Having been religiously trained in the Christian Church, from Baptist to Bob Jones University to Presbyterians and later to a degree in Roman Catholic (I seriously considered joining in the early 1980’s!), I always supposed the body was eternal and real, as were our particular forms of expression. I never questioned it very much. I heard sermons and talks about “the resurrection of the body” and what might happen between our bodily deaths and this event. I once heard that in the resurrection, we’d probably be around 33 years old, the age of Jesus at his death. I heard how our blemishes and handicaps would be erased as we would “see Him as He is” and thus be as He is! I learned the creeds about the resurrection of the body at the “last day” and of the various declared heresies which taught the body wasn’t real and that even Jesus’ was an illusion of reality. I heard priests worry about cremation; where would God find the body to be raised? I’ve seen burial caskets set in large cathedrals, even over altars so that on “that day” they would be first to be raised (as if God would actually choose a church first anyway!).
I write all this to say that with such an understanding of the body, forgiveness is impossible to give and experience. Bodies wound and kill each other, usually with perceived degrees of justification which so often is unfounded. Bodies are used to say and do very unkind and hurtful things to other bodies. Such can perhaps be dismissed but never forgotten. So world history is built on people fighting people for vindication, of getting even. Weapons have evolved to wipe out whole cities and countries, indeed the whole world. Countries still maintain thousands of them, with ours in leadership, just in case we need to get back at those who might threaten our “freedom” or try such as occurred on September 11, 2001.
In my present mind, such acts of retribution, with some winning and others losing, is a dead end road. Such acts do not demonstrate forgiveness but the opposite. They are attempts to preserve bodies and forms which I just don’t think of as being eternal but rather, a part of the time-space awareness we have with our normal bodily thinking. The Course in Miracles says, “The major difficulty that you find in genuine forgiveness on your part is that you still believe you must forgive the truth, and not illusions.” We believe bodies and forms are the truth. In the Course’s viewpoint, which is an ancient one lived by many in the early church and other religions, bodies and forms are illusions and the unseen is reality. So what we see when we first look at another with open eyes is a body, a form and not who the person truly is in truth, spirit.
Obviously bodies can hurt one another to the point of death, but one’s Spirit is Eternal, as eternal as God the Creator. If someone hurts me with his body in words, unkind deeds, or with physical attack, in the time-space world, it can never be undone or forgiven with forgetfulness. It’s like having a dog prone to bite and attack another which can never be forgotten however many times it is “trained.” Yet if I see myself as Spirit, as One with God or whatever name you might call it, no one can hurt or destroy me, ever. My body may be burned, abused, born with many deficiencies, but never can my Self, my Spirit be violated.
Of course, this doesn’t mean in this time-space world, which I like to think of as a dream, we allow violent people to do whatever they wish with no order or prevention. As Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Having a law prohibiting you from hanging me doesn’t make you love me but it may better prevent you from hanging me!” And I might add, if you do hang me, I still have a inner Part of me that can see beyond this act to the Real You that is My Higher Self. Those words uttered in the Jesus story of his death on the cross illustrate this; “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” It’s as a follower of the Dalai Lama said after escaping from a Chinese prison, “I worked hardest at not hating or disliking my captors.” Or on a more common level, people can choose to end a relationship yet still truly love each other.
This are more extreme examples, but in our daily encounters, we can learn to practice forgiveness at a much deeper level if we will consider seeing our offenders as primarily Spirit and not temporal bodies. A spouse may disappoint your personal tastes and desires, but one can develop the ability to forgive and go beyond it. A committee or group is also excellent exercise! Obviously churches are; my how quickly anger arises, with illusionary justification, in such places. We can, however, learn to kindly and gently speak or ask for what we might prefer, and yet if rejected, it’s okay. People who see themselves as basically Spirit grow to understand that Everything is already theirs, the very fullness of the Universe. How can one who has Everything lose anything?
Thus we can forgive others as well as the losses we all experience in living. We can draw toward death itself with sort of an anticipation of leaving the limited behind for that which is Unlimited. We can be free in a much deeper sense of the word, in what is called in many of the Eastern religions as “detachment.” Detachment is simply as expression that one can learn not to be drawn into conflicts, anger or depressing moods by outside circumstances. (Golf could also be named as a good exercise for this!)
This idea of forgiveness, by seeing the other as Spirit and not body, helps me remember then my own True Self. I understand that when I can’t forgive another it represents but my unwillingness to forgive myself. The others around us become mirrors of our own levels of awareness and remembrance. I can move past grudges, grievances, and pettiness which bar people from loving but without such movement, hinder its development in my own awareness.
Lesson 134 in the Course in Miracles give some exercises to do to help deepen this awareness of letting go, of forgiveness. I simply sit quietly and choose a brother or sister who as “sinned against” me. It usually doesn’t take very long for such a one to appear. Focusing on this person, we could first list all the evils and sins he or she has committed against us. If honest, all these sins have to do with the body in some way, or your usual idea of self esteem. Now the Course asks that we consider this question: “Would I do condemn myself for doing this?” Seeing yourself as Spirit, of course not! So as you let such go from your brother or sister, you are letting the chain weight (Course image) drop from your own life. Trust me, you will feel much better, as though you were touching the Divine Itself within!
It’s a beautiful lesson to practice. You and I won’t learn it in a day or week or even a year. Some of us keep practicing a life time, or perhaps better put, lifetimes before we “get it.” But whatever your pace, practice today with each encounter you have. Especially be aware of those unpleasant encounters for these are the heavy weights to build your spiritual muscles much faster.
Thus be at peace, in deeper and more consistent, level ways, all the days of your lives here on this plain. Perceive forgiveness as what it truly is, based on the ancient understanding that we are not our bodies, but Spirit, and thus free indeed, now and forever.