When Helen Schucman wrote A Course in Miracles, what came first was the text. This is the extensive bedrock of the ACIM 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 contained in the text. The text itself is Christian in both language and image, but it parts ways with traditional understandings of Christianity. Its overarching theme is that we are one with God, which is Love, and are confused about this fact. The text and lessons are one form of correction; there are echoes of the course in other traditions.
A Course in Miracles makes clear, it is not possible to have a “universal theology” but a “universal experience” is possible and even desirable. It is that experience to which the text – in conjunction with the balance of the course – aims to direct students.
In order to induce that experience – to lead students into the experience of peace and joy through forgiveness, which is to say, the peace and joy of remembering that we share Creation with God – the text is necessary. It begins somewhat simply – with fifty principles of miracles – but slowly progresses into more complex ideas. Its core ideas are repeated in different phrases, with varying degrees of complexity and explanation. Reading and re-reading the text becomes an exercise in familiarity as its themes echo and chime. Study is helpful.
The aim of the text is to establish an intellectual foundation for shifting our thinking. Without this foundation, 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. Not everybody does this; it’s not a requirement. We meet the course where we are. After a day or two, I began practicing the lessons. That became my pattern of study and practice 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 do a lesson (I always do them in order).
The first few times I read the text, I approached it somewhat as a bible. 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 key passages. Today, that first text – a paperback copy published by the Foundation for Inner Peace – has fallen apart. There’s more text that’s underscored than text that’s not. 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. You might read a different ACIM edition than me. Yet the material is always maximally helpful although its helpfulness is not always clear.
I’m a big advocate of actually doing the lessons in a sustained but gentle way. A Course in Miracles is truly meant to be lived, and in order to do that, we need to 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 and shifts in perception – that the course envisions for us.