Yesterday, while searching online for some information about ACIM teachers – I am trying to better appreciate and understand what prompts people to charge money for “teaching” ACIM – I ran into two articles that threw me for a loop.
The first was over at EWTN which is a conservative Catholic news service. The author, Edward R. Hryczyk, quoting extensively from a Catholic priest (Fr. Benedict J. Groeschel) who knew Helen Schucman is deeply critical of A Course in Miracles. He not-so-subtly implies that it’s deceptive at a radical level – the work not of Jesus but of a demon, an embodiment of diabolical intent.
In other words, the course doesn’t just depart from traditional Catholic dogma and theology. It affirmatively seeks to lead people away from God and into hell. The priest claims as proof the pain and anguish and suffering of Helen Schucman’s last years.
Mr. Hryczyk suggests that Catholics to be gentle but uncompromising with ACIM students. They (we, actually) are usually sincerely searching for Christ, trying to fill a spirit-less void, but are dangerously led astray. Our only hope is to return to the teachings and traditions of the Catholic church, as mediated by the Magisterium.
I’m immune to a lot of what conservative or fundamentalist Christianity offers. Over the years, I’ve gotten pretty good at accepting where those believers are at, finding what common ground (if any) is available, and trying to steer away from any painful conflict. If there’s room for dialogue, great. If not, that’s okay, too. I don’t want to hurt people.
But I was raised Catholic – cradle to my late thirties. Two of my children are baptized. I went to a Catholic college, studied Catholic theology, and even looked into being a priest with the Edmundites. I believed and even when the going got really tough, I tried to keep believing. I wanted to keep the faith.
Eventually, after much prayer and contemplation and talk with friends and family, I let it go. It was the right decision for me and it planted the seeds of a fruitful spiritual practice that has been, in a phrase, game-changing.
But that article – the priest’s confidence that he was right, the subtle allusions to an evil that is capable of manifesting in the world, the author’s certainty that I and others like me are bound to a gnostic philosophy that can only lead to hell – really shook me. I don’t like saying that – in part because it shows how I am still invested in publicly presenting some spiritual “ideal” – but the truth is, I was rattled.
And – as this post testifies – I am still sorting through that experience.
I never believed in a God that didn’t love everyone unconditionally. But I did believe in a God that was stern, demanding and judgmental. He didn’t hate me – but he was perpetually disappointed in me. And that wasn’t going to change in Heaven. I didn’t fit in the world and I had little hope that I was going to be much a right fit up there, either.
And – deep down in the recesses of my belief system – I accepted the presence of an angel who had chose to rule in hell rather than follow in Heaven. I was susceptible to his wiles. The devil was real and hot on my heels, always throwing rock bands and beautiful women and drugs and whatever else he could into my path. I was his best hope and we both knew it.
So the real risk was not rejection by the somewhat cold and elusive God, but my own acceptance of the evil alternative.
What a harsh and painful spirituality! And clearly I have not uprooted all of it, as it has surfaced yet again. A couple thousand words written by a man I don’t know, quoting a priest I’ve never met, and all the relentlessly difficult baggage of that church comes rising to the surface.
Today, I am trying to let that baggage stay in the light. I want to keep it on the table, so to speak. As I have noted in recent entries, the ego is having a field day with me lately. So this, too, is being offered to the Holy Spirit. I can’t have any secrets and so this ugliness is going to have to be put on display and given over.
The other article that I read appeared in an online journal devoted to the Book of Urantia. The author, Philip Eversoul, affirmatively rejecting any possibility that A Course in Miracles could be reconciled with Urantia teachings. In fact, in somewhat the same spirit as the EWTN article, he pointed out that the Course was not the work of Jesus but of Caligastia, who is the Urantian equivalent of the devil.
That text was less frightening to me. But it did bring out my inner theological lawyer. I’m modestly familiar with the Urantia book (see the links above). I don’t claim to know it extensively and I certainly am not a follower or student of that text. But I own it. I’ve talked to people about it. And I respect it and I accept it as one of the many paths that are available to us.
Still, I believe that Mr. Eversoul was mistaken in some of his observations about the course. Notably, he concluded that the Course claims – despite its protestations to the contrary – to be the only way to get to God.
Like a drunken lawyer I practically leaped to my feet to rebut the charges. I was ready to write emails, letters to the editor, a whole blog post exposing the wrongness of Mr. Eversoul – and highlighting, of course, the rightness of me.
It’s a different kind of conflict than with the EWTN article, but it’s still a conflict. The need to be right where others are wrong is itself wrong-minded thinking. It is fundamentally unloving. It focuses on error, on behavior and on bodies. It ignores the perfection of our abstract spiritual reality.
And, contrary to belief, it’s not about correction. It’s about keeping our own hatred and guilt hidden by projecting it out into the world.
So yes. I was surprised by the intensity of my reaction. If you asked, I would have pointed out that I’m doing a lot better than I was a year ago, three years ago, ten years ago. Because I practice the course, because I seem to be able to make contact with that still inner voice, I don’t resort to lovelessness the way I once did.
But there I was acting like a man bent on hurting others in a vain attempt to exorcise his own hurt and there was no other way to see it. I was right and Mr. Eversoul was wrong and I was pissed about it. And all I could think to do was take the spark of anger and turn it into a conflagration.
On the one hand, I am grateful for yesterday’s readings. It opens up some new grounds for forgiveness, which is always a blessing. Now that a few hours have passed, I see that. I don’t want to answer anybody or correct anybody. I don’t want to fan the flames of guilt and anger and hate – my own or anybody else’s.
I want to turn it over to Jesus and let it be healed, according to the power that is of me, but not me.
I am chastened this morning. I woke before dawn, but couldn’t roust myself from bed for a prayerful walk. Instead, I lay there wondering if I was wrong about the Course. Maybe I am Catholic still. Maybe the followers of the Urantia teachings are right. Heck, maybe there’s another path I still haven’t found yet and that’s the one that’s good and right and true.
That doubt – that ability to question even what so clearly works, and works well, where no other practice did – is the ego’s most insidious tool. It is like a sharp invisible scalpel that neatly slices through my conviction, my faith. It wants to gut my little willingness and leave it bloody and disemboweled.
It wants me to turn back, reject the Course, abandon hope and continue the confused and meaningless search for God where God cannot be found or known.
Ultimately, even this doubt must be brought up into the light and set on the table. It’s the fear that the Course is a lie, that all my friends – old and new alike – who turn to it and share with me – are misled and can only mislead
“Trust me,” whispers the ego. “Follow me.”
Its voice is by turns seductive and logical. What harm can come from going to mass tomorrow? Why is the Urantia book gathering dust in the basement while A Course in Miracles is on the bedside night table?
A Course in Miracles was the first spiritual path that made clear to me that I was allowed to be happy – naturally joyful, full of inner peace. There were no arduous rituals, no impossible-to-please deities. It was unequivocal in its acceptance of other spiritual paths. It wasn’t selling itself. It was there for me if I wanted it and no hard feelings if I continued on my way.
It was deep, resonant, consistent and loving. I saw those qualities in it – and recognized, however dimly, that they were qualities inside of me, as well.
Never before had I felt so close to Heaven, so near to Jesus.
But those are just words. They are symbols. And however happy I am these days, the interior remains stormy. My conviction drifts. By the tiniest bit – recessed, nearly hidden – I cling to the old world of bodies and pain and guilt.
I remember reading somewhere Ken Wapnick saying that we should never underestimate the ego! And in my recent reading of The Obstacles to Peace, I was struck by how graphic and violent and ugly the images of the ego and its world are. It is the stuff of nightmares.
So I keep it simple. I name the fears and the doubts and lift them up where they can be seen and forgiven. I even put them, as best I can, into words. Here you go, Jesus. Take it away. Do what you will.
He promises love. He promises peace. And all he asks in return in a little gratitude, a little willingness. He asks me to look at my brothers and sisters and see in them what they cannot see in themselves.
So I am grateful then – or willing to be grateful – to Philip Eversoul and Edward R. Hryczyk. I am grateful that they so carefully and in such great faith wrote the articles I read yesterday. I am grateful for their willingness to share, to be vulnerable in a public space, to try and educate, to try and save.
And I lift these words of mine – which may bring comfort, which may cause conflict – in the same spirit. Heal all of us, Jesus, poor teachers and students alike. Of ourselves we can do nothing but with your guidance and in your presence, we may slowly be moved to love.
That is my prayer, joined with that of my brothers and sisters. May you hear all of us and lead us to the home we share in God.
Thank you, friend, for being with me today.