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On Sunday November 15, 2020 Rev. Tony Ponticello addressed the congregation for the Zoom Sunday Gathering. What follows is a lightly edited transcription of that talk.

Circle Dragons of FireWelcome everybody, again. Thank you so much for being here, and as always it's a pleasure for me and an honor to be able to ask Holy Spirit for guidance and share the message that I feel guided to share. So my message for today is "Challenges Being a Miracle Teacher and Healer."

There are some wonderful benefits to being a miracle teacher and healer. There are wonderful benefits to my job. This week we started a brand new class. Actually, it started just a few hours ago. Sunday mornings we have a new ACIM-1 class taught by our teacher Rev. Deb Canja. It's just a couple of hours before the Sunday Gathering and they're reading the Circle of Atonement edition of A Course in Miracles. So that started this week. Then of course, two weeks ago, we started the Southern Spirit Sisters group with Rev. Joanie and Rev. Kim.

I counted it all up and the Community Miracles Center (CMC) now has 14 Zoom meetings a week. There are eight that are paid, dedicated type of classes – with dedicated students who pay money to take the class – and then we have six open, drop-in classes. So many ways to connect with us and I just thought "14." It seemed so substantial to me, and those 14 different meetings are taught by nine different teachers. So nine people, nine CMC ministers have stepped up to the plate, getting that opportunity to share and create the space for so many people to learn A Course in Miracles (ACIM). That's a real blessing of the job, being able to see that. That's a blessing of being a miracle teacher and a healer.

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I also want to acknowledge that we've been getting new members. We got seven new members this past week, and actually in the past month we've gotten nine total. I haven't acknowledged them, and I do like to do that from time to time. So I want to acknowledge our new members. I want to acknowledge: Luus, and Dean, and Candace, and Petra, and Diane, and Beth, and John, and Tom, and Scott. I believe it's five women and four men, We have a good gender balance. We always have a good gender balance here at the Community Miracles Center, and I always get a real blessing from that. A lot of ACIM organizations talk about how they have way more women than men, but the CMC has always really been pretty balanced, so I like that. I think it's a healthy thing.

So these are the blessings of my job, being able to be in the midst of that and see that, but there are challenges and sometimes the challenges feel difficult, and they're hard to go through. I was aware of this this week when I was teaching my Circle of Atonement class. I got a bit of guidance when we read the following quote. It's talking about miracle students and it says that we have to be, "... willing to follow the Holy Spirit through seeming terror .... You are severely tempted to abandon Him at the outside ring of fear, but He would lead you safely through and far beyond." (OrEd.Tx.18.87)

The guidance that I got is that it is the teacher's job to help the student, or it is the healer's job to help the patient, keep following the Holy Spirit through the seeming terror that may come up for them, understanding that the student and the patient are going to be severely tempted to abandon the Holy Spirit's guidance when they confront their fear. Often A Course in Miracles says things like, "You're severely tempted." So if Jesus is telling us that we're going to be severely tempted, I think he wants us to understand how strong that temptation is, and that it is the teacher's job, it is the healer's job, to help students get through that. It's a very difficult thing for the students. It's a very difficult thing for the teacher, and often projection happens. The students aren't quite able to get through this, and they project onto the teacher that the teacher is wrong or even worse, that the teacher is bad. That the teacher is actually sinful, and there's confusion. And it's the teacher's job to be able to rise above that, not take that personally.

I see this all the time. As students go along they get scared. They get to these places in their lives where they get scared, and sometimes that scare can take the flavor of lonely. They're concerned about being lonely. They're concerned about not being able to connect with other people. If they really embrace this thought system they're concerned that it's going to make them weird. Sometimes the relationships they're in start getting challenged and their significant others, or their special relationship partners, don't like the changes that studying A Course in Miracles is bringing into the student's life. The student feels that his special relationships are being challenged and that he or she, may actually lose them.And maybe they will! It's such a truly difficult thing for people to go through, and the teacher has to be able to help the person go through this.

I have seen that, in the life of an A Course in Miracles student, there might be times when they have fewer relationships. I remember an old quote I heard on a TV show once that said, "I used to be lonely. Now I'm just alone." That has been significant for me lately. Sometimes I am just alone, but I don't feel lonely. I always have the Holy Spirit. I always have Jesus. I have my mighty companions.

There might be people that have more friends than I do and more relationships, but a lot of those relationships are special relationships that actually have a huge detrimental effect on the psyche of the person. So sometimes it might actually be better to be alone than to be involved in these special relationships that A Course in Miracles says are actually the gift of death. A lot of special relationships are really trying to kill you, and it's probably best to not be involved in those. ACIM says, "As you approach the beginning, you feel the fear of the destruction of your thought system upon you, as if it were the fear of death. There is no death, but there is a belief in death." (OrEd.Tx.3.79)

So as we go back to our beginning, we experience the part of our mind that knows our thought system, believes that we are bodies with limited lives, that there's an external world, and that nature is real. All of those things are getting challenged. And as we approach that, this is the ring of fear that A Course in Miracles is talking about. And we feel our thought system getting destroyed, because it is. It feels like the fear of death, and it will feel like that for the student. It will feel like that for us at times. When we are in that fear, all kinds of things can happen and it can be very challenging both for the student and for the teacher.

This ring of fear, I like to think of it as a ring of fire like on the Sunday program. (See cover of this *Miracles Monthly*.) I don't know if that's the same ring of fire that Johnny Cash fell into, but it does burn as you go through it. It is going to burn. It's a circle of fire, and it's all pervasive. A Course in Miracles says, "The circle of fear lies just below the level the body sees and seems to be the whole foundation on which the world is based. Here are all the illusions, all the twisted thoughts, all the insane attacks, the fury, vengeance, and betrayal." (OrEd.Tx.18.88) All of that stuff is there in that circle of fear.

I've been engaging with somebody who's talking about the pandemic and things that are going on and they asked me, "Why did the world panic so much?" I really noticed that as well, however the world's always panicked. Panic is the condition of the world except that sometimes it's not right at the surface. Sometimes you don't notice it, but the pandemic and the situation that we're in brought that fear to the surface. It removed the blocks. So it wasn't any really big new thing. It wasn't that suddenly something made us fearful or made the world fearful – the world was always fearful. This just uncovered it.

One of the things that I've seen in my 40 plus years of studying A Course in Miracles, and in my 34 years of running the Community Miracles Center, is that when students are up against the destruction of their thought system and they're up against that ring of fire, they frequently want to drop their dedication to the ACIM thought system. This is usually just at the moment when they need ACIM the most. In those moments when we need the teaching the most, those will be the moments that we'll want to let it go.

These students find all kinds of ways to justify letting A Course in Miracles go. Sometimes, of course, they don't let it go completely, they just back away from it a little bit. They may keep coming to the meetings, but they're not so engaged as they were. They turn back to the world. Maybe they turn back in to their relationships that they felt were threatened, or maybe they come up with a new relationship to get into. ACIM says when we reach these points when we turn back, the Holy Spirit, perhaps, sighs a little bit. "Truth [Holy Spirit] merely wants to give you happiness, for such its purpose is. Perhaps it sighs a little when you throw away its gifts." (OrEd.Wk.136.13) That can be the personification of the Holy Spirit in those moments. I can sigh a little bit too, just knowing that – okay well – they're doing the best they can. They'll come back to this place, but I know the pain that they're going to go through. As ACIM says, we need to be willing to follow the Holy Spirit through this "seeming terror."

Those of you who are teachers in some way, shape, or form – certainly for the nine CMC ministers who are teaching classes now – helping these students get through those moments of fear is one of our major tasks. When they are "severely tempted" to let go of their practice and not be so thoroughly engaged in the thought system, helping them get through this is one of our major tasks. Something I hear a lot with people who know what A Course in Miracles is teaching, especially people who've been around it for a long time, they'll say things like, "Well I'm working towards that. I'm not there yet." That's putting healing in the future. "I'm working towards that. I'm not there yet. I have to honor where I am." Let's think about today's lesson, "I came for the salvation of the world." (OrEd.WkBk.319)

We're there now. In fact there is only now and being here for the salvation of the world. Being the savior of the world means remembering that there's just now. There is no future. There's no moment in the future when you're going to be any more ready than you are right now. That moment in the future that you think is going to be easier, isn't going to be easier than it is right now. It's just another now moment. It's always a now moment. It's never anything other than a now moment. A Course in Miracles says, "A major hazard to success has been involvement with your past and future goals. How could this matter? For the past is gone, the future but imagined. These concerns are but defenses against present change of focus in perception. Nothing more." (OrEd.WkBk.181.4)

The next time you hear yourself, or you hear students saying, "I'm not quite there yet, but I'll be there in the future. I'm just not ready now" remember that there is no "yet." That's projecting into the future, and it is always going to be just now. Salvation is now; freedom is now. Healing is now. It's not in the future. A Course in Miracles also says, "... it is at this moment that complete salvation is offered you, and it is at this moment that you can accept it. ... Atonement might be equated with total escape from the past and total lack of interest in the future." (OrEd.Mn.24.6) We as miracle students, we as miracles teachers, we as miracle healers have to have a total lack of interest in the future.

In other words, we have to make the shifts that we have to make and we have to help our students and our patients make the shifts that they have to make now, right now. It's not in the future. What I am thinking about is that it's challenging. I understand. And as I said, "Be not content with future happiness. It has no meaning and is not your just reward. For you have cause for freedom now." (OrEd.Tx.26.76) It's not an intellectual exercise.

Studying A Course in Miracles is not an intellectual exercise. It's a challenge. It's a challenge to let go of the world's thought system. It's a challenge to let go and help other people let go of the world's thought system. When you challenge people like this, frequently they think you're attacking them. One of my favorite lines in ACIM, and I remember it all the time, says, "What you must understand is that when you do not share a thought system, you are weakening it. Those who believe in it therefore perceive this as an attack on them." (OrEd.Tx.6.71)

So we don't share the world's thought system, and we're trying to encourage other people to not share the world's thought system. When they come up against that ring of fire, that ring of fear, they will frequently think we are attacking them. Actually we're not. But that is what they think. Look at the life of Jesus. This is exactly what happened to him, and he tells us that in A Course in Miracles, "Many thought that I was attacking them, even though it was quite apparent that I was not." (OrEd.Tx.6.70) So many thought Jesus was attacking them. Obviously the Romans, the Scribes, and the Pharisees thought Jesus was a danger and that Jesus was attacking them. But he wasn't. As he says again, in ACIM, "I had not harmed anyone and had healed many. (OrEd.Tx.6.13) He hadn't harmed anybody. He'd healed many and they still thought he was dangerous. They still thought he was attacking them, and he got himself crucified because of it.

Now, I'm not calling on anybody to get themselves crucified, and I certainly don't want to get myself crucified. I'm going to try to learn from the mistakes that Jesus may have made. I think A Course in Miracles tells us that the crucifixion was a mistake. It was a mistake for Jesus. It is a mistake for us to be crucified. So nobody's getting called upon to get crucified here. But in the past couple of weeks I have been told that I'm a dangerous person with some of the things that I'm saying and some of the things that I'm trying to teach. I keep thinking, "I haven't harmed anybody and I've healed a lot of people and myself." But this is what people are going to project onto you, and these are the challenges of being a miracle teacher and a miracle healer. Perhaps if we know that the challenges are coming they won't knock us off guard and startle us and cause us to react too strongly.

We have to learn how to handle these things so that we don't get too defensive about them and just initiate more attack. We had one crucifixion in the history of the Judeo-Christian world. We don't need another one. Nobody here is being called upon to be crucified, and I forgive Jesus for being crucified. Jesus in A Course in Miracles asks us to forgive him. This is one of those things that ACIM teachers talk about. Why do we need to forgive Jesus?

I'm a real outlier on this. I believe no other A Course in Miracles teachers thinks about it like I do. They all have different ideas about this. But I think we need to forgive Jesus because he didn't quite know how to balance it. He went too far, and he got himself crucified. He says in ACIM, "You hold a picture of your crucifixion before his eyes that he may see his sins are writ in Heaven in your blood and death and go before him, closing off the gate and damning him to hell." (OrEd.Tx.27.3) Yet that is what he did. I think he maybe could have done things differently, but he was learning, and I forgive him. So that's why I forgive Jesus for whatever mistakes he made that walked him into a crucifixion.

Think about what his life could have been if that hadn't happened. We don't know. I'm sharing my interpretation. I realize that other people interpret that passage about why we need to forgive Jesus in different ways. What I do know is that it's challenging. Being a miracle teacher, being a miracle healer, is challenging. The great historic example of Jesus shows just how challenging it was for Jesus. Jesus tells us to be aware of it, that we're going to be challenged ourselves. But with the Holy Spirit's help, we can navigate these and move through them in a way that's productive and positive.

A lot of that means, for me, just overlooking it. Overlooking it when somebody tells me that I'm dangerous, or a plague rat, or something of that nature. And I always remember this line, which I'll end with, from A Course in Miracles. It says, "You who are sometimes sad and sometimes angry, who sometimes feel your just due is not given you and your best efforts meet with lack of appreciation and even contempt, give up these foolish thoughts. They are too small and meaningless to occupy your holy minds an instant longer." (OrEd.Tx.15.4)

So if we get hooked into thinking, "Why are they attacking me? I'm just trying to help them," I give up those foolish thoughts. You might have them, but they're small thoughts, and they're meaningless thoughts, and they don't belong in our holy minds. We're here to be representatives of the Holy Spirit, of Jesus, of the Divine. It isn't always a rose garden. It doesn't always give us lots of friends and influence. My own personal experience, it doesn't usually give you a lot of money either, but it has its own rewards. I have always been abundantly cared for, abundantly loved, and abundantly blessed. And when I get those attacks ­– when we all get those attacks – and they feel like they feel, don't hold them in your mind. They're small and meaningless thoughts that don't even belong there.

Yeah, we have challenges, being a miracle teacher and healer, but there's real blessings for it too. If we ask we'll find them. And this week I'm sitting in the blessing of 14 Zoom meetings for the Community Miracle Center that we're hosting, taught by nine different teachers, and nine different new members have joined. What a blessing that is.

Thank you. That's my talk for today.

Rev. Tony Ponticello is CMC's 20th minister. He currently serves as the CMC's Executive Minister (12.06.2021). He is also the President of the CMC Board of Directors. He was ordained by the CMC on Oct. 17, 1997.

Circle Dragons of Fire

© 2021 Community Miracles Center, San Francisco, CA – All rights reserved.

Rev. Tony Ponticello
c/o Community Miracles Center
POB 470341
San Francisco, CA 94147

This article appeared in the January 2021 (Vol. 34 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.