It is perhaps overly clever to break up the word atonement into three component parts: at one ment. And yet, it’s not without a certain helpfulness. As we move away from traditional Christian paradigms and seek to find ways of thinking and being that are grounded in Christ yet not tethered to the past, the notion of atonement as a sort of unity is very attractive.
In the old days, to atone was to acknowledge one’s sins and rectify them. One didn’t simply they were sorry – to God or to an offended or injured child of God – one also tried to make amends. Atonement has always had this admirably practical aspect to it. It was about repair – about making right what one had, inadvertently or otherwise, first made wrong.
Yet as we begin to challenge this fundamental duality – good vs. bad, right vs. wrong – we begin to see how this view of atonement may not be entirely useful. In belief systems such as A Course in Miracles, atonement is deeply linked to forgiveness: when one is able to see past error (or sin or mistake), the error is dissolved. There is nothing for which to apologize. No amends are necessary. We might say that atonement is the state of forgiveness: we are no longer battered by a world in which opposites battle one another in our mind. Atonement is peace because it does not see the two or more sides necessary for conflict. What is one cannot be at war with itself unless it believes it can separate from itelf.
Atonement, then, is a way of seeing that we are not separated from God. An atonement frame of mind is one that seeks to remember that state of non-separation, that wholeness in all that it perceives. To atone is really to simply declare that what we are in truth is united with God and has never been separated from God. It’s not easy – and it can certainly feel abstract and obtuse. But as we deepen our capacity to seek God in practical ways, we begin to experience the benefits of atonement. We begin to see how it works in our lives – here in the world of dreams and in the real world to which we aspire.
Thus, atoning is simply another word for undoing. It does not add to the world of form but merely sees past it. It does not want to fix errors or improve the self or build a better society. Its goal is to undo all of that – the errors that give rise to a self that appears to be broken and to the broken world in which that self makes its way, stumbling down half-lit paths towards its death. It is paradoxical, isn’t it? The only thing that we have to do is nothing at all.
It is important to remember that understanding atonement in this light is not really possible in the world in which we live. The egoic self believes deeply in self-improvement. It believes in actions taken on behalf of healing and enlightenment. And it firmly believes that those actions resonate in a world in which other lost souls are similiarly struggling to find peace and joy.
But what if that is wrong? Can we see at least that such thinking has been around for thousands of years to no real effect? Has fear ended? Greed? Hatred? Has guilt ended?
So we have to atone – encounter the atonement – in a way that is outside of both space and time. It is entirely outside the ego’s dim comprehension. The text of A Course in Miracles points this out very early on. The atonement principle, it teaches, is at work “all the time and in all the dimensions of time (T-1.25.2).”
And so words – carefully chosen with the best intentions – are at best a shadow for what we are really trying to get at here. And yet what else can we do? Take these posts with a grain of salt – perhaps a whole field of salt. Forgive them! And perhaps you will see in them as you read the same glimpse of Heaven that I sometimes catch when I write: electric, beautiful and altogether beyond the frail capacity of language.