Spiritual Classics

A Course in Miracles
(1976)

A landmark modern spiritual text, A Course in Miracles has unusual origins. In 1965, Dr Helen Schucman was a research psychologist at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in New York City. Her workplace was not different to millions of others in that politics and status-seeking among staff had created a strained atmosphere. One day, the head of her department, Dr William Thetford, announced he was tired of what was going on, and that there must be another, better way. Schucman agreed to help him find it, and soon after began having strange dreams, then hearing a voice which seemed to want her to write down what it was saying. The first sentence she recorded in her shorthand notebook was "This is a course in miracles."

Thetford typed up the notes, beginning a process that would last seven years and result in the 1200 page Course that we know today. In Course circles, Schucman and Thetford are considered the vehicles for the book's appearance, rather than the authors.

Is the book a delusion? You might think so, except that the text itself has a diamond-like clarity, and for the fact that Schucman, who died in 1981, was a professed atheist who never capitalized on the Course phenomenon. Some readers will be put off by the Christian terminology, but this is simply the form used to express universal truths that can be found in all religions.

With its distinctive blue binding with gold lettering, including a 'workbook for students' and 'manual for teachers', the book has sold over a million copies and spawned self-study groups around the world. Marianne Williamson's A Return To Love has popularized its message and is a masterful introduction to Course ideas, and Gary R Renard's The Disappearance of the Universe has further illuminated its teachings.

A course in true awareness

"This is a course in miracles. It is a required course. Only the time you take it is voluntary. Free will does not mean that you can establish the curriculum."

This droll opening statement presents the Course as a book revealing 'house rules' for being a human in this universe, principles that operate unerringly whether we take heed of them or not.

But why a course in miracles ?

A miracle can be expressed in many forms, physical and mental, but its essential feature is the sudden freedom from misperception. In the book's words, a miracle is simply "removing the blocks to the awareness of love's presence." When this moment takes place - called the 'holy instant' - we feel the peace of God because we see things as they really are, not though the self's normal clouds of arrogance and ignorance. This event is a miracle because it is permanent; we may forget that it happened, but as soon as we remind ourselves of it the same effect is felt.

The book's distinction between reality and unreality, or knowledge and perception, is important. Reality/knowledge is what God is and what comes of God: "It can be unrecognized, but it cannot be changed." It is also beyond time. In contrast, unreality/perception is the world that we normally perceive, involving interpretation rather than facts. What we perceive seems 'true', but it is only true according to the lens of ourselves. What is given by God, on the other hand, is not perceived but known. It is unmistakable, and therefore dependable.

Holy relationships

The 'Course's popularity probably owes a lot to its insights into relationships. One of its memorable distinctions is that between 'special' relationships and 'holy' relationships. Special relationships are built upon the ego's desires, and many people will only ever have relationships on this basis. Such relationships, the Course says, are a way of excluding God from our life. Their holy alternative, in contrast, happens when we let God in on it: "The holy relationship is the old, special relationship transformed". On this issue the book can make uncomfortable reading, as we can realize just how much our relationships have been forged from selfishness rather than a desire for truthful, loving partnerships.

When you ask God, or more specifically, the 'Holy Spirit' to enter your relationship, changes happen quickly - "At once His goal replaces yours." In an unholy relationship, it was our goal for the relationship that made it meaningful. In normal relationships, if we 'don't get what we want' we usually try to end it, because the emphasis is on what we want (i.e. the ego). The problem with this is that you will always feel slightly uneasy about your relationships, because they have no solid foundation. You think you know what you want, but in truth the ego doesn't really have a goal for your relationships except using them for its own benefit. God, on the other hand, does have a definite goal for your being together, so it is a matter of having faith in that goal being revealed. The experience of the Holy Spirit being present initially gives us faith, but that faith turns to conviction. You are given the chance to save your relationship from your own self. "Whom God has joined as one," the Course says, "the ego cannot put asunder."

One of the themes of A Course In Miracles is the need to forgive, not because it is a nice thing to do, but because it allows us to cast off misperception and see truth again: "Forgiveness is the means by which we will remember. Through forgiveness the thinking of the world is reversed." To forgive is to see through to the essential innocence of a person, the truth behind the façade. When you are able to do this, instead of constantly feeling the need to judge or attack, you will have a healed relationship.

Who is in control?

When you are confused about who or what you are, it means you are torn between what your ego may desire and what is naturally yours. The ego loves busyness and creating and sustaining problems, which should be an indicator that these problems may not be as real as we think they are, but are created by a part of you that wants to maintain itself.

This belief that we are a solitary entity floating along in the world is 'the depth of madness' the Course says, because in reality we are one with the God that created us, and have always been so. The word 'atonement' means the remembrance of this fact, and when we admit this one-ness, there is no room for doubt and insecurity. As the Course asserts: "All things work together for good. There are no exceptions except in the ego's judgment."

The book further points out why many people do not even like thinking about God or spiritual matters: because any recognition of God points 'to the nonexistence of the ego itself', and most people identify with their ego. Since the ego believes in itself as a self-created entity, it cannot accept the wholeness of God. What is meant by the concept 'second coming of Christ'? Not the physical arrival of a Christ-person on Earth, the Course says, but rather the end of the ego's dominion. The 'Holy Spirit' is God's messenger to bring this about, sent to cure the tortured misconceptions which the ego makes us believe are real.

Final word

There are countless examples of 'channeled' writings now, but the Course remains the gold standard. It has been described as a bible for the new millennium, and the comparison is not ridiculous. Like the Bible, it seems to contain an answer for just about every issue, and it is so big that you are unlikely to read it cover to cover. It employs Biblical language and references, but instead of the parable uses plain logic and rigorous distinctions to change the mind of the reader. The writing is often beautiful.

Despite the Christian references, fundamentalists do not like the Course, claiming it to be an amalgam of blasphemous New Age ideas. The mainstream religions are quick to denounce apparently 'New Age' books such as A Course In Miracles because they lay claim to being the wisdom of God channelled through a human author, but is this not the way nearly all religions began? That is, as a particularly well-attuned individual receiving the divine Word, which followers later turn into a system of organized practice.

Whether its source is divine or not, if you have an open mind it would be difficult not to take away something inspirational from a reading. If you have ever felt a miracle happen to you in terms of a sudden awareness or greater understanding, you will see where it is coming from.

Modern science, whether psychology or physics, does not admit the existence of miracles, because it reduces a man or woman to a lone entity in the universe. Yet all religions teach that this separation is an illusion, and that a reawakened awareness of our unity with God makes all things possible. The Course simply confirms the 'normality' of miracles when we are aligned with a higher power, and gives us the wonderful idea that life is simply a course in understanding the spiritual laws that can make us happy.

Source: 50 Spiritual Classics: 50 Great Books of Inner Discovery, Enlightenment and Purpose, Tom Butler-Bowdon (London & Boston: Nicholas Brealey)

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A Course in Miracles:

"Nothing real can be threatened. Nothing unreal exists. Herein lies the peace of God."

"You have every reason to feel afraid as you perceive yourself. This is why you cannot escape from fear until you realize that you did not and could not create yourself."

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