Are Arten and Pursah Real?

The question of whether Arten and Pursah are real often comes up in relation to questions about whether Gary Renard is a fraud. His writing revolves around Arten and Pursah’s teaching; his ACIM practice is intimately connected to their appearance and his relationship with them. Is it possible he made them up? And what happens if he did?

In general, I have no qualms about recommending Renard’s work to course students. Whatever drama Arten and Pursah present, their perspective on the course is traditional and – salty language aside – unremarkable. You can get pretty much the same thing from Ken Wapnick, albeit without spiritual histrionics. What works for you?

Also in general, I tend to shy away from characterizing course-related material in terms of “right” and “wrong” – or, in this case, “real and “unreal.” Rather, there are only helpful and unhelpful teachers and books and approaches. Again, it is a question of what works for a given student at a given point in their learning. Gary was helpful to me in the first year or so of my study; after that, not so much.

But to me that speaks to the helpfulness of his work, not its “rightness” or “wrongness.”

A Course in Miracles suggests that those of us who want conflict are going to find it. Diving into the question of whether Arten and Pursah are real or unreal is a good example of that inclination. Why does it matter? What about your ACIM practice will change based on one or the other answer?

As I mentioned, I read The Disappearance of the Universe early in my studies of A Course in Miracles. Someone I trusted lent it to me. And I loved it. It was easy to read, it was reassuring, it broke down some of the harder metaphysical ideas and concepts and made them accessible.

Yet as I dove deeper into the course, I started to stumble into a lot of the conflict that swirls around Gary. There’s the whole question of whether Arten and Pursah are real or just clever marketing devices. There’s his debates with other course teachers. There’s various other fantastic claims that he makes. There’s the way in which he hawks longevity vitamins.

I am not immune to conflict! I also like to be right and – by being right – to prove other people wrong. So I indulged that drama for a while.

But here’s the thing. At the same time I was given Renard’s book, I was also given Tara Singh’s book Nothing Real Can Be Threatened. And that book – its gravity, its clarity, its grounded reassurance, its love – literally entered my being as if it was breathing me. I was lifted by Tara Singh. I was changed.

And as Tara Singh’s teaching took hold and directed my learning, Renard’s work and the conflict that surrounded it just . . . faded. I wasn’t interested because it wasn’t helpful.

I felt strongly then – and still feel now – that we have to take what works and not lose sleep when something doesn’t. In A Course in Miracles Jesus reminds us to ask of everything: what is it for? (T-4.V.6:7-9) If it’s not taking you closer to Heaven and God – as measured by your happiness – then drop it and move on.

If we want to be distracted by conflict, we can be. But there is another way.

Of course, this does not answer the question: are Arten and Pursah real or fake?

For me, Arten and Pursah are real creations of Gary Renard by which he brings forth his understanding and practice of A Course in Miracles. I do not believe they are real the way my wife or my dog or my horse is real. I understand that reasonable and thoughtful course students disagree with me. I understand that Gary Renard disagrees.

And I have no interest in fighting with them over that. Again, if it works for you, then use. And if it doesn’t, then don’t worry about it.

Very few of us are called to attend the learning of anyone other than our own self. It is not my job to protect A Course in Miracles from other teachers, be they Marianne Williamson or Gary Renard or Liz Cronkhite.

It is okay to say “no” to a course teacher. I do this with Gary but only after I said yes for a while. I said “yes” to Tara Singh and have yet to need to renounce or amend that embrace. I said “not yet” to Liz Cronkhite and then “yes” and then “no.”

My point is that you are allowed to take any position you like with respect to Arten and Pursah, and the position you take will be the one that is most helpful to you at this stage of your learning. That might change with time and it might not.

When we find ourselves investing in conflict, it can be helpful to ask what the conflict is for? Is it deepening our forgiveness practice? Is it helping us understand parts of A Course in Miracles that are complex? Is it supporting our brothers and sisters in their study?

Or is it distracting us, by feeding an ego narrative that we are right where somebody else is wrong?

Tara Singh spoke often about the “lovelessness” of suggesting that we “get it” and others don’t. In general, it is not a helpful place to be.

If a text or teacher is helpful, then great. Make use of it. Share it. Learn from it. We are going to get where we’re going anyway, and the Holy Spirit and Jesus can and will use everything that comes along to help us remember that we never left our home in God, and that the way to remember is to extend love to our brothers and sisters. We can count on that. That is dependable.

Finally, I note that the course teaches us early on that whatever meaning something has, we have given it that meaning (e.g., W-pI.2). Whatever value we perceive in the world, be it positive or negative, we put it there.

In Disappearance of the Universe, Arten and Pursah make the following observation with respect to their reality.

It’s not necessary for your readers to believe in us. Our words can benefit people whether they have trust in us or not. It’s the Holy Spirit’s message that matters – not those who appear to be bringing it.

This is a good point! And goes very much to the question of helpfulness. By all means ask yourself whether Arten and Pursah are real. Look into it. Find the answer that works for you. But remember always that what informs your seeking and learning is love, and that the form love takes – be it Gary Renard and his ascended masters, Tara Singh and his service-oriented teaching, or Liz Cronkhite and her coach-based teaching model – will vary and shift, without ever diminishing the love that is the ground of our shared identity.

Reading: John Beavin’s “The Parable of the Stars”

One of the more interesting – and challenging – aspects of being a Course in Miracles student is my desire to share it. It’s not an inherently bad impulse at all, but if I’m not careful in the application it can be a bit tricky.

For example, a lot of my close friends and people that I work with on a daily basis, have major issues with Jesus and Christianity. They’re happy that I’m happy but for them, the Course is just another failed branch of a tree they gave up on long ago. And when I try to talk about the Course without talking about Jesus, it doesn’t work. It’s just mushy philosophy, a cross between soft Buddhism and the Law of Attraction.

Even with friends who are perfectly happy to listen to someone talk about Jesus, I seem to stumble. It’s like I am having an interior experience – call it a bumpy transition from fear to love – that just won’t translate. Even with my wife and children I often feel an inept witness to this powerful, transformative experience.

So I have this longing then – this dream, say – for a text that is simple and clear and presents the Course in a way that isn’t too abstract, isn’t likely to alienate. I read a lot of Course material, and it’s all helpful in its way, but nothing has

A couple of weeks ago,  I read The Parable Of The Stars
by John BeavinIt’s an elegant and lovely text – fourteen or fifteen pages of story and images that goes right to the heart of the Course in a way that can certainly be renewing for long-time students but is also a blessing for non-students.

First and foremost, it’s fun to read. Like the parables of Jesus, it’s short – easy to partake of in a single sitting but rich enough to yield fruit for years. Parables, Beavin suggests, “allow us to observe logical occurrences which seem external to our lives, and then, gently, when we are ready, begin to see it really is our own story.” There is playfulness here, and joy.

The crux of the story won’t be unfamiliar to those of you who have spent any time with A Course in Miracles. There’s a beautiful light – existing as beauty itself, a condition in which no lack of any kind exists – and it suddenly explodes into billions of fragments.

Each of these fragments is a star wracked with guilt over the belief that they attained their individuality at the cost of destroying the original beautiful light. This guilt and fear causes them to twinkle, to frantically try and outshine their brother and sister stars, to take the place of the original light.

That doesn’t work, of course, and as some the stars give up in exhaustion, they hear the faint strains of a song sung by the original Light. It’s a soft, peaceful song that reminds the little stars that they already are the light they are struggling to become. They can relax. They are perfect the way they are. There is nothing to fix, nothing to improve.

Beavin has neatly and accurately translated the Course into a simple story about forgiveness, about remembering our true identity in Heaven. Reading The Parable of the Stars was like a playful push – this isn’t so difficult! – and I laughed when I was finished, because I was happy, because those blocks to love had shifted a little, had dissipated a little. That’s no small gift!

I gave the book to my wife to read. While she respects and honors my spiritual practice, she finds the text too obtuse. Her spirituality is deep and inspirational to me, and I have really struggled to share the Course with her in a way that isn’t overbearing. She read “The Parable of the Stars” and immediately connected it to the ideas she so often hears me babbling about. In fact, it has facilitated a deepening of our ongoing conversation about Jesus and God and our abstract spiritual identity, because it is the text we can share in common. “It’s like when the stars start twinkling . . . ” or “it’s like when the stars hear the song . . . ”

I also asked my 12-year old daughter to read the book. She appreciated it, too. I don’t ask her to read the Course, because she’s too young. I feel grateful that there is a text I can offer her – and my other children as they grow a bit older – that sums up Course principles. It’s not that I want my family to follow the Course because I do – but I do want them to understand and appreciate the choice that I have made, and continue to make. Beavin has absolutely created a work of art that facilitates that sharing.

The book is illustrated by Jennifer Bennett. The artwork actually reminded me of this quote from the book’s dedication (to Bill Thetford and Helen Schucman): “While the Course is, itself, the height of spiritual simplicity, overcoming our addiction to futile ‘twinkling’ usually requires a lifetime of studying and practicing the unique, life-renewing principles found in ACIM.”

I say that because the illustrations are so deceptively simple. Yet the more I look at them, the more beautiful and revealing they seem. They are a perfect addition to Beavin’s words, just the right blend of color and design. I think Beavin and Bennett are both deeply intimate with the delight of creation.

I’m a good example of a Course students who can be awfully serious. You know the type. Somebody cracks a joke during a study group and this guy doesn’t laugh because there’s no time for silliness. This is about waking up, damn it! And while I know that intellectually – and, yes, I’m working on it – there are still plenty of moments where I approach A Course of Miracles in a state of solemnity and gravitas that  is a poor substitute for the joyous peace and freedom we are promised.

In the end, this was perhaps was most appealed to me about reading Beavin’s book. The simplicity and playfulness was a useful counterpoint  to the part of my practice that wants to be professorial, masterful. In other words, it undid some of the specialness I feel about being a Course student. Reading “The Parable of the Stars” was like being reminded that this isn’t rocket science, that any time I want I can go home in joy and rest.

You can also listen to Beavin’s book on CD – his wife, Lainie Beavin narrates, and John handles the vocals. Their friend and collaborator, Tom Sciro, plays keyboards. I’m a reader by nature, but the disc is cool, too.

Anyway, over the years I’ve acquired a big library of ACIM material, but this gets a special place. When I want to share the Course with young friends or people who don’t want to be encumbered with what they perceive as overly religious or metaphysical language, this is my goto book.

 

ACIM Urtext

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.

(You might want to take a look at Robert Perry’s (from the Circle of Atonement) thoughts on the editing of A Course in Miracles – it’s thorough and relatively balanced).

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.

Circle of Atonement

This post is about the organization Circle of Atonement. This post is about the course section of the same name.

The Circle of Atonement is an organization of teachers and students devoted to the practice of A Course in Miracles. My first encounter with them was through the controversy surrounding Gary Renard and his ascended masters. My sustained impression of the group, however, is one of love and helpfulness.

I’ve said before that one of the early and helpful ACIM-related texts that I read was Gary Renard’s The Disappearance of the Universe. Finding it useful, and being curious, I googled Renard and discovered that there were all sorts of people asking questions about him. Was he a scam artist? Were Arten and Pursah just a clever marketing gimmick or genuine ascended masters? How did Jesus fit into it?

Those who want conflict will find it, of course, and find conflict I did. And, I confess that I indulged it some, too – it’s sad how much time we can spend in what really amounts to little more than gossip. But there were two things that came out of that experience that I really valued. The first was that I learned an important lesson. Or rather, I re-learned a course lesson through application. The course encourages us to always ask “what is it for?” (T-24.VII.6:1)

That question is deeply related to the admonition that we not “value what is valueless” (W-pI.133.13:4).

After I was done dredging the mud about Gary Renard’s divorce, bad jokes and background as a freelance investment and business master, I remembered to ask what his book was for. Why was I reading it? What was my goal – truth or conflict?

The answer was not especially hard to find. For me, reading Gary’s book – and all the texts I read with respect to ACIM – was to help my slowly-evolving appreciation, understanding and application of A Course in Miracles. Disappearance did that wonderfully. I haven’t worried about Gary Renard’s personal life since.

Set the goal for truth, use what is helpful, discard what is not, and trust God. It really can be that simple.

The other thing that came out of that experience – somewhat related to the first – was that I discovered the Circle of Atonement. As noted, they were early on involved in the Renard controversy. But to see that group solely in the light of Renard and that (somewhat subsided now) controversy around his work would be a mistake. COA is a helpful and substantive resource for serious students of A Course in Miracles.

I add, however, this caveat: they are not the only helpful and substantive resource. There are a lot of study groups, teachers and organizations out there. Finding one that is helpful to us can be a valuable use of our time and attention. It’s true we can become distracted by teachers – finding the right one, denigrating others, second-guessing our judgment and so forth. But on balance, the abundance of guidance available is a blessing.  Ken Wapnick, who was often conflated with the course as a sort of de facto pope, was fond of pointing out that A Course in Miracles had no pope. There is no one single custodian of love and forgiveness, just as there is no one single form of the “universal curriculum.”

I learned several helpful things reading through the material at Circle of Atonement. It was an early example of alternative approaches to the courwse – that is, approaches that could be distinguished from Ken Wapnick’s and the Foundation for Inner Peace and so forth. I am not as bothered by Ken’s role in the course community as some folks are, but it was still interesting to realize there were other ways of viewing the course material. In a sense, my openness and receptivity with respect to Tara Singh was grounded in part on this understanding that what works is what’s helpful, rather than what someone else insists in the only way something works.

I intend no disrespect to anyone here – not to public teachers or their teachers. I am grateful for the help they offer and view forgetting their apparent mistakes and aggressions and so forth as essential to my practice of forgiveness. People – including those at the Circle of Atonement are having powerful, life-changing experiences without having been involved with the course’s inception or otherwise hewing to its institutional founders. These guys – notably Robert Perry, Greg Mackie and Allen Watson – are powerfully committed to teaching the Course. Their lives are given to it. Even if I am not always on board with this or that particular aspect of their teaching (and I am not!), their authenticity and willingness to help is palpable.

It was – it remains- an effective witness to the transformative potential of A Course in Miracles.

I remain impressed by how much material Robert Perry and his students share via their website. Like the Foundation for A Course in Miracles, there are enough articles, links, interviews, classes and workshops to last a lifetime.  I became motivated to reflect on how I might do something similar with own study and practice. I am a teacher and a writer by both training and calling; linking that up with ACIM seemed natural and positive. Circle of Atonement was a tangible – and inspiring – model for how to share and how to learn by sharing.

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By way of addendum: as I mentioned earlier, the brouhaha over Renard and his work has largely fallen away. More and more people seem to just accept the ways in which he can be helpful for some students and stand down from arguments about whether he’s telling the truth or not. Again, those who long for conflict will find it. But even when we do find it, it can – when given to the Holy Spirit – be an opportunity for forgiveness. In the end, neither Gary nor Robert Perry and the good teachers and students of Circle of Atonement should be viewed in the light of conflict. That’s not what they’re about. And really, neither are you and I.

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By way of further addena, Robert Perry has released A Course in Miracles Complete & Annotated Edition, advertised as a restoration of the original work to the maximal degree possible (their website is down; I can’t link to a noncommercial overview of the project). Perry relies on Helen’s notes and believes this version will “allow the Course’s true meaning and character to shine through a little more clearly” and thus help students to “better see the Course for what it is, relate to it as it is, and apply its profound truths to their lives.”

I haven’t read this edition; I don’t feel especially called to read it. I’ve touched on my concerns about whether Helen or Jesus wrote the course and which version of A Course in Miracles one should read.

Although over the years I have stopped following Robert Perry’s work closely (somewhat the way I no longer follow Gary Renard’s work closely), I still consider him a thoughtful and devoted student of the course. It seems odd that a book which has been around for half a century and become – in Perry’s words – a “spiritual classic” should require revision that it’s “true meaning and character” might be revealed, but what do I know?

The Urantia Book

A couple of years ago, when I was just beginning to seek out ACIM study groups, I ran into a man who would serve as a sort of good-natured mentor. He was a former minister who had “converted” to A Course in Miracles in his early fifties. Closer to seventy now, he had a long history and a deep understanding of the course. One day, after we had finished the meeting and were chatting after, he ducked into his study and came out with a massive tome that he suggested I take a look at. It was the Urantia Book.

My friend introduced it to me this way: if the ACIM Text was the Lord of the Rings, the Urantia Book was  The Silmarillion. As a devoted reader of Tolkien, that analogy resonated right away. I took the book home and immediately began to read it.

The Urantia Book was a channeled text that came into existence in Chicago between 1924 and the mid-1950’s. It’s a huge book that takes into consideration a whole host of subjects – Jesus, God, the Universe, Origins, Science, Personal Destiny. Some critics have noted that it reads more like an incredibly detailed and consistent book of science fiction or fantasy.

The individual who allegedly channeled the material did so in a trance of which he remained relatively unaware. The beings that did the communicating were celestial beings (almost like angels, although the text is more precise with that term) or groups of beings. William Sadler, who was a Chicago-based doctor devoted to uncovering and revealing psychic hoaxes (even those that were benign), was introduced to the person who was receiving the material. Sadler, who took some responsibility for ensuring the text made it out into the world, making it available for humanity, called it one of the few cases where he could not find a logical, scientific explanation.

I first read the sections on Jesus’ life. It is a great read – very entertaining, very revealing. The author purports to know a great deal more about Jesus than the Gospels reveal, and more than scholars and historians are able to discern. Indeed, by the time we get to the end and Jesus is being crucified, the narrative has become far more gripping than any Mel Gibson movie ever was.

The other sections proved harder for me to wade through. The language was a bit stiff and archaic. The names were hard to track and, quite frankly, it seemed pretty far out. That might seem strange coming from a guy who studies and teaches A Course in Miracles – a text authored by Jesus and channeled by an aetheist Jewish psychologist – but it’s true. The teachings in the Urantia book never resonated with me the way ACIM does.

Should you read it? Well, I generally take the position that you should try everything. The text is relatively easy to find – either in hard copy or online – and there are some great resources maintained by the Urantia Foundation that can help you explore the text. I have a copy on my shelf, and although I no longer turn to it with any regularity, and don’t rely on it as part of my own spiritual practice, I remain open to the possibility that I might one day. It feels to me that it’s an important part of the library of channeled texts and other material that signifies some change or alteration in human consciousness. For that reason alone, it’s worth taking a look at.

The truth is – and A Course in Miracles is very clear on this point – there is no one right way or method to the universal experience. There are many paths to waking up. If you are searching, then search with gusto – get the Urantia book and give it a read. It might be what you need. And if it’s not, don’t be discouraged. There is always another way station ahead.