The Course as a snowball

[Please note: ACIM passages quoted in this article reference the Foundation for Inner Peace (FIP) Edition.]

We’ve all heard the Course’s style of writing described as “symphonic.” This was first observed by Ken Wapnick, who spoke of how, in the Course, themes are introduced, set aside, reintroduced and developed. This, I believe, is a very valuable and true observation. The Course is written like that.

What I want to do here is introduce another term to describe the Course’s style of writing, one that is far less elegant, but which nevertheless captures an essential feature of how the Course is written.

What I want to say here is that the Course is written like a snowball. We all know how a snowball, while rolling downhill, gathers into itself new material, so that the snowball becomes ever larger as it goes. In this same way, the Course as it proceeds gathers into itself new themes, so that its overall teaching grows richer and richer.

What this means specifically is that a given theme—even very prominent ones that most students would associate with the Course—is quite often not present from page 1. It may be mentioned in passing here and there, but it does not play any significant part in the Course until a certain moment when it is rolled out in a major way. It is then explored for a while, after which it becomes assumed as part of the overall teaching of the Course. Let me go through a few examples.

The Holy Spirit is hardly present in the beginning chapters of the Course. If you look at the Urtext (which has far more material in the early portions than the FIP edition does), He is mentioned only 6 times in the first 4 chapters. However, in Chapter 5, He is introduced in such a big way that He is virtually the main focus of the chapter. After that, He is a consistent part of the Course’s teaching.

The same thing happens with forgiveness. It is mentioned 26 times in the first 8 chapters in the Urtext (18 times in the FIP edition), but those mentions are really just in passing. It is not really rolled out until Chapter 9, where it becomes a major focus.

Guilt is mentioned only thirteen times in the Urtext (3 times in the FIP edition) before it is truly introduced in Chapter 5 in “The Ego’s Use of Guilt.” That section opens with this statement: “Perhaps some of our concepts will become clearer and more personally meaningful if the ego’s use of guilt is clarified” (T-5.V.1:1)

We can see this with a long list of essential Course themes. Special relationships are not introduced until Chapter 15. The holy instant is not introduced until that same chapter. Holy relationships are not introduced until Chapter 17. Your brother as your savior is not introduced until Chapter 19.

Interestingly, we see the same thing with the practices that are taught in the Workbook:

Meditation is rolled out in a huge way in Lesson 41, which is our first encounter with it in the Workbook. It is then developed over the rest of the forties, after which becomes a staple of the Workbook.

What I call frequent reminders—short repetitions of the idea for the day—are introduced in a big way in Lesson 20, after which they become a key part of Workbook practice.

Letting related thoughts come—where you place the idea in your mind and then let your mind come up with thoughts related to it—is introduced in a minor way in Lesson 38 and then in a major way in Lesson 42, after which it too becomes an important part of Workbook practice.

You get the idea. This is a key aspect of how the author of the Course writes. His exposition is like a snowball that, as it rolls ahead, gathers into itself new themes, which then remain as part of the overall picture. As a result, his teaching gets richer and richer as it goes forward.

Here is another argument for reading the Course in order. For unless you do, you don’t see the snowball picking up new material. You just encounter brief references to certain unelaborated ideas and assume that perhaps you aren’t supposed to understand them. You don’t realize that, had you read the book in order, you would have been formally introduced to those ideas in earlier chapters, which is why you are expected to understand them now.

This is very different than the impression we often get, in which the Course just goes around and around, repeating the same ideas endlessly. I’ve often heard that the Course could have been written on a single page. In this view, it’s just telling us the same thing, over and over, in different words. It’s not going anywhere; it’s just going in circles.

No, in truth, it is always moving forward, consistently introducing new ideas, constantly adding to the richness of its overall thought system.