From Scumbag to Surveyor to Saved

I used to be the kind of man that people loved to hate.

My loathsome behaviour led me on a journey from plagiarist student to utility mapping surveyor and homeless vagrant. It was thanks to a brush with A Course in Miracles that I was able to gain some kind of redemption.

You know the way people talk about James Bond?

‘Men want to be him, women want to be with him.’

I can honestly say that, for the majority of my life at least, the opposite applied to the way I was perceived. Even my closest friends (of which there have always been a limited number) have described my face as ‘punch-able’ something that I attribute to my easy smile and strangely large eyes – together they give the impression of a person who appears to not only refuse to take life seriously, but to be actively mocking whomever they are speaking to. My inherent un-likeability can not, however, be completely attributed to the features of my face.

No – genetics aside, I played a significant part in my development from ‘punch-able’ faced youth to slippery, morally dubious businessman. I believe that human behaviour, how we act and talk, is intrinsically linked to how we are rewarded by our actions early in life. My childhood, although typical in many ways, offered numerous examples of how selfish behaviour was so often rewarded above its counterparts. My parents had divorced whilst I was young. An only child at the age of 4, I was gifted something that I hadn’t expected: a double life.

Mine was a coddled existence with my Mother, I was overfed and protected; cherished as the only good man in her life. Two weekends a month my role would change, from supplicant ‘good boy’ to self-sufficient ‘lad’. My Father would either have a new girlfriend or a new toy each time I stayed with him, his constantly precarious financial situation clearly incapable of supporting both an occasional son and a casual fling – these women were never around for long. Despite his woeful finances, his moods unlikely my Mother’s, would be consistently high. He had gambled all his life and watched with glee as each of these risks paid off, whereas my Mother had placed all her bets on a man whose attention span could not be held for longer than a few weeks.

From my limited perspective, I could see who was winning and I understood where the rewards lay, which path to take.

By the age of 28 I had manoeuvred myself into a position that was certainly enviable amongst my peers. After spending years looking over the shoulders of my classmates I had realised the key to success was not knowledge, but appearing that I had knowledge.

My work life was soon built around my mercurial personality, I focused more on politics than projects and was rewarded for my efforts until I was undone by my own Machiavellian scheming. You see, moving higher and higher up the corporate ladder had its dangers; soon I found that I was sharing the waters with a number of sharks who weren’t afraid to delve into my personal life in order to root out my indiscretions and turn me out into the streets.

All my cheating, lying and deception had soon been laid bare to the world. When it became evident that I had nothing else to offer the world – I was simply discarded. Homeless and without a friend in the world, my saviour wasn’t a book, but someone else who believed in a book.

That person was my wife and that book was A Course in Miracles.


Has this story inspired you? Or has A Course in Miracles driven you to embark on your own personal journey? Let us know via the ‘Share Your Thoughts‘ page.

Zachariah’s Subway Escape

We’re grateful for yet another submission, giving us a new perspective on how A Course in Miracles has changed their lives.

Zachariah Takenpiece had considered himself a rationalist long before coming to New York, however a chance encounter with A Course in Miracles set him on a new trajectory, changing his perception on how the world works forever.

I’ve never been what you would call a true believer.

But after a copy of Course in Miracles fan saved me from near-certain death, I’ve come to accept that perhaps there’s something a little more than just Chaos Theory at work in this ol’ universe of ours.

I’ve always felt uneasy around religious people. I’ve encountered them in every country I’ve visited and regardless of their denomination, sect or belief system there has always been a unifying trait shared amongst the most devout that I’ve found distinctly disconcerting. I understand that holding this kind of view is more than a little bit unfair, after all shouldn’t every human being have the right to believe in whatever they want? Shouldn’t they be able to express their feelings of devotion? And if that devotion spills over into conversion then shouldn’t we allow them their digressions?

Before my life changing moment in New York last Summer I would have said ‘no’.

I blame my Aunt for my (previously) aggressive stance against ‘in-your-face’ religion. Like many middle-aged Americans in the 90s, she couldn’t quite believe what the world was coming to. Having been born in the aftermath of World War II my Aunt Rose had always been told to appreciate the chance we had been given in life. She’d been told that it was thanks to the sacrifices of good God-fearing men (like her Father) that she was alive and well. She’d grown up in an Evangelical bubble, confusing the values of her fundamentalist beliefs with that of America’s. So when she saw something that she didn’t agree with, not only was it deplorable, but it was un-Godly and (worst of all) un-American.

I was a teenager during the mid-90s, in the throes of a bleached blonde bedraggled rebellion that had suddenly become so fashionable that I was considering a drastic switch to the less conventional Goth-chic. Our extended family would meet together every Sunday for lunch, a tradition that our late Grandfather had always appreciated, but somehow these weekly meals had started to become a dreaded occasion for me.

My on-the-nose attempt at rebellion, appeared to my Aunt Rose as the very pinnacle of what was wrong with the world. Here was a direct descendant of her noble forefathers, flagrantly disrespecting the very values of America. Those meals were an endless tirade of criticisms and openly aired insults: against me, America and the world.

When I left to study in New York, I found that I suddenly didn’t need to wear the Cobain-style threads anymore. I didn’t need to openly rebel against anything because there was nothing to rebel against. I cut my hair, got a job and started to look more like the person that my Aunt would have probably liked. That didn’t stop her from trying to ‘save me’ still.

I received the copy of A Course in Miracles in the post with a message written in her hand and dreaded the worse. Just the sight of her spidery writing put chills in me. I was running late for a train, on my way to split-shift at one of two jobs I was holding at the time. The note inside the package stopped me in my tracks.

‘Dear Zachariah,

I hope this finds you well. I understand that for years you did not hold me in the highest of regards and for good reason. I hope you accept my sincerest apologies for all the harm that I have caused, along with a copy of the book that has helped me see the error of my ways.

Your Aunt Rose’

I had to run to try and make the train, which I missed by just a minute. Ten seconds later I heard the squealing of brakes and a grinding crash which shook the subway station. Five people were killed on that subway train and the rest of the passengers were seriously injured.

I’m not sure of I agree with everything written in A Course in Miracles, but I’m glad that my aunt found it. It means that I’m alive today and that I’ve never been closer with a woman that I used to despise.


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.

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.