Students of A Course in Miracles might define the Holy Encounter as any moment in which we meet someone and see them not as separate or other but as ourselves. This encounter can take place in person – at the bank, the post office, the grocery store – or it can take place on twitter or a website – or it can take place in our mind. We cannot get to Heaven alone. We are called to take our brothers and sisters with us, as they are called to take us.
Many students – me included – struggle with this. I’m okay taking some people into Heaven, but then others . . . we can always find somebody who’s not quite up to our standards. There is always somebody out there we can use to prove that the separation is real. They feel like enemies but in truth they are angels. They are our teachers.
Our resistance to these individuals is misguided, because it misunderstands two things: what Heaven is and what bodies (what “others”) are for.
Heaven is not a place. It’s a state of mind. It’s not a place that we’re going after we die and it’s not a condition that we achieve only after arduous spiritual labors. It’s here and it’s now. It’s the present moment. That’s why the text teaches us that to be in the Kingdom of Heaven is merely to focus one’s full attention on it. You enter the Kingdom by being aware of the Kingdom.
If you’re like me, your resentments and grievances are centered on other people. Some body does your body wrong – either by physically hurting it, or disrespecting it, or altogether ignoring it or what have you. Grievances are about bodies. And bodies are about separation. They are the best proof the ego has for asserting that it’s us against the world.
Thus, we are called to forgiveness – not the overlooking of wrongs, but the seeing past them entirely. We do this with each other. It can be a spouse or it can be the kid working the register at the grocery store. Our grievances can be enormous – years in the making – or they can be so small we forget about them moments later. The kid at the register doesn’t laugh at your joke. Whatever.
All of those grievances – big or small, it doesn’t actually matter – are evidence that we are clinging to the ego’s plan for salvation, which is to keep the focus outside of us, where salvation can never be found. And so we have to give them up. And we have to do that with each other.
In other words, I need you, and you need me, because together we can practice forgiveness. It’s not about hiding in a monastery or finding an ashram full of like-minded people. It’s about being present to our lives on a daily basis. It’s about being focused on Heaven and noticing when our attention drifts or when it is wrenched away. Forgiveness is what brings our awareness, our attention back to being in Heaven. When we notice ourselves holding a grievance, we ought to hug and kiss (possibly not literally) the person or persons in or upon whom the grievance resides, because they have just shown us that we are not in Heaven. They have taught us that we have to forgive. They are leading us home.
And so each encounter – be it with a stranger on the street, a friend over tea, a cranky son or daughter in the car or a deceased family member in thoughts – has the potential to be holy. God is in that moment, calling us to forgive, and to move on to Heaven. We contain that call. It is in me for you and you hold it for me. And A Course in Miracles teaches us how to be aware of it, and how to use it for the greatest good.