When Helen Schucman began to channel A Course in Miracles, what came first was the text. This is the bedrock of the program – a massive tome that outlines with great clarity and precision the theoretical underpinnings of the course’s non-dualistic thought system.
The daily lessons, which are contained in the workbook, build on the ideas that are contained in the text. The text itself is Christian in both language and image, but it parts ways with most traditional understandings of Christianity at the outset. The overarching theme is an abstract spirituality, echoes of which occur in most major religions and spiritual practices. As the course makes clear, it is not possible to have a “universal theology” but a “universal experience” is possible and certainly desirable. It is that experience to which the text – in conjunction with the balance of the course – aims.
In order to induce that experience – to lead students into that experience of peace and joy through forgiveness – the text is necessary. It begins somewhat simply – with fifty principles of miracles – but slowly progresses into more complex ideas. After you’ve read it a couple times you’ll start to see that the ideas are repeated in different forms. Reading and re-reading the text becomes an exercise in familiarity, the echoes resonating in your mind. It is a difficult work to assimilate in one sitting. Study – often rigorous study – is helpful.
The aim of the text is to change our experience in the world – to be able to bring into application its principles and ideas. Without the text, the lessons would make little sense. In the same way, without the lessons, the text would be impossibly abstract.
I began my practice of the course by reading the text. After a day or two, I slipped into the lessons, establishing a pattern that remained constant for many years. In the morning, I would read a few pages of the text – sometimes at random, sometimes focusing on a challenging or comforting section – and then I would read the lesson (I always do them in order) and practice it.
The first few times I read the text, I approached it somewhat as a bible. I didn’t want to mark it up. It felt sacred to me. Yet after a while, I began to make notes on the inside cover of certain pages that contained ideas I thought were useful, that I didn’t want to forget.
After another while, that list became so long that I gave up and just started underlining. Today, that first text – a paperback copy published by the Foundation for Inner Peace – is falling apart. There’s more underscore than simple text. I have a new copy now – hard cover – and use that for reading. I don’t bother with writing utensils at all, and rarely read more than a few paragraphs at a time. Our experience as students evolves, which is another way of saying that the course meets us where we are. It is always maximally helpful although its helpfulness is not always clear.
I’m a big advocate of the lessons, pushing them on fellow students – I hope gently – as often as possible. I think A Course in Miracles is truly meant to be lived, and in order to do that, we need to rigorously bring its principles into our lives day after day. It’s the only way to achieve the degree of change – the alteration of mind patterns – that the course envisions for us.
But I do love the text. It is comforting at times, challenging at others. I cannot quite imagine my day-to-day life without it.