Voice and learn the simple lessons He would teach, instead of trying to dismiss His words, and substitute your own in place of His?
His words will work. His words will save. His words contain all hope, all blessing and all joy that ever can be found upon this earth. His words are born in God, and come to you with Heaven's love upon them. Those who hear His words have heard the song of Heaven. For these are the words in which all merge as one at last. And as this one will fade away, the Word of God will come to take its place, for it will be remembered then and loved.W-p1.198.5,6
Embracing my shoulders for an instant with his dovelike wings, the angel pronounced a single word, and in his voice I recognized all those beloved, those silenced voices. The word he spoke was so marvellous that, with a sigh, I closed my eyes and bowed my head still lower. The fragrance and the melody of the word spread through my veins, rose like a sun within my brain; the countless cavities within my consciousness caught up and repeated its lustrous edenic song. I was filled with it. Like a taut knot, it beat within my temple, its dampness trembled upon my lashes, its sweet chill fanned through my hair, and it poured heavenly warmth over my heart.
If you could accept the world as meaningless and let the truth be written upon it for you, it would make you indescribably happy. But because it is meaningless, you are impelled to write upon it what you would have it be. It is this that is meaningless in truth. Beneath your words is written the Word of God. The truth upsets you now, but when your words have been erased, you will see His.
"Heaven and earth shall pass away" means that they will not continue to exist as separate states. My word, which is the resurrection and the life, shall not pass away because life is eternal. You are the work of God, and his work is wholly lovable and wholly loving. This is how a man must think of himself in his heart, because this is what he is.T-1.111.2
I shouted it, I revelled in its every syllable, I violently cast up my eyes, which were filled with the radiant rainbows of joyous tears. . . .
And when the memory of God has come to you in the holy place of forgiveness you will remember nothing else, and memory will be as useless as learning, for your only purpose will be creating. Yet this you cannot know until every perception has been cleansed and purified, and finally removed forever. Forgiveness removes only the untrue, lifting the shadows from the world and carrying it, safe and sure within its gentleness, to the bright world of new and clean perception. There is your purpose now. And it is there that peace awaits you. T-18.1X.14
Oh, Lord—the winter dawn glows greenish in the window, and I remember not what word it was that I shouted.
Although he cannot remember the word, he has been forever transformed by experiencing for a moment his real home, so that the feeble call of his earthly home will slowly recede, becoming increasingly meaningless.
Come home. You have not found your happiness in foreign places and in alien forms that have no meaning to you, though you sought to make them meaningful. This world is not where you belong. You are a stranger here. But it is given you to find the means whereby the world no longer seems to be a prison house or jail for anyone. W-p1.200.4
We trust our ways to Him and say "Amen." In peace we will continue in His way, and trust all things to Him. In confidence we wait His answers, as we ask His Will in everything we do. He loves God's Son as we would love him. And He teaches us how to behold him through His eyes, and love him as He does. You do not walk alone. God's angels hover near and all about. His Love surrounds you, and of this be sure; that I will never leave you comfortless. W-p11.Epilogue.6
(Translated, from the Russian, by Dmitri Nabokov)