On Sunday, February 24, 2008, Rev. Tony Ponticello addressed the congregation at the Community Miracles Center in San Francisco, CA. What follows is a lightly edited transcription of that lecture.
Exactly a year ago today we hosted our big conference in San Francisco in 2007. If you remember, as a celebration at the end of the conference for the volunteers and a few others we had an Academy Awards party up at the hotel suite. Tonight the Academy Awards are being held. That conference was, “An Opportunity To Gladden Yourself.” Four hundred and seventy seven people took that opportunity. It was great.
Exactly one year from now, in 2009, we will be at the same hotel hosting our next conference, “A Blessing From The Abundance Of Our Grandeur.” I’m happy to announce that currently 412 people have enrolled for that. This is double the number we had at the equivalent time for the 2007 conference. This is amazing. Every time Rev. Larry and I think about how many people have enrolled we’re very happy and in awe of the whole process.
This conference enthusiasm is interesting to us because this is not what we had planned for the Community Miracles Center. This is not how we had envisioned ourselves during the first few years of our operation. We envisioned ourselves more of a local church that put out a publication, not as an organization that hosted big international conferences. However, this has become an ability that we developed. We’ve honed it through doing 25 Miracle Experiences but there’s something else important about it. The ability to do these conferences was a gift that was given to us. In truth, it has been our salvation. If we had not had these conferences to do, if we didn’t have the “income remaining” that these conferences have brought to us, I don’t know what we would be doing to keep financially solvent. It has definitely been what has greatly helped Community Miracles Center keep the doors open.
Doing this ministry here in San Francisco, with the small local numbers that we have, is somewhat of an impossible situation. As A Course In Miracles tells us, when you are in an impossible situation, and you trust your direction, you can develop abilities that provide you with a way to get out of that impossible situation. This ability that we have to do conferences and make them events that people truly want to come to is a unique ability and this one seems to be headed towards a sell out which means that every conference that we have done has had more people coming to it . We’re very grateful. This ability is helping us here at Community Miracles Center.
The Democrats, right now, perceive themselves to be in an impossible situation. It is very probably that the primary, caucus season is going to end without a clear winner of the process. When you listen to the political pundits, and I love listening to the pundits, they universally talk about how disastrous this will be for the Democratic party – not to have a clear winner. Nancy Pelosi, our San Francisco Representative, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, has also said that it will be a terrible thing for the Democratic party not to have a clear winner going into the convention which will be held at the end of August in Denver, CO.
I just found out this morning that our Nancy is actually going to chair that convention on August 25th through 28th, in Denver. Nancy Pelosi will preside over that convention. Everybody says that it will be not good for the Democrats if there is not a clear winner.
I hear that. I think about it. I really want to bless A Course In Miracles. The Course has taught me to question everything. I don’t accept things just because everybody is saying that they are true. How would the pundits and politicians know if a brokered convention would be a good thing for or a bad thing for the party. It hasn’t happened since 1952. (laughter) That’s a long time ago. That’s the year I was born. There weren’t televisions in homes, for the most part, in 1952. It was a very different societal landscape in 1952.
I have the guidance that it might be the best thing that could possibly happen for the Democratic party because it’s exciting. It’s interesting. If there’s not a clear winner going into the convention millions and millions and millions of people’s eyes are going to be: glued to that television set, watching that convention, listening to those speeches, and getting involved. The people watching are not all going to be Democrats either. There will be millions of Republicans listening, watching and getting involved. They will hear Democrats speak that they probably would otherwise not hear speak. I’m not that interested in the Republican Convention because we know who the Republican nominee is going to be. If we go into the Democratic convention not knowing who the nominee is going to be I think a lot of people are going to be watching the convention who would not normally watch it – including a lot of Republicans. This might be the first time many of these people actually listen to Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. It could be great for the Democrats. I think this election: with the involvement, with the interest, with the positive excitement, with the empowerment that it is producing is an amazing thing. It’s wonderful to watch. The Democrats will develop an ability to get through the impossible situation that they think they are in. I’m sure of it.
Here at the Community Miracles Center we have developed all kinds of abilities to get through the impossible situations that we have presented to us. We’ve developed this ability to master the internet. I don’t know if anyone ever really masters the internet. The internet is more of a technological wave that one rides like a surfer. I don’t think you can ever really master it. However, one of the reasons why we have 412 people enrolled for the 2009 conference is because we have a powerful internet presence. A lot of our publicity goes out over the internet. Ninety per cent of the people that enroll, maybe more than 90%, enroll through the internet. That’s how it happens. If we didn’t have the ability to do that, if we hadn’t miraculously developed that ability, this wouldn’t be happening for us. It was never an ability Rev. Larry and I thought about developing early on. It was not something we knew we would have to develop, but there were specific situations that called for it.
I had a very challenging week this week. One of the things that was challenging was that it was time for me to create some new web pages. I had to create the form that would enable people to pay the remainder of their conference fees. We have forms that allow people to register and pay a deposit, or to register and pay in full, but we didn’t have any form that allowed people to pay their remainders. This year it is complicated because we wanted to create forms that worked as well for international registrations as they worked for people who registered from the United States. This wasn’t true for the 2007 conference. For the 2007 conference our form was designed for people who registered from the United States. We didn’t think we’d get that much international registration. We did get a fair amount of it and many who registered internationally encountered problems because the form wasn’t set up for that. This conference we wanted to solve those problems so it meant all new forms and all new scripts.
Let me tell you a little bit about the internet. When we say we have web pages, you need to know – well you don’t need to know but I’m going to tell you anyway – our web site isn’t here in the office. It isn’t hosted here in San Francisco. It’s actually in a computer in Tampa, Florida. That’s where it is. That computer in Tampa, Florida runs using the computer operating system software named UNIX. I’m a Macintosh person. I don’t know UNIX. To get our web site to work, it has to have programs in it that will run on a UNIX machine. It’s very complicated. To get our form scripts to work, our 2009 conference enrollment forms, means that I have to write little programs called “scripts” in a computer programming language named Perl. I don’t know Perl. These scripts are called .cgi programs. I don’t have this ability. To me, it seems like an impossible situation.
However, in an impossible situation you have to develop abilities. It’s amazing how those abilities do come. I think it’s great that we are developing these abilities and reaching out in a global way. We now have three Supporting Members that are in other countries. We have Luus Van Leeuwen in The Netherlands, Shanker Rao also in The Netherlands and William Lee Harragin from the United Kingdom. It’s important to make our web site internationally friendly. It’s important for us to get all these things working.
On Wednesday and Thursday I was, once again, just about in tears over trying to get these programs to work because this was way beyond my skill set. Also this week our printer broke down. We’re very printer dependent. If you wonder why you have a black and white Sunday Service program this week it’s because our regular color printer isn’t working. It broke down on Tuesday. I was on the phone for hours and hours this week trying to get a technician out here. They are supposed to be here within 24 hours but there were a lot of mix-ups and problems. When a technician finally did come out on Friday, he told us he was the wrong type of technician to handle the kind of problem our printer had. It was a problem with the printer’s computer, not a problem with the printer copier itself. We have to now wait for the network, computer specialist for these machines.
I also had some personal problems and other troubling issues this week that were bothering me. As these things piled up, I believe it was Wednesday night, Thursday morning, I woke up in the middle of the night spinning all these problems, thinking about them. How were we going to print Miracles Monthly? Miracles Monthly is printed by our currently broken printer and Miracles Monthly is already so late. How are we going to get these forms on the internet? There are deadlines coming up. My mind kept thinking about all of these things that I needed to do and I was scared. I woke up in the middle of the night scared. I sometimes do wake up in the middle of the night in fear. I know many of you probably have your own “dark nights of the soul” from time to time.
It’s interesting, when you have that feeling it feels like, “I need to do something!” I need to get up right now at 3:30 a.m. and start working! Do something! (laughter) It’s a very bizarre feeling – driven. Again, God bless A Course In Miracles, because the one line that came to me was, “I need do nothing.” (Tx.Or.Ed.18.67) I told myself, “I don’t have to do anything right now. I can just lie here in bed and rest. I can rest to the best of my ability. If my sleep is fitful, it will still be much better than getting up and trying to work. The work will still be there tomorrow. It will all be fine.”
A Course In Miracles says, “When peace comes at last to those who wrestle with temptation and fight against the giving in to sin; when the light comes at last into the mind given to contemplation; or when the goal is finally achieved by anyone, it always comes with just one happy realization: I need do nothing.” (Tx.Or.Ed.18.67) That was a very comforting realization for me, in the middle of the night, this past week.
“I need do nothing” is one of those lines that there is a lot of confusion about in A Course In Miracles circles, because people apply it to all kinds of situations where it might not be appropriate. I’ve had people use it against me. People will tell me that I must be off the mark because I’m always so busy doing things and I’m concerned about what I still have to do. They will say to me, “Tony, don’t you know that you need do nothing?” Then I’ll quote a line like this, “Let us not rest content until the world has joined our changed perception. Let us not be satisfied until forgiveness has been made complete. And let us not attempt to change our function. We must save the world. For we who made it must behold it through the eyes of Christ, that what was made to die be restored to Everlasting Life.” (Wk.Or.Ed.240.7)
Sometimes A Course in Miracles says “I need do nothing.” Sometimes A Course In Miracles tells us, “Let us not rest content ....” We have to integrate and apply those ideas appropriately. Those ideas are corrections for particular errors that we are making. Both are equally true. They do not have to conflict, unless we’re attached to seeing conflict. The Course isn’t consistent in that way. It’s consistent in that it always corrects the errors of our mind. At different times we need both of those corrections. In one place in the Text it tries to reconcile these two seemingly conflicting ideas. It says, “Yet there will always be this place of rest to which you can return. And you will be more aware of this quiet center of the storm than all its raging activity. This quiet center, in which you do nothing, will remain with you, giving you rest in the midst of every busy doing on which you are sent.” (Tx.Or.Ed.18.70)
The true meaning of “I need do nothing” is that at the center of your being – at your perfection, at your core – you don’t need to do anything. Your perfection is already established. You can hold onto that center of “doing nothing” in the midst of all the busy doings that the Holy Spirit is going to send you on. I believe, in my life, the Holy Spirit does send me on many busy doings and, hopefully, I can hold onto the reality of “I need do nothing” and understand how both of these ideas can work practically in my life.
I do want to take a moment to thank Robert Howard, who is a member of our Board Of Directors. He’s been involved with the Community Miracles Center for many, many years. He’s a web professional and he gives us a lot of free web work and internet development advice. We would not be able to do what we do on the internet without Robert Howard helping us. He solved the problem of my .cgi scripts that weren’t working. I know you don’t care but I’m going to tell you anyway. It was an encoding problem. The scripts needed to be encoded using the Western ISO 1 coding standard and I wasn’t encoding them that way. That’s why they wouldn’t work. Now I know. In order for these programs to work on that UNIX computer in Tampa, Florida they need to be encoded in Western ISO 1. By Friday they were all working flawlessly. It was great. I spent all day Friday tweaking them. The forms are beautiful and they all work.
A Course In Miracles says, “Abilities must be developed, or you cannot use them. This is not true of anything that God created, but it is the kindest solution possible to what you have made. In an impossible situation, you can develop your abilities to the point where they can get you out of it. You have a Guide to how to develop them, but you have no commander except yourself. This leaves you in charge of the Kingdom with both a Guide to find it and a means to keep it.” (Tx.Or.Ed.6.53)
We can always develop whatever abilities we need no matter how impossible the situation appears to be as long as we keep moving towards the goal. We must keep asking for help, asking for help internally and asking for help externally. We have to find the help internally and we have to find the help externally. We must keep moving towards the goal. We will enter the Kingdom. I like how the Course used the term “Kingdom” in the previous quotation. Living in “the Kingdom” is the ability to live anywhere: in peace, in dignity, in joy and in some kind of state of transcendent grace. When we can do that we can be here in the world in peace, dignity, and transcendent grace. We can be here in joy. We can be here reflecting an identity of a higher order of being. That’s what it means for me, right now, to be in the Kingdom. I want to be here in the world, but I want the nature of my being to reflect the divinity that is truly me.
It was difficult week. The day after I was having all these problems, and I was feeling a little low, I had an interesting experience. It was a little gift I was given. An angel popped into my life. I’m going to tell you about it.
There’s a personality in our Castro neighborhood. Maybe you know him; maybe you don’t. His name is Gregg Cassin. He has been very big in the AIDS healing movement. He was diagnosed HIV positive probably 20 years ago. In 1989 he started a metaphysical healing circle that was simply called, “The Healing Circle” and it used to meet every week. At its high point he had well over 100 people coming every week. I believe it was on Wednesday night. It met not far from here. Lots of people were going there. Lot’s of people were getting high off of it. People were very inspired. He’s an inspiring person, very charismatic. He was a good looking, young, attractive man. The Healing Circle was really working for a long time.
I remember that gathering very specifically because the Community Miracles Center had been here on Market Street two or three years at that time. The Community Miracles Center’s local congregation has always been rather small. We’ve been a little bigger than it is now but we’ve always had a small local congregation. On and off, all throughout our history in this neighborhood, there have occasionally been people who come and try to give Rev. Larry and I advice about how to get our local congregation bigger. There were several who told us, “You really should go do what Gregg Cassin does because he’s got 120 people coming every week. He’s just saying the same things that you are. Go check out The Healing Circle. Maybe you could pick up a little of that.” That usually feels a little hard to us. We know these people mean well. It’s a little strange because we always feel we are doing the best that we can. We don’t know what else we can do. Sporadically, there’s been a few of very popular local teachers. I won’t get into the names of all the teachers and ministers who, at least for awhile, drew big crowds and were very successful.
A couple of years after Gregg Cassin was doing The Healing Circle he had Marianne Williamson come to speak at a big event held at the Palace Of Fine Arts. Through the income that this Marianne Williamson event generated Gregg Cassin opened up a healing center in this neighborhood named The San Francisco Center For Living. This healing center was located near here on 18th Street. They took over an entire, large flat. They had a formal intake procedure for those who wanted services. They offered: massage, counseling, healing groups, social functions and more. There were a lot of volunteers and even some paid staff for awhile. Gregg was in charge. A nonprofit was formed. They were asking for volunteer counselors. I thought it was a worthy project so I volunteered to be a counselor there for a year. That’s when I had a few meetings and conversations with Gregg. He knew me and he knew what we did here at the Community Miracles Center. He was always very nice. He’s a very nice man. I completed my year commitment as a volunteer counselor and then let go of that involvement. This new healing center seemed to be going very well for a time. However, after about two years, they couldn’t get new funding. Marianne Williamson stopped doing big fund raisers for them and they had to close The San Francisco Center For Living. The Healing Circle ran for awhile but then that faded and closed as well.
Gregg Cassin is still active. He’s active with an organization named AIDS Medicine and Miracles. He’s on their board and he’s a speaker for them. He’s doing his thing and I know he went through some changes as his two big projects didn’t carry through.
I see him every once in awhile on the street. If wave or nod so does he. Sometimes I think he doesn’t recognize me. I don’t know. This week after my dark, fearful night I was in the cafe across the street, Cafe Flore, getting a coffee to go. There was Gregg. Gregg looked at me and said, “Hi Tony.” I don’t remember him ever calling me by name in many, many years. The fact that he even remembered my name was unusual. I got my coffee and then I went over and said, “Hi Gregg. How’s it going?” He said, “You know it’s interesting that I see you because I was just walking by your center the other day. I looked at it and I thought about you. You have been doing that center for so long. How do you do it?” (laughter) “How do you keep that going? I know the work that it must take. Do you work all the time?” I answered, “Yes, pretty much and I have a partner and other help.” (laughter) Greg continued, “I don’t think people understand how hard it is to do what you are doing.”
I haven’t had a conversation with Gregg Cassin in about 15 years. Getting just that little bit of recognition from someone outside our immediate community meant so much in that moment. He knew what hard work it must take to keep the Community Miracles Center open. It cheered me up. I felt God had sent me an angel, someone outside our circle who recognized that we were still here. Gregg knew that we were here many years ago and he understood that this meant something.
In truth, the answer to how do you keep it going is you just keep showing up. You just keep the doors open. You do whatever you need to do to keep the doors open and keep showing up. There’s a famous saying, “Ninety percent of success is just showing up.” It’s usually attributed to Woody Allen. I’m not sure that Woody Allen is the person who originated it, but apparently he did say this at one point. “Ninety percent of success is just showing up.”
A Course In Miracles wants us to keep showing up. It wants us to keep working on these projects we have to work on. One of the important projects that it wants us to work on is healing the insidious process that we have in our own mind of fear, like I had the other night. It’s a disease process. I think the Course wants us to think of it like a disease process. It’s our mind not functioning well. It’s our mind not functioning in a healthy way. We have to heal this disease of our mind that keeps bringing up fear.
It’s usually associated with some form of body fear. Therefore it’s associated with some form of the death fear. A Course In Miracles wants us to continually confront that. We continually confront the idea that our ego thought system tells us that we are bodies with limited lives and limited powers. ACIM wants us to know that we are not limited. We are not these bodies and we don’t have limited lives. In many places it tells us that we can get this life and this body to be a better reflection of our immortal and divine nature. That’s a tall order.
There’s an idea that has circled around metaphysics for many years. It’s the idea that aging isn’t a natural, healthy process. Aging is actually a disease process. If we would look at it like that then we could try to heal the disease of aging instead of just accepting the fact that this is what is going to happen to us.
I had a conversation with one of our ministers this week. I asked, “What do you think about this idea that aging is really a disease process that we could heal?” That means it’s a disease process of the body that necessarily reflects a disease process going on in our minds. Our minister agreed with that. Later I asked someone else who is in the medical profession about this idea. I think I got more of a, “Are you nuts?” kind of response. (laughter) Aging is just what happens. That’s life. It’s natural. However I think A Course In Miracles is telling us something different. I like to think of fear and aging as a disease process of my mind and it’s a process we are here to heal.
A Course In Miracles says, “Are thoughts then dangerous? To bodies, yes! The thoughts that seem to kill are those which teach the thinker that he can be killed. And so he dies because of what he learned.” (Tx.Or.Ed.21.85) ACIM wants us to continually confront these ideas which tell us about nature and the way it is, that we are part of this natural universe we perceive. I like to declare, “Nature isn’t natural.” I have an article by that name on our web site. Here’s another passage that confronts these ideas more directly, “Is it not madness to think of life as being born, aging, losing vitality, and dying in the end? ... It is the one fixed, unchangeable belief of the world that all things in it are born only to die. This is regarded as ‘the way of nature,’ not to be raised to question but to be accepted as the ‘natural’ law of life. The cyclical, the changing and unsure, the undependable and the unsteady, waxing and waning in a certain way upon a certain path – all this is taken as the Will of God. And no one asks if a benign Creator could will this.” (Mn.Or.Ed.27.1)
A Course In Miracles wants us to tackle this. The Course wants us to see that this nature is actually insanity. It’s insanity to think that we necessarily have to age and die. It’s a form of insanity. It’s a fear based, disease process of our minds. We have to confront it. Certainly it seems impossible. You look at the world. You look at your life and you look at your mind and it seems impossible. How could we possibly confront and rise above this aging process. As I quoted earlier, “In an impossible situation, you can develop your abilities to the point where they can get you out of it.” (Tx.Or.Ed.6.53)
I’ve seen these abilities happen in so many areas of my life. I see this happened with Community Miracles Center. Look at us, how could we possible keep this Center going with this small congregation? Yet we do, year after year after year. Gregg Cassin acknowledged it. Our conference abilities and our internet abilities developed and move us through our impossible situation. Why did this happen? It happened because we kept showing up. We kept the doors open. We keep opening ourselves up to new possibilities and new abilities. The internet happened. The conferences happened. Somehow abilities developed that made the impossible happen. It all works.
I don’t know how we are all going to heal this fear based, disease process of aging that is in our minds, but I know that if we just keep showing up, if we just keep asking for help – both internally and externally – we will heal it. We will rise above this impossible situation. I truly feel blessed that A Course In Miracles has given me this challenge. I feel blessed that it is giving all of us this new perception of things. We just need to keep the door of our mind open to the thought of ageless existence.
I believe this fear based, aging, disease process that is in our minds will be healed. I don’t think we have to age and die the way the world seems to tell us that we have to do it. I dedicate myself to keep showing up and to keep the doors open to that question, to the best of my ability, until the healing has been accomplished and the miracle has happened.
That’s my talk for today. Amen. ♥
c/o Community Miracles Center
2269 Market Street
San Francisco, CA 94114
This article appeared in the January 2008 (Vol. 21 No. 11) issue of Miracles Monthly. Miracles Monthly is published by Community Miracles Center in San Francisco, CA. CMC is supported solely by people just like you who: become CMC Supporting Members, Give Donations and Purchase Books and Products through us.