What do we make of people purportedly channeling the author of A Course in Miracles? Ever since the Course came out, people have been claiming to not only channel Jesus, but specifically the same Jesus that authored A Course in Miracles. This is quite natural, since, after all, the Course was received in this way, and itself encourages us to listen for Jesus' voice inside us. Currently, this phenomenon seems to be coming into vogue. There are several people claiming to channel the author of the Course, among them Brent Haskell, Paul Tuttle, Tom Carpenter and Jon Marc Hammer. There are more books coming out, workshops are being held all over the country, and even a newsletter is coming out devoted to Jesus channeling.
What do we make of this material? Is it the same as the Course? Is it authored by the same Jesus? Should we consider it to be a sort of extended part of the Course, like an appendix or perhaps a fourth volume? Or even the next step beyond the Course? Because I am asked these questions more and more these days, I thought I should put my thoughts down on paper. Though I intend to evaluate the material being channeled, I in no way intend to be critical of the people channeling it. The ones I know are all remarkably genuine and loving people, as well as dedicated students of the Course. It is a pleasure knowing them and I do not doubt the sincerity with which they offer their gifts.
I will draw much of my inspiration from a section in the Manual for Teachers entitled, "Is Reincarnation So?" (Manual, p. 57-58; M-24) I find this section so applicable because it addresses the question: What should a teacher of the Course do when confronted with a question about the relationship between the Course and some outside issue or teaching?
One of the first things this section says is that reincarnation is an idea that can be used to contribute to salvation or to impede it. Whether or not the concept is helpful "depends, of course, on what it is used for" (1:5). I believe the same is true of this channeled material. It can be used to contribute to or impede salvation. The question then becomes: What are we using it for?
Are those who are using this material doing so because they hunger to get more out of the Course? Does the material clarify and enhance what they read in the Course? Do they find renewed motivation for practicing the Course's principles and exercises? In short, is what motivates the readers of this material the desire to fully realize and demonstrate A Course in Miracles? If so, then I believe it is being used constructively.
Yet there is, of course, another motivation available. I will call it the short-cut motivation. This motivation says that I dearly long for the rewards, the experience, the joy that the Course promises. But the Course simply asks too much of me. It asks me to pore over dense, convoluted explanations and do tedious practices several times an hour. Furthermore, maybe I have had the Course for ten years, have done what I feel is my best with it, and it has simply failed to deliver the rewards. What now?
Now I start looking for something that gives me that high I want from the Course, but more quickly and more easily. I look to the thrill of brand new material; to the fascination of channeling; to the deep excitement of hearing from Jesus himself. Perhaps a personal encounter with Jesus, facilitated by a channel, will give me that feeling I have been yearning for. In my opinion, this short-cut motivation produces a misuse of the material, one that impedes salvation.
Most anyone who has attended a session of such channeling will know what I am talking about here; the room is almost electric with these very feelings. And it is these kinds of feelings which, according to Ken Wapnick, the Course was originally greeted with. In Absence from Felicity (p. 375), he writes:
There [in San Francisco] we met large numbers of very interested people, who seemed at times, however, more interested in the story of the Course's scribing than in the material itself. This fascination with the ostensible psychic elements to the story eventually paled, and many of these same people lost interest in the Course itself after a while….
I am sure you see what I am talking about. Are we interested in a quick and easy "fix"? Or are we interested in the lasting rewards that come only from doing the work, from studying, from practicing and from extending? What we get from Jesus channeling will largely be determined by which of these motivations is driving us.
Another thing that section on reincarnation says is that reincarnation is not a part of the Course's curriculum (2:6), because it is not essential to salvation. This implies two things: First, don't present reincarnation to others as part of the Course's curriculum (though you can express your belief in it). Second, the idea of reincarnation can easily "waste time, draining it away from its appointed purpose" (4:5). Being tangential, it can seduce our focus off of the Course's central aim, which is "a complete reversal of thought" (4:1).
Does this apply to the topic of Jesus channeling? I think it does. These other channelings are not a part of the Course's curriculum—you will never see them published as volume IV of A Course in Miracles. And if the Course is right when (in lesson 42) it claims to be "a unified thought system in which nothing is lacking that is needed," then these other channelings are indeed nonessential, not needed. So, just as with reincarnation, this means two things.
First, do not present these other channelings to students as part of the Course's curriculum, part of its total package. Second, like the idea of reincarnation, I believe they can draw our focus away from where it belongs; not so much off of the goal of thought reversal (as with reincarnation), but off of the curriculum of the Course itself. While we are caught up in this other material are we studying the Text? Are we pouring ourselves into the Workbook? Or are we distracted from those activities, drawn off by something more enticing? This final question is not rhetorical. The answer can be, and often is "no." But it may also be "yes."
So again, our use of the material—not the material itself—is really the fundamental issue. But I would be less than responsible if I didn't discuss the material itself. Obviously our use of the material will be heavily influenced by how much authority we give it. So, how much authority should we give it? I cannot really do this topic justice here, both because I am not intimately acquainted with the various materials and also because I do not plan to be specific here: I don't want to name names and quote passages. However, given that limitation, I do hope to give some valuable guidelines.
To begin with, channeling is such an incredibly mixed bag as to almost defy imagination. Channeling can bring forth the most sublime material the world has seen or some of the most worthless. It can come from the Holy Spirit, from a historical personage (like Jesus), from an angel, from a non-specific field of consciousness, from a psychic imprint, from the channel's own subconscious, from collective (and primitive) archetypes, and from probably a thousand other places, including combinations of all of the above. So when channeling purports to come from Jesus, whether it actually comes from him or not is most definitely not a simple yes or no question. A more accurate question would be: What percentage actually comes from Jesus? How much is it actually influenced or colored by Jesus? I have been an avid reader, a student and an intimate personal acquaintance of many sources of channeled material over the last 17 years. And I can tell you that it means absolutely nothing that a certain source says that it is Jesus. We still have to evaluate it. We always have to discern. With these sources that claim to be the author of the Course, I suggest five ways to evaluate them:
1. Is the material helpful; does it lead to spiritual progress?
This question is inspired by the reincarnation section in the Manual: "All beliefs that lead to progress should be honored" (6:11)—though not necessarily seen as part of the Course. This question must be answered by each person after working with a particular channeled material.
2. Is the material congruent with the Course?
This question, of course, must be asked, and asked carefully. As soon as a source claims to be the author of the Course, it claims implicit authority with tens of thousands of Course students. It lays claim to a pre-given authority with a pre-made audience. This single claim accounts for much of the popularity of these materials. In short, they are riding on the coattails of the Course. This is not necessarily bad (after all, I am riding on those same coattails). But this privilege comes with a price. By claiming to come from the same author as the Course, a channeled material is asking to be evaluated by the standard of the Course. And that is a very specific and very high standard indeed.
Do any of these materials pass this exacting test? Are any totally congruent with the Course? That is a matter of opinion. In my opinion, all of the channeled materials I have seen fall very short of total congruence with the Course. I can barely read a page of such material without finding things that to my mind are clearly out of accord with the Course. Most students I speak to do not notice these inconsistencies. My experience is different: I not only notice them, I cannot explain them away.
As I see it, the strength of these Jesus channelings is to make a few select Course concepts (different ones for each channeled source) very clear, relevant, immediate and personal. That is an important strength. Yet here also is another weakness, for the Course is a very broad system which weaves into unity an amazingly diverse collection of ideas. The channeled sources I have seen generally repeat over and over just a few simple notes of the Course's grand symphony.
3. Do these channeled sources help us do the Course's program or do they draw us away from it?
Earlier I asked whether we were using this material in such a way as to draw us away from the Course. Now I am asking a slightly different question: What does the material itself encourage? Does it encourage us to deeply study the Text? Does it stress the importance of Workbook practice? Or does it hold out a subtle bypass? Does it somehow focus attention on itself at the expense of the Course? Does it offer us a yet higher way, a step beyond the Course, a graduate Course?
This category is perhaps the most serious to my mind. For most of the materials I have read clearly, though perhaps subtly, commit the error implied in this question. Now again, this is simply my impression of some of these sources. You must ask and answer this question for yourself.
4. Does the character of these sources embody and inspire the noblest impulses within us?
Again I will leave this question in your hands. One of the things that impresses me most about the Course is the character of its author. He does embody the noblest impulses within me. Does the character of a particular source feel that way for you? Would you follow this character out of this world and into Heaven? Would you trust him enough to relinquish your most cherished values, beliefs, feelings and attachments because you believe in what he says? Does he elevate or lower your expectations of the Divine? Does his character convince you that reality is more wonderful than you had dreamt or that it is only a step above where you yourself are at? My suggestion: Do not settle for less than absolute perfection.
5. What is your own guidance about this particular material?
The reincarnation section in the Manual tells us that if a teacher of God "is misusing the belief in some way that is detrimental" (5:5) he will be told. So ask your own internal Teacher about these materials, if you are drawn to them. One caution, however: Be ready to discern whatever guidance you receive. All guidance is capable of error, not because the Holy Spirit is wrong, but because He is working through imperfect channels.
The above questions—of what are you using the material for and how to evaluate the material itself—are ones that you can ask and answer for yourself. Your answers may be totally different from mine. Now, to conclude this editorial I will give you my opinions.
First, I believe that we should treat any material that claims to channel the author of the Course as a particular slant on the Course. Rather than give it the same authority as the Course, I believe that we should give it the authority we would give a human interpreter—and subject it to the same process of measurement against the Course. In my mind, these materials have earned this approach. For they seem to me to slant the Course according to current widespread misconceptions about the Course's teaching and current lack of understanding about the Course's program. Unlike the Course itself, they betray the evidence of human influence and bias. This is true of most all channeled material, and so should not surprise us. This doesn't mean they cannot be helpful. And it doesn't mean that Jesus is not present in them to a degree. It just means what it means.
Second, I believe that we should use this material for the same purposes that we would use human commentary on the Course: as an aid to our own doing of the Course, our own working of its program; not as a subtle substitute for the Course.
Third, if you consider this material to be the graduate Course, the next step beyond the Course, then do the honest thing: Consider this material to be your new path, and A Course in Miracles your former path.
Finally, the fascination with this Jesus channeling, along with most of the other things that go on in the Course world, convinces me that we simply don't have a clue as to what lies in the Course. We don't have a clue. I recently heard a student describe one set of channeled material as being the door to Heaven and describe the Course as the door to the panel discussion on Heaven. I have heard the Course described as freshman 101 and a set of channeled material described as sophomore 201. This doesn't mean that the people making these assessments are insincere or sinful. It simply means to me that they, and we, have not acquired the eyes to see the untold wealth that lies in the Course waiting to be discovered.
I believe that something happened when the Course came into the world, something unique in human history. A wisdom and a love not of this world poured itself into the thin pages of a book, pages that were thus filled with a spiritual treasure house the likes of which this world has never seen. Though our world has not yet delved deeply into that treasury, we immediately sensed it was there, making the Course a unique phenomenon in our modern world. The Course needed no coattails to ride on. And, I believe, long after the various Jesus channelings of today have been forgotten, centuries from now, we will still be exploring that treasure house, more earnestly than ever, still wondering where its riches will end, finally suspecting that they will end only in Heaven itself.
So before we decide that we have exhausted the Course and it is time to move on to the graduate Course, or before we decide that the Course simply hasn't delivered and it is time to look for something more promising, let's throw ourselves, body and mind, into that treasure house and carry its wealth out into the daylight of our lives. We have not yet begun. In the Course's first twenty years we have barely scratched the surface. Have we really done what it says, that we should grow restless and start looking around for something new? The Course, in its own pages, was already aware of this tendency of ours: "You may complain that this course is not sufficiently specific for you to understand and use. Yet perhaps you have not done what it specifically advocates" (Text, p. 196; T-11.VIII.5:2).
So for the sake of our own happiness, for the sake of our own troubled minds which yearn for enlightenment, let's devote ourselves to doing what the Course specifically advocates. And if the material of some channel, or of some human interpreter, helps us in doing that—great. That is a service well-rendered and gratefully received. But if the Course is our path, let's see these things as mere aids to the truly vital process of entering and drawing from that limitless treasure house of the Course itself. Once we have done so, we will surely say, with the writer of the Gospel of John, "And from his fullness have we all received, grace upon grace." Because, for those of us who have been assigned this particular course, in its fullness lies our happiness and our release. As its Introduction says, "Herein lies the peace of God."