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. He says they are usually sincere in their search for Christ, trying to fill a spiritless void, but are dangerously led astray. Their only hope is to return to the teachings and traditions of the Catholic church, as mediated by the Magisterium; helping them find that way back is the only appropriate mode of interaction.
I’m generally 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 an Edmundite priest. 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 go of the Catholic church. It was the right decision for me and it planted the seeds of a fruitful spiritual practice that has been challenging, inspiring and transformative. I am grateful.
But that article – the priest’s confidence that he was right, the subtle allusions to an evil 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 us to hell – actually 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! What a painful religious narrative in which to be shackled! 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 and its grim stories and mythology rises to the surface.
So what does one do as a student of A Course in Miracles? How does one respond to this sort of moment?
Well, one thing that we can do is hold our “relentlessly difficult baggage” in the light. We can keep it on the table, so to speak. When the ego rears its head and runs rampant through our lives, we can simply acknowledge it and offer it to the Holy Spirit. This is what clear seeing and non-resistance are. We can’t keep secrets and know the peace of Christ, therefore whatever ugliness we’d rather hide away is going to have to lifted up into light and given to the One who knows what to do with it.
The other article that I read (since gone from the web but you can get a general flavor from this thread) appeared in an online journal devoted to the Book of Urantia. The author, Philip Eversoul, affirmatively rejects any possibility that A Course in Miracles can be reconciled with Urantia teachings. In fact, in somewhat the same spirit as the EWTN article, he points out that the course is not the work of Jesus but of Caligastia, who is the Urantian equivalent of the devil.
That article and its ideology is less frightening to me. But it did bring out my inner theological lawyer. I’m modestly familiar with the Urantia book. I don’t claim to know it extensively and I certainly am not a follower or student of that tradition. But I own it. I’ve read it. I’ve talked to people about it. And I respect it as one of many paths that are available to spiritual seekers.
Still, I believe that Mr. Eversoul was mistaken in some of his observations about the course. Notably, he concluded that A Course in Miracles claims – despite its protestations to the contrary – to be the only way to get to God (i.e., see the preface which asserts that the course is “but one version of the universal curriculum”).
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 – which is, of course, a way highlighting the “rightness” of me.
This is 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 inherent perfection of love as our shared spiritual experience.
And, contrary to belief, this sort of ego-based argumentation is not about correction in the name of love. 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. There was no other way to see it, no better way to frame it. I was right and Mr. Eversoul was wrong. And I was angry that he was wrong. And all I could think to do was take that spark of anger and turn it into a conflagration.
On the one hand, I am grateful for those two readings. They open new grounds for forgiveness, which is always a blessing. I don’t want to correct anybody; I don’t want to defend A Course in Miracles or attack another tradition. That’s not my job. I don’t want to fan the flames of guilt and anger and hate – my own or anybody else’s.
I want to turn the whole thing over to Jesus in whom it can be healed, according to the power of love.
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 still Catholic. Maybe the followers of the Urantia teachings are right. 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 our faith and conviction. It guts our little willingness, leaving it bloody and disemboweled.
It wants me to turn back, reject the course, abandon hope and continue a confused and meaningless search for God where God can be neither found nor remembered, let alone known.
Ultimately, even this doubt must be brought up into the light and set on the table. It’s the fear that A Course in Miracles is a lie, that all my friends – old and new alike – who turn to it and share with me – are misled and thus 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 there were 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. Never before had I been so hopeful that my seeking might have an end.
But those are just words. They are symbols. And however happy I am these days, the interior remains stormy, or at least capable of storm. 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. Fear’s messengers bring the stuff of nightmares.
No little shred of guilt escapes their hungry eyes. And in their savage search for sin they pounce on any living thing they see, and carry it screaming to their master, to be devoured (T-19.IV.A.12:6-7).
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.
Love, too, would set a feast before you, on a table covered with a spotless cloth, set in a quiet garden where no sound but singing and a softly joyous whispering is ever hears. This is a feast that honors your holy relationship, and at which everyone is welcome as an honored guest. And in a holy instant grace is said by everyone together, as they join in gentleness before the table of communion (T-19.IV.A.16:1-3).
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.
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