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The Scribing of
A Course in Miracles


 

Helen Schucman, Ph.D., was a clinical and research psychologist, who held the tenured position of Associate Professor of Medical Psychology at the College of Physicians and Surgeons at the Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in New York City. A Course in Miracles was "scribed" by Dr. Schucman between 1965 and 1972 through a process of inner dictation. She experienced the process as one of a distinct and clear dictation from an inner voice, which earlier had identified itself to her as Jesus. Helen Schucman's scribing of A Course in Miracles began with these words: "This is a course in miracles, please take notes."

William Thetford, Ph.D., was a tenured Professor of Medical Psychology at Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons, and Director of the Psychology Department at the Presbyterian Hospital in New York City for whom Dr. Schucman worked. As her trusted friend and colleague also, Dr. Thetford assisted and supported Dr. Schucman throughout the Course's scribing, including the events that led up to it. A vital participant, Dr. Thetford acted as transcriber throughout the entire process by typing the material from the scribed notes that Dr. Schucman had taken down and would dictate to him almost daily.

Click here to listen to Helen Schucman talk about "The Voice."
Click here to see a video of Bill Thetford talking about the Course.

Helen Schucman and Bill Thetford were an unlikely team in scribing A Course in Miracles. As career-oriented psychologists working closely together at the Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center, they were attempting to develop and strengthen the Center's Psychology Department. While their professional interests and goals for the department were compatible with each other, their personalities certainly were not. Helen's overtly critical and judgmental stance was juxtaposed with Bill's quiet and more passively aggressive personality, and they clashed constantly.

It was therefore a rather startling event when, in the Spring of 1965, Bill delivered an impassioned speech to Helen in which he said that he was fed up with the competition, aggression, and anger which permeated their professional lives, extended into their attitudes and relationships, and pervaded the department. He concluded and told her that "there must be another way" of living—in harmony rather than discord—and that he was determined to find it. Equally startling, and to their mutual surprise, Helen agreed with Bill and enthusiastically volunteered to join him in a collaborative search to find this other and better way.

It was as if Helen had waited all her life for this particular moment, which triggered a series of internal experiences for her that carried through the summer. These included heightened dream imagery, psychic episodes, visions, and an experience of an inner voice. The experiences also became increasingly religious, with the figure of Jesus appearing more and more frequently to her in both visual and auditory expressions.

This period of preparation culminated on the evening of October 21, 1965, when the now familiar voice of Jesus said to Helen: "This is a course in miracles, please take notes." Troubled, she called Bill immediately, and he reassured her that she was not going mad. He suggested she write down what was being dictated to her, and that he would look at it with her early the following morning at the office. Helen did just that, which is how the scribing of A Course in Miracles began. As Helen later described the experience:

"The Voice made no sound, but seemed to be giving me a kind of rapid, inner dictation which I took down in a shorthand notebook. The writing was never automatic. It could be interrupted at any time and later picked up again. It made obvious use of my educational background, interests and experience, but that was in matters of style rather than content. Certainly the subject matter itself was the last thing I would have expected to write about."

The actual process of the scribing was not difficult, and for the most part flowed rather smoothly. Helen would write down words dictated by the "voice" in shorthand notebooks, and whenever she and Bill had time during a very busy schedule, she would dictate to Bill what had been dictated to her. Bill would then type it directly from Helen's dictation, acting as transcriber. It was truly a collaborative venture between them. It also ensured that the Course—the answer to their question to find "another way"—would be absolutely faithful to the words and message Helen received from the "voice" she identified as Jesus. The process took seven years, and was completed in October, 1972.

Although the scribing itself was relatively effortless, it did engender tremendous anxiety in Helen, though less in Bill. As Helen wrote:

"It made me very uncomfortable, but it never seriously occurred to me to stop. It seemed to be a special assignment I had somehow, somewhere agreed to complete. It represented a truly collaborative venture between Bill and myself, and much of its significance, I am sure, lies in that. I could neither account for nor reconcile my obviously inconsistent attitudes. On the one hand I still regarded myself as officially an agnostic, resented the material I was taking down, and was strongly impelled to attack it and prove it wrong. On the other hand I spent considerable time in taking it down and later in dictating it to Bill, so it was apparent that I took it quite seriously. I actually came to refer to it as my life's work. As Bill pointed out, I must believe in it if only because I argued with it so much. While this was true, it did not help me. I was in the impossible position of not believing my own life's work. The situation was clearly ridiculous as well as painful."

And as Bill recalled:

"The material was something that transcended anything that either of us could possibly conceive of. And since the content was quite alien to our backgrounds, interests and training, it was obvious to me that it came from an inspired source. The quality of the material was very compelling, and its poetic beauty added to its impact."

As to the impact of A Course in Miracles on Bill, he said:

"It changed my life totally. I recall typing the first fifty principles on miracles that came through Helen in the Fall of 1965, and realized that if this material was true then absolutely everything I believed would have to be challenged—that I would have to reconstruct my whole belief system. At the time, however, I thought that would be impossible; I didn't know how I could do it. Yet I felt that was a requirement, since the material that came through Helen in the beginning phase seemed so authentic and genuine. I went into shock for a brief period, wondering how it would be possible to make such an abrupt change in my perception of life and the world. Later I realized that God is merciful, and does not ask us to make changes so abruptly, that there would be adequate time to gradually begin to shift my perception. I think what was important was my willingness to change, not mastery of the material."

When once asked his definition of A Course in Miracles, Bill replied:

"To help us change our minds about who we are and what God is, and to help us let go, through forgiveness, our belief in the reality of our separation from God. Learning how to forgive ourselves and others is really the fundamental teaching of the Course. The Course teaches us how to know ourselves and how to unlearn all of those things which interfere with our recognition of who we are and always have been."

Helen chose to conceal her spiritual journey from almost all of her friends, and all family members, except of course from her husband Louis. They would have been incredulous if they had known of her hidden life and scribing, which also included two pamphlets—"Psychotherapy: Purpose, Process and Practice" and "The Song of Prayer"—that were dictated to her after A Course in Miracles was completed. Helen also took down well over a hundred poems, published posthumously in 1982 as The Gifts of God by the Foundation for Inner Peace.

While generally ill at ease with the Course, Helen was more uncomfortable with the poetry, which at times reflects a closer and more personal relationship with Jesus. Because the poems gave her secret away, she did not wish them to be published during her lifetime. In addition, she wanted to preserve her anonymity as scribe of A Course in Miracles, firmly maintaining that it should stand on its own, with the true author, Jesus, remaining its sole inspirational figure. She knew that any public recognition of her role would distract from this focus.

Helen retired from Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in 1977, and died in New York City on February 9, 1981. Bill retired from the Center in 1978, and moved to Tiburon, California and later La Jolla. He died on July 4, 1988, during a visit to the Foundation for Inner Peace in Tiburon.