On Sunday July 11, 2021 Rev. Tony Ponticello gave a talk for the Community Miracles Center's Sunday Gathering. A lightly edited transcription of the talk is presented here.
Thank you for being here, and happy to be talking to you today. The title of my talk today is "Stay the Course."
The reason why I am focusing on this today is seasonal, actually. We are in the middle of summer. And we didn't really have a summer last year. We had it weather-wise, but because of the pandemic the usual things that people like to do in summer we weren't able to do. We could only do those activities in a very limited manner. We didn't have the usual vacations; we didn't have the usual trips. This year, because things are more open or totally open, people are doing the traditional things with fervor. They're going on trips. I, myself, booked two trips this past week. I'm going back East to visit my family, to go to my high school reunion. I'm also going to a little family reunion, and I'm going to the Great New York State Fair. I'm doing all kinds of things that I wasn't able to do last year. We are traveling, and we are vacationing, and that's great.
The downside is, when we get preoccupied with those things, sometimes our practice of A Course In Miracles tends to slip a little bit. So today is a day when, hopefully, I give people a little more motivation to stay the course with the Course – to keep your lesson practice and your Course practice going. Keep going to those groups that you go to, and to keep grounded in the Course. The expression "stay the course" actually means "keep going strongly to the end of a race or a contest, to pursue a difficult task or activity to the end." A Course in Miracles, the study and practice of A Course in Miracles, is a challenging, maybe even a difficult activity. You have to do it. And at various times it can seem frustrating and annoying. People talk about how they have thrown the book away at different times, and that's why I took this picture of an A Course in Miracles book in the trash.
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You can't stay the course if you throw the Course away, and you can't stay the course if in the summer you get distracted with all those things that you would like to do, or want to do, and you forget about the lesson practice.
So, what does practicing the lessons mean? Well, practicing the Workbook lessons means first you're going to read the Workbook lesson. That can take various amounts of times depending on how long they are. We're past the longest lessons of the year, which is great, but it still could take ten minutes to read the lesson. Then we're supposed to have some quiet time focusing in on the lesson idea afterwards. The Course, at this stage of the book, recommends any time between five minutes and maybe even thirty minutes for our quiet time.
Let's say, just conservatively, that's ten minutes for a quiet meditation. So ten minutes to read it, ten minutes to meditate, that's twenty minutes in the morning. We're supposed to do that in the evening too. Forget the evening thing for a while. Let's just focus in on the morning thing. I don't want to scare anybody. But it's twenty minutes, maybe more, for lesson time and Course time in the morning. Right now it's very common for people – because they're vacationing and playing, as they like to in the summer – to think they can't afford the time. What I want to propose is – you can't afford not to take the time. You have to take the time.
The belief that you do not have the time to do it, and then the acting on the belief, is only going to increase the experience of, "I don't have enough time." I'm really clear about this one. So if I buy into this idea that I don't have the time and then don't do my lesson, that's me reinforcing the belief that time is scarce. What I then manifest is more scarcity of time. So it's a self-fulfilling prophecy. I affirm that time is not scarce by doing my lesson for the appropriate amount of time. There's an old Zen story about the Zen master who is talking to his disciples, and master says, "I have so many very important things I have to do today. I better sit in silence for three hours just to get ready for them."
The more time stressed you are the more you should take some time to still your mind, to be quiet, to focus in on the lessons of the day. I really recommend you get a lesson partner. It keeps you on track. Take the time, stay the Course. Don't throw the book away either practically or symbolically. Keep doing the Course, especially during those times when you're distracted. A Course in Miracles says, "Time is a trick – a sleight of hand, a vast illusion in which figures come and go as if by magic." (OrEd.WkBk.158.4) This idea that you don't have time, it's just a belief. Time isn't a real thing; time is a trick we play on ourselves. How we think about time is really much more important than the time itself. You want to think about time like there's an abundance of time. One of the ways we can prove that to ourselves is by taking the time to do our lessons, take those twenty, thirty minutes in the morning.
If you're on the Healing Team, read that Healing Team email right after you do your lesson. It only takes three to five minutes. Read it, make the time, don't buy into the fear that you do not have time. Buying into fear is a tricky thing. There's a great quote from the Bible. It's from the Old Testament actually. It's from Job. It says – this is Job talking – he says, "For the thing which I greatly feared is come upon me, and that which I was afraid of is come unto me."(Job:3.25.KJV) If we're afraid that we don't have enough time and we make decisions out of that fear, that is what we're going to continue to manifest. When A Course In Miracles says to do something, we should do it, and we can do it. The Course says it, "And now sit down in true humility and realize that all God would have you do, you can do. Do not be arrogant and say you cannot learn His own curriculum." (OrEd.Mn.14.5) If you've been guided to study A Course in Miracles and to do the lessons, you can do them. Just keep making the decision to do them.
I want to spend a little time talking about guidance too. A Course In Miracles students know that guidance is a really fundamental issue. We're going to study A Course in Miracles because we're guided to, because we have received a message. Maybe it was in our own minds, maybe it came from the outside world which is always a reflection of our minds. We got the guidance to be A Course In Miracles students. That's really the only reason to do the Course.
However I have found many A Course In Miracles students relate to guidance in a simplistic way sometimes. They have these simplistic platitudes they say about guidance such as "God's answer is some form of peace, so guidance will always feel peaceful." I appreciate that. There's actually a Workbook lesson that says that. It's Jesus' birthday lesson. The lesson we do on December 25th, Jesus' birthday – or the day we celebrate Jesus' birthday – Lesson 359 says, "God's answer is some form of peace. All pain is healed; all misery replaced with joy. All prison doors are opened. And all sin is understood as merely a mistake."(OrEd.WkBk.359) So "yes," God's answer – some form of peace. I appreciate that this is true.
However there's a lot of other teaching in A Course In Miracles that gives a nuance and flushes that out a little bit. In the reading for today it says you will need guidance most – God's guidance and the lesson of the day – in situations which appear to be upsetting rather than those which already seem to be calm and quiet. We're going to bring that guidance into upsetting situations, and the guidance usually doesn't immediately eliminate the upset. The guidance starts us on a path that might eliminate the upset, but we have to be willing to ask for guidance even when we're upset or when it's difficult. In another place it says, "And what he hears may indeed be quite startling. It may also seem to be quite irrelevant to the presented problem as he perceives it, and may, in fact, confront him with a situation that appears to be very embarrassing" (OrEd.Mn.21.5)
Listening to the Holy Spirit's guidance doesn't necessarily always feel like peace. It may be quite startling. It may seem to be irrelevant and be confusing. It may be embarrassing. That's not going to feel like peace. But A Course In Miracles says those things. It just said those things right in that quotation. So saying that the Holy Spirit's guidance always feels peaceful is a little misleading. Then you have this quotation,the Course says, "Yet God can bring you there if you are willing to follow the Holy Spirit through seeming terror, trusting Him not to abandon you and leave you there." (OrEd.Tx.18.87) Following the Holy Spirit's guidance can actually bring us to terror, and that certainly doesn't feel like peace.
Okay, we've got struggle, and irrelevancy, and embarrassment, and terror as the experiences that following guidance may lead us to. So how do we reconcile that with God's answer as some form of peace? Well the guidance I have on that is God's answer, the Holy Spirit's answer, is always some form of peace. That is true, but the minute we listen to that answer, the ego reacts. And it's the ego reaction that creates those things, those irrelevancies, and those embarrassments, and that confusion, and that terror. Yes, we're following the Holy Spirit guidance, but the ego is reacting, and defending itself, and bringing up all kinds of negative thoughts, and feelings. When that happens, we have to stay the course. We have to stay the course with our guidance; we have to stay the course with our practice. We have to learn discernment.
Discernment is not a word that's actually in A Course in Miracles. Discernment is an idea that I get from our more traditional Christian brothers and sisters in the evangelical movement. They talk about spiritual discernment, which means just learning to identify the Holy Spirit's Voice. I looked up the definition of "discernment," the Christian idea of discernment, and it said this, "The fundamental definition of Christian discernment is a decision-making process in which an individual makes a discovery that can lead to future action. In the process of Christian spiritual discernment, God guides the individual to help them arrive at the best decision." (Wikipedia) Discernment is getting guidance from the Holy Spirit about those challenging, difficult decisions that you have to make.
However it seems like the evangelical movement and even traditional Christians know that discernment is a tricky thing, and that discernment is a continually evolving and growing ability. They don't talk about it in simplistic terms. It's actually a thing that one matures into. I think we could borrow a little of that idea of discernment from our evangelical Christian sisters, brothers, and others, and take it into our practice of A Course in Miracles. Getting guidance from the Holy Spirit, yes, it is some form of peace. But our defensive reaction to that from the ego is going to bring up all kinds of negative things that we're going to have to stay the course with. We're going to have to walk through that seeming terror, not abandoning the guidance of the Holy Spirit, so that we can arrive at that peace that we, of course, are trying to achieve. So allow the Course to grow and evolve for you. Don't get simplistic about it.
I've talked a lot about guidance over the years, and one of the analogies that I use, and that I'll say again (you may have heard this from me before) is that I think of guidance like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. We did that a lot when I was a kid, my family liked to do jigsaw puzzles. We got those big thousand piece, interlocking, jigsaw puzzles, and we spread it all out, all the pieces out, and we would work on it for about a week or two until we finally got it all put together.
When you're putting a jigsaw puzzle together, you hold an individual piece, that individual piece is just like a tiny portion of a whole picture. It's just color and shape, and it doesn't seem like much. But when you drop it into the right place in the puzzle, it blends into the whole picture and it's not piece anymore. It's part of the whole picture. That's energetically what I look for when I'm getting guidance. I look for that little bit of information which blends into a whole picture that energetically makes things whole and complete. And when I get that idea, then I feel that I've gotten my guidance. So I put that out there. Maybe that analogy will help you.
Now I understand that I have an advantage over a lot of A Course In Miracles students, and I realize that. I've had this job at the Community Miracle Center for 34 plus years. It is my job – and I love my job – and my job keeps me a very good A Course In Miracles student because my job is to be a very good A Course In Miracles student. That's my job. That's what I need to model. That's what I need to demonstrate. I love my job, and I love it for many reasons. One of the reasons I love it is that it keeps me a very good A Course In Miracles student. That's terrific, and I realized that's an advantage that I have, and I do want to declare that A Course in Miracles does deliver its promises, but you do have to do it.
I don't know anybody who has really done A Course in Miracles – and by "done it" I mean who reads the Text, maybe goes to groups, who does the 365 Workbook lessons mostly like it says to, who reads the Manual for Teachers – I don't know anybody who does that and completes the Course who does not say at the end of that process, "Wow, this was amazing! This was really transformational! This really worked! This really delivered!" Everybody who does the Course will say that. I do know, though, a lot of people who don't finish the Course and who don't actually do it, and they believe the Course didn't work for them, but the truth is they didn't really work for it. They didn't stay the course. You've got to stay the course for the Course to work.
We're at lesson number 192 today if you're doing the lessons in the yearly sequence. A lot of people say, "Well, I missed lessons, what do I do?" That's up to you and your guidance, you do whatever you're guided to do. But the possibility exists that you can just jump right back into the yearly sequence, like many of us are doing. There's a tremendous advantage to doing them with the thousands and thousands of other people all over the world doing the lesson on that day. There is an advantage. I ask people to really remember those thousands of students. When you do your lesson in the morning, remember that you're not just connecting to the Holy Spirit, and you're not just joining with your lesson partner, you're joining with thousands and thousands of people everywhere who are doing that lesson on that day. Think of that. Create that joining for yourself. It's a tremendous help.
And if you've missed a few lessons, you can not worry about it all that much because all those people that you're joining with, many of them did do those lessons, and that learning is in their minds, and their mind is your mind. So connect with that mind and stay the course, just keep doing the lessons. Do them as you're guided, if you're guided to go back to the one you were at, that's fine, but I feel there is an advantage to sticking to the yearly sequence.
A Course In Miracles says, "Yet it has been very specific, and you have not done what it specifically advocates. This is not a course in the play of ideas, but in their practical application." (OrEd.Tx.10.80) The Course says do the lessons, so do the lessons. The Course says forgive your sisters, and your brothers, and the others, and yourself – well then forgive your sisters, brothers, and others, and yourself.
A Course In Miracles also says, "The Holy Spirit is the spirit of joy. He is the Call to return with which God blessed the minds of His separated Sons. This is the vocation of the mind."(OrEd.Tx.5.18) Vocation is defined as, "a person's employment or main occupation, especially regarded as particularly worthy and requiring great dedication." It's our vocation to be A Course In Miracles students, to do the lessons, to read the Text. It's our vocation to forgive our sisters, brothers and others.
This summer, don't get distracted by vacation – forgetting your vocation. There's only one letter difference in the word "vacation" and "vocation." It's the second letter. It's the shift from "a" to an "o." So vacationing is fine but your "vocationing" is even finer. Don't give up your vocation to have a vacation. You can have them both actually, but keep your vocation. Stay the course, and keep your practice going even in the midst of the distractions, that's when you actually need it the most.
Okay, that's my talk for today. Thank you very much. ♥
Rev. Tony Ponticello is CMC's 20th minister. He currently (04.13.22) serves as the CMC's Executive Minister and is President of CMC's Board of Directors. He was ordained by the CMC on Oct. 17, 1997.
c/o Community Miracles Center
San Francisco, CA 94147
This article appeared in the July 2021 (Vol. 35 No. 5) 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.