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A COURSE IN MIRACLES Chapter 17 Forgiveness and the Holy Relationship

III. Shadows of the Past

1. To forgive is merely to remember only the loving thoughts you gave in the past, and those that were given you. All the rest must be forgotten. Forgiveness is a selective remembering, based not on your selection. For the shadow figures you would make immortal are “enemies” of reality. Be willing to forgive the Son of God for what he did not do. The shadow figures are the witnesses you bring with you to demonstrate he did what he did not. Because you bring them, you will hear them. And you who keep them by your own selection do not understand how they came into your mind, and what their purpose is. They represent the evil that you think was done to you. You bring them with you only that you may return evil for evil, hoping that their witness will enable you to think guiltily of another and not harm yourself. They speak so clearly for the separation that no one not obsessed with keeping separation could hear them. They offer you the “reasons” why you should enter into an unholy alliance to support the ego’s goals and make your relationships the witness to its power.

2. It is the shadow figures that would make the ego holy in your sight and teach you what you do to keep it safe is really love. The shadow figures also speak for vengeance and all relationships into which they enter are totally insane. Without exception, these relationships have as their purpose the exclusion of the truth about the other and of yourself. This is why you see in both what is not there and make of both the slaves of vengeance. And why whatever reminds you of your past grievances attracts you and seems to go by the name of love, no matter how distorted the associations by which you arrive at the connection may be. And finally, why all such relationships become attempts at union through the body, for only bodies can be seen as means for vengeance. That bodies are central to all unholy relationships is evident. Your own experience has taught you this.  But what you may not realize are all the reasons that go to make the relationship unholy. For unholiness seeks to reinforce itself, as holiness does, by gathering to itself what it perceives as like itself.

3. In the unholy relationship, it is not the body of the other with which union is attempted, but the bodies of those who are not there.  For even the body of the other, already a severely limited perception of him, is not the central focus as it is, or in entirety.  What can be used for fantasies of vengeance, and what can be most readily associated with those on whom vengeance is really sought, is centered on and separated off as being the only parts of value.  Every step taken in the making, the maintaining and the breaking off of the unholy relationship is a move towards further fragmentation and unreality.  The shadow figures enter more and more, and the one in whom they seem to be decreases in importance. 

4. Time is indeed unkind to the unholy relationship. For time is cruel in the ego’s hands, as it is kind when used for gentleness. The attraction of the unholy relationship begins to fade and to be questioned almost at once. Once it is formed, doubt must enter in, because its purpose is impossible. The “ideal” of the unholy relationship thus becomes one in which the reality of the other does not enter at all to “spoil” the dream. And the less the other really brings to the relationship, the “better” it becomes. Thus, the attempt at union becomes a way of excluding even the one with whom the union was sought. For it was formed to get him out of it and join with fantasies in uninterrupted “bliss.”

5. How can the Holy Spirit bring His interpretation of the body as a means of communication into relationships whose only purpose is separation from reality? What forgiveness is enables Him to do so. If all but loving thoughts has been forgotten, what remains is eternal. And the transformed past is made like the present.  No longer does the past conflict with now. This continuity extends the present by increasing its reality and its value in your perception of it. In these loving thoughts is the spark of beauty hidden in the ugliness of the unholy relationship where hatred is remembered; yet there to come alive as the relationship is given to Him Who gives it life and beauty. That is why Atonement centers on the past, which is the source of separation, and where it must be undone. For separation must be corrected where it was made.

6. The ego seeks to “resolve” its problems, not at their source, but where they were not made. And thus it seeks to guarantee there will be no solution. The Holy Spirit wants only to make His resolutions complete and perfect, and so He seeks and finds the source of problems where it is, and there undoes it. And with each step in His undoing is the separation more and more undone, and union brought closer. He is not at all confused by any “reasons” for separation. All he perceives in separation is that it must be undone. Let Him uncover the hidden spark of beauty in your relationships and show it to you. Its loveliness will so attract you that you will be unwilling ever to lose the sight of it again. And you will let this spark transform the relationship so you can see it more and more. For you will want it more and more and become increasingly unwilling to let it be hidden from you. And you will learn to seek for and establish the conditions in which this beauty can be seen.

7. All this you will do gladly if you but let Him hold the spark before you, to light your way and make it clear to you. God’s Son is one. Whom God has joined as one, the ego cannot put asunder. The spark of holiness must be safe, however hidden it may be, in every relationship. For the creator of the one relationship has left no part of it without Himself. This is the only part of the relationship the Holy Spirit sees because He knows that only this is true. You have made the relationship unreal, and therefore unholy, by seeing it where it is not and as it is not. Give the past to Him who could change your mind about it for you. But first, be sure you fully realize what you have made the past to represent, and why.

8. The past becomes the justification for entering into a continuing, unholy alliance with the ego against the present.  For the present is forgiveness. Therefore, the relationships the unholy alliance dictates are not perceived nor felt as now. Yet the frame of reference to which the present is referred for meeting is an illusion of the past, in which those elements that fit the purpose of the unholy alliance are retained, and all the rest let go. And what is thus let go is all the truth the past could ever offer to the present as witnesses for its reality. What is kept but witnesses to the reality of dreams.

9. It is still up to you to choose to join with truth or with illusions. But remember that to choose one is to let the other go. Which one you choose you will endow with beauty and reality, because the choice depends on which you value more. The spark of beauty or the veil of ugliness, the real world or the world of guilt and fear, truth or illusion, freedom or slavery­­– it is all the same. For you can never choose except between God and the ego. Thought systems are but true or false, and all their attributes comes simply from what they are. Only the Thoughts of God are true. And all that follows from them comes from what they are and is as true as is the holy Source from Which they came.

10. My holy brother, I would enter into all your relationships and step between you and your fantasies. Let my relationship to you be real to you and let me bring reality to your perception of your brothers. They were not created to enable you to hurt yourself through them. They were created to create with you. This is the truth that I would interpose between you and your goal of madness. Be not separate from me and let not the holy purpose of Atonement be lost to you in dreams of vengeance. Relationships in which such dreams are cherished have excluded me. Let me enter in the Name of God and bring you peace that you may offer peace to me.[1]

When we forgive the past, the shadow figures that oppose the reality of God and our brothers have no place to fester.  In a dream world of darkness, in opposition to the reality of God, in a state of division from all others, we dream a dream of fear, of loneliness, of surviving to die another day.  We build cases against one another.  We hold grudges and gather resentments, condemnation, judgments.  Taken in by what is not real, we substitute unreality for truth.  Our relationships become a witness to hatred, to fear, to fantasy.

Forego all of this, choose to hold only the loving and good.  Consciously put down all thoughts of attack, defense, fear, and hatred, forgive all that would tempt us despise, distrust, or hold each other accountable for the sorry state of our lives.  Choose love and forgiveness to be saved from vengeance and spite.  Otherwise we make the ego holy in our sight and forget what true holiness and relationship is. 

Identifying with bodies, we forget our Sonship with Christ.  We forget who and what we are in God.  We relate to each other in unholy, ill-mannered, unkind ways and reinforce and emphasize the unholiness in one another instead of Holy Spirit. 

Shadow figures from the past play a big part in our special love relationships.  The focus of the shadow is to pass itself off as love and to keep us trapped in ongoing cycles of birth and death bringing all the fears from the past into our present, carrying it forward, so that our future is very much like our past. Thus we do not escape time but perpetuate it.   The shadow goal of all relationships is insanity.  While it is not just sexual relationships in which the shadow figures intrude, it is in sexual relationships that they take an especially prominent and hateful place.  For while the shadows pose as “love” and seem to provide purpose and meaning, their source is the hateful, fearful, and mean-spirited realms of nothingness.  The aim for union is not one of completeness and oneness in Spirit but to bring bodies together for “protection” from other bodies, to engage in fleshy, meaningless dramatic episodes performing functions which substitute for true communion and union. 

Jesus tells us that the special relationship is always about the bodies that are not there in the relationship. For I bring my past with me into what I have with you.  Consciously and unconsciously I bring all my shadows, all my past lives and experiences, all the hatred and fear that has kept me locked in this realm.  I band together with you to keep me safe from what I fear.  I will sacrifice my time, my effort, my money, indeed everything I have in an effort to keep it for just us, and not share it with others.   When we engage in special relationships, we are building a fortress against other bodies present or not who would infringe upon us.  We are seeing not the reality of Sonship in each other but the unreality of bodies alive and dead.  Our focus is on the temporal world and how to survive in it.  The special relationships that we develop in this frame of mind will always harm us, for they will let us down.  They will not be able to protect us.  Try as we might to make our bodies behave in certain ways, to coerce our flesh to obligate and sacrifice itself for the happiness and well-being of our mates, our friends, our families, our careers, flesh fails.  Our special relationships prove to be a battleground of vengeance, selfishness, greed, and sacrifice.  Jesus tells us that every step taken in the making, maintaining, and breaking off of the unholy relationship is a move towards further fragmentation and unreality.  The shadow figures grow bigger, bolder, and more apparent in all of our special relationships until we can no longer see a trace of our real and holy Selves.  We identify with the shadow willing and even eager to destroy and devour those we claim to love.

Get into a special relationship and before long, we begin to question it.  Doubt comes into specialness, because when I see what can only be found in God in your flesh, I am seeking for the impossible.  I am expecting you to protect me, I am expecting you to make up for all the shadows I bring from my past, you will build my self-esteem, make me feel beautiful, and love me unconditionally for this is my ideal.  It will be me and you against the world.  We will sing songs and write poems and say prayers for our unholy devotion to each other.  As long as you are willing to sacrifice yourself and obligate yourself to our specialness, I will love you and talk nice about you to others, and praise God for bringing you into my life.  But if you dare spoil this dream of us, if you dare oppose me, speak to me of your weaknesses, let me down in any way – if you dare show me that I am not special or have any right to obligate you to me – I will turn on you. I will call you names.  I will ruin you.  I will curse you.  I will wish death upon you and upon myself. 

Our attempts to find specialness in each other ends up not being about honest, wholesome unions, but rather a vain attempt to get from each other what God has denied us, to have fantasies in which you are obligated, not to be yourself, but play a role and make me special, and then I agree to play the same role for you.  For this is the “bliss” of special relationships – we let our true selves behind and play the roles assigned to us.  We live to give each other the specialness, the favoritism, the I-stand-out-in-the-crowd substitute for love, for in Love there is only mutuality.    

While ego uses our bodies for specialness, Holy Spirit uses the body as a means of communication.  How can we trust one another with our honesty?  How can we move from falsehood in our special relationships, step out of tradition and sacrifice and obligation and into freedom and liberty of holiness?  When we choose to only remember love, when we purposefully and consciously choose to lay all illusion aside, when we get honest with ourselves and with each other, all that remains is truth, is reality, is forever.  Our pasts are transformed from selfish, self-centered, possessive and jealously regarded alliances that crave fulfillment through a sense of specialness and separateness into the wholeness and completeness of love.  When we take only the good and the worthy and the worthwhile from our pasts and bring that to our present – there is no more conflict.  And that peace we experience on the other side of specialness is free of shadows, we are saved from our history. Complete in light and love and laughter, the beauty and bliss of holiness becomes so real to us we can never accept substitutes again. 

When a problem arises between you and me, ego will try to resolve it by making one of us guilty.  You said this.  You told someone I wasn’t a great friend.  You blabbed my secrets when you promised not to tell.  You cheated on me.  You spent too much of our money.  You work too many hours and ignore me and the kids.  Your skin color gives you advantages that I do not have.  You are guilty. You are privileged.  You might be smart but you sure make dumb choices.   You are to blame for my poor self-esteem, my ruined chances, my failure to thrive and survive. 

But when we bring that problem to Holy Spirit there is no confusion about the reasons that we are not seeing eye-to-eye.  Holy Spirit understands how the shadows of our past come to demand vengeance and spite.  Holy Spirit sees our need to be special, to make others guilty, to project our blame and shame as the call to restore union.  Holiness shows us our mutuality in God.  Holiness shows us how to be free of the past.  Holiness uncovers the spark of undeniable beauty and purity in our relationship, and we are never tempted by shadows from the past and our need to be special again.  Holy Spirit teaches us to seek holiness and only holiness for only in holiness can we see the beauty is us and that we are forever in Christ. 

We are one.  The ego cannot tear us apart.  For the spark of holiness is our wholeness, is our Sonship, is the God in us and for us and with us.  Holy Spirit is not worried about our past lives and the enmity that we carry forward.  Holiness has no concern about what you might have said about me in anger and disappointment.  Holiness is not concerned about the color of our flesh or the country of our origin.  For none of that has ever defined us as the dreaming Sons of God.  Holiness is the conscious choice to see only what is true about us.  What we would make of ourselves is another matter – because if it is not about holiness it is not real and therefore the insanity we made is the yackity-yack-yack of chaos and uncertainty where all is as shifting sand.   

When we give our unholiness to Holy Spirit, Jesus tells us to be sure we know and understand what we are giving up.  Let it not be a sacrifice to us.  Let us not harbor any form of forgiveness which would establish one party as more gracious and merciful than the other.  But let our forgiveness be the realization that we give up an illusion, a story we made up for enmity and destruction, and called it love.   

When we form holy relationships we bring to us all that is good.  Holiness draws holiness unto itself even as unholiness draws unholiness.  In holy relationships we extend Love freely; in unholy relationships we hoard love in fear.  In holy relationship we uphold one another in love and trust; in unholy relationships we overlook the content and insist on form – relying on traditional roles with assigned responsibilities, using a false sense of love and belonging to manipulate and obligate the other into doing what is expected. 

We can join with truth or continue in illusions – to choose one is to let the other go.  When we invite Christ into our relationships, we invite Brotherhood.  In the Brotherhood of Christ there is no shadow – for shadows only live in the past.  When we are driven by past revenge and spite, we lose a sense of who and what we really are.  When we try to find what we lost in a special relationship, we bind others to us through a sense of obligation and duty, martyrdom and sacrifice – in other words, we find more hatred, fear, and spite. 

Today in your personal devotional practice invite Christ into all of your relationships and let the shadows go – happily and willingly.  Your lovers, friends, family members, and mates were not created to damn yourself through them, they were created to be one with you, to share in Creation with you, to create more love and joy and peace with you.  Any other goal for your relationships is insanity, any dream of spite, any tinge of fear, jealousy, possessiveness, of obligating others to you – salvation is lost to you and to those who partake in them because they have excluded the unity of the Sonship.  Christ stands at the door of all our special relationships and asks to be welcomed in.  It is impossible without Him, for He teaches forgiveness that frees us from the past.  Forgiveness brings peace, healing, and holiness and we are saved by Love, the blessed Name of our Father and God. 


[1] A Course in Miracles. Chapter 17 Forgiveness and the holy relationship.  III Shadows of the past. Foundation for Inner Peace, Second Edition (1992).

For daily 2021 Workbook lessons visit www.i-choose-love.com courtesy of Linda R.

Audio credit: www.eckiefriar.com

Filed under: ACIM, Teaching and Learning

About the Author

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Coming up on sixty, my love for God, home and hearth, my husband and family fueled my decision to devote the rest of my life only to pursuits which brought love, joy, peace, and purpose. I am a writer, seeker, student, and teacher with experience professional and otherwise from waitressing to teaching the English language in China, Taiwan, and Singapore. I hold a BA in Psychology from Bloomsburg University, which took nearly 30 years to attain while I squeezed courses in between raising my children, journaling, relationships, work, and an assortment of escapades, some of which I would rather forget! An ongoing passion for reading, writing, adventure, food, and fun, eventually led me to the love of my life, James, whom I met in 1996 and married in 1997. Our life together has been an exciting journey of work and travel, spiritual awakening, and domestic bliss ever since. Although we have experienced the tragic loss of family members and friends through death and estrangement, we have managed to turn our special relationship into a holy one by the grace of God and an acute and growing awareness of “there must be a better way!” In 2006, I published my first novel, Luella’s Calling, and am currently working on my second, Grover Good and the Stone Chateau. From 2013 through 2018, I worked as a Prevention Education Specialist for Transitions, a local domestic violence sexual abuse victim’s service agency. My work there, fueled by a lifelong enthusiasm for teaching, led me to obtain an MS in Education from Scranton University. In 2018, I resigned to accompany James on his work travels while focusing on my calling to study and teach A Course in Miracles. To that end, I dedicate the rest of my days to writing, sharing, and teaching the message of salvation found within the Course pages. Thank you for your interest in this blog. As I do not respond to comments on the posts, if you care to contact me, please email me at eckief@yahoo.com.

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