ACIM Text as Symphony (Form)

I received all 4 volumes of Kenneth Wapnick’s Journey Through the Text of A Course in Miraclesand am a little overwhelmed. Journey Through the Workbook of A Course in Miraclesis 8 volumes while Journey Through the Text is only 4 volumes. But each volume is roughly the size of two volumes of Journey Through the Workbook. It’s a LOT of information!

Wapnick says the journey through ACIM should be leisurely so I am going to take him at his word and not turn this into an obsessive compulsive exercise that has to be finished by the end of the year. I’m just going to float down the river with it and see where I end up, beginning with Wapnick’s explanation in the Prelude to Journey through the Textthat the text is a symphony.

Wapnick explains that much of the discussion in ACIM is differentiating between form and content. Form is external. Content is internal. Form is what we observe in the world of bodies while content is the mind’s thought or meaning behind the form. Wapnick says the Course is the perfect integration of form and content because the way in which the text is written is an integral part of what it teaches.

Wapnick’s lengthiest discussion on form is a comparison of leitmotif in symphony to the text in ACIM. He explains that Wagner perfected the use of leitmotif by associating certain musical themes with characters or emotions. In Parsifal, his final opera, there were motifs for faith. In Tristan and Isolde, his greatest work, there were motifs for yearning and death. When these themes reappeared in Wagner’s work, they would undergo changes in harmony, rhythm, and intervals to mirror the internal changes in the drama. This same form is found in ACIM.

  1. From the perspective of the musical composer from 1885 to 1940;
  2. From the perspective of the narrator from 1943 to 1945;
  3. From Mann’s actual writing of the novel, during WWII and after the war;
  4. From the perspective of the reader.

These levels interrelate and are important because they are not only about the great composer and his mental deterioration, but also about the rise and fall of Nazi Germany – from ascension to power to maniacal insanity. Mann was a fan of Wagner and used leitmotif in Doktor Faustusin a similar way to Wagner’s use of leitmotif in music, heightening the drama of the rise and fall of Nazi Germany.

Similarly, A Course in Miracleshas many passages that can be taken one, two, or three ways and often the text is best understood if the passages are taken as all three at once.

Wapnick shows the similarity of ACIM and the use of leitmotif in DoktorFaustusby taking an anonymous passage written about Mann’s Doktor Faustusand substituting the word “Jesus” for “Mann” and “text” (as in ACIM text) for “Doktor Faustus”:

Jesus wants to explore the many elements of the myth [the birth of the ego, its fall, and our return home]. The text is only marginally linear. The themes are explored by techniques such as montage, and use musical structure. It is musical in structure with each element introduced over time in a manner that develops unceasingly complex connections between these elements. And ultimately one can see the entire picture of all the elements and their interconnections to make a central statement. All these elements and their interconnections constitute the entire statement and are indispensable.

Wapnick also connects Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony with the text of ACIM. He says the Fifth Symphony is an overwhelming experience if one truly listens to it. In the same way one does not “enjoy” a Beethoven symphony or any of his great works, one does not “enjoy” the Course’s text, either. It is not an enjoyable read because, like the Fifth Symphony which plumbed the depths of Beehthoven’s psyche, ACIM is meant to upset us.

Another aspect where ACIM is similar to music is in the need for an interpreter. Most of us are unable to read the notes of a great symphony and hear it in our heads. We must hear it performed which requires a conductor and instrumentalist. The conductor and instrumentalist are the mediator between us and the composer’s genius. It is very important to listen to a conductor who understands the real meaning of the composer’s work. Wagner says when this happens, each of the separate parts falls logically and naturally into place. While listening to the music, it is as though we are in the presence of an organic unity and living experience. We no longer just hear the music but transcend it. However, when we listen to a conductor who may conduct all the notes brilliantly but doesn’t fully understand the meaning of the work, there is no organic connection or heart to the music. It’s just music.

The conductor must come before a musical masterpiece with a sense of humility in order to fully realize it. Wapnick suggests we come before ACIM with that same sense of humility because it isn’t just about words, it’s about transcendence. The brilliance doesn’t lie in the words, it lies in that there is something that transcends the words which we are able to grow into if we approach it with humility.

Wapnick says that our ever-deepening experiences of the Course is similar to what happens when we are in the presence of great music. The more we listen, the more we realize there is something there we hadn’t heard before. What we hope for in working with ACIM is that “our study, understanding, and application be an organic process of growth and transformation.”

Kenneth Wapnick Interview

In trying to get a feel for who Kenneth Wapnick was, I came across an interview with Kenneth Bok that was recorded in 2012, almost exactly a year from Wapnick’s death in December, 2013. It begins a bit rough but is quite informative. My notes follow…

Kenneth Wapnick was raised a secular Jew. He went to Hebrew school but didn’t like the language or the Jewish religion. It just didn’t resonate with him. What did interest him when he was young was music. His first real introduction into the world of classical music was at 16 years of age when his mother joined a Classical Music club. I imagine that’s one of those record clubs that existed back in the day? He was very moved by the music, especially Beethoven.

Around that same time, he read a a Primer on Freud by Calvin Hall which inspired him to read actual books by Freud. He did this while still in high school. That prompted his interest in Clinical Psychology. He never wavered from that interest and went on to get a Ph.D in Clinical Psychology. However, he would cut classes to go to the opera and to Carnegie Hall. Music was still what he most loved.

Music awakened something in him that he realized was more true than what he was studying in Psychology. It kept him spiritually honest at a time when he had no interest in spirituality or religion. He also loved great literature which functioned the same way for him, especially Hermann Hesse and Thomas Mann (esp. Doktor Faustus).

He went on to get a job as a clinical psychologist, got married, and subsequently got divorced. After the divorce he decided he would become a Trappist monk. He had been reading Thomas Merton who inspired him to live a life alone with God. In order to become a Trappist monk, however, he had to become Catholic, so he was making those preparations when he met Bill and Helen.

As far as Jesus goes, he really had no conscious feelings about him but used to sneak the New Testament into his room when his was much younger to learn about Christianity. Also, in the 1960s he bought a picture of Jesus that deeply moved him. It was a powerful portrait. Had his parents known their Jewish boy was doing these things, they would have been angry.

He wrote his thesis on mysticism with a focus on St. Teresa of Avila. She had an inner experience he could relate to based on his inner experience with music. He had many dreams, not necessarily of Jesus, but of God and inner experiences. One dream was of Thomas Merton telling him that Jesus was coming. He knew the dream was somehow significant.

His Jewish parents knew nothing of his decision to become Catholic and were very upset when they found out about his work with A Course in Miracles, despite his explanations that ACIM had nothing to do with Christianity. However, when they met Bill & Helen, they felt better about the decision because they were so impressed with both of them.

Wapnick met Helen and Bill in 1972. They both had very spiritual sides, but they didn’t “look” spiritual. They were academic and professional. They did project a lot of anger onto one another, however. Helen often knew she was projecting anger onto Bill, but Bill didn’t always recognize that he was projecting anger onto Helen, which could be very uncomfortable. They only really got along when they were working on ACIM, together.

Apparently, Helen believed in past lives and thought she had once been an ancient Jewish prophet. When asked what lives Wapnick might have led, he says that was nothing he ever got into. Not that it isn’t true, but that it just didn’t seem like something he should bother with.

He wasn’t with Helen when she was scribing ACIM, but met her just as she had completed the first edition. Wapnick was given the Hugh Cayce version to read. It had been carefully edited by Schucman, but was full of inconsistencies and bits of information that clearly had not come from Jesus. Helen’s ego had gotten in the way during the first 4 chapters. After that, the information she received was much more focused and clear.

An example of the ego getting in the way: Bill was a homosexual which was a problem for Helen. She wrote, during dictation, that homosexuality was abhorrent behavior. That was definitely Helen, not Jesus. She also wrote that Jung was psychotic, also not something Jesus would have said. Not everything Helen wrote down came from Jesus, some of it was just Helen.

Helen said she didn’t “hear” an inner voice, she saw words and wrote them down. She never took the words to be sacred. The “voice” never said it was Jesus. Helen said it was Jesus. In Helen’s experience, Jesus was the form. But being form, Jesus is an illusion and should not be confused with the content. Jesus is a metaphor. Helen went to some abstract area of her mind that we all have, and out came ACIM. In that space she went into, call it abstract non-specific love, she identified with Jesus so Jesus appeared to be the source. It has nothing to do with the Biblical or Historical Jesus. It isn’t literally Jesus.

That’s why the form of ACIM is so much like Helen. It is written in English, not in the language of the historic Jesus. She was heavily influenced by Plato, Shakespeare, Freud and psychology. So is ACIM. People try and make ACIM “special” and Helen “special”, but you have to be careful about specialness. Don’t put form over content.

Backing up a bit, Helen and Bill gave Wapnick the Hugh Cayce version which Wapnick read. He mentioned the many inconsistencies to them and they agreed. People often think that Wapnick was the sole editor of ACIM, but he and Schucman went through every single word together. (There is no way Schucman would have let him edit it by himself.) The bulk of the work took place in the first four chapters of the text because there were so many gaps from the not so nice egoic stuff they had taken out (like Jung being psychotic and homosexuality being abhorrent). It didn’t read well and it was difficult to edit.

In general, capitalization was the greatest struggle. They would have to decide how to use capitalization on certain terms to make them stand out. Commas were another problem. Sometimes Helen would decide to change her philosophy on commas or capitalization and they would have to go back through the entire text and redo all the commas or capitalization.

Wapnick began teaching ACIM when he and Helen were traveling through Oregon. She would give the talks, but then decided it would be better if Kenneth told the stories about she and Bill. After one of these sessions, he was asked if he’d be willing to teach a group of people. He agreed and never stopped teaching. He says he never saw himself as a public speaker. He saw himself as a teacher of teachers, which potentially explains the denseness of his writing.

He says that ultimately, teaching the course is not teaching metaphysics, it is a demonstration. If people really understood the first principal of miracles, they wouldn’t need to read anything else. ACIM is lengthy because it is repetitive. Learning is a process.

The reason he wrote Love Does Not Condemn, a work that Kenneth Bok admitted is just a tad too scholarly for him to understand, was to help put ACIM within the context of other western traditions. People were constantly attacking ACIM as being Gnostic so Wapnick began reading some of the Gnostic texts and was blown away by how similar they were to ACIM. Much of Love Does Not Condemnis about showing where ACIM is Gnostic and where it isn’t. It also resurrects the Gnostics. Like ACIM, Gnosticism is also very Platonic. 

People often wonder how one woman could come up with ACIM, but ACIM wasn’t just written out of the blue, it comes out of a long, Western tradition. Neoplatonism wanted to now how you get from the Perfect One and end up with this world. ACIM gives us a context from which to understand that. It solves the Platonic problem.

When asked what ACIM’s role is in the evolution of Christianity on Earth, Wapnick replies that he is not a good prophet. He then goes on to say that nobody knows anything about the historical Jesus. Whatever his message was has gotten very messed up. The reason ACIM is written in Christian lingo is because we live in a Christian world. Even the East has become much more Christianized. However, Christianity isn’t very “Christian”.

ACIM is an attempt to set the record straight. It will be helpful in changing the world’s thinking, but we’re not there yet. It won’t happen in Wapnick’s time and probably not Kenneth Bok’s time, either. (I think Bok was under 30 years old at the time of the interview.) The world isn’t ready for it right now, but when it is, ACIM will be there and people will have access to it in it’s original form.

ACIM is not THE book. It doesn’t make sense to take it seriously in that way. To do so makes it “special” which is what happens in Christianity, too. Be kind to everyone and everything. That is ACIM.