What is the essential event or activity that wakes us up? In some paths it is meditation. What is it in the Course? We would probably answer “forgiveness,” and that is true. Yet what I want to present here is a fuller picture of what that really means. What I have noticed over the years is a recurring pattern around passages on forgiveness and on other key topics in the Course. I now realize that this recurring pattern is the essential event in which the Course sees salvation taking place. I am calling it “the core unit of salvation,” and even though it merely gathers together ideas I have already taught, it has changed my idea of the Course to a significant degree. Seeing this at the center makes the Course look like a different path.
What I see repeatedly in the Course is some interaction between two people, either brief or extended, in which the same elements are present again and again. The essence of it is this:
an interaction between two people, in which salvation is passed back and forth, and the two realize that they are one.
This condensed version could be expanded into the following:
- True perception enters the mind of one, the giver.
- That true perception is expressed to the other person, the receiver.
- The receiver is healed.
- The receiver, as a result, sees something holy in the giver.
- The receiver expresses gratitude toward the giver.
- The giver is healed—the receiver has become his savior.
- There is a recognition on the part of both that the gain of the other is their own gain as well—they realize their interests are the same.
- Seeing that their interests are the same, they realize they are one.
The reason I am calling this the “core unit of salvation” is that there are just so many important, even central, ideas or passages in the Course that are variations on this basic theme. They have been stacking up in my mind over many, many years. Here are some of the main ones:
Helen and Bill’s “there must be another way”
The single most extolled event in the pages of the Course outside of the crucifixion/resurrection is the event that gave birth to the Course: Helen and Bill joining in search of a better way. The Course refers to this event over and over (I’ve counted 35 instances and that list is not complete). And why wouldn’t it? It is the event in which the Course was born. Here is its basic pattern:
- Bill has a higher goal enter his mind
- He expresses it to Helen
- Helen accepts the idea as hers
- She expresses this to Bill
- They both join in this higher goal
The Course’s description of the event makes it fit the pattern even better: “Reason will tell you that they must have seen each other through a vision not of the body, and communicated in a language the body does not speak….In each the other saw a perfect shelter where his Self could be reborn in safety and in peace” (T-22.I.9:6,8).
Nothing could be more basic to the Course than the miracle, and the miracle fits this “core unit” pattern perfectly. We often think of the miracle as a strictly internal event (a shift in perception), or a strictly external event (a check in the mail), yet the Course tends to depict it as an interpersonal event. “Miracles…are genuinely interpersonal, and result in true closeness with others” (T-1.II.1:4). Note this early passage on the miracle:
This [the miracle] introduces an interval from which the giver and receiver both emerge farther along in time than they would otherwise have been….The miracle substitutes for learning that might have taken thousands of years. It does so by the underlying recognition of perfect equality of giver and receiver on which the miracle rests. (T-1.II.6:4,7,8)
A later passage contains the pattern in an even fuller form. This is from “The Healing Example” (T-27.V):
- You experience a holy instant: “For an instant, you love without attack” (T-27.V.2:12).
- The miracle then goes forth from this instant, healing the casualties of war. “It carries comfort from the place of peace into the battleground, and demonstrates that war has no effects” (T-27.V.3:3).
- The eyes of those you healed will shine on you: “And suffering eyes will…shine in thanks to you who blessing gave” (T-27.V.6:4).
- This will teach you the lesson you taught them. “And then, when you forget it, will the world remind you gently of what you have taught. No reinforcement will its thanks withhold from you” (T-27.V.7:3-4).
The holy relationship
There is little as central to the Course as the holy relationship, which the Course calls “the source of your salvation” (T-20.VIII.6:9). Students generally find it hard to believe that it really is a mutual joining between two people, but that is how the Course always characterizes it. The Course describes the holy relationship as an extended version of this “core unit” in which the two people give salvation back and forth and gradually realize that they are one. Here is a great passage about the holy relationship which illustrates this:
Here is your savior and your friend, released from crucifixion through your vision, and free to lead you now where he would be. He will not leave you, nor forsake the savior in his pain. And gladly will you walk the way of innocence together, singing as you behold the open door of Heaven, and recognize the home that called to you. Give joyously to one another the freedom and the strength to lead you there. And come before each other’s holy altar, where the strength and freedom wait, to offer and receive the bright awareness that leads you home. The lamp is lit in both of you, for one another. And by the hands that gave it to each other, shall both of you be led past fear to Love. (T-20.II.11)
We often think of forgiveness as taking place in the mind of one, but the Course very often speaks about it in language that sounds just like the pattern I’m talking about. The following two passages have loomed large in my mind for a few years now:
Forgiveness is the only gift I give, because it is the only gift I want. And everything I give I give myself. This is salvation’s simple formula. (W-pII.297.1:1-3)
Forgive and be forgiven. As you give you will receive. There is no plan but this for the salvation of the Son of God. (W-pI.122.6:3-5)
These are remarkably parallel passages, and extremely important. Here’s what I see them having in common:
- You give forgiveness to another
- That results in forgiveness being given to you
- Receiving forgiveness saves you
- This is the plan/formula for salvation
Perhaps we have seen forgiveness too narrowly, as something taking place in the privacy of one mind. Perhaps the phenomenon of forgiveness, seen as a whole, is really an interpersonal event, in which the shift in the mind of one leads to an exchange and a joining.
The six forgiveness lessons
Even in cases of forgiveness where no interaction is implied, the Course sees a kind of interaction taking place. For instance, five years ago I looked at repeating elements in the six lessons in which the Workbook asks you to select someone and then forgive that person. What I came up with was virtually the same pattern as I am talking about here. Here is the pattern exactly as I recorded it five years ago.
- Selecting a person to forgive
- Getting in touch with our current perception of him as sinner
- Inviting a new perception of him as our savior
- Stating our intention to see him as our savior
- Seeing him shining salvation onto us and revealing our holiness
- Having a sense of uniting with him
Notice that, even though no physical interaction takes place, an experienced interaction occurs. You experience yourself giving forgiveness to this person. Then you experience the person as your savior who is shining salvation onto you and revealing your holiness with you. Finally, you experience yourself and this person uniting. All the elements of the core unit are here, even though no physical interaction has taken place.
The holy encounter
What specifically sparked this realization was my class last Tuesday on the holy encounter, an interaction in which salvation is passed back and forth and the two people realize they are one. The more I thought about the holy encounter, the more I had to remove the little fence my mind had unconsciously drawn around it. It became more than a minor thing. I saw that (as the Course says) it is what all encounters are supposed to be. And I saw it blending into other concepts in the Course. It became an example of the miracle being given and received. It became a joint holy instant. It blended into so much in the Course that I realized it was simply a term for this core unit—nothing more and nothing less.
Joint holy instants
There is a statement in the section “I Need Do Nothing” that has always puzzled me a bit:
A holy relationship is a means of saving time. One instant spent together with your brother restores the universe to both of you….Time has been saved for you because you and your brother are together. This is the special means this course is using to save you time. (T-18.VII.5:2-3, 6:3-4)
What this is saying is that joint holy instants experienced by two people within a holy relationship are the Course’s special means for saving us time on the journey home. They are what set the Course apart from other paths, and they are what make it a faster path. They are central to the Course. For a long time this struck me as a bit of an overemphasis on these joint holy instants. After all, I could find very few overt references to joint holy instants in the Course (and one of them dropped out of the picture when language changes were made for the Second Edition).
Now I realize that joint holy instants are all over the Course. Holy encounters are joint holy instants. When the miracle is given, received, and returned, that is a joint holy instant. What I am calling the core unit of salvation is very simply a joint holy instant. It is all over the Course. It is the central means the Course is using. And it is what distinguishes the Course from other paths.
This is the only perfect thing we can do in this imperfect world
Two other passages have stuck in my mind for several years now:
Within the dream of bodies and of death is yet one theme of truth; no more, perhaps, than just a tiny spark, a space of light created in the dark, where God still shines. You cannot wake yourself. Yet you can let yourself be wakened. You can overlook your brother’s dreams. So perfectly can you forgive him his illusions he becomes your savior from your dreams. And as you see him shining in the space of light where God abides within the darkness, you will…understand what really fills the gap so long perceived as keeping you apart….Whom you forgive is given power to forgive you your illusions. By your gift of freedom is it given unto you….This is the spark that shines within the dream; that you can help him waken, and be sure his waking eyes will rest on you. And in his glad salvation you are saved. (T-29.III.3, 5)
Here, where the laws of God do not prevail in perfect form, can he yet do one perfect thing and make one perfect choice. And by this act of special faithfulness to one perceived as other than himself, he learns the gift was given to himself, and so they must be one. Forgiveness is the only function meaningful in time. (T-25.VI.5:1-3)
There is a great deal that these two passages have in common:
- You forgive your brother (in the second passage, the “act of special faithfulness” is clearly the gift of forgiveness, which is mentioned in the last sentence).
- As a result, the gift you gave is given you (in one case, it is clear that he actively returns it).
- There is a realization that the two of you are one.
- This exchange of salvation is the only perfect/holy thing that can happen in this imperfect/unholy world.
Others as our saviors
There is a sub-theme running through many of these categories, which is this: there has been a consistent skewing of categories away from their real nature as examples of this “core unit.” This has been especially true of this category—others as our saviors. Almost universally, Course students believe that others our are saviors because they push our buttons and flush our ego to the surface. True, there is one passage about this (W-pI.192.9:6)—one passage out of over a hundred! The rest characterize our savior as saving us by virtue of his holiness, not by virtue of his button-pushing capabilities. Notice the following passages:
He [your savior] has in him the power to forgive your sin, as you for him. Neither can give it to himself alone. And yet your savior stands beside each one. (T-19.IV(D).13:5-7)
Your savior gives you only love, but what you would receive of him is up to you. It lies in him to overlook all your mistakes, and therein lies his own salvation. (T-20.IV.2:6-7)
By this gift is given you the power to release your savior, that he may give salvation unto you. (T-21.II.3:8)
Forgiven by you, your savior offers you salvation. (T-25.V.4:5)
I don’t want to characterize this as a monolithic pattern. Clearly, there is a lot of variation within it. Here are some of the variations:
- What can be shared between the two of you may be loving perceptions, or it may be a single goal on which you unite.
- It can be short-term (holy encounter) or long-term (holy relationship).
- It can be only an experienced interaction (as in the Workbook’s forgiveness lessons)
- It can be an encounter with someone not physically present (as in the description in P-3.I.4), in which salvation really is exchanged and mutual joining really does take place, but no physical meeting occurs at all.
- It can be a full-blown example of the pattern or only a partial one. The Text seems to allude to this: “every holy encounter in which you enter fully…” (T-8.III.6:8).
We have seen three things in these examples:
- The same basic pattern: an interaction between two people in which salvation is exchanged and the two realize they are one.
- This pattern takes a great many forms and is described by a number of different terms.
- Huge significance ascribed to this pattern. It is:
- the birthplace of the Course
- the most extolled event in the Course
- the thing the Course is meant to teach us (the miracle)
- the source of our salvation (the holy relationship)
- the central teaching of the Course (forgiveness)
- the formula for salvation, the plan for salvation
- the special means the Course is using to save us time
- the only perfect/holy thing that can happen in this imperfect/unholy world
Based on the three above points, I think it is fully warranted to call this “the core unit of salvation.”
I have a few points of reflection about this. First, this really does set the Course apart from other paths of higher realization. It depicts higher realization happening, not in private moments of meditation, but in actual interaction with others. That seems hugely significant to me. Second, it gives me a brand new appreciation of the extreme importance of interaction with others. Third, it gives me the humbling sense that other people actually save me, spurred on by the love I have given them. True, I set them in motion, but I am not saved directly by what I do. I am saved directly by what they do. Unlike in other paths, on this path I literally cannot save myself. I have to actually coax others into saving me. If I don’t do that, I’m out of luck.
This means that the fruits of my study and practice have to be substantial enough to actually set my saviors in motion. I may think I am the most enlightened Course student alive, but if others repeatedly reject me, then something is wrong. As the Course says, “Love is returned and pride is not” (T-9.VIII.8:1). The love I have given has to be enough to return to me and literally save me, wake me up. To put it more bluntly, if my study and practice don’t produce holy encounters, then they have not amounted to much.
How has this changed your view of the Course and/or the spiritual journey?
How has this affected your view of priorities in your life? What things seem like more of a priority now and what things seem like less of a priority?
Does it provoke you to want to make some kind of decision, to set some sort of resolve within you? If so, what?
[Please note: ACIM passages quoted in this article reference the Foundation for Inner Peace (FIP) Edition.]