What is Forgiveness

A Course in Miracles teaches us that forgiveness is a way of being present in our lives that does not accept the world’s judgment of our nature and function. Forgiveness does not see sins and then choose to overlook them in the Name of God or some other kind of moral superiority. Rather, it does not recognize sin at all.

Forgiveness recognizes that what you thought your brother did to you has not occurred. It does not pardon sins and make them real. It sees there was no sin (W-pII.1.1:1-3).

This is not just a way of relating to our brothers and sisters but also of relating to our own self. When we “forgive” the other in this way, we also forgive our own self (W-pII.1.1:1-3).

This is all orders of magnitude easier to say than to practice. Rumination is always easier than application. The body – and the brain activity arising in the body – judge so naturally that we don’t even recognize we are doing it. Even something as simple as making dinner involves countless little judgments, nearly all of which slip by unnoticed. And that process is going on all the time.

Decisions are continous. You do not always know when you are making them (T-30.I.1:1-2).

What, then, are we supposed to do in order to become forgiving in the radical way suggested by A Course in Miracles?

We have to learn to “see” – to understand, to know – in a new way. It is not actually new but it is so unfamiliar to us as to feel new. We have to actively seek a way of relating to the world and to our brothers and sisters that is grounded in a love that surpasses – that transcends and undoes – the world’s definition of love.

In the world, love is special. It’s conditional on attraction. It involves exchanges which require evaluation and thus judgment. It can be hidden by behavior and confused by price. It arises not from felt sense of our shared radical equality but from a private perception of inequality that inevitably works against us.

A Course in Miracles calls the new way of loving to which we are called “holy relationship.” Holy relationship is premised on a shared commitment to give more than gain, and to value the other’s happiness over our own. It is not possessive at all. Nor are these sacrifices! Imagine the peace and happiness that arises from the service inherent in a holy relationship. Imagine a world in which everybody just wants to serve everybody else.

Forgiveness is merciful because it emphasizes sharing and friendship over judgment and punishment.

True mercy – because it is grounded in sharing and friendship – raises to doubt all judgements (W-pII.1.2:2). It opens the mind in willingness and humility (W-pII.1.2:3). It refuses projection; it refuses to accept any personal perception of reality, and asks only to be shown the truth, which is the same for all of us – you, me, the sunflowers in my garden, the great white sharks off Cape Cod, and whatever else in this vast cosmos has a form.

What does this abstract concept look like in practice?

It looks like stillness and quiet (W-pII.1.4:1). It looks like doing nothing (W-pII.1.4:1).

[Forgiveness] offends no aspect of reality, nor seeks to twist it to appearances it likes. It merely looks, and waits, and judges not (W-pII.1.4:2-3).

There is a paradox here! We have to “judge” our failure to forgive in order to truly forgive. But recognizing that failure is a form of welcoming the truth as it is in this moment (W-pII.1.4:4-5). A Course in Miracles meets us where we are but in order for that to happen, we have to be honest about where we are.

This sequence of lessons is an invitation to become honest about our confusion and ignorance. It is an invitation to be honest about our unwillingness and stubbornness. We want to see clearly the specific ways in which we are doing this to ourselves and, in doing so, become open – even a little – to the possibility of the Thetfordian other way.

We reflect on the basic concept of forgiveness in ACIM, we make a simple verbal prayer, and then we become still and quiet and do nothing. We seek the confidence and rest that comes from trusting God rather than our own selves. We give our practice – half an hour, an hour, more even – to the Holy Spirit, who will teach us how to see the sinlessness of our brothers and sisters, and all of Creation (W-pII.1.5:3), and in that way remember our own perfect innocence.

Again, we will know that our prayerfulness is working if we feel both joy and rest. This is not an intellectual accomplishment, nor is it about proving our worthiness. It is about accepting the end of spiritual struggle and interior psychological strife. We give ourselves now to the end of suffering, and we accept God’s certainty that we will succeed.


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