On Sunday August 3rd, 2014, Rev. Tony Ponticello addressed the congregation at the Community Miracles Center in San Francisco, CA. While standing at the podium Rev. Tony has his signature fedora on top of his head. What follows is a lightly edited transcription of that lecture.
Good morning everybody. Thank you all for being here. Welcome to August. I have to take my hat off. (Rev. Tony takes off his fedora and sets it on a near-by stool.) My mother wouldn't like it if I wore my hat in church.
The last time I spoke was on July 6th, and at the end of that talk I spoke about the challenge I was having about my blood pressure and my weight. Maybe you were here for that, but maybe you weren't.
I want to give a quick report that I have been really, really good on my eating program. I've been really, really good going to the gym. I've been going to the gym three times a week, doing big workouts for five weeks in a row, and the doctor had me go back to get weighed in and get my blood pressure checked last week. I've lost eight pounds in four weeks and my blood pressure ... my systolic went from 158 to 138 – that's a twenty point difference. My diastolic went from 98 to 79 – that's a 19 point difference. (applause)
I've been doing my daily exercises at home every single day. Before I get dressed I do push-ups, and sit-ups, and I do arm curls with weights, and it's all good. I'm feeling really good about that. Just the effort to do all that – it's the miracle for me that I've manifested that effort. That all seems like a lot of body stuff, so it really goes right into what I want to talk about today. (laughter)
It's a very common belief, in spiritual circles, that the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. You hear that a lot. We hear we should keep our body good, pure, and healthy – whatever it is – because the Holy Spirit resides within us ... yadda, yadda, yadda ... (laughter)
However, A Course in Miracles tells us, "No, that is not true." ACIM teaches us that the Holy Spirit's temple is not our body but our relationships. "The Holy Spirit's temple is not a body, but a relationship." (OrEd.Tx.20.49) That seems a little bit abstract. I mean, how is a relationship the temple, the house, the worship place of the Holy Spirit?
It seems a little unusual, but it is the teaching of A Course in Miracles not to think of the body as the temple of the Holy Spirit, but relationships are the worship place. Our relationships are the place where we go and make devotions. They're the place where we do our spiritual work, it is in our relationships.This idea is peppered all throughout ACIM. It's not an unusual Course idea, especially in the Text. It's all over.
Here it says, "Your way will be different, not in purpose but in means." in other words, the techniques that you use. "A holy relationship is a means of saving time." (OrEd.Tx.18.67) A Course In Miracles is telling us right here that relationships are the Course's means and this statement actually came after a short dissertation about meditation, and how meditation is not a primary focus of ACIM. It's saying that there are other means, but our means are not necessarily the same means as other spiritual paths. The means this course truly employs is relationships. That's how we save time. That's how we heal. A holy relationship is a temple of healing. That's the title of my talk today, "A Temple of Healing."
This is another interesting thing. In the next paragraph it says "You are not making use of the course if you insist on using means which have served others well, neglecting what was made for you." (OrEd.Tx.18.68) Relationships are the means that were made for us, A Course in Miracles students, and we're not making use of the Course if we're using means that have served others well, neglecting this particular means that was made for us. This is the means. This is what ACIM is all about. It's not really about meditation. It's not really about sitting in silence. I hear a lot of ACIM teachers talk about meditation and silence. They speak of how important meditation is to their practice, and I'm happy that it's important to their practice. However, if they're a real ACIM teacher, why aren't they talking more about their relationships and how they're using them as the means for their practice? Why? How are they using their relationships as a temple of healing?
I hear it all over the community. People tell me, "I've been practicing the A Course In Miracles well this year. I've been reading the Text every day. I'm doing the daily lessons really well every single day. I'm really doing the Course this year! I'm reading a lot of the adjunct materials. I'm really practicing the Course." That's not the means of the A Course In Miracles spiritual practice. That's just the stuff that's in it. The means of the Course is relationships. How are you in your relationships? Are you showing up in them in a worshipful, meaningful, gentle, thoughtful, loving way – a grateful way? That's the means.
Okay, why talk about relationships today? Well, I've had a lot of relationship challenges in the past few weeks. I guess I'm thinking about them. (laughter) It's really unusual because I had one of these challenges just two days ago. So in the past three weeks, I'm not going to name any names, three people – whom I love and feel like I have good relationships with – have been really, upset with me, really, really upset with me – angry upset with me. They were all so hurt by me. They were to the point where they – all three of them, in one way or another – let me know that they didn't think they could continue being in relationships with me any more. Wow! That's pretty heavy. That's a real relationship stopper when someone tells you that they don't know if they can continue being in a relationship with you. It's a real conversation stopper. You don't know what to say after hearing a statement like that. It's very difficult to do creative problem solving work in the middle of a threat. That's hard, very hard. But, I turned it over to the Holy Spirit.
Miraculously, Reverend Heather shared something with me from Jon Marc Hammer, who is the channel for The Way of Mastery, and it really rang about. It was an audio recording. He was saying that if you are not really upsetting people, and riling people, you're probably really not doing much work. (laughter) I'd like to shift over into that idea. I'm really upsetting and riling people – one really bad just two days ago. So, I guess I'm doing some good work. At least I can get some solace in that teaching.
I want to talk just a bit about this idea about leaving a relationship. First of all, it's an illusion. We never leave relationships in truth. That's talked about in the Manual for Teachers. It's talked about how even if we appear to leave, we're going to come back together at some point and in some form, and finish our relationship work, So relationships can never actually be left. However, the idea of leaving a relationship is a very important ego idea. The ego holds on to that idea very, very, well. A Course In Miracles talks about this. It says, "A cautious friendship ..." these are our relationships, "... limited in scope and carefully restricted in amount, became the treaty you had made with him ...." your brother or sister. "You shared a qualified entente ..." which is an agreement, "... in which a clause of separation was a point on which you both agreed to keep intact. And violating this was thought to be a breach of treaty not to be allowed." (OrEd.Tx.29.3)
In every relationship we have – this is what I told some of my significants – we always know we can leave at anytime. It doesn't have to be played like a trump card. Everybody knows that. You can always leave, because that's the way of the world. That's it. A Course In Miracles says it right here. We have this clause of separation we always keep in effect. In fact, we won't even agree to get together with somebody unless that clause of separation is there. We know it's there. Also in that same section it says, "Be wary, then; let Him not come too close, and leave a gap between you and His Love through which you can escape if there be need for you to flee." (OrEd.Tx.29.1) (laughter) So we relate, but we make sure that we've always got that escape route in sight. We keep aware of the exit sign. Any relationship we're in, we're always aware of that exit ramp.
I try to stay aware of this teaching. I try not to do that "threatening to leave" thing. Possibly, I do it a little. Not verbally, but internally in my own inner dialogue. Every single time I heard, or read, some form of "I think I have to leave" over the past three weeks, I was right there with my fingers on the keyboard. What can I write back to reply to this? Maybe I should split before they split – or something of that nature. But I try to just weather those things out and allow those things to pass through me.
Mostly, I just do what seems really practical to do, which is to realize this is coming at me. I must be participating with it in some way. I have done something to bring it to me. I can't blame it all on the other person. At least 50% of it is my crap. I remembered this quote, "Even so, the teacher of God is willing to reconsider all his past decisions if they are causing pain to anyone." (OrEd.Mn.4.20) Obviously, some things I did seemed to cause pain to someone and I'm willing to reconsider them. I don't have to dig a trench and cement myself in a particular position, even though I may feel I'm totally right. If what I did is causing pain to someone I am willing to reconsider it. That's a very interesting quotation. I don't hear too many A Course in Miracles teachers focusing in on that. Mostly people just say, "I don't have to say I'm sorry because I can't really hurt anybody, they can only hurt themselves" but I'm always willing to say I'm sorry. It's not truly useful for me, in those moments, to think something like, "You know people can only hurt themselves. It's not really my responsibility." I don't get that guidance when confronted with those situations. I remember in 2011 at the Listen, Learn and Do conference and I was giving my sermon and I went into the rap about always willing to say i was sorry and I was really not well received at all. (laughter)
In that sermon I went into the discussion of when being in a state of mind where I feel like I am participating in causing pain for someone – even if I think it's totally their issue – of being totally willing and totally eager to say, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to do that. It wasn't my intent. Possibly I was not so skillful in what I was doing. Please forgive me. I'll try to do better. I'll try to be more skillful. I'll try to be more attuned to guidance. It must be I wasn't. I'm a forgivable fellow, just forgive me. I'm sorry." These are simply the merciful things to say. Be merciful. I see a lot of spiritual people having a real hard time with this. They don't want to say that. Somehow, they feel it's accepting blame for something that they don't want to accept blame for. It's a responsibility they don't want to take, but A Course in Miracles says, "God offers only mercy. Your words should reflect only mercy because that is what you have received, and that is what you should give." (OrEd.Tx.2.20)
For me, saying things like "I'm sorry; please forgive me. I wasn't as skillful as I could have been. I'll try to do better next time. Please forgive me. I'm sorry." It's just the merciful thing to say, and it's a mercy that I need. It's a mercy that the other person needs in that moment as well. I'm totally willing to say it. I can get off my high spiritual horse about their personal responsibility that just seems harsh and unfeeling in those moments.
We get into situations with relationship issues, and relationship conflicts, where the defensive mechanism is, "Who needs that person anyway? I'll find somebody else." It's some form of the idea that this upset person is dispensable in my life. I always remember this quote. It's a great one, "Now the ego counsels thus – substitute for this another relationship to which your former goal was quite appropriate. You can escape from your distress only by getting rid of each other. You need not part entirely if you choose not to do so. But you must exclude major areas of fantasy from each other to save your sanity." And then it says something really emphatically, with an exclamation point. "Hear not this now!" (OrEd.Tx.17.49) Hear not this now. Don't hear this idea that this person is expendable and that your distress will be gone if you just get rid of this person and find somebody else. We can so easily think that it's the person that's the problem. Somebody else won't be a problem. In another place in A Course In Miracles it says, "Confronted with any aspect of the situation which seems to be difficult, the ego will attempt to take this aspect elsewhere and resolve it there. And it will seem to be successful, except that this attempt conflicts with unity and must obscure the goal of truth. And peace will not be experienced except in fantasy." (OrEd.Tx.17.63) That's a real problem. That's a bad problem because, for a while, finding a new and different person seems to work. It's so devious!
Inevitably, the old thought system reemerges. Your thinking hasn't changed, and the new person inevitably manifests the same issue, or a related issue, that the old person had. You know there's only one person you're relating to – you! That's it. So nothing has truly changed and no one has been saved. If I'm really going to see relationships as a temple of healing, then I've got to work with the relationships I've got and let those relationships just take their own natural course instead of feeling like we have to be the ones that are directing them.
I have noticed that as people, as bodies, get older – mine's getting older – people, in their thinking, tend to get rigid about their relationships. They say, "I'm older and wiser. I've learned what works and what doesn't work. I've learned what works in the terms of the friendships I have, what works with the people I like to be around, and I know what doesn't work and so I stay away from what doesn't work now. I can see what works because I am wiser." This is sad. This thinking is why there are a lot of older, lonely people. You may be wiser, in an ego sense, but there's an openness and there's an unpredictability about the way Holy Spirit brings us people, events, experiences, relationship miracle, but we have gotten rigid and we block things. That's what I see. We get rigid. We block relationships, and the tragic part is I see a lot of lonely people. I see a lot of lonely people who wonder why they don't have any people in their lives anymore. They know too much. They got too "wiser." What I see is people are lonely because they got rigid about what they thought they wanted, what they thought they needed, and what they thought wasn't going to work for them. We've got to let all those ideas go, and trust that the Holy Spirit will bring us the exact people that are going to help us grow in the exact way that we need to grow. We need to just surrender ourselves to the process. Maybe people don't fit our pictures, and that's fine. A Course In Miracles says, "What basis would you have for choosing a special partner without the past? Every such choice is made because of something ‘evil' in the past to which you cling and for which must someone else atone." (OrEd.Tx.16.70)
So we cling to these things. We cling to these things that seem to have happened in our past which we judged "bad," which we judged "evil" and then we want the new person who we're involved with – a friend or whatever the involvement is – we want the new person to atone for that. A Course In Miracles says we're not even having relationships with these people that we think we're having friendships and relationships with, we're actually having relationships with all the people in our past who we haven't forgiven, but they're not actually there. It's all this old stuff that seems to be going on.
I see lonely people. It's interesting to me when people are trying to hook up romantically – let's go there for a minute – people are trying to hook up romantically with other people and ... (Rev. Tony hesitates a bit.) I've spoken on this before it always gets me in trouble. I'll get in trouble again, but that is okay because if you're not riling people you're not doing anything.
People will start intriguing and communicating about being in relationship with people who live in another part of the country, maybe three thousand miles away, maybe even in other countries, on other continents! I think "Wow! Really!? San Francisco has 826,000 people and you can't find one ... (laughter) ... to have some sort of intimate friendship with?"
That number is just for San Francisco itself. The greater San Francisco Bay area – which I just did a quick search for – right now we have 7,151,000 in the greater San Francisco Bay area. You mean out of those seven million, one hundred and fifty-one thousand people, you can't find somebody to have some kind of relationship with that's satisfying? You've got to go find somebody who lives in another country? In Europe somewhere? Really!? Yeah sure! (laughter)
It's because we're clinging to evil things in the past that we won't let go of. We think we're going to find the one "right" person who is going to atone for them. Here is a very interesting quotation from A Course In Miracles. I don't hear anybody quoting this, but I do from time to time, "The ego's use of relationships is so fragmented that it frequently goes even further‚ – one part of one aspect suits its purposes, while it prefers different parts of another aspect. Thus does it assemble reality to its own capricious" which is whimsical, "liking, offering for your seeking a picture whose likeness does not exist. For there is nothing in Heaven or earth that it resembles, and so however much you seek for its reality, you cannot find it because it is not real." (OrEd.Tx.15.51)
We've got so many little evil things in our minds. That's what happens when we get older. We've got so many judgements that we haven't let go of. We've got this new person who needs to atone for that old one. You need some "atonement" for another relationship. That was a bad experience. He didn't work. This time you've got to have somebody employed. And you know it's like "nhah, nhah, nhah" and by the time it's over we're looking for something that doesn't exist. You can look over the whole planet, he or she doesn't exist. We've got to open up. We have to see our relationships as the temples of healing that they are, and practice forgiveness with the ones that just show up in front of our face. That's the means for enlightenment that A Course in Miracles is giving us. You can meditate, and read, and do all the lessons you want, and that's a help. It's a help to deal with all those relationships that show up in front of your face. That's what it's a help for.
Always remember this quotation, "Your brothers are everywhere. You do not have to seek far for salvation." (OrEd.Tx.9.38) (laughter) You don't have to fly off to the East Coast, your brothers are everywhere. They're right here. Our relationships are a temple of healing.
There's a lot of relationship advice that seems to be out there. People are, of course, always very willing to give you relationship advice. Have you noticed that? But before you accept any relationship advice from anybody remember this quotation from A Course in Miracles "Ask not the sparrow how the eagle soars, for those with little wings have not accepted for themselves the power to share with you." (OrEd.Tx.20.31) Who's giving you the relationship advice? How are their relationships? All too often we give ourselves relationship advice. How is our relationship track record? Maybe we should look at that. If you have a good track record then you can give yourself some of your own advice, but if your relationship track record isn't the greatest, possibly you shouldn't be listening to yourself. Maybe a higher message is what you should be looking for.
Be merciful in your relationships. Be kind. Don't threaten to leave. Everybody knows you can leave. It's really hard to work in that attitude, in that energy of threat. Don't defile the temple. That's a defilement of the temple. Keep the temple sacred. Stay in gratitude. Stay in mercy. Stay in love. Practice A Course In Miracles. Use the means meant for us. Practice, and work to keep your relationships holy. They are a temple of healing.
Thank you. (applause) ♥
c/o Community Miracles Center
2269 Market Street
San Francisco, CA 94114
This article appeared in the August 2014 (Vol. 28 No. 6) 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.