(On Sunday March 19, 2006, Rev. Tony Ponticello addressed the congregation at the Community Miracles Center in San Francisco, CA. A pot-luck celebration was planned for right after the service in honor of the recent wedding of two members of the congregation. Rev. Tony used the recent wedding as a springboard for this lecture on relationships.)
As you all know we're having a special celebration here today because two of our own, Reverend Beatrice and Jon, went and got married. (applause) That's their smiling picture on the front of the program when we were at Nick's down in Pacifica not too long ago, dancing. They look so cute there. (Rev. Tony holds up a program.) The challenge for me, right now, is giving some sort of talk, sermon, that seems appropriate. Talking about relationships — again! (laughter) Always a challenge!
I have probably spoken about relationships more than any other topic. (laughter) What more, or what different, could I but possibly say? The truth is relationships are, actually, a very serious business in A Course In Miracles. So what I'm guided to do is give a serious talk on our relationships because they are very important. They are the means that A Course In Miracles provides to us to accomplish the goal that the Course is trying to accomplish — which is to get us to remember our unlimited nature. To get us all to remember that we are God beings. The way that we do that, the means that A Course In Miracles provides, is a re-perception, a re-engagement, with our relationships. It says this many, many, times. Here's one, "Your way will be different, not in purpose but in means. A holy relationship is a means of saving time." (T-18.VII.5.1-2)
We shift our perception from specialness to holiness. We have holy relationships and this saves us time. A Course In Miracles says that it saves us thousands of years, countless time, to our goal of happiness, oneness, and it transports us. Relationships transport us. A couple of years ago I gave a talk and I equated relationships to "ships" that are transporting us to other lands and other places. Our relations ship us, they ship us — "relations-ship." That helps me to remember that they transport us. They are the means.
The world has a means for happiness too. We read about it recently in class. The means that the world provides for us is holding grievances. The world thinks that if we held grievances, then we would be happy and this does makes logical sense. It sounds funny when we say "holding grievances" but what the world says is clearly identify the things that you do not want and then move away from them. Don't forget them. Find out what you don't like — move away from it. Find out the people that you don't like — move away from them. If this relationship doesn't work — move away from it. If we do this, remember this, never forget that relationship that didn't work with that guy who drank too much .... Now don't forget that, because if you can remember that you won't get yourself in another one of those bad relationships and then you will be happy.
It seems logical. It does. A Course In Miracles says "The ego's plan for salvation centers around holding grievances. It maintains that, if someone else spoke or acted differently, if some external circumstance or event were changed, you would be saved." (W-pI.71.2.1-2) If something was different you would be happy. If you had a relationship with somebody who worked and didn't drink too much, then you would be happy. That's all it would take. Just little things like this. The ego is constantly surveying the world trying to figure out what doesn't work. We remember it so we can avoid it. Avoiding pain is a very big thing. It a very big motivator.
A Course In Miracles, and other spiritual programs, give us different ways to be happy. There are a lot of commonalities with many spiritual programs. A lot of spiritual programs, a lot of religions, have prayer in them — a way of talking to God or to the Divine. A lot of religions, spiritualities, have meditation as a part of them — a way of centering your mind, stilling your mind or identifying with something larger. Many religions, although not all of them, but many religions have belief in a deity — a belief in an eternal being, belief in God, as part of them. Some people would say A Course In Miracles has a belief in Jesus as part of it. We accept Jesus as this person who brought A Course In Miracles into the realm, our elder brother showing us the way. Certainly, belief in the Holy Spirit appears to be part of the program. All these things seem part of what brings us to Oneness. Actually, I don't think any of these things are what A Course In Miracles wants us to focus our attention on.
I've said this next thing many times before. I don't know if I believe that Jesus gave us A Course In Miracles. I know that when I read the book I suspend my disbelief. I accept that the book seems to be channeled from Jesus. I play the game, but I don't know who the hell spoke into Helen's ear — or whether anybody did. Maybe she made it all up herself. She was a bright woman. She did have some religious upbringing early in her life. Who knows where it came from? I don't need to get involved with all of that. I really don't. I don't need to believe in God. I don't need to believe in Jesus. I don't need to pray. I don't need to meditate to truly find the peace that A Course In Miracles is offering us. But what I do need to do is re-perceive my relationships. I need to get serious about it. It's very important. Nothing else is going to bring me peace. I need to change and shift the way I look at relationships.
I searched the Course and tried to find something about relationships that I hadn't used in another relationship talk. (laughter) I don't think I've ever used this one. This is from the section in the Manual, "Are Changes Required In The Life Situations Of God's Teachers?" It says this, "Changes are required in the <minds> of God's teachers. This may or may not involve changes in the external situation. ... By far the majority are given a slowly evolving training program, in which as many previous mistakes as possible are corrected. Relationships in particular must be properly perceived ...." (M-9.1.1,2,7-9) There you go. "Relationships in particular ..." it's the most important thing, "... must be properly perceived ...." That's it. That's what's going to change our minds. That's what's going to bring us to peace. It isn't meditation. It isn't prayer. I hear a lot of A Course In Miracles teachers focus in on meditation and prayer — stilling your mind. It's all important, but nothing is more important than a re-perception of our relationships. Screw the rest of the stuff! (laughter) If you re-perceive your relationships you'll probably pray and meditate just fine. It will be natural. It will be. I don't have to focus in on that. There are Workbook lessons that have prayer. There are Workbook lessons that have meditation. Re-perception of relationship though — that is the key.
A Course In Miracles says, "Teach no one that he is what you would not want to be. Your brother is the mirror in which you see the image of yourself as long as perception lasts." (T-7.VII.3.8-9) That's the new perception. The person we thought we were having a relationship with is not another person. It's us! This person is reflecting some aspect of ourselves. If there's something about this other person that we don't like, that's something in ourselves that we need to: look at, re-perceive, forgive, shift our perception on, and offer up to the Holy Spirit. And, we're not supposed to get involved with showing someone how they are, in some way, something that we would not want to be.
I spent most of my life doing that. I spent the first 27, 28, 29 years doing just that. I did it with my sisters; I did it with my parents. I did it with all of my early relationships. All those relationships were very problematic — until I got into the Course. It wasn't that I didn't love those people. I had love for those people but they just needed to do something a little bit different for me to be happy. My mother needed to be different; my father needed to be different. My sisters needed to be different. All my early relationships needed to be just a little bit different. If they would only listen to me. I was bright. (laughter) Why wouldn't they listen to me!? (laughter) I tried to prove to them how bright and educated I was so that they would listen to me! They just did what they did. (more laughter)
Okay. Jon and Beatrice got married. Why do people get married? Why do we, A Course In Miracles students, get married? There's actually quite a bit of teaching in A Course In Miracles which can be interpreted as "anti-marriage." So why would we get married? Huh, that is a good question! (laughter)
A Course In Miracles says this, "The third level of teaching occurs in relationships which, once they are formed, are lifelong. These are teaching-learning situations in which each person is given a chosen learning partner who presents him with unlimited opportunities for learning...." (laughter) "... These relationships are generally few, because their existence implies that those involved have reached a stage simultaneously in which the teaching-learning balance is actually perfect." (M-3.5.1-3)
I think that one of the reasons we get married is because we've found this third level of teaching in a relationship in which a person is giving us unlimited opportunities to learn. We perceive, and we're probably accurate to perceive, that these are lifelong connections. These are lifelong connections. I don't know any people who get married for the short term. Well, they may get married for a short term but going into it they believe it's going to be lifelong. Nobody says, "Let's just get married for a year and have fun." (laughter) Unless they're doing it for some immigration purpose. (laughter) I don't know anybody who does that. People generally have reached this point where they feel that this is a lifelong connection and they could learn an unlimited amount of things from this person and marriage seems to be what they are guided to do with this person to acknowledge that connection. I know that Jon and Beatrice feel that. They feel that this is a lifelong learning partner. This person is going to present me with unlimited opportunities to learn and this symbolic joining, marriage, is going to facilitate that whole process.
The only real reason any of us should ever get married is because we are guided to. The Holy Spirit guides us to do it for whatever reason. A Course In Miracles says, "In everything be led by Him, and do not reconsider." (T-14.III.17.4) We should always be led by the Holy Spirit and do what the Holy Spirit says, even if we can't justify it with a lot of good sounding reasons for friends and family who may wonder what the hell we're doing. We still do it because that's what we're guided to do.
A Course In Miracles tells us the means to our salvation is relationships. Here's another reference, "Time has been saved for you because you and your brother are together. This is the special means this course is using to save you time." (T-18.VII.6.3-4) I'm sure Jon and Beatrice, and hopefully all people who choose to get married, are perceiving that this brother, this sister, who they're having this union with is their special means that's been provided to them by the Holy Spirit as a way to save time — as a means to ship them to this new land, this new experience, this new plateau in their lives. So they board this ship and they travel on it.
In another place the Course says, "And here can he learn relationships are his salvation, and not his doom." (T-20.VI.11.9) I know of lot of people, especially since I'm 53, I know a lot of people who are in their 50s who actually have the idea that relationships are their doom. They don't really want them anymore. They've been burned too many times. This didn't work; that didn't work. They want to steer clear of relationships. A Course In Miracles keeps telling us that relationships are our salvation. Relationships are our happiness. They are the serious business we have to get about. We have to look at them this way. In another place the Course says, "The Holy Spirit's temple is not a body, but a relationship." (T-20.VI.5.1) That's where the Holy Spirit works — in our relationships and not just the romantic unions with a husband and a wife but all of our relationships. All the relationships we have here at Community Miracles Center serve salvation just perfectly. They give us all these unlimited opportunities to misperceive and they give us unlimited opportunities to turn these misperceptions up to the Holy Spirit and get a new perception about them. All of our friends, all of our families, all of our coworkers, everybody who we interact with at all gives us the opportunity to re-perceive and to get about the serious business of our happiness. That's the good news. I tried to start this sermon with the good news first and then go on to the bad news. (laughter)
The bad news is, all the usual ways we think about marriage and relationships A Course In Miracles tries to bust wide open because it wants us, actually, to be divinely confused about why we're in relationship so that we really don't know. It wants us to get to that place of not knowing because, if we're in a place of not knowing, then we can approach the interaction with openness and we will go to the Holy Spirit for interpretation.
I always have loved this quote. This one has caused a lot of people a lot of debate. It says, "It is sure that those who select certain ones as partners in any aspect of living, and use them for any purpose which they would not share with others, are trying to live with guilt rather than die of it." (T-16.IV.4.5) Any of us who select certain ones and then say, "You're going to be my partner and I'm going to do this with you and I'm not going to do that with other people." If you do that game, that's an ego game of exclusion and you're trying to make some sort of insane bargain with your guilt. You're not really trying to get rid of your guilt. You're just trying to bargain with it and that's because you're afraid if you don't make this bargain the guilt is just going to kill you.
This is hard to realize. It's very damning actually. It's pretty tough. People always go to sex, of course. I'm making a sexual commitment to this person which means I'm not going to have sex with other people. Is A Course In Miracles saying I shouldn't do that? I'll let you answer that question for yourself but we do this with all kinds of things, not just sex. I'm going to have you be my movie partner. You're my friend that I call every couple of days and talk to about this, that and the other thing. I do that with you and I don't do that with other people. You're the person I go out to dinner with. We do this with all kinds of things. You're my special friend we get together and do this special thing! A Course In Miracles just wants us to realize we're doing this as some kind of defense and to offer the defense up. A Course In Miracles isn't saying that these types of interactions won't happen, but what it is saying is that when you can identify this specialness and see that this is happening you do have to offer this up and be willing to look at it differently. That's a pretty bold and challenging thing to do. It's a very difficult thing for most people to do. It's a very difficult thing for me to do, but that is the challenge. That's the serious business that A Course In Miracles challenges us to get about.
People don't understand what it all means. They get confused about it. When they get confused about all this then the ego comes in again and tries to grab a hold of the process and one of the things ego does is say, "Well, it's just because it's not working with this specific person. This person isn't filling the bill." It may be a sexual bill. It may be a friendship bill. "They're not supporting me. I needed a friend. I needed somebody to be there. I was hurting! I called them. They weren't there! Scum!" (laughter) "Screw him! I need another friend." (laughter)
The Course tells us, "Now the ego counsels thus; substitute for this another relationship to which your former goal was quite appropriate. You can escape from your distress only by getting rid of your brother. You need not part entirely if you choose not to do so. But you must exclude major areas of fantasy from your brother, to save your sanity. <Hear not this now!> Have faith in Him Who answered you." (T-17.V.7.1-5) It's one of those big commands. It's bolded in the Course. Don't hear this counsel. Don't think that just because this brother let you down you're going to be happier if you get him out of your life. Don't hear that counsel. Of, course, the ego tells you, "You don't have to get him totally out of your life. You'll still call him every once and awhile, but you won't call him when you are really hurting because he doesn't pull through then." Whatever it is that you think. Whatever little area of fantasy you're going to hold away from them — the little morsel reserved, now, for someone else.
We do this with romantic relationships, the "Let's Be Friends" talk. "We're not going to be lovers anymore but we'll still be good friends." I don't want a friend like that. (laughter) If I'm not good enough to be your lover I don't know if I can be your friend either. What kind of friend is that? (more laughter) Don't hear that counsel. Don't exclude, whomever, just because they let you down. This goes on all the time at Community Miracles Center too. I see people playing this game with their interaction with this church. "It's good, but I don't like ‘this' part of it. I'll still be ‘sort of' connected. I don't have to be really connected like I used to be." We play that game. It's the same game. It's the same relationship game. Don't hear that. Don't project your grievance on to any external thing. It exists within your mind and it's actually coming up in your relationship to give you a wonderful opportunity to get this serious business of relationships going. Offer the perception up to the Holy Spirit. Re-perceive.
Here's another great passage, "Accept with gladness what you do not understand ..." We don't understand what's going on. "... and let it be explained to you as you perceive its purpose work in it to make it holy. You will find many opportunities to blame your brother for the ‘failure' of your relationship, for it will seem at times to have no purpose. A sense of aimlessness will come to haunt you, and to remind you of all the ways you once sought for satisfaction and thought you found it. Forget not now the misery you really found, and do not breathe life into your failing ego. For your relationship has not been disrupted. It has been saved." (T-17.V.8.1-6) Actually, when these things come up in our relationships that truly cause us concern, where we want to actually get rid of the person, that doesn't mean that there is something wrong with the relationship. That actually means that our relationship is functioning perfectly. It's been saved. It's now become a dynamic force of change, healing, in our lives. Most people have got this fantasy that they are going to enter into a relationship that will have uninterrupted bliss, all of these wonderful beautiful times, strung out one right after another, after another .... That would just means you're probably deluding yourself. (laughter) That relationship isn't working. For relationships to work they've got to be bringing you stuff all the time that's causing you to jostle, a little bit, internally and then to re-perceive.
We will find many opportunities to blame each other for why things aren't working and it always seems like it's the other's fault — the other person. He did this thing; she did this thing. The Community Miracles Center did this thing. My job, they did this thing. My school, my family ... and we'll blame them for the failure and we'll think that means something is not working. But the serious business of relationships, of marriage — and I'm giving an address to a newly married couple — the serious business of relationships is to be aware. You will have these moments when you think that the other has done this thing that is making things fail. Don't hear that. It's not failing. It's doing exactly what it is supposed to be doing. It's giving you another opportunity to offer up, re-perceive and heal an aspect of yourself. You should be grateful.
The Course says, "You are very new in the ways of salvation, and think you have lost your way. <Your> way <is> lost, but think not this is loss. In your newness, remember that you and your brother have started again, <together.> And take his hand, to walk together along a road far more familiar than you now believe." (T-17.V.9.1-4) That's the A Course In Miracles admonition to all of us. That's its command to us. That's it's reminder. When these things happen don't let go of your brother's hand. This is an opportunity, now, to take his hand, to reaffirm your connection. To reaffirm that you are on a road together. You have made a dedication that you're on a journey together and, yeah, of course things come up. That's what happens in relationships. It's a good thing that things are coming up because it means my relationship is working to serve my salvation, to serve my happiness. I've got your hand. We're moving together. We're in love. We love each other. We know we're one together. We'll move through this, whatever it is. We'll ask for guidance. We'll turn it over to the Holy Spirit and find the answer for both of us. I'm not going to let go of your hand just because my ego is disappointed because of ... whatever.
That's the means A Course In Miracles is giving to us for our salvation. It's not really prayer; it's not really meditation. It's not really belief. You don't have to believe in God; you don't have to believe in Jesus. You don't have to believe in the Holy Spirit. You do have to believe in yourself and you have to believe in your brother or your sister — that he / she is somehow serving your highest need, your highest good, and it's the serious business of life. It's the serious business of relationships. They are there for our salvation. They are there for our happiness. Then when we re-perceive and choose the new perception not only are we blessed, not only is our relationship blessed, but A Course In Miracles says the whole world receives this blessing.
This is my last quotation, "And welcome it together, for it has come to join you and your brother together in a relationship in which all the Sonship is together blessed." (T-17.V.10.7) Every time we make the decision not to let go of that brother's hand just because he pissed us off, but to: keep a hold of his hand, keep journeying with him, keep being led by the Holy Spirit, keep in that process of asking for guidance — every time we do that, we not only heal ourselves and our brothers we are healing the whole world.
My admonition to everybody is just to be aware, just be aware. All the old ways we thought of relationships are ego and need driven. But that doesn't mean that A Course In Miracles is anti-relationship. A Course In Miracles is very pro-relationship, but not for those old ego purposes. There are these new purposes. We're going to have all kinds of opportunities to be: pissed off, angry, upset, frustrated with — whomever we're in relationship with. That doesn't mean the relationship isn't working. That means it is working. It's another opportunity for us to choose again. To re-perceive, to keep a hold of our brother's hand and to keep marching to the real world and then to our home in Heaven.
I know that all of us here at the Community Miracles Center wish Jon and Beatrice the best and the most wonderful interaction that they can have and we give them all the strength and joy and light that we have within us so that they will have the strength to re-perceive each other when they get pissed off. (laughter) We'll trust that by their demonstration we'll all be able to get strength to re-perceive ourselves when we're confronted with the same temptations. This is the serious business of relationships. I know Jon and Beatrice are very serious A Course In Miracles students. I know they won't let us down and I know we won't let them down either.
Thank you. (applause) ♥
c/o Community Miracles Center
San Francisco, CA 94147
This article appeared in the February 2006 (Vol. 19 No. 12) 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.