INTRODUCTION TO FORGIVENESS AND JESUS:
The Meeting Place of A Course in Miracles and Christianity
By Kenneth Wapnick, Ph.D.
When I arrived at the monastery, I had the strangest feeling that I had come home, hardly something a Jewish boy from Brooklyn would expect to feel. I was so caught up in the monks' life that during the following morning's Mass, a special day of Mary, I decided that God wanted me to become a Catholic. Strongly associated with this was my desire to become a monk. I was not concerned by my lack of interest in either Jesus or the Church. All that mattered was my certainty that this was God's Will. I talked with some monks and this strengthened my decision. On returning to the hospital, I spoke to the Catholic chaplain and soon thereafter was baptized a Catholic.
I now felt it was time to leave my job and spend some time alone. My plan was to wait the required year, and then enter the Abbey of Gethsemani as a monk. It all seemed so clear. However, I thought I should first go to Israel, for reasons that were not all that clear. Trusting what I felt was God's direction, I left and soon found myself in the heart of the Old City of Jerusalem, unexpectedly feeling I was in the holiest place on earth. Though not yet fully identified as a Christian, I nonetheless felt something very special about the Christian holy places. Curiously enough, I also felt no less a Jew. Most important, I was at peace for the first time in months.
Although I was not anticipating this, I should have guessed my next stop: the Trappist monastery of Latroun, outside of Jerusalem. Thinking to spend only a week, I spent three and a half months, a time that solidified my desire to become a monk, as well as providing the opportunity to consolidate all that had happened in the preceding year. It took some catching up.
After Latroun, I spent several weeks in a more primitive monastic community called Lavra Netofa, atop a mountain overlooking the northern end of the Sea of Galilee. Content there, I postponed my immediate plans to enter the Trappists.
By the beginning of May, I thought it time I came back to the States for a brief visit, before settling into this monastic mountaintop. I was returning to repair injured relationships, especially with my family, see old friends and patients, and to look up a certain book on spiritual development that had been mentioned to me before I left. I did accomplish these things, never imagining their ramifications in my life. The summer of 1973 proved significant for three major reasons.
The first was a most necessary correction to my own personal theory of spirituality. Until this time, I believed that only by being alone could I find God. My way to Him was through the monastic life, and the more solitary the better. From the moment I left Israel, however, everything turned upside down. From a quiet, isolated existence, I found myself traveling a great deal, hardly ever alone. To my great surprise, for the first time in my life I found God to be as present when I was with people, living a "worldly" schedule, as I did when I was by myself. This was a revelation and freed me from a dependency on the monastic regimen. I realized I could be at peace anywhere, as long as I was where God desired me.
Second, I finally saw the book on "spiritual development," which was called A Course in Miracles. It was the very thing for which I had unknowingly searched, for it resolved a seemingly insoluble problem. While I was never happier than when I was in the monastery, there was a thought that had always gnawed at me. I knew that becoming a psychologist had been God's idea and not my own, and that it was only through His help that I had completed school. I knew, too, that I valued my work with people and found it rewarding. Remaining a monk, however, would have meant ignoring this part of my life. That did not seem right to me, but I also did not see how psychology could be meaningfully reconciled with spirituality. The Course provided the answer, as I will discuss below, and so I once again changed my plans, deciding to remain in the United States. The monastery would be a nice place to visit, but was no longer to be my home.
Finally came the most significant event of all. I had been a rather peculiar Christian. I found great nourishment and solace at the Christian holy places, participating in many of the religious practices and living the monastic rule which was decidedly Christian. Throughout it all, however, Jesus remained a non-entity for me. I consciously spent very little time, if any, thinking about him. Yet, during the past year or so, I had become increasingly aware of an even more personal and direct presence in my life, guiding and comforting me, providing helpful answers to my specific questions. I always identified this presence with God and never thought too much about it, other than feeling grateful for its gentleness and love. Imagine my great surprise, then, when during a visit with my Trappist friends in Kentucky that summer, I realized for the first time that this presence had a name, and its name was Jesus.
That moment of realization was truly the happiest and most joyful of my life. I suddenly knew that Jesus was more than a symbol or historical figure who lived once and then no more. He was a very real person, alive within me. I knew with a certainty that has never left, that not only was Jesus there, but that he would always be there. With that awareness, a chapter of thirty-one years came to a close. It had been a period of running away from Jesus -- not recognizing who he was in my life -- at the same time he was leading me to him. Now that we had at last met, we could begin our new life together and my preparation for the next stage in my journey to God.
That stage specifically involved A Course in Miracles: learning what it said and, even more important, seeking to implement its teachings on forgiveness in my personal and professional life.
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