(This is a chapter that Robert was invited to write for a scholarly collection titled Miracles: God, Science, and Psychology in the Paranormal, edited by J. Harold Ellens. It appears in Volume III of that collection, Parapsychological Perspectives.)
One can hardly publish volumes on miracles without taking account of the very popular publication titled A Course in Miracles. A Course in Miracles is extremely difficult to categorize. On the surface, it is a three-volume, 1250-page book, consisting of a Text, Workbook, and a Manual for Teachers, published in 1976. It was “scribed” (as she referred to it) by Helen Schucman, a research psychologist at Columbia University’s Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center, who took down words dictated to her by an inner voice.
The Course (as it is called by its students) is therefore channeled material. However, it thwarts the expectations we have acquired around channeling. We perhaps expect bland New Age platitudes delivered in an unidentifiable accent by a channel with celebrity status. Yet the Course’s scribe was a highly intelligent psychologist and self-proclaimed “militant atheist,”(1) who was deeply embarrassed by her role as scribe of this work. Her name does not appear on the cover. Further, the Course does not genuinely fit the New Age label. It has been embraced by the New Age movement, yet this could be seen as a historical accident. Dutch scholar Wouter Hanegraaff, in his voluminous study New Age Religion and Western Culture, acknowledges that on the level of its content, the Course is “decidedly atypical”(2) of the New Age. He says it “has correctly been characterized as a Christianized version of non-dualistic Vedanta.”(3)
Finally, the Course is hardly a repository of vapid spiritual platitudes. Hanegraaff again: “It is among those channeled texts which refute the often-heard opinion that channeling only results in trivialities.”(4) The Course sets forth an extremely sophisticated and multifaceted thought system, that is also strikingly original. Even while it resonates with insights from many traditions and disciplines, it regularly offers perspectives that one would be hard-pressed to find anywhere else.
As one would expect, the word miracle is a central term in A Course in Miracles. The title makes the implied claim that this course will teach its students how to work miracles. This sounds bizarre, since we usually consider miracles to be the prerogative of the saint or the unpredictable product of divine grace. Yet what working a miracle means in the Course’s context is not necessarily what we would expect.
As part of its aim of transforming our perception, the Course uses familiar terms but regularly fills them with new meaning. This new meaning has the effect of making the term a container of the Course’s thought system and thus a vehicle of the Course’s goal. As the Course itself acknowledges, this new meaning takes time and effort to understand: “It is a meaning that must be learned and learned very carefully” (Manual, p. 14).(5) We will find that this is clearly the case with its use of the word miracle.
In exploring the Course’s teachings on miracles, I will be using the Course’s own capitalization conventions and at times its pronoun usage. The Course itself uses only masculine pronouns. It refers to God as Father and to all of us as Sons (of God) and brothers (to each other). However, we should not read a sexist or patriarchal meaning into this. This is another example of the Course filling familiar terms with new meanings. By referring to God and humans with masculine pronouns, the Course was using the prevailing cultural conventions at the time it was channeled (1965-1972), but using them to express a teaching that transcends culture, in that it does not regard gender as real. From the Course’s standpoint, we are genderless transcendental beings caught in a dream of separation. Yet all forms of separation, including that between the sexes, are ultimately illusory.
THE MIRACLE AS DESCRIBED BY THE COURSE
The Object of the Miracle: The Mind’s Illness
We tend to think of miracles as solving physical problems. When we say “I need a miracle,” we are almost always referring to deliverance from some physical predicament, like an illness or financial crisis, from which there seems no way out. In the Course, however, the miracle is aimed at healing the mind: “Miracles restore the mind to its fullness” (Text, p. 5). From the Course’s standpoint, the problem behind all of our problems is that our minds are sick and need healing. In this sense, we are like the alcoholic who thinks he has a liver problem, a work problem, and relationship problems, when his real problem is his alcoholism. The manifold appearance of our problems, therefore, masks a simplicity of content: “All this complexity is but a desperate attempt not to recognize the problem, and therefore not to let it be resolved” (Workbook, p. 141).
“The problem” ultimately amounts to a fundamental distortion of perception. We tend to naively assume that we are seeing things the way they are. The Course teaches, however, that rather than seeing the unadorned truth, all we are seeing are our own beliefs projected outward. The Course summarizes this idea in three words: “Projection makes perception” (Text, pp. 248, 445). In its view, we have no idea how deep our prejudices actually go, and how completely they control what we see. We may assume that perceiving correctly is just a matter of interpreting the forms outside of us in an objective manner, yet the Course teaches that even those forms are a projection. In its rather extreme worldview, the entire phenomenal world is a collective dream, a colossal projection of a deeply entrenched belief system, one shared by all living things.
The Course calls this belief system the ego, using the term in a way that is more akin to Eastern mysticism than Western psychology. In Course terminology, the ego is our fundamental belief in what we are, a belief that says “I am separate from everything else” and “I am end; everyone else is means.” This is the core distortion that warps all of our perception. The ego sees itself as the center of the universe. In the Course’s portrayal, it is like a black hole that gives out no light, warps the space around it, and devours anything that comes too close. As part of growing up, we learn how to put a pleasing disguise on our ego, in part because of how ashamed we are of it. Yet according to the Course, we need not be ashamed, because the ego is not who we are. Identifying with it means we have forgotten who we are. We have amnesia. The ultimate purpose of the miracle is not to solve our earthly problems, but to bring us out of this amnesia. The Course puts it poetically: “The miracle but calls your ancient Name” (Text, p. 557).
Physical Illness in Relation to the Miracle
Unlike our conventional image of the miracle, the Course’s miracle is not primarily aimed at healing physical illness. We find these surprising lines in the Course:
When the ego tempts you to sickness do not ask the Holy Spirit to heal the body, for this would merely be to accept the ego’s belief that the body is the proper aim of healing. Ask, rather, that the Holy Spirit teach you the right perception of the body, for perception alone can be distorted. (Text, pp. 157-158)
In the Course’s teaching, not only are the body’s illnesses rooted in sick perception, but the body itself is ultimately a result of sick perception, a projection of the false self-concept called the ego.
However, the Course acts as if the miracle will often heal the body as an automatic consequence of healing the mind. This flows logically from how the Course views sickness. The Course teaches that every person is profoundly burdened with unconscious guilt. This is a direct product of the belief that one is an ego. Identification with the ego causes one to habitually attack others (mentally, verbally, and physically) in order to further one’s own interests. A lifetime of this slowly crystallizes into the hardened belief that one is a sinner (even if one never uses the word), and is therefore guilty and deserving of punishment. This belief tends to be buried deep in the unconscious. It surfaces, however, in our fears of getting caught, our low self-esteem, our ready defensiveness, and our constant efforts to redeem ourselves.
It also surfaces in the form of physical illness. According to the Course, sickness comes from unconsciously projecting our guilt onto our body. Sickness, it says, is punishment taken out on the body “because of all the sinful things the body does within its dream” (Text, p. 587). In one place, the Course provides this visual metaphor: “Illness can be but guilt’s shadow, grotesque and ugly since it [the shadow] mimics deformity [guilt].”(6) In other words, guilt is an image of ourselves as deformed and monstrous, and this deformed image in the mind then casts a deformed shadow onto the body. The obvious implication is that the most effective way to remove the shadow (illness) is to remove that which is casting the shadow (guilt). This is exactly what the miracle aims to do.
Clearly this view of illness stretches credibility to the breaking point. It implies that those cases of hysterical blindness or paralysis in which guilt seems to be the motivating factor are a window onto the real nature of all illness, such that even an organic “cause” of illness would simply be a vehicle for a deeper cause in the mind. This view also implies that our guilt predates our current existence, for how else could it explain illness in infants? In this chapter, however, our task is not to render a verdict on the Course’s teachings, but simply to understand what they are.
Interpersonal Extension: Miracle Workers and Miracle Receivers
In the Course, the miracle is something that is extended from a “miracle worker” (also called “giver”) to a “miracle receiver” (or “receiver”). This miracle worker has gained her ability to extend miracles through the spiritual disciplines provided by the Course. This may involve acquiring paranormal abilities, which may be utilized in giving the miracle. All of these features parallel our conventional image of miracles, drawn from the example of many religious traditions. One key difference is that the Course teaches that working miracles is not the province of rare spiritual prodigies. Rather, we are all called to be miracle workers, who experience miracles as “natural” (Text, p. 3) and devote every day to doing them (Text, p. 4). Indeed, the Course openly holds out to all of its readers the possibility of doing what Jesus purportedly did: “Miracles enable you to heal the sick and raise the dead” (Text, p. 4).
Although the Course’s miracle worker, in keeping with the traditional image, may exercise unusual powers, these are a sidelight. The key factor is his ability to be “in his right mind”:
As a correction, the miracle need not await the right-mindedness of the receiver. In fact, its purpose is to restore him to his right mind. It is essential, however, that the miracle worker be in his right mind, however briefly, or he will be unable to re-establish right-mindedness in someone else. (Text, p. 25)
The miracle, then, is a transfer of right-mindedness or sanity from one person to another. This takes place in what the Course calls a holy encounter. This is an interpersonal encounter in which one person lifts her mind above the constricting self-interest that usually so dominates our interactions. Out of this broader, more inclusive perspective, she gives a gift, and this draws the other person out of self-concern and into a state of thankfulness and reciprocity. The two enter a shared state of gratitude and love, a state of joining. Such holy encounters need not look like a scene from a stained glass window. Rather, as the Course points out, they can consist
of what seem to be very casual encounters; a “chance” meeting of two apparent strangers in an elevator, a child who is not looking where he is going running into an adult “by chance,” two students “happening” to walk home together. These are not chance encounters. Each of them has the potential for becoming a teaching-learning situation. Perhaps the seeming strangers in the elevator will smile to one another, perhaps the adult will not scold the child for bumping into him; perhaps the students will become friends. Even at the level of the most casual encounter, it is possible for two people to lose sight of separate interests, if only for a moment. That moment will be enough. Salvation has come. (Manual, p. 7)
As can be gleaned from this quote, the Course teaches that even seemingly insignificant encounters have been divinely arranged because they have the potential to become holy encounters.
True Perception: The Active Ingredient of the Miracle
The form in which the miracle is given can be anything. It can be words, it can be a smile, it can be refusing to scold someone, it can be walking home with someone. But to convey the miracle, this form must, at least to some degree, have the content of what the Course calls true perception. True perception is a deep spiritual recognition of the true nature of the miracle receiver. In the Course’s teaching, this other person is not a body, nor is he the ego that is the source of most of his behavior. He is not even a psychophysical unity. He is what the Course calls a Son of God, a being of pure spirit, bodiless, limitless, eternal, and as pure and holy as God Himself. This ancient, transcendental being has simply fallen into a dream of being a tiny, flawed human being. True perception looks past the entire earthly persona—both body and personality—and sees the truth of who this person really is. This is how the miracle worker “calls forth the miracle of healing. He overlooks the mind and body, seeing only the face of Christ shining in front of him” (Manual, p. 56)—the “face of Christ” being a metaphor for looking on the true nature of another, which the Course calls the “Christ.”
When the Course speaks of seeing the Christ in someone, it is talking about an actual kind of perception, which is seen through a different set of (nonphysical) eyes, called the eyes of Christ. While the physical eyes see the body of another, the eyes of Christ look directly on that person’s innate holiness. This perception can result in seeing a visible halo around that person’s body and other physical objects, but according to the Course, such “light episodes” “merely symbolize true perception” (Workbook, p. 25). True perception itself is not a seeing of visual light but rather an inner “knowing,” in which the mind directly experiences the divine worth of another person. In this passage, the Course describes what true perception sees:
It does not look upon a body, and mistake it for the Son whom God created. It beholds a light beyond the body; an idea beyond what can be touched, a purity undimmed by errors, pitiful mistakes, and fearful thoughts of guilt from dreams of sin. It sees no separation. And it looks on everyone, on every circumstance, all happenings and all events, without the slightest fading of the light it sees. (Workbook, p. 299)
This true perception, then, is what the miracle worker gives. A miracle, in Course parlance, is when true perception transfers from the mind of a giver to the mind of a receiver. We often see a spiritual healer as channeling some kind of semi-physical energy from her body (perhaps her hands) to the patient’s body, this energy being what does the healing. In the Course, however, the healer is channeling true perception from her mind to the patient’s mind. She is channeling a new perception of the patient, which shines into his mind and becomes his own. This new self-perception is what does the healing. In this scenario, a semi-physical energy may still transfer from the miracle worker’s hands to the patient’s body, but this energy would presumably be analogous to the halos discussed earlier—a physical reflection or symbol of true perception, which is the real healing agent.
The Central Role of Forgiveness
Another way of talking about the active ingredient in the miracle is forgiveness. “Only forgiveness offers miracles” (Text, p. 540), says the Course. This stems from the role of guilt in the Course. Earlier, we saw the Course’s teaching that guilt is the underlying cause of physical illness. The Course goes even further than that, saying that “guilt is…the sole cause of pain in any form” (Text, p. 635). The Course claims that none of our pain is caused by outside events, by the attacks of others on us. Rather, all of it is a form of self-punishment for our own attacks. According to the Course, we are all heavily invested in the denial of this fact: “The world has marshalled all its forces against this one awareness.”(7) As a result, we have stored our guilt in “shrouded vaults” that lie deep “in the mists below” the conscious mind (Text, p. 657). With our guilt thus safely out of sight, it doesn’t even appear to be a factor in our lives: “Of one thing you were sure: Of all the many causes you perceived as bringing pain and suffering to you, your guilt was not among them” (Text, p. 583). Most of us would probably not even put guilt on the list of things that bring pain and suffering to us. Yet according to the Course, it is really the only thing on the list.
In the Course’s view, then, the miracle heals because it conveys to the receiver the message that he is forgiven, guilt-free, absolved. As he takes this message in, he is healed. The Course captures this message in these succinct words: “Awake and be glad, for all your sins have been forgiven you.”(8) This, of course, is an allusion to Jesus’s healing of a paralytic, in which Matthew reports him saying, “For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Arise and walk’?”(9) By alluding to this scene, and by changing “arise and walk” to “awake and be glad,” the Course makes several statements at once. It implies that the message “your sins have been forgiven you” is the message of the miracle worker, the pronouncement that sets another free from his bonds. It also implies that the real bonds loosened by this message are not a paralysis of the body in which one cannot arise and walk, but a paralysis of the mind in which one cannot awake and be glad.
Characteristically, the Course defines forgiveness in its own unique way. It takes issue with the conventional meaning, in which the forgiver decides to forego anger and retribution, even though the other person deserves these because of what he did. According to the Course, when we give another the message “You are a sinner who deserves to suffer, but I will graciously forego my rights and let you off the hook,” there is a condescending element in that message that does not go unnoticed: “You’re a sinner, but I am gracious.” It is hard to see how such a message could bring true release to one burdened with guilt.
The only way to fully release another from her sense of sinfulness is to give her the message that she is forgiven never sinned. This is the practical import of the Course’s alternate view of reality. The Course fully acknowledges that we often do cruel and hurtful things in this life, which really do have the “intent to hurt” (Workbook, p. 326) and even to “murder” (Text, p. 495). But in its view, this life is a dream, and “what is done in dreams has not been really done” (Text, p. 351). Although we tend to find this “dream” idea dispiriting, we shouldn’t overlook the profound liberation implied in it. For it implies that we didn’t really injure the people we feel so guilty about. And thus we didn’t really tarnish our identity with our wrongdoings. All the brutal things that happened in our lives, all the wounds we inflicted and the scars we accumulated, were just a dream, nothing more.
Because our nature is ultimately pure, the Course says that even within the dream, we didn’t gain happiness from causing another to suffer, for that would make us truly evil. Instead, we walked away lugging the heavy burden of guilt. Despite what we told ourselves, our attack was not an authentic expression of our nature nor an act of strength. Instead, it was a forgetting of our nature and a “call for help.”
These ideas form the rationale for Course-based forgiveness. In conventional forgiveness, we let go of resentment even though we perceive it as fully justified. In Course-based forgiveness, we let go of resentment by choosing a different perception of reality itself, in light of which the entire situation is seen radically differently. This allows us to look straight at the behavior, and without denying that it took place, have an entirely different emotional response to it. It allows us to see that from the highest perspective, “there was no sin” (Workbook, p. 401), and thus that “there is nothing to forgive” (Text, p. 320).
According to the Course, this is the perspective God has on us. The Course goes further than saying that God forgives, or even forgives unconditionally. Instead, it says that “God does not forgive because He has never condemned” (Workbook, pp. 73, 100). God cannot even understand the need to forgive, because “God knows His children as wholly sinless” (Text, p. 192). Our sense of being condemned by God, therefore, comes not from Him but from ourselves. The Course speaks of our ego as a judge who gathers all our “sins” together and convicts us in the court of our own minds. The Course, however, asks us to appeal this conviction to “God’s Own Higher Court,” saying, “It will dismiss the case against you, however carefully you have built it up. The case may be fool-proof, but it is not God-proof….His verdict will always be ‘thine is the Kingdom'” (Text, p. 88). Quite simply, the role of the miracle worker is to be the messenger of this verdict.
The Holy Instant: The Instant in Which the Miracle Occurs
By definition, a miracle is an overturning of the ordinary course of things. In this world, we often seem caught in the gears of processes that simply have to run their course, even if their terminal point is our death. The whole idea of a miracle is that sometimes something enters from outside these inexorable processes and, against all the usual rules, sets us free.
This notion of something new entering and overturning the ordinary course of things is captured in the Course’s concept of the holy instant. Again, however, the Course’s emphasis is on the psychological realm. The Course sees us caught in the gears of habitual thinking and in the chains of painful memories. Accordingly, our minds tend to revolve in the same tight circles, resisting change. In the Course’s teaching, this refusal to let change enter the mind is what keeps deliverance from entering all of the problem areas of our lives. Our future thus becomes a mere repeat of our past. “The past becomes the determiner of the future, making them continuous without an intervening present” (Text, p. 246).
The holy instant is a time in which we momentarily let past and future fall away, come fully into the present moment, and allow a new perspective, which ultimately comes from God, into our minds. The miracle occurs when the miracle worker steps outside the usual pattern of human thinking and enters this “out-of-pattern time interval” (Text, pp. 6, 27), and then draws the miracle receiver into it as well. “The holy instant is the miracle’s abiding place. From there, each [miracle] is born into this world as witness to a state of mind that has transcended conflict, and has reached to peace” (Text, p. 577). The miracle, the holy instant, and forgiveness are all extremely closely linked in Course terminology. All of them refer to a sudden release from psychological chains and the burden of the past.
Behavior: The Chief Transmitter of the Miracle
The Course seems to assume that the miracle will usually be transmitted behaviorally. Though from its standpoint “minds need not the body to communicate” (Text, p. 435), most of us are not adept at mind reading, having effectively shut down all senses but the physical. Therefore, the miracle worker needs “a medium through which communication becomes possible to those who do not realize that they are spirit. A body they can see. A voice they understand and listen to” (Manual, p. 31).
This behavior is aimed at communicating the miracle worker’s true perception of the receiver. We saw earlier that this can be done in a variety of ways—with a word, a smile, a gesture. There are stories of spiritual masters transmitting shakti (divine energy) to their students with a single glance. The choice of the behavior, however, must be geared toward what the receiver is able to receive. “This means that a miracle, to attain its full efficacy, must be expressed in a language that the recipient can understand without fear” (Text, p. 24). The whole point of the miracle is to have a certain psychological effect on the receiver. Therefore, “miracles depend on timing,”(10) just as comedy depends on timing, and for the same reason: both seek to evoke an intense psychological reaction. Yet it is impossible for us to know what someone can receive without fear, and when. Therefore, the Course urges that we let the Holy Spirit control “the action aspect of the miracle” (Text, p. 10)—let the outer expression of the miracle flow from an inner connection with divine guidance.
This is not to say, however, that all miracles will be communicated behaviorally. The Course sees a major role for miracles that are expressed strictly mind to mind. In one of the Course’s supplements (channeled through the same process as the Course), we find these words to psychotherapists:
Your patients need not be physically present for you to serve them in the Name of God. This may be hard to remember, but God will not have His gifts to you limited to the few you actually see. You can see others as well, for seeing is not limited to the body’s eyes. Some do not need your physical presence. They need you as much, and perhaps even more, at the instant they are sent. You will recognize them in whatever way can be most helpful to both of you. It does not matter how they come [to your awareness]. They will be sent in whatever form is most helpful; a name, a thought, a picture, an idea, or perhaps just a feeling of [a person] reaching out to someone somewhere. The joining [between you and this person] is in the hands of the Holy Spirit. It cannot fail to be accomplished. (11)
The Holy Spirit: The True Agent behind the Miracle
Miracles are traditionally seen, of course, as the action of the Divine working through a human vehicle. This is true in A Course in Miracles as well. The Course sees the Holy Spirit as “the Bringer of all miracles” (Workbook, p. 191). The Holy Spirit, in the Course’s system, is an extension of God Who mediates between God and His sleeping Sons. He is the aspect of the Divine that acts within this world. His role is essentially a psychotherapeutic one. He works to heal and awaken minds.
The Course describes the Holy Spirit as ever present behind the scenes of the miracle. He called the miracle worker to her function, and gave her a form of giving miracles that is particularly suited to her unique mix of abilities. He brought the miracle worker and miracle receiver together, because He saw the potential for something miraculous to happen between them. He guided the worker to give a miracle to this particular receiver, based on this receiver’s openness to miracles. He placed the true perception of the receiver in the giver’s mind and then guided the behavioral expression of that true perception. And when the receiver’s mind opened to the miracle, He was the One Who shifted that mind away from its former fixed perception and infused it with true perception. The Holy Spirit, in other words, works both through the miracle worker and in the miracle receiver. He is on both sides of the transaction: “Healing is the change of mind that the Holy Spirit in the patient’s mind is seeking for him. And it is the Holy Spirit in the mind of the giver Who gives the gift to him” (Manual, p. 20).
Because of how encompassing the Holy Spirit’s role is, one of the Course’s basic dictums is “The sole responsibility of the miracle worker is to accept the Atonement [or true perception] for himself” (Text, pp. 25-26). If the miracle worker simply allows true perception into his own mind, then the Holy Spirit will engineer the rest. The Course even makes the claim that if the miracle worker places his mind completely under the Holy Spirit’s guidance, then the Holy Spirit will actually control his behavior for him (Text, p. 28). His performance of a miracle will become “involuntary” (Text, p. 3), something he observes himself doing rather than wills himself to do.
Conversely, unless He is allowed into the mind of the miracle worker, the Holy Spirit cannot perform miracles. “The miracle extends without your help, but you are needed that it can begin” (Text, p. 576). The Course does not acknowledge divine intervention in the usual sense. To act in the world, the Holy Spirit needs to act through us. This is because, in its view, this world is not a physical place but a psychological “space.” To enter this space, the Holy Spirit needs the permission of the minds who are holding it. To show up in this dream, He needs the permission of those who are dreaming it. Thus, He is not the architect of the system, which would make Him responsible for all the brutalities of the system, and which would make His relative lack of action here inexplicable. Rather, He is a Voice of love from outside the system, Who depends on an insider to open a door and let Him in. This idea, I believe, has the ability to help us resolve both emotional and philosophical difficulties concerning why God doesn’t act more frequently and dramatically in this world.
The Result of the Miracle: Healing of Mind and Body
The miracle’s primary result is that the receiver’s mind is healed. This is accomplished by the Holy Spirit. In the same way that we traditionally view the Holy Spirit healing sick tissue, so in the Course the Holy Spirit heals sick perception. We appear to have a great need for the healing action of a Presence from outside of our mental framework. We can be stuck for years in the grip of a bitter resentment, a crippling fear, or a self-destructive desire, wanting to get free from it, yet seemingly powerless to move. And then, in an instant, it can be removed, as if by an outside hand. In its place we find a fresh outlook, a healed perspective, seemingly from out of nowhere. The Course would say that this is the action of the miracle on our minds. “A miracle… acts as a catalyst, breaking up erroneous perception and reorganizing it properly” (Text, p. 5).
This need not be mediated by a miracle worker. It can come directly from the Holy Spirit within us. Indeed, this strictly internal healing of perception is an important secondary meaning of “miracle” in the Course. I have focused on the interpersonal miracle, though, simply because that is the Course’s main focus.
This healing of the mind, as I said earlier, may generalize to the healing of the body, since, in the Course’s view, the body’s sickness is a “shadow” of the mind’s sickness. Thus, the Course’s miracle may indeed look like the stereotypical miracle, in which physical healing occurs that defies the known laws of science:
“What He [the Holy Spirit] enables you to do is clearly not of this world, for miracles violate every law of reality as this world judges it. Every law of time and space, of magnitude and mass is transcended, for what the Holy Spirit enables you to do is clearly beyond all of them” (Text, p. 230).
Indeed, the “first principle of miracles” (Text, p. 490) in the Course is that “there is no order of difficulty in miracles” (Text, p. 3). This means that cancer can be healed as easily as a cold, or as a psychosomatic illness. Only our deep-seated belief that one kind of illness is bigger, more real, and more intractable makes it seem more difficult to heal.
According to the Course, then, the body can be miraculously healed. However, this happens not because the Course’s miracle worker aims spiritual energy at the body, but because the miracle worker overlooks the body, seeing past it to the light beyond. “The body is healed because you came without it, and joined the Mind in which all healing rests” (Text, p. 398).
The miracle is the Course’s preferred method of physical healing, since it heals both the physical symptom and its underlying mental cause. That underlying cause, says the Course, “can appear in many forms,” as many different physical symptoms. Therefore, “it serves no purpose to attempt to solve [the problem] in a special form. It will recur and then recur again and yet again, until it has been answered for all time and will not rise again in any form. And only then are you released from it” (Text, p. 544). However, the Course does not take the route of Christian Science and discourage standard medical treatment. Instead, it describes conditions under which “it is safer for you to rely temporarily on physical healing devices” (Text, p. 25). These conditions include a patient being blocked to healing (Text, p. 24) and a healer wanting to egotistically claim credit for the healing (Text, p. 25).
The Receiver Returns the Miracle
The miracle is a service performed by the miracle worker. “It is the maximal service you can render to another” (Text, p. 4). However, the miracle is also a vital catalyst of the miracle worker’s own development. It “introduces an interval from which the giver and receiver both emerge farther along in time than they would otherwise have been” (Text, p. 8).
How does the miracle further the miracle worker’s development? The miracle worker, too, is slowly emerging from a view of herself as guilty and unworthy. She doesn’t know the immeasurable value of what lies within her. But those who receive miracles from her do know, for they are on the receiving end of it. They feel the full force of its blessing. Their gratitude to her thus contains a view of her that is higher-and truer-than her view of herself. Through their gratitude, they are her teachers now, her miracle workers. “The sick, who ask for love, are grateful for it, and in their joy they shine with holy thanks. And this they offer you who gave them joy. They are your guides to joy” (Text, pp. 252-253). This explains why this course in spiritual development is titled A Course in Miracles. In its view, our most significant spiritual (and psychological) development occurs through the miracles we extend, through the love and forgiveness we give to others.
EXAMPLES OF THIS KIND OF MIRACLE
To put some flesh on this admittedly abstract picture, I will recount four examples of miracles, all drawn from the life of Helen Schucman, the scribe of A Course in Miracles. Three are found in quotations from her unpublished autobiography and the fourth in a portion of the Course’s early dictation that was deemed personal and thus edited out of the published Course.
Helen Schucman and Bill Thetford’s Joining in “Another Way”
The story of the Course’s scribing began with a life-changing miracle. For seven years, Helen Schucman had worked with a colleague named Bill Thetford in the Psychology Department (of which Bill was head) at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center. During that time, she and Bill worked hard to build up the Psychology Department, in what she described as “an atmosphere of suspicion and competitiveness to which I had not been previously exposed.”(12) This atmosphere extended to their dealings with other departments and even other medical centers. Furthermore, as Helen and Bill’s personalities were poles apart, their own relationship became increasingly strained. Helen wrote, “It became more and more evident that the best thing for me to do was to leave. However, Bill and I seemed trapped in a relationship which, although we hated it in many ways, could not be escaped.”(13)
Then, one afternoon in June of 1965, something happened that was definitely “out-of-pattern.” Bill delivered to Helen a preplanned and very earnest speech, something totally uncharacteristic of him:
He had been thinking things over and had concluded we were using the wrong approach. “There must,” he said, “be another way.” Our attitudes had become so negative that we could not work anything out. He had therefore decided to try to look at things differently.
Bill proposed, quite specifically, to try out this new approach that day at the research meeting. He was not going to get angry and was determined not to attack. He was going to look for a constructive side in what people there said and did, and was not going to focus on mistakes and point up errors. He was going to cooperate rather than compete….When [the speech] was over he waited for my response in obvious discomfort. Whatever reaction he may have expected, it was certainly not the one he got. I jumped up, told Bill with genuine conviction that he was perfectly right, and said I would join in the new approach with him. (14)
This joining was the proverbial bolt out of the blue that changed everything. Three lines of effects flowed from it. First, using this “other way,” they slowly turned the department around. “Bill worked particularly hard on this, determined to turn hostilities into friendships by perceiving the relationships differently…. In time the department became smooth-functioning, relaxed, and efficient.”(15) Second, they undertook a conscious reform of their personal relationships. For Helen this meant resurrecting earlier friendships that had withered or broken off. Third, Helen began having a series of spontaneous visions, dreams, and psychic experiences that culminated, four months later, in an inner voice announcing to her, “This is a course in miracles. Please take notes.” Thus began the scribing of the Course, which both Helen and Bill viewed as detailed instruction in realizing Bill’s “other way.”
Here we see many of the key characteristics of the miracle in the Course. There are people locked in a destructive pattern from which there seems no escape. Then suddenly something new enters. In this case, Bill asks Helen to join him in stepping out of the old pattern and trying “another way.” He has set aside old resentments and, in their place, has faith in her and a desire to join with her. He is extending a new perception of her, and thus playing the role of the miracle worker. Helen, as the receiver, accepts his gift and returns it, agreeing to join with him. They enter into a holy encounter in which they transcend the separateness that been foundational to the old pattern. And from this single moment, their lives head off in a new and unexpected direction.
What is striking about this miracle is its complete absence of religious or spiritual elements. Neither Bill nor Helen are religious believers. Further, the “other way” that Bill proposes contains no religious elements whatsoever. It is simply about trying to cooperate with others. Even in their moment of joining, neither apparently have any sort of spiritual experience. And yet this entirely secular moment seems to evoke a response from some spiritual influence. This response takes the form of Helen experiencing overtly spiritual dreams and visions and then channeling a spiritual book, which amounts to a lengthy program in Bill’s “other way.” As such, the book repeatedly extols Bill and Helen’s joining (referring to it 118 times in all), characterizing it as a classic example of a holy instant (or miracle).
Mental Message Sent to a Suicidal Friend
Somewhere in the four-month period following this joining and preceding the scribing of the Course, Helen began to have a series of psychic experiences. Here is her account of the first:
Bill and I were working on a research report and I was concentrating on the statistical treatment of the data. Suddenly and very unexpectedly I laid the papers down and said, with great urgency, “Quick, Bill! Joe, your friend from Chicago, is thinking about suicide. We must send him a message right away.” Bill sat down next to me as I “sent” an earnest mental message to Joe. The words I used were: “The answer is life, not death.” Afterwards, I said to Bill, “I bet there was nothing to it,” but I was wrong. Bill called his friend that evening to ask him if he was all right. Joe was glad he had called; he had been very depressed, and had actually picked up a gun that afternoon, but something held him back. He put the gun down.(16)
This has much of the flavor of the traditional miracle in that it carries the implication that a life was saved through a form of prayer. It is also striking for how closely it mirrors the passage I quoted earlier about the psychotherapist offering distant mental healing. That passage said that those you help “need not be physically present.” It said that, rather than “your physical presence,” “they need you…at the instant they are sent.” It said that they will “be sent” to you through some extrasensory means. And it implied that you should then immediately sit down and offer them the healing they need, trusting that the Holy Spirit will make sure it reaches them. All of these points appear to have been actually demonstrated in Helen’s story.
The Mayo Clinic Experience
After the experience with Joe, Helen continued to have more psychic experiences. These made her very anxious, since she had not believed in the paranormal. Yet they also caused her feelings of pride and self-inflation.
In September 1965, shortly before the scribing of the Course began, she and Bill were sent on a research trip to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. The night before they left, Helen internally saw a clear picture of a Lutheran church. She felt certain they would see the church the next day as they landed and she clearly envisioned this as a decisive demonstration of her newfound powers. Yet they didn’t see the church, and after an exhausting search in which they took a taxi past 24 of the city’s 27 or so churches, they still didn’t see it. The next day, while they were at the airport waiting to return home, Bill found a guidebook containing a picture of the very church Helen had “seen.” Ironically, the church had occupied the site of the current Mayo Clinic; it had been razed so that the hospital could be built.
On the way home, Helen and Bill had a layover in Chicago. In the airport, Helen saw a young woman sitting by herself against a wall.
Huddled against a wall was a solitary young woman. I could feel waves and waves of misery going through her. I pointed her out to Bill, who was against my talking to her. We were both exhausted, it was very late, and he was not up to getting involved with strangers at that point. Besides, I might just be imagining her distress. She did not give any outward signs of anything but sleepiness. I could not, however, escape the feelings of pain I was receiving from her. Finally, I told Bill I could not help myself, and went to talk to her.(17)
The young woman’s name was Charlotte. As she was terrified of flying, Helen and Bill offered to sit on either side of her on the plane, while Helen held her hand. Charlotte had felt like her life was “closing in” on her, and so, without any planning, she had left her husband and three children and, with nothing but a small suitcase and a few hundred dollars, was heading off to New York City to make a new life. She hadn’t even arranged a place to stay.
She was a Lutheran, and she was sure all she had to do was find a Lutheran church in New York and they would take care of her there. Bill and I exchanged glances. The message was not hard to grasp. “And this,” I seemed to hear [from the now familiar inner voice], “is my true church…helping another; not the edifice you saw before.”(18)
Helen and Bill ended up being Charlotte’s support team during her brief stay in New York City. They found her a Lutheran church to stay at. She kept running into them in the city, and regularly managed to show up at Helen’s apartment around dinnertime. She soon returned to her family, after which she and Helen kept in touch for many years. She eventually decided to leave her husband under more considered circumstances. She told Helen she was happy and peaceful. Helen said, “She seems to have gotten herself fairly well straightened out now.” (19)
Helen gained from this experience as well, for it brought her to a pivotal realization about what her new abilities were for; a realization that she felt allowed the Course to come through her. At the heart of the experience was a contrast between two uses of her paranormal abilities. The first use was represented by her psychic impression of the Lutheran church. This benefited no one. All it did was prove that Helen had the abilities, which merely served to inflate Helen’s ego. The fact that the church no longer existed simply underscored the practical uselessness of her psychic impression.
The second use was represented by Helen using her psychic abilities to see Charlotte’s pain. That she did so is evident from her story. She said, “I could feel waves and waves of misery going through her,” even though “she did not give any outward signs of anything but sleepiness.”(20) This use of Helen’s abilities had a genuine practical utility. For it allowed her to recognize a stranger’s pain, and thus to provide needed assistance at a crucial juncture in that person’s life. The contrast between the two uses couldn’t have been more clear-cut, and was captured in what Helen’s inner voice said: “And this…is my true church…helping another; not the edifice you saw before.” We could restate this to say that the real miracle is not a flashy display of paranormal powers, but the use of those powers to help a stranger in need.
The Shield Report
The early part of the Course dictation was punctuated by a series of miracle principles. After one of these principles (“Miracles are part of an interlocking chain of forgiveness which, when completed, is the Atonement”), the following example from Helen’s life was given:
e.g. given of HS [Helen Schucman] report rewrite for Esther. Esther had hurt something you loved [the Shield Institute for Retarded Children], by writing a report you regarded as very bad. You atoned for her by writing one in her name that was very good. Actually, it was not your responsibility professionally to do this, but because you do love the Shield you recognized that in this case, you are your brother’s keeper. While you did not cancel Esther’s sin (later defined as “lack of love” [remark from Helen]) you did cancel out its effects.
Someday I [the author of the Course] want to tell Esther that not only is she forgiven but that the effects of all her sins are cancelled. This is what I have already told you. When I can tell her, she will be afraid for a long time, because she will remember many things, consciously or unconsciously, including the Shield report, a lack of love which you cancelled out in advance by a miracle of devotion.(21)
According to this material, because Esther’s report would affect something Helen cared about, she recognized that she and Esther were in this together. “You recognized that in this case, you are your brother’s keeper.” This inspired her to perform “a miracle of devotion.” She went above and beyond the call of professional duty and wrote a new report in Esther’s name. She thus cancelled out all the consequences that would have flowed from Esther’s “very bad” report. In doing so, she was actually acting as the instrument of the Atonement (another word the Course redefines), which cancels out the effects of our sins (or lacks of love). Indeed, the Atonement had already cancelled the effects of all of Esther’s sins. You would think this would be incredibly joyous news for Esther to hear. Yet ironically, when Esther was finally ready to hear it, her first reaction would be to “be afraid for a long time.” When she heard “The effects of all your sins have been cancelled,” all those innumerable misdeeds that she had buried deep in her unconscious would begin to rise to the surface. She would initially fixate on “all your sins,” rather than “have been cancelled.” We can assume, though, that eventually, as events like Helen’s “miracle of devotion” came to consciousness, she would let in the happy message that her slate had been wiped clean.
From this example, we can see how mundane a miracle can be in the Course. It can be as down-to-earth as someone graciously rewriting another person’s shoddy report so that, by this act of mercy, the writer of the report (and others) can be spared the negative consequences of her careless act.
THE COURSE’S MIRACLE IN RELATION TO THE TRADITIONAL MIRACLE
Throughout, we have seen the Course’s miracle existing in a certain tension with the traditional miracle. The Course has clearly taken the usual meaning of the word and preserved certain aspects of it while transforming other aspects. In this final section, I would like to look at both the preserving and the transforming.
Parallels with Miracles as Traditionally Understood
The Course, here as elsewhere, is working off of popular images. In the popular image of the miracle, the Divine is acting through a human instrument, a miracle worker. This miracle worker is someone who is spiritually gifted, perhaps possessing an extraordinary quality of holiness, perhaps possessing extraordinary powers, possibly gained through the use of intensive spiritual disciplines. This miracle worker goes to someone who is trapped in a disease from which there seems no escape. This disease is often seen as physical. However, it may be mental (after all, exorcism is one of the most familiar kinds of miracle). There is a transfer of power from the miracle worker to the diseased person, the laws of this world are superseded, and the person is miraculously healed.
As we have seen, all of these features are part of the Course’s miracle. There is more to the conventional image of the miracle, and more to the Course’s concept of the miracle, but the two come together on a core of key features.
Overlooking the Appearance of the Miracle-Working Situation
Now, we turn to the transforming of the word miracle. Although the Course’s miracle looks very much like the traditional miracle on the outside, something entirely different is taking place in the miracle worker’s mind. Her gift of miraculous healing flows from her ability to look past every facet of the situation that greets her eyes, since what greets her eyes are disease, inequality, and separation.
Though the miracle worker may appear to be on a higher plane than the receiver, she realizes that she is in fact an equal who has simply become “more natural” (Manual, p. 62). The miracle receiver may look quite sick, yet the miracle worker heals by experiencing his real nature as eternally whole. The receiver may appear to be so flawed and sinful that he seems to deserve his problem, but the giver knows that his guilt is his own delusion, one that God does not share. The miracle worker seems to be giving the receiver something from outside, something he obviously lacks, yet she knows that she is merely reawakening in him the same perfection that exists in her. Indeed, she realizes that she is not outside of him at all, but in truth is one with him. “It is your task to heal the sense of separation that has made him sick” (Manual, p. 56). The miracle worker’s eyes see a diseased body with a certain severity of illness, yet her mind looks past the body, refusing to even “consider the forms of sickness in which [her] brother believes” (Manual, p. 19). Everything may seem to rest on her shoulders, but she knows that she is only the channel for the true Healer, and so she never doubts the Power in her or worries about her adequacy. The situation may look dire, but the miracle worker heals not by feeling the gravity of it, but by being infectiously happy. “God’s messengers are joyous, and their joy heals sorrow and despair” (Workbook, p. 180). Finally, she understands that by giving healing, she is not depleting herself to benefit someone else, but is instead “receiving something equally desirable in return” (Text, p. 121).
Enriching the Concept
The Course also transforms the popular image of the miracle by immensely enriching the concept, filling it with an extensive thought system. From start to finish, each aspect of the miracle is filled out with a detailed system of thought, the true extent of which can only be hinted at in a chapter of this length. For instance, I have presented here only one of the Course’s teachings for how the mind causes illness in the body. There are at least a dozen more, all of them relating to how the miracle heals the body.
Into its concept of the miracle, the Course packs a number of additional concepts: guilt, forgiveness, true perception, the holy encounter, the holy instant. In the process, it extends the miracle into a number of areas not usually associated with miracles, and in some cases even considered at odds with them. The Course’s miracle, for example, is intimately involved with the psychology of perception. It is also grounded in a depth psychology that is considerably Freudian in character, with a vast unconscious whose contents have been repressed, are kept from consciousness using defense mechanisms, and thus tend to show up only in disguised form. The deeper reaches of this unconscious, where we might expect to find Jungian archetypes, are instead filled with pure, unformed miracle-working potential, which is also repressed and usually rises to consciousness only in distorted forms. The Course’s miracle also reaches into the area of mysticism in that true perception, at full strength, seems roughly equivalent to what is often called extrovertive mysticism, in which the mystic experiences the phenomenal world as suffused with the divine and one with him. The Course’s miracle also extends into the area of interpersonal healing, since it involves using the power of forgiveness to wipe away interpersonal blocks and restore unity. It also relates to the helping professions, in that real help and service, from the Course’s standpoint, involve giving miracles-giving those in need a new perception of themselves, conveyed through sincere acts of caring. Finally, the Course’s miracle extends into spiritual development, for the Course sees miracles as a crucial instrument of the miracle worker’s own awakening.
Broadening the Miracle’s Range
The Course consistently works to broaden the miracle’s accessibility and application. In the conventional image, a miracle is a rare exception to the almost seamless workings of natural law. In the Course, however, “miracles are natural” (Text, p. 3). They are the spontaneous expression of our true nature, which, if allowed, would routinely overturn the “laws” of this world, which the Course calls “not laws, but madness” (Workbook, p. 134). In the conventional image, a miracle is something that only spiritual prodigies can do. However, the Course says, “If miracles, the Holy Spirit’s gift, were given specially to an elect and special group…then is He ally to specialness” (Text, p. 540)-He is playing favorites. Instead, He calls all of us to be miracle workers. And we all possess the capacity to do miracles and can be trained to access this capacity; training that the Course attempts to provide.
In the standard image, we cannot expect a miracle to solve all problems. Many of our problems seem too big, or perhaps we feel undeserving of a miracle. The Course, however, asserts, “You have no problems that He [the Holy Spirit] cannot solve by offering you a miracle” (Text, p. 298). This is because “there is no order of difficulty in miracles” (Text, p. 3), and because “everyone is equally entitled” (Text, p. 540) to miracles because of his or her divine nature. Finally, in the standard image, miracles are mainly associated with dramatic changes in the physical that occur in a religious or spiritual context. The Course broadens the miracle to include psychological and interpersonal healings that may occur in distinctly secular settings (as we saw in the examples from Helen’s Schucman’s life).
The net result is that all of us are called to devote every day to working miracles, applying them to all problems in our own lives and in the lives of everyone we encounter. Thus, “You should begin each day with the prayer ‘Help me to perform whatever miracles you want of me today.'” (22)
Focusing the Miracle away from the Physical
One of the greatest differences between the traditional miracle and the Course’s miracle concerns the role of physical healing and change. In our cultural image of the miracle, its main job is to release us from physical problems, especially physical disease. Such problems are seen as real and so being released from them is seen as an end in itself. Additionally, we often think of the miracle as a spectacular physical feat accomplished by “spiritual” means (e.g., walking on water). Here, the purpose of the miracle may be not so much to relieve someone’s suffering as to prove the reality and power of the spiritual realm.
The Course strongly takes issue with these ideas. It teaches that although the body can be healed by miracles, it is not “the proper aim of healing” (Text, p. 158). Rather, the healing of the body occurs because the body is overlooked, being recognized as an illusion. “Miracles…are sudden shifts into invisibility, away from the bodily level. That is why they heal” (Text, p. 4). The bodily healing that results is not meant to emphasize the importance of the body, but rather the unreality of the body. The Course views reality as changeless by definition. Consequently, by changing the body, the miracle demonstrates that the body is only a shifting appearance, not a genuine reality. “The miracle is means to demonstrate that all appearances can change because they are appearances, and cannot have the changelessness reality entails” (Text, pp. 642-643).
As for miracles seen as paranormal feats designed to compel faith, the Course says flatly, “The use of miracles as spectacles to induce belief is a misunderstanding of their purpose” (Text, p. 3). As we saw in Helen’s psychic perception of the Lutheran church, the “miraculous” feat may have no practical utility apart from the point it supposedly proves. Further, this point may actually be about the miracle worker herself, about her “achievements from the past, unusual attunement with the ‘unseen,’ or ‘special’ favors from God” (Manual, p. 62), as the Course puts it. All of this amounts to proving her superiority over those she helps; a message that actually weakens them (Text, p. 120). Thus, even if the body is authentically healed by paranormal abilities, if the underlying message is the superiority of the miracle worker, the Course would not consider this a miracle, but rather an instance of “magic” (echoing the traditional distinction between miracles and magic). In the Course, magic is where strictly personal power is used to manipulate illusions (the forms of this world), as opposed to God’s power being used to heal the mind.
At the heart of the Course’s miracle is the giver’s loving recognition of another’s worth, equality, and unity with himself, which brings palpable healing and relief to the mind of this other person. This stands in marked contrast to the common image of the miracle worker engaged in an almost solitary affair of producing a spectacular physical result that may not directly heal anyone but instead may subtly affirm how much higher he is than those he helps. “Unless a miracle actually heals,” says the Course, “it is not a miracle at all.”(23)
This category, then, represents not a broadening but a narrowing of the concept, one that excludes perhaps most of what we would usually call a miracle. For instance, the nature miracles of Jesus-walking on water, stilling the storm, feeding the multitudes, physically disappearing-would not qualify as miracles in the Course sense, for they were not direct healings of someone’s perception but were first and foremost dramatic physical manifestations. (They are also regarded with much more skepticism by New Testament historians than Jesus’ miracles of healing and exorcism.) Even the genuine healing of a body by paranormal means would only qualify as a miracle (in the Course sense) if the healing was at its core a mental healing. The Course calls spiritual healing that heals the body but not the mind “false healing.”(24)
Centering the Miracle on the Psychological and Interpersonal
This is the flip side of focusing the miracle away from the physical. As we have seen throughout this chapter, the Course’s miracle aims at healing the mind by giving the receiver a new self-perception. While it wouldn’t be strange for someone to call a dramatic psychological healing a “miracle,” this is certainly not the image the word brings to mind.
Moreover, the miracle in the Course has a strongly interpersonal character that does not fit the traditional stereotype. We tend to think of the miracle as a transfer of power or energy from a miracle worker to someone who is spiritually beneath him and with whom he is not in an ongoing relationship. And though the miracle worker may gain material rewards, nothing comes back from the other person that benefits him spiritually or psychologically. In the Course, however, what transfers from giver to receiver is a genuine feeling of forgiving love, without which the miracle becomes an “empty gesture” (Text, p. 28). Though the miracle worker may seem to be above the receiver, the actual content of his gift is the “recognition of perfect equality of giver and receiver on which the miracle rests” (Text, p. 8). Furthermore, the two may well be in a long-term relationship, in which case the miracle worker may be giving the release of years of resentment, thus freeing the receiver from years of guilt, and allowing the relationship itself to heal. Yet the process does not end here, for the Course builds a mutuality into its vision of the miracle. The receiver returns the gift in the form of gratitude. This gratitude contains real insight into the lofty nature of the miracle worker, and thus heals his own ailing self-concept. The receiver has become his savior. “Forgiven by you, your savior offers you salvation” (Text, p. 528; emphasis from the original dictation, as is found in what is called the Urtext ). The miracle, then, sparks a mutual exchange that draws both individuals into a joining. “And in the space that sin left vacant do they join as one” (Text, p. 548). Through this joining, the miracle frees both giver and receiver from “the narrow boundaries the ego would impose upon the self.”(25)
All in all, there is an interpersonal warmth to the Course’s miracle that does not seem nearly as present in our conventional image of the miracle. The Course puts it this way: “Miracles…are genuinely interpersonal, and result in true closeness to others” (Text, p. 7). From the Course’s standpoint, this psychological and interpersonal focus makes the miracle more truly practical. In its view, as debilitating as physical problems can be, problems of the mind and of relationships are yet more central to human suffering. They are the source and substance of what truly ails us.
The relationship between the Course’s miracle and the traditional miracle can be summed up very simply as “same form, different content.” On the form level, the Course envisions an interaction between a miracle worker and a miracle receiver that would be familiar to anyone in our culture. However, the Course then fills this familiar form with new content, in a number of ways. Behind the form, the miracle worker’s mind is looking past the outer situation, pervaded by disease, inequality, and separation, to a spiritual reality characterized by wholeness, equality, and unity. The Course also enriches the content of the miracle, packing into it sophisticated concepts of forgiveness, true perception, and the holy instant, and extending it into areas of depth psychology, mysticism, and spiritual development. This new content broadens the miracle’s range, making it something “natural” that everyone is called to do, enabling it to heal any problem, and stretching it to include mental and interpersonal healing. The Course then focuses the miracle away from the physical, saying that it’s not about healing bodies or performing spectacular physical feats. Rather, it’s really about the healing of minds and relationships; any physical healing that occurs is just a by-product of this more essential healing.
Perhaps the chief value of this concept of the miracle, for those who aren’t students of the Course, is to raise a number of important questions, such as, Can forgiveness really produce miracles? Is the miracle worker’s loving perception of the receiver an essential aspect of the miracle? Do we want to consider a dramatic psychological healing a miracle? Is the healing of perception and relationships even more important than the healing of bodies? And can it result in the healing of bodies?
Since miracles are really about God acting in the world, this view of the miracle also raises numerous questions about God: Is it possible that God lovingly offers unlimited healing power to our every problem, but must wait until we let that power in? What do we make of the idea that, once let in, God’s agenda is mainly to heal our minds and our relationships? Could it be that the real purpose of God’s activity in the world is to help us relinquish our self-centered, predatory ego, so that we can awaken to our divine nature? And could it be that the real expression of God’s activity in the world is a “holy encounter” between a loving giver and a grateful receiver, even if the two don’t believe in God?
These are important theoretical and theological questions, but these are also relevant personal questions. For who doesn’t have fixed, unhealthy perceptions that could use a miracle from the Holy Spirit? And who doesn’t have broken relationships that could use the healing power of forgiveness? The Course’s vision of the miracle clearly has implications for every life.
(Excerpted from Miracles: God, Science, and Psychology in the Paranormal, edited by J. Harold Ellens. Copyright © 2008 by J. Harold Ellens. Reproduced with permission of ABC-CLIO, LLC.)
- Helen Schucman’s actual stance appears to have been much more complicated: an angry disbelief in God coupled with an underlying belief in God that seems to have never left her.
- Wouter J. Hanegraaff, New Age Religion and Western Culture (New York: State University of New York Press, 1998), p. 365.
- Ibid., p. 115.
- Ibid., p. 37-38.
- A Course in Miracles, 2nd ed. (Mill Valley, Calif.: Foundation for Inner Peace, 1992). A Course in Miracles has three volumes: the Text, the Workbook for Students, and the Manual for Teachers. All references to the Course will be indicated parenthetically in the text, using the name of one of three volumes (“Text, “Workbook,” or “Manual”), followed by a page number.
- Psychotherapy: Purpose, Process, and Practice, 2nd ed. (Mill Valley, Calif.: Foundation for Inner Peace, 1976), p. 10. This is a supplement to the Course scribed after the Course was published.
- Psychotherapy, p. 6.
- Psychotherapy, p. 21.
- Matthew 9:5, NKJV.
- From Helen Schucman’s shorthand notebooks as recorded in Kenneth Wapnick, Absence from Felicity: The Story of Helen Schucman and Her Scribing of ‘A Course in Miracles,’1st ed. (Roscoe, N.Y.: Foundation for “A Course in Miracles,” 1991), p. 237.
- Psychotherapy, p. 19.
- Absence from Felicity, p. 87.
- Ibid., p. 91.
- Ibid., pp. 93-94.
- Ibid., pp. 94-95.
- Ibid., p. 118.
- Ibid., p. 122.
- Robert Skutch, Journey Without Distance, 1st ed. (Berkeley, Calif.: Celestial Arts, 1984), p. 50.
- Wapnick, Absence from Felicity, p. 124.
- Ibid., p. 124.
- This passage is from what is known as the “Urtext,” the original, mostly unedited typescript of A Course in Miracles. The Urtext is currently not available in book form, but can be downloaded from a number of Internet websites, including http://courseinmiracles.com/.
- Urtext of A Course in Miracles
- The Song of Prayer: Prayer, Forgiveness and Healing, 2nd ed. (Mill Valley, Calif.: Foundation for Inner Peace, 1992), p. 17. This is a supplement to the Course scribed after the Course was published.
- Psychotherapy, p. 8.
[Please note: ACIM passages quoted in this article reference the Foundation for Inner Peace (FIP) Edition.]