Have you ever wondered how to forgive someone? How do we sit down, close our eyes, and actually do the job of forgiveness? If so, you may have felt a surge of hope if you came across Lesson 121 in the Workbook, “Forgiveness is the key to happiness.” This lesson asks you to choose someone you have anger towards and then guides you through a forgiveness process, in which you see a spark in that person, which becomes a light, which transfers to someone else, and which is then returned to you. You may have felt hope going into that exercise, but, if you are like me, you may have come out of it feeling somewhat disappointed. I personally never got much out of that exercise, even though it seemed so promising.
What I slowly realized, however, is that this exercise is extremely carefully crafted. It expresses a number of key forgiveness themes in the Course, and it contains the stages of the overall forgiveness process. Therefore, what I have done recently is to outline the key themes that are the conceptual underpinning of the exercise, and to reword and expand the exercise to make plain their presence in the exercise. And doing those two things has drawn out the power in the exercise. I’ve had some genuine miracles in doing this lately.
1. Behind every body and personality is a holy being, who has forgotten who he is.
We may think we “hate the sin, but love the sinner,” but resentment is really an emotional response to the person, not just the deed. In our eyes, the deed has tainted the person, rendering him unworthy of love (or at least less worthy) and deserving of our anger. To truly forgive, then, we have to see the person differently. We must see him as untainted by whatever he has done, as still innocent in spite of it all.
The Course takes this idea to its ultimate extension. It says that the person is actually not the body and personality we see in front of us. Rather, the person behind that facade is a holy being, the holy Son of God, who is infinitely worthy of our love and could never be tainted by anything he does in this dream. The Son of God is not some higher element within that person; it is the very one who believes he is that personality, who experiences himself as inside that body, and who feels shame over being so full of shortcomings. The person we are interacting with—who hears our words and generates words in return—is literally the Son of God, who has simply fallen into a delusional state and foolishly believes he is a human being. If we truly recognize this, we have forgiven him.
2. The Great Rays are rays of holiness that shine out from the spark within us.
The Great Rays, even though they are mentioned only about a dozen times, have always tantalized Course students. What exactly are they? They are often envisioned by Course students as shining from God to us. However, the Course actually portrays them as shining from within us:
As the ego would limit your perception of your brothers to the body, so would the Holy Spirit release your vision and let you see the Great Rays shining from them [your brothers], so unlimited that they [the Great Rays] reach to God. (T-15.IX.1:1)
The Great Rays shine out from what the Course calls the “little spark” in us:
The little spark that holds the Great Rays within it is also visible, and this spark cannot be limited long to littleness. (T-16.VI.6:3)
What is the significance of the Great Rays? To see the answer for yourself, imagine you see a portrait of a family member hanging on the wall. Then imagine that this is not a conventional portrait. In the center of the portrait, maybe in the head or chest area, is a spark of light. And out of this spark are streaming great rays of light, “so unlimited that they reach to God.” Would this cause you to see the person in the portrait any differently? The person would suddenly seem to be holier, right? We are accustomed to seeing rays of light emanating from saints as a sign of their holiness. We have all seen paintings that show halos above religious figures. Indeed, many religious traditions have spoken of light shining out from holy people, particularly Buddhism.
The Buddha…practices a variety of magical powers, the most notable of which is the issuance of rays of light from his body. Touched by these rays of light, all beings become intent upon enlightenment. (Encyclopedia of Religion, Vol. 4, p. 118)
Light symbolism is also conspicuous in religious iconography: saints or divine figures have a halo surrounding their head or their whole body or a flame above their head. This is particularly conspicuous in Buddhist iconography, especially in its Mahayana forms. Amida is easily identifiable by the halo of “infinite” rays emanating from his head. (Encyclopedia of Religion, Vol. 8, p. 549)
Parallel to the “infinite” rays emanating from the head of Admida Buddha, the Course speaks of the Great Rays shining “in quiet to infinity” (T-13.VII.13:7).
The Course’s imagery, as you can see, is not so different from traditional religious imagery, with one major difference: Traditionally, only especially holy people emanate this light. According to the Course, however, if we had eyes to see, we would see everyone emanating the Great Rays. In other words, we should see everyone as radiating the holiness that we would traditionally associate with saints and bodhisattvas. Are we willing to see our disagreeable co-worker as shining with the same holiness as a great saint?
3. When you see this person for who he is, the light in him shines onto you and awakens you.
Over and over again, the Course says that when we see our brother truly, the light in him will shine on us and awaken us to our own holiness. My favorite line about this is the following:
Your brother may not know who he is, but there is a light in his mind that does know. This light can shine into yours. (T‑9.II.5:8‑9)
In Lesson 161, we are told that if we see our brother for who he is, we can “scarce refrain from kneeling at his feet,” an obvious reference to relating to our brother as one would relate to a holy person. In that same lesson, we ask our brother for his blessing, just as we would ask a great spiritual master, who has power to illumine us with a glance of his eyes.
Give me your blessing, holy Son of God.
I would behold you with the eyes of Christ,
And see my perfect sinlessness in you.
This is how our brother is our savior. As I’ve said before, the notion of our brother being our savior in the Course is not about our brother pushing our buttons, but about the holiness within him saving us by awakening us to our own holiness. Here is a passage that illustrates that.
How holy are you, that the Son of God can be your savior in the midst of dreams of desolation and disaster. See how eagerly he comes, and steps aside from heavy shadows that have hidden him, and shines on you in gratitude and love. (T-29.III.5:1-2)
4. Loving thoughts and deeds are the only visible evidence of who this person really is.
Our loving thoughts, says the Course, are the evidence of who we really are. “They came from the Holy Spirit in you” (T-5.IV.8:6). So even if our loving thoughts are only a small percentage of our overall thoughts, they are still the evidence of who the thinker is behind the thoughts. Our job is to focus on those loving thoughts as the only evidence of who someone is. That is forgiveness: “To forgive is to remember only the loving thoughts…that were given you.” (T-17.III.1:1).
The Course often talks about these loving thoughts as the spark: “In these loving thoughts is the spark of beauty hidden in the ugliness of the unholy relationship” (T-17.III.5:7). I’m not sure if this spark is the same as the spark from which the Great Rays come, but I do think it’s related.
5. Giving is receiving. Through giving forgiveness we generate our own sparks, and thereby reveal to ourselves who we really are.
If the loving thoughts of others reveal who others really are, then our own loving thoughts reveal to ourselves who we really are. With enough loving thoughts, we will finally prove to ourselves that we are not the sinner we thought, but a being of pure holiness. If, as the old saying goes, “To err is human, to forgive divine,” then our forgiveness proves to ourselves that we are divine. We see this very idea in the practice at the end of Lesson 121:
Forgiveness is the key to happiness.
I will awaken from the dream that I
Am mortal, fallible and full of sin,
And know I am the perfect Son of God.
My forgiveness will eventually prove to me that I am not mortal, fallible, and full of sin, that I am the perfect Son of God.
EXPANSION OF THE EXERCISE FROM LESSON 121
Begin…by thinking of someone you do not like,
who seems to irritate you,
or to cause regret in you if you should meet him;
one you actively despise, or merely try to overlook.
It does not matter what the form your anger takes.
You probably have chosen him already.
He will do.
Now close your eyes and see him in your mind, and look at him a while.
Try to find some little spark of light in your picture of him.
You are looking for some loving or true quality in him, or perhaps some kind thought or caring gesture of his—some distant reflection of the light of God in him.
Everything hinges on this, so take your time.
Once you find something, see it symbolized as a tiny spark of light somewhere in your dark picture of him.
Then see this tiny spark slowly expand until it completely covers your picture of him, replacing all the darkness with light.
In other words, see him only in light of this one loving quality or act.
If you succeed, he will seem to be a holy person, without a single flaw, radiating light.
You might even imagine Great Rays shining out from him.
Now look at this changed picture a while.
Appreciate how lovely and spotless it is.
Now think of someone you consider a friend.
Try to transfer the light you saw around your “enemy” to this friend.
This makes the friend seem to be much more than a friend.
He is revealed to be your savior, with power to enlighten you with just one glance of his holy eyes.
Now let your savior offer you the light you gave to him.
Then let your former enemy unite with him, so that they both offer you this light.
Why wouldn’t they give this holy gift to you, when you gave it to them, and revealed your holiness in the process?
See rays of forgiveness pouring off of them and onto you, absolving you of your “sins,” causing you to radiate the same Great Rays that they do.
See yourself at one with them, united in the holy light of forgiveness that you have given and received.
“Now have you been forgiven by yourself” (13:3).
[Please note: ACIM passages quoted in this article reference the Foundation for Inner Peace (FIP) Edition.]