The Ark of Peace Is Entered Two by Two

by Robert Perry

This column is about ACIM dialogue [this article was originally written for a column I did in Jon Mundy's Inspiration magazine], and since it's pointless to dialogue about things that we already agree on, I thought I would bring up something that hardly anyone agrees with me on: my contention that, for a relationship to be holy—as A Course in Miracles defines a holy relationship—two individuals must both join in a common goal. They don't need to both be Course students; the common goal need not be spiritual or even articulated; but both need to have joined in it. The majority point of view is that a relationship is holy when one person forgives the other; no cooperation from the other person is required at all.

I can say with confidence that most Course students do not agree with me on this. Whenever I discuss my view with an audience of Course students, I am usually greeted by what feels like a wall of resistance. Ken Wapnick openly teaches that a holy relationship takes place in the mind of one (although the earlier editions of his Glossary-Index said differently, defining the holy relationship as "the joining…of two people who once perceived each other as separate"). I was once told by an author that he had polled five well-known teachers of the Course and that the other four—despite their other differences—were unanimous in saying that a holy relationship requires only one person. I, along with Allen Watson, Greg Mackie and my other comrades here at the Circle of Atonement, are clearly in the minority.

For years I have contended that, in the pages of the Course itself, the nature of the holy relationship is totally unambiguous. It is simply not an issue. In the Course, the holy relationship is always talked about as involving two people who are mutually joining with each other. It is never talked about as one person who forgives the other. There is not one single passage in which the Course says, "When one person forgives another, a holy relationship is established." Yet there are a great many that say something like this:

God's Teacher speaks to any two who join together for learning purposes. The relationship is holy because of that purpose, and God has promised to send His Spirit into any holy relationship. (M-2.5:3-4)

This passage tells us what we are told in many, many places: A relationship is made holy because two people have joined in the same purpose.

If we stick with the words of the Course itself, there is no issue. There is nothing to debate. It is a true no-brainer. Why, then, is there a problem? Why is there so much consensus that a holy relationship only takes one? The problem, it seems to me (based on conversations with Course students over the years), is that the idea that it takes two just doesn't fit with us inside. It doesn't fit our idea of the Course's thought system; the Course just can't teach such a thing, we think. It doesn't suit our desires; we don't want our journey to God to have to wait on some uncooperative jerk. It doesn't jibe with our experience; people become enlightened all the time by meditating in a cave. For one reason or another, the idea just doesn't gel within us. And so, regardless of how many times the Course says it takes two, regardless of the fact that the Course never says anything else, we just can't make the idea work for us.

Therefore, I would like to devote the rest of this article to trying to make the notion that a holy relationship takes two make sense to us.

Let's start with the basic premise of the Course. All of us are one. Oneness is our natural state. We experience ourselves as separate minds, yet that experience is the product of a false belief in separateness, which the Course calls the ego. Our task, therefore, is to give up that false belief. Once we do we will stop experiencing ourselves as separate, and even stop experiencing ourselves as being in this world of separateness. The illusion of living outside of Heaven will vanish.

How, then, do we really give up the belief that we are separate? How do we become convinced that we are one? Can that happen through inner experiences in which we experience our oneness with God and all things? Maybe, but the Course seems to deny that it can occur through private experiences alone:

It is impossible to remember God in secret and alone. For remembering Him means you are not alone, and are willing to remember it….If you undertake the search together, you bring with you a light so powerful that what you see is given meaning. The lonely journey fails because it has excluded what it would find. (T-14.X.10:1-2,6-7)

We are trying to remember oneness with God. This seems to have little to do with other people. But, according to the above passage, unless we journey to God with others , then we implicitly shut God out. Apparently, if we exclude interpersonal oneness, then we have also excluded divine oneness. We can rephrase the final line this way: The lonely journey to God fails because, by excluding oneness with others, it has excluded oneness itself.

Why is interpersonal oneness the gateway to divine oneness? Because the ego lives on the level of this world, which is also the level of our interpersonal relationships. That level is its home. That is the level, therefore, on which it must be faced and undone. That is the level on which we must become convinced of our oneness, so convinced that as we go about our day, eat our food, handle our money, and do our business, we no longer look out for separate interests, but operate from the standpoint of perfect oneness.

Will solitary experiences of union with God accomplish this? As a rule, I don't think they will, even though the Course acknowledges that they are incredibly helpful along the way. It is quite possible to have a solitary experience of oneness and soon after find yourself behaving like a selfish, separate entity. I remember reading that people who had deep transcendental experiences of oneness through hallucinogenic drugs could, within a few hours, be back in a shouting match over who should do the dishes. The mystical experience of oneness can easily leave the operating belief in separateness intact .

What will undo this operating belief in separateness? Will forgiving my brother within the privacy of my mind do the trick? Forgiveness is the means for getting home, but forgiveness, we are told, will inevitably lead to the experience of mutual joining. If forgiveness were to never lead to this, if it stayed a solitary experience in the mind of one person, I don't think it would be enough. It would be just like the experience of God, something that occurred within the privacy of my mind—the very framework of separation. If I am forgiving him and he is not forgiving me, my brother and I are still having a separate experience. We are doing two separate things, having two separate experiences, living apart in our two separate worlds. On the level of the world, the level on which the ego lives, separateness is still being lived out.

If all we see in our lives is the acting out of separateness, will our minds really become convinced of oneness? If all I ever experience is that I forgive and you don't, will my deep skepticism about our oneness ever really be lifted? The place we are going to is pure, mutually shared oneness. How can I reach this place except through its reflection on earth? This, I believe, is why the Course says things like this:

Salvation must reverse the mad belief in separate thoughts and separate bodies, which lead separate lives and go their separate ways. One function shared by separate minds unites them in one purpose. (W-pI.100.1:2-3)

To really become convinced of oneness, all the way to our marrow, we must experience oneness on the level on which we live. We must share a function with someone else, someone who seems to be separate from us, and thereby find our individual thoughts becoming shared thoughts, our different bodies leading united lives. This, says the author of the Course in a startling passage, is literally the only way to get home,

Each one must share one goal with someone else, and in so doing, lose all sense of separate interests. Only by doing this is it possible to transcend the narrow boundaries the ego would impose upon the self. (P-2.II.8:4-5)

Let's do a thought experiment. Try for a moment to get in touch with your deep-seated belief in separateness. Notice the things you keep secret from others because you don't trust them. Notice how quickly your trust, even when present, can turn to mistrust; your love turn to displeasure. See how you make sure you aren't taken advantage of with your money or your body. See yourself in an argument with a loved one. Note your exasperation; note how impossible it seems that this person will be reasonable and cooperative. All of these things are symptoms of your deep belief that your brother will always operate independently of you. He will always be a potential threat to your interests. You will always have to keep your eye on him. You can never totally trust that you are two fingers on the same hand.

How can this deep-seated belief best be healed? First imagine a relationship in which you alone forgive. You are always the one choosing to see things differently; your brother is always the one staying stuck in his perceptions. You see the Christ in him; he doesn't see the Christ in you. You extend him the gift of your love; he doesn't even seem to unwrap it.

Now imagine a relationship in which "each forgives the other, that he may accept his other half as part of him" (T-27.II.16:7). Imagine a relationship in which we "give redemption to each other and share in it, that we may rise as one in resurrection " (T-19.IV(D).17:5). In this relationship, we give to each other and receive from each other so fully that each interaction becomes a giving/receiving. We lose the ability to tell giving and receiving apart. Our cooperation and sharing become so complete that we literally do feel like two fingers on the same hand. We gain and lose so totally in tandem that we relax and stop looking out for our separate interests. Our separate worlds begin to blend. We start thinking the same thoughts, feeling the same feelings, experiencing the oneness of our minds.

This is the function of your holy relationship. For what one thinks, the other will experience with him. What can this mean except your mind and your brother's are one? (T-22.VI.14:1-3)

Both of the relationships I just described would be powerful teaching devices. Both would be extremely useful on your journey home. But which one would be a more effective earthly mirror of heavenly oneness? Which one would convince you more deeply that oneness was not a theory, but a Fact?


  1. Harry
    Posted July 30, 2012 at 9:01 am | Permalink

    Dear Robert,
    After reading your article, The Ark of Peace is Entered Two by Two, I totally agree with your interpretation that the Holy Relationship (HR) takes two. Having read and taught ACIM for 25 years, I am amazed that it could be taken any differently. My own Inspiration stated early on that we are offering healing involuntarily all the time when we offer unconditional love (forgiveness), but that it did not have to be received by the other at that time. In this case it would be more of a healing relationship.
    A HR would be where two join together that do not see their interests as different. Many ACIM students ask for their special relationships to be converted to a HR. This the Holy Spirit happily does, but the path can be rocky. The Holy Spirit also brings two together who are ready (T-20.IV.5). Luckily that was my path. Also, since unconditional love (UL) cannot by definition be contained, the teacher of God is continually offering a HR to anyone or healing to those who are not yet ready to share a unified goal. It also seems to me that the only unified goal is one where the ego is absent, and that would be an expression of UL.

  2. Joe Kelley
    Posted July 30, 2012 at 9:02 am | Permalink

    Hi Robert,

    I have to count myself as one who respectfully disagrees with your opinion that "the Arc of peace is entered two by two." To me it comes down to the oft discussed question of form vs. content. In my reading of the Course, it seems that requiring the holy relationship to assume some kind of form in order to express the content of formlessness (Oneness) is completely antithetical to its teaching. In your example of the brother with whom your attempts at developing a joint purpose are continually rebuffed—well, isn't that really all about you? It has nothing to do with your brother. You are the one who is continuing to see his/her recalcitrance as an attack on Truth. Furthermore, your brother is not a separate and stubborn unenlightened soul—he/she is YOU. There is only YOU—there is only the ONE. What appears as a separate person is just a dream figure, a form of fragmentation and separateness projected by a sick mind onto the One. In fact, the "you" who is doing the joining doesn't exist either. For example, the Joe I believe I am, my story of past, present, and future in a world peopled by other people with similar stories—it's pure fiction. My truth is that there is the One—I am that.

    To me, the Course's message is simple: There is only the One. See the One in all things (through forgiveness) and receive a miracle- and be free.

    -Joe Kelley

  3. Brenda
    Posted July 30, 2012 at 9:02 am | Permalink

    Dear Robert,
    Thank you for that article. I have recently been reading the Text around chapters 16 to 19 and wondering about that particular aspect of the Holy Relationship.
    However I am still a bit perplexed, because I wonder, given this interpretation, how we progress on our spiritual path if other people don't/won't join with us in our spiritual goals? Perhaps the answer lies in what you say at the beginning of the article and I quote:

    for a relationship to be holy—as A Course in Miracles defines a holy relationship&mdas;two individuals must both join in a common goal. They don't need to both be Course students; the common goal need not be spiritual or even articulated; but both need to have joined in it.

    I have always thought that a holy relationship consisted of two people joining in their spiritual goals. I will be interested to hear what other people think about this aspect of the issue.

  4. Pam Reuben
    Posted July 30, 2012 at 9:02 am | Permalink

    Hi Robert…
    I most definitely agree with you. I would point out, however, that sometimes that holy relationship is not going to happen if one of the two people has not forgiven the other. In the years just before my mother's death, we had a holy relationship BUT it would never have happened if The Holy Spirit had not shown me a way to look at her and our relationship on earth in a manner that freed both of us from blame. It was because of forgiveness, undertaken at first only by one, that in her last days we were able to join together and love each other and talk and learn about God. This was so very important because my mother was afraid of dying, even in her 90s she was afraid; but as we talked about God and 'the other side' and His Love for us, this fear disappeared. When she died, she was here with us receiving hospice care at home. I called the nurse and she came over and verified that my mom had passed. Then she turned to me and said this, "My dear, I have done this work for several years and when people die of bone cancer they are in such pain that the body looks distorted and the face is a mask of agony. This is how they look when they are dead. But your mother, I have never seen such peace. She looks like she closed her eyes and, totally relaxed, just left. I'm telling you I have never seen this."
    My mother's peaceful passing (not to mention her lack of pain despite having bone cancer) would not have happened without that forgiveness that formed the foundation on which our Holy Relationship was built.
    Pam Reuben

  5. Eric
    Posted August 13, 2012 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    Hi Robert,
    Is it not possible the reason people disagree with you is that most have read other authors pontificate a theology of "pure non-duality" in which the goal is to reduce everything down to a numerical number? And in reading these authors rather than really studying the course, have simply adopted this theology and are now simply repeating it as their own "knowledge"?
    Most authors I have read that write about the course are not very original. Quite a few simply repeat Wapnick's current views (and as you pointed have dramatically changed over the years) and try to put their own twist on them, so I take it with a grain of salt when there is a consensus as to the Holy relationship not involving others.
    It's very difficult to have a relationship with a brother when trying to work it into a theology of "pure non-dualism" which the course never uses the term once throughout the entire course. IMO, this theology being propogated has created a distorted type solipsism. This solipsism creates a view to the central person that instead of everyone being a brother to join in relationship and communication, everyone else is merely reduced to being an ego fragment, an object to be used for the central person's own "salvation". There is no relationship, because in this view there is no brother. As the course tells us:
    In sleep you are alone, and your awareness is narrowed to yourself. And that is why the nightmares come. You dream of isolation because your eyes are closed. You do not see your brothers, and in the darkness you cannot look upon the light you gave to them.~ACIM
    Is it not odd that the solution in reductionist non-dual solipsism is to then deny the reality of our brothers? It is not much different than what ACIM is pointing out in the preceding passage. The following passage speaks about the problem that needs to be corrected, yet with reductionist non-dual solipsism, this passages seems to be the answer or reality of the situation.
    You communicate with no one, and you are as isolated from reality as if you were alone in all the universe. In your madness, you overlook reality completely, and you see only your own split mind everywhere you look. God calls you and you do not hear, for you are preoccupied with your own voice. And the vision of Christ is not in your sight, for you look upon yourself alone.~ACIM
    IMO, the course attempts to heal/correct our mind intrapersonally through interpersonal relationships. As the course tells us that in time we exist with and for our brothers and in Eternity we co-exist with God. Also as the course tells us in the miracle principles, that miracles are interpersonal in nature and depend on cooperation to make minds (will) one in God, because the Sonship is the sum of all (the souls ~UrText, HLC) that God created.
    In the earlier texts, Jesus explains the meaning of, "I and my Father are one." He goes on to say, "Are of one kind." He then goes onto explain this further when he says, "The real meaning of "are of one kind," which was mentioned before, is "are of one mind or will." When the will of the Sonship and the Father are one, their perfect accord is Heaven."
    In the section of the Original Edition called the Healed Relationship, the course explains the beginning process of a relationship between two individuals from an unholy relationship to a holy relationship when it says, "It would not be kinder to shift the goal more slowly, for the contrast would be obscured and the ego given time to reinterpret each slow step according to its liking. Only a radical shift in purpose could induce a complete change of mind about what the whole relationship is for. As this change develops and is finally accomplished, it grows increasingly beneficent and joyous. But at the beginning, the situation is experienced as very precarious. A relationship undertaken by two individuals for their unholy purposes suddenly has holiness for its goal. As these two contemplate their relationship from the point of view of this new purpose, they are inevitably appalled. Their perception of the relationship may even become quite disorganized. And yet, the former organization of their perception no longer serves the purpose they have agreed to meet."~ACIM
    Yet, if one is going to stick to the theology of a reductionist solipsism in which there cannot be any brothers, then this cannot be. There is no cooperation. there is no communication. There are no minds joining. There is only one central person walking around calling everyone they see their ego fragments and using them as objects to further project what they are already projecting. Yet the course states:
    God's Will is your salvation. Would He not have given you the means to find it? If He wills you to have it, He must have made it possible and very easy to obtain it. Your brothers are everywhere. You do not have to seek far for salvation. Every minute and every second gives you a chance to save yourself. Do not lose these chances, not because they will not return, but because delay of joy is needless. God wills you perfect happiness now. Is it possible that this is not also your will? And is it possible that this is not also the will of your brothers?~ACIM,
    The non-duality that the course puts forth is not the reduction to everything down to a numerical number one. It is the Thoughts of God that have no opposite. The Will of God and His creations have no true opposite. This is the non-dual (if one were to use this term) aspect that the course is conveying. The Son of God is not a persona. It is not a who, but a what. As the course clearly explains what the Son of God is. The sum of all (the souls~UrText, HLC) that God created. The Son is the Sonship. God is the Giver of Life, so it would not be a stretch to say the Sonship could be called Life itself.
    As the course asks and answers the question of what is creation in lesson 321, when it says: What is Creation? Creation is the sum of all God's Thoughts, in number infinite and everywhere without all limit. Only Love creates and only like Itself. There was no time when all that It created was not there. Nor will there be a time when anything that It created suffers any change. Forever and forever are God's Thoughts exactly as they were and as they are, unchanged through time and after time is done."~ACIM
    Creation is the sum of all God's Thoughts, in number INFINITE, NOT FINITE. As the lesson continues about the Son of God when it says, "We are Creation-we the Sons of God."~ACIM
    "This communication is the Will of God. Creation and communication are synonymous. God created every mind by communicating His Mind to it, thus establishing it forever as a channel for the reception of His Mind and Will. Since only beings of a like order can truly communicate, His creations naturally communicate with Him and like Him."~ACIM

  6. Martin Pettet
    Posted January 24, 2016 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think this question is about duality versus non-duality. The Course clearly teaches both, seeing nothing strange or contradictory in doing so. In this it is in line with most of the great spiritual masters, who venerate both knowledge and devotion at the same time.
    I think the issue here is about who is being addressed in the sections of the Course pertaining to relationships, particularly holy relationships. Who is the ‘brother’ that is spoken about constantly throughout the text, with the central message being that we should forgive him to find our own salvation or Atonement?
    There are passages in the text that refer to specifically two people, mostly between chapters 17 and 22, but there are many other references to relationship that do not, even within those chapters. And there are certain sections (notably “The Healed Relationship,” Ch.17) that almost appear in the form of a contract between two individual people. I think everybody can agree that the two people referred to in these sections, at one level, represent Helen and Bill, and possibly occasionally, also Helen and Louis, her husband. Helen is the initial ‘you’ that Jesus is addressing in the Course.
    But every relationship referred to, including thosereferred to in these sections, is also meant to be a surrogate for every other – including every other of Helen’s relationships. We soon learn that a holy relationship must, by its very nature, apply to all relationships. That is, every single relationship we have, however trivial. must have all the sinlessness and innocence of a holy relationship or none of them do. Most of these relationships, of course, are not mutual decisions for holiness. But every one has in its essence the potential to realize a holiness that could be recognized by both parties.
    The Ark is entered two by two because you can only theoretically have a relationship with only one person at a time. We forgive each person separately, not together. Of course, time is itself an illusion so it all really happens at once.
    Can we not simply accept that every time the Course refers to two people it is Helen and Bill (or Louis) and leave it at that. Do we have to assume that we ourselves are being asked to go out and find another person with whom to have a formal holy relationship? I don’t believe this follows, and I don’t see any evidence for it in the Course. The holy relationship there just happens, and I think it is expected to “just happen” for each one of us in our own unique ways. Very often it does so in the context of an existing special relationship, and there are many passages in the Course contrasting the two that seem to have been written with this scenario in mind. There are an unlimited range of possibilities regarding the relative awareness of the two parties. But certainly there is also always the possibility of both parties becoming fully aware of the holiness at some point in time, and that is surely where the real miracle always is?

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