For Barbara Hatton, a used book that her mother-in-law found at a garage sale has turned into a life's calling.
"I saw it at her house and took it home but didn't touch it for a year," she said.
Once she finally cracked it open, she found it confusing but intriguing. She started talking to people about it, and now Hatton, 49, leads a weekly spiritual study group based on the book, A Course in Miracles.
For the past three years, the small group has met weekly at a tiny church on Trouble Creek Road. The members go through the thick, navy textbook, pulling what's relevant for their lives. They talk about forgiveness — of themselves and others — and not being judgmental.
"It is a completely Christian teaching," Hatton said, "but it is not classic religion."
She believes that the text itself is from Jesus.
The book was published in 1975 by two atheist professors who believed in science rather than God. But through the course of their writing, they say they discovered that Jesus was actually channeling the book through them.
The text is now taught internationally by thousands of people like Hatton and translated into more than a dozen languages.
The English version, she said, is "beautifully poetic but structured and archaic ... Some of the logic was confusing."
Nonetheless, she continues to find meaning in its lessons and shares its messages with others.
"I'm trying to build a Course in Miracles-minded community," she said.
The primary lesson, she said, is about "keeping a right mindedness about who you are and what your purpose is."
One of the things she teaches is that "we are one of the many lights of God, and we are whole and complete as we are. It's not a matter of believing you have to overcome anything."
The physical body is a tool of your mind, which is connected to God, she said. She tries to help people gain the perspective that they are not victims of their body or circumstance.
"Truly, truly, the Holy Spirit is always with you. You just have to listen. Calm down. Listen and you will be guided," she said, adding that all the social norms of achieving and doing can make this more of a challenge.
Hatton grew up in Canada with what she calls a classic Anglican background. She attended church occasionally. "The music always drew me in," she said.
She had a rough childhood and a lot of family turmoil. Her father died when she was 14, and she ended up living in foster homes. She often changed schools three or four times a year. By grade 10, she had gone to 17 different schools.
"I had to be strong and independent early," said Hatton, who has a light-hearted laugh and way of speaking. "But I'm smart, so I got through school."
Her background helps her connect with and teach others.
"Sometimes all you do is learn to cope," she said. "So many people are still in that phase where they're just coping. It's all they can do to keep their head above water."
In her own search, she found many teachings and self-help books about keeping a positive attitude. But she still hadn't found what she needed.
In California, she went to a religious science church that "had a wonderful vibe," she said. It was "fun and inspirational, not the heavy-duty sin and damnation kind of teaching," she said.
"That was a stepping stone."
Learning to forgive
When she moved to New Port Richey in 2005, Hatton couldn't find any church or group to meet her needs. That's when she discovered A Course in Miracles, then started her own group.
Hatton, who works as a project manager implementing new computer software, notes that "My work is so very logical and sequential, and yet my beliefs are completely faith based. It's an interesting dichotomy."
The book's official Web site, acim.org, deems it a "self study metaphysical thought system" that teaches the way to love and inner peace through forgiveness.
Judith Whitson, president of the Foundation for Inner Peace, the organization that publishes and distributes A Course in Miracles, said it is designed as a self-study course, but people all over the world teach it. There's no certification required, she said.
During Hatton's two-hour class in New Port Richey at the Sanctuary of Light Metaphysical Chapel, the group talks about what's going on with its members, then goes through the textbook and ties those experiences into the readings.
Lisa Conca of New Port Richey has been taking Hatton's class for two years.
"I was searching for something after my mom died," said Conca. "I just wish it didn't take so long."
She said it helps her on a day-to-day basis. "It makes me more aware of the judgments that we place on people. I try not to judge now, and at times it can be very difficult. I have to practice that all the time."
The class also has helped her in dealing with her children, ages 22 and 19.
"I would get angry and yell, and I've learned that doesn't get me anywhere," Conca said. "Hopefully one day they'll take the course."
Conca added that "sometimes it gets a little deep and hard to understand, but the way that (Hatton) puts things makes it easier to understand."
Hatton sometimes goes to the Center for Miracles on Tampa Road in Palm Harbor. Run by John Hunkler, the center offers the same course, as well as other classes and networking groups for spiritually minded people.
"She has a very deep and yet gentle spirituality," Hunkler said. "And she has a fabulous voice when she reads. She's really good."
Hatton attends the Palm Harbor meetings "to get a little momentum," she said. "I feed off that energy and add to it."
Of her own class, Hatton said she learns from her students as much as she teaches them.
"Everyone is a teacher and student," she said.
"The absolute crux of it is to forgive. None of this world is real. We have forgotten our true spiritual selves ... We will be one with God again."
"Faith in Motion" is a weekly feature about an individual or group doing something inspiring in the course of a spiritual journey. Story ideas are welcomed, via e-mail. Send them to [email protected]