Do all holy relationships start out as conflict-filled special relationships?

Question: I've heard that all holy relationships start out as special relationships. And from the descriptions in the Text, it sounds like the relationship that eventually becomes a holy relationship is a difficult, conflict-filled relationship with major forgiveness issues. Is it possible for a relationship to start out as a holy relationship?

Answer: It is true that this description fits the holy relationship as described in the Text. Yet to really survey the phenomenon as a whole, we need to look at all the holy relationship discussions in the Course and its supplements.

The holy relationship described in the Text is specifically Helen and Bill's. That holy relationship therefore fits the pattern of their relationship—starting out as a special relationship filled with major issues, and then coming to one pivotal moment in which the two join in a common goal, which allows holiness to enter the relationship.

In the Manual for Teachers, though, we find a very different scenario. There, a teacher accepts his calling and as a result, his pupils "begin to look for him" (M-2.1:1). Eventually, "the pupil comes at the right time to the right place" (M-2.4:4), and the two meet. Once they meet, they "join together for learning purposes" (M-2.5:3), specifically to "learn the same course" (M-2.5:7)—the same path. By joining in this common purpose, they initiate a holy relationship, as the Manual explicitly states: "The relationship is holy because of that purpose" (M-2.5:4).

Clearly, this doesn't sound as if the two had some hairy, thorny history leading up to the beginning of their holy relationship. Rather, it sounds as if, once they met, the pupil and teacher shared some kind of mutual recognition that they belonged in a teacher-pupil relationship, which they then embarked on. It sounds (and probably is) as simple as that.

Indeed, the Manual (in the next section) gives a specific example of this very process. Here, two students happen to "walk home together" (M-3.2:2). For a moment, they "lose sight of separate interests" (M-3.2:6) and thus they enter into "a teaching-learning situation"—the Manual's term for a teacher-pupil relationship. Presumably, in this case it is an informal one in which one of them is the "teacher" and the other is the "pupil." This teacher-pupil relationship may be brief or it may be lifelong. My point is that they passed from strangers into a holy relationship without any intervening special relationship.

Then in the Psychotherapy supplement, we find another picture. There, a patient comes to a therapist. The two of them don't, however, form a holy relationship immediately, because they don't have a common goal. "At the beginning…the patient's goal and the therapist's are at variance" (P-2.In.3:1). The patient's goal is to keep his self-concept "exactly as it is, but without the suffering that it entails" (P-2.In.2:3), while the therapist's goal is to change the patient "in some way that he believes is real" (P-2.In.4:1). Therefore, in order to have a holy relationship, the two will have to "give up their original goals" (P-2.In.4:3) and find a way "of reconciling these differences" (P-2.In.4:2). They will have to find a common goal at which they can meet.

Again, it doesn't sound as if these two people share any messy personal history. Rather, it sounds like a patient and therapist meeting and going through a process of finding a shared goal for their therapy, so that they can both pull in the same direction. Maybe this process will be messy, maybe it won't.

Then in The Song of Prayer, there is yet another snapshot of the holy relationship (S-1.IV). This is between people who might be called prayer partners. Their joining is all about praying together. It is not a perfect joining, in that they will probably join in asking for external things rather than for "the goal that prayer should truly seek" (S-1.IV.2:4)—God. But it is a real joining, made possible by the fact that each has grown to the point where he can genuinely want the same outcome for the other as he wants for himself. This makes it possible for the two to want a common goal, even if that goal changes in external conditions induced by prayer—isn't the purest thing in the world.

Here again there is no indication of a prior difficult relationship shared by the two. There could have been one there, but there is no mention of it. All that is mentioned is that each person has reached a stage in his development at which he can want for another what he wants for himself.

What we see from these different examples of the holy relationship is clear: holy relationships take different forms, and thus have different histories that lead up to them. They can be preceded by a long, contentious relationship between two colleagues (Helen and Bill in the Text). They can form when a teacher and pupil meet and decide to walk the same path (the teacher-pupil relationship in the Manual). They can begin when a therapist and patient finally reconcile their initially conflicting goals (the Psychotherapy supplement). Or they can start when each person has developed enough to want the same things for both himself and another, thus allowing the two to ask for the same things in prayer (prayer partners in The Song of Prayer).

The road there may be different, but the place reached is the same. In each case, two people find their way to the point where they sincerely desire the exact same goal. That is what inaugurates a holy relationship. We can get there in many different ways. What's important is that we get there.

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