The Crabapple Tree

One of my favorite family traditions is our post-dinner walk. We leave the house, point ourselves west, and walk up Sam Hill Road towards the cemetery and the crabapple tree. That mile has always been one of my favorite places on Earth.

We pass the tiny bridge that spans Watts Brook. We always stop to admire the spider webs that enterprising Charlottes build. There are beaver dams in the distance and sometimes we actually see the beavers swimming through the water.

In the summer, fingerling rainbow trout dart back and forth. We drop crabapples on the North side of the bridge and scoot to the South to seem them go bobbing past. I played here as a child, building rock castles, splashing in the shallows. The voices of my friends from those days – all moved away and gone – always echo.

We pass fields that are filled with bluets, and black-eyed susans, wild morning glories, oxeye daisies, vioets, Indian paintbrush, and buttercups. We pick bouquets to take home, wildflowers bunched in Mason jars on the mantle.

If we are lucky, and we pass at the right hour of dusk, we might see turkeys in the field, their strange heads bobbing like dinosaurs as they watch us between strands of clover and timothy.

Sometimes we see deer. Our favorite are the does with their fawns. The mother leaps into the forest and then calls her babies to join her. Too young to know danger, they watch us walking past. Sometimes we see black bears loping before us into the shadows of the pine trees.

We always walk through the old cemetery, admiring the phlox that grows wild. Some of the graves here I helped to dig. People I knew are buried here. There are more stories in the air than even the most prolific of writers could take down.

We pass the crabapple tree which is right near the broken farm gate. Herefords used to graze here, but the field has long since turned to young trees and honeysuckle. Before them, like some sort of crazy old man, the crapapple tree looms. The fields and forest here are all for sale, which breaks my heart, because I know that houses will be put in.

My children have been walking here with me for close to ten years now – their whole lives. My own life is entwined with this walk. The crabapple must have been a seedling when I first began to come up here to mow the cemetery, to lie down in the field and watch the clouds, to track deer through the forest so I could write poems about them.

Right now, the crabapple is in full bloom – white and pink blossoms like crepe paper are spackled over its dark branches, the deep green leaves unfurling in the twilight. Will somebody chop it down? Will this be the last year we collect the apples to make jelly? To roll down the hill as we walk home – crabapple races are the best!

Life changes and goes on. I know that. I know A Course in Miracles teaches me that the world is not real. But I am with Emily Dickinson. This walk, this landscape is in me like a wound and I cannot imagine Heaven separate from it. A Kingdom without crabapples . . . Who would want it? What God would even make it?

Blog Musings

This blog has undergone considerable revisions through the years, both in terms of form and content. On the form front – basically web design and SEO – I am an amateur in the truest sense of the world – I do it for love. Solving technical problems, designing a user-friendly site, getting it out into the world . . . I think that part is a lot of fun.

The Content Management System (CMS) is WordPress. I have worked with others – notably Drupal. I have no complaints but WordPress is what’s familiar so it’s what I stick with and recommend when asked. The theme is Thesis which has a lot of built-in flexibility, both in terms of the mechanics and the appearance. It’s on the pricey side but I think it’s gone a long way to helping me create a site that is both easy on the eyes and functional (Update: Thesis 2 is infinitely more powerful than Thesis 1 (which is where I cut my teeth) but also geared more to developers than casual users – caveat emptor).

I hosted for years at Godaddy. I have no specific complaints, other than that it was cheap shared hosting and I have come to believe that you get what you pay for. If you’re serious about your site and about its growth, why not consider one of the more mid-range hosting companies? I used WP Engine and it’s incredible. Fast, quick and knowledgeable support, no pesky upselling. I still use Godaddy for domain names.

I use a creative commons license for all the content, unless otherwise indicated.

In terms of content . . . man, that’s where the rubber hits the road, doesn’t it? The early posts are kind of artsy. I was interested in creating something literary. And I was scared of what to put out there. Keeping it vague felt safe. I wasn’t consistent but my feet were in the water.

Later I just bit the bullet, to to speak, and began to pump out content like there was no tomorrow. I did a fair amount of keyword research trying to figure out what people were looking for when it came to ACIM-related – or progressive Christian or new age Jesus or Vedantic healing and prayer – sites. In retrospect, I ended up writing a lot of stuff that probably could have used a little more editorial judgment.

But it was helpful in that it got me over my nerves about writing about this stuff publicly. Sometimes you just have to write a lot of words before you get to what’s feasible, to what’s authentic. I could go back and edit now, but in general I feel like honesty mitigates in favor of leaving it all up. I’ve deleted about half a dozen posts over the past year, most of which were redundant. How many times can you say you’re agnostic about Arten and Pursah?

Beyond that, I don’t know. I write because it’s helpful to me personally and because it’s fun. If the site weren’t helpful and fun, it would disappear. I want to be a better writer and to do that you have to spend X amount of hours tapping away at the keyboard or (insert your favorite writing tool metaphor here). And the more I “teach” A Course in Miracles, the better I understand it. The easier it is to bring into application, if you will.

I tend to get a fair amount of email from people. I’m always happy to hear from you but I am for the most part a terrible correspondent. If you drop a line, hang tight. I respond to everyone but it might take a while.


Update (November 2014): I mention those old posts from late 2010 and most of 2011 – the ones where I was writing at a frantic pace, focused less on being clear and helpful than on simply getting the words out and into the world. As I mention in the original post, for a long time I left those posts intact. But this fall I began to remove them or to redirect users to more relevant and more thoughtful content. It became clear to me that a lot of that early writing was just so much fluff – the problem wasn’t the lack of editorial oversight (who doesn’t forget a closing parens from time to time?) and it wasn’t that I was writing about, you know, energy healing through dream interpretation. That was okay, in its way.

No, the problem was that the writing was too shallow. And it was shallow because too often I wasn’t writing about a) what I knew and/or b) from the heart, for lack of a better phrase. Rather than try to be authoritative on everything spiritual under the sun, I decided to be honest about what was going on – my experience as a student of A Course in Miracles, for example. My emerging sense of truth and self and other in the various prose poetry projects that are also floating around here. We want to be certain: we want to know. But more and more I understand that spirituality is not about being right or sure but rather being still and willing in the face of uncertainty, in the facing of unknowing. In my way – which is only one way, and perhaps a poor way, that is what I try to do here.

In the interim, thanks for visiting.

ACIM Urtext

Reading the ACIM Urtext . . .

There is considerable debate in the ACIM community about which version of the text and workbook students should use. While the overarching conflict is not so important, the version that you choose does in fact matter largely because you want to be sure that you are using one that works for you.

(You might want to take a look at Robert Perry’s (from the Circle of Atonement) thoughts on the editing of A Course in Miracles – it’s thorough and relatively balanced).

We all know the outline, right? Basically, Helen Schucman channeled the voice of Jesus, wrote it down in shorthand and dictated it to Bill Thetford who typed it up. There were several subsequent edits in the years that followed. Other people got involved in the editing and publishing – Kenneth Wapnick, Judith Skutch. Organizations sprung up with their own thoughts and ideas about the text. There was a lawsuit.

Long story short? There are now at least three apparently different texts available to students.

I say “apparently different” because in my experience they are not substantially unchanged from one another. The message – that the world is projection of fear and guilt and anger, that a change of mind is possible by enlisting Jesus’ help, and that we can experience the Kingdom of Heaven – is the same throughout. From this vantage point, it really doesn’t matter what version of A Course in Miracles you choose. They are all going to deliver you to the same place, or at least have the potential to do that.

Also, most Course students have the experience at one point or another of realizing that they have to go beyond the text and workbook. These too are symbols of the separation and although they point the way back to God, they are not substitutes for God. The last lessons of the ACIM workbook make clear that they are “as free of words as possible” in order that we might “seek to go beyond them.”

The Urtext is the first typewritten draft – it reflects what Helen Schucman dictated to Thetford. It is private (one of the reasons that Ken Wapnick encourages students not to read it) and was not (according to Wapnick and other early ACIM practitioners) intended for publication in that state. And indeed, reading it does give one the sense that you are peeking into a very private, very personal meeting between Jesus, Helen and Bill.

If you are going to steer clear of the urtext – or feel called to steer clear of it – that’s probably the best reason. It simply wasn’t intended to be released that way. Jesus was clear that it would become public but only after it had been edited (by whom is another hotly debated question). Both Helen and Bill seemed to feel – at least according to material that I’ve read (summarized, in an admittedly one-sided way here) – that it was going to be revised before going public.

Yet for all of that, it does have its benefits. For one thing, as Robert Perry has correctly pointed out, it abounds in specifics. If you are curious about the meaning of a particularly abstract phrase or idea, chances are the Urtext has some examples or additional language that will help clarify it. This is especially true of the early chapters, which were the ones most subject to revision (a lot of that material was eventually excised, reordered or rewritten).

Some of the Miracles Urtext is confusing – or a little too intimate. It talks, for example, about sex and encourages miracle workers to get this right. Seeing the body as a means for pleasure in any way is to indulge the ego – unless we can fix the underlying error (that bodies are real and thus sources of anything) then spiritual sight will remain impossible. While this brings up some details about the sex lives of Helen and Bill (which decency does make one feel a bit like we’re violating their privacy) it’s an interesting and important concept. Like eating, sex is one use of the body that few of us want to compromise or surrender. The traditional text is unhelpfully silent on this question.

The other issue that one has to consider when reading the Urtext is the degree to which Jesus needs any editing. If the voice that Helen heard was Jesus of Nazareth, then why make any alterations? Reasonable people can certainly ask why the ACIM urtext was edited. Why did Wapnick step in and edit it? It’s true that those typewritten notes indicate that some material needs to be removed because it’s intended solely for Helen and Bill, but that’s actually a pretty small percentage. What about the rest? I think this is what motivates a lot of Ken Wapnick’s critics, the sense that he stepped and started editing Jesus Christ.

But if you are close to that material, then you are less likely to challenge the need to edit it – which is a separate question from the quality of the actual editing. The early chapters of the first edition are sort of . . . clumsy. It’s true there are some real gems tucked in there – notably around sex – but by and large it reads like a first draft. Whatever channel Helen was using to be in contact with Jesus, it was a bit clogged up. And so you get the wisdom but it’s compromised. In this sense – over and above the personal material – some editing was called for. Whether Mr. Wapnick did a good job . . . well, as I am already on record saying: you need to make that call for yourself. I personally think he did the best he could – I doubt I could have done better – and when I start making more of the issue, I’m indulging the ego and using the history of the writing and editing to keep me from the healing the text offers.

In other words, I don’t think it doesn’t really matter which edition of A Course in Miracles that you choose. Or rather, I want to say that it’s not possible to pick the wrong one (the other option – the so-called Hugh Lyn Cayce version I’ll discuss another time). I still rely primarily on the traditional text – it was the first edition I read and studied and feels like the cornerstone to me. Yet my understanding of the Course has been undeniably enhanced by reviewing the earlier versions. Pick one that works for you and then stick to it. Even Mr. Wapnick noted in his defense of the traditional text that we should never feel guilty for reading a different version.

As I said at the outset, our focus is on love – on transforming the world and ourselves in relation with Jesus. What helps you get there, helps you get there. Read, listen and love.

Circle of Atonement

The Circle of Atonement is an organization of teachers and students devoted to the practice of A Course in Miracles. My first encounter with them was through the controversy surrounding Gary Renard and his ascended masters. My sustained impression of the group, however, is one of love and helpfulness.

I’ve said before that one of the early and helpful ACIM-related texts that I read was Gary Renard’s The Disappearance of the Universe. Finding it useful, and being the curious, internet-savvy guy that I am, I googled Renard and discovered that there were all sorts of people asking questions about him. Is Gary Renard a fraud? Are Arten and Pursah just a clever marketing gimmick or are they genuine ascended masters?

Those who want conflict will find it, of course, and find conflict I did. And, I confess that I indulged it some, too – it’s sad how much time we can spend in what really amounts to little more than gossip. But there were two things that came out of that experience that I really valued. The first was that I learned an important lesson. Or rather, I re-learned a Course lesson through application. The course encourages us to always ask “what is it for?” (T-24.VII.6:1)

That question is deeply related to the admonition that we not “value what is valueless” (W-pI.133.13:4).

After I was done dredging the mud about Gary Renard’s divorce and his bad jokes and his background as a kind of freelance investment and business master, I remembered to ask what his book was for. Why was I reading it? What was my goal – truth or conflict?

The answer was not especially hard to find. For me, reading Gary’s book – and all the texts I read with respect to ACIM – was to help my slowly-evolving appreciation, understanding and application of A Course in Miracles. Disappearance did that wonderfully. I haven’t worried too much about Gary Renard’s personal life since.

Set the goal for truth, use what is helpful, discard what is not, and trust God. It really can be that simple.

The other thing that came out of that experience – somewhat related to the first – was that I discovered the Circle of Atonement. As I noted, they were early on involved in the Renard controversy. Google searches on that subject led me to their site. But to see the organization and the people who work on its behalf solely in the light of Renard and that (somewhat subsided now) controversy would be a mistake. COA is a fascinating and substantial resource for serious Course students.

Let me add, however, this caveat. The reality of A Course of Miracles these days is that you can find no end of online teachers and groups and organizations and so forth. On balance, I think that’s fundamentally healthy. I’m not partial to the idea that the only appropriate custodians of the Course message of Love and freedom from fear are Kenneth Wapnick and the Foundation for A Course in Miracles. I don’t mind a spiritual buffet.

I learned a couple of important things reading through the material at Circle of Atonement. Since Wapnick’s involvement with the Course is so personal – he was involved in editing the text and was a close associate of both Helen Schucman and Bill Thetford – it was no surprise that he expended so much time and energy on its advancement. But COA turned me on to the fact that there were people that were having powerful, life-changing experiences without having been involved with the Course’s inception. These guys – notably Robert Perry, Greg Mackie and Allen Watson – were powerfully committed to teaching the Course. Their lives were given to it. Even if I was not always on board with this or that particular aspect of their teaching, their authenticity – their willingness to help – was palpable. You could feel it.

It was – it remains- a great witnessing to the transformational potential of A Course in Miracles.

The second thing that I learned was how much information there was on the Course. Their website was loaded with links, articles, interviews, classes and workshops that could take a lifetime to absorb. I found that fascinating, as well as helpful. And it really motivated me to begin thinking about how I could do something similar in my life. I am a teacher and a writer by both training and calling; linking that up with ACIM seemed natural and positive. Circle of Atonement was a tangible – and inspiring – model for how to share and how to learn by sharing.

By way of addendum: as I mentioned earlier, the brouhaha over Renard and his work has largely fallen away. More and more people seem to just accept the ways in which he is helpful and stand down from arguments about whether he’s telling the truth or not. For my part, I regret getting caught up in it. While I wasn’t running around commenting about it and so forth, I definitely followed it. And to what end? I wanted conflict and I found it! But we can seek Truth and find that, too. In the end, neither Gary nor Robert Perry and the good teachers and students of Circle of Atonement should be viewed in the light of conflict. That’s not what they’re about. And really, neither are you and I.

Letting Go of Anger

Anger is one of  the more debilitating experiences one can have. It is not without its place, but when it is not understood – or when it is give more time and energy than it merits – the results can be very painful. Letting go of anger – through understanding and through conscious choice – allows us to be more peaceful and helpful people.

A few weeks after my daughter was born I woke up before dawn and went downstairs to bake bread and write. I sat there in the kitchen of our house, drinking tea, typing away on a computer. I remember very vividly the sense of peace and creativity in that moment. It was very quiet, very potent. While the bread rose, I wrote a poem entitled “My Daughter’s One Month Birthday” that was later published in the Chiron Review.

Baking bread at 4 a.m. –
sliced olives tossed in oil –
my old friend anger
watching me from the corner.

That was in many ways a sad poem for me, but it was also an important one. It acknowledged the fundamental health of the moment – baking bread, writing – but took due note of the fact that anger was there waiting. It was not the poem of a healed man, but a man being given a brief respite.

We have to see this about ourselves – we cannot pretend we are without flaws. It is only by being willing to see ourselves as broken that we can turn with any meaning to the one who can heal us.

The relationship between the fear and the anger is not always rational – in fact, sometimes it’s irrational. Try not to judge this – but simply let it be.

Unfortunately, there is often a gap between seeing the problem and having it forgiven. Coping with anger is more than just figuring out where and in what way one can be angry. A more radical healing is called for.

When I was a kid, I was known for two things. My eloquence and anger. I could talk circles around anybody – well, almost anybody – but I was also highly sensitive. The slightest thing could set me off.

When I reflect on it, anger felt like a muscle that I was always flexing. It was an energy field from which I drew a lot of sustenance. I don’t know why. It seems like at some point in childhood I just suddenly had this presence with me, as if I had acquired a friend that I could not see, yet trusted completely. Anger had my back. Does that make sense? The poem I wrote makes this clear – anger is “an old friend.”

I won’t say anger is good – I won’t. Though my own anger rarely manifested in physical ways (though on a couple of occasions it did), it still hurt people. I said stupid things to people that I loved. I behaved like an idiot – walking out of important conversations, not returning phone calls. Anger is protective, of course, but at the cost of destruction. It wants to ruin what it thinks will hurt its host and it has no capacity for long-term thinking. Anger always surges into the Now but like a tempest, a bull.

Anger doesn’t want to ask questions and it doesn’t want to be questioned. It wants to create a space in which one can be safe. But it never really works because it never addresses the fear that is driving it, that is creating the apparently dangerous situation. So we end up in a perpetual cycle of fear and anger and fear and anger.

So letting go of anger matters. Anger is the barbed edge of fear. There’s no point in trying to understand it otherwise. I’ve certainly been a beneficiary of talk therapy over the years, and I wouldn’t discourage anyone from giving it a go, but there’s going to come a moment when it’s you and your fear. Anger promises to help – that’s what anger says, I’ll take care of you. I’ve got your back. It’s like the parent you never had, or wish you had.

Letting go of anger means saying no to it. Literally feeling its rush to the fore and pushing it back. No thanks. Not this time. You aren’t powerless before your anger, no matter how strong and intense and massive it might seem. You made it. Don’t ask why because why doesn’t matter. Whatever it was for back in the day, you can’t get back. What worked for you when you were five, or eight, or ten, or sixteen, won’t work now. Let it go.

There is another way.

That way has to do with facing the fear that you scarred over with anger. The fear isn’t real, either. You made that, too. You will have to let it go as well. But before you get there, you have to give up your anger. You don’t need the protection any longer. What you are cannot be hurt or injured, because it is abstract and spiritual, and eternal. It doesn’t matter if you believe that or don’t believe it. Right now – this minute – it’s all in your head. You are making it all up as you go. Letting go of anger and resentment can seem impossible but it’s easy.

It’s okay. We can see this, too. We can let this be healed, too.Habitual emotional responses don’t go away easily, though. They surface and recur. They sometimes find new channels, as if they don’t want to be forgotten or abandoned.

The relationship between the fear and the anger is not always rational – in fact, sometimes it’s irrational. Try not to judge this – but simply let it be. Assume that somewhere in your psyche or consciousness you created a link. If it seems foolish in the light, well, okay. But that doesn’t mean it’s not there. That doesn’t mean we can’t take it seriously in the interests of healing it.

Sometimes it was helpful for me to say something like, Okay. I’m not seeing the fear here that’s causing the anger. Where would someone else see it? Where – or what – could it be, if it could be anything?

Other times, I simply had to trust that – even though I couldn’t identify the fear – it was still there. Even if all I could do was acknowledge fear, it still helped to defuse the anger.

Another trick I learned  to help undo the immediate effects of anger was to focus on my breath. One of the things that happened to me when I was angry was I stopped breathing – or breathed in a very quick and shallow manner. This kind of breathing fuels the body’s sense that it needs to either fight or take flight – and that, too, keeps the anger vital and alive.

When I concentrated on breathing properly – even for just a few moments – it helped. The physical intensity of the moment decreased and I was able to think a bit more clearly. If there is something that needs to be done – a decision to be made or something, we can do it better from a place of relative calm.

So what I am saying is that we need to be willing to see fear differently. That’s it. That’s enough. Just let the fear be – you don’t have to defend yourself, don’t have to attack it, don’t have to understand it, don’t have to define it, don’t have to justify it, explain yourself to it, explain it to someone else, make art of it, hide from it, talk to it or dance or celebrate with it in any way. Just be. You and the fear.

Coping with anger is not spending a day at the beach, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. I stand as witness to the freedom that follows the surrender – which is very much an ongoing process – of anger. We hurt ourselves – and sometimes we hurt people who are dear to us. So we have to see that damage, which is to also see the need for healing. And then we ask for help. Lots of it maybe.

I promise that if you can sit with the fear for a moment – honestly without reserve for just one moment – then your anger will subside. It will go away because you don’t need it anymore. It’s like putting the fork down when you’ve finished eating. Nothing left on the plate, no need for a tool to scoop it up.

Easy? No. Simple? Yes.

The Urantia Book

A couple of years ago, when I was just beginning to seek out ACIM study groups, I ran into a man who would serve as a sort of good-natured mentor. He was a former minister who had “converted” to A Course in Miracles in his early fifties. Closer to seventy now, he had a long history and a deep understanding of the course. One day, after we had finished the meeting and were chatting after, he ducked into his study and came out with a massive tome that he suggested I take a look at. It was the Urantia Book.

My friend introduced it to me this way: if the ACIM Text was the Lord of the Rings, the Urantia Book was  The Silmarillion. As a devoted reader of Tolkien, that analogy resonated right away. I took the book home and immediately began to read it.

The Urantia Book was a channeled text that came into existence in Chicago between 1924 and the mid-1950’s. It’s a huge book that takes into consideration a whole host of subjects – Jesus, God, the Universe, Origins, Science, Personal Destiny. Some critics have noted that it reads more like an incredibly detailed and consistent book of science fiction or fantasy.

The individual who allegedly channeled the material did so in a trance of which he remained relatively unaware. The beings that did the communicating were celestial beings (almost like angels, although the text is more precise with that term) or groups of beings. William Sadler, who was a Chicago-based doctor devoted to uncovering and revealing psychic hoaxes (even those that were benign), was introduced to the person who was receiving the material. Sadler, who took some responsibility for ensuring the text made it out into the world, making it available for humanity, called it one of the few cases where he could not find a logical, scientific explanation.

I first read the sections on Jesus’ life. It is a great read – very entertaining, very revealing. The author purports to know a great deal more about Jesus than the Gospels reveal, and more than scholars and historians are able to discern. Indeed, by the time we get to the end and Jesus is being crucified, the narrative has become far more gripping than any Mel Gibson movie ever was.

The other sections proved harder for me to wade through. The language was a bit stiff and archaic. The names were hard to track and, quite frankly, it seemed pretty far out. That might seem strange coming from a guy who studies and teaches A Course in Miracles – a text authored by Jesus and channeled by an aetheist Jewish psychologist – but it’s true. The teachings in the Urantia book never resonated with me the way ACIM does.

Should you read it? Well, I generally take the position that you should try everything. The text is relatively easy to find – either in hard copy or online – and there are some great resources maintained by the Urantia Foundation that can help you explore the text. I have a copy on my shelf, and although I no longer turn to it with any regularity, and don’t rely on it as part of my own spiritual practice, I remain open to the possibility that I might one day. It feels to me that it’s an important part of the library of channeled texts and other material that signifies some change or alteration in human consciousness. For that reason alone, it’s worth taking a look at.

The truth is – and A Course in Miracles is very clear on this point – there is no one right way or method to the universal experience. There are many paths to waking up. If you are searching, then search with gusto – get the Urantia book and give it a read. It might be what you need. And if it’s not, don’t be discouraged. There is always another way station ahead.

The Gary Renard Fraud Debate

I get asked a lot if I think that Gary Renard is a fraud. In the circles of A Course in Miracles it’s a common question. It’s also a funny question and I am never quite sure how to answer it. The truth is, I don’t know Gary. I’ve never met him, never personally attended any workshops with him. Calling someone a fraud always is serious charge, and it’s not one that should be leveled either quickly or casually.

Finding our own way through the spiritual wilderness can mean many teachers – some of whom work at one juncture and then don’t at another. Nobody can do the work of discernment for us!

My involvement with Renard boils down to the fact that I’ve read The Disappearance of the Universe. In fact, I read it several times. In the early stages of my study of A Course in Miracles,  I found Renard’s book to be accessible and helpful. Even now, when I do not give Gary Renard as much attention as I did in the beginning, I continue to believe that his first book grasps the core concepts of the course, laying them out in a way that’s easy to understand. There is a reason Gary’s work is relatively popular in the ACIM community, and it’s not all because of Arten and Pursah.

Indeed, Gary’s work is really a sexier – and somewhat condensed version – of Ken Wapnick’s. My understanding is that Gary attended many workshops with Ken and interacted with him over a nontrivial period of time. The influence shows! The understanding of the course advanced by Gary’s ascended masters makes them sound less like visionaries than good students of Wapnick. This isn’t a bad thing. Ken was a solid student of the course and lots of us can benefit by reading him closely. However, it does suggest that Gary’s writing is less celestial and spectacular in origin. It flows – like much course writing does – from the student’s engagement with their teacher.

Do I think that Renard’s humor is a little over the top at times? Yes. A little crude? That, too. But it is possible to read Disappearance without having to simultaneously defend Renard’s style. It’s just another ACIM book. If it’s helpful, great. If it’s not, well, there’s no shortage of authors out there writing books about A Course in Miracles, nonduality, Christ mind and whatever else you might want to pursue.

I know that people get bent out of shape about Arten and Pursah, the ascended masters who purportedly taught ACIM to Renard, and who are featured so prominently in his writing. Come on, they say. A couple of ascended masters showed up in his living room? And he recorded them but then destroyed the tapes? Isn’t it a little too perfect? A little too self-promotional? Oh and hey – isn’t he hawking some vitamins now?

It’s not what somebody else thinks is right or helpful – it’s what is right or helpful for you. And only you – in relationship with the Holy Spirit – can discern that.

Maybe. For me, Arten and Pursah – and the question of whether they are real or literary devices or what – never got in the way of my reading. If Renard said tomorrow that he made them up – which, I should add, I’m pretty confident he’s not going to do – I’d still be grateful for the help the book offered at a critical stage of my learning. And if somebody asked me should they read it, I wouldn’t say no right away. I’d try to get a sense of where they were at in their study, and talk about other authors – Wapnick, Tara Singh, David Hoffmeister and so forth. But in the end, if Renard’s work calls to somebody, who am I to naysay it? We are all finding our way.

The thing is, it always tempting to find something wrong with other course students or teachers. And in truth, we can almost always find something wrong with their teaching. Yet being right is not necessarily synonymous with inner peace (and may even be an impediment to it).

Seek not outside yourself. For all your pain comes simply from a futile search for what you want you want, insisting where it must be found. What if it is not there? Would you rather be right or be happy? (T-27.VII.1:6-9)

That latter question is so essential to our study of the course – especially when we start deciding that this or that teacher, or this or that approach or perspective is right to the exclusion of all others. As Proverbs 28:19 points out, the secret to joy and abundance is to work our own garden and avoid fantasies and idleness.

When I find myself focusing on all the reasons not to read someone, or not to listen to them, or even brainstorming ways to discredit them, it is almost always a reflection of my own guilt and fear and has nothing to do with this other person.

In other words, my anxiety over this “other” – be it Gary Renard, Ken Wapnick, or Liz Cronkhite – is simply a call to heal my own experience of internal conflict, which is always my own experience of the separation from God. And that is what I am trying to heal; I am not trying to right the ACIM ship itself.

One of the gifts of studying A Course in Miracles, at least for me, was that it helped me look at the external world – which includes my feelings and thoughts – and recognize it as a form of projection. “Projection makes perception” (T-13.V.3:5).

We might more accurately say that projection and perception are inter-related, the one influencing the other in the construction of our experience of a world.

We look inside first, decide what kind of world we want to see and then project that world outside, making it the truth as we see it. We make it true by our interpretations of what it is we are seeing (preface xi).

Thus, if I am walking around feeling like Renard or any other ACIM teacher is a fraud, a phony, a cheat with good marketing skills or whatever, then I know that I have already rendered that judgment against myself. It’s my guilt that I am looking at. So I don’t need to “fix” Renard – or anybody who finds his work helpful or interesting – so much as I need to be cognizant of my own brokenness and the need for healing it engenders.

My suggestion? If you are curious or feel called to do so, then read Renard’s books. Check them against your gut, against your existing understanding of the course, talk to friends, reflect on it in prayer and so forth. Don’t worry so much about the personality or the motives behind the writing and don’t get hung up on the story behind the sales. It’s not what somebody else thinks that is right or helpful – it’s what is right or helpful for you at this particular point in your study and practice. And only you can discern that.

When our focus is on healing, and when we are related to our capacity for the healing power of attention, then we begin to perceive a world in which everyone is a blessing because we are blessing them. All things work for good in that world, because all things are “echoes of the Voice for God” (W-pI.151). Gary Renard, too.

Having Trouble with A Course in Miracles

Are you having trouble with or feeling confused by A Course in Miracles?

If your answer is yes, that’s okay. In fact, if the Course isn’t causing at least a little discomfort, then you might be missing – or ignoring or denying – certain aspects of it. And that’s okay, too.

There are a couple of reasons why ACIM can pose a real challenge to students. The first is that it’s a complicated text. It’s well over six hundred pages of metaphysics that relies heavily on Christian metaphors and Freudian psychology to make its point. Some of the ideas are complicated. Some of them are a little wacky. Even though I find the text remarkably consistent, there are days when reading it feels like wading through sludge with a blindfold on. I feel dense and stupid and sure that I’m missing something.

The course lessons are a bit less complicated when it comes to comprehension, but then they have to be put into application, and that poses its own challenge. Sometimes we forget to practice them, right? Or our mind wanders and instead of meditating on the fact that we’re under no laws but God’s, we’re wondering what’s going to happen on the season finale of our favorite television sitcom.

Hey, it happens.

If any of that sounds familiar – and if you’re trying to find an answer, a solution – then my feeling is that you just keep plugging away. Some days are better than others, and if you can surf your way through the challenging ones, then eventually you are going to find that the better days start to get more frequent. You’ll look up one day and realize that you aren’t as bogged down with worry and fear the way you used to be. You’re more helpful, more happy.

There is a lot to be said for keeping on with the keeping on.

The other way that the course can mess with your life though is a bit trickier. For me, the course was initially full of beauty. I felt like I was home and just shy of Heaven’s gate. I loved the text, couldn’t wait to get to the next lesson in the ACIM workbook.

Then the unsettling started. Situations that had once seemed perfectly natural and normal began to grate. I started to find myself annoyed with people and places. What was wrong? How could this happen? I was supposed to be channeling Jesus. I was supposed to be a point of light, a human radio radiating nothing but grace.

The course suggests – and I agree – that when we begin to practice it, we start to value what is real. And that means that a great deal of what we have been valuing up to that point is going to have to fall to the wayside. And that will produce some temporary anxiety and angst. When we place our faith and trust in God, when we truly try to accept and make manifest the fact that only God’s will is real, that there are no laws but God’s, then our lives change. There is an upside down, things are slipping kind of sensation.

It feels like crap, but it really means that the course is working. It means that we’re working it.

When does it get better? I think it’s a lot like what I said earlier. If we keep doing it, keep trying sincerely to deepen our relationship with God by turning our lives and our wills and our problems over to the Holy Spirit, then slowly there’s a morphing. We might not notice it but one day it will occur to us that things are different. We’re different.

For me, it has been valuable to simply continue my practice, trying to let it guide me, trying to be honest and real, not putting on spiritual airs. It’s not easy. There are days when I struggle, days when I doubt. I won’t lie to you. I look back and think about the paths I turned away from. Is it too late to go back? But mostly I persevere. I keep on keeping on in my own stumbling and imperfect way. And it works. I can feel it working in drips and dribbles.

If the course is right for you, then it’s right, and you need to keep at it. But listen. If it’s wrong? If you keep trying and it just doesn’t resonate? If all seems like one big cult to you? Then walk away. Take a break. Try something different, and don’t feel bad about that. You have a right to be happy – that’s what God wants.

The Perfect Course in Miracles Student

I was reflecting recently on being a perfect student of A Course in Miracles. In Spring, my life tends to get hectic. I teach and so a lot of work comes due at the end of the semester. We homeschool our children and so we have to submit our education plans to the school district, as well as our evaluations of the previous school year. There are gardens to plant, lawns to clear, and this year we are having some work done on our house. I am planning a trip to the Maine coast with my father.

In other words, life feels crazy. And my course practice slips a bit. Yeah, I hate saying that but I’m going to own it. I have periods of time – winter is generally quite fruitful – where I am up early every morning and spend hours studying and praying. I’m like a monk, just this side of Heaven. Then there are times like the present one where it’s all I can do to remember, “Oh yeah. This is all a dream. Thanks Jesus.”

I went for a long walk yesterday to try and clear my head a bit. It was beautiful. A light rain was falling. I saw an owl in the woods, a great heron by the pond. The efts – what we tend to call salamanders – are back, crawling across the trails. I am always refreshed by long walks in the woods (channeling, I think, this theme that nature can be redemptive, most recently captured in the excellent film Old Joy – check it out if you have the chance – great scenery). I found myself asking what the perfect course student might look like. Of course I was trying to shoehorn myself into the description.

But eventually I gave up and just walked. I practiced readiness. Being attentive is almost always good to me. What does the course say somewhere, “you are too tolerant of mind wandering?” Something like that.

A perfect ACIM student would know the quote precisely!

Where does that leave me?

Who knows?

And does it matter?

The summer after Chrisoula and I got married, we went camping. One night we walked down to the beach – the moon was full – and I went swimming. It was incredible. Do you swim at night? It is perhaps the most amazing feeling. The water was black and cool and I slipped through it like a fox in the ferns. The moon was everywhere – a brilliant circle in the sky, the air full of streaming light, the sharp glitter of ripples everywhere. I remember laying on my back and just laughing out loud. I was so happy, so connected.

And later that night I wrote a poem – I won’t trouble you with all of it – but towards the end I discounted the effort to know God. I said who gives a hoot about understanding life, or sorting through meaninglessness, or choosing one spiritual path over another? The poem ended with this image: me on my back blowing water at the stars, “one of the lesser beasts at worship.”

I felt that yesterday, too. Just walking in the forest, another creature making peace. What grace there is when we step out of our heads, just let the chatter rumble on but don’t listen, don’t pay attention. All the nonsense – I forgot yesterday’s long session with the lesson, I haven’t been practicing the “rules for decision” every morning, I just fall out of bed and stumble to the coffee maker. It all falls away. It doesn’t matter.

That state of grace I find in the forest is always there. It is God admiring creation, one big circle, in which I am merely another dust mote floating through the pillared light, another drop of rain settling on the lush Spring grass beside the pond. I sat and watched the rain fall, the ripples of each drop circling outward. Where did they end? Did they end? Who cares? How silly to think it can be understood! How arrogant! The only possible response is gales of laughter.

That is always where attention leads me. I made it home – as always – laughing.

Working Miracles: Does A Course in Miracles Work?

Yesterday was tough. I didn’t get my routine, my start – a walk in the pre-dawn darkness with my dog, hours alone with tea and A Course in Miracles. My teaching obligations were doubled and there were institutional demands on top of them that necessitated more preparation, both emotional and administrative, than usual. Our beloved old cat is dying, and so Chrisoula – who is both grieving and nursing her – needed me to pull more weight at home.

Isn’t that life?

I can’t count – because they are so numerous – the number of times in this life where I have groused, complained, and caused no end of conflict because I didn’t get my spiritual way. What’s the point of having a practice if the cat’s going to die right in the middle of it? I’m trying to find God here.

But yesterday I knew – and willed into application – a different concept. What is the point of having a practice if the cat can’t die right in the middle of it?

A big part of the spiritual journey is learning that how little we actually have to do. There is nowhere to go because we are already there. There is no learning because we already know. There is no improvement because we’re already perfect.

Undoing – doing nothing – can feel passive and for much of my life I was an enemy of passivity. Take massive action! Do it now! It’s bred into us, isn’t it? We have to accomplish things – eat the right diet, make a lot money. Accomplishments stacked one on top of the other, no one of them sufficient on its own, and the height of them together all the measure of our life.

Yet there is a creativity in stillness, in quiet of which I am beginning to be aware. Reality is here, now. I need to do nothing. So easy to say – so frustratingly easy to say – and yet so hard to convey, in an experiential way.

How do I know ACIM helps? How do I know it’s working?

Because on a morning when I can’t burrow into the text, or devote myself to a lesson, or spend hours tweaking a blog post in which I expound on my latest iteration of the Happy Dream, I don’t lose my sense of gratitude. I don’t feel unhappy. I remain interested in helping others – thanking the cashier at the co-op, listening carefully to students, tickling my kids, baking comfort food for C.

The miracle is that brief moment – just a flash – when we realize that our interests and the interest of another are identical. So much understanding and love can flow from that seeing! It brings a real clarity, a real direction.

So the Course points beyond itself. There is that great old Zen story of the monk who asks his teacher to show him the moon. The teacher points to the moon. The student looks at the teacher’s finger and says, “Ah, thank you. The moon is very beautiful.”

I think on day-to-day basis, it is helpful to make as much of your day as possible about others. What can you give? How can you help? And in the moments of prayer or meditation or study – however you define it – it is helpful to cultivate gratitude. That will inspire a state of awareness, of being alert, and from that state an interior shifting will occur. The clouds break, the veil lifts. We need do nothing. Love will do the rest.