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 a sort of Eastern spirituality. He saw a wholeness to life, the realization of which transformed one into that wholeness. God was not separate and distinct but pervasive and present; God was everything all the time. And so are we, if we will only remember.

So from a theological perspective, I don’t think there is a whole lot of daylight between Goldsmith and ACIM. Some spiritual and religious traditions don’t mix well with the course even though they seem a natural fit. I think that Buddhism is a good example. At the surface level, it seems to mirror many key principles of the course: past lives, training the mind, a goal of awakening. But in practice, the two diverge quite radically. There is much less formality and rigidity in the application of A Course in Miracles than you often see in Buddhism.

That’s not really true of Goldsmith. 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 that “Vedantic Christianity” feel to them, a phrase that Bill Thetford used to describe his sense of how the course fit into popular religious frameworks.

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 Jesus. Regardless of how one feels about the ideas contained in the course, it is very hard to argue that it is not an impressive piece of writing. It has a depth and gravitas that I associate with scripture. In general I think the word “channeled” is tossed around a bit too lightly – and in the case of ACIM I think it can be considered largely synonmous with “inspired” – but there is no arguing that what Schucman and Thetford created has a timelessness to it, and a beauty to it, and a consistency to it that is remarkable.

In the case of Joel Goldsmith, the quality of the writing is more sporadic. I don’t mean to knock him. I don’t think he was trying to create masterpieces so much as simply share his ideas. He was evangelical in that sense. It’s always good to remember that neither Schucman nor Thetford took personal credit for the work they created. Goldsmith is always the author of record.

And he was certainly prolific. If you consider his books and audio lectures together, there are literally hundreds of opportunities to partake of his wisdom. His books were often culled from his lectures and presentations and sometimes they 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 quality than ACIM. And, in the end, I think a different effect, too.

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. 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 believed in frequent moments of prayer – throughout the day turning to God in vocal prayer, intensely focused meditation on ideas contained in 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 mess up students of A Course in Miracles, I do think it can delay the awakening implied in both methods. The course, for example, is very clear in what it says and what it asks of us: it is a course, after all. There is a workbook and there are lessons and there is even a teacher’s manual. It is intensely practical. It is totally clear about how it asks us to interact with it.

There is no such clarity with Goldsmith. With ACIM, if we are attentive and disciplined, then 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 and maybe even desirable.

Read with discernment. Read prayerfully. Don’t rush from one to the other and back. Both would teach you that you are already home. Accept that lesson and make it real in your life.

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