The Simplicity of the Holy Relationship
Carolyn Godschild Miller, Ph.D.
As a student of A Course in Miracles for some 30 years, I’ve devoted a good deal of effort to understanding the “Holy Relationship.” Although I once thought of it as a pretty advanced, and somewhat mysterious step in the process the Course recommends for achieving salvation, I now see how simple it really is.
How do we know whether our relationship with a particular person is holy? We know it by the fact that we want things to work out well for him or her. We think of this individual sympathetically, as a good person who makes mistakes, just like us. And we think she or he deserves patience and support while learning to recognize and correct those mistakes.
Of course, we all have relationships in which we wish people well, and believe they deserve happiness, so we all have holy relationships in our lives. The trick is to keep them holy when someone disappoints us.
The fundamental difference between ego-sponsored thought and the thoughts of the Holy Spirit concerns the possibility of change. The ego thinks people can start out good, but then do something bad and lose their innocence once and for all. They can commit sins and deserve to suffer for them. And believing this, the ego imagines that God must believe it too.
This belief in guilt is the foundation of our attempts to control others through it, which is the ego’s only resource when it comes to holding relationships together. If you’ve let me down, you owe me something. And as long as I refuse to acknowledge that this debt has been adequately paid, you can’t withdraw from the relationship, because that would prove you even more irresponsible. You owe me. So, our ego figures, if I just continue insisting that you are bad, and therefore owe me more compensation than you’ve given, you can never leave me!
Unfortunately, if it is possible for others to deserve condemnation, guilt and punishment for being bad, it follows that we do too. This view that everyone is a “sinner” to one extent or another, leads to an endless cycle of blame-shifting as we try to relieve our own guilt by projecting it onto others.
If we can convince ourselves that other people are much worse sinners than we are, then we can hope that the punishment in store for us will be at least a little less than theirs. We may also resort to the strategy of preempting God by punishing ourselves with sickness and misfortune. The underlying hope here is that God will see how much we’ve suffered already, and decide not to add a lot of additional punishment when we die.
Yes, I realize that all of this talk about guilt and self-torture sounds a little crazy. But as the Course points out, the fact that it’s crazy doesn’t mean we don’t believe in it. Once the belief in sin and guilt is given credence, we inevitably become embroiled in attacks on ourselves and everyone else. These attacks may be no more than disparaging thoughts, or they may rise to the level of nuclear annihilation. The fact remains that, in ordinary ego consciousness we are all constantly attacking one another, and feeling threatened by retaliation as a result. After all, how can we imagine that others wish us well, when we know what we think of them?
In A Course in Miracles, Jesus assures us that the only alternative to living in the dog-eat-dog world our ego is imagining, is to replace the belief in sin, with the belief in mistakes that call for correction rather than punishment. After all, mistakes can be corrected, and cease to exist when they are. But sin, if it were real, would permanently stain the soul itself.
Once sin is accepted as real, there is no way to pretend it never happened. No matter what double-talk or double-think is employed to cloud the issue, it’s clear that a sinner must be forever less worthy of love and respect than someone who has never committed that sin. Those who require forgiveness can never be the moral equals of those who have been sinned against, and yet are “gracious” enough to forgive. Besides, we may have “forgiven” you, but we all know what you did!
The acceptance of equality and union necessary for a holy relationship can never occur while the concept of sin and false forgiveness hold sway. I may wish sinners well, but I can no longer believe they really deserve the kind of love and happiness the were entitled to before sinning.
True forgiveness, on the other hand, regards misdeeds as simple mistakes. This idea is familiar because it is already the way most of us respond to the misdeeds of people we love. When a toddler is cranky and uncooperative, adoring parents remind themselves that she or he is probably tired or hungry or wet. Instead of becoming angry and punitive, they seek to comfort and relieve.
Which is to say that when we love someone, we attribute their unpleasant behavior largely to temporary causes such as confusion or circumstance. And we take a certain amount of responsibility for allowing their distress to occur. Even when there is nothing we can do to help in the physical dimension, we preserve and extend our mental image of them as good people who deserve love and happiness supporting their personal sense of innocence and self-worth with our own confidence in it.
The Course tells us that in every relationship we are called upon to decide whether the person deserves to be healed, or attacked. When we come down on the side of healing, the relationship is holy, because this is the way God relates to His Children. When we decide that others deserve to suffer for what they’ve done, we are attacking a Child of God by believing him or unworthy of love and support. This places our will squarely in opposition to God’s.
Can one person have a holy relationship, even if the other party continues to believe in guilt and attack? Of course. That’s what Jesus showed us 2,000 years ago. Just imagine the favor we’ll be doing the world if we follow his example in believing that everyone deserves the best, despite their present behavior. It’s hard to go on hating someone who is a staunch believer in our own love-worthiness. And so it is that by simply wishing others well, the world we see becomes more Heavenly, one former enemy at a time.