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.