Fifty years ago today, on October 21, 1965, the scribing of A Course in Miracles began. Students of the Course know the familiar story. One evening, while Helen Schucman was recording some of her thoughts in a notebook, the voice that she had been hearing sporadically since that summer gave her a definite instruction: “This is a course in miracles. Please take notes.” Helen then called Bill Thetford in a panic, wondering what she should do. Bill wisely suggested she try to write more and see what happened. Helen then received a mental explanation in which she was told that she had agreed before coming into this life to take down A Course in Miracles as part of a larger “celestial speed-up.” Still not satisfied, she asked the voice, “Why me?…I’m just about as poor a choice as you could make.” The voice replied, “On the contrary, you are an excellent choice, and for a very simple reason. You will do it.” In recounting this story, Helen said:
I had no answer to this, and retired in defeat. The Voice was right. I knew I would do it. And so the writing of A Course in Miracles began.
This is the story told in Helen Schucman’s autobiography (pp. 41-42) and in Ken Wapnick’s Absence from Felicity (pp. 198-201). A similar story is told in Robert Skutch’s Journey Without Distance (pp. 54-57).
However, what actually happened, as revealed by Helen’s notebooks, is a little different, giving us a slightly new perspective on the events of that day. On the evening of October 20, Helen was recording her thoughts and received her first extended instruction from the voice, which she clearly regarded as Jesus (she used the name “Christ”). The subject of the instruction was Bill’s difficulties in receiving guidance in meditation, and also “Bill’s list,” which was apparently a list of people, revealed by guidance, that Bill was assigned to help.
Helen took down important teaching for Bill on how he could more effectively receive guidance. Then, when Helen asked about Bill’s list, she got this terse reply: “He should try to get his own list.” In other words, Bill should seek his own guidance about who is on his list.
Then Helen received the mental explanation about the “celestial speed-up.” In her notes she wrote this: “He thinks it’s time for some explanations which we’re probably ready for. There are always risks in speed-ups. The whole thing was undertaken because things were getting behind schedule because so many people persistently lost more than they gained.” She expanded on this in her autobiography (p. 41). The idea was that “the world situation was worsening to an alarming degree.” Humanity’s spiritual evolution was actually going backwards. To counteract this and restore humanity’s forward progress, “people all over the world were being called on to help” by coming into incarnation to make their individual contributions to “an overall, prearranged plan.” As her contribution, Helen had come in to take down A Course in Miracles (although, as we’ll see, she would only hear that title the next morning).
Once she had received this explanation, it became clear that something was amiss. Helen then recorded strong cautions from Jesus in large letters in the center of the page, writing “Stop” and “Be Careful.” What was amiss became clear the next morning, the morning of October 21. She wrote:
AM—It crossed my mind last night that something very wrong had happened. I got mad because I thought I shouldn’t be asked to ask for you [Bill], and it was a form of exploitation that was very dangerous for me, and represented an avoidance technique for you.
I thought the whole thing was so dangerous that I had to tell you not to do it again [not to ask me to ask for you]. Briefly it crossed my mind (but with no emotional impact at all which is always suspicious) that I might just resent asking for someone else because I prefer the “exclusive” idea [that she had exclusive access to the voice’s guidance—that Christ gave guidance for her life only, not for others].
Christ says I can tell something is wrong whenever I get a “snappy” answer. He wouldn’t say “Tell him to get his own list” that way. The tone is wrong.
This morning it was very clear to me that in connection with you [Bill] I have not been right since I asked you what you wanted so I could really be asking for you. This was essential and except for the list, where I slipped, the answer should be respected.
You have every right, in fact, you should, ask me to ask for you. This is not a selfish gift, and it is a real one (this upsets me, too). It has to be used for others, and particularly you.
[Jesus:] Ask Bill please to help you get over being mean about it fast.
[Helen:] …This is holding everything up.
So the previous evening, Helen got angry because she thought that having to ask for guidance for Bill was a “form of exploitation” (of her). Yet this thought really came from her own hidden desire to have exclusive access to Jesus—he would only give her guidance about her life, not the lives of others. When asking about Bill’s list, this desire actually warped what she heard from him, causing her to hear the “snappy” response “He should try to get his own list.” Jesus then issued strong cautions about proceeding, and the next morning Helen realized why: “Something very wrong had happened” when she thought that it was “dangerous” for her to ask on Bill’s behalf. The truth was just the opposite: “This is not a selfish gift, and it is a real one….It has to be used for others, and particularly you.” She realized that she needed to get over “being mean about it fast,” because it was “holding everything up.”
The very next thing she took down—still on the morning (not evening) of October 21—was the beginning of A Course in Miracles. She first wrote, “You will see miracles through your hands through Me.” She then wrote the first miracle principle, about there being “no order of difficulty” in miracles. Only then did she write “This is a course in miracles, please take notes.” Then she took down two more miracle principles—so at this point there were three in all—after which she had a brief dialogue with Jesus.
In this dialogue, Helen was clearly fascinated with what was happening. She was, after all, receiving something called “a course in miracles” from Jesus Christ. She asked him, “Would You regard this as a kind of miracle?” She thought “of how Bill will find this fascinating.” She wanted to “run to Bill to tell him.” In the face of her excitement, however, Jesus held firm to his agenda. He urged her to read and reread the first three miracle principles as often as she could that day “because there may be a quiz this evening.”
Somewhere during the morning Helen appears to have called Bill, since Jesus said, “When you do see Bill [at work], be sure you tell him how much he helped you through by giving you the right message.” This was quite possibly the phone call in which Bill urged her to “Try and write some more and see what happens.”
Finally, Jesus told Helen to go to work. “You have a lot to do today. Get dressed or you will be late.” As if she couldn’t put the process down, she even recorded additional thoughts and guidance in the cab on the way to work, during which time Jesus reminded her yet again to reread the first miracle principle: “Remember point 1 and reread now.”
This is the beginning of A Course in Miracles as it actually played out on the pages of Helen’s notebook. It is somewhat different from the story we have been told. The fact that the Course began coming through in the morning rather than the evening, of course, is immaterial. What is material is what appears to be the catalyst that allowed the Course to begin coming through: Helen releasing the thought that it was wrong for her to receive guidance for Bill. While this remained in place, it was an obstacle that was “holding everything up.” Once it was swept aside, the dictation of the Course immediately began. Thus, it seems that it was only when Helen decided that her gift was “not a selfish gift” that she could actually begin receiving the Course.
What does this tell us about A Course in Miracles? It tells us that from the very beginning it was for others. This idea, of course, is strongly underscored by the “celestial speed-up” explanation that Helen was given, according to which the Course came to help turn around humanity’s backward movement. The world was (and I’m sure still is) engulfed in invisible flames, and the Course was one of the firemen sent to the rescue.
On this fiftieth anniversary, I find myself deeply grateful to Helen for deciding that her gift “has to be used for others,” not just for herself. What she did changed my life and indeed became my life. I find myself even more grateful to Jesus for the words he spoke to Helen, and through her to all of us. In all the writings of the world, nowhere have I encountered words like these. I find myself wondering what the ultimate destiny of the Course will be. To what degree will it actually end up helping to turn around “the world situation”? And I find myself wondering what part I and the rest of us will play in that. For, as Helen’s heirs, we too are surely part of the celestial speed-up. We too must have come here to help the world situation. And if we are to succeed, we too must decide to use our gifts for others, not just for ourselves.