All students of A Course in Miracles know that the Course consists of three volumes, a Text, a Workbook for Students and a Manual for Teachers. And everyone knows that these volumes have different purposes. The Text is meant to be read and studied. The Workbook is meant to be practiced, to have its instructions followed and its lessons performed. And the Manual for Teachers is meant to…to…to what?
Usually what I hear is some variation of what is said in the front of the Course itself, in the Preface written by Helen Schucman herself: “Finally, the Manual for Teachers, which is written in question and answer form, provides answers to some of the more likely questions a student might ask” (Text, p. ix). The Manual for Teachers, it seems, is meant to provide answers to common questions about the Course, or, as is often said, to be a brief summary of Course principles in question and answer form.
This always sounded vaguely disappointing to me. The first two volumes seemed to have such clear and exalted purposes, and then the final volume seemed either to lack a clear vision of its purpose, or to have a purpose that just wasn’t that important. It is almost as if Jesus had spent himself on the first two volumes, and then on the last volume, when he should have crescendoed, he just sort of petered out.
This idea of the Manual as brief summary also didn’t seem to follow from its own title. It didn’t answer why it was a manual for teachers . As a result, the Course seemed to have broken its own “college course” theme. As anyone can see, the Course has modelled its three volumes after an educational course. In school you have a textbook, to be read and studied. You have a workbook, whose lessons, once performed, make students proficient in the material set forth in the text. And you have a manual for teachers, which instructs teachers in how to teach the course. A Course in Miracles followed this pattern with its first two volumes. And then it seemed to have lost track of this idea at the end, naming its third volume a manual for teachers, but forgetting to actually make it a manual for teachers.
The reason I am writing this article is to suggest that none of this is really on the mark. It seems to me that in the 18 years of the Course’s published existence, and the over twenty years since the Manual was actually dictated, we have more or less missed the reason for the Manual’s existence. And in doing so, we have to some degree missed a major chunk of the path of the Course as Jesus intended it. Let us, then, turn to the pages of the Manual itself, and see if we can wring out of it what its intended purpose is. What I will present will of course be my own interpretations. Yet even if you do not agree with them, perhaps they will spark some interesting thought and dialogue. In fact, I will devote a section in the next newsletter to printing many of the responses we receive to this article.
What is a teacher?
Perhaps our first question should be, “Who are the teachers that this is a manual for ?” If you want to see some sparks fly, bring this question up in a gathering of Course students. In my experience most students will immediately respond that we all are teachers and students. Behind this response, it seems to me, is often more than a little sensitivity around the possibility that whatever a teacher is, some of us have not yet qualified. It almost seems that we have felt so disempowered by spiritual authority figures in the past—by an endless line of phony priests, bogus teachers and fallen gurus—that we have decided once and for all never to give anyone that place in our lives again.
What does the Manual itself say about who these teachers are? First of all, it says quite clearly that “This is a manual for the teachers of God” (Manual, p. 2; M-In.5:4). Are all of us teachers of God? No, unfortunately we are not. The Manual does clearly say that everyone is a teacher. But it says with equal clarity that not everyone is a teacher of God. Most of us, it seems, are teachers of the ego:
Everyone who follows the world’s curriculum, and everyone does follow it until he changes his mind, teaches solely to convince himself that he is what he is not…Into this hopeless and closed learning situation, which teaches nothing but despair and death, God sends His teachers (Manual, p. 1-2; M-Intro.4:4,7).
What are the qualifications of being one of “His teachers”? They are very simple and are given near the very beginning of the Manual. To be a teacher of God we must make a single deliberate choice in which we see our interests as the same as the interests of one other person (Manual, p. 3; M-1.1:2). This does not mean that we suddenly teach God all of the time. Quite the contrary, it is assumed that we will still teach ego most of the time. But this single choice starts us on a road that will eventually lead out of the ego. We will get back to that road later in the article.
What curriculum do they teach?
We now have established that the Manual is a manual for those who have changed their direction away from the world’s curriculum by making a single deliberate choice in which they saw their interests as the same as someone else’s. Now, whether they know it or not, it is their function to teach another way of being, to teach the Holy Spirit’s curriculum.
The next question that confronts us is this: Is the Manual a manual for everyone who has made such a choice, or for the students of A Course in Miracles who have made this choice? In other words, are the teachers it is written for generic teachers of the universal course or are they specifically teachers of A Course in Miracles?
In answer to that, the Manual does speak of the former, of generic teachers of the universal course. It says, “They [the teachers of God] come from all over the world. They come from all religions and from no religion” (Manual, p. 3; M-1.2:1-2). However, the Manual is not primarily intended for these generic teachers. In its own words,
This is a manual for a special curriculum, intended for teachers of a special form of the universal course (Manual, p. 3; M-1.4:1).
Of course, there is no doubt what is meant by “a special form of the universal course.” It is the Course itself. The Manual, then, is intended for teachers of A Course in Miracles. As any teachers manual, it is meant to instruct the teachers of a particular course in how to teach that course. The Manual, then, is not simply a question and answer summary of the Course’s principles. It really is a manual for the teachers of the Course, designed to meet their special needs:
Who are they? How are they chosen? What do they do? How can they work out their own salvation and the salvation of the world? This manual attempts to answer these questions (Manual, p. 2; M-Intro.5:8-12).
In fact, for these “teachers of a special form of the universal course” there are also special qualifications. It seems that those given early in the Manual were generic qualifications. To be specifically a teacher of the Course, the qualifications are more specific: “He cannot claim that title [teacher of God] until he has gone through the workbook, since we are learning within the framework of our course” (Manual, p. 38; M-16.3:7). So I guess if you have made that one deliberate choice but have not done the Workbook, then “within the framework of our course” you are out of luck. You cannot “claim that title” as yet.
How do they teach?
So, we have established that the Manual was written to instruct people in how to teach the Course. But what does that mean? What does teaching the Course look like? Does it mean that everyone who has done the Workbook—and thus qualified as a Course teacher of God—is supposed to go around lecturing to “classrooms,” droning on about their great wisdom about A Course in Miracles (as I do)? Although I am sure—at least I hope—that there is room for certain people to do that, it does not seem that we should take the term “teacher” quite that literally.
In fact, I think that most Course students would insist that we should take the term “teacher” far less literally. What I seem to hear most often is that being a teacher just means demonstrating Course principles, simply living them in one’s daily life. Certainly, we assume, this function of being a teacher is not meant to take on some kind of a structure, some form that would make us teachers in some recognizable or formal sense.
To me, however, this is going way too far the other way. In fact, I think it is just this extremism that is partially responsible for us missing the real point of the Manual. It is true that the Manual suggests that demonstrating the Course in one’s life is the basis, the substance of teaching: “To teach is to demonstrate” (Manual, p. 1; M-In.2:1). Yet, on the other hand, the Manual does not suggest that this demonstration is a totally amorphous thing that will not take any recognizable form. In fact, the entire Manual assumes that being a teacher will probably take on some very definite, recognizable forms. From what I can see, there are two. Let us look at these.
The teacher of God as faith healer
There are seven sections in the Manual that depict the teacher of God as essentially a faith healer, or, I guess you could say, a forgiveness healer (in the Second Edition, these sections are numbered as 5,6,7,8,21,22,23). In five of the seven sections the following scenario is clearly assumed: a person has projected his mind’s illness onto his body, causing physical illness. This person then becomes the patient (the word “patient” is used 13 times in these sections), to whom the teacher of God comes as a healer, a healer of the mind, and, as a result, a healer of the body.
In section 5, “How is Healing Accomplished?” the teacher of God comes to the patient and awakens in him forgiveness, God’s Voice, Life, truth and the One Will. An expected bi-product of this is that his body will be healed. What is essentially described is a healing session, one could even say a house call. Then sections 6 and 7 deal with one of the most common outcomes of a healing session: the persistence of symptoms, the appearance of failure. The main theme of section 6, “Is Healing Certain?” is this: “No teacher of God should feel disappointed if he has offered healing and it does not appear to have been received” (Manual, p. 19; M-6.2:7). The healing occurred, but the resistance of the patient has merely delayed its physical manifestation. The next section, “Should Healing Be Repeated?” continues to deal with this situation, saying that “Whenever a teacher of God has tried to be a channel for healing he has succeeded. Should he be tempted to doubt this, he should not repeat his previous effort” (Manual, p. 21; M-7.2:1-2).
Finally, in section 8, “How Can Perception of Order of Difficulties Be Avoided?” we find more instruction for healers. This section, in fact, is simply an expansion of a line from the first healing section, section 5: “Not once do the advanced teachers of God consider the forms of sickness in which their brother believes” (Manual, p. 18; M-5.III.3:1). From the Course’s standpoint regarding all physical symptoms as equally illusory is crucial to its therapeutic approach. The key line from section 8 is: “There will be those who seem to be ‘sicker’ than others, and the body’s eyes will report their changed appearances as before. But the healed mind will put them all in one category; they are unreal” (Manual, p. 24; M-8.6:3-4).
In section 21, “What is the Role of Words in Healing?” the theme of healing picks up again. Again, the teacher of God is coming to heal someone with a “presented problem” (Manual, p. 52; M-21.5:3), although this time the problem is not referred to specifically as physical illness. What we are told, in essence, is that what heals is the prayer of the teacher of God. Words, then, are essentially irrelevant, although they can help the quality of the healer’s prayer by “helping concentration and facilitating the exclusion, or at least the control, of extraneous thoughts” (Manual, p. 51; M-21.1:8). The main significance of words, it seems, is for the patient. Words can help the patient’s mind accept the healing. The point, therefore, is for the teacher of God to let his words be guided by the Holy Spirit.
Then in section 22, “How are Healing and Atonement Related?” the theme of physical healing picks up again. We are told how a teacher of God heals: “He overlooks the mind and body, seeing only the face of Christ shining in front of him” (Manual, p. 54; M-22.4:5). And again the topic of failure to heal is dealt with. We are told that “When a teacher of God fails to heal, it is because he has forgotten Who he is” (Manual, p. 54; M-22.5:1). In essence, his own mind now becomes the patient that needs healing, a major theme from section 7.
Finally, in section 23, “Does Jesus Have a Special Place in Healing?” we are told that what we can offer our brothers as healers is limited by our current development, by the fact that “Even the most advanced of God’s teachers will give way to temptation in this world” (Manual, p. 55; M-23.1:2). As a remedy, then, we should “turn to one who laid all limits by” (Manual, p. 56; M-23.6:8). We should turn to Jesus as the ultimate healer of our patients.
Let’s face it, Jesus is talking about a very specific, recognizable function here. As Course students advance they are expected to acquire the ability to heal another through the power of their forgiveness. And as they do it is assumed that they will be actively invited to heal by people in distress, even physical distress.
In other words, Jesus foresaw for his teachers something nearly indistinguishable from being a Christian Science practitioner! To make sure of this parallel (since I have no background in Christian Science) I just called a practitioner that lives nearby, and what she described about her function was nearly impossible to tell apart from what the Manual describes.
The teacher of God as spiritual shepherd
As major as is the theme of God’s teacher as healing practitioner, the second form of being a teacher is perhaps even more central to the Manual. Let us now turn to this second form.
Few students are aware that the Manual sketches an entire process that the teacher of God goes through. First, he becomes a teacher. He makes “a deliberate choice in which he did not see his interests as apart from someone else’s” (Manual, p. 3; M-1.1:2) At that point a light enters his mind and changes his destiny forever. Unbeknownst to him, through that single choice “He has entered an agreement with God even if he does not yet believe in Him. He has become a bringer of salvation. He has become a teacher of God” (Manual, p. 3; M-1.1:6-8.)
Once he makes this choice, his pupils will begin to look for him. These pupils were assigned to him at the dawn of time and have simply been waiting for the day when he makes the choice to be a teacher. Now that the choice has been made, a light enters their minds, too, summoning them “at the right time to the right place” (Manual, p. 4; M-2.4:4) to meet their teacher.
When pupil and teacher meet they form a holy relationship. The Course’s formula for a holy relationship, as I see it, is that two people join in common purpose and thus invite the Holy Spirit into their relationship. This is precisely what we are told happens when teacher and pupil meet: “God’s Teacher speaks to any two who join together for learning purposes. The relationship is holy because of that [joint] purpose, and God has promised to send His Spirit into any holy relationship” (Manual, p. 5; M-2.5:3-4). The common purpose of teacher and pupil, then, is to learn. The teacher learns primarily through teaching; the pupil learns mainly through receiving that teaching.
It is in this holy relationship that both truly advance, for it is here they experience the fact that who they really are transcends “the narrow boundaries the ego would impose upon the self” (Psychotherapy, p. 6):
In the teaching-learning situation, each one learns that giving and receiving are the same. The demarcations they have drawn between their roles, their minds, their bodies, their needs, their interests, and all the differences they thought separated them from one another, fade and grow dim and disappear (Manual, p. 5; M-2.5:5-6).
Thus, each one emerges from this relationship further along. The teacher is transformed into an advanced teacher, acquiring the ten characteristics of the teacher of God. It is not often appreciated that these ten qualities are characteristic of the advanced teacher, and are actually acquired in his holy relationship with his pupil. “These special gifts [are] born in the holy relationship toward which the teaching-learning situation is geared…” (Manual, p. 8; (M-4.1:6).
The pupil also emerges farther along, becoming a teacher of God himself. Remember, seeing the same interests in another person is what makes one a teacher of God, and it is this very lack of separate interests that the pupil experiences in his oneness with his teacher.
And thus he who was the learner becomes a teacher of God himself, for he has made the one decision that gave his teacher to him [that made his teacher a teacher]. He has seen in another person the same interests as his own (Manual, p. 5; M-2.5:8-9).
Now—and this is the crucial question—what does the teacher actually teach this pupil? In the case of the teachers for whom this manual was intended, he teaches him A Course in Miracles! He guides his pupil in the study and practice of the Course. He becomes a spiritual shepherd, mentor or guide. This may be a startling conclusion, but from my point of view it is inescapable.
The pupils do not just come to the teacher to learn nebulous wisdom. They come to him to learn his particular spiritual path . “They were chosen for him because the form of the universal curriculum that he will teach is best for them in view of their level of understanding” (Manual, p. 4; M-2.1:2). This, in fact, is what they join on. Their joining, as we said, is for the common purpose of learning. But what they learn is the same spiritual path! In the same paragraph in which their joining is described, we are told: “Those who would learn the same course share one interest and one goal [or one purpose]” (Manual, p. 5; M-2.5:7). Their common purpose is the learning of a common course.
Therefore, to translate: “This is a manual for a special curriculum, intended for teachers of a special form of the universal course” (Manual, p. 3; M-1.4:1), means “This is a manual for teachers who will take on particular pupils and shepherd them in the study and practice of A Course in Miracles .”
This surprising conclusion is borne out by the fact that many of the sections of the Manual are designed to aid the teacher of God in just this undertaking, in guiding his pupils. Let us look at these.
Two notable sections are 17 and 18, “How do God’s Teachers Deal with Magic Thoughts?” and “How is Correction Made?” Both of these assume the following scenario: You are guiding a certain pupil in his walk with the Course and he comes to you with magic thoughts, with thoughts that affirm the “age-old impossible dream” (Manual, p. 45; M-18.1:7) that he can find happiness and salvation through the ego and through the world, thoughts that directly contradict the purpose for which the two of you joined. This, of course, is absolutely routine in any teacher/student, counselor/client, helper/helpee situation, but still can be very sticky.
This is a crucial question both for teacher and pupil. If this issue is mishandled, the teacher of God has hurt himself and has also attacked his pupil (Manual, p. 42; M-17.1:1-2).
What do you do? The primary injunction is to not respond with anger. In fact, “God’s teachers’ major lesson is to learn how to react to magic thoughts wholly without anger” (Manual, p. 45; M-18.2:1). For the pupil’s magic thoughts have already reawakened his own “sleeping guilt” (Manual, p. 43; M-17.7:2). In other words, he already feels guilty for these thoughts. And your anger, the condemnation of his teacher, simply confirms once and for all that he is right, that he really is guilty. “Anger but screeches, ‘Guilt is real!'” (Manual, p. 45; M-18.3:1).
Just as the healer’s own mind becomes the patient when he fails to heal, so when you fail to respond to magic thoughts without anger, it is your own mind that needs healing:
If he senses even the faintest hint of irritation in himself as he responds to anyone, let him instantly realize that he has made an interpretation that is not true. Then let him turn within to his Eternal Guide, and let Him judge what the response should be. So is he healed, and in his healing is his pupil healed along with him (Manual, p. 46; M-18.4:2-4).
Yet the teacher also must avoid sympathizing with the magic thought, responding to it “in a way that reinforces it. Nor is this always obvious. It can, in fact, be concealed beneath a wish to help” (Manual, p. 44; M-17.2:1-3).
Overall, it is the task of the teacher to respond to the magic thought in a way that gives it no power to make guilty or make happy, that affirms its inherent unreality and nothingness. “If he argues with his pupil about a magic thought, attacks it, tries to establish its error or demonstrate its falsity, he is but witnessing to its reality” (Manual, p. 45; M-18.1:2).
Section 21, “What is the Role of Words in Healing?” was covered under the discussion of the healer/patient relationship, but it also bleeds over to the teacher/pupil relationship, as is made clear when this section says, “Is the teacher of God, then, to avoid the use of words in his teaching?” (Manual, p. 53; M-21.4:1) The point here for the teacher is that he allows the Holy Spirit to guide what he says to his pupil.
Section 24, “Is Reincarnation So?” is another section that deals with the teacher/pupil relationship. The real question answered by this section is: How can a teacher of God deal with reincarnation (as well as other ideas from outside the Course) in a way that will be most beneficial to his pupils? Here is the answer, in part:
For our purposes, it would not be helpful to take any definite stand on reincarnation. A teacher of God should be as helpful to those who believe in it as to those who do not. If a definite stand were required of him, it would merely limit his usefulness, as well as his own decision-making. Our course is not concerned with any concept that is not acceptable to anyone, regardless of his formal beliefs. His ego [the pupil’s ego] will be enough for him to cope with, and it is not the part of wisdom to add sectarian controversies to his burdens. Nor would there be an advantage in his [the pupil’s] premature acceptance of the course merely because it advocates a long-held belief of his own (Manual, p. 57; M-24.3).
In other words, do not teach reincarnation to your pupils. Why? It is beside the real point of the Course. As a result, it is not worth the trouble it will cause some pupils. And it is not worth the help it will give other pupils in accepting the Course.
Later in this section, it is clarified that it is okay for the teacher of God to believe in reincarnation himself, although his internal Teacher might advise him “that he is misusing the belief in some way that is detrimental to his pupil’s advance or his own” (Manual, p. 58; M-24.5:5).
As you can see, the teacher of God has a heavy responsibility in handling ideas in a way that will be beneficial to his pupils. This section is really talking about a lot more than reincarnation. It is basically telling teachers how to deal with pupils (as well as with themselves) in relation to ideas that are not specifically a part of the Course’s curriculum. For this purpose, it gives the following guidance about what a pupil must accept in order to walk the path of the Course:
All that must be recognized, however, is that birth was not the beginning, and death is not the end. Yet even this much is not required of the beginner. He need merely accept the idea that what he knows is not necessarily all there is to learn. His journey has begun (Manual, p. 58; M-24.5:7-10).
In the next paragraph, teachers are given even more advice in how to deal with their pupils in relation to ideas from outside the Course. They are told that the consistent emphasis of the Course is that complete salvation is available right now. This is to be the yardstick for evaluating their own ideas and that of their pupils:
No teaching that does not lead to this is of concern to God’s teachers. All beliefs will point to this if properly interpreted. In this sense, it can be said that their truth lies in their usefulness. All beliefs that lead to progress should be honored. This is the sole criterion this course requires. No more than this is necessary (Manual, p. 58; M-24.6:8-13).
The final section that we will look at is the last section of the Manual, “As for the Rest…” The first two paragraphs of this section imply a world about the teacher/pupil relationship. The section begins with a description of the Manual:
This manual is not intended to answer all questions that both teacher and pupil may raise. In fact, it covers only a few of the more obvious ones, in terms of a brief summary of some of the major concepts in the text and workbook (Manual, p. 67; M-29.1:1-2).
This immensely clarifies the real purpose of the Manual. The Manual is designed to be an aid in the teacher/pupil relationship. The teacher has questions about his role, as well as about his salvation. The pupil has questions about the Course and what it teaches. The Manual is designed to help them both (though I think the emphasis is clearly on the teacher, as the title suggests). It is not meant as a substitute for the Text and Workbook, “but merely a supplement” (Manual, p. 67; M-29.1:3). It is a special application of Course principles to the concerns of the teacher of God and to the teacher/pupil relationship, just as the Psychotherapy pamphlet is a special application of Course principles to the therapist/patient relationship.
Then it goes into the question of which volume of the Course the pupil should begin with, saying that different pupils would benefit most from beginning with different volumes. Then the second paragraph begins:
Which is for which? Who would profit more from prayers alone? Who needs but a smile, being as yet unready for more? No one should attempt to answer these questions alone. Surely no teacher of God has come this far without realizing that. The curriculum is highly individualized, and all aspects are under the Holy Spirit’s particular care and guidance. Ask and He will answer. The responsibility is His, and He alone is fit to assume it. To do so is His function. To refer the questions to Him is yours. Would you want to be responsible for decisions about which you understand so little? (Manual, p. 67; M-29.2)
I think I read this passage a hundred times over many years without seeing the extremely significant thing that is really being said. First this passage asks the question of which volume the pupil should begin with, and then suggests that the one who “should attempt to answer these questions”—rather than the pupil himself—is the “teacher of God”! In other words, the teacher of God is being told that it is his responsibility (under the guidance of the Holy Spirit) to help the pupil select which volume to begin with, or to decide that someone is not yet ready for the Course, and would for now do better with just prayers and a smile. This is the responsibility that we are being told to turn over to the Holy Spirit, the responsibility of how to shepherd our pupil, the responsibility that we are so unfit to assume, but for which He is perfectly fit.
Overall, we can see that the teacher’s role in guiding his pupil through the Course is quite large. He is not just a teacher of the Course’s concepts, although he is that. He is a shepherd, a mentor, who helps his pupil walk the path of the Course. Along the way he is both counselor and healer. He helps his pupil deal with his egoic thoughts; helps him deal with ideas he has picked up from outside the Course; helps him understand what the Course requires of him; helps him decide what he is ready for and what aspects of the Course he should tackle at any given point.
In looking at what the Manual says, I can’t help but think of sponsors in Alcoholics Anonymous. In fact, from what little I understand about the sponsorship model in AA, it seems extremely similar to what the Manual talks about. In both cases, those who are more mature and experienced on the path join with individuals new to the path and guide them along. The “older” passes on to the “younger” his strength, wisdom, experience and love, giving the “younger” what he cannot give himself. The sponsor or teacher is not a boss or superior, but merely a compassionate elder brother who knows that his own receiving will come through giving. I might add that in both cases the initiative for the joining seems to come from the student. In AA the sponsoree approaches the potential sponsor, and in the Manual the pupil is drawn toward the teacher by a call from within himself. In fact, it may be the sponsoree or pupil, not the teacher himself, who first recognizes that the teacher is ready to teach.
The Manual for Teachers, then, is a manual to instruct students of the Course who have become mature enough in the path that they are ready to extend its principles to others. This extension is a real personal demonstration rather than a mere verbal reporting. But this demonstration is talked about as taking two different, easily recognizable forms.
One form is that of a Course-based healer, a Course in Miracles version of a Christian Science practitioner. This healer or “miracles practitioner” is envisioned as going to people who are in need—the main need discussed being that of physical illness—and offering them the healing power of forgiveness.
The other form is that of a spiritual shepherd, mentor or guide, a Course in Miracles version of an Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor. This teacher or “Course sponsor” is envisioned as accepting particular pupils, whom he joins with in the goal of learning the Course, and whom he then guides in their walk along the Course’s path, endeavoring to give them all he knows, until at some point they become teachers in their own right.
These two forms are not only somewhat different in concept, they are denoted by different terms in the Manual. The “teacher” has “pupils,” and the “healer” (though he is often called teacher, also) has “patients.” Yet, of course, these two forms are not entirely distinct. For the healer is expected to offer to his patients (at least at times) verbal teaching, teaching that I assume would reflect Course principles (Manual, p. 51-52; M-21.4-5). And the teacher is expected to offer healing to his pupils (Manual, p. 55; M-23.1:3).
To me, this view of the Manual says a world about the path of the Course. It causes our whole view of the Course to shift accordingly. To begin with, it adds a new dimension to the Course’s path. We always knew that an essential part of the Course was reading and study, represented by the Text. And we knew that another essential part was practice, application, as represented by the Workbook. And now there is a third aspect: extension, teaching, healing, represented by the Manual.
Putting all three volumes together, we now can see that they represent an entire progression, a process that one is roughly expected to go through on the path of the Course.
The ideas of the Course first enter through study , mainly of the Text. There you learn the thoughts you have been thinking your whole life, and you learn the thoughts that will deliver you from the mess that those first thoughts put you in. Then, the ideas of the Course deepen and become embodied through practice , practice of the Workbook’s lessons. There you learn to be vigilant for egoic thinking and to replace it with higher thinking, at first twice a day, and then a hundred times, and finally “a thousand times a day” (Workbook, p. 288; W-pI.156.8:1), until such thinking is no longer practice, discipline, but has become life itself.
And when you have studied and practiced sufficiently, you are ready to extend . You wake up one day and realize that it is not just about you and your needs, that the reason you are here is to help lift your brothers and sisters up to God. For you now recognize that their needs are your needs, their interests are the same as yours, their salvation is your awakening.
In the beginning, your main learning took place through study. Then, though hopefully you continued to study, your main learning took place through practice. And finally, though you continue to study and practice, your learning takes place mainly through extension to others. For extension, according to the Course, is essentially a thought-reinforcement mechanism. “Teaching is but a call to witnesses to attest to what you believe….Its fundamental purpose is to diminish self-doubt” (Manual, p. 1; M-Intro.2:7,3:8). Thus, it is through this teaching, this extension of forgiveness to others, that the ideas of the Course receive their final reinforcement in your mind, and become fully enthroned as your dominant thought-system.
It is difficult to escape the fact that this extension to others is not only meant to be our final mode of learning, but is also meant to be Jesus’ main plan for the dissemination of the Course in the world. It is clear in the Course that the way in which the Holy Spirit spreads His influence upon the world is that He works through those who actually embody His message, those who can truly demonstrate it. “Those who are released must join in releasing their brothers, for this is the plan of the Atonement” (Text, p. 7; T-1.III.3:3). In fact, at one point this is called, “the plan of the teachers” (Manual, p. 3; M-1.2:10).
As a result, to spread his new gospel of forgiveness to the world, Jesus is banking on the hope that those who mature in it will hand it to “pupils” and “patients.” And what better way to spread the good news? What other way would you expect Jesus to pick? As every salesman knows, people need to see something demonstrated if they are to believe in its value. If they are going to invest in this forgiveness thing, they need to see that it has the power to deliver them from their human ills. They need to see its healing power at work. And once they get interested enough in this message to follow it themselves, they cannot just be sent into its deep waters alone, without help (as they are now). They will need someone with experience to take their hand and help them along, someone to deal with their very personal and specific issues and problems. It will be very difficult for them to really imbibe forgiveness on their own. They will need to catch it from someone who is already infected with it. They will need to see someone in action, to experience someone forgiving them personally. They will need to see the eyes of Christ looking directly into their own.
Isn’t this exactly how Jesus worked? He went around to those in need and he healed them. He showed them that the Kingdom of God meant deliverance from every storm that besets us in this world. And he also accepted disciples, pupils, who trudged the dusty roads with him, learning from long-term contact with their master just what it meant to be a member of the Kingdom. They had his words, but much more than that, they had the intimate experience of seeing those words fully embodied by a close friend of theirs, as he interacted with the world and as he related to them personally. And when they had been with him long enough, he sent them out on their own, to carry on his ministry, to teach and to heal.
And now he is sending us out. We are his new disciples, his new teachers and healers. The closing benediction of the Manual is essentially a send-off blessing to his teachers. It is to my mind an intentional parallel to the Great Commission that closes the Gospel of Matthew. Then, he told us, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations.” Now, he says, “And it is given you to be the means through which His Voice is heard around the world” (Manual, p. 69; M-29.8:4).
Yet, the really amazing thing—and the reason I am writing this article—is that we have not really heard him sending us out. Are there “miracles practitioners” out there bringing healing to those who suffer? Maybe, on some small, almost accidental scale. Are there “Course sponsors” out there shepherding new students one-on-one in their study and practice? Again, I know this is happening here and there (there is at least one center I know of that trains teachers), but it is not happening much. Isn’t this amazing? Here is the last volume of Jesus’ Course, the final aspect of his path, his grand plan for the spread of his message in the world, and we have virtually ignored it.
What are we going to do about this?
[Please note: ACIM passages quoted in this article reference the Foundation for Inner Peace (FIP) Edition.]