So Kenneth Wapnick has died.
I’ve tried to write about Ken many times since I started this blog and it never works out (UPDATE: this post and this post both go into my experience of Ken and Tara Singh as “teachers”). My feelings about Ken were always complicated, even as they increasingly leaned towards gratitude and respect. My debt to him is large.
Ken’s editing of A Course in Miracles always struck me as essential and useful. I know that’s a contentious statement in some circles, but still. Having spent a lot of time with early versions of the material, I truly believe that Ken’s contribution was transformative, completing a process that began but did not end with Helen and Bill. As a writer and editor, I am never not amazed at the breadth and quality of his work in that regard.
I didn’t always agree with Ken’s intense focus on western writers and thinkers and traditions in his teaching. It struck me as inconsistent with the course itself and perhaps a bit narrow-minded. However, as my own practice and understanding deepened, I began to understand what he was doing and why. I wrote to him a couple of years ago and offered my forgiveness. He was very gracious and kind.
My sense was that Ken had a vision of A Course in Miracles in relationship to the western spiritual and philosophical tradition, and I think in the end he was right about that. I often lean on Buddhist and Vedantic language and ideas – and my own ACIM teacher, Tara Singh, was well-steeped in Eastern thought and practice – but the structure of A Course in Miracles (its form) is western. That is its home. Ken’s intellectual discipline in that regard was admirable. Indeed, in the past year I have begun to appreciate more and more his fidelity to that aspect of the course.
Though I never formally studied with Ken, I have relied on his guidance more than any other teacher besides Tara Singh. I think his instruction (I am paraphrasing) to make our lives in the world about other people – being gentle and kind to everyone from our kids to our neighbors to the plumber – was brilliant. I think it perfectly summarizes how one should approach the course in terms of living in the world. When I am unclear about a particular idea or even a specific phrase of the course, Ken’s teaching always helped move me towards understanding. His book The 50 Miracle Principles of A Course in Miracles and A Talk Given on A Course in Miracles remain staples.
And it was Ken – through his writing – who taught me in a practical way that it was okay to make mistakes with respect to A Course in Miracles, okay to throw the blue book across the room in frustration, and okay to feel insane some days. Indeed, when I write about being honest with our brokenness as a means to healing, I am really just paraphrasing Ken. His vision of Jesus was deeply loving and forgiving, in all senses of the word.
I don’t mean in any way to suggest that I think Ken was perfect or infallible. I disagreed entirely with his reliance on masculine language and find his defense of it utterly unpersuasive. Some of his historical scholarship felt spotty to me (such as in Love Does Not Condemn). Some of the legal actions taken by the Foundation for Inner Peace made no sense to me.
On the other hand, I’m not sure I could have – or could have – done things differently. It’s always easy to judge another; what’s hard is forgiving them – in the sense of overlooking any seeming error – and getting on with our own learning.
My complaints about Ken feel like relatively minor quibbles, given the breadth of his helpfulness. If I wasn’t projecting some flaws onto the man, I wouldn’t have needed his assistance so much.
Finally – and perhaps most importantly, I admired Ken as a fellow writer. He maintained a remarkable level of production with a consistent and impressive (previous criticism notwithstanding) degree of quality over the years. That’s not easy to do! I might not have agreed with him all the time, but I never doubted his passion for or knowledge of A Course in Miracles. He wrote with gentle authority that was born, I think, of an authentic desire to be as helpful as possible.
That time I wrote to him, I sent a couple of blog posts for review. He was succinct and helpful – agreeing that Emily Dickinson was a wonderful poet, pointing out a couple of places where he believed I’d erred. He told me to keep writing, to have fun doing it, and to always remember not to take it all too seriously. Near the end of his letter he wrote, “always be true to your own truth, Sean.”
That was good advice. And he was a good teacher, and a lot of what he taught remains with us now he is gone. What more is there to say?