A friend recently sent me a New York Times story about Marianne Williamson’s spiritual background. Before I say anything more about this I have a confession to make. I didn’t know who Marianne Williamson was and, consequently, I’ve never read any of her books. I also didn’t know about her presidential bid, although she seems much more grounded than whatever it is that sits in the Oval Office these days. In any case, it’s the spiritual background part on which I’d like to focus. Williamson is apparently a devotee of A Course in Miracles, a book written by Helen Schucman in the 1970s. According to the NYT article, Schucman penned the book by the dictation of a divine voice. This aspect seems worthy of further exploration, regardless of politics.
You see, sacred books have a long history of divine dictation. The Bible makes such claims only obliquely, but clearly there were some who believed that Moses was the recipient of narration from on high. Mohammed heard a voice saying “Write.” Centuries later the Book of Mormon was written out at the dictation of Joseph Smith. The point is that such texts are often believed to have had sacred origins. I find Schucman’s reluctance to put herself down as the author of A Course in Miracles instructive. She didn’t believe she wrote it. Not to devalue any of these sacred texts mentioned, I would nevertheless note that authors often feel that their words come to them. Maybe academic books don’t count, but when I’m writing fiction, it’s like somebody’s hands are on the wheel, but I’m not sure I’m the one driving (with apologies to Jeff Daniels).
A Course in Miracles has been translated into double-digits languages, something quite rare even among many bestsellers. What this says to me is that people still crave answers from an authoritative text. The written word has a power that electronic publication lacks. Who wants to point to a screen and say, “this is divinely revealed truth”? Hefting a heavy book, printed on actual paper, has a symbolic power that outweighs that of ebooks. Probably it’s because the Bible paved the way. We’re already primed for a sacred text, in physical form. The longer I study holy books the clearer it becomes that they will unlikely ever cease to be written. Helen Schucman didn’t have the last word. As long as people write it’s doubtful anyone ever will.