We all know that forgiveness is a big part of A Course in Miracles. Yet understanding just what forgiveness means is difficult. Even after we figure out the course definition – it’s more like right seeing as opposed to pardoning somebody – we are still caught in the question of how to apply it. I want to suggest that we need to relate to forgiveness more as followers than actors. In other words, we aren’t doing forgiveness – forgiveness is doing us.
When I first began to study ACIM, I appreciated its focus on forgiveness. It felt deeply Christian to me. It made me think about turning the other cheek, giving away my shirt and my jacket, and all of that. It was Jesus being crucified and forgiving those who had nailed him to the cross. To forgive was to love radically in the spirit of Jesus Christ.
Yet fairly quickly, that traditional understanding was undone by the course.
To forgive is to overlook. Look, then, beyond error and do not let your perception rest upon it, for you will believe what your perception holds (T-9.IV.1:2-3).
And later in the same section, this idea is expanded upon, with special emphasis on not allowing error to become real. The ego’s plan for forgiveness is to always make the error real – painfully, visibly, tangibly real – and only then proceed to pardon it. Egoic forgiveness is always conditional. The course has a different view.
Forgiveness through the Holy Spirit lies simply in looking beyond error from the beginning, and thus keeping it unreal for you. Do not let any belief in its realness enter your mind . . . What has no effect does not exist, and to the Holy Spirit the effects of error are nonexistent (T-9.IV.5:3-5).
So forgiveness is not a reaction. It is not a response. We really have to get clear on this if we want to make it a practice, to reap its healing benefits. As soon as we perceive error of any kind, we are not in the space of forgiveness. The forgiveness contemplated by the course does not see error, period. As soon as we perceive any error – the kids are too loud, the weather is crappy, our partner is griping too much, the Democrats/Republicans are being idiotic, there’s too much war, everyone’s a faker but me, take your pick – then we’ve left forgiveness.
Forgiveness does not take a bad situation and make it right. It’s not a tool that we use to rectify an otherwise broken situation. It is not a response to a problem. Rather, it is the perception of the complete and unconditional absence of conflict.
For many years, I accepted intellectually the ACIM concept of forgiveness. It only takes a little effort to grasp and then we can parrot it to no end. But that kind of learning is meaningless. At the deeper levels we are still invested in error. The error – the sin – remains central. I had the right idea, but I was still functioning with a this-is-right-this-is-wrong mindset.
Remember always that ego doesn’t mind the course as an idea. Not at all. It’s the application – the attempt to make it real in our lives – that causes us problems. It is happy to concede a definition so long as it remains an academic exercise.
So I began to see that I had no idea what forgiveness was. Left to my brain and my body senses, and all the conditioning that goes along with that, I was always going to be stuck in the dual thought system or right and wrong. To be stuck that way was to be bereft of forgiveness and whatever peace and joy attended it. So something else had to come into play.
I always say that if you aren’t feeling battered by the course then you probably aren’t doing it seriously. Real honesty and real willingness are almost always experienced as painful. To believe otherwise is to believe that the egoic self is cheerfully participating in its demise. It’s not. It’s fighting tooth and nail. So even though I felt embarrassed at having misunderstood this important concept, and discouraged at how much farther I had to go, and so on and so forth, it was fundamentally a healthy moment. Seeing the futile resources of the egoic self means that we are at last open – even if just a crack – to the creative action of the Holy Spirit.
We really have to accept that we are students. We really have to want to learn and we can only learn when we see how little we know. It is a humbling experience.
Miracles are merely the sign of your willingness to follow the Holy Spirit’s plan of salvation, recognizing that you do not understand what it is. His work is not your function, and unless you accept this you cannot learn what your function is (T-9.IV.6:3-4).
So we don’t do forgiveness. The Holy Spirit does. We have to stand aside and let the Holy Spirit do its work. This can be confusing – after all, if we aren’t separate from the Holy Spirit, then what exactly does it mean to step aside?
I say: don’t sweat it. Just keep in mind that what you’ve brought to bear so far hasn’t worked. Trust that there’s another way. Pray or meditate if that helps. Go for long walks. When you run into conflict, don’t struggle with your perception. Just watch how it plays out in your mind. Be attentive. For me, attention and willingness go a long way. Sooner or later, they make possible what seemed otherwise impossible: I have the experience of forgiveness. I feel the deep peace that naturally accompanies the realization of oneness. It’s vibrant and energetic.
And it fades – or I cling to it and so it disappears. Or it seems to. Yet a little taste will carry you a long way. And the next sip is almost always closer than you think. A moment of clarity, a few minutes of revelation, an abiding insight, a calm certainty. We are never as far from God as we believe. To know this is to forgive.