On reading (and re-reading) the ACIM Urtext . . .
There is considerable debate in the ACIM community about which version of the text and workbook students should use. While the overarching conflict is not important, the version that we choose does in fact matter, largely because we want to be sure that we use one that works for us. As Ken Wapnick said at some point, you should read the edition that makes you feel less guilty.
(Note: Robert Perry’s thoughts on the editing of A Course in Miracles are thorough and relatively balanced. They are worth reading as one works through their own relationship with the ACIM material).
We all know the outline, right? Helen Schucman channeled what she called “The Voice” – which is transparently Jesus – wrote down in shorthand what it said and then dictated it to Bill Thetford who typed it up. There were several subsequent edits in the years that followed. Other people got involved in the editing and public dissemination – Ken Wapnick, Judith Skutch. Organizations sprung up – some ordained by Helen, some not – each with their own thoughts and ideas about A Course in Miracles. There was a lawsuit.There was wailing and gnashing of teeth.
Long story short? There are now several apparently different texts available to students.
I say “apparently different” because in my experience none of the version are substantially different from one another. The fundamental message remains the same. The world is a projection of fear and guilt, a result of our mistaken belief in separation and our habit of listening to ego. We can choose to listen instead to the Holy Spirit, who will teach us how to align our will with God’s Will and, in doing so, learn that there is only one Will and that Creation has no opposite (W-pI.138.2:1). We remember our shared interest with our brothers and sisters which in turn translates to the Peace of Heaven.
From this vantage point, it really doesn’t matter what version of A Course in Miracles we choose. They all share the same underlying message: we are innocent, and in our innocence is our salvation.
Also, most Course students have the experience at one point or another of realizing that they have to go beyond the text and workbook. These too are symbols of the separation and although they point the way back to God, they are not in and of themselves substitutes for God. The last lessons of the ACIM workbook are “as free of words as possible” in order that we might “seek to go beyond them.”
The Urtext is the first typewritten draft – it reflects what Helen Schucman dictated to Thetford. It is personal to the point of private, which was one of the primary reasons Ken Wapnick encouraged students not to read it. It was neither ready for – nor, according to Wapnick and other early ACIM practitioners, intended for – publication. Indeed, reading it does give one the sense that they are peering into a therapy session between Jesus, Helen and Bill.
If you are going to steer clear of the ACIM Urtext – or feel called to steer clear of it – that’s probably the best reason. It simply wasn’t intended to be shared that way. It arose as a site of healing between Helen and Bill and only subsequently reached a state where the audience could broaden. Both Helen and Bill seemed to feel – at least according to material that I’ve read (summarized, in an admittedly one-sided way here) – that it was meant to be revised before going public. Why not respect their wishes?
Yet for all of that, reading the Urtext does have its benefits. For one thing, as Robert Perry has correctly pointed out, it abounds in specifics. If you are curious about the meaning of a particularly abstract phrase or idea, chances are the Urtext has some examples or additional language that will help clarify it. This is especially true of the early chapters, which were the ones most subject to revision (a lot of that material was eventually excised, reordered or rewritten).
For me, the value of the so-called Urtext is in the way it makes clear that A Course in Miracles is meant to be practiced. It was meant to be lived, to be brought into application, and its application was nontrivial. When asked for an example of course principles being lived out in the world, Helen named Mother Theresa. The course is meant to be used in the world – we are called to be messengers of love and healers in a deeply pragmatic, even radical, way.
Some of the ACIM Urtext is confusing – or a little too intimate. It talks, for example, about sexuality and encourages miracle workers to give considerable attention to this area of their living. Seeing the body as a means for pleasure in any way is to indulge the ego – unless we can fix the underlying error (e.g., the belief that we are bodies). So long as we are sexually active, then spiritual sight remains all but impossible. This reflects details about the sex lives of Helen and Bill (which neither wanted to share with us), and feels overtly conservative and judgmental (reflecting, clearly, Helen and Bill’s sexuality). Like eating, sex is a use of the body that few of us want to compromise or surrender. The canonical text (published by the Foundation for Inner Peace) is silent on this issue.
So, arguably, the Urtext helps us to flesh out this important idea.
The other issue that one has to consider when reading the Urtext is the degree to which the teachings of Jesus need any editing. If the voice that Helen heard was Jesus of Nazareth, then why make any alterations? Reasonable people can certainly ask why the ACIM urtext was edited. Why did Ken step in and edit it? It’s true that those typewritten notes indicate that some material needs to be removed because it’s intended solely for Helen and Bill, but that’s actually a pretty small percentage. What about the rest? I think this is what motivates a lot of Ken Wapnick’s critics, the sense that he overstepped by effectively editing Jesus Christ.
But if you are close to that material, then you are less likely to challenge the need to edit it – which is a separate question from the quality of the actual editing. The early chapters of the first edition are sort of . . . clumsy. It’s true there are some real gems tucked in there, but by and large it reads like a first draft. Whatever channel Helen was using to reach Jesus, it was a bit clogged. And so you get the wisdom but it’s compromised. In this sense – over and above the personal material – editing was obviously called for. Personally, I think Ken did a fine job – I doubt I could have done better. When we make more of that issue – defending this or that edition, this or that teacher – then we are indulging the ego and using the history of the writing and editing to keep us from practicing the very healing ACIM offers us.
In other words, I don’t think it matters which edition of A Course in Miracles you choose. Or rather, it’s not actually possible to pick the wrong one. I still prefer the FIP edition. Yet my understanding of the course has been undeniably enhanced by reviewing the earlier versions, including the Urtext. Pick one that works for you (what works is what’s helpful) and then stick to it. Even Ken acknowledged in his defense of the FIP edition, we should never feel guilty for reading a different version.
The question is what is it for – why are you reading the course? Why are you leaning into the conflict around which edition to read? We are here to be healed of fear, and guided by the Holy Spirit – the light in our mind that was in the mind of Jesus as well – to love. Don’t shake off what helps. Let it do its work, and you do yours. Read, listen and love. What else is there?
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