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Consultations with
Eric Francis

The Pros & Cons of Miracles

by Eric Francis
from Planet Waves Weekly

It seemed like one way or another I was going to be writing about religion today, a theme which has come up a few times recently. This morning Chelsea (my faithful assistant) and I were talking about various out-of-body phenomena, and I started telling stories from Miracle Manor, which I described as my spiritual boot camp, a one-year live-in experience of doing A Course in Miracles. I lived there from mid-1986 to mid-1987. Like lots of people, Chelsea had heard of the Course but didn't know quite what it is. I've been thinking for years that I would write an essay called "The Pros and Cons of Miracles," and today seems like the day.

Basically, A Course in Miracles is this blue book available for purchase in most book stores. It's actually three books, a text, a workbook, and a teacher's manual, now sold in one volume. The book came into being by a channeling process that started in 1965. There were two people on the channeling team -- Helen Schuchman, who worked at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in the medical psychology department, and her boss, Bill Thetford, who was chairman of that department. Helen was an atheist, but she started having what you might call visionary dreams of stuff like the Dead Sea Scrolls, and then a few months later began hearing a voice in her mind. The voice, which later identified itself as the spirit of Jesus, is what gave her the Course, in the form of seven years of dictation which she took down shorthand in about 100 steno pads.

Now if you think it's weird that Jesus would dictate some kind of 'course' in the 20th century, imagine what a couple of medical psychologists at Columbia University with no special religious leanings would think. Let's not forget that hearing a voice in your mind technically makes you crazy. When Helen initially heard the voice, she called Bill and asked her what he thought she should do. He suggested that she write down what it was saying. So, she did. It said: This is a course in miracles. It is a required course.

A required course? Were they channeling the Academic Affairs Dean, or the Cosmic Christ? It's explained in the Course that the book you're holding is merely one version of a universal program (fortunately for those in Tibet). It goes on to explain that when you choose to take the Course is voluntary, which is to say that free will means choosing when you want to do something, but not what you want to do. In other words, this is material that we will learn one way or the other, in one form or another. Hmmm.

The short introduction ends with the statement: Nothing real can be threatened. Nothing unreal exists. Ponder that for 10 or 20 years, please, and tell me what you come up with!

So it was that Helen and Bill started channeling, with Helen scribing the material and Bill typing it up early each morning as the two of them worked in his office with the curtains drawn, horrified at the prospect of anyone discovering what they were up to. What came through over the next seven years was essentially a course in spiritual psychology, often written with religious references and inferences. The material is presented in blatantly Christian terminology, with continuous and ongoing references to the Father and the Holy Spirit and so forth. It's in the male mode of God: He, She or It is always referenced as He.

The Course has a lot to say about God, making no apologies and engaging in no theological debate or theorizing. The purpose of the Course is to teach the student to become aware of God's actual presence. Basically, if you want to do the Course, you just have to get used to the lingo and deal with the material: in other words, the content, not the form, and the Course does more than a few songs and dances about the necessity to distinguish the difference.

The text begins with the 'principles of miracles', the first of which is, There is no order of difficulty of miracles. One is not harder or bigger than another. If you read the text one section at a time each day, it takes less than a year to finish, though the material really requires three or four passes through.

The workbook is organized into 365 lessons, one for each day of the year. The first lesson is Nothing I see means anything. The lessons are done in the form of what are called practice periods, or brief meditations or exercises based on the day's lesson. Some of these occur morning and evening, and for other lessons as often as every half hour or the first five minutes of each hour. Some of the lessons are repeated many times, particularly the old standby, I am not a body, I am free.

The teacher's manual is presented in question and answer format, and addresses the fact that the way one learns anything is to teach it. In the Course's words, Everyone teaches, and teaches all the time. Hence, by doing the Course, you become a teacher.

Though many people consider the writing in the Course to be unnecessarily cerebral, there are many elegant passages and excellent ideas in its pages. A few that come to mind are God is but love, and therefore so am I. Or, The past is gone; it cannot touch me. Or, There is nothing to fear. Or, I am here only to be truly helpful. My own favorite chapter in the text is 'The Illusion and the Reality of Love'. My next favorite is 'The Branching of the Road'.

The Course is designed as a self-study program; working with it in a live-in community situation is pretty unusual, though a number of communities do exist. A lot of groups have formed to study the work, and a couple of churches have surfaced, and a whole TV movement in California, but the Course itself makes no reference to any of this being necessary, and ultimately, all the real work goes on within one's own mind. Much of the material is skeptical of organized religion, and points out its hypocrisies. It's also pretty skeptical of psychotherapy.

Now, I recognize that in the rational world, we're way out in Lunatic Fringe Territory with this stuff. Even in the Froot-Loopy American religious world, we're working the edge. Most devout Christians would say we're dealing with the work of the devil. Others would dismiss the Course because it's taking the word of God from somewhere besides the Bible (very devilish). Most secular-types, or feminists, or woman-centered spiritual practitioners, or nature-lovers (um, such as myself), would likely object to the whole Guy God scenario, and for sure, it is extremely annoying at times. Those who are spiritual rather than religious, Taoists and the like, might not appreciate a personified God per se, since the Tao you can talk about ain't the real Tao. Then we have the issue of 'which God?' and 'whose God?' and how about: why God at all? Isn't nature enough?

Then, presumably, we would have the secular therapy community objecting to the Course's insistence that the body is not part of reality. God only knows what theologians would say. And so on. As I say: Lunatic Fringe, all the way around.

We can take one more step in the general direction of the frilly edge with the whole issue of miracles with which the Course is specifically concerned. From reading the text there can be no mistake that the intention is to teach students to facilitate miracles. Miracles are defined as expressions of love, but also include experiences which specifically violate the commonly-understood laws of space and time, as well as facilitating the healing of physical and emotional situations, and being able to function in what could reasonably be called impossible circumstances. Much of what the Course teaches is being able to listen for the voice of Spirit within one's mind, and to hear it under any circumstances, particularly the ones in which you need it the most (i.e., not when things are necessarily as serene as a meditation garden).

Somewhere within the work students are told that the real Course in Miracles is not the book but rather the sequence of miracles that occur as a result of working with it. These experiences break the hold that the old, limited picture of reality had on the mind, while at the same time demonstrating in deeds and not words that faith is perfectly justified. And most people who delve into the Course discover that miracles actually do happen -- as do many other people.

All of this leaves room for all kinds of speculation and skepticism, as does anything without scientific proof available, and most things with, and all things religious. What can't be denied is that the Course exists, that its history is well documented, that it has been deeply influential in the modern spiritual revival, and that many hundreds of thousands (I've read a million) people have worked with it, all of whom influence those around them. Once you learn the material, it's basically impossible to unlearn. Many one-time Course students have gone on to write their own books, become ministers, teachers and therapists, form companies and do fun stuff like start an astrology web page.

What's also fairly obvious is that the material itself is consistent with the essence of the world's great mystical traditions, for whatever that's worth. There are included some very practical applications of ideas that also appear in Buddhism, Hinduism and Gnostic Christianity, among other traditions. Yet the work, in its Father, Son and Holy Spirit terminology, is aimed straight into a culture where we can go on television and openly claim that the loving, all-merciful God of the Christians wants us to kill people in other countries, or execute prisoners, and where most of us to some degree, lesser or greater, have had our hearts and minds and lives torn apart in the name of Jesus. Religion exists and it isn't going away. It seems clear that if we are going to deal with the errors of religion, that part of how we will need to do that is from within religious frameworks.

Do I believe in A Course in Miracles? To me that's a similar question as, 'Do you believe in astrology?' I can't honestly say I believe in either, but they both work pretty well as tools to get certain jobs done.

-- To Be Continued Next Week --

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