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That four-letter word: “holy”

In my practice this last weekend, I was focusing on the word “holiness.” It is a word that has grown in importance for me over the years. It is clearly important—indeed, central—in the Course. Between “holiness” and “holy” there are nearly 2000 references (by way of comparison, cognates of “forgive” have only about 800).

In the Course, “holy” is used in a fairly traditional sense, as a synonym of “saintly.” It refers to a quality of character in which goodness, blessing, and love flow to others indiscriminately, without weighing up their merit first. These flow from a person who has become like a transparent glass, a person who takes no thought for self-interest in the usual sense. Holiness, then, could be seen as a more modest ethical stance toward others raised to such an unbelievably extreme level that it becomes a divine quality, it becomes an earthly receptacle of the character of God Himself.

(As an aside, this means that our habit of quickly redefining holiness as “wholeness” is an unsubtle attempt to basically gut its meaning, to deflect what we clearly experience as a threat, a challenge to our whole way of being.)

At the heart of the Course is the injunction to see other people as fundamentally and changelessly holy. I find this deeply desirable. If a person is holy in the sense I described above, you can’t help but love that person, trust that person, believe in that person. A free and unfettered positive response is just pulled out of you. You can’t help it. Something in you just opens up and goes out toward that person. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to feel that way toward everyone?

At the same time, I find this very hard, I must admit. On the surface, very few of us are holy. That’s the granite block I keep knocking up against in my practice. I am a sucker for appearances. Outer appearances (and the inner thoughts that motivate them) are like a constant sign on our heads that flashes, “Not holy.” And if you act not holy again and again and again, day-in and day-out, I have a hard time believing that you are, in fact, holy.

So what I was thinking about this last weekend was, first, that if this innate holiness is true, it is one hell of a secret. Could it be that underneath all these appearances, we are actually holy? Could it be that holiness—pure goodness, so good that it’s literally divine—is what we are? If that is actually the case, we have done a great job at keeping it secret. It is really, truly, totally secret.

Second, from the Course’s standpoint, the appearance that we are not holy is not some sort of accident, some kind of unlucky roll of the dice. Rather, it is on purpose. We have purposefully erected an appearance of being the opposite of holy. We have all donned Halloween costumes as vampires, werewolves, witches, and monsters in order to cover up the holiness that is our true nature, to throw everyone—ourselves included—off the track. How better to keep our holiness a secret than to show up to life’s party as its opposite?

Could it be, then, that the appearance of humanity as a seething mass of selfish, sinful egos is just one big Halloween party, in which we are purposefully trying to mask the achingly beautiful and pristine holiness that we really are?

This line of thought made it all seem easier for me to believe in that underlying holiness. If you are wearing a mask to purposefully hide your identity, then am I not a fool for believing in the mask? Well, yeah. And I’ve been this fool for many, many years. I can only hope that I choose to stop soon.