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.
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.
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?