NR: As one of the two persons
responsible for scribing
A Course In Miracles what has been
the impact of it on your life?
THETFORD: It has changed
my life totally. I recall typing the first fifty principles on miracles
that came through Helen Schucman 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.
And, of course, I moved from the
middle of Manhattan, where I had lived for twenty-three years to Tiburon,
California, something I thought would never happen. I had settled
into my routine as a New Yorker, and felt that the Big Apple was the center
of the Universe and the place where I belonged. That move was probably
the greatest cultural shock I have ever experienced, making an abrupt transition
from the turmoil of a hectic life in New York City to the tranquility of
Eventually, I left academia as well.
First by retiring from my position as Director of the Psychology Department
at the Presbyterian Hospital of the Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center,
and several years later retiring from my position as Professor of Medical
Psychology at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University.
NR: Was that to devote
full time to the Course, or to pursue other interests?
THETFORD: A combination,
I think. After 20 years at Columbia I felt that it was time to leave
academia. It seemed natural to leave when the Course was published.
NR: What exactly was your
role in the scribing process of the Course? Did you hear a voice
THETFORD: Both Helen and
I knew from the beginning that this was a collaborative assignment, although
I did not hear a voice. While Helen heard the inner dictation, she
was incapable of transcribing the material directly herself, since she
found the content of the Course too threatening. My role was to offer
the considerable support and reassurance needed each day for Helen to continue
her shorthand notebook recording. She would then read the material
to me, and I would type it directly from her dictation.
NR: Since the Course challenged
your own belief and thought system, too, why didn't you just reject it,
chuck it out?
THETFORD: Well, my intellect
did rebel at times. But I was the one who had asked for another way,
a better way, with regard to the extremely stressful professional context
in which Helen and I were trying to function. When the material in
“A Course In Miracles” began coming, it was obvious to me that this was
the answer to my question, very clearly the answer. So to reject
it or even disregard it was never even a consideration.
NR: What specifically about
it made it obvious to you that this was indeed your answer?
THETFORD: Perhaps the fact
that it was so totally different from the way I had been operating throughout
my life. But the authenticity of the material more than anything
else struck me. I knew that Helen had not made this up, even with
her fertile imagination.
NR: The authenticity. . .
THETFORD: Well, 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.
NR: It seems quite unusual
that you, an established psychologist holding two very prestigious positions,
would even consider embracing such material, considering your training
and the rigid tenets within academia to which you no doubt subscribed and
THETFORD: I think if it had
not been for many of the extraordinary experiences that occurred during
the summer of 1965, neither Helen nor I would have been willing to accept
the material she scribed.
You have reported some of those
experiences in these pages in the material from Robert Skutch’s new book,
Without Distance. However, our experience associated with
the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, was not reported. Perhaps
as much as anything, that series of events crystallized the whole new direction
that we would take.
NR: The Mayo
Clinic event occurred in September and didn't the Course begin the next
month in October?
I had been asked to go to the Mayo Clinic and find out why they made money
on their psychological service operations, while at Columbia-Presbyterian,
it seemed that we were always losing money. I thought I knew the
answer to that question because we saw primarily clinic patients who couldn't
afford fees, and the patients at the Mayo Clinic were middle or upper class
and able to pay. Nevertheless, it seemed this was an important trip
to make and I asked Helen to accompany me. Just before we took off
- I think it was the night before - Helen had this very vivid image of
a church, which she described to me in great detail, she even made a sketch
of it. It was an old church with a number of turrets and towers.
She though it was probably a Lutheran Church. She was convinced that
somehow we would see that church from the airplane window as we were about
to land in Rochester. That, of course, seemed rather unlikely, since
the airports I know aren't built near churches. Anyway, we kept our
attention very closely focused on the windows during landing, and much
to Helen's disappointment and distress no such church was visible.
In fact, Helen was so upset at not finding her church that I didn't hold
out much hope of accomplishing our business the next day unless she could
somehow be reassured. Rather desperately, I suggested to Helen that
we hire a taxi and see if we could find her church anywhere in the Rochester
So Helen and I went church hunting.
At first we thought we would confine ourselves to Lutheran churches.
I think there were two of those and neither one was remotely like Helen's
image. Then we decided that we might as well see all the other churches
while we were at it. I think there were twenty-seven altogether in
the environs of Rochester. And not one of them bore any resemblance
to Helen's image. Obviously, she was pretty crushed, but we pulled
ourselves together in preparation for the following days business.
The next day, after we had successfully
completed our survey, Helen and I prepared to leave our hotel. I
went down to the lobby to wait for her with the luggage, and noticing a
newsstand I decided to get a paper. Instead, I saw a little booklet
entitled, “The History of the Mayo Clinic”. Thinking it would be
nice to have a souvenir of our visit, I purchased it for a dollar.
As I leafed through it very quickly, I saw a picture of Helen's old church,
exactly as she had described it with all the turrets and towers.
It was even a Lutheran church. The only problem was that it had been
razed and the Mayo Clinic was actually built on the former site of this
Lutheran church. It was a very dramatic moment, and I was eager
to share it with Helen. When she came down, I said quickly, “Helen
you really weren't out of your mind after all. Your church was there
but its no longer around. When you thought you were looking down
on it as from an airplane, you were really looking back through time.”
Helen displayed a peculiar mixture of emotions. On the one hand,
relief that she wasn't totally crazy, on the other hand, it was clear that
she was doing something which she regarded as highly paranormal, and this
was an area that made her very uncomfortable.
On our way back to New York, we
had to change planes in Chicago. While we were sitting in the waiting
room, Helen spied a young woman in the corner reading a magazine and looking
vaguely unhappy in the way people frequently do when they are waiting for
planes in airports, I was surprised when Helen said to me, “See that young
woman over there, she's really in serious trouble - she's got a lot of
problems.” Helen insisted that she would go over and speak to this
woman. As it turned out the woman whose name was Charlotte, had never
been on an airplane before. She had flown on Ozark Airlines to Chicago
en route to New York and was in a state of panic. She knew nothing
about New York. We later found out that she was leaving her husband
and two young children, and was in a state of great distress.
Charlotte was booked on the same
plane as we. During the flight, we sat on either side of her, holding
her hand, and trying to calm and soothe her. We asked where she was
going to stay in New York since she didn't know anyone. She said
that since she was Lutheran, she though she would contact a Lutheran Church
and somehow they would find a place for her in the city.
It was at this point that Helen
and I exchanged glances. The message was clear to both of us.
Helen heard her inner voice saying, “And this is my true church, helping
your brother who is in need; not the edifice you saw before”. The
authority of this inner voice became increasingly familiar to both of us
when the Course began a few weeks later in October.
WITH THETFORD, Part 2 =>
Read about Dr. William Thetford and the CIA