On Sunday, November 22, 2020 Rev. Peter Graham gave a talk for the Community Miracles Center's Sunday Gathering. A lightly edited transcription of the talk is presented here.
The title of the talk for today is "The Pursuit of Virtue." Normally at this time of year, I hear or I think about giving talks about gratitude. But I thought we often hear talks about gratitude. Gratitude is a wonderful virtue as well, but recently I've been working with my students around this notion of virtue. I thought, let's expand gratitude and let's take a look at virtue from the standpoint of A Course in Miracles (ACIM). What virtues are encompassed in this spiritual discipline? So, that's what I thought we could do for today.
I do also want to express my gratitude to each and every person here, not only for the gifts you bring me personally, and to our whole community, but also because of these talks. We put a lot of time and effort into them. It is really meaningful that we see every person that comes to hear the effort that we put in. Of course, if one person would come, we would speak to that one person. But honestly from deep in my heart, it really does help to see more folks come as well. So thank you so much. I love you all.
The definition of "virtue" — there are many definitions, but one that I like is, "a trait or characteristic that leads to good behavior." One of the first organized approaches to virtue and ethics comes to us from one of my favorite periods — the ancient Greek philosophy period in history, Plato and Aristotle. Aristotle actually came first, but Plato was the one who wrote a lot of it down. They basically said that virtues are characteristics that we have that lead us to personal and social happiness.
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Doesn't that sound a lot like A Course in Miracles? Because ACIM is, as Rev. Tony often points out, it's not a spiritual discipline where you go to a cave in the Himalayas with some guru, sit, meditate and purify your thoughts until you become enlightened. The teaching of ACIM is very social. It really is talking about us, as the reading says today, having a perfect commitment to our mighty companions. That means that anyone and everyone in our lives is a potential mighty companion. We have to heal perfectly in order for our minds to be perfectly clear. That takes a very strong commitment. So, commitment is actually another very important virtue for all of us as we attempt to continue to work with ACIM and bring miracles into our lives.
It's not just the Greeks. All the world's religions agree that virtues and the quest for miracles are important. In Hinduism, there is the belief that good deeds undo karma. Hmm, doesn't that sound interesting? Where do we hear about the undoing? Isn't there something called the atonement process through forgiveness, that we're all to be a part of? This is also part of Hinduism.
In Buddhism, there is the Brahma Viharas. Some folks summarize them as follows: loving-kindness (how about that, kindness as a virtue), compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity. Think about that word, "equanimity" — the desire to treat all equally — just a little. If we look at today's society, today's world, we still see that a great desire amongst many is to have the experience of equality and inclusion. It's very, very important. It's something deep in the human soul that people search for.
Aristotle, one of the ones who first came up with a systematic approach to virtue, identifies these virtues: courage, temperance, liberality, magnificence, (I'll talk more about that one later) pride (how about that? pride as a virtue) wit or good humor, and friendship.
In A Course in Miracles, we're truly taught to seek the miracle, right? We're given many different approaches to this, and we're told that the miracle will lead us to happiness. The miracle is really a path for us through virtue. In practically every situation that we're given — many times a day, many times in our life — we're given this opportunity to make choices, thousands of choices a day. Every one of those choices, as we know, is really a choice, from the ACIM standpoint, between vice and virtue. What choice are we going to pursue?
A Course in Miracles says this in the beginning when it talks about the principles of miracles. "Miracles occur naturally as expressions of love." (FIP.T.1.1) Further, it says love is all encompassing. So, love encompasses all virtues. "Miracles are habits and should be involuntary."(FIP.T.1.5) Here ACIM is telling us, from the beginning, the truth is that we are all seeking a virtuous life — everybody here. I'm going to include all of my brothers and sisters and fellow beings that are walking this planet. All of them have embedded in their minds the Holy Spirit. All of them are doing the best they can to try to live a virtuous life, even if outward appearances may seem to illustrate that's not the case. They're all trying to do this.
In today's reading that was read so well, what were some of the virtues that were expressed there? I already talked about one — total commitment to our relationships. The commitment to virtue is not an easy path. It's not a path that we may naturally be drawn to, because it is often times the more challenging path. It means that we have to accept everyone in our lives exactly for who they are, and that's not easy. Acceptance and tolerance (which is also one of the characteristics of the Teachers of God) are not easy.
I frequently share about various experiences in my professional life. I can recall there was a time when I was working with a student and their family, and this student had a lot of very challenging behaviors. The parent also had a great number of ways in which I felt they were not guiding their daughter appropriately or doing it in a helpful way. They were, the word might be, "enabling" in our current world. That's a word that we could definitely use. I saw this, and I remember being in meetings and being somewhat impatient and critical of their approach. Not that I said that explicitly, but it came out in my tone.
Of course, being an A Course in Miracles student I was talking about it, and thinking about it, and praying about it. Over time this mitigated, this lessened. I went from being a judgmental case manager to a more accepting, understanding, and tolerant case manager. As a consequence, the student didn't have necessarily a miraculous recovery or change, but my experience of them changed, and my ability to provide suggestions to them changed. My suggestions actually became more effective. Because my point of view was less judgmental, I was more effective. That wasn't a conscious thing. I didn't realize that until later on. As I was thinking about it, I became more and more accepting. That was very important.
Another virtue that I think is very interesting, Aristotle defines as magnificence. Some define it as pride, and perhaps ACIM defines it as grandeur. I was struck by this one, as I was doing my research for this talk. When we think of pride, we often think, "Be careful, ‘Pride goeth before the fall.'" Right? This is pride in the negative sense. Pride is when we think we're right, and we continue pursuit of an action to the point where it brings us down.
We see this in Greek literature, or even in dramas on television. It oftentimes means the powerful fall. It's very dramatic, ending in: death, prison, or the complete destruction of people's lives. For us, it may not be as externally dramatic. But there's another more positive take on pride. That is the pride we take on as we do things. Especially if whatever we do, we do it to the best of our ability.
I can recall myself as a young man growing up playing sports — especially when I got into more organized sports. There was the pride that we were driven to — that our coaches and our teachers pushed hard for us to achieve. Often times, we were driven. We worked very hard. We had high standards. I remember, especially in playing organized sports, we had a great deal of success, and we had virtues that we lived by.
When I played college football, one of the most important virtues we had — we explicitly declared it — was commitment. I have talked about this already. Another virtue we had was a commitment to excellence. This is what I'm talking about now. When I think back on that, there was a lot of adversity during those times, but our teams were very successful. We won championships. We went and even competed one year for the national championship, finishing fourth in the country in relation to our level of competition.
We also have many different kinds of examples of this in our life. I was reflecting a little bit on what Rev. Tony mentions when he talks about the Community Miracles Center (CMC). He tells us it's okay for us to celebrate our successes, right? Because we worked hard for those things. Because he worked hard for things. Those A Course in Miracles Conferences that we put on — it's okay to have pride in those Conferences.
That's not always the message that we get from the world. Sometimes the message we get is, "Oh, you're being arrogant. Don't be proud of your accomplishments." I say, "No, be proud of your accomplishments!" Acknowledging those experiences, acknowledging the love that went into all of those things that you accomplished: the PhD.s, working with kids, having children, inspiring them, ... Whatever you did: being a body worker, being a musician, being a person who works with the community, working with your A Course in Miracles students — whatever you do, acknowledge it! It's important. It's important for us to say we have done great things.
I know most of you in this meeting, and I know everyone here has done great things. We should continue to try to do great things. It's important. It's truly important for us to step out on the ledge a little bit and risk. I think that's what a lot of us do. I believe that's what the miracle truly asks us to do. The miracle asks us to take risks.
The A Course in Miracles Manual for Teachers talks about the different characteristics that a Teacher of God should have. To me, these are the ten virtues of ACIM: trust, honesty, tolerance, gentleness, joy, defenselessness, generosity, patience, faithfulness, and open-mindedness.
If we reflect on these, isn't that a wonderful list? Are we there always? Nope. Just this morning, I had a little experience with defensiveness, not the more appropriate defenselessness — which I will clean up later. What's really important is that these are not usually qualities that have been championed in our news, or in what we see in the media, even in the advertisements. However, if you pay attention, there is now a movement back toward this idea of virtue and quality character traits.
At the little school that I teach at, this Friday we had a theme. We meet on Zoom now, of course, like everybody does*1. We sometimes meet with the students and our staff for a session of study skills, but also we call it "Honor Period." I'm in charge of the theme for these meetings. This Friday, I made it "Virtuous Friday." I said, "Why not combine both virtue and gratitude?" We talked about this. I said, "Okay, we always do gratitude around Thanksgiving ..." The kids were going to do that later on with the clinical staff that we work with. So I said, "How about what are some other qualities that you aspire to? What are some other virtues?" And a lot of them basically said some of the things that we are saying here: tolerance, gentleness, honesty, and kindness, which is another word for gentleness.
These are things that A Course in Miracles is also asking of us. It says these are things that a Teacher of God should attempt to exhibit. Guess what folks? If you look closely, we're all Teachers of God. We're all teaching every moment, right? We know this. Every moment, the teacher is the ego or the Holy Spirit — the ego or the Holy Spirit — the ego or the Holy Spirit.
What the miracle is truly helping us to do — the miracle which is coming from the Holy Spirit's guidance — it is moving us toward virtue. The Holy Spirit has no judgment, right? The Holy Spirit has patience and faithfulness — the Holy Spirit knows the end game. The Holy Spirit knows that we are all one. The Holy Spirit knows our reality. The Holy Spirit knows that this dream (and the children's toys that we're temporarily occupying our self with) is going to end, and that we're going to have that experience of awakening as one.
In the meantime, as we're on this path, we're attempting to live virtuous lives. It's important for us to take into consideration what it is that we are being virtuous toward. What virtues do we have and how can we bring these virtues to our mighty companions and those many thousands and millions of folk that we interact with?
I personally am convinced that, because of A Course in Miracles coming into the world, it is encouraging the world to move towards virtue. We are an essential part of that. I ask all of you, as we go forward towards these virtues: do it with wit, do it with humor, do it with joy. In the end you'll be happy, and so will everyone else that you come in contact with.
That's my talk for today. Thank you. ♥
*1. This was during the height of the Covid pandemic mitigation responses, and public schools were all meeting on Zoom.
Rev. Peter Graham is CMC's 40th minister. He was ordained by the CMC on February 23, 2002.
c/o Community Miracles Center
San Francisco, CA 94147
This article appeared in the October 2021 (Vol. 35 No. 8) 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.