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Editorial: “We Must Not Let It Happen Again”

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

In my first editorial, “From Infancy to a Helper of the World,” I examined a piece of guidance that Helen Schucman received about the Course’s life in the world. This guidance spoke of the establishment of “the home of the course,” a particular “place where it will grow from infancy into a helper of the world.” I likened this home to Jesus’ own home two thousand years ago, where he grew from infancy into a helper of the world. Helen’s guidance, however, contrasted what happened that time with what was meant to happen “this time.” Quoting that guidance, I said that “‘last time’ there was profound ‘failure,’ ‘loss of truth,’ ‘misunderstanding’ and ‘misinterpretation.’”

As I was writing this and really getting in touch with Jesus’ vision for the Course, I realized with sadness how completely things had gone awry. On the one side, I said, “The Course escaped from home into the New Age scene and has ever since been an ‘anything goes’ movement without structure, guidelines, or standards, like a wild child that grew up on the streets.” Then, on the other side, Ken Wapnick did establish what he believed was the very “home” spoken of in Helen’s guidance. But he has been intent on keeping the child locked up at home. I said, “the Foundation for A Course in Miracles has never been a launching pad for the Course into the wider world. It has been more of a fortress, isolated from the rest of the world while it buries time capsules for some distant and unknown future.”

Right as I finished that line, I happened to check my e-mail, and, as I said, “I had a phenomenally synchronistic experience, which I take to be guidance about what I am writing.” I said I would share this in the next installment.

What happened was this: I checked my e-mail and discovered that five minutes earlier, someone had sent me an e-mail that was eerily reminiscent of what I had just written. It was a link to a nine-minute excerpt from the final episode of the late Carl Sagan’s PBS series Cosmos. The clip is a speech he gives from inside a virtual re-creation of the great library of Alexandria, “the center of science and learning in the ancient world,” where “human knowledge was recorded and preserved for centuries.” He tells how this place could have given birth to a new world. “Here were clearly the seeds of our modern world. But why didn’t they take root and flourish? Why instead did the West slumber through a thousand years of darkness?”

His answer was that the custodians of this home essentially kept the discoveries inside the walls of the library, using them to benefit only “the privileged few.” He said, “The vast population of the city had not the vaguest notion of the great discoveries being made within these walls. How could they? The new findings were not explained or popularized. The progress made here benefited them little.”

He then spoke of how the library was eventually destroyed in the early fifth century A.D. by the forces of superstition and religious bigotry. “The loss,” he said, “was incalculable.” This was not just a history lesson, however. Sagan believed that it could all happen again. The description accompanying the video clip said, “Carl contemplates that the ‘submission to ethnic, religious or national identifications’ and the rejection of scientific values will leave us tenuously on the brink of a 2nd (and possibly final) dark age.” Sagan’s own concluding words were more direct: “We must not let it happen again.”

As I watched Sagan’s speech, I couldn’t help but be struck by its uncanny similarities to my editorial:

  • Both Sagan and I focused on a particular “place”—a “center” or “home” which contained, in book form, a unique and priceless treasure of learning or wisdom.
  • Both of us spoke of how what was contained in this place had the potential to grow forth and make a positive global difference.
  • We both described this growing forth using images of biological growth. I used the image of a child growing from infancy to adulthood. He used the image of “seeds” which could “take root and flourish.”
  • For both of us, this pattern had an ancient and a contemporary application.
  • His ancient version was the library of Alexandria. Mine was the life of Jesus (and the home in which he grew up). But both of us saw this ancient version as having a world-changing potential.
  • This potential, however, was not realized. The treasure contained in this “place” did not grow forth to bless the world.
  • Indeed, both of us focused on what was “lost.” Sagan: “The loss was incalculable.” Me: “There was profound…‘loss of truth.’”
  • Our modern application of this pattern was really about how we are potentially on the verge of it happening all over again. That was clearly the point of me saying that Jesus’ vision for it being different “this time” was not being realized. And Sagan’s video warned that we could be “on the brink of a 2nd (and possibly final) dark age.”
  • My warning that we are on the verge of it happening again included the idea that the current “home”—Ken Wapnick’s Foundation for A Course in Miracles—was not “a launching pad for the Course into the wider world,” but was instead “more of a fortress, isolated from the rest of the world.” This was uncannily paralleled in Sagan’s description of how the library failed to change the world because its discoveries stayed “within these walls” (and isn’t “a fortress” all about impermeable walls?), because “the new findings were not…popularized,” thus leaving it isolated even within its own city.
  • In both cases, then, you have two men giving a history lesson, which is really the basis for a warning that it could happen again, and a plea that we not let it. Sagan’s plea was explicit, but mine was more implicit (I was saving it for the next installment).
  • For both men, this message is central to their lives. Sagan’s “we must not let it happen again” summarized his lifelong mission to keep the forces of superstition and irrationality from extinguishing the flame of science and reason. And what was driving my editorial was the same thing that has been driving my life for years now, an idea that I usually express with the words, “I can’t bear to see it happen again.”

What are the odds that right as I finished writing my editorial, I would encounter another editorial of sorts that shared so much in common with mine? The parallels between the two are astounding. I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time imagining that this could have been mere chance.

Like most spiritually inclined people, I believe that highly coincidental experiences like this are trying to tell me something, that they are there to give me guidance. I suspect that most of you think the same way.

Yet is this kind of guidance compatible with the Course? It’s a reasonable question to ask, but I have no doubt that it is compatible. I say this because Helen and Bill’s Mayo Clinic experience in 1965 was a highly coincidental occurrence very much like the one I am describing here. The key aspect of that experience was Helen running into a woman named Charlotte in the Chicago airport, a woman who was parallel with her in a number of ways. Both Helen and Charlotte were on a journey in which they were going (or had just been) to a distant city. They were going there really to explore a new place in life (Helen was deciding how to use her newfound psychic powers, which was really a decision about whether she would assume her function; Charlotte was leaving her family to start a new life). They believed their search would be fulfilled if they could just find a Lutheran church. Instead, however, their search really ended in them finding, not the church (which both did find), but this other woman. It was in their loving encounter with each other that they really found the answers they sought.

What is particularly significant for my purposes is that Jesus himself regarded this coincidental experience as guidance. We know this, because he actually stepped in and supplied the interpretation. Helen reported, “The message was not hard to grasp. ‘And this,’ I seemed to hear, ‘is my true church…helping another; not the edifice you saw before’” (Journey Without Distance, p. 50). If Jesus can treat such an event as guidance, surely it is valid for us to do so.

Indeed, I will confess that much of my guidance is received this way, through striking coincidences like Helen’s encounter with Charlotte, coincidences which involve multiple parallels, which put them well beyond a chance explanation. These kinds of experiences have proven extremely wise and helpful. For instance, they told me, years ahead of time, a number of things about the ACIM copyright situation that proved accurate.

What, then, is this current guidance experience saying? If you read down that list of parallels, the gist of it clearly seems to be something like: “It happened before—that home of wisdom that was meant to bless the world failed—and we are on the brink of it happening again. We must not let it.”

This is such a downer of a message! This guidance is not only raising the alarm, it’s also criticizing the purported current home of the Course, saying that it’s too insular to do the job. How can this be guidance from the Holy Spirit? Surely He wouldn’t be so negative. And surely He especially wouldn’t be critical of anyone’s ministry out there. Rather, wouldn’t He affirm that every teacher and every ministry is a golden thread in the overall tapestry? Wouldn’t He celebrate the perfection of how His plan is playing out?

I don’t know about you, but my experience of guidance couldn’t be further from these rosy expectations. In my experience, real guidance always calls us higher, but it also starts with an unvarnished reckoning of how things are now. As such, it often expresses rather negative assessments of current conditions. It does this so often that this is really one of the hallmarks of guidance as I experience it.

And what else would we expect, given the example set by the Course itself? Does the Course look at our life and talk about how everything is perfect, how everything should be affirmed and celebrated? Or rather, does it say, in the bluntest terms possible, “Look at your life and see what the devil has made” (T-3.VII.5:3)?

Perhaps the perfect example of this kind of “downer” guidance is the guidance that explained why the Course itself was coming through:

According to this “information,” the world situation was worsening at an alarming pace. People all over the world were being called back to help, and were developing what to them were highly unexpected talents, each making his individual contribution to an overall, prearranged plan. I had apparently agreed to take down a course in miracles which the Voice would dictate to me as part of the agreement, and my doing it was actually my reason for coming. It did not really involve unexpected abilities, since I would be using abilities I had developed very long ago, but which I was not yet ready to use again. And that was why I would have so much trouble doing it. However, people had reached a point where they were losing more than they were gaining. Thus, because of the acute emergency, the usual slow, evolutionary process of spiritual development was being by-passed in what might be called a “celestial speed-up.” (Absence from Felicity, p. 200)

Let’s face it—this is not “everything is perfect” guidance. Its whole premise is that there is an “acute emergency” in which “the world situation [is] worsening at an alarming rate.” To solve the crisis, the celestial helping forces are going into high gear. They are calling old soldiers back into active duty, even if those soldiers aren’t quite ready to come out of retirement. The whole idea, then, of response to acute emergency is built into the very fabric of the Course’s life in the world, for that is what brought the Course into the world in the first place.

Therefore, I think we should be completely open to the possibility that the Course is itself in an acute emergency. When the fireman goes into the burning building, he knows that he himself might need rescuing. Could it be that the Course is really on the brink of not giving its gift to the world, of not doing the very thing it came here to do? Let’s not push this possibility away or dismiss it. If no one heeds the alarm, the building keeps on burning. We know that the Holy Spirit is not averse to saying “We have an acute emergency here.” Could it be that He is saying that to us now?

Yet we also know that He says such things in order to rouse into action His chosen first responders. Could it be that that is what He is trying to do here—rouse us into action? That is the possibility I would like to leave before you. Could it be that the plan for the Course’s life in the world really has gone awry, and that we ourselves, in all our imperfection, have a role in getting it back on track? Could it be that, to some degree, it is up to us to not let it happen again?

I realize that this may feel wrong for all kinds of reasons, perhaps because it sounds negative, or perhaps because it sounds arrogant. You wouldn’t be the first to have that reaction. All I’m asking, though, is for you to consider this may be true, and then to write me your thoughts so we can continue this conversation.