In part I we saw that there is enormous potential in every human encounter—potential for something holy to pass between the two people involved. We also saw that every encounter has been arranged by the Holy Spirit because He saw potential there. And we saw what actualizing this potential looks like—like ordinary kindness. We saw various images of two people forgetting about their separate interests and, as a result, simply exchanging a smile or a kind word. In this second part we will look more closely at what constitutes a holy encounter, what blocks it from happening, and how we can allow it to occur.
The content of the holy encounter
What makes an encounter holy? I can identify three things:
1. The mutual perception of shared interests
A passage from last week, I think, captured this perfectly: “two people…lose sight of separate interests, if only for a moment” (M-3.2:6). That is exactly what we see in the passage that introduces this whole concept of holy encounters:
When you meet anyone, remember it is a holy encounter. As you see him you will see yourself. As you treat him you will treat yourself. As you think of him you will think of yourself. Never forget this, for in him you will find yourself or lose yourself. Whenever two Sons of God meet, they are given another chance at salvation. Do not leave anyone without giving salvation to him and receiving it yourself. For I am always there with you, in remembrance of you. (T-8.III.4)
Notice again that there is that immense potential in the encounter—”another chance at salvation”—and that again there is that invisible presence—in this case, that of Jesus—silently standing for the potential in the encounter. He is there remembering all that we are, all that we can be in this situation, but we are remembering? Are we accessing this potential?
What I mainly want to point out, however, are those three lines: “As you see him you will see yourself. As you treat him you will treat yourself. As you think of him you will think of yourself.” That is a definition of shared interests. You cannot see him as debased and see yourself as exalted. You cannot treat him callously and treat yourself lovingly. You cannot think of him as a jerk and think of yourself as a Son of God. You can’t do it, because in fact your interests are shared. When two people realize that, a holy encounter occurs. I have gotten a great deal of value out of simply repeating those lines to myself.
2. Salvation is given and received
In our various snapshots of the holy encounter, we see two people lose sight of separate interests, and because of that, there is a kind of exchange that happens between them. It takes the form of smiles, kind words, expressions of forgiveness, but in essence it is an exchange of salvation. This is mentioned in the passage above: “Do not leave anyone without giving salvation to him and receiving it yourself.” So there is a giving and receiving of salvation.
Another passage makes this the defining characteristic of a holy encounter. It speaks of “the sharing of salvation, which makes the encounter holy” (T-13.IV.6).
The giving and receiving of salvation, the sharing of salvation—what does that mean in concrete terms? I think very simply it means expressing a view of that person as forgiven, blameless, healed and holy. If that view is really in your mind, it can be expressed in the form of a smile, a kind word, a gesture. But what the other person receives is not just a smile, but a new view of himself, a view that moves him closer to salvation.
3. The two recognize that they are one
In most holy encounters, this third step may not be very pronounced, but it seems to be an important part of the full-blown pattern. The “Holy Encounter” section teaches that the goal of the curriculum is to find out who you are, to rediscover the power and glory you think you’ve lost. It then says that you cannot find them in yourself alone “The Holy Spirit teaches you that if you look only at yourself you cannot find yourself, because that is not what you are” (T-8.III.5:7).
Your best chance to find them is in an encounter with another. If you recognize his power and glory, you will find yours. You can only find your power and glory in him. It then says that once you choose to accept the Atonement, “you will understand why you once believed that, when you met someone else, you thought he was someone else. And every holy encounter in which you enter fully will teach you this is not so” (T-8.III.6:7-8). When you really see your brother’s power and glory, you will realize that they are yours, and that so is he.
One of my favorite passages touches on this same idea:
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. (T-25.VI.5:1-2)
Here, in this murky, imperfect world, there is yet one perfect thing we can do. We can perform an “act of special faithfulness to one perceived as other” than ourselves. Despite how this person has affected our ego, we can remain steadfastly faithful to the sinlessness in her.
Despite what appearances say, we can believe in the purity in her. We can forgive. Once we give this gift to her, we find that we have received it. Something in us therefore reasons: “If what she received I received, then somehow we must be one.”
In summary, there is an exchange of salvation, in which the two people receive what they give, and this causes them to realize, perhaps only dimly, that they are one.
What blocks the holy encounter
The impression I get is that the Holy Spirit is constantly arranging all these encounters, only to find that in very few is their potential ever actualized. Something is obviously blocking that potential. What is it? There seem to be several options:
1. Preoccupation with making up for a rotten past
The shadowy figures from the past are precisely what you must escape….They carry the spots of pain in your mind, directing you to attack in the present in retaliation for a past that is no more. And this decision is one of future pain. Unless you learn that past pain is an illusion, you are choosing a future of illusions and losing the many opportunities you could find for release in the present….Would you recognize a holy encounter if you are merely perceiving it as a meeting with your own past? For you would be meeting no one, and the sharing of salvation, which makes the encounter holy, would be excluded from your sight. The Holy Spirit teaches that you always meet yourself, and the encounter is holy because you are. The ego teaches that you always encounter your past, and because your dreams were not holy, the future cannot be, and the present is without meaning. (T-13.IV.6:1-10)
What this is saying is that in most encounters we project onto the people we meet our “shadow figures.” A shadow figure is our mental image of someone from our past who didn’t give us the specialness we craved. We carry these images around and then mentally—and unconsciously—superimpose them onto the people we meet in the present. Once we do that, in effect, we see that past person in standing front of us, and we feel impelled to attack, to get this person back for what he or she did to us.
This is what blots out holy encounters, for what we are having a meeting with an image in our own head. We are talking to an imaginary playmate. We are encountering no one. To have a holy encounter, then, we have to pull our minds out of the past and enter fully into the present. We must open our minds to the reality of the present. We must see the person in front of us free of his or her past, and free of our past. For, this section goes on to say, “only ‘now’ presents the opportunities for the holy encounters in which salvation can be found” (T-13.IV.7:7).
2. Preoccupation with the past or with money
Here is another interesting passage about what blocks holy encounters:
Meanwhile he must learn, and his patients are the means sent to him for his learning. What could he be but grateful for them and to them? They come bearing God. Would he refuse this Gift for a pebble, or would he close the door on the Savior of the world to let in a ghost? (P-3.I.4:3-6)
This passage is about the therapist. Notice once again that his patients are “sent” to him. They are sent “bearing God” to him, and so he should receive them with gratitude. What blocks the holy encounter they have been sent to have with him? The final sentence is somewhat cryptic, but I will offer my opinion on what it means. One choice is that the therapist can tell the patient, “I can’t see you because you don’t have the money.” This amounts to, “I value this pebble, this coin, more than I value the gift of God that you bear.” The other choice is that the therapist can accept to see the patient, but then superimpose his shadow figures, the ghosts from his own past, onto the patient, effectively not letting Who the patient really is inside the door.
3. Obsession with being special or worshipping the special one
We already looked at the following passage last week. Here, both therapist and patient are too caught up in how special and wonderful the therapist is to have a real encounter:
Some utilize the relationship merely to collect bodies to worship at their shrine, and this they regard as healing. Many patients, too, consider this strange procedure as salvation. Yet at each meeting there is One Who says, “My brother, choose again.” (P-3.II.9:8-10)
4. Not liking the person or having more important things to do
One last passage on what blocks the holy encounter. In Lesson 121 we are asked to choose someone to forgive. We are asked to think of someone we have resentments toward, in various forms, one of them being someone “who seems to…cause regret in you if you should meet him” (W-pI.121.10:1). When you feel regret about running into someone, isn’t it because either a) you do not like the person, or b) you simply have more important things to do? Strange that we have more important things to do than have a holy encounter.
Overall, then, what blocks a holy encounter is that we see this person in light of how he or she serves some private agenda of ours. We see others only in terms of their ability to meet our needs—our need for money, our need to make up for our past, our need to be special, our need to keep to our schedule. In this scenario, we do not encounter them, we are having a private encounter with our picture of how they can meet our need. This seems to be the essence of what gets in the way of a holy encounter.
Think of a not-so-holy encounter you had today and ask yourself, “What objective did I hold for this encounter that obscured the goal of having a holy encounter?” What is the competing objective? It may be that you want to get some bit of business done, or that you want to get done with the encounter before it takes up a lot of time, or that you want to look good. Be as honest as you can. Please write your answer in the space below:
The Workbook’s practice in holy encounters
With the importance placed on holy encounters in the Course it should be no surprise to find several lessons actually instructing us in what you might call “holy encounter practice”:
It is particularly helpful to apply it [today’s idea—”My holiness blesses the world”] silently to anyone you meet, using his name as you do so. (W-pI.37.6:2)
When you are with someone else, for example, try to remember to tell him silently:
God is my Source. I cannot see you apart from Him.
This form is equally applicable to strangers as it is to those you think are closer to you. In fact, try not to make distinctions of this kind at all. (W-pI.43.7:2-6)
Temptation falls away when we allow each one we meet to save us, and refuse to hide his light behind our grievances. To everyone you meet, and to the ones you think of or remember from the past, allow the role of savior to be given, that you may share it with him. For you both, and all the sightless ones as well, we pray:
Let miracles replace all grievances. (W-pI.78.10:2-5)
To everyone you meet today, be sure to give the promise of today’s idea and tell him this:
You are one Self with me, united with our Creator
in this Self. I honor you because of What I am,
and What He is, Who loves us both as one. (W-pI.95.15:2-4)
Notice the pattern here. We are given words of practice that we are meant to apply to everyone we meet on that day. I think it is clear that these words, practiced sincerely, are designed to transform the encounter into a holy encounter. These lessons are giving us “holy encounter practice.”
How to have a holy encounter
1. Set the goal for the encounter either before or as you enter it.
Say to yourself, “Let this be a holy encounter,” or “As I see him I will see myself. As I treat him I will treat myself. As I think of him I will think of myself.”
2. Check your mind for competing goals and either let them go or make them secondary.
You might notice that you really want this person to think you are special, but you acknowledge to yourself that specialness is nothing next to a holy encounter. Or you may need to get somewhere, but you decide to not let that get in the way of being fully present to the power and glory in this person. To really make having a holy encounter your primary goal for the encounter, you have to displace your current primary goal. Otherwise, you will see having a holy encounter as an add-on to what the encounter is “really” for.
3. Maintain your goal while with the person by silently repeating a line that reminds you of your goal.
I find that this is essential. Have a line ready to repeat to yourself every so often while you are with this person. It is possible to do, and can make a huge difference. There are countless lines, but here are some examples:
I’m taken care of. How can I help you along the way?
My holiness blesses you, [name]. (from W-pI.37.6:1)
God is my Source. I cannot see you apart from Him. (W-pI.43.7:3-4)
We share the same interests.
I can only find my power and glory in you.
Being with you is another chance to find my power and glory.
Awake and be glad, for all your sins have been forgiven you. (P-3.II.4:10)
As I see you I will see myself. As I treat you I will treat myself. As I think of you I will think of myself. (based on T-8.III.4)
For the sake of the exercise coming up, please choose one of these lines that is a favorite, that you would like to use in the exercise. Or come up with a favorite of your own, perhaps drawn from one of the Workbook lessons.
4. Find ways to convey your new perception to this person
The above steps will hopefully allow some spark of love into your mind. Once it does, try to find ways to express this to the other person. Not by preaching, of course, but in the form of ordinary kindness, as we saw in the various snapshots of holy encounters.
Select some upcoming encounter, preferably one today or tomorrow, which you are reasonably certain will take place and which you think is likely to be an unholy encounter.
Now, in the privacy of your mind, set the goal for it be a holy encounter. You want to lose sight of separate interests, to see your power and glory in this person, to exchange salvation.
You might repeat, “Let this be a holy encounter,” or “I want this to be a holy encounter. That is what it is for.”
Do that until you feel you have firmly set that goal.
Now check your mind for the goal or goals that you were carrying for the encounter. What have you been hoping would come from the encounter? What would your efforts have been aimed at achieving?
Was it to get some sort of business done? To convince the person that you are right? To get out of the interaction in a minimal amount of time? To come off looking smart or witty or capable? To be liked.
Once you find the competing goals, consciously set them aside. Either decide that they are secondary (because, for instance, you really do need to conduct that bit of business) or that they do not belong in the picture at all (because, for instance, your desire to look good is just your ego).
Reaffirm that your primary goal here is to have a holy encounter.
Now see yourself entering the encounter. Imagine it in your mind.
As you go in, you are remembering that your primary goal is to have a holy encounter with this person.
Imagine that the encounter proceeds, and while it goes on, see yourself occasionally repeating that line you selected. See yourself repeating it when there is a lull in the conversation, or when things get a little tense, or when you feel judgmental.
Now see yourself finding ways to express the new perception that comes from the line you are practicing, and from your determination that this be a holy encounter. Express the love in your mind in whatever form seems appropriate, especially in the form of ordinary kindnesses.
Now try to imagine how you will feel at the end of this encounter, having set the goal you did, reaffirmed that goal throughout the encounter, and expressed it in the form of kindness to this person. How do you imagine yourself feeling?
That feeling is what you are shooting for. Again reaffirm that that is your central goal for this encounter and that you will carry through with this when the encounter actually comes. Be sure to remember that line to practice, so you can repeat while you are with the person.
[Please note: ACIM passages quoted in this article reference the Foundation for Inner Peace (FIP) Edition.]