On July 25, 2004, Rev. Peter Graham address the congregation at the Community Miracles Center in San Franicsco. What follows is a lightly edited transcript of that talk.
Thank you all for being here today. I’m really excited about doing this. It’s my third talk for the San Francisco, Community Miracles Center. The title of my talk today is “Let Freedom Ring.” I came up with this particular topic because I think freedom is always an aspiration for human beings. For all of us, all throughout history, whether it’s the United States of America or it’s somewhere else, freedom is always a human aspiration. Particularly the month of July has some holidays and events that make it good timing to talk about freedom. Freedom is something that’s a universal value. We may differ on how it is actually applied or how to interpret it.
For some, freedom of speech may mean that they can get up and say whatever they want, whenever they want. Other people may feel like freedom of speech needs some constraint – needs some limits. For instance, the old classic example, you can’t go into a movie theater and yell, “Fire” Right? The reason is obvious, because unrestrained freedom speech, at that time, is obviously hazardous to our health.
Freedom is important in this month, for those of us who mir in the United States, because July 4th is the date that we decided to proclaim our independence from Great Britain, from King George III. Now, July 4th is the day we celebrate it, however I used to be a history teacher so I know that the Declaration of Independence was actually ratified on July 2nd. The Continental Congress ratified it on July 2nd, but they did not announce it until July 4th. That’s why we celebrate it on July 4th.
There’s another group of people that also have a very significant day of freedom they celebrate and they are the French. The French celebrate July 14th, Bastille Day. Bastille Day, as some of you may know, is the day that the French rose up and stormed the Bastille, the prison, and “freed” the political prisoners. The interesting thing about this is that the Bastille held, at that time, about seven prisoners and the person they were actually trying to free was the Marquis de Sade who, some of you know, has been famed because of his illicit, pornographic writings that became very popular amongst the French, particularly the aristocrats. What’s ironic about this is, at that point in time, the Marquis de Sade had already been transferred to an insane asylum so he wasn’t even in the Bastille, but the French have a right to choose their day and that’s the day that they chose to symbolize freedom. That’s what it means for them. Go for it, “Frenchies!”
It’s also 2004, it’s a presidential election year, and this is actually the only election held throughout our whole country. We have a very strong tradition of believing in freedom and liberty in this country, and it’s the only national election. In every other election that we vote in, we’re voting for different representatives or what not, but in this election every American has the opportunity to vote for that one particular office. It’s an attempt to exercise our freedom. I know this is controversial, but today we’re fighting a war in Iraq in part because our president wants to bring freedom to that part of the world and free the Iraqis from their past pattern, the rule of tyrannical dictators.
If you’ve been doing your lessons in the A Course In Miracles, you’ll notice that freedom has also been prevalent in the last twenty lessons. The quote introducing our current lesson is “I am not a body, I am free. For I am still as God created me.” (W-pI.rVI.in.3.3-5) So clearly the Course is addressing the issue of freedom for us as well. In many ways spiritual freedom is the highest form of freedom that we can aspire to because, after all, we are ultimately spirit. From my study of the Course – what I believe the Course teaches us – freedom is releasing and being free of the thought system of the ego. To me, this is a great inspiration. I don’t know about all of you. I’m sure many of you believe the same way. Since we’ve been young, we’ve been aspiring to be free. How many of you, when you were younger, wanted freedom? I know for me, when I was a child, I wanted to be able to drive my own car. I wanted to be able to get out of my parents’ house. I wanted to be able to stay up late. So this desire to make our own decisions for ourselves is what we’re talking about here.
As you get older I think you evolve a different sense of what freedom means. When you encounter life the way the ego world presents it – like it says in the Course, “Eventually everyone begins to recognize, however dimly, that there be a better way.” (T-2.III.3.6) What does freedom really mean? Does freedom mean that I can achieve success and become a celebrity? Does freedom mean that I need power? Does freedom mean that I can be very popular and successful?
Some of us may have tried to pursue those paths, but they ultimately were not satisfying. So the question is, “How do I achieve freedom?” For me, the answer has been studying A Course In Miracles. My study of the Course has led me to free myself from doubts, insecurities and fears. Also, I think my greatest challenge that the Course has helped me with has been freeing me from my past. Perhaps all of us can relate to that challenge. Now, I know as a Course student, we are taught that the past does not exist. It is an illusion. But I also know as a practical Course student, my ego holds onto the past and my ego has even distorted the past. What can I do about some of those things that have happened in my past? I have to deal with them in some way. I want to talk to you a little bit about my life and how this works for me, dealing with this whole issue – the past.
I can remember growing up as a young boy. There were many, many good memories that I have. I grew up in a suburban town, Maple Shade, New Jersey, which is a suburb of Philadelphia across the Delaware River. I had a lot of great things. The things that I wanted as a boy I had. I could play all the sports I wanted and I played them all: football, baseball, street hockey .... I had baseball cards. I had friends. I had toy trucks and soldiers that I played with. I remember playing in the backyard. I can also remember that I had a good friend and he mird near, a few blocks away down by the creek. We’d go down to the creek – I know this may not be politically correct – but we played cowboys and Indians. We did all these things. We built forts and all the rest of it. We really had a great time. I also can remember a lot of good times with my family. My mom and stepfather were always doing things around the holidays. We had great Christmases. We had presents. My brother and my older sister, we always got nice things and we always had a nice Christmas. I remember that, and I also remember the summer times, the hot summers we had. We would go to lakes or we would have barbecues and picnics there. There were a lot of good things that I remembered about from my childhood.
As I got older and I went into high school. I played sports; I was a student athlete. I had a lot of great experiences. I had a lot of good friends. My senior year I was captain of the football team. We won the championship so it was really great. I went on to college. I went to a really good college, Gettysburg College. It was located in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and since I was a history buff that was wonderful because a lot of historical things took place at Gettysburg Once again I got involved in activities and I played sports. My college football team actually went to the NCAA playoffs and we were one game away from playing in the championship game. That was the highlight of my school sports career. So there were a lot of good things that I remember.
Now, probably like the rest of you, there were also things in my past that I wouldn’t put in that category. They weren’t so great, and these are the things that the Course has helped me with so I’ll share a little bit about my past. I know that all of you out here have these parts of your past too. My mom was one of those teenage mothers. She had her first child, my older sister, when she was a teenager in high school. I think it was the eleventh grade. So she did what Catholics did back then, she got married. She was pregnant and got married. That’s what you did back then. I, of course, came along about two years later so she was still very young. It was clear that this was not what my mother’s parents had wanted for their daughter. My mom is really smart. She was one of those students that got all “A”s in school. This was not the future my grandparents had in mind. They wanted her to graduate and go on to marry a college man and all the rest of the American dream. That didn’t quite happen. As a matter of fact, she split with my biological father when I was very young, shortly after I was born. She remarried soon after that. Unfortunately, she married an alcoholic and that brings with it a whole other set of issues – the typical issues that people who have alcoholism bring with them.
One of the things that they decided to do – which I believe is a reflection of the thought system of the ego – they decided to deny that my sister and I had a father different from my mother’s newer husband. The family decided, along with my grandparents, to just tell us that my stepfather was actually my father. So we were raised believing this and later on, this caused quite a bit of problems for me. At some point, I can’t remember exactly when but when I was around ten or eleven years of age, there was a big family argument and it was blurted out that my father wasn’t really my father. I look back on that now and I can say, “That was the time that I lost my childhood innocence.” The “reality” of the world, the lies and deceits, the broken trust was introduced to me. Personally, it was really hard. I think especially for me, because I was a boy. It was funny because my sister was saying “Oh, this is kind of neat.” She was lighthearted. It was no big deal for her, but for me, I was devastated. I don’t know what it was, but I think boys tend to idolize their fathers. At least, I did. So here was this big guy, an athlete too, but he wasn’t who I thought he was. He wasn’t really my biological father. I had a hard time with that. However, I was a kid. So you cry and then you go on. You just try to deal with things. That’s what I did. I went on.
The effects of growing up in this kind of household were not really felt until later. My stepfather, as I said, suffered from alcoholism so there were times when he was wonderful. He was a great dad. But there were also times when he was under the spell of alcohol where he was violent. He was mean, nasty and all the rest of the behaviors that go with alcoholism. So there were times when these upsetting things happened. What could I do? Eventually he had to leave. He left the home because my mom finally got tired of his behavior and she got him out of the house. We went on and mird our mirs. It wasn’t until after college that I began to identify that I had some healing to do because I began to experience symptoms of depression. I had this rage I felt and that would sometimes express itself. I had low self-esteem and negative thinking. You wouldn’t believe the level of negative thinking that was always there. Fortunately I had some really good friends. Also, I had the wherewithal and sought out therapy. I even went to some support groups that related to my particular background and I found them helpful. However, I have to say that the most important thing that has helped me heal the past was the Course’s teaching on forgiveness. That has helped me the most. the Course says this about forgiveness, “God does not forgive because He has never condemned. And there must be condemnation before forgiveness is necessary. Forgiveness is the great need of this world, but that is because it is a world of illusions. Those who forgive are thus releasing themselves from illusions, while those who withhold forgiveness are binding themselves to them. As you condemn only yourself, so do you forgive only yourself.” (W-pI.46.1.3-5)
What is the Course telling us about this lesson of forgiveness? I think there’s a couple things. First, I think we have to recognize (at least that’s what I do) that on an intellectual level, the past didn’t happen. Then you have to say but in my mind it did happen so I have to find some way to reconcile this. How do I do that? Well, I’ve got to identify it. What is it that I’m angry about and with who? My parents. Why did she have to remarry an alcoholic? “Mom, couldn’t you have picked somebody else? Wouldn’t it have been a little easier?” Something like that. Of course, like all parents my mom said and did some things which I didn’t take kindly to. Things which, obviously, hurt me. So I had to identify these things and say, “Okay, this is what it is I’m holding against my parents and my grandparents – decisions. Decisions that were made. I have to identify them.” I’m learning this from the Course. Then I realized that I had to let it all go. That was my part. The Course’s definition of forgiveness is letting it go. Now we have to be careful here, and I have to be careful, because sometimes I find myself – especially when I’m in my car and I’m driving along – I find myself with a thought. A thought will come into my mind and it’s an unforgiving thought. I’ve learned to say, “Okay, Peter. Let that go.” That’s what I say.
I think what’s important here is that we have to be willing to let it go. Don’t we? We’ve got to be willing. I’ve got to feel the willingness in my heart. I’ve got to be able to say, “Holy Spirit, I don’t want this any more. I don’t want to hold this ax over my mother’s head any more. I don’t want to hold on to this guilt any more. I just want to let it go.” Now, when I find that I do that, that’s my complete job. I’m done if I can let it go. Then the Holy Spirit takes over. That’s what the Course tells me. The Holy Spirit takes over and, what’s fascinating for me is, the Holy Spirit then brings healing to me and the other person – to you and the other person. That’s what the Course says will happen. I can testify to this for both me and my mom. My relationship with my mother is much better now than it was in my early to mid-twenties when I had this ax that I was holding over her head. She was being who she was and playing out that role for me, but now there is much greater, if you will, freedom to be. It’s not perfect. I’m not saying that. I still have a way to go, but as things come up and as I offer them to the Holy Spirit, there’s a greater chance for me to experience that freedom. It happens the same way with my stepfather and my biological father, who I eventually did meet. We did that.
So that’s our part. We identify the issues then we’ve got to let them go. We’ve got to be willing to let them go. Then the Holy Spirit does the work. The Course teaches us this as well. This is our path to spiritual freedom. We could say, “Okay. I’m going to let God do all the work.” But what does the Course say? The Course tells us that we’ve got to do this work together with the Holy Spirit. All of us. All of us have to do this healing with those in our mirs. We have to heal our own minds. That’s how we get back to God. It won’t work for us to abstractly, intellectually say, “God, heal me” For me, that’s what the Course is saying. The Course is saying we heal through our relationships and this is very specific on this level. This is what we need to do.
Now, why do we resist this? Why do we resist forgiveness? Why do we resist having peace and freedom in our mirs? This is what the Course says, “The shadow figures are the witnesses you bring with you to demonstrate he did what he did not. Because you bring them, you will hear them. And you who keep them by your own selection do not understand how they came into your mind, and what their purpose is. They represent the evil that you think was done to you. You bring them with you only that you may return evil for evil, hoping that their witness will enable you to think guiltily of another and not harm yourself” (T-17.III.1.6-10)
Basically – what are we doing? That guilt inside of us, that’s there from the separation. We’re projecting it out and we need it out there because we don’t want to feel it in here. Okay? The Course’s antidote for this is forgiveness, forgiving the guilt and separation. Letting it go. I know for myself, with my mom, not forgiving her enabled me to think I could protect myself from her. I thought if I could hold this guilt over her head I could protect myself. Who was I protecting? I wasn’t at peace. I was holding onto all this stuff: the anger, the guilt, the rage – I was holding onto it. Now I see how it works.
The Course says, “Love is freedom. To look for it by placing yourself in bondage is to separate yourself from it. For the Love of God, no longer seek for union in separation, nor for freedom in bondage! As you release, so will you be released. Forget this not, or Love will be unable to find you and comfort you.” (T-16.VI.2) Alright. What’s the central teaching of the Course? We’re love! Right? We are essentially love, but we prevent ourselves from being able to feel that love because of our unwillingness to forgive. Now, that’s what we’re all here to do.
For me, when I talk about trying to achieve spiritual freedom, what it means is that I need to forgive. I need to continue to do the practice of the Course. Sometimes, because I find I haven’t been doing the practice of forgiveness, things build up. Then I literally have to take a forgiveness inventory. That’s what I do. I write down each specific thing that is bugging me, each judgment that I have against another. Whatever it is. It may be an event that happened in my past that I’m still hanging onto. I write it down. Then, what I do is I pray over it. The first time I did this, I remember I was sitting in a cafe right here the Castro district of San Francisco, right across the street from here. I sat down; I wrote my list. I prayed over it and then let it go. Talk about feeling free! I left that cafe and I was like “Woooo ...!” Walking light in my step. It was great! I think that’s what the Course promises us. It gives us this opportunity to achieve the highest form of freedom – spiritual freedom.
In closing, I want to say that I believe that we all have a past, both the great memories and some that weren’t so great, but we’re all on this road to spiritual freedom. I believe through the study of the Course our mirs will improve. My life has improved, and I just look forward to continuing to increase the love, peace and the joy in my life, and I hope the same for you. That’s my talk for today. Y
2269 Market Street
San Francisco, CA 94114
This article appeared in the September 2004 (Vol. 18 No. 7) 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.