Finding Our Way to Holy Relationships

Two boys walking arm in arm on a beach, showing a special relationship that could be a holy relationship

Everything Is God

According to A Course in Miracles, what we see and believe about the world is an illusion. Our egos inform us that bodies and minds, concrete objects and forms, are all that exists, and that each existence is a separate self. Caught up in this illusion of a vast ocean of separateness, we feel lonely, anxious, and incomplete. Therefore, we seek out something that will fulfill us, complete us, ease our anxiety, make us whole. Born into these bodies, we have forgotten that everything is of God, that everything is God.

In this state of forgetfulness, we look to someone or something outside ourselves to make things rights.

Many religious traditions warn against this. Judaism speaks of false idols that lead us astray, promising rain or power or relief from sorrow, yet that bring us only misery and disappointment. Buddhism teaches us to travel the eight-fold path, an inner, spiritual journey that leads to the awareness of our essential oneness. Sufi and Christian mystics have written of the bliss found not in our relationships with things or even other people, but in a union with God that is, ultimately, a union with everything.

Two boys walking arm in arm on a beach, showing a special relationship that could be a holy relationship

Everything is of God, and everything is God. Call it the Source, the Life Force, Love, the Singularity, whatever name you give that Essence, ultimately It is all there is. Each of us are part of this vast whole. We are one.

Special Relationships

But we do not feel one. We feel alone and fragmented. We long for something that will make us seem special, worthy, and valuable. Trapped in darkness, emptiness, and coldness, we long for something that will help us forget our fears.

Therefore, we form what the Course calls “special” relationships. At times, we become involved with other people. Yet we can also be in relationship with ideas, causes, drugs, money, or power. A special relationship can be an addiction, yet we do not have to be addicted to seek completion in something other than our true nature, other than God. Special relationships are like false idols. We think they will make life perfect, keep the storms at bay, protect us from disaster, take away our sickness, fill our emptiness, lighten our depression.

They do not. In the end, they make things worse.

This is not to say special relationships are all bad. If we did not feel passion for our causes, we would not seek justice. If we did not long for union with a mate, we would not come together to raise children. Without our yearnings, we would not develop partnerships to build businesses or hospitals or to create music.

Driven by Loneliness

Rather than judging our relationship by who it’s with or why it started, Marianne Williamson suggests considering whether or not we use it to ease our pain, soothe our insecurities, or feel loved. [1]

Not that love is a bad thing. Yet when we are starved for love, we try to make the other person take care of us, make us okay, fulfill our wishes and hopes and dreams. Because we think we are separate from God, we feel lonely, incredibly lonely.

“And the ego,” Williamson writes, “which is what convinces us we’re separate from Him to begin with, offers us the most twisted of solutions: that we find one special person who will complete us.” [2] This cannot be successful, though. When we seek completeness in something outside ourselves, we are “seeking salvation in separation.” This separateness is an illusion, so ultimately it leads to disappointment. [3]

Like this illusion of separateness, our belief in false idols creates a barrier between us and God. Although these special relationships might make us feel giddy and blissful for a moment, in the end, they make us feel worse. Dissatisfied, we move from one special relationship to another, trying to find a person or experience that makes us feel good and valuable. As author and teacher, David Hoffmeister, writes, “The attempt at substitution is an attempt to maintain a sense of specialness, a sense of separation, a sense of individuality (a private mind with private thoughts).” [4]

This always fails.

The Dysfunction in Relationships

Nonetheless, unless we enter into relationships, even special ones, we will not grow. While we hope, through these relationships, to hide our brokenness from ourselves and others, the Holy Spirit sneakily uses these relationships to highlight our wounds and bring them to awareness.

This makes us uncomfortable. We try to avoid the reality of our brokenness by pretending we don’t see it, blaming the other person, and projecting our character defects onto him or her. We use old, dysfunctional patterns of behavior like the ones Williamson enumerates: we control, we crave attention, we lie, we manipulate, we avoid, we cling, we numb ourselves, we give up our power, we abuse our power, we smother, we think only of ourselves, and we lash out.

However, as she reminds us, “These character defects are not where we’re bad, but where we’re wounded.” [5] Of course, when we’re acting out of our fear and pain, other people rarely feel sorry for us. Instead, they respond from their own fear and pain, attacking or rejecting us.

Healing through Pain

This chaotic and painful pattern of relationship gives us the chance to heal, if only we are willing to look at our part in the pattern. “Healing is a kind of detox process, in which everything that needs to leave our systems must first come up and then out.” [6] Growing and learning sometimes hurts.

The Holy Spirit’s goal, however, isn’t to hurt us or to damage the relationship. Her goal is to bring us wisdom and serenity, to help the relationship flourish, to make our lives together into something meaningful and even salvific. Although we can choose to ignore our own wounds and project our pain onto others, though we can run from challenges and lessons, we can also choose to look, watch, and experience what the Holy Spirit is showing us, bringing compassion and understanding for ourselves and the other to the relationship. This is the essence of love. Therefore, we heal our wounds, by loving.

We Are Love

According to the Course, we are already love. We are God. Though we are not incomplete, we feel separate and yearn for a completeness outside ourselves.

In the Course, sin arises from the belief that we are alone and separate from the whole of existence, God, and one another. Thus, we seek idols and special relationships, confusing them with God and oneness.

Even this desire for completeness is not all bad, for it comes from God’s longing for us to turn toward God and know ourselves as part of God. The Course teaches that even now, as you read these words, no matter how befuddled or addicted or annoyed or depressed as you are, you are whole, complete in yourself. Your true nature, your true being, is so much bigger than the human body you take yourself to be. If you can see past the illusion of separateness, you will realize that your true nature is sinless and God-filled.

Holy Relationships

How do we come to this understanding? Spiritual traditions offer many different paths to enlightenment. A Course in Miracles offers “holy relationships.”

A holy relationship may be formed when two people join together to pursue a common goal. This often starts as special relationship, whether between lovers or business partners. Holy relationships can form between teacher and pupil, counselor and client, or politician and staff. Two people coming together to pray or worship may enter into a holy relationship.

What makes the relationship holy is the involvement of the Holy Spirit. According to author Robert Perry, She gives the couple a special function to perform “in which the holiness planted in their relationship actively reaches out through them to bless others.” [7]

This changes the pair; it also changes others. This is why the Course sees holy relationships as a path to salvation.

The Holy Spirit in a Holy Relationship

Because they focus so much on serving the needs of others rather than fulfilling one’s own desires, holy relationships are rare. Nonetheless, they are not always blissful or cooperative. Discord and resentments arise even in holy relationships. Sometimes holy relationships even fall apart.

It is not their perfection that makes relationships holy. Like everything else in this world, they are imperfect. As Greg Mackie explains, what sets them apart from special relationships is that they are formed for a purpose that has been imbued by the Holy Spirit. [8]

Once the Holy Spirit becomes involved, whether because we have allowed Her in or because She has inserted Herself uninvited, the old goals of the relationship – individual comfort, maybe, making a fortune, winning an election – change. The Holy Spirit infuses the relationship with a more life-affirming goal.

Forgiveness and the Holy Relationship

Mackie gives the example of Helen and Bill who wrote and published A Course in Miracles. They didn’t enter into their relationship with this spiritual message in mind. They simply wanted to improve their working conditions. Apparently, the Holy Spirit had other ideas and used their collaboration for Her own purposes. Having the Holy Spirit get involved can be uncomfortable; at this point, some holy relationships break apart.

Helen’s and Bill’s did not, at least not then. They argued, but they managed to forgive one another. In the Course, forgiveness is key.

“The holy relationship is at heart a process in which both partners gradually forgive each other.” [9] Clearly, being in a holy relationship doesn’t mean we will never again hurt one another. Even the most harmonious relationships are affected by slights, disappointments, or betrayals that require forgiveness. Through holy relationships, however, we learn to set aside our grievances and see “the Christ in the other.” [10]

As we forgive one another, as we recognize Christ in one another, we achieve a deeper union. We learn to fully understand the other and to become one. A holy relationship is “a living, experiential demonstration of the fact that all of us are one.” [11] That’s why Robert Perry notes, in his article about holy relationships, that such unions teach us “the unreality of separateness in a way nothing else could.” [12]

A Goal of Holiness

Eventually, the partners realize that within the heart of their relationship has always existed a goal of holiness. The holy relationship, formed for a purpose, bears fruit. This can begin early on in the relationship, though as time goes on, the purpose becomes clearer, deeper, more holy.

Mackie explains that not many relationships reach the point where “the goal of holiness is achieved fully and consciously.” That is all right, though, for the Course teaches that all our goals will eventually be fulfilled, that every relationship we have will eventually, in one lifetime or another, become holy. In this way, we will bring happiness not only to ourselves, but to many others. Along with your own salvation that comes of this incredible relationship, “thousands will rise to Heaven with [us].” (ACIM T-18.V.3:1).

Following Your Spiritual Path

Mackie warns us against seeking out holy relationship or trying to force current, special relationships to be holy.

Instead, he suggests that we focus on walking the spiritual path we have chosen. The Course is not the only religious tradition that encourages mystical unions and relationships based on selfless love and purpose.

As you clear your spirit of aversions and cravings, as you follow the teaching of your particular spiritual path, you will find within yourself less need for the false fulfillment of special relationships, and more desire to serve the purpose of that which is holy to you. Even if you are atheist, you can find truth and peace and purpose in something greater than yourself, and that is holy.

In faith and fondness,

Barbara

Credits

  1. Williamson, Marianne, Tears to Triumph: The Spiritual Journey from Suffering to Enlightenment, New York: Harper One, 2016.
  2. Ibid 194.
  3. Ibid 194.
  4. Hoffmeister, David, “Does A Course in Miracles Teach that I Need a Holy Relationship in Order to Awaken?” Living Miracles America, July 9, 2017, https://livingmiraclescenter.org/news-blog/blog/106-acim-holy-relationship-awakening, accessed January 6, 2018.
  5. Williamson 192.
  6. Ibid 193.
  7. Perry, Robert, “Facing the Topic of Holy Relationships,” Circle of Atonement, http://www.circleofa.org/library/articles/facing-the-topic-of-holy-relationships/, accessed January 6, 2018.
  8. Mackie, Greg, “The Holy Relationship: The Source of Your Salvation,Circle of Atonement, http://www.circleofa.org/library/articles/the-holy-relationship-the-source-of-your-salvation/accessed January 6, 2018.
  9. Mackie.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Ibid.
  12. Perry.

Photo by juan pablo rodriguez on Unsplash

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