THE HOLY ENCOUNTER
'When you meet anyone, remember it is a holy
encounter As you see him, you will see yoursef.
As you treat him, you will treat yourself. As you
think of him, you will think of yourself. Never
forget this, for in him you will find yourself or
Before I read A Course in Miracles, I studied many other
spiritual and philosophical writings. It felt as
though they led me up a huge flight of stairs to a giant
cathedral inside my mind, but once I reached the top of
the stairs, the door to the church was locked. The
Course gave me the key that opened the door.
The key, very simply, is other people.
Heaven, according to the Course, is neither a con-
nor a place, but rather the "awareness of perfect
oneness." Since the Father and the Son are one, then to
love one is to love the other. The love of God is not
outside us. There is a line in a song from the play Les
Miserable that says, "To love another person is to see
the face of God." The "face of Christ" is the innocence
and love behind the mask we all wear, and seeing that
face, touching it and loving it in ourselves and others, is
the experience of God. It is our divine humanness. It is
the high we all seek.
In every relationship, in every moment, we teach
ether love or fear. "To teach is to demonstrate." As we
demonstrate love towards others, we learn that we are
lovable and we learn how to love more deeply. As we
demonstrate fear or negativity, we learn self-condemna-
tion and we lear to feel more frightened of life. We
will always learn what we have chosen to teach. "Ideas
leave not their source," which is why we are always a
part of God, and why our ideas are always a part of us.
If I chose to bless an other person, I will always end up
feeling more blessed. If I project guilt onto another
person, I will always end up feeling more guilty.
Relationship exist to hasten our walk to god.
When surrendered to the holy spirit, when He is in
charge of our perceptions, our encounters become Holy
encounters with the perfect son of God. A Course in
Miracles says that everyone we meet will either be our
crucifier or our saviour, depending on what we chose to
be to them. Focusing on their guilt drives the nails of
self-lothing more deeply into our own skin. Focusing
on their innocence sets us free. Since "no thoughts are
neutral,"every relationship takes us deeper into Haven
or deeper into hell.2. FORGIVENESS IN RELATIONSHIPS
"Forgiveness takes away what stands between
your brother and yourself."
A Course in Miracles prides itself on being a practical
Course with a practical goal: the attainment of inner
peace. Forgiveness is the key to inner peace because it is
the mental technique by which our thoughts are trans-
formed from fear to love. Our perceptions of other
people often become a battleground between the ego's
desire to judge and the Holy Spirit's desire to accept
people as they are. The ego is the great fault-finder. It
seeks out the faults in ourselves and others. The Holy
Spirit seeks out our innocence. He sees all of us as we
really are, and since we are the perfect creations of God,
He loves what He sees. The places in our personality
where we tend to deviate from love are not our faults,
but our wounds. God doesn't want to punish us, but to
heal us. And that is how He wishes us to view the
wounds in other people.
Forgiveness is "selective remembering"- a con-
scious decision to focus on love and let the rest go. But
the ego is rentless-it is "capable of suspiciousness at
best and viciousness at worst." It presents the most subtle
and insidious arguments for casting other people out
of our hearts. The cornerstone of the ego's teaching is:
"The Son of God is guilty." The cornerstone of the Holy
Spirit's teaching is: "The Son of God is innocent."
Relationships 93 The Miracle worker consciously invites the Holy
Spirit to enter into every relationship and deliver us
from the temptation to judge and find fault. We ask
Him to save us from our tendencies to condemn. we ask
Him to reveal to us the innocence within others, that
we might see it within ourselves.
"Dear God, I surrender this relationship to you,"
means, "Dear God, let me see this person trough your
eyes." In accepting the Atonement, we are asking to see
as God sees, think as God thinks, love as God loves. We
are asking for help in seeing someone's innocence.
I was once vacationing in Europe with my family.
Although my mother and I were both making noble
efforts at getting along well with each other, we weren't
succeeding. Old patterns of attach and defense were
continuously cropping up between us. She wanted a
more conservative daughter, and a wanted a more
enlightened mother. I kept opening the Course for help
and inspiration but much to my chagrin, I seemed to
open the book to the same section each time I picked it
up. I would read, "think honestly what you have
thought that God would not have thought, and what
you have not thought that God would have you think."
In other words, where were my thoughts not aligned
with God's? It was driving me crazy. I wanted support
for my defensive feelings. The last think I wanted to be
told was that the only error was an error in my own
Finally, glancing across St. Mark's square in Venice,
I looked closely at my mother
and said to myself, "It's
true-God's not looking at her and thinking,
'Sophie Ann is such a bitch."' As long as I chose to see her that
way, as long as I was not willing to
give up my focus on her errors, I could not be at peace because I
was not sharing God's perception.
As soon as I saw this, I released my tense fixation on what I
perceived to be her guilt. From that
point forward, the situation began to shift. Miraculously, she
was nicer to me, and I was nicer to
It's easy to forgive people who have never done anything to make
us angry. People who do
make us angry, however, are our most important teachers. They
indicate the limits to our capacity
for forgiveness. "Holding grievances is an attack on God's plan
for salvation." The decision to let
go our grievances against other people is the decision to see
ourselves as we truly are, because any
darkness we let blind us to another's perfection also blinds us
to our own.
It can be very hard to let go of your perception of someone's
guilt when you know that by
every standard of ethics, morality, or integrity, you're right
to find fault with them. But the Course
asks, "Do- you prefer that you be right or happy?" If you're
judging a brother, you're wrong even if
you're right. There have been times when I have had a very hard
time giving up my judgment of
someone, mentally protesting, "But I'm right." I felt as though
giving up my judgment amounted to
condoning their behavior. I felt, "Well,
95somebody's got to uphold principle in this world. If we just
forgive things all the time, then all standards of
excellence will disintegrate!"
But God doesn't need us to police the universe.
Shaking our finger at someone doesn't help
them change. If anything, our perception of someone's guilt only
keeps them stuck in it. When we
are shaking a finger at someone, figuratively or literally, we are
not more apt to correct their wrongful
behavior. Treating someone with compassion and forgiveness is
much more likely to elicit a healed
response. People are less likely to be defensive, and more likely
to be open to correction. Most of
us are aware on some level when we're off. We'd be doing things
differently if we knew how. We
don't need attack at this point; we need help. Forgiveness forges
a new context, one in which
someone can more easily change.
Forgiveness is the choice to see people as they are
now. When we are angry at people, we are angry
because of something they said or did before this
moment. But what people said or did is not
who they are. Relationships are reborn as we let go perceptions
of our brother's past. 'By bringing
the past into the present', we create a future just like the
past.' By letting the past go, we make room
An attack on a brother is a reminder of his guilty past. In
choosing to affirm a brother's guilt,
we are choosing to experience more of it. The future is
programmed in the present. To let the past
go is to
remember that in the present, my brother is innocent. It is an
act of gracious generosity to accept a
person based on what we know to be the truth about them,
regardless of whether or not they are in
touch with that truth themselves.
Only love is real. Nothing else actually exists. If a person
behaves unlovingly, then, that means
that regardless of their negativity-anger or whatever-their
behavior was derived from fear and
doesn't actually exist. They're hallucinating. You forgive them,
then, because there's nothing to
forgive. Forgiveness is a discernment between what is real and
what is not real.
When people behave unlovingly, they have forgotten who they are.
They have fallen asleep to
the Christ within them. The job of the miracle worker is to
remain awake. We choose not to fall
asleep and dream of our brother's guilt. In this way we are given
the power to awaken him.
A prime example of a miracle worker is Pollyanna. The ego knows
this, which is why she is
constantly invalidated in this culture. She walked into a
situation where everyone had been in a
nasty mood for years. She chose not to see the nastiness. She had
faith in what lay beyond it. She
extended her perception beyond what her physical senses revealed
to her, to what her heart knew
to be true about every human being. It didn't matter how anyone
behaved. Pollyanna had faith in
the love she knew existed behind anyone's fear, and thus she
invoked their love into expression.
She exercised the
97power of forgiveness. Within a short time, everyone was nice and
everyone was happy! Whenever
someone says to ]me, "Marianne, you're being a Pollyanna," I
think to myself, "If only I were that
powerful."3. GIVING UP JUDGMENT
'Judgment is not an attribute of God.'
A Course in Miracles tells us that whenever we are contemplating
attacking someone, it is as though
we are holding a sword above their head. The sword, however,
doesn't fall on them but on us. Since
all thought is thought about ourselves, then to condemn another
is to condemn ourselves.
How do we escape judgment? Largely through a
reinterpretation of what we're judging. A Course in
Miracles describes the difference between a sin and an
error. 'A sin would mean we did
something so bad that God is angry at us.' But since we can't do
anything -that changes our
essential nature, God has nothing to be angry at. Only love is
real. Nothing else exists. 'The Son of
God cannot sin. We can make mistakes,' to be sure, and we
obviously do. But God's attitude
toward error is a desire to heal us. Because we ourselves are
angry and punishing, we have
concocted the idea of an angry, punishing God. We are created in
God's image, however, and not
the other way around. As extensions of God, we are ourselves the
spirit of compassion, and
98 in our right minds, we don't seek to judge but to heal. We do
this through forgiveness. When
someone has behaved unlovingly-when they yell at us, or lie about
us, or steal from us-they have
lost touch with their essence. They have forgotten who they are.
But everything that someone does,
says the Course, is either 'love or a call for love.' If someone
treats us with love, then of course love
is the appropriate response. If they treat us with fear, we are
to see their behavior as a call for love.
The American prison system illustrates the philo-
sophical and practical difference between the choice to
perceive sin or to perceive I error. We see criminals as
guilty and seek to punish them. But whatever we do to
others) we are doing to ourselves. Statistics painfully
prove that our prisons are schools for crime; a vast
number of crimes are committed by people who have
already spent time in prison. In punishing others, we
end up punishing ourselves. Does that mean we're to
forgive a rapist, tell him we know he just had a bad day
and send him home? Of course not. We're to ask for a
miracle. A miracle here would be a shift from perceiving
prisons as houses of punishment to perceiving them as
houses of rehabilitation. When we consciously change
their purpose from fear to love, we release infinite possi- of
Forgiveness is like the martial arts of consciousness.
In Aikido and other martial arts, we
sidestep our attacker's force rather than resisting it. The
99the attack then boomerangs back in the direction of the attacker.
Our power lies in remaining
nonreactive. Forgivenes's works in the same way. When we attack
back, and defense is a form of
attack, we initiate a war that no one can win. Since lovelessness
is not real, we're not at the effect of
it in ourselves or others. The problem, of course, is that we
think we are. In seeking a miracle, we
don't take part in life's battles, but rather we are asking to be
lifted above them. The Holy Spirit
reminds us that the battle is not real.
"Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord, " means, "Relinquish the
idea of vengeance." God
balances all wrong, but not through attack, judgment or
punishment. Contrary to how it feels when
we're lost in the emotions that tempt us to judge, there's no
such thing as righteous anger. When I
was a little girl, I would fight with my brother or sister, and
when my mother came home she would
be annoyed at us for arguing. One of us would always say, "They
did it first." It actually doesn't
matter who "did it first." Whether you're attacking first or
attacking back, you're an instrument of
attack and not of love.
Several years ago I was at a cocktail party where I got into a
very heated debate about American
foreign policy. Later that night, I had a kind of waking dream. A
gentleman appeared to me and
said, "Excuse me, Miss Williamson, but we thought we should tell
you: In the cosmic roll call, you
are considered a hawk, not a dove."
I was incensed. "No way," said indignantly. "I'm
totally for peace. I'm a dove all the way. "
"I'm afraid not," he said. "I'm looking on our charts, and it
says very clearly right here:
Marianne Williamson, warmonger. You're at war with Ronald Reagan,
Caspar Weinberger, the
CIA, in fact the entire American defense establishment. No I'm
sorry. You are definitely a hawk."
I saw, of course, that he was right. I had just as many missiles
'in my head as Ronald Regan
had in is. I thought it was wrong for him to judge communists.,
but it was okay for me to judge
him. Why? Because I was right, of course!
I spent years as an angry left-winger before I realized
that an angry generation can't bring peace.
Everything we do is infused with the energy with which we do it.
As Gandhi said . "We must be
the change." What the ego doesn't want us to see is that the guns
we need to get rid of first are the
guns in our own heads.4. THE CHOICE TO LOVE
"The ego is the choice for guilt: the Holy Spirit the choice for
The ego always emphasizes what someone ha wrong. The Holy Spirit
always emphasizes what
they've done right. The Course likens the ego to a scavenger dog
that seeks out every scrap of evidence
101for our brother's guilt and lays it at its master's feet. The
Holy Spirit, similarly, sends out its own
messengers to see evidence of our brother's innocence. The
important thing is that we decide what
we want to see before we see it. We receive what we request.
"Projection makes perception." We
can find-and in fact, we will find-whatever it is we're looking
for in life. The Course says that we
think we will understand a person enough to know whether or not
they are lovable, but that unless
we love them, we can never understand them. The spiritual path
involves taking conscious
responsibility for what we choose to perceive-our brother's guilt
or innocence. We see a brother's
innocence when it's all we want to see. People are not perfect-
that is they do not yet express externally
their internal perfection. Whether we choose to focus on the
guilt in their personality, or the
innocence in their soul, is up to us.
What we think of as people's guilt is their fear. All negativity
derives from fear. When someone
is angry, they are afraid. When someone is rude, they are afraid.
When someone is manipulative,
they are afraid. When someone is cruel, they are afraid. There is
no fear that love does not dissolve.
There is no negativity that forgiveness does not transform.
Darkness is merely the absence of light, and fear is merely the
absence of love. We can't get rid
of darkness by hitting it with a baseball bat, because there is
nothing to hit. If we want to be rid of
darkness, we must
turn on a light. Similarly, if we want to be rid of fear, we
cannot fight it but must replace
it with love.
The choice to love is not always easy. The ego puts up terrible
resistance to giving up
fear-laden responses. This is where the Holy Spirit comes in.
It's not our job to change
our own perceptions, but to remember to ask Him to change them
Let's say your husband has left you for another woman,. You can't
people, and you can't ask God to change them, either. You can,
however, ask to see this
situation differently. You can ask for peace. You can ask the
Holy Spirit to change your
perceptions. The miracle is that, as you release judgment of
your' husband and the other
woman, the pain in your gut begins to subside.
The ego might say in that situation that you'll never be at peace
until your husband
comes back. But peace isn't determined by circumstances outside
us. Peace stems from forgiveness. Pain doesn't stem from the love
we're denied by others, but rather from the
love that we deny them. In a case like that, it feels as though
we're hurt by what someone
else did. But what really has occurred is that someone else's
closed heart has tempted us
to close our own, and it is our own denial of love that hurts us.
That's why the miracle is
a shift in our own thinking: the willingness, to keep our own
heart open, regardless of
what's going on outside us..
A miracle is always available in any situation, because no one
can decide for us how to interpret our
own experience. 'There are only two emotions: love and fear.' We
can interpret fear as a call for
love. Miracle workers, says the Course, are generous out of
self-interest- We give someone a break
so we can stay in peace ourselves.
The ego says that we can project our anger onto another person
and not feel it ourselves, but
since all minds are continuous, whatever we project onto another
we continue to feel. Getting angry
at someone else might make us feel better for a while, but
ultimately all the fear and guilt comes
back at us. If we judge another person, then they'll judge us
back-and even if they don't, we'll feel
like they did.?
Living in this world has taught us to instinctively respond from
an unnatural space, always
jumping to anger, or paranoia, or defensiveness, or some other
form of fear. Unnatural thinking
feels natural to us, and natural thinking feels unnatural.
A Course in Miracles is not about pouring pink paint over our
anger and pretending it doesn't
exist. What is psychologically unsound is spiritually unsound.
Denial or suppression of emotions
is unsound. You don't say, "I'm not angry, really I'm not. I'm on page
140 of A Course in Miracles
and I don't get angry anymore,, II when inside you're seething.
The Holy Spirit tells us, "Don't try to
purify yourself before coming to me. I* am the purifier." I was
once on my way to giving a lecture
on the Course.) and I thought about a woman I knew who I was
feeling annoyed at. Very quickly, I
104tried to hide the thought, as though it wasn't holy enough for me
to be thinking at such a time.
Then it seemed as though a voice in my head said, "Hey, I'm your
friend. Remember?" The Holy
Spirit wasn't judging me for my anger; He was there to help me
move past it.
We mustn't forget what the Holy Spirit is for. We don't deny
we're upset, but at the same time
we own up to the fact that all our feelings stem from our own
loveless thinking, and we're willing to
have that lovelessness healed. Growth is never about focusing on
someone else's lessons, but only
on our own. We aren't victims of the world outside us. As hard as
it is to believe sometimes, we're
always responsible for how we see things. There would be no
savior if there were no need for one.
Of course things happen in this world that make it almost
impossible to love-cruel, horrible things-
but the Holy Spirit is within us to do the impossible. He does
for us what we can't do for ourselves.
He will lend us His strength, and when His mind is joined with
ours, ego thinking is cast out.
But we must be aware of our ego feelings in order to release
them. "He cannot shine away what
you keep hidden, for you have not offered it to Him and he cannot
take it from you." It would be
violating our free will for the Holy Spirit to change our mental
patterns unasked. But when we ask
Him to change them, He will. When we're angry, or upset for any
reason, we're asked to say, "I'm
angry but I'm willing not to be. I'm
105willing to see this situation differently." We ask the Holy
Spirit to enter into the situation and show
it to us from a different perspective.
Once I was having porcelain fingernails applied, and my
manicurist's friend came into the
room. I couldn't tolerate her personality. From the moment this
woman opened her mouth, I felt
like someone was running fingernails over a blackboard. Since my
hands weren't free, I couldn't
leave the room, and since the manicurist was someone who came to
my lectures, I felt ashamed of
MY own reaction. I prayed and asked God for help. His response
was dramatic. Within moments,
the "obnoxious" woman began talking about her childhood, and
particularly her relationship with
her father. As she began to describe her upbringing, it became
perfectly clear to me how she would
have grown up with little self-esteem, and an inordinate need to
develop grandiose personality
characteristics, which in her mind would denote strength. Her
defenses didn't work, of course.
Coming from fear, they merely put people off. Suddenly, the same
behavior that had so irritated me
five minutes before, now elicited in me a deep compas- sion. The
Holy Spirit had pointed me to the
information that would melt my heart. Now I saw her differently.
That was the miracle: Her
behavior hadn't changed, but I had
5. LEVELS OF TEACHING
'Therefore, the plan includes very speciftc contacts to be made
for every teacher of God."
Relationships are assignments. They are part of a vast plan for
our enlightenment, the Holy Spirit's
blueprint by which each individual soul is led to greater
awareness and expanded love.
Relationships are the Holy Spirit's laboratories in which He
brings together people who have the
maximal opportunity for mutual growth. He appraises who can learn
most from whom at any given
time, and then assigns them to each other. Like a giant universal
computer, He knows exactly what
combination of energies, in exactly what context, would do the
most to further God's plan for
salvation. No meetings are accidental. "Those who are to meet
will meet, because together they have
the potential for a holy relationship."
The Course says that there are 'three levels of teaching' in
relationship. The first level is what
we think of as a casual encounter, such as two strangers meeting
in an elevator or students who
"happen" to walk home from school together. The second level is a
"more sustained relationship, in
which, for a time, two people enter into a fairly intense
teaching- learning situation and then appear
to separate." The third level of teaching is a relationship
which, once formed, lasts all our lives. At
this level, "each person is given a chosen learning partner who
presents him with unlimited
opportunities for learning."
107 Even at the first level of teaching, the people in the elevator
might smile at one another or the
students might become friends. It is mostly in casual encounters
that we are given a chance to
practice the fine art of chiseling away the hard edges of our
personalities. Whatever personal
weaknesses are evident in our casual interactions will inevitably
appear magnified in more intense
relationships. If we're crabby with the bank teller) it will be
harder to be gentle with the people we
love the most.
At the second level of teaching, people are brought together for more
intense work. During their time
together) they will go through whatever experiences provide them
with their next lessons to be
learned. When physical proximity no longer supports the highest
level of teaching and learning
between them, the assignment will call for physical separation.
What then appears to be the end of
the relationship however, is not really an end. Relationships are
eternal. They are of the mind, not
the body, since people are energy, not physical substance. Bodies
joining may or may not denote
real joining, since joining is of the mind. People who have slept
in the same bed for twenty-five
years may not be truly joined, and people who are many miles
apart may not be separate at all.
Often we see a couple who has separated or divorced and look with
sadness at the "failure" of
their relationship. But if both people learned what they were
meant to learn.) then that relationship
was a success.
108 Now it may be time for physical separation so that more can be
learned in other ways. That not
only means learning elsewhere, from other people; it also means
learning the lessons of pure love
that come from having to release the form of an existing
Third-level., fife-long relationships are generally few because
"their existence implies that those
involved have reached a stage simultaneously in which the teach-
balance is actually perfect." That
doesn't mean, however, that we necessarily recognize our
thirdlevel assignments; in fact, generally
we don't. We may even feel hostility toward these particular
people. Someone with whom we have a
lifetime's worth of lessons to learn is someone whose presence in
our lives forces us to grow.
Sometimes it represents someone with whom we participate lovingly
all our lives, and sometimes it
represents someone who we experience as a thorn in our side for
years, or even forever. just
because someone has a lot to teach us, doesn't mean we like them.
People who have the most to
teach us are often the ones who reflect back to us the limits to
our own capacity to love, those who
consciously or unconsciously challenge our fearful positions.
They show us our walls. Our walls
are our wounds-the places where we feel we can't love any more,
can't connect any more deeply,
can't forgive past a certain point. We are in each other's fives
in order to help us see where we most
need heal- and in order to help us heal.