A Review of Neal Vahle’s A Course in Miracles: The Lives of Helen Schucman & Bill Thetford
Review by Celia Hales; reprinted with new title from Miracles (publisher Jon Mundy)
Note: A book by Neal Vahle, published by Open View Press (San Francisco), 2009. Available from Miracle Distribution Center, 1-800-359-2246, miraclecenter.org; or Community Miracles Center, 1-888-621-2556, http://www.miracles-course.org; or elsewhere on the Internet. The price is slightly less than $20 plus shipping and handling.
The cover of this book tells it all: Helen and Bill, holding hands affectionately, with smiles that suggest a deep and abiding friendship. This is true despite the wrangling between them that never was healed. This despite the fact that Helen and Bill sought together to find another way–a better way–to live and work together as colleagues and friends.
In the beginning, Bill and Helen saw the inner dictation that Helen was beginning to scribe as a way to heal their own relationship, which was professional and personal, despite the fact that Bill was gay and Helen, a happily married woman. Bill was the supporter during the seven years, from 1965 to 1972, that Helen scribed A Course in Miracles. He typed the words that she dictated, often in great distress, from her combination of shorthand and abbreviations. Everything was done in utmost secrecy, because both were faculty members at Columbia University, and their endeavors would probably have cost them their positions. Both were extremely successful psychologists, with great investment in the things of this world. A Course in Miracles would eventually transform Bill and make significant changes in Helen, not all for the better. The Course is available to us at great personal cost to both of them.
Neal Vahle does a commendable piece of work in writing this joint biography of Bill and Helen. He ranges widely over the territory, not only telling us of the lives of these two principal figures, but also the others who helped them bring the Course before the world. I say, “helped them,” but actually others did much of that task, for neither Bill nor Helen were interested in being gurus or in speaking for the Course as experts. If we don’t live it, they said, how can we teach it? Neal writes of the early life of Bill and Helen, covers the basics in describing how the Course came to be and to be published, and then concludes with two lengthy chapters on the legacy of these remarkable individuals.
This book was needed. Vahle agreed to write it at the suggestion of Judy Skutch Whitson of the Foundation for Inner Peace. Not a Course student in the beginning, he undertook to write an independent scholarly work, and he succeeded. In the meantime, he studied the Course and became grateful for the opportunity to tell Bill and Helen’s story.
Vahle drew extensively on Helen’s unpublished autobiography, written soon after the scribing of the Course ended. He also quotes very extensively from individuals such as Judy Skutch Whitson and Kenneth Wapnick, important figures in the history of the Course. Wapnick’s biography of Helen, Absence from Felicity, would also be of interest to readers of this biography.
Bill’s importance to the scribing is not often noted, though his name always appears with Helen’s. Vahle points out, quoting others, that A Course in Miracles would likely not exist without Bill’s support of Helen. She was terrified by what she was experiencing, and she did not welcome the work at all, though she believed that somewhere, sometime, she had agreed to do it, and she never seriously considered quitting. Bill and Helen did not often mention Jesus’s name in conjunction with the Course. Wapnick, in the early publicity, was asked to make the point for them in their presentations that both experienced the voice (that Helen was receiving as inner dictation) as coming from Jesus.
Vahle makes clear the strengths and the weaknesses of Bill and Helen. His biography is extremely frank, and sometimes painful to read, as we learn that Bill and Helen were very human individuals with real psychological difficulties, despite their obvious stature as spiritually advanced people. His frankness is the most significant aspect of this biography, and it is a blessing for those of us who love and know the Course. I recommend this book without reservation.