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 so important, the version that you choose does in fact matter largely because you want to be sure that you are using one that works for you.
We all know the outline, right? Basically, Helen Schucman channeled the voice of Jesus, wrote it down in shorthand and 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 publishing – Kenneth Wapnick, Judith Skutch. Organizations sprung up with their own thoughts and ideas about the text. There was a lawsuit.
Long story short? There are now at least three apparently different texts available to students.
I say “apparently different” because in my experience they are not substantially unchanged from one another. The message – that the world is projection of fear and guilt and anger, that a change of mind is possible by enlisting Jesus’ help, and that we can experience the Kingdom of Heaven – is the same throughout. From this vantage point, it really doesn’t matter what version of A Course in Miracles you choose. They are all going to deliver you to the same place, or at least have the potential to do that.
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 substitutes for God. The last lessons of the ACIM workbook make clear that they 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 private (one of the reasons that Ken Wapnick encourages students not to read it) and was not (according to Wapnick and other early ACIM practitioners) intended for publication in that state. And indeed, reading it does give one the sense that you are peeking into a very private, very personal meeting between Jesus, Helen and Bill.
If you are going to steer clear of the urtext – or feel called to steer clear of it – that’s probably the best reason. It simply wasn’t intended to be released that way. Jesus was clear that it would become public but only after it had been edited (by whom is another hotly debated question). 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 going to be revised before going public.
Yet for all of that, it 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).
Some of the Miracles Urtext is confusing – or a little too intimate. It talks, for example, about sex and encourages miracle workers to get this right. Seeing the body as a means for pleasure in any way is to indulge the ego – unless we can fix the underlying error (that bodies are real and thus sources of anything) then spiritual sight will remain impossible. While this brings up some details about the sex lives of Helen and Bill (which decency does make one feel a bit like we’re violating their privacy) it’s an interesting and important concept. Like eating, sex is one use of the body that few of us want to compromise or surrender. The traditional text is unhelpfully silent on this question.
The other issue that one has to consider when reading the Urtext is the degree to which Jesus needs 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 Wapnick 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 stepped and started 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 – notably around sex – but by and large it reads like a first draft. Whatever channel Helen was using to be in contact with Jesus, it was a bit clogged up. And so you get the wisdom but it’s compromised. In this sense – over and above the personal material – some editing was called for. Whether Mr. Wapnick did a good job . . . well, as I am already on record saying: you need to make that call for yourself. I personally think he did the best he could – I doubt I could have done better – and when I start making more of the issue, I’m indulging the ego and using the history of the writing and editing to keep me from the healing the text offers.
In other words, I don’t think it doesn’t really matter which edition of A Course in Miracles that you choose. Or rather, I want to say that it’s not possible to pick the wrong one (the other option – the so-called Hugh Lyn Cayce version I’ll discuss another time). I still rely primarily on the traditional text – it was the first edition I read and studied and feels like the cornerstone to me. Yet my understanding of the Course has been undeniably enhanced by reviewing the earlier versions. Pick one that works for you and then stick to it. Even Mr. Wapnick noted in his defense of the traditional text that we should never feel guilty for reading a different version.
As I said at the outset, our focus is on love – on transforming the world and ourselves in relation with Jesus. What helps you get there, helps you get there. Read, listen and love.
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