by Beverly Hutchinson McNeff
“The holiest of all the spots on earth is where
an ancient hatred has become a present love.” (T-26.IX.6)
This is one of the most beautiful phrases in A Course in Miracles. We can all agree that our hatreds are such a burden to carry, and they also seem nearly impossible to release. That is why, though, we study A Course in Miracles; we need a miracle to help us heal.
“This world is full of miracles. They stand in shining silence next to every dream of pain and suffering, of sin and guilt.” (T-28.II.12)
A miracle becomes a shift from our focus on the suffering and sin of a hateful world to the reality of love that stands next to these mistaken dreams. What could be more sought after in today’s contentious world than this experience? With dangerous threats of war by world leaders, hateful rhetoric toward those of different races and religions, and the loss of respect for each other and the values our founding fathers fought for, this has become a time when we need the birth of Christ, the sanity a miracle can bring, more than ever.
These seeming divides may appear deep, but they were also deep during the time Jesus walked the world. There was great injustice inflicted by the ruling power of Rome and the religious zealots of the time, but one man’s message of peace was heard and continues to be echoed today. This should give us faith and hope because that same help Jesus came to remind us of over two thousand years ago is here now. This is the gift the Holy Spirit holds out to us as we look at these ancient hatreds presented once again and move past them to love. When this is our intent, healing is not only possible but inevitable.
“God’s Word has promised that peace is possible here, and what He promises can hardly be impossible. But it is true that the world must be looked at differently, if His promises are to be accepted. What the world is, is but a fact. You cannot choose what this should be. But you can choose how you would see it. Indeed, you must choose this.” (M-11.1)
As the holiday season rolls around, I am reminded of one of my favorite movies, Ben-Hur. I know there have been remakes of this classic, but nothing will replace for me the 1959 epic starring Charlton Heston. Many of us have seen the movie and remember not only the iconic chariot race but also the movie’s powerful message focusing on the release of hatred. Even though the film does not often use the word forgiveness, it is the pervasive theme. But here’s a piece of trivia for you. Did you know the movie was based on a novel written by a Civil War general?
Lewis Wallace had served as a Union army general in the American Civil War, and in 1880, his novel, Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ, was published. It quickly became “the most influential Christian book of the nineteenth century.” Upon its release, it became a bestseller and even surpassed in sales the then-current leader, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
Juxtapose these two notions: a general in one of the bloodiest and most divisive wars our country has fought writes one of the most influential novels about the transforming power of forgiveness. The movie’s culmination is not a worldly victory over persecutors but the hero’s victory over persecution as he awakens to the transforming power of forgiveness that takes away his hate and need for revenge. Perhaps Ben-Hur is so compelling and enduring because it was written by a warrior who could understand the critical need for the healing balm of forgiveness amid such hatred.
In the movie, we see the charmed life of a Jewish prince (Judah Ben-Hur) destroyed in an instant by a childhood friend, Messala, a Roman who has come back from Rome to rule Jerusalem with an iron fist. Over a misunderstanding, Messala unjustly enslaves Judah and imprisons his mother and sister. Judah’s life as he knows it is destroyed, but these events also start him on a journey that will parallel the life of Christ. Judah has moments in which his life intersects with Jesus, but most of the time, these miraculous moments are lost to Judah because his mind is filled with hate and revenge.
One of the powerful aspects of the movie is that we never really see or experience Jesus directly; we only get glimpses of him and his effects on Judah. In one scene, Judah is in chains, marching with a group of slaves through the desert to an unknown fate. The slaves are brought to a small village where Jesus happens to live. As Jesus offers the thirsty and demoralized Judah a cup of water, the cup is kicked out of his hands by his Roman captor. Jesus’ life-giving act is denied Judah, making him more hateful of his captors. The miracle standing in shining silence next to Judah’s hate is not recognized, and so the hatred goes on.
Judah is told of this remarkable man (Jesus) as the movie continues, but in each of these encounters, Judah’s hate denies him the miracle that could heal him. Through a series of events, Judah rises to prominence again, as he has been embraced by Rome as a citizen and a victorious charioteer. His worldly success, however, cannot extinguish his loathing for what Rome stands for, especially when he learns that his mother and sister, whom he thought were dead, are still alive but living in the valley of lepers. Leprosy, at that time, was considered a fate worse than death.
Even though Messala, the man who started the circus of insanity, is dead, Judah’s thirst for vengeance is not quenched. He wants “blood” and blames all of Rome for the inhumane treatment of his family. Here is where his life intersects with Jesus again, as Judah ends up at the foot of Christ at his crucifixion. It is here that Judah experiences Jesus’ powerful message of forgiveness in the face of what the world would call an unjust act perpetrated on a man who had only taught peace. The irony is not lost on Judah, who, in that moment, experiences the miracle of forgiveness that releases him from his vengeance. As he recounts later, “I felt him (Jesus) take the sword out of my hand.” Forgiveness had won the day, not hate and a craving for what the world calls “justice.”
As you view the story of Ben-Hur and its message of the redemptive gift of forgiveness to heal a warrior, it makes sense that a Civil War general, who probably saw the need for a country and people to come together past their rights and wrongs, would want to bring forth this healing message.
Wallace’s character, Judah Ben-Hur, becomes all of us as we journey through a world of hate and injustice. We constantly have moments of connection with Christ, but perhaps we are missing them because of preoccupation with our judgments and anger. Forgiveness does not just come at the foot of Christ, but in every moment that we turn to love, seeking unity instead of separation — and experience a miracle instead of pain.
Forgiveness can heal our lives. Even if we cannot figure out how it is possible, forgiveness can miraculously take the sword out of our hands. We are not asked to deny the feelings we are experiencing, but we must honestly look at them and decide if the perpetuation of hate, pain, and suffering is really what we want. If we are ready to allow our ancient hates to be healed, then it is time to take the Hand of One Who will offer a healing answer to release us and show us the present love.
Isn’t it time for a miracle? Are you willing to let God’s Answer heal your mind? As the Course tells us, a miracle stands next to every thought of hate you are holding onto. Peace is possible here because peace is God’s Will for us, but for us to experience that peace, we must change our minds about the purpose of the world. It is not a place to dominate, attack, and only win; it is a healing ground to teach us the holiest of all spots on earth is where ancient hatreds become present experiences of love and unity.
May you have a healed and holy holiday season.