Now we turn to the author of A Course in Miracles and how he can help us as a teacher of this course. Yet before we deal with that, we must first face the controversial issue of his identity.
Although there is no author’s name listed on the cover of the Course, the words of the Course claim to come from Jesus of Nazareth. The author speaks of his life as Jesus, of his miracles and his disciples, of his crucifixion and resurrection. He occasionally quotes words attributed to him in the Gospels, for instance: “I once asked you to sell all you have and give to the poor and follow me.” (T-12.III.1:1) There is simply no question that the author presents himself as Jesus.
We can make this claim more specific if we examine what he says about himself in the Course and what he says about the process of dictation in remarks to his scribes. Here is what his remarks appear to claim (1): The author is Jesus of Nazareth, who walked the earth 2,000 years ago and whose work continues, having blossomed beyond the limits of the body. He carefully chose the Course’s words and introduced them into the mind of his scribe, Helen Schucman. She experienced this as a rapid inner dictation, which she would write down. Her mind’s resistance could distort what she heard, but he would later correct her “scribal errors” when her mind was more open.
This claim that the Course was authored by Jesus Christ has dramatically affected the Course’s reception in the world, both positively and negatively. In more respectable circles, it has been a kiss of death, more or less barring the Course from serious consideration. The label “channeled from Jesus” might as well read “New Age flaky. Keep away.” Even fields sympathetic to Course principles, such as transpersonal psychology, hesitate to be associated with something purportedly channeled from Jesus. For many individual seekers, however, the reaction has been just the opposite. For them, the Course’s claim to come from Jesus has given it an unparalleled aura of authority and has inspired passionate devotion. From this standpoint, “channeled from Jesus” has sold a lot of copies.
Every Course student goes through a process of deciding what to make of this fantastic claim. Some eventually decide the issue of authorship is irrelevant, yet for others it remains central, and for obvious reasons. If the Course really was written by Jesus of Nazareth, the implications are enormous. If it was not, then at its heart is a lie. The Course is water from a tainted well. Further, before we can deal with how Jesus can help us in doing the Course, we must accept that he really wrote it, and is not a mere imaginary playmate, nor the hero of fundamentalist Christianity. Therefore, that is the issue we will confront first in this article. Can we accept that the author of A Course in Miracles is really Jesus of Nazareth?
REASONS FOR ACCEPTING THE COURSE’S AUTHORSHIP CLAIM
This is clearly a personal issue. There are no accepted criteria for deciding if an historical figure has reappeared as a voice in someone’s head. In many ways, the issue is similar to the question of Jesus’ identity 2,000 years ago. His followers claimed that he was the Messiah, a heretofore non-physical figure known only in Hebrew prophecies. Though many bought this claim and made it the cornerstone of their lives, there was really no way to prove it, which is why many others rejected it. Hence, whether we are talking about the ancient Middle East or the contemporary West, showing that a non-physical figure (whose existence is questionable in the first place) is really the same person as a flesh-and-blood human is a difficult matter.
Therefore, this is likely to remain a deeply personal issue, which people decide privately, based more on reasons of the heart than logic and evidence. In keeping with the personal nature of this issue, I have decided to present my own reasons for believing that Jesus wrote the Course—at least the ones that I can articulate. After many years of pondering this issue, I finally came to accept the Course’s rather fantastic claim. I reached a firm confidence that the person history knows as Jesus of Nazareth actually did author a contemporary book through a New York psychologist. This confidence has only grown in the years since then. What follows are some the reasons that compelled me to walk out on this admittedly long limb. They are not meant as proof, only as possible lines of support, as points of consideration.
For many of us, the issue of whether Jesus wrote the Course will be decided almost as soon as it is raised, simply because we “know” that such a thing cannot be. We “know” that Jesus is the figure that our sector of Christianity says he is. Or that dead people are just dead; they don’t write books. Or that enlightened masters merge with the infinite upon death and no longer retain any kind of individuality.
Personally, I am always suspicious of stances that can decide an issue before looking at the evidence. Are we that certain that the church understands Jesus aright, or that people cease to exist upon death, or that all trace of individuality disappears when an enlightened being dies? Do we really know these things? Is our evidence for them so solid that we don’t even need to look at any evidence that might point another way? I am reminded of a story in which a Catholic bishop declined to look through Galileo’s telescope because he “knew,” based on church doctrine, that moons around Jupiter are an impossibility.
As I said above, if Jesus really did write the Course, then the implications are staggering. Why not leave our minds open to being staggered?
The Course’s author seems highly trustable
When a person makes an unprovable claim, much of one’s evaluation of that claim depends on how much one trusts that person. Does one sense honesty or duplicity, integrity or hidden motives? When a person claims in particular to be Jesus Christ, one immediately looks for signs of mental illness. What, then, can we sense in the author of the Course? Do we trust him?
My personal impression is that I cannot detect the slightest trace of what is normally called self-interest in him. He does not make a big deal out of his claim that he is Jesus. He, in fact, focuses very little attention onto himself. He does not ask for praise or worship. He tells us precious little about his life on earth or about his current state of being. What he does say about himself is aimed, not at attracting adulation to himself, but at letting us know how he can help us. This appears to be his sole motive. Apparently, his sole intent is to facilitate our awakening. Though forceful, authoritative and creative, he has every appearance of being completely egoless. In my experience such a feeling of egolessness is extremely rare, even in great spiritual masters. Therefore, it is simply impossible for me to imagine that he would claim to be Jesus out of a need to inflate his own ego, or out of some kind of mental illness. He seems to be a paragon of integrity, as well as of mental health. In short, I trust him.
The story of the Course carries a ring of authenticity
I have been talking about the author of the Course as if it is a foregone conclusion that he is a distinct individual in his own right. Yet perhaps the most plausible alternative to him being Jesus is that “he” is simply some aspect of Helen Schucman’s unconscious mind. For many reasons, it is impossible to believe that she consciously wrote the Course and simply passed it off as a channeled work from Jesus. Yet it is quite reasonable to suggest that the material came from her own unconscious mind and that something in her mind superimposed the image of Jesus onto it.
This is quite common with channeled material. It often comes carrying the name of some historical figure or semi-divine individual, even if such a figure never really existed in the first place. The Course itself has inspired many books by individuals who claim to be channeling the author of A Course in Miracles.
The claim that one is channeling a historical figure is always hard to evaluate. Personally, I like to greet all such claims with a healthy skepticism. The odds, in my opinion, are quite frankly against them, even though I personally believe it is possible to communicate with individuals who are not currently in the body.
One thing that bolsters my sense that the Course is an exception is the story of its genesis. If you are not familiar with this story, I highly recommend that you read one or both of the two books about it. These are Absence from Felicity, by Ken Wapnick, and Journey Without Distance, by Robert Skutch.
This story, in my opinion, has a powerful feeling of authenticity. The human side of it (meaning, the parts played by Helen Schucman and Bill Thetford) has such an innocence to it. So much of the story’s appeal lies in how completely outside Helen and Bill’s intentions were the events that unfolded. Further, they unfolded in such a way as to suggest to our minds some other mind, invisible, off-stage, who was pulling the strings. All in all, the story gives the appearance that some outside intention came to Helen and Bill and acted on them, drawing them into a carefully-laid plan that swept their lives off in totally unexpected directions, and gathered up the lives of a great many others into its whirlwind as well.
What also greatly impresses me is that the story of the Course’s genesis is an intimate reflection of its own teaching. So much of what the Course says about the holy relationship and its process of development was reflected in Helen and Bill’s relationship. The Course said that when two people join in a common goal, some higher presence will enter their relationship and then reach through them to uplift the world. Somehow, this pattern laid down by the Course’s words was also played out in the Course’s story. In teaching about the holy relationship it was describing its own genesis and predicting its own future.
There is simply something about the story of the Course, some ring of truth, some stamp of authenticity. It is, I believe, a great spiritual story, which explains why it has captivated so many thousands of people. This story gives the appearance that some powerful presence of truth came to Helen and Bill, drew their life stories into its story, and then shaped that story into a reflection of its teaching. To me, this tips the scales against the idea that Helen simply tapped into some wise aspect of her own unconscious.
There are deep and specific parallels between the historical Jesus and the author of the Course
The author of the Course looks very little like the Jesus of Christian faith. However, he looks a great deal like the Jesus of history. This is very good for the Course, for modern scholarship has discovered that the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith are dramatically different figures. Therefore, if the Course’s author resembled the traditional Christian Jesus, this would automatically disqualify him from being the real thing.
Scholarly investigation into the historical Jesus has been going on for over two hundred years now. It has gone through many phases and in the last couple of decades has entered a renaissance of sorts. It is now commonplace to hear of such scholarship in the news or on the covers of major magazines. A group of scholars known as the Jesus Seminar in particular has attracted a great deal of publicity with their voting on the authentic words and deeds of Jesus. Although no single picture has arisen of who Jesus was and what he taught, many consensual elements have emerged.
This scholarship, I believe, has major implications for the Course’s claim of authorship. If the author of the Course really is who he says he is, then we would expect there to be some essential parallels between he and Jesus. Yet these parallels would have to exist, not with what tradition has said about Jesus, but with the real Jesus. This means we must know something about the real Jesus, who by the time the Gospels were written was already buried beneath decades of tradition. To uncover the actual historical figure, then, we must turn to experts in this kind of excavation, if our conclusions are to have any kind of claim on historical validity. It is foolish to trust such scholars blindly, and one must still pick and choose among their many differing portraits. Yet I have benefited tremendously from their work, most especially from the work of Marcus Borg, who is one of the leading scholars in the current renaissance of Jesus research, and from whom I have drawn heavily for the portrait I will sketch below.
What follows is a picture of the parallels I see between the Jesus of history and the Jesus of the Course. Everything I will say below seems to me be true of both figures. I emphasize the phrase “seems to me,” since I am not a scholar in historical Jesus research, and some of what follows are my own observations. For brevity’s sake, I am not going to provide a great deal of support for this picture, and even that only in the endnotes. I simply offer this picture for your consideration. It is a preliminary picture; I genuinely hope that someday scholars in both disciplines — historical Jesus research and A Course in Miracles — will more fully explore this issue.
For this picture, I have taken the parallels I see between the two figures and combined them into a single portrait. The figure that emerges from these parallels I will simply label “the teacher.”
He is primarily a teacher, (2) a teacher of a way, a path of transformation. (3) His focus is not on himself, but on the way he teaches and what it can do for his hearers. (4) He speaks not from tradition or scripture or authorities, (5) but from his own intimate contact with God. Everything he does appears to be a demonstration of the way he teaches. He seems to have freed himself from the normal concern with the self and disappeared into his one intent to bring liberation to the suffering. He is thus free of the need to gain approval or fit in with convention. He sets off in bold new directions with great certainty and force, routinely turning upside-down unquestioned, universal assumptions. (6) He is creative, original, unpredictable. A master of words, he is highly persuasive. He expresses himself in extravagant, exaggerated and paradoxical ways designed to shake up the minds of his hearers. (7) He sees things in terms of absolute contrasts between light and dark. His whole demeanor, in fact, is permeated with a sense of the extreme, the uncompromising, the unqualified. Though stretched to the bounds of credibility, his teachings have an immediate ring of truth. And though he gives no conventional credentials for himself, his powerful presence of authority allows his teachings to penetrate deeply into the mind.
His way and his vision of a loving reality
The way he advocates is based on an alternative vision of reality. At the heart of this vision of reality is a loving, gracious God, (8) Who stands in stark contrast to the God of conventional religion. He teaches us to relate to God not as a demanding deity or a stern judge, but as a Father of lavish care, Who wants only to help us, to free us from our self-imposed prison. This God operates completely outside the conventional system of rewards and punishments. He is so loving that He defies our normal expectations of what is possible from Him, our normal ideas of what is fair and proper in relationships. The teacher calls us into a way of being that is centered on this loving God, a way that is so lofty, so sublime as to seem beyond human reach.
His diagnosis of the problem: our conventional way of being
The way he teaches is his remedy for our problem. He sees this problem not in the extremities of evil out there in the world, but in our everyday, conventional way of being. We view this way as the accepted norm which contains the “good things” of life, including our amicable relationships and our religious faith. He is intimately familiar with our ways, with the full range of human emotions, behaviors, struggles and concerns. (9) Yet his teaching is a powerful indictment of what we consider accepted and good. (10) For he sees at the heart of it all the preoccupation with the separate self, its security, its possessions, its honor and specialness, its attempt to purchase favor from others and from God. (11) In short, he sees sin at the heart of our conventional way of being. This sin shuts God out and imprisons us. It is the cause of all of our sickness and suffering.
The teacher thus speaks of two different ways of being, which are as opposite as day and night. There is God’s way and there is our current way. Because of the immense contrast between the two, we might assume that when God’s way meets ours the result is judgment—God frowning on and punishing us until we shape up and toe the line. Yet the vast discrepancy between the two ways is a blessing for us, not a curse. For when a purely loving Father sees His children imprisoned by sin, His only response is to free them, to forgive their sins. The teacher’s central message, then and now, appears to be forgiveness, the free and gracious wiping away of the sin that is the root of our suffering. (12)This is apparently unique among the world’s great spiritual masters. Forgiveness is this teacher’s method for setting us free from our bondage to the separate self and the world. He speaks of our need to receive this free gift from God and our need to extend it to others.
Relinquishing our way and entering God’s
His goal, of course, is to lead us from our way of being to God’s. Thus, he teaches a path of transformation, a path which leads from one way to the other. Following this path does not mean adopting a code of moral behavior, but rather involves a complete inner reversal. It aims for a radical change of heart, so that our heart is no longer centered on our anxious, grasping self, but on the Love of God. It aims for a dying to the separate self and a rebirth into God’s life. (13) God’s way is not only a new way of being, but also a new way of seeing. Consequently, entering this way means a transformation of perception. The words of the teacher consistently turn upside-down our current perceptions and invite us to see in fundamentally new ways. (14) If we choose to answer their invitation, we will experience an inner miracle. (15) We will enter a life of freedom and joy, in which we continually know God’s Love and fatherly care. We will be healed, released from the imprisonment of sin. And we will go out and extend this new way to others in the form of love, compassion and forgiveness, as teachers and as healers.
Bringing the highest light to the heart of our darkness
To serve this transformation he facilitates a direct encounter between the two ways, an encounter in which he personally remains in the background. His method is to bring the way he teaches into direct contact with the way we currently live, to shine the brightest light right into our deepest darkness, to bring his radical remedy directly to the sick. Though teachers with lofty, unconventional teachings often withdraw from society, he does not. He does not shy away from the depths of our madness, sickness and suffering, but reaches out to us just as we are, regardless of our moral stature or religious standing. (16) Rather than making his case to religious leaders or cultural power brokers, he makes a direct appeal to ordinary people. Rather than resting his message on the authority of tradition, of God or even of himself, he appeals directly to our innate recognition of truth, often using analogies drawn from everyday life. He actively participates in our conventional frameworks, not out of approval of them, but simply because that is where he can reach us. The purpose of his method is perhaps best revealed in his use of our familiar forms. He uses our forms (verbal, social, religious, educational) in order to reach us, but then fills these with revolutionary new content in order to transform us. (17) All in all, he brings the radical into direct, authoritative and persuasive contact with the familiar and calls for an unqualified transition from one to the other, so that he can provoke the maximum movement possible in the direction of release.
Our response to him
The teacher wants his way to be propagated in the world, to spread and reach people. To carry his path to the world he selects particular individuals (his disciples and scribes). Unlike many spiritual masters, however, he does not entrust his mission to adepts on the brink of becoming masters, but rather to people who are in many ways quite ordinary and whose failings are obvious. (18) Yet even though his vehicles are fallible, his message and personality are irresistible. Out of very small beginnings, his ministry spreads like wildfire, with a momentum of its own. People flock to his way, in numbers that only grow over time. (19) For he speaks to something universal in us that transcends differences in our surface identities, in our backgrounds, beliefs and allegiances. Yet he is not a “safe” or comfortable figure. Just as he is universally attractive, so he is universally threatening. He threatens the very core of what we view as our identity and our reality. The combination of attraction and threat creates a paradoxical response to him. Out of our attraction we want to join his way; out of our sense of threat we want to subtly reshape his way and make it more comfortable. We want to soften his words so that his teaching looks more like the conventional and traditional. We want to remold him in our image. His legacy in the world, then, is a strange mixture of both adulation and distortion, passionate devotion and deep misunderstanding. This leaves the way he teaches both wildly popular and virtually untried.
I don’t know about you, but if these parallels are truly accurate, I find them to be extremely striking and suggestive. The existence of parallels by itself tells us nothing; they can be drawn between almost any two figures. The question is not whether parallels exist, but rather how specifically do they reflect what is distinctive and central in each figure? In my mind, the above parallels do this enough to make them of major significance. They are, I believe, the strongest suggestion we have that the same individual who appeared as Jesus of Nazareth has appeared again as the author of A Course in Miracles. At the very least, they make the question a genuinely serious one, worthy of real consideration and investigation, and not one to be lightly tossed aside.
What about the differences between the two figures?
The above set of parallels, although striking, should not obscure the fact that there exist many dramatic differences between the two figures. Jesus of Nazareth appeared as a flesh-and-blood Jew, who went around working miracles and who taught orally, calling his hearers to transformation with simple truths communicated in parables and brief sayings. The Jesus of the Course appears as a bodiless individual, who teaches in written form, speaks in Christian terminology and, rather than working miracles, has authored an extensive training program in them. He tells no parables, his words are anything but concise and his truths do not appear simple at all. He teaches an elaborate system of thought, with a profound depth psychology and an Eastern-style metaphysics.
In short, the two figures teach through extremely different forms. I doubt that anyone would have expected Jesus of Nazareth to reappear as the author of a spiritual system and training program like A Course in Miracles. If indeed this has occurred, it was a wildly unpredictable event.
To me, however, the differences do not hurt the case for the two being the same figure, and perhaps even strengthen it. It seems to me that the parallels go more to the core of the two figures, while the differences seem more peripheral. The differences seem to be on the level of things that could change without altering the essential spirit of the man. This means that if the two figures are the same individual, then the same essential spirit has expressed itself again, and done so in completely original, unpredictable and controversial ways, rather than simply repeating its past forms of expression. Is this not consistent with the character of Jesus of Nazareth? Can we really picture him coming back and quoting his own biblical sayings, as if he were no more than a mere recording? Can we actually imagine him trying to look the part of Jesus Christ? Would he who was as free as the wind become frozen in time, chained to repeating his own past performance? Or would he be just as free now as then, just as much a gale-force wind that blew through our lives, upset our expectations, turned our minds upside-down, and then vanished once again? To my mind, the author of A Course in Miracles looks like Jesus just being himself, and not trying to look like himself.
HOW CAN JESUS HELP US DO THE COURSE?
Now that we have discussed the authorship question let us move on to Jesus as one of the teachers of this Course. I will call the author of the Course “Jesus” here since that is the name he gives himself, since I personally believe he is the real Jesus, and since calling him “the author of the Course” can get rather bulky. I am aware of four ways in which Jesus can help us in doing his course.
1. As a model
Many times in the Course Jesus tells us that he is our model: our model for decision, (T-5.II.9:6-7) for thought and behavior, (T-5.II.12:3) for learning (T-6.In.2:1) and for rebirth. (T-6.I.7:2) According to Webster’s Dictionary, a model is “an example for imitation or emulation.” The Course, then, echoes the centuries old idea that we should take Jesus as our example and imitate him.
This can seem impractical because he is such an extreme example. He seems so out of reach. Yet he says in the Course that this is precisely why he is a useful model. “You have been asked to take me as your model for learning, since an extreme example is a particularly helpful learning device.” (T-6.In.2:1) An extreme example calls us beyond our current level more powerfully than a moderate example and is often just more clear.
To be truly useful, however, this extreme example must also be attainable. Otherwise, why even try to emulate it? Here is where the Course’s notion of the imitation of Jesus departs from the traditional one, which assumed that Jesus’ state of being was unique and beyond our reach. We can see this departure in the following passage: “I am your model for decision. By deciding for God I showed you that this decision can be made, and that you can make it.” (T-5.II.9:6-7) Jesus’ awakening, in other words, is not only attainable by us, it is proof that we can reach the same place he did. In the Course, Jesus is our model because he is the living proof of what we can attain.
What we emulate in him, therefore, is the sheer fact that he decided for God, that he woke up. Yet we also emulate the specific path of awakening that was reflected in his life and deeds. This path was clearly more about extending God’s liberating forgiveness to others than about withdrawing from the world in solitary mystical pursuits.
The Course, in fact, contains an entire section about using Jesus’ final deed as a model for our own lives. In “The Message of the Crucifixion,” Jesus teaches that the crucifixion was not a ritual transaction between he and God, in which he paid off our debt to God by accepting the punishment for our sins. Rather, he says, it was “an extreme example.” (T-6.I.2:1) We all feel crucified in little ways each day. Jesus reacted to being literally crucified with peace and forgiveness, because he perceived it as unreal. Thus, he demonstrated that even the most extreme attack imaginable can be overlooked, and responded to not with blame but with love. The crucifixion, in this view, was a demonstration that forgiveness is possible no matter what. If it was possible in such an extreme situation, certainly it is possible in the far milder situations that we face. Remembering Jesus’ extreme example can therefore strengthen us in carrying out the central injunction of the Course, in perceiving attack as unreal. I find it particularly helpful to remember this line: “When you do choose to react [as persecuted], however, you might remember that I was persecuted as the world judges, and did not share this evaluation for myself.” (T-6.I.5:3)
It can be very useful, therefore, to read the Gospels and to view the actions of Jesus as a prophecy of what we ourselves are capable of. We can see his life as the living proof that we can actually succeed in walking the path of the Course.
2. As a savior
At the end of Jesus’ life, after his ministry of teaching and healing, something of unparalleled importance occurred, some crucial act of Atonement which brought salvation to the world. This, of course, is a traditional teaching from Christianity. The Course actually agrees with this idea, but frames it in a dramatically different way.
In traditional Christianity, Jesus saved us in his crucifixion. Through his death he atoned for our sins and thus made it possible for God to forgive us. In the Course, Jesus saved us in his resurrection. Through his awakening beyond death, through his total realization that sin and death are unreal, he seeded this realization in all minds. It is only a matter of time before it blossoms in everyone.
Atonement means “reconciliation,” the wiping away of what stands between two parties. In this case, it is the undoing of the split between God and humanity. In traditional Christianity, the two parties are reconciled because Jesus paid for what had caused the split: humanity’s sin. In the Course, the two parties are reconciled because Jesus wiped away his own perception that the split ever occurred. In doing so he activated the Atonement principle for everyone. This principle had been present since the separation began, but on a practical level had been unreachable. To put this more plainly, the Holy Spirit had always offered to undo our false perceptions of separation from God, but we had distanced ourselves from His offer. Due to Jesus’ awakening, however, this offer was brought down to where we could make contact with it. This is what the early Christians experienced as the coming of the Holy Spirit. “He was ‘called down upon the earth’ in the sense that it was now possible to accept Him and to hear His Voice.” (C-6.1:3) Due to the awakening of Jesus, the Holy Spirit became more accessible in our minds.
According to the Course, then, Jesus did play a pivotal role in humanity’s salvation. In this sense, Christianity had it right. Jesus’ final act was the turning point in our collective journey to God. Yet why was it he, of all of humanity’s avatars, who set in motion the Atonement? Because he was somehow the first to embody it perfectly. As the Course puts it, “he was the first to complete his own part [in the plan for Atonement] perfectly.” (C-6.2:2) He was the first to become the flawless manifestation of the Holy Spirit’s gift of unconditional forgiveness. Because of this he has been placed in charge of the giving of that gift. “I am in charge of the process of Atonement, which I undertook to begin.” (T-1.III.1:1) Even though there are other fully awakened beings, other Teachers of teachers, Jesus is the leader in the global process of salvation.
This is a claim that is sure to offend people of almost any persuasion. For Christians, this elevates Jesus—which is good—but not enough. For those who believe in a plurality of enlightened masters, or in the ascendancy of some other master, this most likely elevates Jesus too much.
This claim, however, is one that need not be pushed. It is somewhat like the idea of reincarnation, about which the Course says, “It is certain, however, that the way to salvation can be found by those who believe in reincarnation and by those who do not.” (M-24.2:5) We can make it to God whether we believe that Jesus is in charge of the Atonement or not. Indeed, we receive Jesus’ help whether we believe this or not. Jesus has become pure helpfulness, and so has acquired unlimited power to help. According to the Course, then, he leads every mind, from great saints to those we would consider evil, whether they believe in him, like him, or have even heard of him. Pure helpfulness does not wait to be acknowledged by name.
3. As author of the Course
When Jesus awoke, all minds awoke. According to the Course, it only takes one person to rouse the entire Sonship from sleep.
We have repeatedly said that one who has perfectly accepted the Atonement for himself can heal the world. Indeed, he [Jesus] has already done so. (M-23.2:1-2)
In a sense, the world was over the day that Jesus of Nazareth fully awakened. Yet like a ghost who denies his death and believes his life goes on just as before, the whole world apparently denied its own demise. And so we still seem to haunt this place, dreaming that we are still living here, even though our lives here ended on Easter morning, 2,000 years ago.
Jesus, therefore, still has work to do. “His little life on earth was not enough to teach the mighty lesson that he learned for all of you.” (C-5.5:3) He still must work to bring the awakening he planted deep in our minds into the full light of consciousness. A Course in Miracles presents itself as part of that ongoing work, as one of the means through which Jesus is completing his mission.
Thus, one of the primary ways in which he benefits us, if we are Course students, is as the author of our spiritual path. Because he is its author, simply being a student of the Course makes Jesus your teacher. He wrote the words you are reading. He designed the path you are following. He is the professor of the course you are taking. Similar to the previous point, he is benefitting you whether you believe in him or not. As the Course says, “It is possible to read his words and benefit from them without accepting him into your life.” (C-5.6:6)
However, believing that Jesus is actually the author of the Course can help us trust it and commit to it.The Course goes out on a great many long limbs. Our willingness to follow it out on these limbs has a great deal to do with how much we trust its source. Just as our trust in a salesman is a large part of our decision to buy a product, so our trust in the author of the Course is a large part of our response to his teaching.
And when we do really trust the author, following the Course becomes an act not of following a book that we resonate with, but a person we love. Now we are willing to venture out on the limb of all those radical principles, partly because they ring true, and also partly because we have laid our hand in his. Now we are able to give ourselves more fully to walking his path, simply because following a person compels more of our total will and allegiance than following a book.
4. As our inner guide and teacher
While Jesus can benefit us through his role as author of the Course, he claims that he can help us “a little more” if we are willing to enter into a personal relationship with him. Here is a passage we presented above quoted more in full:
It is possible to read his words and benefit from them without accepting him into your life. Yet he would help you yet a little more if you will share your pains and joys with him, and leave them both to find the peace of God. (C-5.6:6-7)
Brief though it is, this passage sketches a whole picture of how Jesus can help us “yet a little more.” First we accept him into our life. Then we share with him our “pains and joys.” This suggests an ongoing process of openly sharing our inner life with him. He becomes like the blank pages of a diary, or the patient ear of a non-judgmental therapist. Finally, after sharing our pains and joys with him, we “leave them both” behind as he leads us into the peace of God.
Of course we want to leave our pains behind, but our joys too? The key to understanding this lies in the implied contrast between our pains and joys, on the one hand, and God’s peace, on the other. Set against the peace of God, our joys and pains represent the highs and lows of the separate self, as it is alternately stroked and kicked. As such, these highs and lows are merely two aspects of a single illusory saga, and ultimately no different from each other. In other words, Jesus is inviting us to share with him, in detail and at length, the meaningless drama of our non-existent self; not because of its inherently momentous nature, but because, once shared, we can leave it behind for a state that lies completely beyond this self and its harsh polarities. Like the historical Jesus, he wants to come party with us, but only so that he can lead us beyond our trivial affairs and into God’s Arms.
He makes it clear that this relationship is a free offer, not a requirement. At the beginning of this section we saw him say that it is all right to simply read his words, but that he can help us “yet a little more” if we will enter into a relationship with him. In a Workbook meditation, he says something very similar: “Try to pass the clouds [of insane thoughts] by whatever means appeals to you. If it helps you, think of me holding your hand and leading you.” (W-pI.70.9:2-3) In other words, you can use whatever means you want. As one possibility you can think of him holding your hand and leading you, but only “if it helps you.” Notice the similarity between both of these passages. In both he is simply offering us his help if we want to accept it.
His ability to help us as our inner guide is the major theme of his statements about himself in the Course. Though not a requirement, having a personal relationship with him holds out such benefits that we will now explore a series of suggestions about how to do so.
HAVING A RELATIONSHIP WITH JESUS
1. Ask him into your mind as your teacher.
In Part 1 of the “Teachers of This Course” section, I suggest that in terms of finding out who your human teacher is, you will just know. This, I believe, is also true in relation to Jesus. If he is your teacher, somewhere inside you will know it. Whether or not you like his teaching, or want to follow his way, you will just know. You may even have deep scars associated with his name, or have violent reactions to some of his statements in the Course. Yet if he is your teacher, something in you will know that you are tied to him with a cord that cannot be broken, that your destiny is bound up with his, that, like it or not, you are one of his.
If and when you come to such a knowing, the logical thing is to do what a passage we quoted above mentioned: Accept him into your life. Ask him to be your teacher. This is similar to asking another Course student to be your teacher, yet with important differences. One difference is that Jesus is perfectly realized, completely egoless. Thus, just reaching for his hand means reaching beyond the ego. Just having his presence within you means that total wakefulness resides in you. He refers to this at least twice in the Course: “My birth in you is your awakening to grandeur.” (T-15.III.9:5) “If I live in you, you are awake.” (T-11.VI.9:2)
This leads into the second difference. For Jesus is able to be far more intimately present to you than any human teacher. He promises that he can work inside your mind in most profound ways. He says that he can guide your thoughts, (T-2.VI.2:9) guard your thought system (T-4.I.4:7) and even control your behavior (T-2.VI.1:3) that he can inspire you when you are dis-spirited and stabilize you when you are unstable (T-4.IV.11:8) that he can break up your erroneous thought patterns and reorganize them properly (T-1.I.37:1-2); that he can give you the experience of the holy instant (T-15.VI.6:7-8) and can even bring down to you a direct experience of union with God. (T-1.II.5:1-2)
He says, in fact, that he is already at work in your mind all through the day, and even while you sleep. (T-4.IV.11:2) Apparently, he has been since his awakening 2,000 years ago. Inviting him in as your teacher, then, is simply an acknowledgment that you want to consciously cooperate in and experience his ongoing work.
2. Believe that he is literally with you.
One of the biggest hurdles to entering into such a relationship with Jesus is believing that he is actually there. Even if you believe that he still exists—a hurdle in itself—it may sound both ridiculous and grandiose to think that the most renowned figure in history is personally acquainted with you and your little life. This gets even more mind-boggling when you consider the Course’s claim that he is simultaneously at work in every single living mind. Such a thing makes Santa Claus’ performance on Christmas morning look rather modest.
Two things have helped me personally to get over this hurdle. First, to accept that Jesus is with me, all I need do is have the courage to believe that he is not a liar. For he states in no uncertain terms that he is with me: “When I said ‘I am with you always,’ I meant it literally. I am not absent to anyone in any situation.” (T-7.III.1:7-8) In the following passage from the Manual, in which he speaks in the third person, he adds some logical argument to support the idea that he is present:
Is he still available for help? What did he say about this? Remember his promises, and ask yourself honestly whether it is likely that he will fail to keep them. Can God fail His Son? And can one who is one with God be unlike Him? Who transcends the body has transcended limitation. Would the greatest teacher be unavailable to those who follow him? (M-23.3:5-11)
We can see at least two arguments in this passage. First, Jesus promised in the Bible that he is still available. Being one with God he is like God. Thus, since God keeps His promises, Jesus will keep his. Second, since Jesus has transcended bodily identity he has also transcended limitation. This means there is no limit on where he can be. Given this, surely he would choose to be available to his pupils—since he is the greatest teacher and since being available to one’s pupils is an important part of teaching.
The second thing that has helped me believe that Jesus is truly present with me is my belief that he wrote the Course. If he could be present to Helen and Bill, two people who were not so far away from me in time and space, then why not to me as well?
3. Remind yourself often that he is with you.
If he really is with us, what a wondrous thing! There are certain people whose mere presence imparts tremendous joy. Countless followers of Jesus would consider it the supreme experience of this life to spend just a few moments standing in his presence.
Why not, then, remind ourselves that we are standing in his presence right now? If he is truly with us, then all that he is—including his love, companionship, guidance, peace and perfection—is available to us. Further, by accepting that he is with us, we are rejecting our normal view that only objects in our physical vicinity are present to us. We are opening up the possibility that a whole other realm is present to us, perhaps even closer to us than our own hands and feet. We are turning upside-down our entire view of reality. As he says, “If you will accept the fact that I am with you, you are denying the world and accepting God.” (T-8.IV.3:8)
How do we think of him as being with us? We can think of him as walking beside us, or envision his love surrounding us, or see him going before us, or imagine him residing within us. It is especially helpful to think of him abiding in our “quiet center,” that place we aim for in meditation and experience in the holy instant.
4. Treat him as an ever-present teacher in your attempts to do his course.
If he is ever-present with you and if he is your inner teacher, the natural corollary is to treat him as such. Turn to him as your teacher in every aspect of doing his course.
Invite him into your study. As you read the Course, talk to him. Ask him questions. Express your doubts about what you are reading. Express your gratitude for the truths he is sharing with you.
Invite him into your practice. Think of him as a practice partner who will repeat your lesson and dwell on it right along with you. In one of the Workbook reviews he says he will do so: “Together we review these thoughts. Together we devote our time and effort to them.” (W-pI.RV.In.8:2-3) We saw above that he invites us to think of him as holding our hand and leading us inward during our meditations. Onto this invitation he adds this important line: “And I assure you this will be no idle fantasy.” (W-pI.70.9:4)
Invite him into your extension. After all, he claims to be there already: “As God sent me to you so will I send you to others. And I will go to them with you, so we can teach them peace and union.” (T-8.IV.3:10-11) Realize that this may be going on with the person in front of you right now. Ask him specifically who you should help and in what way. See yourself as the voice through which he can still be heard, the eyes through which his vision can bless the world, the hands through which he can once again work miracles, the feet through which he can still go to those in need.
Invite him into your relationships. Know that he is the third party in every interaction and that he holds the hands of both partners. When you find yourself having fantasies of any kind—of romance or revenge—try to remember this statement: “My holy brother, I would enter into all your relationships, and step between you and your fantasies.” (T-17.III.10:1)
As I mentioned above, share with him your pains and joys, your struggles and excitements, yet also be willing to shed these dramas as heavy garments now outworn. Ask him to step around your wall of resistance. Hand to him the gifts of the world you now recognize as crowns of thorns, and in exchange accept from his hands the gifts of God.
As you continually invite him to help you live the course he wrote, you and he unite in a common goal. This carries astonishing implications, as he says near the end of the Workbook:
Yet in the final days of this one year we gave to God together, you and I, we found a single purpose that we shared. And thus you joined with me, so what I am are you as well. (W-pII.14.2:2-3)
By uniting with him in a single goal, you join with him. And if you are joined with him, then what he is, you are.
5. Join with him in holy instants.
Several times in the Course Jesus speaks of joining with him in holy instants. The following passage, for instance, addresses what to do when we find ourselves shrinking from the spiritual journey:
Fear seems to live in darkness, and when you are afraid you have stepped back [from the goal of light]. Let us then join quickly in an instant of light, and it will be enough to remind you that your goal is light. (T-18.III.2:4-5)
How do we join him “in an instant of light”? I see this as setting aside all of our normal thoughts, our fears, irritations and anxieties, and clearing our mind of everything except the pure desire to join with his mind.
6. Read the Course as if it is a personal message from him, especially in those places where he speaks in the first person.
This technique is discussed in Part 3 of the “Text/Study” section (Step 3b). Reading the Course as a message from Jesus to you is particularly powerful in those places in which he speaks in the first person. Read in this way, some of these passages become almost indescribably beautiful. For instance, try reading this passage as a personal message from Jesus to you, even inserting your name once or twice:
I have saved all your kindnesses and every loving thought you ever had. I have purified them of the errors that hid their light, and kept them for you in their own perfect radiance. They are beyond destruction and beyond guilt. (T-5.IV.8:3-5)
7. Read how Jesus worked personally with Helen and Bill in Absence from Felicity.
Another hindrance to carrying on a relationship with Jesus is not having a clear idea of what his side of the relationship looks like. True, he speaks to us in the Course. But how does it look when he works in individual lives, helping them apply Course principles to their specific situations?
To get a clear picture of this, I highly recommend that Course students read Absence from Felicity, by Ken Wapnick. There (especially in Chapters 7-10) we get to see Jesus at work in the lives of Helen and Bill, in the form of personal guidance given to them during the early months of the Course’s dictation. In these early months Jesus very much played the role of the personal teacher, helping them to understand and apply the course he was giving them.
I find the ways in which he worked with Helen and Bill to be amazing. His many creative and astute teaching methods are an entire study in themselves. At times tender, always patient and often quite firm, he is most of all no-nonsense. Rather than sounding as if accompanied by his own orchestra of string players, he simply attends to the business at hand, the business of waking his students up. He acts absolutely familiar with them, as if it is nothing out-of-the-ordinary that they are being personally taught by Jesus. Far from being cold, he encourages their every gain, frequently thanks them for helping him with his course and often assures them of his love and care for them.
He is the antithesis of some booming voice in the sky proclaiming vague commandments. Rather, he is intimately present, aware, it seems, of every single detail: from the details of their personal pasts, stretching back far beyond this lifetime, to the subtle twists and turns of their thinking over the course of a day, to why a taxi took so long to show up, to where to find a certain kind of winter coat. Further, he seems to be concerned with every detail, especially the smallest thought or act in relation to other people, including such tiny affairs as the making of lunch dates or phone calls. In the smallest ways he adapts his teaching to the particulars of their lives. They are psychologists at a university, so he speaks in the language of education and psychology. Bill loves making puns, so Jesus makes puns to Bill. He even emphasizes different things to the two of them because of their different personality traits, which he repeatedly identifies.
In other words, he is a highly attentive presence. Each detail is an arena in which Helen and Bill can choose for God or the ego. And so each detail is an opportunity for him to show his love and his caring for their happiness.
Again, I encourage you to read this material for yourself. These brief comments cannot begin to capture what Jesus’ work with Helen and Bill reveal about his characteristics as an inner teacher. What perhaps comes closest to capturing this is one of Jesus’ own statements about himself in the Course: “Walking with him is just as natural as walking with a brother whom you knew since you were born, for such indeed he is.” (C-5.5:6)
8. Use the prayers Jesus gave to Bill to help him feel closer to Jesus.
At the time this personal material came through, Bill apparently felt split off and distant from Jesus. To remedy this situation, Jesus gave Bill two beautiful prayers. Both, I find, are effective in bringing about a feeling of closeness with Jesus. The first one, though brief, is very powerful: “Jesus, my brother, show me your love.” (Absence from Felicity)
The second one is longer. It is composed mainly of four smaller prayers, each one beginning with “I pray” or “I accept.” I have treated each of these parts, as well as the brief conclusion, as its own paragraph:
I would like to pray that my will be united with Thine, recognizing that Thy perfect love will suffice (or correct) for my imperfect love.
I pray that I may accept the Atonement with conviction, recognizing its inevitable worth, and my own divine worth as part of this identification with Thee.
I pray that my fear be replaced by an active sense of Thy love, and Thy continual willingness to help me overcome the split, or divided will, which is responsible for my difficulty with this.
I accept the divinity of the messages we have received [from Jesus], and affirm my will in both accepting and acting upon the Atonement principle.
Here I am, Lord. (Absence from Felicity)
As an initial point, we should note that later in the Course’s dictation Jesus would not have encouraged us to call him “Thee” and “Lord,” since such traditional language implies that he is fundamentally above us. Feel free, therefore, to change that language here if you like.
I find this to be a truly wonderful prayer, which addresses several things that a majority of Course students feel: a sense of distance from Jesus, feelings of a lack of worth, doubts about the source of the material (“the divinity of the messages”), doubts about the usefulness of the way it sets forth (the worth of the Atonement), and an impotence of will which seems to leave us unable to really pursue the Course with conviction. This prayer invites us to remedy all of these things by firmly employing our will to join with Jesus and the way he teaches.
I highly recommend using both prayers often, perhaps either memorizing them or writing them down on a card that you can carry with you.
9. Remember that he is not aloof, but rather freely offers you his undying friendship, all of his help, and everything he is.
According to how relationships work in this world, the higher someone’s status, the harder it is to get his attention, his time and his love. Since Jesus is supposed to have the supreme status, we can easily picture him as supremely inaccessible and unapproachable. We may know that we love him, that we want his friendship and companionship, but it feels presumptuous to assume that he feels the same way about us.
It is crucial to remember that Jesus operates completely outside our laws of special relationships. That is why he is awake and we are asleep. Therefore, in this relationship, we are not the lowly ones longingly pursuing some special but elusive person. He is the pursuer. He is the one who offers us a love we cannot comprehend. He is the one who offers us literally all of himself without any conditions. And we are the ones who wonder if we should open the door to him, fearing that he might rearrange the furniture, or worse yet, ask us to join him on the road. The relationship, therefore, is waiting on our decision. He has already decided to be with us—for eternity.
It is helpful to remind ourselves often that he wants our friendship more than we want his; that he wants to give us his help more than we want to receive it; that he wants to join with us more than we want to join with him. In the following passage, he even says that he needs us as much as we need him:
My strength will never be wanting, and if you choose to share it you will do so. I give it willingly and gladly, because I need you as much as you need me. (T-8.V.6:9-10)
HEALING OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH JESUS
For many of us, before we can even think of asking Jesus to be our inner teacher, let alone pray to him and say “show me your love,” we will have a great deal of healing to do. Though Jesus has been a beloved figure for the Western world, there are also deep scars associated with him in the collective psyche. For many Catholics and ex-Catholics, he stands at the head of a vast hierarchy which they feel has abused them. For Jews, it is in his name that their people have been persecuted for centuries.
Jesus is clearly trying to heal these scars in the Course. He takes pains to correct traditional pictures of him. Over time this correction has the effect of wiping away our dark, painful images of him and replacing them with images of beauty and inspiration. Many students come into the Course as a result of running away from Jesus and end up joining with him more deeply than ever. Other students reach a benign neutrality in relation to him, which is quite an achievement considering how they once felt. Whether or not we end up having a conscious relationship with him, healing our image of him is a benefit. Any scars in our mind are undesirable. Yet because Jesus has become such a powerful symbol of God, scars around him can impede our entire spiritual journey. In this final section of the article, then, we will examine how the Course helps us to heal our relationship with Jesus.
How do we heal our scars around Jesus? The same way we heal any of our wounds: through forgiveness. Many times in the Course Jesus urges us to forgive him. This is not because he needs our forgiveness of him, but because we do. While we resent him, he cannot help us: “And can I offer him forgiveness when he offers thorns to me?” (T-20.II.4:2) While we see him as guilty, we will see ourselves stained with sin: “Would you see in me the symbol of guilt or the end of guilt, remembering that what I signify to you you see within yourself?” (T-19.IV(B).6:6) Forgiving him heals our own darkness and opens up the doorways of his help.
It may seem incongruous to think of forgiving Jesus. After all, he hasn’t done anything wrong. Yet forgiving him is really no different than forgiving anyone else, for, according to the Course, no one has done anything wrong. In the Course, forgiveness means letting go of our wrong perception that another has sinned. Therefore, what Jesus says about forgiving him applies equally well to everyone else: “Forgive me your illusions, and release me from punishment for what I have not done.” (T-19.IV(B).8:1)
Even though everyone is sinless, it is often easier to see this sinlessness in Jesus. Recognizing this, he suggests this novel method for forgiving others: “Forgive me all the sins you think the Son of God committed.” (T-19.IV(B).6:1) In other words, forgive Jesus for everyone’s sins. Forgive him for what your parents did to you, or your siblings, or your spouse. You might even imagine that it was he who did those things. Because we see such innocence, such holiness in him, it can feel easy to forgive him. Yet the exact same holiness is in the people in our lives. Forgiving Jesus for their “sins” is a way to get in touch with that.
How do we forgive the sins we see specifically in Jesus, though, the things that have been done to us in his name? The following two points will address this in more detail.
From a bitter idol to a dear brother
The following is my favorite passage about forgiving Jesus:
Some bitter idols have been made of him who would be only brother to the world. Forgive him your illusions, and behold how dear a brother he would be to you. (C-5.5:7-8)
This makes clear that we forgive him for the cruel masks which we projected onto him but which have nothing to do with who he really is. That phrase “bitter idols” carries a world of meaning. An idol is a false god, a substitute for the real God. It is a lifeless image onto which we project the power to magically meet our needs, and which we worship out of this vain projection. Yet our projections are more loaded than we think. Our idols become cruel gods, for we unconsciously assign to them the role of not just answering our prayers but punishing us for our sins. And so, rather than them serving our needs, we end up serving their insatiable egos and merciless demands. The punishment for not doing so is total. In short, they become bitter idols. The relevance of all this to Jesus is obvious. Humanity has had a dark love affair with projecting such images onto him.
In the Course Jesus climbs out from under centuries of these sharp, twisted images and emerges as a refreshingly different figure. As this new figure, he takes us by the hand and leads us from worshipping and fearing him as a bitter idol to welcoming him as a dear brother. Along the way he reverses several conventional perceptions of him, which we will now discuss.
He is an equal brother
Traditionally, of course, Jesus has been viewed as the Son of God, the only Son of God. This has made centuries of Westerners feel like second-class children of God whose spiritual ascent is blocked by a rock-like ceiling, above which they cannot rise. Beginning very early in the Course Jesus repeatedly corrects this view, making it abundantly clear that he is simply one of us who awakened sooner. We were created as his equal, are equal to him in our true Identity now (for we share the same Identity), and will one day attain to the exact same place that he has. He says this so often and so clearly that almost all Course students get it. Many, however, misunderstand the real meaning of it. They assume it means that Jesus, in his life, was just as fallible, just as human as we are. What it really means, though, is that we are just as divine as he is. Properly understood, then, this equality with him does not drag him down to our level; it raises us up to his.
Rather than dying for our sins, he awoke to unlimited life for his benefit and ours
We already said that Jesus did not die for our sins. This traditional belief, though comforting for many, has made him the eternal symbol of how guilty we are, and has put his bloody death on our heads. In the Course he is both blunt and emphatic in rejecting this view: “I was not ‘punished’ because you were bad.” (T-3.I.2:10) He says that he saved us not by his death but by his awakening to unlimited life, which he did for our benefit as well as for his: “I will awaken you as surely as I awakened myself, for I awoke for you.” (T-12.II.7:2) He will awaken us, not because his exceptional merit has been transferred to us, but simply because he knows who we are, and his knowing will rekindle that same knowledge in us:
It is not my merit that I contribute to you but my love, for you do not value yourself. When you do not value yourself you become sick, but my value of you can heal you. (T-10.III.6:4-5)
Rather than requiring our faith and worship, he offers praise to us
Traditionally, we have seen Jesus as something like a vain celebrity who will only grant us certain blessings if we have faith in him, believe in what he did and worship him. He who claimed to be the servant of all must now be served before he consents to surrender his gifts. In the Course he turns this around. Instead of asking for praise, he gives praise to us. “Praise be to you who make the Father one with His Own Son.” (T-13.X.14:1) In fact, in the following astonishing passage he says that he sees in us all those lofty things that we see in him. He is speaking about himself here in the third person:
You do not love yourself. But in his eyes your loveliness is so complete and flawless that he sees in it an image of his Father. You become the symbol of his Father here on earth. To you he looks for hope, because in you he sees no limit and no stain to mar your beautiful perfection. (M-23.5:4-7)
Tradition has viewed Jesus as the visible image of God, as an earthly symbol of the Father, as a sign of hope for the world, as a being of pure and unstained perfection. Now imagine the very being to which history has ascribed such exalted epithets turning around and telling you that this is how he sees you.
He is pure forgiveness, not a punitive judge
According to Christian theology, Jesus is supposed to return as the judge of the world. In the words of the Apostles’ Creed, which many of us said, or still say, every Sunday, he “sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty: From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.” Many times in contemporary Marian visions I have read “Mary” say that she has to stay her Son’s hand, to keep him (temporarily) from turning loose his wrath on the earth. In contrast to such frightening images, the Course portrays Jesus as the pure manifestation of forgiveness. If we choose against his way, he says, he will neither judge us nor punish us. He will simply wait—and do so in love:
I will never forsake you any more than God will, but I must wait as long as you choose to forsake yourself. Because I wait in love and not in impatience, you will surely ask me truly. (T-4.III.7:8-9)
He has perfect faith that we will hear his message and follow him all the way home
Whether in the Gospels or in the Course, Jesus’ way is so far above what we seem capable of that we can easily picture him looking down his nose at us, seeing us as miserable failures. Yet, almost unbelievably, he tells us over and over in the Course that he has perfect faith in us, perfect trust that we will hear him and follow him. Here is a beautiful example:
My faith in you is as strong as all the love I give my Father. My trust in you is without limit, and without the fear that you will hear me not. I thank the Father for your loveliness, and for the many gifts that you will let me offer [through you] to the Kingdom in honor of its wholeness that is of God. (T-13.X.13:2-6)
Recognizing our fear of his love
The Course strips away all of those menacing elements that seemed so much a part of Jesus. It reveals a Jesus who is so good, so loving that he stretches our ideas of what goodness is. Seeing how he speaks to us, our minds gravitate toward new conceptions of what is possible in a relationship, of what is possible in reality. He truly does appear to be the pure manifestation of the Love of God. Now there is literally no reason to resent him or distance ourselves from him. Perhaps now we can welcome him into our minds without apprehension.
Yet, ironically, the Course suggests that this pure love is the very reason we have seen Jesus as a threat all along. Somewhere inside we have sensed this love in him, and this is the actual, unconscious cause of our fear of him. We might even surmise that the “bitter idols” history has made of him were cooked up by the mass ego as ways to justify this fear of him, ways to make fearing him look reasonable. If so, then we find Jesus threatening for the same essential reason that people during his lifetime did. They did not experience him through the filter of what tradition would later project onto him. Presumably, they could sense his holiness and his love. Yet they crucified him. Why? Here is his explanation in the Course:
I have said that the crucifixion is the symbol of the ego. When it was confronted with the real guiltlessness of God’s Son it did attempt to kill him, and the reason it gave [at Jesus’ trial] was that guiltlessness is blasphemous to God. To the ego, the ego is God, and guiltlessness must be interpreted as the final guilt that fully justifies murder. (T-13.II.6:1-3)
The ego by nature tries to kill us, to murder our true Self, for the ego is the replacement for this Self. Therefore, when Jesus walked the earth as the living embodiment of this Self, the ego naturally viewed him as the ultimate threat. It saw his guiltlessness as “the final guilt that fully justifies murder.” And so it tried to kill him.
It is difficult to swallow that we are threatened by Jesus because of his perfect love, that our response to him is essentially similar to that of his crucifiers. Yet, the Course would suggest, far below our conscious mind this is the case. Our fear of his love may be buried deep in our minds, yet it does rise to the surface in visible ways. We may subtly recoil from Jesus because he simply seems to ask too much. We may keep him from getting too close, sensing that he might turn our whole reality upside-down and lead us beyond everything we know. Perhaps the most obvious manifestation is feeling threatened by the Course, which all students feel at one time or another. In fact (in the line directly following the above quotation), Jesus says that this fear of the Course is essentially the same feeling that drove the people who crucified him: “any fear you may experience in connection with this course stems ultimately from this interpretation [that guiltlessness is “the final guilt that fully justifies murder”].” (T-13.II.6:4) In this light, the common stories of people doing violence to their Course books can be seen as miniature re-enactments of the crucifixion of Jesus.
What do we do about feeling threatened by Jesus’ love? How can we dispel this feeling? The answer, I think, is that we can simply recognize that this is what we are feeling. To fully realize that we are afraid of his love is to also realize how completely insane such a fear is. Who wants to be afraid of love? Who wants to push away the thing we all crave? Simply admitting to ourselves that we fear Jesus’ love will automatically loosen our grip on that fear.
* * * * *
For many reasons, the subject of Jesus in the Course is a touchy one. To any rational person, the claim that he authored it can sound outrageous. For those fleeing the ruin of their traditional faith, finding him waiting for them in A Course in Miracles can send them bouncing off of it like a pinball. And for those of us who know in our heart of hearts that he is our teacher and that he offers us nothing less than everything, he can be even scarier still. Yet there are great benefits to wading into this sensitive area. Where before we were skeptical, we might find ourselves believing the seemingly impossible. And where before we saw only bitter idols, we might just find our dearest brother.
* * * * *
(1) I have done a study of where the words that Helen heard claim they came from. This was published in A Better Way, the newsletter of the Circle of Atonement, in December 1996 and July 1997. I drew the following twelve conclusions about this claim:
- The words Helen heard in some sense come from the individual known as Jesus of Nazareth.
- Jesus, though awakened, has remained with us in a personal way and thus is able to do things within time and space, such as author a book.
- He has remained with us as some kind of distinct identity, who is one with all other (physical and non-physical) saviors yet is still in some way distinct from them and is their leader.
- He carefully chose the specific English words of the Course, which is reflected in the acute awareness of words that he displays in the Course.
- In the case of the puns he makes, the specific content expressed depends on the multiple meanings of particular English words, suggesting that he formulated both the content and the words together.
- Helen was his “scribe,” which implied that she was copying down his words.
- He would introduce “word/idea packets” into Helen’s mind. If her unconscious mind was unable to join with these, she would consciously hear a distorted version, in which her words had replaced his, distorting his content. He, however, would be aware of these scribal errors and try to correct them later, when she was more receptive.
- Helen’s willingness not only affected the accuracy of the words she heard, it also affected the quality or level of thought that was able to come through her.
- In order to reach her, Jesus intentionally shaped his content into a “language” familiar to Helen. That explains why the Course uses so many of Helen’s forms (English language, Christian symbology, psychodynamics, curricular format, and Shakespearean blank verse).
- Jesus also shaped the Course’s special language to reflect Bill’s language.
- Bill’s willingness, like Helen’s, was able to affect the quality of the material coming through Helen, at least at times.
- Apparently Bill’s unconscious mind, like Helen’s, could also distort Jesus’ words, causing Helen to hear Bill’s words instead of Jesus’. Thus, Bill’s mind was to some degree present inside Helen’s mind as she received dictation, and was at times able to influence that dictation.
(2) In the Course, Jesus is obviously a teacher of wisdom. This is less obvious with the historical Jesus, yet the current scholarly consensus maintains that it is true: “A second consensus element of the renaissance [in Jesus scholarship] is a new understanding of Jesus as teacher, especially a teacher of subversive wisdom. There is a near chorus within the discipline about this, flowing out of recent studies of the forms of Jesus’ teaching, especially the wisdom forms of proverb, parable, aphorism, and nature saying” (Jesus in Contemporary Scholarship, by Marcus Borg, p. 9).
(3) Marcus Borg on the historical Jesus: “As a teacher of wisdom, Jesus was not primarily a teacher of information (what to believe) or morals (how to behave) but a teacher of a way or path of transformation” (Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, 75).
(4) One of the primary findings of modern Jesus research is that Jesus did not make himself a central theme of his own preaching. Similarly, only a tiny portion of the Course is directly about its author.
(5) This is true of the Course, and is one of the hallmarks of the historical Jesus.
(6) This penchant for reversing our expectations and assumptions is so characteristic of the historical Jesus that the Jesus Seminar made it into two of their rules of evidence for identifying the distinctive voice of the authentic Jesus: “Jesus’ saying and parables cut against the social and religious grain” and “Jesus’ saying and parables surprise and shock; they characteristically call for a reversal of roles or frustrate ordinary, everyday expectations” (The Five Gospels: What Did Jesus Really Say? 31). Likewise, the author of the Course makes a full-time occupation out of turning upside-down our normal assumptions. He even makes this attempt explicit, saying that our current mind-set is completely upside-down and needs to be turned right-side up.
(7) This is another one of the Jesus Seminar’s rules of evidence for identifying the authentic voice of Jesus: “Jesus’ saying and parables are often characterized by exaggeration, humor, and paradox” (The Five Gospels: What Did Jesus Really Say? 31). In relation to the Course, every student has experienced the Course’s extravagant, paradoxical language. Here is an example that is particularly reminiscent of the historical Jesus’ “gigantesque” language: “Yet who can build his home upon a straw, and count on it as shelter from the wind? (T-28.VII.3:4) 9. This is obviously true of the Course, yet is also true of the historical Jesus. Marcus Borg again: “Jesus saw reality very differently….What distinguished him from most of his contemporaries as well as from us…was his vivid sense that reality was ultimately gracious and compassionate” (Jesus: A New Vision, p. 100).
(8) Though Jesus did not use the word ‘grace’ itself, the picture of ultimate reality, of God’s ultimate character, as gracious emerges everywhere in his teaching” (Jesus: A New Vision, by Marcus Borg, p. 100).
(9) This acquaintance with “life in the round” is amply revealed in the parables of the historical Jesus. It is also a hallmark of A Course in Miracles.
(10) According to Borg, Jesus aimed his main criticisms against four aspects of conventional life in his time: family, wealth, honor and religion. Every one of these finds its parallel in a major focus of the Course. Family is paralleled by the Course’s focus on special relationships. Both are (at least intended to be) amicable relationships from which we derive an identity apart from God. Wealth is paralleled by the Course’s focus on idols, all those things of the world that we crave (including wealth) and that become false gods. Honor is paralleled by specialness. Honor, with its synonyms of acknowledgment, recognition, regard, reverence, is very close to what the Course means by specialness. Religion is a major focus of criticism in the Course, which continually tries to correct what it sees as mistaken notions in Christianity.
(11) Borg again on the historical Jesus: “The primary allegiances cultivated by conventional wisdom are ultimately pursued for the sake of the self in order that it might find a secure ‘home’ in them” (Jesus: A New Vision, 107).
(12) Forgiveness is of course the central teaching of the Course. But was it the central teaching of the historical Jesus? I pondered this question for many years and finally decided that my guess, though not an expert guess, is that it was. Though the word “forgiveness” crops up many times in the Gospels, even more importantly, the Gospels are saturated with the sentiment of forgiveness. This sentiment is central to Jesus’ vision of God as gracious and merciful, to his ministry of dining and socializing with “sinners,” and to his working of miracles, which he claimed to do by the forgiveness of sins. At least one writer on the historical Jesus believes that forgiveness was central to Jesus’ message. In The Gospel According to Jesus, Stephen Mitchell says that forgiveness was “Jesus’ most important teaching for those who aren’t ready to enter the kingdom of God” (p. 54). He also says: “People who are familiar only with Christianity among the great world religions don’t realize how surprising this emphasis [on forgiveness] is. Other great Masters teach forgiveness, to be sure. But for them it is a secondary matter….Why did Jesus place such emphasis on forgiveness?…The emotion that informs Jesus’ teaching about forgiveness is so intense, so filled with the exhilaration of forgiving and being forgiven, that it must have come from a profound personal experience” (p. 18-19).
(13) These last two points are drawn from Borg’s discussion of Jesus’ teaching. See Jesus: A New Vision, 108-115. Though these points are stated in non-Course language, the ideas they express are deeply consonant with the Course. A change of heart can be equated with the salvation of the mind in the Course. A “dying of the self as the center of its own concern,” as Borg puts it, can be equated with the total relinquishment of the ego in the Course.
(14) The transformation of perception is such a major theme in the Course that one might think I am simply projecting the Course onto the historical Jesus here. Yet Jesus’ focus on this is actually “the most certain thing we know about Jesus.” “Jesus regularly used both [parables and aphorisms] in a particular way: to subvert conventional (and religious) ways of seeing and being, and to suggest a radically alternative way of seeing and being. Rather strikingly, the most certain thing we know about Jesus according to the current scholarly consensus is that he was a teller of stories and a speaker of great one-liners whose purpose was the transformation of perception. At the center of his message was an invitation to see differently” (Jesus in Contemporary Scholarship, by Marcus Borg, p. 172).
(15) I don’t know of the Gospels using the word miracle for an inner transformation, but they are full of cases of individuals experiencing a miraculous inner conversion. This, of course, is the goal of the Course.
(16) This was certainly true of the historical Jesus. But can we say this about the author of the Course, especially when he is a non-physical being—if real at all? I believe we can, based on two things: First, his teachings in the Course include themes of madness, sickness and suffering as much as any spiritual teaching; second, he selected two agnostics to be his scribes. If you think about it, selecting agnostics as his scribes is not so far from dining with outcasts.
(17) This habit of using familiar forms but filling them with radically new content is certainly one of the hallmarks of the author of the Course. Was it a characteristic of Jesus as well? We know he participated in the culture and the traditions of his day. He was reputed to enjoy food, drink and banquets. He was apparently an observant Jew. Did he participate in these conventional forms because he really approved of them or because of the motive I am claiming here? There seem to be many clues that it was often the latter. Many of the forms he used—the parable, the image of the Kingdom of God, the role of rabbi with disciples and that of prophet calling Israel back to God—he seems to have put to new uses and filled with new and unconventional meaning.
(18) Course students have often noted that Helen Schucman and Bill Thetford resemble Jesus’ original disciples in their obvious fallibility.
(19) The Course is only twenty years old, so we cannot say what will happen in the future. Yet so far, its influence and popularity has only grown with time.
[Please note: ACIM passages quoted in this article reference the Foundation for Inner Peace (FIP) Edition.]