In 1958, Dr Helen Schucman (left) accepted a job offer from Columbia University’s Medical Center in New York City, USA, to work with Dr William Thetford. This was the first important step towards the scribing of A Course in Miracles. As Helen met Bill for the first time, the thought came into her mind: “So this is the man I am supposed to help.”
Bill and Helen were research psychologists and Bill was head of the Psychology Department at the Medical Center. Helen had explored various religions throughout her life, and had arrived at a position she described as “militant atheism.” She had a highly analytical mind, which sought to dissect and prove or dismiss every statement or theory.
In spite of her ambivalence towards God, Helen had experienced many visions, which appeared to come from a higher part of her mind and which reminded her of profound spiritual truths.
Helen and Bill had frequent disagreements, and often blamed each other for problems in their working relationship. They also experienced ongoing conflict and competition in the department in which they both worked.
One day, in the spring of 1965, the normally quiet-spoken Bill made an impassioned speech to Helen, just before they set out for yet another difficult departmental meeting. “There must be another way,” he said. “Our attitudes are so negative that we cannot work anything out.” Bill had decided to approach things differently: instead of being defensive and remote, he would listen to others and try to see their points of view. To Bill’s surprise, Helen agreed without reservation to help him find “another way.”
What happened that day is a beautiful example of what the Course calls the ‘holy instant:’
“In the holy instant God is remembered, and the language of communication with all your brothers is remembered with Him.” (T-15.VI.8:1)
The meeting which they attended after Bill’s little speech was significantly different from the ones which had gone before. Staff were able to listen, without continually attacking each other or defending their own positions. The atmosphere in the department gradually improved as a result of this change in attitude. However, Helen and Bill’s relationship never became an easy one.
At this time, Helen was already hearing an inner Voice (Helen insisted on the use of a capital V with reference to this Voice), which explained visions she had received. Then, one day in October 1965, she heard the Voice say: “This is a course in miracles; please take notes.”
She promptly called Bill to tell him what had happened. Helen feared she was going mad, but Bill encouraged her to write down what the Voice said. Bill also suggested that they should look at the material together, before starting work the next morning. If it proved to be nonsense, Helen could tear up her notes and they would never mention them again.
It was immediately clear that the words which Helen had heard were not nonsense, although they filled her with fear. Bill and Helen quickly developed a routine, which they followed each morning before their regular work started. Helen reluctantly read out to Bill what she had written down, Bill typed it out and then he read back to Helen for any corrections. The whole process took seven years to complete.
Helen regularly resisted the time it took to write down the words which she heard. It was not an automatic process, and required her full co-operation. She could stop the writing to speak to her husband or answer the phone. When she sat down again with her notebook and pen, the Voice would continue where it had been interrupted, even in mid-sentence.
Helen never doubted the source of what she was hearing, or its wisdom and authority. Yet she frequently argued with the Voice, and sometimes even tried to change the words which she heard, only to be gently corrected later on.
The scribing of the Course was a joint effort by Helen and Bill. Without Bill, the Course would never have been completed. Even though Bill and Helen disagreed about many issues, they were always united in their desire to look after the Course, and not to change its message in any way. The Course makes it clear that we cannot find the way back on our own:
“No-one can enter Heaven by himself.” (W-lesson 134.17:6)
Initially, it appeared that the material was for the use of Bill and Helen only, especially since it contained many personal messages. As time went on, however, they realised that the Course was destined for a much wider audience. However, they were told not to concern themselves with that. Someone else would come along who would know what to do.
The scribing was completed in late 1972. Even at this stage, Helen and Bill kept the existence of the Course secret from everyone except a handful of close associates. One of those people was a Father Michael. The priest was introduced to a clinical psychologist, Dr Kenneth Wapnick, who had recently converted to Catholicism. Through Father Michael, Ken met Helen and Bill, who showed Ken the manuscript of the Course.
Although initially reluctant to look at the manuscripts, Ken soon developed a great interest. The Course had been dictated without any suggestions about chapter headings, page breaks or capitalisation, and required editing to make it more readable.
Therefore, with frequent consultations from Helen’s inner Voice, Ken and Helen edited the manuscript, and cross-checked every single word of Bill’s typed manuscript against Helen’s original notes. They also removed the personal comments which had appeared in the beginning, in what are now Chapters 1 through 5 of the Text.
Apart from that, the Course as you see it now is exactly as Helen took down the original dictation. Ken was never happy with the title, but was told very clearly by the Voice that this was not open to negotiation.
By early 1975, the process of editing and re-typing was finally completed. The Course was ready, but for whom –– and for what purpose? Then, in the spring of 1975, Judith Skutch was introduced to Helen and Bill during a lunch-time meeting, which had been arranged to discuss holistic healing.
Suddenly, Judith startled herself and Helen by asking Helen for confirmation that she was hearing an inner voice. In response to this question, Helen and Bill showed her the type-written manuals. Judith immediately felt that she had finally found her path in life.
Judith undertook to arrange the publishing of the Course. After more proof-reading and then typesetting by Saul Steinberg, a printer, the books were published in the now-familiar blue covers in 1976. The copyright of the Foundation for Inner Peace dates from 1975. In that year, only 300 photocopies of the Course were distributed.
Helen was never able to accept the teachings of the Course into her own personal life, even though she did not question the Source or its wisdom and compassion. She died in New York City in February 1981.
After his retirement from the medical centre, Bill moved to California where he joined a Course study group, but he always maintained a low profile. Bill died there in July 1988.
At their own request, neither Helen or Bill became involved in the running of The Foundation for Inner Peace.