Excerpts from


Straight Talk About Illusions, Past Lives,  Religion,
Sex, Politics, and the Miracles of Forgiveness

by Gary R. Renard



by D. Patrick Miller

Author’s Note


Part I:

1 . Arten and Pursah Appear
2 . The J Underground
3 . The Miracle
4 . The Secrets of Existence
5 . The Ego’s Plan


Part II

6 . The Holy Spirit’s Alternative
7 . The Law of Forgiveness
8 . Enlightenment
9 . Near Life Experiences
10 . Healing The Sick
11 . A Very Brief History of Time
12 . Watching The News
13 . True Prayer and Abundance
14 . Better Than Sex
15 . Looking into The Future
16 . Notes on Raising The Dead
17 . The Disappearance of the Universe


When Gary Renard contacted me about getting a professional assessment of the manuscript that would become this book, my initial responses were perfectly sensible. First, when Gary told me that his manuscript was 150,000 words long, I told him that no publisher in his right mind would produce such a book in one volume. He’d either have to split it into two books, or better yet, have it edited down into one manageable project under 100,000 words. That much I could tell him without even seeing the manuscript.

Gary said he didn’t think that either approach was possible with what he had written, but he’d think about it. In the meantime, would I take a look at this project, largely comprising a series of extended conversations with two “ascended masters”?

That’s when I had my second perfectly sensible response, which I didn’t share with Gary: Oh no, I thought, another long-winded manifesto of spiritual claptrap written by some poor sap who thinks the voices in his head are manifestations of something divine. In almost two decades of working as a journalist, reviewer, editor, and publisher in the field of alternative spirituality, I had seen more piles of such dreck than I cared to remember. I couldn’t help but recall a quote from St. John of the Cross, complaining of deluded scribes in his own day: “This happens very commonly, and many persons are greatly deceived by it, thinking they have attained to a high degree of prayer and are receiving communications from God. Wherefore, they either write this down or cause it to be written, and it turns out to be nothing, and to have the substance of no virtue, and it serves only to encourage them in vanity.”

I was not far into this manuscript before I was glad I hadn’t shared my second, private response with Gary, because that meant I wouldn’t have to eat my words. As bizarre as his story appeared on the surface, it was nonetheless surprisingly readable, even captivating. The conversations that Gary had recorded with his unexpected and most unusual spiritual instructors, Arten and Pursah, were smart, funny, and free of the unctuous pseudo-profundity that I’d come to expect from so-called “channeled” material. Moreover, the work did not seem to do much in the way of encouraging Gary’s vanity. In fact, his otherworldly companions ribbed him mercilessly about being a slacker and a smart ass, although they also gave him a lot of caring encouragement about the spiritual discipline in which they were urging him along.

Readers will soon discover that this discipline is the same one known to millions worldwide through the modern spiritual document called A Course in Miracles® (ACIM®). No doubt Gary contacted me because of my published work regarding the Course, including the book which launched my publishing company, The Complete Story of the Course, a journalistic overview of this teaching’s history, chief teachers and popularizers, as well as its critics and a few controversies it has spawned. It was also possible that Gary contacted me because he had an unconscious recognition of our psychological similarities. While I am by no means a slacker like Mr. Renard, I’ve certainly got my share of smart-ass tendencies.

As a supplemental teaching guide of Course principles, Gary’s manuscript had another remarkable characteristic: It was absolutely uncompromising in its commitment to ACIM’s spiritual philosophy of “pure non-dualism” and its inwardly activist creed of forgiving, forgiving, and then more forgiving until forgiveness becomes a 24-7 habit of mind. While there has been a handful of very successful books relying on Course principles for their primary appeal, the most popular ones have also been the most diluted, and often blended with more palatable notions of the New Age and self-help variety. I was impressed to see that Gary’s manuscript stayed true to both the hardcore metaphysics and the exacting mind-training discipline of the Course, usually in no uncertain terms. Whatever they were and wherever they came from, Arten and Pursah were clearly not shills for the latest vapid Enlightenment-in-a-Weekend workshop...

This book is not a substitute for A Course in Miracles, but I’m confident that it will serve many as a bracing preview or a radical review of that teaching’s fundamental principles. And readers who don’t care about the Course may still find much herein to laugh at, argue with, or marvel over. If you’re anything like me, you’ll discover that this book is not at all what you expect — but it sure is one helluva ride. As Arten and Pursah might say: Have fun!

D. Patrick Miller
Founder, Fearless Books (original publisher, May 2003-October 2004)

Author’s Note


While living in a rural area of Maine I was witness to a series of in-the-flesh appearances by two ascended masters named Pursah and Arten, who eventually identified their previous incarnations as including those of Saint Thomas and Saint Thaddaeus. (Despite popular myth, those lifetimes as two of the original disciples were not their final ones.)

My visitors did not come forth in order to repeat some of the spiritual platitudes that many people may already believe. Rather, they revealed no less than the secrets of the universe, discussed the true purpose of life, spoke in detail about The Gospel of Thomas, and bluntly clarified the principles of an astounding spiritual document that is spreading throughout the world to usher in a new way of thinking that will become more prevalent in the new millennium.

It is not essential for you to believe these appearances took place in order to derive benefits from the information in this book. However, I can vouch for the extreme unlikeliness of this book being written by an uneducated layman such as myself without inspiration by these masters. At any rate, I leave it up to readers to think whatever they choose about the book’s origins.

I personally believe that The Disappearance of the Universe can be helpful, time-saving reading for any open-minded person who is on a spiritual path. After you experience this message, it may be impossible for you — as it was for me — ever to look at your life or think of the universe the same way again.

The following text relates events that occurred from December of 1992 through December of the year 2001. They are presented within the framework of a dialogue that has three participants: Gary, (that’s me) and Arten and Pursah, the two ascended masters who appeared to me in person. Please be advised that I did not substantially change this dialogue even though it was difficult for me to review this material and tolerate some of the immature and judgmental things I said over the span of time covered by this book. Looking back, I realized that it was only during the later chapters that I was truly practicing forgiveness.

Even though there are statements made by the masters in these pages that may appear to be harsh or critical in their printed form, I can witness that their attitude should always be taken to include gentleness, humor, humility and love. As an analogy, a good parent sometimes knows it is necessary for children to be firmly corrected in a manner they can understand, but the motivation behind the correction is positive in nature. So if these discussions appear to get a little rough it should be remembered that for my benefit, Arten and Pursah are deliberately speaking to me in a way I can grasp, with the purpose of gradually bringing me along toward the goal of their teaching. I was told by Pursah that their style was designed to get me to pay attention. Perhaps that says it all....

Gary R. Renard


Arten and Pursah Appear

During Christmas week of 1992, I realized that the circumstances of my life and my state of mind had been slowly improving for about a year. At the previous Christmas, things had not been going well at all. Then I had been deeply troubled by the apparent scarcity in my life. Although I had been successful as a professional musician, I had not managed to save much money. I was struggling in my new career as a stock market trader, and I was in the process of suing a friend and former business partner whom I felt had treated me unfairly. Meanwhile, I was still in the process of recovering from a bankruptcy four years earlier — the result of impatience, reckless spending and seemingly good investments gone bad. I didn’t know it, but I was at war with myself and I was losing. I also didn’t know back then that practically all people are at war and losing, even when they may appear to be winning.

Suddenly, something shifted deep within me. For thirteen years I had been on a spiritual search during which I had learned a great deal without really taking the time to apply my lessons, but now a new certainty swept over me. Things have got to change, I thought. There’s got to be a better way than this.

I wrote to the friend I was suing and informed him that I was dropping my legal action in order to start removing conflict from my life. He called and thanked me, and we began to rebuild our friendship. Eventually I would learn that this same kind of scenario, in different forms, had played itself out thousands of times in the previous few decades as some people in conflict had begun a process of laying down their weapons and surrendering to a greater wisdom within themselves.

Then I began trying to activate forgiveness and love, as I understood them at the time, in the situations that confronted me on any given day. I had some good results and some very tough difficulties, especially when someone pushed my buttons in just the right (or wrong) way. But at least I felt like I was beginning to change direction. During this period I began noticing little flashes of light out of the corner of my eye, or occurring around certain objects. These crystal clear light flashes did not take up my entire field of vision, but were concentrated on particular areas. I wouldn’t understand what they meant until it was explained to me later.

Through this year of change I regularly prayed to Jesus, the prophet of wisdom whom I admired more than anyone else, to help me. I felt a mysterious connection to Jesus, and in my prayers I often told him how I wished that I could go back two thousand years and be a follower of his, so I could know what it was really like to learn from him in person.

Then, during that Christmas week of 1992, something most unusual happened while I was meditating in my living room in a rural area of Maine. I was all alone because I worked at home and my wife, Karen, commuted to Lewiston. We had no children and thus I enjoyed a very quiet environment, except for the occasional barking of our dog, Nupey. As my mind drifted back from my meditation, I opened my eyes and was stunned to see that I was not alone. With my mouth open but no sound coming out, I stared across the room at a man and a woman sitting on my couch, looking directly at me with gentle smiles and lucid, penetrating eyes. There was nothing threatening about them; in fact, they looked extraordinarily peaceful, which I found reassuring. Looking back on the event I would wonder why I had not been more fearful, given that these very solid-looking people had apparently materialized out of nowhere. Still, this first appearance by my soon-to-be friends was so surreal that fear somehow didn’t seem appropriate.

The two people looked to be in their thirties and very healthy. Their clothing was stylish and contemporary. They didn’t look anything like I might have imagined that angels, or ascended masters, or any other kind of divine beings might look. There was no illumination or glowing aura around them. One could have spotted them in a restaurant eating dinner and not given them a second thought. But I couldn’t help but notice them sitting there on my couch, and I found myself looking at the attractive woman more than the man. Noticing this, the woman spoke first.

PURSAH: Hello, my dear brother. I can see you are astonished, but not really afraid. I am Pursah and this is our brother, Arten. We are appearing to you as symbols whose words will help facilitate the disappearance of the universe. I say we are symbols because anything that appears to take on a form is symbolic. The only true reality is God or pure spirit, which in Heaven are synonymous, and God and pure spirit have no form. Thus there is no concept of male or female in Heaven. Any form, including your own body, that is experienced in the false universe of perception must, by definition, be symbolic of something else. That is the real meaning of the second commandment, “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.” Most Biblical scholars have always considered that particular commandment to be a mystery. Why would God not want you to make any images of Him? Moses thought the idea was to get rid of pagan idolatry. The real meaning is that you shouldn’t make up any images of God because God has no image. That idea is central to what we’ll be telling you later.
GARY: Do you want to run that by me again?
ARTEN: We’ll be repeating things enough for you to pick them up, Gary, and one of the things you’ll notice is that we’ll speak to you more and more in your own style of language. In fact, we’re going to put things to you very bluntly. We think you’re big enough to handle it, and we didn’t come here to waste time. You asked Jesus for help. He would have been happy to come to you himself, but that’s not what’s called for right now. We’re his representatives. By the way, most of the time we’re just going to refer to Jesus as J. We have permission from him to do that, and we’ll tell you why when the time is right. You wanted to know what it was like to be there with him two thousand years ago. We were there and we’ll be happy to tell you, although you may be surprised to find out there are more advantages to being a student of his today than there were back then. One thing we’re going to do is challenge you the way J repeatedly challenged us, whether in the past or in what you think of as the future. We’re not going to be easy on you or tell you what you want to hear. If you want to be handled with kid gloves then go to a theme park. If you’re ready to be treated like an adult who has a right to know why nothing in your universe can possibly work in the long run, then we’ll get down to business. You will also learn both the cause of this situation and the way out of it. So, what do you say?
GARY: I don’t know what to say.
ARTEN: Excellent. A fine qualification for a student, another one being the desire to learn....
     In helping you we will not be giving you the so-called wisdom of the ages that your contemporary spiritual wizards are so fond of. You will learn instead that most of what the world thinks of as the wisdom of the ages is actually full of it. The “divine intelligence of the universe” is a phrase that’s entirely worthy of having the plug pulled on it. You will learn that babies are not born with a clean slate or a natural tendency to focus on love and are then corrupted by the world, and you will find that if you are to return to God then you have some work to do — not work in the world, but with your thoughts. During most of this it will appear to you that we are making judgments, a lot of them. There’s a good reason for that. The only possible way we can teach you is by contrasting the Holy Spirit’s thinking with the thinking of the world. His judgment is sound, and leads to God. Your judgment is poor, and leads you back here, again and again.
PURSAH: During our exchanges you will also find out what you really are, how you got here, exactly why you and all other people behave and feel the way that you do, why the universe keeps repeating the same patterns over and over again, why people get sick, the reason behind all failure, accidents, addictions and natural disasters, the real cause of all of the violence, crime, war and terrorism in the world, the only meaningful solution to all of these things and how to apply it.
GARY: If you can tell me all that, you win a prize.
PURSAH: There is only one prize anybody should be interested in.
GARY: Heaven?
ARTEN: Yes. You have heard that the truth shall set you free. That’s true, but nobody tells you what the truth is. You have heard that the Kingdom of Heaven is within you. That is also true, but nobody tells you how to get there. If they did, would you listen? You can lead a human to water but you can’t make him drink. We will point you toward the water, but you will only drink it if you are ready for a spirituality that, like the truth, is not of this universe.
     One of the fundamental differences between the teachings of J and the teachings of the world is this: The teachings of the world are the product of a split, unconscious mind. Once you have that you have compromise, and once you have compromise you no longer have the truth.
     You will not find compromise with us, and you will not always like it. That doesn’t matter. If we gave you everything you think you want, you’d be looking for something else a month later. You don’t need us to help you feel good about a universe that was never worth the price of admission, and never will be.
     There is something much better to feel good about. With God’s speed we followed our way home. Our intention now is to help you find yours....


The Law of Forgiveness

The path I had chosen was not fast-food spirituality, and the Course’s Workbook was no piece of cake. After a year and four months of almost constant dedication and attention, I managed to complete all 365 of the Workbook Lessons. Although the Course’s theory is set forth in the Text, it is greatly elaborated in the Workbook. Both are necessary to understand and apply the Course; neither is complete without the other. The Workbook, however, has a more practical feature to it. Its exercises, which are applied to students’ personal relationships and to any situation they find themselves in on any given day, are designed to bring about the experience that what the Course is teaching is true.

Indeed, Arten and Pursah had already emphasized that the real Answer to the ego’s world would not present itself in the form of an intellectual answer, but as an experience of God that would in effect render the experience of separation meaningless. For me, there were also the occasional and welcome experiences of peace that were present, instead of my usual and habitual upsets. That alone was enough to make me thankful for the direction my life had taken....

By August, I was very excited because eight months had gone by since I had last seen Arten and Pursah. By now I trusted them to keep their word and appear to me again at the end of that interval. Then one afternoon, Pursah showed up, but Arten didn’t.

PURSAH: Hey, teacher of God. What’s up?
GARY: If I told you, you’d slap my face.
PURSAH: Did we forget to take our anti-smart ass pill this morning?
GARY: Just joking. It’s great to see you, but where’s that Arten guy?
PURSAH: He’s on business.
GARY: Where, or should I say when?
PURSAH: Another dimension. It’s not really a different place, because there aren’t really any different places, and I think you’re starting to get the metaphysical picture. Arten is working with you right now in another one of your lifetimes, and you don’t even know it! Sometimes people don’t know an ascended master is around. That’s why I told you we like to fit in wherever we go. Arten is actually here, too. An ascended master is everywhere. You just can’t always see them. We seldom project more than one bodily image of ourselves at one time, and it’s always for teaching purposes. The teaching isn’t always traditional. Sometimes we interact with someone or do something somewhere that will help facilitate forgiveness in that particular dimension. Most of the time we don’t appear at all; we just give people our thoughts.
GARY: I don’t suppose you’re gonna tell me about the lifetime Arten is helping me in?
PURSAH: Let’s work on this one, hotshot. When you forgive in one lifetime, you help the Holy Spirit heal all of them. The forgiveness you’ve been doing for the last few months is having an effect on you in other dimensions of time. Arten will show up with me again next visit. This time, just focus on talking with me. We’re going to discuss forgiveness — true forgiveness. I want you to be even better at it, O.K? The Course is enough, but you’re fortunate to have good help in understanding it. For most people, that kind of help is absolutely necessary.
GARY: As Benjamin Franklin said, “Necessity is a mother.”
PURSAH: Let’s hope you quote the Course more accurately. The Workbook has helped you tremendously. You can read parts of it again anytime you want, but you don’t have to do the exercises again. Some people do the exercises in the Workbook twice; some people do them every year. It’s an individual thing. In your case, just reading and applying the Workbook ideas the same way you do with the ideas in the Text and the Manual will be enough from now on. As for this discussion, let’s get to work.
     The Course teaches that your sole responsibility is to accept the Atonement for yourself. (ACIM: T25-26) You’ve already accelerated a process where you forgive others instead of judging them. Having completed the Workbook, you finally understand that whenever you condemn another, your salvation is off to a flying stop. You’ve also had more experiences that the world is a dream, nothing but illusion.
GARY: We had a guest at our study group meeting a couple of weeks ago when somebody mentioned something about the world being an illusion, and this guy was really pissed. He said, “What’s the point?” I knew the answer was that you have to understand the world’s a dream in order to comprehend forgiveness and salvation, but I didn’t explain it very well.
PURSAH: Yes. We said earlier it’s not enough to say the world is an illusion. The point is that you have to learn how to forgive in order to get home. Understanding the metaphysics of the Course is required in order to understand forgiveness, but it may be helpful to some people if you stress forgiveness first, then bring in the dreamlike nature of the world and other features of the truth gradually.
    That’s just the opposite of what we did with you, but there’s a big difference between a book like the one that’s going to result from our visits and the kind of personal interactions you’ll have with most people. You’re not going to teach anybody the whole Course. That means people will only stay with it if they hear something that rings true for them, or piques their interest. Don’t try to control that. Just be yourself and let the Holy Spirit work with people. Yes, ask for guidance and share your experience if you want, but don’t try to change the world or anyone in it. Just forgive — silently. Don’t go up to people and say, “I’m forgiving you now, you know.” Which brings us back to the subject at hand. Tell me something you remember from the Workbook; anything that comes to mind — quickly.
GARY: O.K. This is one of my favorites.

I am not a body. I am free.
For I am still as God created me. (ACIM: W386)

PURSAH: Good one. That’s from the Workbook, which also says,

...The ego holds the body dear because it dwells in it, and lives united with the home that it has made. It is a part of the illusion that has sheltered it from being found illusory itself. (ACIM: W382)

Now, if you thought you were a body before you had the Course, then you can be certain other people definitely think they are bodies. An important component of your forgiveness is that you want to teach people, silently, that they are not bodies. That’s how your mind learns for certain that you are not a body. As the Course puts it,

As you teach so shall you learn. (ACIM: T82)

As we go along, try to remember that. As we’ve said, when you forgive others, it’s really you yourself who is being forgiven....



Better Than Sex

I had noticed many things in my life about sex. Three of the most interesting were:

  • Although sex was as “natural” as anything in nature could be, people were always trying to make other people feel guilty about having it.
  • People kept doing it anyway, even if they did feel guilty.
  • Although one wasn’t supposed to point it out in a sexually obsessed society, sex didn’t really make anybody happy.

As a musician, I had known quite a few people who engaged in an unusually large amount of sexual behavior and were still miserable. Sex was a very transitory experience. People assumed that other people who got a lot of sex were happier as a result, but that wasn’t really true. If someone seemed content, it was because they had some kind of internal happiness that was not ultimately dependent on temporary gratification.

One of the things I liked about the Course was the fact that sex wasn’t even an issue. There was no judgment made about behavior. The only question was: Does the student want to have the body or spirit for an identity? If one chose the spirit, that didn’t mean one couldn’t have sex. To insist on celibacy for yourself or anyone else would be a judgment rather than forgiveness, yet it would be perfectly appropriate for someone to choose celibacy if they wanted to. Not having the body as their identity simply meant that at some point students should remember who they and their partners really were. For those in love, sex could be used as a symbol of joining and an expression of their love. The key was an awareness — even if that awareness was temporarily forgotten in the heat of the moment — that their partner was not really a body but Christ. In turn, how they thought of the other person is what established their own identity in their mind. (ACIM: T667)

A powerful advantage of A Course in Miracles is that instead of merely telling you to believe you are not a body, it actually gives you the means to experience something beyond — and better. Most people have no idea of how good they could really feel. A chief goal of the Course is to lead the student to an Identity, and associated experiences, that are not of this world. These non-intellectual experiences, which are paradoxically the result of intellectual processes, are in fact the forerunner to the Holy Spirit’s permanent answer to this world. Most people would hesitate to give up the world, but would they be so hesitant if they were given a clear taste of the alternative? Given an authentic spiritual experience, they would find the material world a cruel joke compared to what’s available.

All experiences, including sex, are mental states — even if the illusion is that they take place in the body. I remember visiting a church in Boston to hear a lecture by two Buddhist monks who grew up near the border of India and Tibet. After the lecture, people in the audience were given the opportunity to ask questions. Most of them were the nice “spiritual” questions people usually ask. Then one woman had the courage to get up and ask the monks how they could go so long — in one case, thirty years — without having sex. The monk who had been celibate the longest, and who spoke English as well as the Dalai Lama, thought for a minute and then surprised the audience with his reply: “When you’re coming all the time, it doesn’t make any difference.”

From the vantage point of my new experiences, I could now see that happy monk’s answer in sync with the Course’s answer to the dilemma of giving up the changing, illusory universe. What the Holy Spirit offered was constant, compared to the precarious and unreliable experience of each seemingly separated mind. The eternal Word of God could not really become temporary flesh, except in unreal dreams, but the flesh could be brought to the truth.

Given my desire to talk about the subject of sex during our next meeting, it was with happy anticipation that I would go into my living room in April of 1999, each time hoping for Arten and Pursah’s next expected appearance. Then, late in the evening of what New Englanders call Patriots Day, I received the visit I was waiting for.

ARTEN: Hey Gary.
PURSAH: Hey Gary.
GARY: Hey guys. I’m psyched! Thanks for coming. It seems like so long since I’ve seen you.
PURSAH: We’re always here; you just don’t always see us. Speaking of a long time, after this visit our last three appearances will all be in December — the next three Holiday seasons — ’99, 2000, and 2001. You already know enough to forgive, and we know you’ll continue with your chosen path. At this point we’re just coming to support you and add a few observations for your benefit. Since sex is part of what you call life, and since we already know you want to talk about it, where would you like to begin?
GARY: Good old Pursah; always right to the point. You already talked about how the Course teaches that temptation wants to convince me I’m a body, so I guess the question is: How do I live the normal life you said I could live, practice the Course, and still not feel bad about that body identification part of my dream life?
ARTEN: By remembering what it is and forgiving it at an appropriate time. A dream is nothing, and sex is nothing. But I wouldn’t recommend that you turn to your partner after making love and say, “That was nothing.”
GARY: I knew I was doing something wrong.
ARTEN: However, you can realize what the truth is whenever you want to. For example, the Course says very early on,

...Fantasies are a means of making false associations and attempting to obtain pleasure from them. But although you can perceive false associations, you can never make them real except to yourself. You believe in what you make. If you offer miracles, you will be equally strong in your belief in them. (ACIM: T15)

GARY: So it’s all a fantasy, and the sexual part of it is an attempt to derive pleasure from a false association. I take it part of that would be the fact that we’ve made a false idol out of the sexual feeling — like a substitute for God.
PURSAH: Yes. Listen to this quote from the section of the Text called “The Anti-Christ.” J is talking here about different kinds of idols, and sex would certainly be considered one of them.

Let not their form deceive you. Idols are but substitutes for your reality. In some way, you believe they will complete your little self, for safety in a world perceived as dangerous, with forces massed against your confidence and peace of mind. They have the power to supply your lacks, and add the value that you do not have. No one believes in idols who has not enslaved himself to littleness and loss. And thus must seek beyond his little self for strength to raise his head, and stand apart from all the misery the world reflects. This is the penalty for looking not within for certainty and quiet calm that liberates you from the world, and lets you stand apart, in quiet and in peace. (ACIM: T619)

GARY: Now you’re really getting me in the mood.
PURSAH: Fear not, dear brother. As J tells you,

This course does not attempt to take from you the little that you have. (ACIM: W245)

It merely puts you in a position where you can claim your natural inheritance, which is far greater than any bodily feeling you can conjure up.
GARY: You know, before the Course I wouldn’t have thought so — but the Holy Spirit is actually offering me something better than sex. In fact, it’s not even close.
PURSAH: That’s correct. At the same time, He doesn’t seek to deprive you of what you temporarily perceive to be your desires. Speaking of your desires, Karen isn’t here tonight?
GARY: Nope. She went to New Hampshire to do some shopping with her mother. She’s spending the night there with her.
PURSAH: A likely story.
GARY: Funny. You know I was telling her a few weeks ago about when I was a teenager and I went to a dance at a Catholic church hall. I was dancing a slow dance, really close to this girl. All of a sudden, a nun came running over and stuck a ruler between us and said, “Now kids, let’s leave enough room in there for the Holy Spirit.” I always got a kick out of that.
ARTEN: Yes, most religions have always sought to repress sexual expression — until it’s time to get married and make more bodies for the church, of course. Telling people to repress their unconscious, pre-programmed desires is like telling a bird not to fly. Do you remember that self-righteous minister at the Baptist church when you were in high school, who used to speak out against the evils of sex — all the while he was going after half the women in the congregation?
GARY: Oh, yeah! We called him “Old bless ’em and undress ’em.”
ARTEN: So when you’re in high school and you’re helplessly horny, how likely are you to listen to a hypocrite like him?
GARY: Not very.
ARTEN: No, which leads us to a subject that isn’t funny, but which we should cover briefly. For the first 750 and some odd years of the church’s official existence, from 325 to around 1088, there was no such thing as a requirement for priests’ celibacy. Then Pope Gregory, who had no sense of humor, insisted on all priests being celibate — even the ones who at that time were married! Of course that begs the question, what could Gregory’s decision possibly have had to do with J?
GARY: Ah, nothing?
ARTEN: Precisely. So for the last 900-plus years, priests have had to be celibate. In some cases that’s fine, but in other cases it has led to instances of sexual abuse that would not otherwise have occurred if only the priest had a legitimate outlet for his sexual desires. The illusory universe is a place of tension and release. That’s duality. You see it all through what you call nature. You even find it in music. It is not natural to make someone give up certain kinds of behavior until they themselves are completely ready to, nor in the case of most priests is it necessary anyway. And yes, there are child abusers who shouldn’t be priests no matter what the rules are.
     Now with the Course the tension is released by forgiveness, but until someone is very proficient at it they shouldn’t be expected to give up most earthly desires. That’s something that comes naturally with the maturity of a mind that is advanced in the ways of true forgiveness. Even J was not always celibate, and though he didn’t need sex the last few years of his life, he was married for the final fifteen years.
GARY: Excuse me?
ARTEN: Today, you find that idea to be unusual. Yet if you were there two thousand years ago, what would have been very unusual was a Jewish man of J’s age to not be married. It wasn’t until over a thousand years later that the Pope decided you had to be celibate to be a priest. Only because of your warped view of history, along with centuries of projection of unconscious sin and guilt onto sex, do you now see the idea of J being celibate as a necessity.
GARY: Hey, I don’t give a rat’s ass! Somebody else might.
ARTEN: Then let them know the way it really was. The whole idea about sex being a bad thing never came from God and it never came from J. If you think there’s something wrong with sex then you may as well think there’s something wrong with eating food. They are both normal activities for a body, and any idea to the contrary is completely made up by people, not spiritually inspired. Yet it’s perfectly appropriate for someone to give up sex if they themselves feel inspired to do so as an expression of what they really are....


The Disappearance of the Universe

September 11, 2001: When Arten and Pursah had first appeared to me nine years earlier I was at war. Now I was at peace most of the time and the United States was at war.

On this day the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and four commercial passenger airliners became the targets of terrorists, destroying all the targets except for the Pentagon, which was heavily damaged. Thousands of unarmed civilians were murdered and the American people, except for a very small minority, were in no frame of mind for any kind of forgiveness.

This was a new kind of war for a more complex world. The ego’s script no longer called for wars with a clearly defined and visible enemy. It would be much more fearful to have ongoing enemies who could seldom be seen or predicted, didn’t abide by any of the “rules” of war, and fanatically believed it was God’s desire that they kill Americans. How could a war like this ever really be “over”?

That Tuesday morning, along with millions of others, I stared in numbed silence as the live pictures on my television screen showed the second tower of the World Trade Center collapsing. The combined pictures of the attack produced some of the most awful images ever; images that, although the public didn’t realize it, symbolized the separation from God, the loss of Heaven and the fall of man. On the level of form, this was the insane thought system of the ego being carried out to an illogical extreme. The victimizers in this lifetime’s script would surely be among the victims in another.

While watching the hellish catastrophe and its results, I almost cried as I visualized the horrific nightmare that was undoubtedly being experienced by those in and around the buildings. Then, in a miracle born of habit, I asked J for help. Almost instantaneously a couple of thoughts came into my mind — thoughts I had read at the very beginning of the Course many times, but which had never seemed any more appropriate for me to apply than at this terrible moment.

There is no order of difficulty in miracles. One is not “harder” or “bigger” than another. (ACIM: T3)

As I joined with J, I felt almost embarrassed for a minute about feeling better in the face of what appeared to be happening. Could it really be that simple? Could I actually deny the ability of anything not of God to affect me? Was there really no hierarchy of illusions, including any manner of death? Could I sincerely be vigilant only for God and His Kingdom? Were all the images of the world just temptations designed to persuade me that I was a body so I’d judge others and keep my unconscious guilt, my reincarnation dream-life cycle and the ego intact? Was the Holy Spirit’s forgiveness really the way out, leading to the peace of God, my return to Heaven and the disappearance of the universe?

I finally knew for sure that the answer to all of these questions was yes. Although I’d still feel bad at times over the next several days, I also knew that whatever feelings I had were nothing compared to what they would have been if I didn’t have J and his Course. That did not mean that action wouldn’t be appropriate in a crisis like this. Yet as far as I could determine, the ego had set up a no-win situation.

If the United States took no military action it would not deter psychopaths and would probably encourage them, as was the case with Hitler. If America took military action, which seemed inevitable, it would probably result in other terrorist attacks, including assassinations, even if the U.S. military action was successful. Who knew when these attacks might come? There had been eight years in between the two separate attacks on the World Trade Center. How many more years would the terrorists be willing to wait to strike inside the U.S. again? America could retaliate and be attacked, or not retaliate and still be attacked, and it could happen at any time in the distant or not too distant future. This was a dilemma for which I saw no easy answer. As was often the case with the ego’s script, the plot added up to “damned if you do and damned if you don’t.”

In any case, my job was forgiveness, and I decided to leave the decisions as to what the country should do up to the politicians. That was their job, because that’s what they wanted — not that they couldn’t practice true forgiveness in any situation if they learned how. I’d give money, give blood, and give my forgiveness. It was possible to do these things without revenge in my heart, without anger, judgment or guilt. No matter what appeared to happen, I’d always remember that the attacks on America only proved that this world wasn’t God’s world, and no one in their right mind would come here — except to teach others how to leave. But I could have a happy dream of forgiveness here; the dream that led to the real world.

I was also very thankful that Arten and Pursah had promised me one more visit at the end of the year; I wanted to discuss this uncharted situation with them. Yet didn’t I already know what they’d say? I could almost hear Pursah now. “Miracles are all the same, Gary, whether you want to believe it or not. And if the students of the Course don’t forgive, who will?”....

On December 21, Arten and Pursah appeared to me for the last of our scheduled meetings.

PURSAH: Hello, my dear brother. That’s what I called you the first time I saw you, remember? We’re happy to see you, but we know it’s been a rough time in America. How are you doing?
GARY: All things considered, I’m doing very well. Being a stock and options trader, I identified with some of the people in the brokerage firms at the World Trade Center. A lot of them didn’t make it out. I know we all chose the script, but we didn’t choose it at this level and it’s been a terrible experience for a lot of people and their families, and it’s made Americans feel less safe — at least temporarily.
As I’m sure you know, about a week after the attacks I went with my brother, who was up from Florida, to see the Red Sox at Fenway as our way of saying the terrorists weren’t gonna affect our lives. One thing that really made me feel great was during the seventh inning stretch when all us fans who usually boo those Yankees got up and sang, “New York, New York,” as a way of showing our support for the people of the Big Apple. For all of us who were there it was pretty moving.
PURSAH: Yes. A way of joining. A lot of people in New York heard about that and appreciated it. I must say, you did a good job with your forgiveness on the day of the attacks.
GARY: I was trying to get different parts of our book together and I didn’t have the TV on before the attacks. When I did start watching, it took a while for them to say what was happening. When they said one of the Towers was down, I couldn’t believe it. I thought it must be a mistake. The whole thing couldn’t be down. When the second one went down, I almost lost it.
ARTEN: But you remembered J.
GARY: Yeah; that never fails. As soon as I remember him the separation’s over — it never happened. Yet in a situation like that it can feel a little inappropriate to stop sympathizing with the victims.
ARTEN: Of course. As you know, we have nothing against being appropriate. You can still identify with them as Christ, and there’s no difference between feeling bad and feeling guilty. A mild upset is no different than tremendous rage or grief. The idea of levels was made up by you. Remembering the truth can bring you peace no matter what the seeming event or person is who is being forgiven. As long as you remember the truth, you’re doing your job.
     Sometimes your dream seems like a nice one, but then without warning it becomes a nightmare. That’s the re-enactment of the separation from God. Yet neither the bad or the good that seemed to precede it are true. As the Course reminds you,

...Fairy tales can be pleasant or fearful, but no one calls them true. Children may believe them, and so, for a while, the tales are true for them. Yet when reality dawns, the fantasies are gone. Reality has not gone in the meanwhile. (ACIM: T170)

PURSAH: You want to make sure you continue to forgive no matter what appears to happen. This is temptation to regard yourself as a body; first by reacting as a person to the tragedies that occurred on 9/11, and then by identifying yourself as an American and responding like one. No fine, upstanding American is going to take something like this lying down, right? Then there you are, right in the same old vicious cycle — unless you forgive. If some people think it would be wrong to forgive such a thing and teach only love instead of fear, then perhaps they should remember that the crazy people who committed these acts would never have done so if only someone had taken the time to teach them how to forgive....


Excerpt of Publisher’s Foreword is © 2003 by D. Patrick Miller. All other excerpts are © 2002 by Gary R. Renard, except noted extracts from A Course in Miracles, reprinted by permission of the Foundation for A Course in Miracles (FACIM) 41397 Buecking Drive, Temecula CA 92590-5668. A Course in Miracles® and ACIM® are registered service marks and trademarks of FACIM. The ideas represented herein are the personal interpretation and understanding of the author and are not necessarily endorsed by the copyright holder of A Course in Miracles.

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