What Was Helen’s Interpretation of the Course?

by Robert Perry

In the July/August 2007 edition of Miracle Worker, the newsletter of the UK Miracle Network, Ian Patrick interviews Judith Skutch-Whitson. Judy communicates a wealth of information about the early history of the Course. She also shares that she and Ken Wapnick understand the Course in exactly the same way. Why? Because both of them had the same teacher: Helen Schucman, the scribe of A Course in Miracles. Here is what she says:

J: The translators rely totally upon Ken to teach them the essence and meaning of the Course. I don't have a problem with that. I would say exactly the same thing as Ken is saying, because we had the same teacher. After all, Helen was Ken's 'appointed teacher', as she was mine. Helen never thought there was any interpretation.

I: So, Helen taught you? In these sessions, when you were sitting down and studying the Course together, Helen was the teacher, though she wouldn't apply it to herself.

J: Yes, Helen was a superb teacher. She knew exactly what the Course said. No one knew it better. Most of the time she didn't choose to apply it to herself. I don't have any trouble with interpretation. If a sentence seems oblique, which some of them do, read the sentence before or the sentence after. And, if you are still not sure, read the whole paragraph. The answer is right there. I don't ever find it a problem of interpretation.

I: So, for example, would you go along with Ken's view that a lot of the Course is metaphorical?

J: Yes. As far as I remember, that was Helen's view, too. Bill had a different approach, but he didn't have a different interpretation at all. Well, they took it down together and discussed it thoroughly, how could they?

These are brief remarks, but they communicate an important picture. Far from being a mere channel, Helen Schucman "knew exactly what the Course said." Indeed, "no one knew it better." As far as Helen was concerned, interpretation wasn't an issue. "Helen never thought there was any interpretation." Somehow, though (to the best of Judy's recollection), Helen coupled this straightforward approach with "Ken's view that a lot of the Course is metaphorical," and therefore often doesn't mean what it says. Bill Thetford, we learn, fully shared Helen's interpretation of the Course.

Then Helen taught both Ken Wapnick and Judith Skutch (now Skutch-Whitson). "Helen was Ken's 'appointed teacher,' as she was mine." The two of them therefore came to understand the Course exactly as Helen (and Bill) did. Hence, the early family that brought the Course into the world was unanimous in how they understood the Course. That understanding was ultimately rooted in the plain, uninterpreted meaning of the words that Helen took down, with which she was deeply familiar. The meaning of those words flowed to Helen (and Bill too), and then through her to Ken and Judy.

Now, the clear implication is that this pure understanding flows to the world in the form of Ken Wapnick's teaching. Through him, we have a direct line to the pristine view of the Course which started with Helen and was fully shared by the entire family that gave us the Course. Even Ken's current metaphorical approach actually goes back to Helen herself.

The implications for us are unmistakable. If we want to be in line with the pure beginnings of the Course, then, we should be like Judy and "say exactly the same thing as Ken is saying." We should be like the translators, who "rely totally upon Ken to teach them the essence and meaning of the Course."

Stories like these exert a powerful influence on the mind. As students of A Course in Miracles, we believe that something pure happened to bring the Course into the world. A voice of truth spoke, a voice from beyond this world, a voice that was clearly heard by Helen Schucman. And we want to feel connected and aligned with this pure beginning. We want to feel anchored in the roots of our spiritual path. And here we essentially are told, by someone who was there, that the only way to do that is to "say exactly the same thing as Ken is saying," to "rely totally on Ken to teach [us] the essence and meaning of the Course."

It is probably safe to say that every spiritual tradition tells stories like this. They claim that the tradition originally sprang from direct contact with spiritual reality and that the authority that flowed from that contact has been passed down in an unbroken line. It is really a story of who currently holds the reins, of where the power is, isn't it? In the West, the story typically goes like this: "There is a pure line of spiritual authority that runs from a divine being to that being's earthly messenger to this person who is alive today." This story carries incredible psychological power. Just think of the Catholic version: "Jesus was the Son of God and he commissioned St. Peter to found the church and the current pope is Peter's direct successor." The message is clear: If you disagree with the Pope, you are disagreeing with St. Peter and with Jesus. You are at odds with the divine fount from which this tradition sprang.

That, of course, is the same message that is given to us by Judy's story: If you disagree with Ken, you are disagreeing with Helen Schucman and with Jesus. You are at odds with the divine fount from which A Course in Miracles sprang. That story, which has been told for years by more than just her, exerts the same kind of force in the Course community as the Catholic story exerts in that strand of Christendom. Thousands of Course students mentally live within its walls, feeling (and being told by others) that disagreeing with Ken amounts to having an "authority problem"—which in Course terminology means rejecting God's Authority. While some like living within these walls, I have seen others struggle with it for years, in a constant cycle of rebelling against Ken's authority and then resubmitting to it. Many finally just leave the Course.

It is crucial that such stories are examined, not just accepted at face value. If they are true, then we should listen to the person they hold up as the lineage holder, for then he really is the bearer of that pure stream of truth that flows from the very beginnings of the tradition. But if they are false, then it is possible to disagree with the current lineage holder while staying completely true to the pure beginnings of the tradition. For the story that forbade us from doing this has now been revealed as what it is. Rather than being gospel truth, it is more than just false. It has the effect, intended or not, of controlling minds.

The purpose of this article is to place under a critical spotlight the story that Judy tells. In examining her story, I am really examining the larger story that we have been told in different forms through the years, of which her story is just one version. And while I examine her story, I don't want to negate her role in the history of the Course. Judy is a wonderful woman who has given an incalculable gift to all Course students, past, present, and future. Yet this should not keep us from checking her story against the facts as we know them. Nor should it keep us from recognizing what her story actually does: It soundly dismisses all interpretations other than Ken's, implying that they are cut off from the Course's scribe and the Course itself. To imply this, her story need not provide any evidence from the Course whatsoever. Other interpretations are refuted by the mere observation that they don't agree with Ken.

The story she tells could be questioned from any number of angles. For instance, Ken Wapnick doesn't seem to claim that he received much Course teaching from Helen ("She…very rarely explained to others what the Course said, directly or indirectly, except for two instances that I recall").1 Also, it has been claimed by some who knew Bill that his interpretation of the Course was different than Helen's. Even Ken hints at this ("Bill…began to identify more and more with Judy and her presentation of the Course").2

However, I will leave those more minor issues aside and focus on two things: First, what was Helen's interpretation of the Course? Second, is Ken Wapnick's teaching in harmony with it? In other words, is there a straight line that runs from Helen's understanding to Ken's teaching? To answer the question of Helen's interpretation, I will use only two sources: Ken's statements about Helen and Helen's own writing. I never met Helen, so I will rely on two who knew her well: Ken and herself. This article will not be a quick and easy read, and will not shy away from drawing conclusions that some may regard as controversial. Yet this is an examination that must be done. A story like this exerts too much control over too many minds to simply go unexamined.

Did Jesus actively author the Course?

In discussing Helen's views of how the Course came through her, Ken says, "Helen's own description of A Course in Miracles' scribing was that Jesus made use of her 'educational background, interests and experience.'"3 Helen's view depicts an active Jesus who shaped the Course's language and presentation to intersect with her own education and interests. For example, because Helen loved Shakespeare, Jesus wrote much of the Course in Shakespearean blank verse. Helen considered this a special gift to her.

Ken, however, explains that in truth, rather than Jesus making use of Helen's background, interests and experience, the influence came from the other end: those elements in Helen actually shaped Jesus' formless, inactive love into the form of the Course, just like a glass shapes the water in it. The implications of this view are obvious: In the process that produced the Course, Jesus was completely inactive. He didn't actually craft any words. He didn't actively author anything. Rather, "Helen was responsible for the Course's specific form."4 This is clearly different than her description that Jesus was. On this point, Helen's view and Ken's are profoundly different.

Does Jesus do things in the world?

For another example, Ken tells of an incident in which Helen told him that whenever eyelashes fell in her eye, "this was never a problem because Jesus always took the eyelashes out for her."5 This again implies an active Jesus, one who actually does things in the world. Because Ken felt that it would make her too anxious if he confronted her on this erroneous view (as he considered it), he says, "I refrained from bringing it up." But he explains to us what he apparently never directly discussed with her,6 that "Jesus in reality did nothing. Helen did all the work, first in…her putting the eyelash in her eye…and then in…her removing the eyelash from her eye."7 Here again, Helen had one view and Ken had another.

In both of the above cases, we see a rather global difference between Helen and Ken. Helen clearly believed in an active Divine. She believed in a Holy Spirit and a Jesus Who actively reach out to help us in the world. Ken, in contrast, does not believe in an active Divine. As is evident from his writings, he does not see God as being in any way responsive to our needs. Ken's God is completely unaware that we have fallen asleep. Therefore, He sees no reason to help us, nor to create a Holy Spirit Who helps us. If He did, says Ken, He would be as insane as we are.

All of this bears directly on the metaphor issue, on Judy's memory that Helen went "along with Ken's view that a lot of the Course is metaphorical." Helen's view in this case reflects the plain language of the Course. It reflects a literal approach to reading the Course. Ken's view, however, reflects his metaphorical approach, which acknowledges that that language is there, but dismisses it as metaphor. Indeed, one of the key features of Ken's approach is an across-the-board dismissal of the Course's voluminous language about an active Divine. For Helen to be a literalist in this key area calls into question whether she shared Ken's metaphorical approach at all.

Helen's What It Is

For the previous two points, we had to rely on Ken's report of Helen's views. I consider these reports reliable. It is certainly not in Ken's interests to make up or exaggerate differences between him and Helen. So when he reports such differences, I think we should believe him. For the current point, however, we have Helen's own words about the Course.

The preface to A Course in Miracles (the Foundation for Inner Peace version) is introduced with these words:

This Preface was written in 1977, in response to many requests for a brief introduction to A Course in Miracles. The first two parts—How It Came; What It Is—Helen Schucman wrote herself.

This preface, then, is a very important document. Helen herself wrote the first two parts of it to tell students how the Course came and what the Course is. It is her public statement about A Course in Miracles. It is how she wanted Course students to understand things. I want to focus in particular on the second part, What It Is. A passing glance at it shows that this piece is strikingly non-Wapnickian.

First, Helen clearly de-emphasizes theory and theology:

[The Course] emphasizes application rather than theory, and experience rather than theology. It states "a universal theology is impossible, but a universal experience is not only possible but necessary" (Manual, p. 77).

Having de-emphasized theory and theology, she then downplays the differences between the Course and other spiritual teachings. This follows naturally, for those differences, of course, are primarily differences of theory and theology.

Although Christian in statement, the Course deals with universal spiritual themes. It emphasizes that it is but one version of the universal curriculum. There are many others, this one differing from them only in form.

Thus, according to Helen, the differences between the Course and other spiritual paths are merely differences of "form." The actual "themes" taught by the Course are truly "universal."

Given that she has downgraded the importance of theory, the volume in which the theory is set forth—the Text—does not fare so well in her account. She says, "The Text is largely theoretical," and goes on to say,

Without the practical application the Workbook provides, the Text would remain largely a series of abstractions which would hardly suffice to bring about the thought reversal at which the Course aims.

These brief, and hardly glowing, comments about the Text introduce the real hero in Helen's story of the Course: the Workbook. The next paragraph then gives instructions for the all-important practice of the Workbook's lessons (you need not do one lesson a day; you can linger on one for more than a day, just don't do more than one per day). It ends by once again framing the Workbook as the practical arm of the Course: "The practical nature of the Workbook is underscored by the introduction to its lessons, which emphasizes experience through application rather than commitment to a prior spiritual goal." The significance of this becomes clear when we remember that earlier she said that the Course "emphasizes application rather than theory, and experience rather than theology." Then she said that "The Text is largely theoretical." Now she tells us that the Workbook "emphasizes experience through application." It is hard to escape the implications of all this. In the Course's value system, experience and application are most important and theory is least important, and the Workbook represents experience and application, while the Text represents theory.

After saying that the Workbook is about "experience through application," Helen includes a two-paragraph quote from the Workbook's introduction, which places practical application above belief in ideas: "You are merely asked to apply the ideas….You need not believe the ideas, you need not accept them, and you need not even welcome them" (Workbook, p. 2). In context, this comes across as yet another slap in the face of theory.

This lengthy quotation from the Workbook is followed by a brief paragraph on the Manual for Teachers, after which Helen returns again to the Workbook. She says that the Workbook lessons are not "intended to bring the student's learning to completion" and then concludes her piece with a hefty quote from the Workbook's epilogue.

In all, five and a half paragraphs out of nine are about the Workbook, three of those paragraphs being direct quotes from the Workbook. There are no quotes from the Text. The Workbook is clearly the star of the show here.

If you have any familiarity with Ken Wapnick's work, you will immediately recognize that these are not Ken's perspectives. Indeed, on every issue, his views lie on the other end of the spectrum: he exalts Course theory and theology, downplays the importance of practicing the lessons, repeatedly stresses the fundamental differences between the Course and other paths, and elevates the Text over the Workbook. Here, then, in Helen's one public statement about the Course we find a perspective that is startlingly alien to Ken's. The straight line that supposedly runs from Helen's views to Ken's is not looking very straight.

Christian Psychology

Helen played an active role in the first booklet that Ken wrote: Christian Psychology in 'A Course in Miracles.' According to Ken, Helen "helped me in the editing of the pamphlet"8 and "Helen and I came up with the present title."9 Most importantly, Helen approved of the purpose of the pamphlet. This purpose, according to Ken, was to "bridge the gap between orthodox Christian thinking and the Course for those who were coming to the Course from this tradition."10 He says, "Together we agreed that a bridge such as this pamphlet would provide was necessary."11 This involvement on Helen's part clearly implies a larger accord between her views and Ken's, at least at that time.

Indeed, Ken's introduction to Christian Psychology, written in 1978, is strikingly reminiscent of Helen's What It Is (written in 1977), the piece that is so obviously discordant with Ken's current views. Like Helen's What It Is, Ken's introduction speaks of "the Course's emphasis on experience rather than theology."12 He even quotes the same passage Helen did about "a universal experience" rather than "a universal theology."13 Like Helen, he stresses the Course's practical nature: "The Course's focus is always practical."14 It therefore stays away from "doctrinal issues,"15 he says (mirroring Helen's emphasis on "application rather than theory"). He then quotes one of the same paragraphs from the Workbook that Helen quoted, the one that says, "You are merely asked to apply the ideas." He even uses three of the exact same phrases that Helen used, word for word. We have already seen "experience rather than theology." He also says that the Course "makes no claims to finality"16 and that it is "Christian in statement."17 It appears that at this point in time, Ken was very much in Helen's mold.

Since then, however, Ken's views have dramatically changed. In fact, in 1996 he wrote a special preface to the second edition of Christian Psychology, in which he spent most of its nine pages explaining why this pamphlet sounds so different from his later teaching. He wanted to make sure that this pamphlet would not "confuse readers of this book who have been…familiar with my work."18 A similar new preface had already appeared in another of his early works, Forgiveness and Jesus: The Meeting Place of 'A Course in Miracles' and Christianity. (This preface was to the fourth edition of that book.) It sought to explain the same discrepancies between his earlier work and his later teaching.

In this preface to Christian Psychology, he explains that he no longer believes in trying to bridge the gap between Christianity and the Course. Rather, his work now stresses "the very real differences between these mutually exclusive thought systems."19 As he said in the Forgiveness and Jesus preface, "I have come to insist more and more to students that these distinctions [between the Course and the Bible]…render impossible any attempts to parallel these two spiritual approaches."20 Clearly, he no longer believes in bridging the gap (and no longer attempts to do so). Instead, he asserts that the gap is unbridgeable. This puts him at odds with Helen's view, since, according to his own words, she "agreed that a bridge…was necessary."21

He also steps away from the language in the pamphlet that suggests that the Holy Spirit and Jesus actually act in the world.

I refer in the book to the Holy Spirit's plan, to His or Jesus' sending us people, and to our asking Them for help….In reality, the Holy Spirit (or Jesus) does not intervene in the illusory world, since that would make Him as insane as we are.22

He tries to resolve this difference by saying that he only talked as if the Holy Spirit works in the world, and that he did so because this pamphlet was geared to a Jewish and Christian audience, whose language he was trying to speak.23 If that is the case, then it would mean that he and Helen were never in agreement about the Holy Spirit acting in the world. However, I believe that a review of his overall body of work strongly suggests that his views simply changed over time, a natural thing for any thinker. In his early teaching generally, he spoke of the Holy Spirit as acting in the world, and sounded as if he meant every word. Later on, he spoke very differently. We'll see examples of this below.

The problem here is that Helen was in accord with the earlier Ken on both counts that we see above. She believed that the Holy Spirit and Jesus work in the world. She agreed with the purpose of bridging the gap between Christianity and the Course. Where, then, does this put her in relation to the later Ken?

What happened?

If we survey the various positions that we have seen Helen take (either according to her own words or according to Ken Wapnick's report), one thing stands out: They all come from a literal reading of the Course. They are all grounded in things the Course actually says. The Course repeatedly portrays the Holy Spirit and Jesus as acting in the world. It builds bridges with Christianity by speaking as if the Bible carries divine authority ("The Bible emphasizes that all prayer is answered" —(T-9.II.3:1) and by portraying " the real Christian" (T-3.I.1:8) as adopting Course-like stances. Much like Helen, the Course says that it is merely one "form of the universal course" (M-1.4:1), the content of which stays the same from one form to another (M-1.3:5). It says that it is a course in "practical application," not in "the play of ideas" (T-11.VIII.5:3). It downplays "theological considerations" (C-In.2:4) and says that "theoretical issues but waste time" (M-24.4:5). It grants its Workbook massive importance, saying that "it is doing the exercises that will make the goal of the course possible" (W-In.1:2).

Helen's positions, then, always seem to be grounded in actual statements from the Course. We see no hint of her doing what became so common for Ken: adopting positions that fly in the face of what the Course says but that Ken assures us are what the Course really means. What allows Ken to do this is his metaphorical approach. With that approach, one can look at repeated, plainly stated themes in the Course and dismiss them out of hand, saying, "The Course can't mean that. That's just metaphor." This is exactly what we don't find Helen doing. Based on what she wrote and what Ken has said about her, we can't see the faintest trace of her employing Ken's metaphorical approach. To all appearances, she took the Course at its word. She appears to have been a Course literalist.

How do we explain what we have seen? We've seen genuine accord between Helen and Ken (as demonstrated in the case of Christian Psychology) and we've also seen stark differences. The explanation, I believe, is quite simple. I think that while Helen was alive, she and Ken probably were largely in accord.

In fact, it appears that Ken started out a literalist himself. In his earliest works, the metaphorical approach that became so characteristic of his later approach seems entirely absent. I certainly can't find any trace of it. When I read those works, I (as a literalist) find myself agreeing with virtually everything he says.

In support of the idea that Ken started out a literalist himself, here is a passage from the booklet A Talk Given on 'A Course in Miracles,' which is a transcript of a workshop he gave just a few months after Helen's death in 1981.

We must know that there is Someone with us who loves us. Yet that person is not ourselves. That person is the Holy Spirit, or Jesus….At the very end of the workbook Jesus says: "and of this be sure; that I will never leave you comfortless" (W-pII.ep.6:8). Unless we know that he means those words very literally, that there is Someone in us who is not of us, who will love and comfort us, we will never be able to get past that bedrock of the ego system.24

Notice that Ken not only advocates a real and active Holy Spirit, he also says that when Jesus speaks of this in the Course, "he means those words very literally." Let's just pause and appreciate this: When the Course speaks of the Holy Spirit as a real Someone Who is with us, loving and comforting us, Ken is urging us to take those words very literally. Those familiar with Ken's later teaching might need to put their eyeballs back in their sockets at this point. For they would have read quotations like these: "Any statement, without exception, that suggests God, the Holy Spirit, or Jesus as…an actual person who interacts with our separated selves and the world, is expressing a dualistic dimension that is meant only as a metaphor."25 "If these words are taken literally, we would find ourselves back in our childhood world of fairy godmothers, Santa Claus, and a Sugar Daddy for a God."26

Yet back in 1981, Ken was, to all appearances, a Course literalist. In those early days, he seems to have been following Helen's lead. However, a few years after Helen's death, in the mid- to late-80s, Ken's teaching underwent a dramatic change. It rapidly adopted the metaphorical approach that allowed Ken to take positions contrary to the Course's actual language and then turn around and dismiss that language as mere metaphor. As one of many examples of the change he went through, here is the early Ken answering a question about the reality of the Holy Spirit in 1985:

Q. If the separation is an illusion, and the Holy Spirit came into existence to solve that, isn't the Holy Spirit an illusion?

A. No, because God created Him. It's a good question, though. The Course's answer is that when the separation is totally healed and the Holy Spirit is no longer needed, He still exists because God created Him.27

Ken answers this question in keeping with how the Course speaks and in keeping with the spirit of Helen's views on the Holy Spirit. He answers it, in other words, as a Course literalist. Here, however, is the later Ken addressing the same issue in 1997:

So too must the Holy Spirit be an illusion as well, because He corrects (or translates) what is useless and meaningless [or illusory].28

This answer is completely foreign to what the Course actually says. It is also the exact opposite of what Ken himself said earlier. 1985: The fact that the Holy Spirit is there to correct an illusion does not mean that He is an illusion; He is a real, eternal creation of God. 1997: The fact that the Holy Spirit is there to correct an illusion means that He must be an illusion. Somewhere in between these two statements, Ken did a complete flip-flop.

Let's look at another example. In Forgiveness and Jesus, written in 1983, Ken explains what it means to be a teacher of God:

Jesus sends us into the world, fulfilling certain functions….We are sent to certain people….If, for example, our work takes us to the inner city…If we teach suffering and neglected children…If we seek to help free those who are oppressed…

Jesus needs us to be his apostles of peace, or teachers of God, because only through us can he complete the saving work he undertook to begin in his own life….He needs our eyes to see the suffering in the world, and yet see the light shining beyond it; he needs our ears to hear the calls for help of people frightened into responses of attack and violence; he needs our arms and feet to bring his hope and comfort to those who have forgotten him, he needs our voice to speak his message of salvation that all our sins have been forgiven. Most of all he needs our willingness to become his messengers of love.29

This is wonderful stuff. It resonates deeply with me. Yet we see a starkly different picture fourteen years later when he addresses the very same issue—what it means to be a teacher of God. In the earlier quotation, he spoke movingly of Jesus using our "arms and feet" and "voice" to "teach suffering…children" and free the oppressed. Now he attributes such ideas not to the Course, but to "the ego's need to make…itself special":

The teachers of God need merely accept the Atonement for themselves, and that salvation of the world depend on their simply doing just that and only that. This is not an insignificant point….The ego's need to make the world and itself special will distort the words to mean that the Course student, now a seemingly advanced teacher of God, is asked by Jesus behaviorally to teach other students, heal the sick, or preach to the world.

One does not heal others, minister to others, or teach others; one simply accepts the truth within oneself by realizing the illusory nature of the ego….

Even more to the point, one cannot heal others because ultimately, if the world is an illusion, who is there to help?…Needless to say, the whole concept of helping presupposes a dualistic universe, of which God knows nothing….Passages like this poem [the closing paragraph of the Manual for Teachers] are meant to be taken as symbols of God's Love, and not as literal truth.30

Looking at these two blocks of material, one can scarcely believe that they were written by the same man. Somewhere in between 1983 and 1997 Ken underwent a sea change in his views.

Conclusion

The story that Judy imparts in the interview, and that has been around in different forms for many years, does not hold up under scrutiny. Instead of a pure understanding running like a golden cord from the Course to Helen to Ken, there is a major break in that cord a few years after Helen's death. That's when Ken's teaching headed off in its own very original direction, a direction that was quite different than Helen's.

This puts us in a situation that is opposite to what Judy describes. The clear implication of her story is that if you disagree with Ken, you disagree with Helen, the woman who brought this thing into the world. Yet on a number of key Course issues that we have seen, the reality is that if you agree with Ken, you disagree with Helen.

We, therefore, need not feel bound by the dictates of this story. Intentionally or unintentionally, this story does what the origin myths of so many traditions do: it controls the minds of the faithful. It keeps their minds moving only along the steel tracks laid down by the story (this may sound extreme until you know someone of whom this is true). We, however, are free to jump those tracks, for the simple reason that the story does not hold up. How many such stories actually do? This one doesn't hold up to the evidence of Ken Wapnick's own statements nor the evidence of Helen Schucman's own writings. This leaves us free to fully honor the Course's birth, and even honor Helen's understanding of the Course, without being obliged to embrace Ken Wapnick's current teachings.

This does not automatically invalidate Ken's teachings, but it does mean that they cannot claim any special status because they supposedly go back to an accord shared by Helen and Ken. By uncoupling from that accord, Ken's teachings also uncoupled from the authority contained therein. They now travel on their own, being just one man's interpretation. They therefore stand or fall strictly on their own merits, like any other interpretation.

Along these same lines, let us not overestimate the importance of Helen's interpretation of the Course. One of the great things about the Course is that we are not relying on decades of oral tradition that came between Jesus' words and our written record. In this case, as Jesus spoke, there was someone taking dictation. And we have that dictation right in front of us, on paper, in English (yes, edited toward the beginning, but virtually unedited for the bulk of the Course). We have what New Testament scholars can only dream of: the ipsissima verba, the very words. That is where the power lies, in those words. We don't need to rely on a delicate human chain that reaches back to Helen. We can just open the book.

This gives us the ability to test anyone's interpretation, Helen's included, against the actual words of the Course. Thus, while I respect Helen's take on the Course, I cannot say that I agree with all of her views as we have seen them here. In particular, I don't agree with her apparent downplaying of the Text and her statement that the Course differs from other paths only in form. However, what I do agree with is the essential interpretive approach that she took. To all appearances, she was a Course literalist. She knew that the power lay in those words.

If you think about it, what else would you expect? Of course the woman whose life purpose was to take down those words would take them literally. Of course she didn't devise some elaborate justification for discounting the very words that she spent years scribing, editing, and retyping. And of course those around her read the Course in the same way, as if it actually meant what it said. And of course we should too. That is how we anchor ourselves in the pure beginnings of this tradition.

Judith Skutch-Whitson and Ken Wapnick were contacted for comment on this article before publication. Ken declined to comment, and we received no answer from Judy.


1. Absence from Felicity: The Story of Helen Schucman and Her Scribing of 'A Course in Miracles,' 1st ed., p. 363.

2. Absence from Felicity, p. 376.

3. The Message of 'A Course in Miracles,' Volume One: Few Choose to Listen, p. 148.

4. Few Choose to Listen, p. 150.

5. Absence from Felicity, p. 478.

6. Ken says he brought it up "indirectly a couple of years later" (Absence from Felicity, p. 478).

7. Absence from Felicity, pp. 479-480.

8. Christian Psychology in 'A Course in Miracles,' 2nd ed. (1st ed. 1978; 2nd ed. 1992), p. ix.

9. Christian Psychology, p. ix.

10. Christian Psychology, p. viii.

11. Christian Psychology, p. ix.

12. Christian Psychology, p. 1.

13. Christian Psychology, p. 1.

14. Christian Psychology, p. 1.

15. Christian Psychology, p. 1.

16. Christian Psychology, p. 2.

17. Christian Psychology, p. 2.

18. Christian Psychology, p. xiv.

19. Christian Psychology, p. x.

20. Forgiveness and Jesus: The Meeting Place of 'A Course in Miracles' and Christianity, 6th ed. (1st ed. 1978; 6th ed. 1998), p. xv.

21. Christian Psychology, p. ix.

22. Christian Psychology, p. xi.

23. Christian Psychology, p. x.

24. A Talk Given on 'A Course in Miracles,' 7th ed. (1st ed. 1983; 7th ed. 1999), p. 109.

25. Few Choose to Listen, p. 95.

26. Few Choose to Listen, p. 69.

27. The Fifty Miracle Principles of 'A Course in Miracles,' 1st ed., pp. 129-130.

28. Few Choose to Listen, p. 88.

29. Forgiveness and Jesus, pp. 326, 328.

30. Few Choose to Listen, pp. 32-34.

6 Comments

  1. Brian
    Posted July 24, 2012 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    Dear One,

    I was looking for an already digitised text of Helen's received message of Oct 5 1975 and haven't found it—but I did find What Was Helen's Interpretation of the Course? by Robert Perry

    (As well as a quick trawl of strange web exposure to the Course as a theme or thread in the mind of the world).

    Anyway, I appreciated reading your page on a number of levels. I felt to feedback and this is what came up.

    The message I had sought to find — (and save myself typing it out!) is from Ken Wapnik's 'Absence from Felicity' page 380. and is, I feel, of a particular nature — though the Course is full of such direct expressions that tend to inspire reverence. For that within us that hears, feels and knows — is beneath or beyond the mind that focuses in 'its' experience in the world — and is directly open to communioned Being. (Which of course is the exact nature of the message).

    Such awakened perspective also allows us to see the mind that focuses in the world, in place — or truly located. That is, in and of the Peace of God. This in turn enables miscreative will to be undone of a false lens of sin and guilt — not theoretically — but as expression of help, compassionate action. Which may look like any other worldly help — excepting that the spirit in which it is expressed is not an expression of sin and guilt 'salves' or compulsions. Nor is it needing to differentiate itself.

    In any mind actively engaged in the confusion of the world, (that is investing itself in the effect rather than expressing a wholeness of cause), there is an explosion of fragmented thought and perspective, each seeming to hold some part of a Meaning that is believed lost, yet is treasured as a special and central perspective with which all else should integrate.

    To even begin (desire) to control our destiny is to take our life (in thought) from the Wholeness of the only Meaning that is. To the human sense, this makes no sense, because the construct of the self, the mind and the world is actively operating as a lens by which the Living one thinks all is as he believes and experiences it to be. The power of Mind (as opposed to the beliefs about Mind that have seemingly partitioned and neutered it) is not a power over anything else — and yet the holding of 'foreign' ideas in the act of a desiring attention is to give priority to an imagination out of accord with truth. That is to say in concept, one can imaginatively explore an aspect of an otherwise impossible incongruence as long as one puts stark impossibility on hold. The unlimited or unbounded and infinite nature of Mind simply Is. Before any notion of is or is not. My conceptual attempt to speak, is brought to an impossibility starkly standing forth.

    For in whatever is spoken and heard — or transmitted in Mind — is given all power of being, and in leaning out from Meaning into a thought of meaninglessness, is a sense of conflicted polarity experienced. This can seem to be an explosion of creative force because Mind cannot NOT Be Creative, yet it is expressing from an imaginatively maintained basis. A 'wrong mind' adopted for the purpose of an experiment of experience, that seems to have gone forth and multiplied confusion, because such is its 'father'. The 'Right mind' is that which was put aside, on hold, kept from interfering temporarily so as to follow the thought of 'what if'. The capacity of wrong-mindedness is limited and temporary, but it can be repeated, and its conditioning can run as an automatic loop, until any sense of value or meaning from such experience falls away and reveals the true nature of a nothingness given Meaning, and the adulteration of a Perfect Love with a seemingly evil or lovelessly disconnected will — that rises immediately from the wish for defining or controlling our Destiny. Destiny being not of time but of an Expression that knows itself truly and directly.

    The uncovering of Wholeness and Holiness is like going back in time, in that the strata of error closer to the 'Big Bang' are uncovered. What we might call temptation, godlike powers, false prophets, rebellion and 'spiritual war' (sic). For these 'self' distortions are the early coverings of the Light. The metaphor of Big Bang is limited. The explosion that it refers to cannot have occurred in the past and can be undone in the Present, by the Power of One.

    Separative will or identity is inferred from the experience of a mind that thought to think some more when dissonance of an imaginative state, held overlong, called me Present, but I yielded not for I heard only an interruption or threat to my intent and called forth defences.

    I enjoy writing from a listening. Perhaps that is the wrong phrase, I am enjoined in writing from a listening. I do see the pattern of will and yielding in the flow of trust. Accepting the Atonement cannot be something in time, that all must wait on before it can move. But every love acknowledged and honoured in time must be an expression of that acceptance of love — given tangibility to a world that forgets and forgets again.

    Expressions of love are not conformed to rues that we use in the world to hold order. But they cannot be private creations for trust extending is an active relationship.

    in Gratitude
    Brian

  2. Nicci
    Posted October 15, 2012 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

    dear heart,
    i read your article with interest, and did have an intellectual understanding of the conflicts of interpretation you describe. but somehow, when i rested in the feeling state of my Inner Teacher, those same ideas held no discrepancy or disharmony. one thing this path has resulted in for me is to experience seeming opposites as being complimentary ~ for instance the metaphor that can be experienced literally.

    i am grateful for your circle teachings and for ken’s help as i navigate this dream in the desire to restore to my mind “that which is already there”.

    endless Love, nicci

  3. Mary Benton
    Posted October 15, 2012 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

    Robert,

    Your article raises many issues. I have considered and tussled with Ken Wapnick’s teachings for quite some time. There are some unanswered questions and contradictions in Ken’s interpretations in my opinion. At the same time Ken also manages to get to the heart of the matter on many points as well. I gain from Ken’s teachings in some fundamental ways as well as feeling frustration and irritation in other ways. This is complex.

    Regarding the matter of the literal or the metaphorical, this is a false dichotomy. It is obvious that the Course contains both literal and metaphorical language. So it is quite insufficient to call oneself a “literalist” in relation to A Course In Miracles.

    As I have said before many people follow “authorities” quite blindly. This is unlikely to change. In any case I don’t see much point in public battles about authority. In looking at the beginnings of the Course I don’t see its author being much interested in external authorities. He would like us to study His Course and practice what it says. In my experience over many years the Course itself is the most potent teacher I have ever encountered. No external teacher has anywhere near this power.

    In saying all this I am not against discussion about the Course, but I am not interested in public battles about “authority”. There is no point in coveting Ken’s “authority”. Moreover on some points I think Ken is right and COA is wrong. Do we now start a war of attrition on COA? No, let’s just realize that no one human has all the answers right. This may be unfortunate, but it is a fact. Nevertheless there is One Who never fails. Let’s place more reliance on Him.

    Mary

  4. Linda Lee
    Posted October 15, 2012 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

    Dear Robert,

    When I was a little girl in Sunday school in the First Baptist Church in Knoxville, TN, I remember the first time my teacher mentioned God’s sending “a comforter.” My head shot up – eyes wide as all outdoors – to look at her. She was busy reading. I recall looking around at the tops of classmate’s heads. They kept reading along with her. Back again, I looked at my teacher. No contact. This was probably, as time goes, 1947. I was six.

    That light stayed on in my mind, though additional information about the so-called “comforter” was hard to come by.

    Fast forward to 1983: while pushing my basket up an aisle of the New Age Supermarket, a friend gave me a copy of ACIM and said “Read this.”

    God knows I tried.

    How, unassisted by a teacher, does a beginner get through Chapters 1 and 2 of the Text?

    Fast forward to October 30, 2004: Two girlfriends dragged me out of my sick bed, drove me to your workshop and paid my fee. Frankly, after reading the complete Text – guided by Ken Wapnick tapes and a local metaphorical-oriented teacher (who literally said “Oh, ignore the Workbook. Nobody does that.”), I had given up and taken to my sick bed.

    But . . . there you were, leading your workshop, with me wondering aloud: “Why is he ringing that little bell? What is he doing?”

    “We’re doing the daily practice,” they said, shushing me.

    “What?” I wondered. “But why?” I asked. “Nobody does that.”

    Now I heard only a dual “Shhhhhh.”

    By the end of your workshop, however, my mind swam up (a bit) from wherever. I waited. When those who seemed to know what was going on were finished chatting with you – and had moved away from the refreshment table where you were finally free to enjoy fresh fruit – I stumbled over to speak to you alone.

    Nobody has ever been kinder or more open to me, Robert, not in my whole life. You appeared suitably bright but opaque, like a Chinese lantern, with a merry smile. Probably you had heard me saying, too loud, “What is he doing?” I suspect it amused you.

    So there I was, an open-mouth fish, swimming up toward what-I-did-not-know. Sunshine on water? Maybe simply Plankton.

    Soon I found myself – remember: my friends had paid my way because I was “broke”! hahaha! – digging up payment for PATH OF LIGHT. You laughed some more and signed the book: “Linda, I hope this can help with some of those “deeper questions.” Peace, Robert Perry.”

    You know I could not, at first, swim through your book, either. I read as far as I could grasp, set your book back on my bookshelf and, upon future occasions – when I could “take more” – read farther.

    Later I heard that COA offered a free daily Workbook teleconference class. Because I love nothing better than learning new stuff, and the price was right, I approached the leader of Oasis, where I attended a Sunday ACIM-based service.

    “What about this free class that Robert Perry’s offering? What do you think?” His answer was a wiggle of his hand in a kind of comme ci-comme ca gesture. [Help! Dee, can you or somebody correct my miserable French? No accent marks in my Word program, either, but it’s what I feel guided to say here.]

    And so, looking for that light, I came to COA. And the Circle has, in an eddy of only seven years, helped a little girl find, at last, her Comforter.

    Thanks a million, buddy, for bringing in the Plankton-bearers, glorious teachers! Those fishers of men who spread joy like smooth peanut butter on toast. (Like . . . it’s time to drop this metaphor, right?)

    Anyway, what joy you and Greg and all you teachers have allowed me to experience! Today, hearing Holy Spirit’s guidance, how cool is that? Enjoying the certainty of my inner buddy, way cool. Knowing I don’t really have to “figure out” anything or anybody, wow! What a relief. That straining, struggling part of my brain is tired. My clenched jaw unlocks a bit (ha!) each day so that I hope, eventually, to have a ready smile. While my special function is writing fiction and drama – for live theatre, oh yes! – I grasp all that stuff about their being no time, no stories and no disguises, etc., etc., etc. I guess you and COA are just going to have to live with this fact of my so-called life. One rule of theatre: the dramatist must get the audience back into their seats after the first/second-act curtain. All drama, to be fun fun fun for everyone, must build suspense, must capture imagination, and then . . . after appropriate gnashing of teeth and banging about in turmoil, the reveal! See my cape swirling as I exit?!*:-) [This is me with a sparkler in my hair!]

    Oh, Robert, thank you all so very much. Being One with you guys and gals is turning my days into vivid hums, sights I never saw before – so clearly laid out – so obvious – accompanied by a humming vibration. The best visualization of this that I have seen is in Indian (as in India) art, in portraits of their Saints. I am looking at Saraswati as I speak. Once upon a time, I thought these depictions were too simplistic, totally lacking in subtlety, maybe even in poor taste. Now they make me laugh!

    Honestly? I do not expect to see these words of mine appear anywhere on your learned and dignified website. I don’t really care. But I DO feel compelled to share my little girl’s experience in my own way. You know, the Cool Dude sat for a 4-color picture that hung on the wall in my Sunday school class. He was surrounded by children, and His words read: “Suffer the little children to come unto me!”

    Well . . . ta da! Here I am!!

    Linda Lee Christenberry
    September 4, 2012
    Seymour, TN

    P. S. I know. Now I need lessons in calming down, taking all this magnificence in stride and not scaring chickens and citizens . . . with too much childish enthusiasm! Please don’t anybody get alarmed. Just let me enjoy my euphoria until the little bell quits ringing and I have to appear in the marketplace, acting as if I had the sense God gave me. Lucky for everybody that I have dependable guidance. Till then, Adieu!

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