Gerald’s Experience at Lourdes

We were delighted to receive this story from a visitor to the site and happy to reproduce it in his words.

Gerald Kingsley was on holiday in France during the summer of 1921, although he was a young child at the time. He found the experience of visiting Lourdes to be life-changing. Over the following years, Gerald would return to this place and with each visit he was able to grow a little more as a person.

We present his story here to you and thank Gerald for sharing with us…

I’ll completely understand if you find it a little hard to believe my story, after all I was a child at the time and now I am an old man with a lifetime of memories in my mind, jostling for space and fighting for clarity.

My first trip to Lourdes was a strange one, fraught with childlike fears and an equal amount of wonder. It had only been a few years since the end of World War I, a War which had taken my Father’s life and that of my older brother. In the aftermath of the carnage, my Mother insisted that we should both make the long journey from our home in quiet suburban Tennessee over to France to visit the unmarked graves of those, like my Father, that did not return from the conflict.

The War had shaken my Mother’s belief in God. Being of typical Southern stock, Christianity was as much in her blood as the ancient recipes for fried chicken and biscuits were hard wired into her brain. To say that religion was a major part of our family’s identity would almost certainly be an understatement, but the sheer loss of life that we suffered during such a short space of time was enough to all but snuff out my Mother’s previously unshakeable piety.

Our journey to Lourdes was as much a mourning pilgrimage as it was a last-ditch attempt to reclaim some vestige of my Mother’s faith. At only 8 years old, the journey to such a foreign land (one that had been the end of two immediate family members no less) filled me with dread, yet the resultant experience proved to be one that was both life and faith affirming.

I remember shaking as we’d set out on the cruise liner. The Great War was over, there were no longer German U-Boats picking off passenger liners, but the nature of the cross-pacific journey that my Mother had chosen to take was still fraught with paranoia and fear. I only remember leaving our beloved home country, the United States. The 80 days between our departure from hectic New York City and arrival at even more hectic (yet exotic) Paris were a blur.

On a mild, yet damp morning we found our way to the fields that had been the stage of bloody horrors just a few years before. Although it had been years since the last shot was fired, those grim churned fields had maintained their sense of dread and foreboding. There were no graves to visit; no memorial plaque marked the sacrifice our loved ones made. We left, hand in hand feeling unsatisfied – requiring a miracle in order to restore us.

We both piled onto a bus that could not have exceeded the speed of 50 mph for the entire 500-plus miles journey. Although the stressful journey from the States has been lost to my memory, I remember that 12-hour coach journey as if it were yesterday. Worn out and tearful, when we finally arrived at our villa in the South of France we both found ourselves too tired to do anything but flop onto our beds and sleep for the remainder of the day.

I’d not expected to experience such warmth when I awoke in the evening. Much like our native Tennessee, Lourdes’ southern location afforded the area long balmy summer evenings and it was an evening such as this that my Mother and I made our pilgrimage to the Sanctuaires Notre-Dame de Lourdes

She held my hand loosely as we wandered languorously up the hill towards the Sanctuaires. As the sun slowly dipped behind the horizon, I was dimly aware of being joined by more fellow pilgrims. Although my Mother and I had made the journey by ourselves, we arrived at the Grottos surrounded by fellow mourners, pilgrims and believers. I’m not sure whether it was the long journey, the feeling of security or perhaps the knowledge of the apparitions themselves that did it; but I remember my Mother’s grip on my hand growing tighter as we approached the site.

We stood there in silence for a few minutes, with our new friends around us and a firmness entered her eyes. I didn’t need to ask but I could tell that her faith had returned to her, much like Helen Schucman that same summer, I was made aware of the transformative power of faith and it;s an experience that has stayed with me ever since.

If you’ve got your own story that relates to A Course in Miracles or the other works done by the practitioners of the movement then please send them into us via our ‘Share Your Thoughts‘ page.

William Thetford: A Focused Timeline

William Thetford was an instrumental part of the writing process of the Course in Miracles – we take a closer look at some of the key events of his life here.

25th April, 1923  – Born to John and Mabel Thetford, William was the youngest of three children. The family are committed members of the Christian Science church.

1930 – Thetford’s older sister passes away at a young age causing the family to sever ties with their church. Despite his parents reticence towards religion, William continued to sample various denominations of Protestant Christianity up until he reaches adolescence.

1932 – At the age of nine years old, Thetford falls ill with scarlet fever. His sickness goes untreated and leads to him developing rheumatic fever as well as a heart condition that result in him spending three years recovering at home.

1932-1935 – In the three years that Thetford spends recuperating at home, he devotes all of his time to reading. When he’s finally well enough to return to education he’s studied enough to begin at the appropriate age.

1944 – After successfully graduating from high school, Thetford claims a four-year scholarship to DePauw University studying both psychology ans pre-medicine.

1949 – Thetford successfully passes his graduate studies and claims his PhD in Psychology from the University of Chicago.

1949-1951 – William begins his professional career as a research psychologist for the Institute for Psychosomatic & Psychiatric Research & Training at the Reese Hospital in Chicago.

1951-1957 – In the years preceding the start of his work at the University of Columbia, William found himself working for a variety of government and academic institutions; these included postings at Lebanon, Connecticut and Cornell University.

1958 – After spending the previous years working for different institutions, Thetford finally found a position to settle in at the University of Columbia. He accepted a role at the College of Physicians and Surgeons, where he would go on to hire Helen Schucman as his assistant.

June, 1965 – Following years of suffering through a strained working relationship with Schucman, Thetford finally breaks down and exclaims ‘There must be another way!’ The months that followed lead to a number of spiritual breakthrough for Schuchman, culminating in the writing of the text known as A Course in Miracles. 


Ged’s Southern States Adventure

We’ve had yet another submission from one of our readers, an interesting story that shows how far reaching A Course in Miracles has become.

Ged Simpson was working in the architectural lighting business during the mid-90s when A Course in Miracles was arguably at its peak in popularity – he tells us here how his path crossed with a group of true-believers in the Bible-belt.

“You see here, how the light falls through this cir-cu-lar window? This is what we want through the whole building, but with lighting if that’s possible?”

Out of all the clients that I’d had as a lighting designer, James Bradshaw was by far the most charming. His rich Southern accent spoke of a time long gone.

Although I was always told that he was amongst the most devout believers at the Centre, he never struck me as particularly pious. Then again, as I’m led to understand, followers of A Course in Miracle can often come in many different guises…

“I don’t want this place to feel like an actual church. It needs to be a safe, warm comfortable place that will make people who are usually quiet feel confident enough sharing with a group of complete strangers.”

I’d been contacted in the winter of ’95 by Bradshaw, after an old colleague had passed him my card. I’d been a little unnerved at first when I found out who he represented. Up until that point I’d only ever seen A Course in Miracles on late-night shopping channels – oily religious salesman attempting to ply would-be believers with amended copies of a book written a decade before-hand of Jesus through the hands of a psychologist: the whole thing reeked of commercial opportunism.

At the time, though, I was a little short on work and not in the best position to turn down work. That’s how I found myself driving down, down, down into the Deep South to meet James for the first time.

His plan was a simple one: to convert an old service station into a new Centre for teaching A Course in Miracles. The building was a big space to work with, a retro 60s era fuel station with an equally vintage diner attached to it. I met James out front, he was leaning against his Dodge Charger parked up next to one of the disused fuel pumps smoking a cigarette. Although I knew that the gasoline had long since dried up, his attitude struck me as rather cavalier – not really what I’d expected from an inspirational leader.

“Not quite what you expected?”

My face must have told it all. I explained how I’d originally heard of the Course and he laughed.

“We’re not all money hungry charlatans you know. The Course helped me and now I’m in a position where I can help others.”

The look in his eyes was unmistakably earnest. There were none of the tell-tale signs of the Evangelical shock-jockeys of the time. He spoke in calm, even tones and never pushed his dogma onto anyone who didn’t ask. I left that day with a copy of his beloved text, I never read it but it still sits on my book shelf to this day: a reminder of that hot sunny day and a man with an unshakeable charisma.

If you’ve got your own story that relates to A Course in Miracles or the other works done by the practitioners of the movement then please send them into us via our ‘Share Your Thoughts‘ page.

A Course in Miracles: A Brief Overview

In order to gain a clear understanding of the nature with which the Course in Miracles developed from a disembodied voice in one woman’s to a full blown religious movement, it’s worth taking a brief overlook at the order of events that led up to the events of the main Course text being written.

14th July, 1909 – Helen Schucman born in Manhattan to her parents Sigmund and Rose Cohn.

1921 – At the age of 12, whilst visiting France, Helen is struck by a spiritual experience that leads to her receiving her first baptism upon her return to the United States.

23rd April, 1923 – William Thetford, future typist of A Course in Miracles, is born in Chicago to John and Mabel Thetford.

1938 – Whilst riding a subway train in New York, Helen experiences a sudden rush of great compassion for her fellow passengers – this would prove to be one of the key spiritual experiences in her life.

1949 – Thetford graduates from the University of Chicago with a PhD in Psychology.

1957 – After working with her husband in their Manhattan book stores, Schucman grows restless and returns to New York University to study Psychology, graduating in 1958.

1958 – Thetford accepts the positions of Professor of Medical Psychology and Director of the Psychology Department at the Presbyterian Hospital. Helen is subsequently hired as Research Psychologist by Bill to assist him in both roles.

June, 1965 – A negative, competitive work atmosphere develops in the department, leading to Bill making an impassioned speech to Helen exclaiming: ‘There must be a better way of living and working in the world and I’m determined to find it!’

June-October, 1965 – After this inciting incident, Helen claims to have experienced a series of ‘visions, vivid dreams and startling experiences’ that lead her first experience of hearing ‘the voice’.

21st October, 1965 – Helen hears a voice that she recognises as Jesus of Nazareth which says: ‘This is a course in miracles, please take notes.’ After telling Thetford, the duo begin the process of transcribing the ‘inner dictation’ that continues to speak to Helen.

September, 1972 – After 7 years of writing and editing, Thetford (who is given exclusive permission to edit the text that has been transcribed) and Schucman complete A Course in Miracles along with the accompanying Manual for Teachers.

October, 1975 – An attempt is made to copyright the text under the name of ‘Jesus’, as Helen refuses to claim full ownership of the text. However, authorities reject this application, as the copyrights can’t be given to ‘non-physical’ people.

1977 – Helen retires from her role at Columbia University and also chooses to retreat away from public life, preferring to no longer associate herself with the Course or any other groups.