In the early months of the Course’s dictation, Jesus gave quite a bit of personal guidance to Helen Schucman and Bill Thetford, personally shepherding them in their understanding and application of the Course. I find this guidance extremely instructive. It is quoted in different places in the Complete and Annotated Edition (CE). For snippets of it that do not appear in the CE (because they were directed specifically at Bill), I will reference them in Absence from Felicity, Ken Wapnick’s account of Helen Schucman and her scribing of A Course in Miracles.
In this article I want to look at an instance of Jesus applying the Course’s principles specifically to Bill. He gives Bill a very simple prayer: “Here I am, Lord.” This prayer is actually a biblical one (as my friend, Randall Keller, pointed out to me). It is, in essence, Isaiah’s famous response to his calling from God. In the sixth chapter of Isaiah, he has a vision in which he sees the Lord lifted up on a throne, surrounded by angels, and then hears the Lord’s voice saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” His reply to the Lord is, “Here am I! Send me.”
Now a four-word prayer from the Old Testament may not seem very profound, or even very Course-like. Yet Jesus keeps returning to this prayer for Bill, discussing it on at least four separate occasions. He explains why Bill needed this prayer, how exactly he should use this prayer, what the prayer actually means, and what effects it would have. In the process, he manages to endow this simple prayer with profound psychological and spiritual meaning.
Why Bill needed this prayer
According to Jesus’ descriptions of Bill, Bill had adopted a mental stance of standing apart, playing the uninvolved observer. This had tragic consequences in Bill’s mind. For it resulted in Bill seeing himself as standing on one side, alone and excluded, while all that is real—God, Jesus and the Sonship—stood on the other side. In his mind, reality was a gigantic party to which he was not invited. As a result, he doubted that he was loved and cared for by God and Jesus, that he was entitled to universal love, that he was a real part of the Sonship. To put it more bluntly, by seeing himself as separate from the rest of reality, he doubted that he possessed reality. He doubted that he was truly real. This is why Jesus repeatedly said things like, “He lacks confidence in his identity, and needs to strengthen it” (Absence from Felicity, p. 222).
All of that may sound abstract, but it had very down-to-earth implications. For example, when Bill asked for guidance, he would ask with little confidence that Jesus would answer, and then would give up and stop listening too soon. Jesus said, “Since I don’t know when he’s going to ring off I have to be very short and even cryptic. It chops messages up too much” (Cameo 1, p. 1686). Jesus then gave this sage counsel to Bill:
He doesn’t have much real confidence that I will get through. He never just claims his rights. He should begin with much more confidence. I’ll keep my promises. (Cameo 1, p. 1686).
Another implication of Bill’s lack of confidence in his reality was that he saw himself as particularly vulnerable to how others saw him. If Bill was nothing but an insubstantial image, then the perceptions of others had enormous power to re-shape that image, to re-create Bill in his own eyes. A flimsy leaf can be blown about by even the slightest breeze. An example is that Bill was particularly vulnerable to his parent’s misperceptions of him. Unlike many modern therapies, Jesus did not indulge Bill in this. He insisted that Bill’s giving his parents so much power to shape his self-image was not humility, but instead a case of “simple spite” (T-3.VIII.12:8)—spite, because by giving them power to hurt him he made them appear cruel; he accused them of sin. Jesus’ counsel is quite firm:
It is your duty to establish beyond doubt that you are totally unwilling to side with (identify with) anyone’s misperceptions of you, including your own (T-3.VIII.14:1).
Yet another implication of Bill’s sense that he was excluded from the totality is that he was afraid to act as a teacher in a classroom. Jesus has a great deal to say about this, and the causes behind it. Here is my best attempt at a summary of the causes, which I feel provide a poignant window onto the troubled psyche of a normal human:
- Bill felt cut off from teaching ability because he felt cut off from reality. “When Bill says that he cannot teach, he is making the same mistake that we spoke of before, when he acted as if the universal laws of love applied to everyone but him” (Absence from Felicity, p. 267).
- He also associated being a teacher with elevating himself above others, which made him feel even more separate from them, and so increased his separation anxiety. If the students didn’t approve of him as a teacher, he would feel more like one of them, like one of the gang. This would lessen his separation anxiety but the disapproval would make him depressed (T-4.II.12:4-5). The obvious “solution” is to not play the role of a teacher at all.
- He also associated teaching with playing God, and so feared that God would punish him for usurping His role “You, Bill, really believe that by teaching you are assuming a dominant or father role, and that the ‘father figure’ will kill you (Absence from Felicity, p. 276).
- Finally he sensed that being a teacher would challenge his current way of seeing things, and he wanted to protect his thought system. Since change had gotten him into this mess, he thought he might as well hold firm right where he was; further change might only make things worse (T-4.II.4:1-4).
It is remarkable that such sweeping and life-determining effects can flow from the simple mental posture of standing apart and playing the uninvolved observer.
The practice itself
Jesus gives Bill the prayer, “Here I am, Lord,” as one antidote to Bill’s sense of being unreal. We will see in a moment how this prayer was meant to address Bill’s psychological malady. First, let us look at Jesus’ instructions for how Bill should say the prayer, which were part of Jesus’ counsel on how Bill could better receive guidance:
He has to learn better concentration. His mind flits about too much for good communication. Suggest a very short phrase like “Here I am Lord” and don’t think of anything else. Just pull in your mind slowly from everywhere else and center it on these words. (Cameo 1, 1687).
Notice the explicit instructions here:
- Slowly pull your mind in from everything else.
- Center it on these words.
- Don’t think of anything else.
These, of course, are standard meditation instructions. This practice is meant to help Bill keep his mind from flitting about so much; if he can stabilize his mind, he can better receive guidance. Notice the advantage of using a “very short phrase.” If your concentration is already bad, you don’t want to juggle some long, involved prayer in your mind. You want something short and sweet.
You really have to use this prayer for yourself to appreciate it. It has many benefits, as we will see, but one of them is the very one mentioned here: It is terrific for centering your mind, for improving concentration. If you are meditating and you (perchance) find your mind wandering, simply say, “Here I am, Lord,” and you will be surprised at how effectively this brings your mind away from daydreams and back to focus.
What the prayer means
What exactly does “Here I am, Lord” mean? Saying the words is useless unless you know what they signify. At one point Jesus explains their meaning:
When I told Bill to concentrate on the phrase “Here I am, Lord,” I did not mean “in this world” by “here.” I wanted him to think of himself as a separate consciousness, capable of direct communication with the Creator of that consciousness. (T-4.VIII.8:1-2).
In other words, “Here I am, Lord,” does not mean, “Here I am, in this world,” or, “Hullo, I’m over here.” The “here” does not refer to a physical location. Instead of physical location, it denotes mental presence. It really refers to being present to God, available to God. It means, “Here I am, totally present to you, Lord.” Or, “I am with You, near You, able to communicate with You, my Creator.” Or, “My whole mind is on You, available to You.”
Also, let’s go back to the instructions for the prayer. It was designed to convince Bill that he is here, since he isn’t too sure. Thus, “I am here” means “I exist, I am real.” In summary, the prayer means:
I am real, and I am totally present to You, the Creator of my reality.
The intended effects of the prayer
The intended effects have already been hinted at, but I want to draw them out. Besides helping improve Bill’s concentration, this prayer was meant to convince Bill of two things: First, that he himself was real; second, that God and His Love were near and available to Bill. Let’s take these one at a time.
As I said, the prayer was designed to convince Bill that he was real. In a fascinating discussion, Jesus likened the practice of this prayer to the exercise that the French philosopher, Rene’ Descartes, used as the foundation for his philosophical system:
Descartes engaged in a very interesting teaching procedure, and one from which he himself learned a great deal. He began with doubting the existence of everything except himself. He insisted that his own existence was not open to doubt and rebuilt his entire thought system on the one premise “I think, therefore I am.” It is noteworthy that he arrived at accepting the entire system he originally doubted, solely on the basis of this one piece of knowledge. There was, however, a distinct shift in his own perception. He no longer really questioned the reality of what he perceived, because he knew he was there. (T-3.IX.11:1-6).
I love this discussion. What it reports about Descartes’s process is something anyone can read about in any philosophy textbook—except the last remark. Here Jesus adds some inside information about the psychological impact of this process on Descartes: He experienced a shift in perception, and, as a result, he knew he was real. This impact on Descartes’s own mind is what is relevant for Bill. Jesus is promising that if Bill goes through a parallel process—by using this prayer—he, too, will experience a shift in perception and come to know that he is real.
Let’s move on to the second effect: The prayer was designed to convince Bill that God and His Love were near and available to him. Jesus said the meaning of the prayer was that Bill was “a separate consciousness, capable of direct communication with the Creator of that consciousness” (p. 276). This is not normal language for the Course, since it came early in the Course dictation. What it means is that Bill is a real being who can make direct contact with his Creator.
This is the actual effect of using this prayer. You feel like God is right here, near, available. Quite simply, it makes God feel present. You really have to use it to have any idea of how effective it is in this regard. One suggestion I have is, when using it, to remember that God is already totally present to you. He is always here. In using this prayer, I often focus on the line from lesson 153, in which we are asked to “pause a moment as He tells us, ‘I am here’” (W-156.18:6). This line implies that He is always saying to us, “I am here”; He is always saying to us His version of this prayer. Thus, saying to God, “Here I am,” does not mean calling to Him from a distance; reaching across some gulf to contact Him. It means coming out of my fog and becoming at last present to He Who is always present to me. It means matching my little “Here I am” with His eternal “I am here.” The only distance between us is the gap between my distracted mind, which is usually not on Him, and His ever-present Mind, Which is always on me. Once I say this prayer, then, the gap is gone. Now we are both present to each other. We are both here.
In case you think that such a simple prayer can have only limited, weak effects, I recently discovered that this was one of the favorite prayers of Brother Lawrence. His version of the prayer was, “My God, here I am, all Yours.” For those who don’t know of him, Brother Lawrence was the seventeenth-century monk known for The Practice of the Presence of God. His practice was to continually remind himself that God was in him, with him, near him, surrounding him, etc. Through the continual use of prayers like this one, he went beyond the mere practice of the concept of God’s presentness, and entered into the profound life-long experience of God’s Presence. In other words, Brother Lawrence used this prayer for the same purpose that Jesus asked Bill to use it. And it worked!
In summary, then, this prayer was specifically designed to help Bill overcome his primary stance of separation, his primal sense of being split off from reality, cut off from the warmth of God’s Love, excluded from the Sonship and deprived of reality and substance. And since this prayer was designed to overcome Bill’s basic separation pattern, it also promised to heal the various symptoms of that pattern, including his feeling that he had no right to receive guidance, his fear of his parents and his fear of teaching. Jesus attached the following remarkable promise to Bill’s use of this prayer:
You will lose all your fear of teaching and relating in any form once you know who you are. (T-3.IX.13:3).
It is truly amazing how much psychological wisdom, spiritual meaning and practical power Jesus could pack into a four-word prayer from the Old Testament.
This brief example of how Jesus worked with Bill and Helen not only has value in itself, it also tells us a great deal about the living of the Course. It underscores the great value of the kind of practice we find in the Workbook, the concentrated, repeated use of potent phrases. It tells us that the generic ego thought system, as described by the Course, manifests differently in each of us, in the form of very individual personality patterns. It tells us that we can find specific practices that are tailor-made for our particular versions of ego. And, it tells us that Jesus is truly a loving brother who is deeply concerned with our minds, and is willing to adapt his teaching in whatever way she needs in order to reach us and to heal us. I would like to close by quoting a longer version of this prayer, which Jesus gave for Bill to say to him. You can see in it some of the same ideas that we have discussed, but you will only see its sublime beauty when you say it to Jesus:
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 inestimable worth, and my own divine worth as part of this identification with thine.
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 I have received, and affirm my will in both accepting and acting upon the Atonement principle.
Here I am. (T-2.IX.14:2-6)