[Please note: ACIM passages quoted in this article reference the Foundation for Inner Peace (FIP) Edition.]
According to A Course in Miracles, the separation lasted only a microsecond, a “tiny tick of time” (3:5). This tiny instant contained the single error of the separation: the choice for separateness over oneness, for death over life. And it contained this error fragmented into billions of separate situations and events, as if this one error was seen refracted in a kaleidoscope. Each situation and event was a fractured version of the original error.
Then, into this primordial moment God shone His single Correction for our single error. This Correction (the Holy Spirit), though single, adapted Itself to every variation of that error. It took the specific form needed for each specific situation:
The tiny tick of time in which the first mistake was made, and all of them within that one mistake, held also the Correction for that one, and all of them that came within the first. (3:5)
In that tiny tick, these two met, our error (along with its fractured forms) and God’s Correction (along with Its specific answers). And out of their meeting there arose a single time line, a script for our entire journey through time and space. Each event in the script is composed of both error and Correction, though which predominates differs from event to event. This script, written by the Holy Spirit (W-pI.169.9:3), is simply the story of our journey from our error to His Correction. The beginning parts of the script are dominated by the dark story material we provide. Yet as the story proceeds, the Holy Spirit’s story ideas come increasingly to the fore, as we more and more choose His answer over our mistake. Finally, we allow Him to write only His story, which thus concludes with a happy ending, a joyous homecoming, as we abandon our error entirely in favor of His correction.
I am talking about this story as if it takes place over time. Yet, as I said earlier, all of it took place simultaneously. It happened all at once, inside the original tiny tick. In that tiny tick (as the old saying goes) our life passed before our eyes. Not just a few decades, though; countless eons were compressed into a single instant. Billions of fractured forms of the original error met with billions of specific forms of the one Correction. And then it was over.
And in that tiny instant time was gone, for that was all it ever was. What God gave answer to is answered and is gone. (3:6-7)
This all happened at the dawn of time, a long, long time ago. Yet, if it is all over, why are you still experiencing it? The Course’s answer is that, quite simply, you are trying very hard “to hold it to your heart, as if it were before you still” (4:5).Like any disturbing (or delightful) incident we can’t get over, we began to ruminate on it, retracing in our mind each episode in its progression, “reviewing mentally what has gone by” (W-pI.158.4:5).This process of mental review is what produces what we call real life. In seeing the scene before us, the objects in front of us, the things that are happening, we are not seeing, we are remembering. What we are looking on right now, this instant, is a memory. “You keep an ancient memory before your eyes” (5:6). Like someone gone senile, we are living in our memories (5:7).
Our entire lives, then, can be likened to watching an old movie on video tape. We are so absorbed in this movie that we feel like we are actually living inside it. We think that its ending is really up for grabs. Yet, “The script is written” (W-pI.159.4:3). The movie was shot and edited ages ago. None of it can be changed, not the characters, the scenes or the story line-and especially not the ending. As we will see later, there is only one difference we can make: Whenever we want we can hit the fast forward button. This happens by accepting a miracle, which allows us to jump past a batch of scenes and more quickly reach the happy ending (see T-1.II.6).
This theory of time can sound nothing short of bizarre. Yet it is not nearly as implausible as it sounds at first. The Course points to the very nature of time as evidence for its theory.
Time is composed of cycles, rhythms, repetitions; the cycle of the days and nights, the tides, the seasons. When we look closer at these cycles, we see that each one is composed, in essence, of a single repeating pulse of birth and death. Each cycle springs up with a fresh burst of life, and then sinks down into the deterioration of death. At any given moment our body is undergoing countless such pulses, as old cells die off and new cells are born, as new air is inhaled and old air exhaled. These smaller pulses exist within the larger pulse of the day; each morning we are reborn only to “die” at the end of the day. Each day in turn exists within the larger cycle of the seasons, as nature itself dies and is reborn each year. And for those who believe in reincarnation, these repeating years exist within the larger cycle of repeating lives.
Time, then, is composed of repeating pulses of birth/death, smaller ones within larger ones, larger ones within still larger ones, and all within the single pulse of the birth and death of the universe itself. Time itself, then, is merely the endless repetition of birth/death. Onto this, the Course would merely add: Of course it is, for time is our incessant attempt to repeat that original error, that ancient instant of birth/death. Time is a continual repetition of that one error of trying to replace life with death, that one instant when we “chose to die instead of live” (11:2). It is “a repetition of an instant gone by long ago that cannot be relived” (13:3).
We keep dying in countless ways through all of time’s cycles because we continuously repeat that original choice to die. And we keep being born because we can never really succeed in dying; we can never kill eternal life. Hence, every time we die we find that we are merely born again and faced with the same choice once more: Will we choose death again, or life? “Each instant is the Son of God reborn until he chooses not to die again” (16:5). The very fact that we never succeed in completing the cycle, that we cannot die once and for all, reflects the Course’s claim that we are trying to do the impossible. We are trying relive an instant that cannot really be relived, for it is gone.
Thus what initially looked like an extremely bizarre theory we now see reflected all around us, in every breath, day and year, in all the little births and deaths that make up time, and in the very nature of time itself. And thus we now can more fully appreciate the following line
Each day, and every minute in each day, and every instant that each minute holds, you but relive the single instant when the time of terror took the place of love. (13:1)
This theory of time adds a crucial piece into our overall picture of the separation. Not only is the world merely a dream, it is a dream that lasted only an instant and was over a long time ago:
Only in the past,—an ancient past, too short to make a world in answer to creation,—did this world appear to rise. So very long ago, for such a tiny interval of time, that not one note in Heaven’s song was missed. (5:3-4)
Hence, in an evocative passage, the Course compares us to someone standing on the beach and fantasizing that he is actually across the ocean, living in a romantic time and place that have long since been swallowed up by history. He starts by merely imagining he is there, yet begins to really believe he is there. Finally, he goes completely mad and becomes utterly convinced that he is not on the beach, but really living a life in that far away, ancient land.
And who can stand upon a distant shore, and dream himself across an ocean, to a place and time that have long since gone by? How real a hindrance can this dream be to where he really is? For this is fact, and does not change whatever dreams he has. Yet can he still imagine he is elsewhere, and in another time. In the extreme, he can delude himself that this is true, and pass from mere imagining into belief and into madness, quite convinced that where he would prefer to be, he is. (6:6-10)
We, then, are the Sons of the Most High standing (so to speak) on the formless shore of Heaven. We dream we are across an ocean of nothingness, totally convinced that we are living in this fantasy place called earth, in this fictional time called the twentieth century, even though this place and time have long since vanished into nothingness, even though all that exists is the Kingdom in which we stand and its present moment of eternity.