Joel Goldsmith and A Course in Miracles

Many students of A Course in Miracles are aware of the degree to which reading Joel Goldsmith can be a nurturing and helpful experience. Goldsmith was a twentieth century Christian writer whose view of Jesus and the gospels – and, indeed, the whole range of Christian theology and imagery – was deeply inflected by his study and practice of Christian Science (an oft-unappreciated influence on ACIM), as well as a generosity and mysticism that tends to reflect Eastern spirituality. Goldsmith perceived life in terms of its wholeness. When one realized – or remembered – this wholeness, they simultaneously realized the way in which they were that wholeness. Thus, in what Goldsmith (and his followers) called “The Infinite Way,” one was not separate from God but was contained in and by – and existed through – a pervasive and everpresent God. God is everywhere and all things all the time: as are we, when we remember.

There is neither beginning nor end in or to that which we call God and by our calling are made whole.

In that light, there is not a great deal of theological space between Goldsmith’s work and A Course in Miracles. Hence the interest that students of the one path tend to show in the other. Some spiritual and religious traditions don’t mix well with the course even though they seem a natural fit. Buddhism is a good example. At the surface, it seems to mirror many key principles of the course: the role of past lives and evolving understanding of spiritual principles, training the mind, a goal (or no-goal, as it were) of awakening/reaching Nirvana. But in practice, the two diverge quite radically. There is much less formality and rigidity in the application of A Course in Miracles (especially with respect to behavioral proscriptions) than you often see in Buddhism.*

That’s not really true with respect to Goldsmith’s Infinite Way. He died before the course was made public and so never encountered it personally. But I think he would have recognized that the Jesus with whom he interacted and the Jesus channeled by Helen Schucman were coming from the same place. Both had a “Vedantic Christianity” feel to them, a phrase that Bill Thetford used to describe his sense of how the course fit into popular religious frameworks. No doubt part of this is attributable to their shared influence of Christian Science, a tradition to which the course owes a great deal of its core ideas and sensibilities.

Yet in another way, Goldsmith is quite different from A Course in Miracles. His writing was his writing – while his books often include sections that are channeled, they are by and large his own language attempting to explain his own experience of God and Jesus. This is a significant difference from how Schucman described the origins of the course. Regardless of how one feels about ACIM ideas, it is very hard to argue that it is not an impressive piece of writing. It has a depth and gravitas often associated with scripture or literature. Although the word “channeled” can be tossed around too lightly – and in the case of A Course in Miracles is largely synonymous with “inspired” – there is no arguing that the work Schucman and Thetford created together has a timelessness and beauty and consistency that is remarkable, no less so because of its helpfulness.

In the case of Joel Goldsmith, the writing quality is more sporadic. I don’t mean to criticize him unfairly; certainly other readers will have different views. The Infinite Way is his most readable book. The others are less memorable. But in fairness to Goldsmith, he wasn’t trying to create masterpieces so much as simply share his ideas as widely and readily as possible. He was evangelical in that sense. And in that sense, his work is also a departure from the course. Neither Schucman nor Thetford took personal credit for the work they created and they were slow and reluctant to share it. Goldsmith is always the author of record, and he was always trying to reach as many people as possible.

And he was certainly prolific! If you consider his books and audio lectures together, there are literally hundreds of opportunities to partake of his thinking. His books were often culled from his lectures and presentations and sometimes have a cobbled-together feel to them. There is nothing wrong with that, by the way. I think Goldsmith was a genuine man whose experience of Jesus was authentic. His desire to extend that experience was also authentic – and helpful, too. But it has a different literary quality than ACIM. And, in the end, I think a different effect, too. For example, Goldsmith often told students that “God must become an activity in our consciousness.” People, he said, governed their surroundings “by the nature of what is taking place in you consciousness.” A Course in Miracles does not focus so much on consciousness as a phenomenon in which or through which God appears. It uses the word mind more and emphasizes the degree to which that mind is not embodied.

I often recommend Goldsmith’s book The Infinite Way to people. It is a fairly straightforward read and the most succinct and clarified expression of Goldsmith’s teachings of the many I’ve read. It is justifiably his most famous and popular book. And it is a nice adjunct to A Course in Miracles. Reading it often sheds light on some of the ideas contained in the course – notably the idea that we are already one with God and need only remember that fact. Goldsmith was a big advocate of meditation and prayer, both of which he considered the means by which we reestablished our awareness of our unity with God. He advocated for frequent moments of prayer – throughout the day turning to God in vocal prayer, intensely focused meditation on ideas contained in traditional biblical scripture. By doing this consistently, one would gradually be transformed. Eventually, your faith in God – your capacity to be at one with God – would transcend every other aspect of existence. There would be nothing else.

It is always good to ask about the wisdom and practicality of combining spiritual practices. While I think it is clear that reading Goldsmith is not going to completely confuse most students of A Course in Miracles, it is possible it could delay the awakening experience anticipated by both methods. If you are taking a bus to Boston, and then you stop to take a different bus to Worcester, and then in Worcester grab another bus to Boston, you’re going to get where you’re going but you are extending the time frame considerably. Why delay? A Course in Miracles is very clear and simple: it is a course, not a spiritual path. One reads the text, does the lesson – partakes of the Manual for Teachers – if that’s helpful. It is deeply pragmatic. It is totally clear about how it asks us to interact with it.

There is less of that clarity with Goldsmith! With ACIM, if we are attentive and disciplined, we are going to finish the course and move on to what is next: an evolving relationship with the Holy Spirit as our guide and teacher. Again, this is not to criticize Goldsmith so much as to point out that he and the course do diverge in this important way. I think it is good to give oneself to the course for a year. It is not such a long period of time and a certain wholeness of devotion can yield helpful results. If we can be focused on that, we open up some space in which our relationship with Jesus and the Holy Spirit will deepen and become increasingly dynamic.

Of course, that “still small voice” inside might urge you to read Goldsmith now. And there is nothing really wrong with that and much that can be good and useful. Given the broad similarities between his material and the course material, it is understandable that students of one and the other often cross over. Some cross-pollination of ideas and practices is probably inevitable; indeed, it is probably desirable. No spiritual tradition has a monopoly on truth.

So read with discernment – Goldsmith and the course. Read prayerfully. Don’t rush from one to the other and back. Both would teach you that you are already home in God. In the end, the work is not to do the reading but to accept the lesson the reading teaches and make it the whole of our being.

*I am aware that to speak of Buddhism as such is itself misleading. There are many schools and traditions within Buddhism, many of which differ greatly from one another. A Course in Miracles tends to be more insular; this is another distinction between the two.

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