On Sunday morning, December 9, 2012, Rev. Tony Ponticello addressed the congregation gathered at the Community Miracles Center (CMC) in San Francisco. The San Francisco facility had been closed the Sunday before because the CMC interior was getting painted. The color went from dusty rose to bright white. The people gathered this Sunday were getting a first look at the newly refurbished CMC. Also of special treat was a newly decorated Christmas tree.
Good morning everybody. Welcome to our reconsecrated temple. (laughter) Some years ago Rev. Dusa Althea and I were visiting New York City. We were staying in Manhattan and next to us was an old famous church. I can’t remember the name right now. It was right next to the hotel we were staying in, and we went in to look at it. There was a big sign in the front, after you walked in, that said, “Sinners Repaint.” They were trying to raise money for a repainting project. I’ve been thinking about that. The sign’s message was obviously a take on “Sinners Repent.” (laughter)
“Repaint” is a much better word than “repent,” isn’t it? “Sinners Repaint.”
As you can see, the CMC got repainted – white. The paint job is actually a gift from our own Rev. Rudy Colombini. He paid for the painting. That happened last week: that’s why we had to cancel service last week. Last week at this time, the Center did not look anything like this. (laughter) Let’s have a moment of gratitude and thanks to Rev. Rudy for giving us the gift of this repainted Center. It’s the first time it’s been painted since we moved in over 25 years ago. Thank you Rev. Rudy!
There are some other people I want to thank. I want to thank John Williams. (applause) John came in four times this week to help with the clean up and to dust things, because the painters were .... I don’t want to say too much negative about them, but they were sloppy. (laughter) They didn’t tarp things and mask things to protect them the way they should have. Everything got full of paint and white paint dust, even if it wasn’t painted, like the office, which they didn’t even go into because the sprayed paint went in through the crack under the door. The store room also got full of paint dust this way. It’s been quite an ordeal to clean everything. Actually, it was rather shocking when I saw it early last Sunday morning. I want to thank John for his tremendous help, and I want to thank Rev. Dusa Althea. She was here on Monday to clean. I want to thank myself too, because I have been cleaning and organizing all week long.
There’s other people I want to thank. I want to thank Rev. Vincent, Rev. Peter, Rev. Dusa Althea, and myself, again, for putting up our Christmas tree! Yea! (applause). The Community Miracles Center is a joint community effort.
The idea of reclaiming the temple, or reconsecrating the temple, brings to my mind the idea of Chanukah. Reconsecration is celebrated at Chanukah – the reconsecration of the Temple. As it happens, this is the first day of Chanukah! Last night was the first night of Chanukah. Today is still the first day of Chanukah. I was informed that even though it was not traditional to light Chanukah candles during the day – you’re supposed to light them at sundown – that if I was going to break tradition today that I should not light two candles because we are still within the first day of Chanukah. So I’m going to light the first day Chanukah candle. (Rev. Tony walks over to the menorah which is on a stool to the right of the platform.)
This is the menorah, for those of you who are not Jewish and don’t know. The menorah is a little candelabra. There are eight places here for the eight candles that represent the eight days of Chanukah. This other candle, that is higher than the rest, is the candle that you use to light the other eight. Today we will light just the first candle because we are still within the first day of Chanukah. (Rev. Tony takes the one, taller, already burning candle and lights the one candle that is in the first position in the row of eight candle holders.)
There is a Hebrew prayer that is usually said. I am not going to attempt to speak Hebrew. I’m going to say the English translation of the traditional prayer.
“Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us by Your commandments, and commanded us to kindle the light of Chanukah.
“Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who wrought miracles for our fathers in days of old, at this time.
“Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the universe, Who has kept us amir and sustained us and brought us to this time.”
I like it that “miracles” are mentioned in the traditional Chanukah prayer.
Chanukah is called “the festival of lights.” It is considered to be the celebration of an ancient miracle. It is also traditional during Chanukah, when one lights the candles, to tell the story. So, I will do that.
The reason why Jewish people light Chanukah candles, light the menorah to celebrate Chanukah, is because the holiday is celebrating the Jewish people reclaiming their Temple in the holy city of Jerusalem. When we think about this event, we need to remember that for the Jewish faith, back in this time around two centuries before the birth of Jesus – a couple of hundred years – wasn’t like the Jewish faith of today. There was only one Temple. That one Temple was in Jerusalem. Jewish people were spread around the area. They didn’t all live in Jerusalem, but in the other cities or towns, the Jews would have smaller community centers which were synagogues. However, there were certain sacrifices and rituals that could only take place in the one Temple that was in Jerusalem. There was a specific Priesthood that lived in Jerusalem and who presided over these specific rituals and sacrifices, that could only be done at the one Temple. For the Jewish people to lose their Temple for all those years was a really big deal. It was truly an effort to decimate the Jewish faith. This had been done by the Syrians, who were controlling that area during that time. I did some research this morning. It was in 175 years B.C. when Syria took over the land around Jerusalem. At that time they started persecuting the Jews. They killed many of them. The Syrians then sacked and took over the Jewish Temple. In 167 B.C. the Syrians turned the Jewish Temple into a temple to the Roman Gods and erected a statue of Zeus in the Temple which was, of course, very sacrilegious to the Jewish people that remained. However eventually, a group of Jewish people led by Judas Maccabee, after a series of military battles, drove the Syrians out of the Temple. In 165 B.C., ten years after the Syrians had taken over – we’re talking about a long period of time – the Jewish forces, called the Maccabees, were able to reclaim the Temple.
In the Jewish Temple there was always an oil lamp, on the altar at the center of the Temple. The oil lamp always was lit. It symbolized the eternal light within that never went out. It was always burning bright – a great miracle idea. When the Macabbees retook the Temple, they wanted to relight the lamp. However, the Jewish tradition was that you had to have special oil to burn in this lamp. It was a very purified and blessed oil. The Macabbees could not find any of this holy oil. Then someone found a little bit of this sacred oil, the kind of oil they were supposed to burn in the altar lamp. However, it was only enough to burn for about a day, and it would take the Jews eight days to prepare more purified holy oil to burn in the lamp at the center of the Temple. Whatever that purification process was, it was going to take eight days. There was some debate among the Jewish elders whether they should actually light the lamp with only a days worth of oil, and then have the light go out. Maybe they should wait until they had an ample supply of sacred oil. It was decided that they should light the lamp because they had reclaimed the Temple. So they lit the lamp with the one day of oil, and the miracle was that the light stayed burning for the eight days, until they could get more blessed oil. This is the Jewish miracle of the lights. Somehow oil persisted and the light stayed lit. This is what Jewish people celebrate on Chanukah. This is why Chanukah extends for eight days. This is why the candles are lit every day during the eight day celebration.
This story gives me an interesting idea, and it reminds me of other miracle stories. It also reminds me of the miracle principle that we are not supposed to buy into the appearances of lack. “Wholeness is the perceptual content of miracles. It thus corrects or atones for the faulty perception of lack anywhere.” (OrEd.Tx.1.61) All perceptions of lack are “faulty.” There was a perception of lack – that there was only enough oil for one day. That was a faulty perception. It was an incorrect perception, even though that was a measurable fact. There was only oil for one day. That was lack and they weren’t to buy into it. They just got started with the job, and lit the lamp regardless.
There’s a lot of speculation about how this miracle actually occurred. It reminds me of the loaves and fishes miracle that Christians talk about from the New Testament story. Remember the story? There are 5,000 followers of Jesus out in the dessert. It’s time to feed the people, but the only food there is are five loaves of bread and two fishes offered by a boy. Obviously, this wasn’t enough to feed the 5,000. Jesus doesn’t acknowledge the perception of lack. He took the five loaves and two fishes and blessed them. Low and behold, after they start passing them out, it was enough to feed everybody. In fact, there was so much that afterward baskets were passed to pick up the scraps, and the scraps filled 12 large baskets. It’s a miracle – right? This is the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes.
Practical people think about this, and realize that 5,000 people didn’t wander out into the dessert with no food. (laughter) They all probably had some food with them. The problem was that no one was willing to offer their food at first. It wasn’t until the young boy offered the five loaves and two fishes. “This is what I have; I offer it up!” Then the other 4,999 saw that gesture, and they saw Jesus bless that gesture. When the five loaves and two fishes started being passed around, the rest of the crowd pulled out the food they had. Everybody began to pass everything around, so everybody had enough to eat. It was considered a miracle. The fact that it might have happened in this manner doesn’t make it any less of a miracle.
I have this feeling about the oil lamp in the Jewish Temple. The truth is there was plenty of oil around that could burn in a lamp in Jerusalem, at the time. People lived there, but there wasn’t the sacred, holy, purified oil that had been blessed. Think of how traditional Jewish people are with their Kosher food laws. Think about the rules and regulation that they may have had at that time for preparing food. They probably had the same thing going on for the preparing of the oil that was supposed to be burned in the Temple. That doesn’t mean that there wasn’t oil around. My guess is that some Jewish people put other oil in the lamp. They didn’t want the light to go out. They snuck it in there. Maybe it wasn’t even so sneaky, but this doesn’t make it any less of a miracle. The point is that miracles happen in regular normal ways when you don’t buy into the perception of lack. You just go forward. Now, suddenly where there seemed to be lack, there is now enough. I like to think of miracles that way.
When I walked into here last Sunday morning and saw the devastation, I saw the Temple sacked (laughter) .... I couldn’t be here last Saturday because of the painting and the fumes. When I looked at all the clean up and all the paint on the carpets I thought, “Oh! How is all this going to get done?” I couldn’t wrap my mind around it. It was too much work, but I just started. Just start. I got help. John helped a lot. Rev. Dusa Althea helped. The painters themselves came back and did some things. Things got done, and it’s back together now. Sometimes you just have to start and do what you can do, and not buy into the faulty perceptions. I was feeling pretty depressed, to tell you the truth. I looked at the place and realized all the work that was suddenly there to do, that I hadn’t planned on. You just start; you just do. Don’t buy into the perception of lack. The Jews didn’t buy into the perception of lack. Jesus didn’t buy into the perception of lack with the loaves and fishes. You bless what you have. You do what you can, and you trust that somehow the universe is going to move forward and match you in practical and average ways. You’re starting out creates the miracles that happen. You trust. We do that here at the Community Miracles Center all the time.
We’re getting ready for the conference now in Chicago in 2013. Sometimes it seems like it’s an absolutely daunting task, I ask myself, “How are we going to do this?” But we just start. We just do what we need to do, the next step. It all happens. All of sudden we’ll be there in Chicago, and the conference will be happening.
Rev. Larry painted the Center before we moved here in 1987. He was in charge of that project. He was the one that chose the rose colors. (Rev. Larry made his bodily transition in 2010.) It was not my choice. I actually had suggested white. My apartment is painted white. I like living in white. Rev. Larry thought it needed a little more color, so he painted it. It was great. I’ve loved it for all of these years. However, it is lovely now to have it freshly painted white and now reconsecrated.
I looked up the word “consecrate” in the dictionary: “consecrate: make or declare (something, typically a church) sacred; dedicate formally to a religious or divine purpose ...” You consecrate something when you say that this is a sacred thing, and you dedicate it to a religious or divine purpose, which is what this space is dedicated to. Now we’ve cleaned it up, and made it fresh and new. We’ve reconsecrated it. I believe, and I’m sure the community believes, we have a lot of divine work to do here at Community Miracles Center. We do a lot. A lot happens through the work we do here. Even though our local congregation is small, all kinds of things happen through what we do here. All our current activity focuses in on this Center, this Temple. We have reconsecrated the CMC.
When I think about the phrase, “Sinners Repaint” (laughter) I remember that A Course In Miracles doesn’t like the word “sinner,” and so I am challenged to redefine this phrase. “Sin” comes from an archery term which means to miss the mark. So, if you have missed the mark it’s time to try again, and see if you can hit the mark. It’s time for our ministry to try again, to fix things up, to clean it up, to remove the clutter. I have felt that recently. I have been challenged recently with all the work that there is to do. There have been times when I come into the office and I get distracted, I lose focus. I am not as productive as I feel that I need to be. I feel like I am missing the mark – “sinning.” I don’t know why that is and what’s going on. I’ve been asking and praying for help for a long time about this. I didn’t seem to have any breakthroughs.
The painting project was the breakthrough. (laughter) It forced me to go through everything that is in here. I have gotten rid of all kinds of stuff. The garbage cans are full. I’ve got boxes of recycling and garbage waiting in the office, to go into the bins after they get emptied tomorrow morning. We don’t have many recycling and garbage bins, so it’s going to take several weeks – maybe a month or two – to actually get rid of everything. It has to happen in bits and pieces. It feels tremendous to have gotten rid of all these things. I really want to continue that process of removing the clutter, even in the office. The office itself didn’t get painted. I am hoping ... no it is going to happen. With the energy that I feel now after having gone through and removed the clutter in the meeting rooms, I am going to continue on and go through the office and remove things. I really got it. Why do we retain things that we have no use for? The cabinet in back of the piano was full of stuff that we used to use, when we were creating Rev. Larry’s CDs for the recorded version of A Course In Miracles. We’re not creating those anymore. We can’t legally sell those anymore. Why was I holding on to all these CD albums, labels, sleeves, that truly have no use anymore. So -- they are gone.
I live with two adult men. I live with Rev. Peter, and I live with another man named Shawn. Shawn is a younger man, I believe he’s 31 now. He’s an interesting guy. He has lived there for four plus years now. He keeps things very clean, neat, and uncluttered. He’s very organized. If you were to walk into his room you would swear, “This guy must have just moved in.” It’s so organized and there is so little clutter. I’ve talked with him about that. He has a certain almost Japanese, minimalist aesthetic. He is very centered in Asian things. He’s sparse and anti-clutter. Shawn told me, “You really have to ask yourself whenever you bring anything into your space, ‘Do I really want to live with this?’ It’s a discipline. Don’t bring anything in unless you want to live with it, and if you do decide that you do want to live with it, then you have to get something that you already have out of the space in order to make room.” (laughter) It’s a two fold process. Answer the question, “Do I want this thing?” If the answer is “yes” then you have to ask what are you going to let go of to make room for this new thing.
When I heard him say that, it was the Holy Spirit talking to me. It wasn’t just Shawn, my apartment mate, telling me what his philosophy for living was. It was the Holy Spirit talking to me through Shawn. A Course In Miracles says that we have to be aware of this. “The Voice of the Holy Spirit is weak in you. That is why you must share it. .... If you make the mistake of looking for the Holy Spirit in yourself alone, your meditations will frighten you because by adopting the ego’s viewpoint ...” which is that we are separate, “... you are undertaking an ego-alien journey with the ego as guide. This is bound to produce fear.” (OrEd.Tx.5.35)
When we are looking for guidance we have to take it from wherever it comes. It’s going to come to us through all of the world. That guidance came from my apartment mate Shawn. The guidance that it’s time to go through things and unclutter my life, came through this painting project. Guidance comes in a whole variety of ways. When we are about the job of repainting and reconsecrating our lives, creating things fresh and new, we have to get guidance from everywhere and anywhere, and not look for it just within our own minds. There is way too much focus in spiritual communities, in the A Course In Miracles community, when Holy Spirit is talked about, that people want to hear that Voice in their minds. Now it is true, the Holy Spirit is there, but the Course just told us that it is a mistake to look for it there solely. That’s a mistake. “If you make the mistake of looking for the Holy Spirit in yourself alone ....” (OrEd.Tx.5.35) The Holy Spirit isn’t just in us. He/She is in everyone. The Holy Spirit is in the world, because the world is just mirroring our own thoughts. We have to hear the Holy Spirit everywhere. You can’t just forgive other people and not forgive yourselves. You have to forgive yourself and other people, because they are the same. You can’t just love other people and not love yourself. You’ve got to love yourself and other people. You can’t just think Holy Spirit is speaking in your mind and not think that the Holy Spirit is speaking to you through the world. You have to hear Him/Her speaking through it all, because the world really is just our minds. This is just our minds.
I am choosing, and I feel guided to see this new painting as a metaphor for what is going on in my mind. I’m going into a new era. For me, and for all of us here at the Community Miracles Center, it’s really the end of the Rev. Larry era. It’s this, symbolically in my mind, since he painted the place and chose the first colors. God bless Rev. Larry. He was great. He did the things that he did, but this is a new era now, and I’m letting go of the past. I’m moving on. I need to let go of him and move on.
We need to walk through the world with this awareness. The world is giving us these messages all the time. The world really is just our minds projected outwards, and it’s always showing us ourselves, and giving us messages. A Course In Miracles tells us, “There is no world! This is the central thought the course attempts to teach. Not everyone is ready to accept it, and each one must go as far as he can let himself be led along the road to truth. He will return and go still farther, or perhaps step back a while and then return again.” (OrEd.Wk.132.7)
We take steps. Sometimes it doesn’t seem to go too well, and we have to step back a bit. Then we take new steps and move forward. That’s the process. We take steps to see the world as an extension of our own minds. Then sometimes we have to retreat a little bit, or we seem to retreat, and then we take new steps. Sometimes the tasks in front of us seem huge and daunting, but we still have to take the first step. The Jewish people had to light the lamp. There didn’t seems to be enough oil, but they had to take the first step. There’s a lesson in that for all of us.
I saw the movie Lincoln last week. It’s a great movie. The movie Lincoln is about the passing of the 13th amendment, which abolished slavery in the United States. The Civil War was still going on at the time. There were discussions about how far should this amendment go. What were they really trying to do? Was the government trying to achieve equality for all dark skinned, Negro people? That would include the right to vote, at least for Negro men. How many rights would this amendment grant? There was a big debate about this. It was very hard for Congress to come to any consensus. They eventually had to decide that they couldn’t over reach. They had to start with what they could do and even that was incredibly difficult to do. What they thought they might be able to do was to at least say that slavery was done in the United States, and that all human beings in the United States had equal protection under the law. That did not give Negroes the right to vote and certain other rights. Those other rights took different amendments and laws to accomplish. Congress realized that they had to start and do what they could do. They had to start somewhere, so they did what they could in the beginning. These processes take a long time. Many will argue that African Americans are still fighting for their rights. There’s a lot of current discussion about that. You’ve got to start somewhere.
I think we have another example of this going on right now, with the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has finally decided to take up two cases that deal with same sex marriage. One of these cases might repeal California’s Proposition 8, which stopped gay marriage in California. The second case is challenging the Defense Of Marriage Act, which says that the Federal government has the right to define marriage as a union between one man and one woman, even if individual states have decided that two men or two women can marry. Currently, federal marriage and spouse benefits are denied to legally married same sex couples.
This is a big step by the Supreme Court. It could pave the way for same sex marriage being legal and recognized all through out the United States. It all started with small steps. The California case started right here in San Francisco in 2004. San Francisco mayor, Gavin Newsom, knowing that it was probably going to get struck down, ordered San Francisco City Hall to start issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples. For a month, same sex couples in San Francisco were able to get married. That was 2004. It only lasted a month. This was shut down, but this step did start a process that started slowly going through the courts. In 2008 the California Supreme Court decided that it was illegal to stop same sex couples from getting married in California. Same sex marriage became officially legal in California in May of 2008. However, Proposition 8 was passed in November of 2008 by only a 52% majority, and suddenly same sex marriages were banned in California, by virtue of a clause being added to the California constitution that defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman. Suddenly, same sex couples were not able to get married. In the time between May 2008 and November 2008, 18,000 same sex couples were legally married in California. These marriages are still considered legal, but it puts these married same sex couples into a very strange status. In 2009 a legal challenge was made to the Proposition 8 passage. This is the case “Perry vs. Schwarzenegger” that is the exact case that the U.S. Supreme Court just picked up. In August of 2010 a Federal court declared California’s Proposition 8 unconstitutional. The decision was appealed. In February 2012, this year, The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals again declared Proposition 8 unconstitutional. That decision also got appealed, and now the case is finally before the United States Supreme Court. Who knows what could happen now? This could truly pave the way for same sex marriage being legal all throughout the United States. This particular possibility started locally in San Francisco in 2004 with Mayor Gavin Newsom. He made a small step against huge odds. If Proposition 8 was on the ballet now, it probably wouldn’t pass because the tide of public opinion has changed. Now, more citizens in California are in favor of same sex marriage than they were in 2008 when it passed by only 52%.
You do what you can do. That is the message of any change, any reconsecration, any personal growth, any perception of lack. Light the lamp even though .... Start the cleaning even though .... Start going through your clutter even though .... Do what you can do. If same sex marriage becomes legal, people will think, “My God! That’s an amazing thing! It’s a miracle!” But it is all happening in little, practical steps. You have to take the first step. The Jewish people took the first step. They lit the lamp. We all take first steps. I’m taking first steps. I am seeing the repainting as a time for me to reconsecrate my own life, to get rid of things from the past, remove the clutter, so that I can move forward, with new energy and purpose. I need to repaint my misses of the mark.
Participate in the holiday season, and the inspiration of the holiday season, as moments of personal reconsecration for all of you. See what you need to accomplish in your own lives. The tasks will seem daunting, overwhelming, huge. Take the first step. Learn from the Chanukah miracle. Reconsecrate your own personal Temple. Thank you! (applause) ♥
c/o Community Miracles Center
2269 Market Street
San Francisco, CA 94114
This article appeared in the December 2012 (Vol. 26 No. 10) 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.