On Sunday, August 24, 2008, Rev. Tony Ponticello addressed the congregation at the Community Miracles Center in San Francisco, California. Before he spoke the congregation had sung the song, “Secret Love.” Just before they sang, Rev. Tony said that someday he would tell everybody about the significance of this song. “Secret Love” was sung by Doris Day in the movie *Calamity Jane* that was released in 1953. The song begins with the line, “Once I had secret love.” The CMC has changed a few of the lyrics of this song to make it about our secret love of God. When the song says, “Now I shout it from the highest hill,” the congregation is referring to their love of God. What follows is a lightly edited transcription of that lecture.
Good morning everybody. Thank you all for being here. Today’s lecture is “Greater Things.” The idea came to me this week. I was thinking of the very popular Bible quote from the gospel of John, “Verily, verily I say unto you, he that believeth on me, the works that I do he shall also do and greater works than those he shall do” (John 14.12) This is when Jesus is comforting the disciples by telling them that they will do all the things that he has done. They will do even greater things than he did.
Jesus said this at the Last Supper. It is when he is beginning to hint to the apostles that he is not going to be around for much longer. He would soon be going. The apostles want to know where he is going. They want to know why they aren’t going with him. Jesus then gives them this rather long dissertation about why they shouldn’t be concerned and he ends with that statement.
As I said, this comes from John, Chapter 14. It is always questionable, and this is explored in modern Biblical scholarship, how much of John actually happened the way that John wrote about it. If you look at the four gospels, John is considered the least reliable in terms of actual historic events. John is considered the most inspirational, but possibly the least historically accurate of the gospels. Who knows what Jesus said and why he said it. When I was reading this gospel yesterday and this morning, trying to get a better sense of this passage, it seemed like an unusual thing for Jesus to say. He starts by telling the apostles he’s not going to be with them for much longer. They are concerned. They tell him, “Don’t go away from us. We’ll go with you. We love you.” Jesus then interprets the genuine expression of love that they are giving him as that they need him and his miracle working ability. Jesus appears to think that the apostles believe they can’t get along without him. This seems rather egoic, if you ask me. Then he tells them they can do everything that he did and so they don’t need him. However, this wasn’t what they were expressing. They were just saying that they loved him. This only causes me to think, if John is actually accurate, that Jesus had bad relationship skills! (laughter) He didn’t know how to accept their love and truly give it back. If I print that it will get me in a lot of trouble! (more laughter)
The idea that greater things will be done, that we will all do greater things than Jesus, is a very common idea and is quoted a lot in all Christian circles and in New Age circles as well. It is also reflected in A Course In Miracles. The Course says, “I would not ask you to do the things you cannot do, and it is impossible that I could do things you cannot do. Given this, and given this quite literally, there can be nothing which prevents you from doing exactly what I ask, and everything which argues for your doing it. I give you no limits because God lays none upon you.” (Tx.Or.Ed.8.88) Here we have Jesus telling us that we can do anything that he did and we certainly can do anything that he asks us to do and there are no limits to our abilities.
When I think about the greater things, talked about in this Bible idea, instead of thinking about Jesus, I think about it in terms of my own life. Whatever I already have accomplished, I can do greater things than that. I can build upon what I have already done and do something larger. If the Holy Spirit is guiding me to do something, and this guidance is asking me to kick it up a notch, I remember that I can do greater things that I have done in the past.
Lesson 38 is a great Workbook lesson to read any time you feel that your energy or abilities are a little bit lacking. “There is nothing my holiness cannot do. – Your holiness reverses all the laws of the world. It is beyond every restriction of time, space, distance, and limits of any kind. Your holiness is totally unlimited in its power because it establishes you as a Son of God, at one with the Mind of his Creator. Through your holiness, the power of God is made manifest. Through your holiness the power of God is made available. And there is nothing the power of God cannot do.” (Wk.Or.Ed.38.1) There is nothing my holiness cannot do because it has the power of God. Divine power comes through. We can do anything and we can do the greater things that we are being asked to do by the Holy Spirit. This idea of greater things keeps sticking in my mind.
Lately, I have had the opportunity to review my life a bit. This review has prompted many of the ideas in this lecture. I am going to talk about some of the events of my life.
I was raised in a small, rural, upstate New York town named Canastota. We were onion farmers. I was raised in rural, farming America. The picture that you see of me on the program is my Catholic Confirmation picture. I was known as “Anthony” at that time. My father was also Anthony. Since my father was Anthony and I was my father’s son, I was frequently called, “Little Anthony.” On the program is a picture of Little Anthony at his confirmation.
Confirmation is a sacrament in the Roman Catholic Church that takes place when the church decides you are old enough, an adult, and you can confirm your belonging to the Catholic Church. So, it is the official confirmation of your belonging to the Catholic Church.
I was just 10 years old in that picture, taken on May 21, 1963. I look rather innocent and sweet (laughter) because I was rather innocent and sweet at that time. The truth is in rural, farm, upstate New York, small town America, I wasn’t exposed to all that much. I had a regular childhood. It has its regular pluses and minuses. In terms of exposure to the broader world, I didn’t have a lot. We didn’t have a television in my house until 1958 when I was six years old. Of course, at that time, it was just broadcast television. I’m sure some of you remember that around midnight the stations stopped broadcasting with an announcement and the playing of the Star Spangled Banner. We only had three channels, the regular networks, ABC, NBC and CBS. There wasn’t a lot on television in those days. I don’t know how many of you can put yourselves back into that frame of mind. I know I’m a little older than some, and not as old as some others. (laughter) At that time, we watched shows like Father Knows Best. That was on TV from 1954 to 1960. We would also watch The Donna Reed Show, which probably could have been called, “Mother Knows Best” (laughter) except Donna Reed was a movie star so she got her name in the show title. The Donna Reed Show was broadcast between 1958 and 1966. This is the television I remember. Did it really expose me to that much of the world? If the world was Father Knows Best and The Donna Reed Show then I did get exposed to the world. Eventually television got a little more sophisticated. We got The Dick Van Dyke Show. That was 1961 to 1966. There were other great shows. Car 54 Where Are You?, a great comedy, was on at that time as well, 1961 to 1963. That was it. That was my exposure to a greater world. I remember watching those shows and thinking I was getting exposed to a greater world.
Later, while I was in High School, I remember watching shows like Bewitched. That was on 1964 to 1972. We think of Bewitched with a smile but that was actually a ground breaking show for its time. It was the very first TV show, where the husband and the wife slept in the same bed. If you remember The Dick Van Dyke Show, they slept in separate beds. The beds were right next to each other but they were separate. They slept in their pajamas. However in Bewitched, Darin and Samantha slept in the same bed. This was a big deal.
In High School I learned to drive a car. That was one of those greater things I had to do. It was very difficult for me to learn how to drive a car. I had been driving the farm tractor and the farm truck, but I had trouble learning to drive that car. Let me clarify. I could drive okay. What I had trouble doing was passing the stupid driver’s test. (laughter) I couldn’t pass that driver’s test. After I flunked it for the second time, I remember fantasizing, “I’m never going to pass my driver’s test! I’m never going to get my driver’s license!” I did manage to pass it on the third try. I was so happy that I finally got my driver’s license. That enabled me to go to different places and I got exposed to different things. I went to movies a lot then, when I was in high school, because I could drive to the movies in the near by city of Syracuse. We didn’t have a movie theater in Canastota. That did give me more exposure to things.
I did go to Cornell University. It was an Ivy League University. That was a big deal. That was one of those greater things I was able to do. I was very happy when I got accepted into Cornell. That exposed me to many things and to many different cultures. It was the first time I was actually around different cultures. My little, rural, upstate New York town was 50% Italian American and we weren’t exposed to many other cultures. We had almost no diversity, very few ethnic groups were there, but when I went to Cornell University I was exposed to different cultures and people from different countries. It was the first time I was ever around people from different countries.
I was also exposed to different lifestyle issues. Cornell University was one of the first universities that actually had a gay organization in it. However we didn’t call it “gay” in those days. It was The Student Homophile League. (laughter) It was a long time ago. The Student Homophile League was the first gay college organization. The first chapter was formed in 1967 at Colombia University, another Ivy League University. Because of that organization’s success at Colombia, the next year they opened up two more branches. One of these other branches was at Cornell. Cornell had the second Student Homophile League which was formed in 1968. The Stonewall Riots (**1) were in 1969 so these are “pre-Stonewall” organizations.
By the time I got to Cornell, in 1970, the Student Homophile League was very strong and very active. During my orientation week I got more handouts from the Student Homophile League than any other student organization. I didn’t know any gay people. I was vaguely aware that such a thing existed but I had never been exposed to anyone who was gay. There were two adult men who lived together down the block from us in Canastota. They were sometimes talked about rather strangely. Two adult men didn’t usually live together in the same house. People made confusing comments about them and raised their eyebrows. No one said anything openly. It was just unusual – two adult men living together with no women in the house.
Cornell University was a greater thing that I did. During my junior year there I became president of my fraternity house which was again, one of those greater things. That experience was very similar to being a minister. I needed to be inspirational. I needed to organize events and to rally members of the fraternity house to think of themselves as a brotherhood. We organized social events. That was a great thing.
I continued living in Ithaca, New York (where Cornell is) until 1979 when I moved to San Francisco. That was an incredible greater thing that I did for many reasons. I had never been on a commercial airline before I moved out here. I was 27 years old before I ever rode on a commercial airline. I had been in a little plane. My father, Big Anthony, had taken all of us, his children, up in little planes, for plane rides, when we were kids. He wasn’t a pilot, we were all passengers. The plane would circle the town and we would look out the windows – it was so exciting! I had done that; I had been in the air. However, I had never purchased a ticket and flown on a commercial airline until I moved to San Francisco in 1979. It was a big deal.
I managed to get a job in San Francisco. I managed to find an apartment. I remember that I came here with $2000, which I thought was a huge amount of money, at that time (laughter). It was enough money for me to get set up. What I see is that all my life, and a lot of our lives have similar experiences, I have challenged myself to do greater things. We build upon what we have already accomplished. Then we are frequently pushed by Holy Spirit to do something more, something greater.
A Course In Miracles tells us, “You do not ask too much of life, but far too little.” (Wk.Or.Ed.133.2) The Course is always guiding us to ask more of life. Think about what we have done, yes, but quite possibly we are going to be asked to do more. We are also asked to not let our past define us. I was not Father Knows Best or Donna Reed. If I was going to let my past define me, that is possibly who I would have been. I learned and I grew. I did greater things.
Near the end of 1980, and in early 1981, I had a very big challenge because it was my first major brush with mental illness. That was very difficult. I frequently call this a nervous breakdown. A nervous breakdown is not a medical term. Years later, after my second brush with mental illness, my breakdowns were defined as “a-typical (which means non-typical) major depressive anxiety episodes.” That’s what I was eventually diagnosed as having had. These two episodes truly brought me to my knees and just about derailed everything that I had accomplished. It was very hard.
I was able to get through that episode in 1980-81: through waiting it out, through participating in the mental health discipline that I still practice named “Recovery International,” and through using A Course In Miracles which I had just gotten exposed to before my first episode happened in 1980. However, the truly greater thing I accomplished was that I was able to get my life back after that experience. Getting through an episode like that is one thing, but getting your life back afterwards is something else.
Let me tell you something very important. When you have an episode like that, especially your first one, it can be very disruptive because in your anxiety and franticness you tend to totally blow up your lives. I let go of my apartment. I gave away my automobile, a fully customized van. I quit my job. I moved back to Canastota, New York. Then, when you get yourself back, when you get your health back, you don’t have your life anymore. (laughter) Now you have to put your life back together when you are still teetering and don’t know how well you are going to do.
A Course In Miracles was in my life then. Quotes like this were really helpful. “And if we stumble, You will raise us up. If we forget the way, we count upon Your sure remembering. We wander off, but You will not forget to call us back.” (Wk.Or.Ed.117.17) My 1980 mental health problem was a stumble. It was a wandering off, but the Divine was still with me. I was able to do a very great thing. I was able to get my life back together and I think that was even a greater accomplishment than getting through the bout of mental illness. There’s another place in the Course where it talks about us wandering off. “I cannot lose the way. I can but choose to wander off a while and then return. Your loving Voice will always call me back and guide my feet aright.” (Tx.Or.Ed.324.1) Through all of our wanderings off, the Holy Spirit is still with us and we all eventually find our way back to the path.
A Course In Miracles tells us, “You who perceive yourself as weak and frail, with futile hopes and devastated dreams, born but to die, to weep, and suffer pain, hear this: all power is given you in earth and Heaven. There is nothing that you cannot do. You play the game of death, of being helpless, pitifully tied to dissolution in a world which shows no mercy to you. Yet when you accord it mercy will its mercy shine on you.” (Wk.Or.Ed.191.11) Passages like that were very important while I was trying to put my life back together. It reminded me that I needed to be truly vigilant about choosing to perceive the world as merciful. The world was going to help me out. The world had to help me out. I had almost no resources and I now had this mental illness stigma in my past. I had a life I had to put back together that I very much wanted to put back together. I had to have faith that things in the world were actually going to help me out. You know what; they did! It was miraculous how I was able to get my life back together after that.
I came back to San Francisco in 1981. I got my life set up. In 1983 I was leading my first A Course In Miracles study group. In 1984 I met Rev. Larry! (cheers from the audience) I don’t know if Rev. Larry remembers this but this is just about our anniversary. I know it’s around August 20th. I’m a little unclear about the exact date. It will be our 24th anniversary. “Happy Anniversary Rev. Larry.” (Rev. Larry says from the back, “It was August 23rd.”) Okay, August 23rd. “Happy anniversary.”
The cute, little story I want to tell you about “Secret Love” is this. I don’t think I’ve ever told this story before. This happened sometime after Larry and I had met. We had been going out for awhile and we were in love. We called each other “Little Bruff” and “Big Bruff.” He was the Big Bruff and I was the Little Bruff. I realized that Larry loved classic movies and especially old classic musicals. I liked to sing. One day I thought I’d sing him a song from an old musical. I sang “Secret Love” to him while we were in the car and I sang it as “Once I had a Secret Bruff.” That was a romantic moment and it brought a tear to his eye. It was very sweet. That’s the story about “Secret Love.” (“Wow” and “Aww” from the audience.)
In 1985, with two other people, I formed the California Miracles Foundation. Two years later that imploded. (laughter) So, in 1987 Rev. Larry and I formed the California Miracles Center which later became the Community Miracles Center – the church we have here today. That was another greater thing that we were asked to do. We launched our publication, Miracles Monthly. We created an active A Course In Miracles church. We ran weekend Miracle Experiences. In 2000 we did that first huge conference. That was another greater thing that we were asked to do.
Right after the 2000 conference I had a second nervous breakdown or another “a-typical, major depressive anxiety episode.” I want to thank, Rev. Larry and Rev. Dusa Althea who both really helped me during that very difficult time. The congregation of the Community Miracles Center was also very supportive and very patient with me during that time. It was great. The good thing about a second episode like that is you know not to blow up your life. (laughter) You know not to sell the car, quit the job and move away. You know to wait it out. It was awful but I knew to wait it out. That was good.
Why talk about any of these things? Well, it’s always been my thought that to hide them would be worse. I certainly don’t want to hide them. A Course In Miracles tells us not to hide things. “... it is only the hidden that can terrify, not for what it is, but for its hiddenness. The obscure is frightening because you do not understand its meaning. If you did, it would be clear, and you would be no longer in the dark. Nothing has hidden value, for what is hidden cannot be shared, and so its value is unknown. The hidden is kept apart, but value always lies in joint appreciation. What is concealed cannot be loved, and so it must be feared.” (Tx.Or.Ed.14.16)
I have no reason to fear any of my own bouts with mental illness. I certainly don’t hide them and I bring them up into the light and learn from them. In Miracle Principle 22 we read, “The escape from darkness involves two stages: A. The recognition that darkness cannot hide. This step usually entails fear. B. The recognition that there is nothing you want to hide, even if you could. This step brings escape from fear. ... When you have become willing to hide nothing, you will not only be willing to enter into communion but will also understand peace and joy.” (Tx. Or.Ed.1.22-24.26) I am willing to hide nothing.
I am actually grateful for my “a-typical, major, depressive anxiety episodes” because they have made me a better counselor. I can really appreciate what people are going through when they are going through their own feelings of, depression, anxiety, and mental confusion. I truly understand it. I can communicate to them the confidence of somebody who has also gone through things as severe as whatever they might be going through. That’s been very, very good for that connection.
A Course In Miracles says, “Do not despair, then, because of limitations. It is your function to escape from them, but not to be without them. If you would be heard by those who suffer, you must speak their language. If you would be saviors, you must understand what needs to be escaped.” (Mn.Or.Ed.26.4) If you want to help people you have to be able to understand what they are going through. You have to speak a language that helps them to connect and feel that you actually understand what they are going through. It’s great. I am grateful that those mental illness challenges happened and that I got through them. I am grateful that I had the spiritual discipline that I had that helped me get through them. I am grateful that I was able to continue on and do greater things even on top of those experiences.
In 2007, as most of you know, we hosted a great conference. Getting the guidance to appear at that conference as Rev. Antoinette, was a great challenge – standing up there in front of 400 people in drag and doing that thing. I had to push through, knowing that some people weren’t going to like it, and that some people weren’t going to get it. I was asking for guidance for months on how far I was going to go with the “schtick.” I went pretty far. It was great and I am very happy about how it all turned out.
One of the reason why I’ve been reviewing all of this, as many of you know, is that I have gotten the guidance, over the past few months, that it’s time for me to write my book, publish my book, and get it out there. (**2) I’ve been working very hard to get the book completed. The book is now all written. It’s all typeset. It’s with the final proof reader right now. We’ve already contacted a printer. We’ve got the ISBN number (International Standard Book Number). We’ve got the Library of Congress Control Number (LCCN). We’ve filled out the Advance Book Information form (ABI). I’m just about ready to apply for the Publisher Cataloging-In-Publication form (P-CIP). All the little details are coming together. It is going to happen. We’re going to have a book that the Community Miracles Center will have published. It will contain articles I’ve written and some new original material. It’s been an interesting process.
Usually in the past, when people talked to me about writing a book I would say, “I don’t have time to write it. I’m just too busy.” That was probably true on the surface of things. Now that I’ve actually done it, what I realize is that I just wasn’t ready to do it. It was one of those greater things that I hadn’t quite risen to, yet. But, I’m ready to do it now. It’s the right time. I don’t have to beat myself up for not doing it sooner. It’s the next greater thing that the Holy Spirit is asking me to do.
I am very happy to say that Alan Cohen, who is a popular and prolific spiritual author and very active in the workshop and mentoring scene, has agreed to write the “Foreword” to my book. I sent the book to Alan last week. Marianne Williamson has agreed to write an endorsement to my book. I will put the endorsements on the back cover. D. Patrick Miller has agreed to write an endorsement and Beverly Hutchinson, from the Miracle Distribution Center, has agreed to write an endorsement. That’s three endorsements. That will be good.
What I am asking all you for now – when you think of me and the book – is, I want you all to think of me saying, “Oprah, it’s so nice to be here.” (lots of laughter) Please hold that image in your mind. Publishing this book is the next greater thing for the Community Miracles Center. It’s the next step for Rev. Tony Ponticello. This will establish Community Miracles Center as having a publishing wing. This means we can publish other things because we will have established ourselves as book publishers. I can publish more books. Rev. Larry can publish things. Other minister here could publish things. Maybe even authors from the outside could present us with manuscripts that we might want to publish. It opens up all of that.
I think the continual pursuit of greater things, building on top of what we already have accomplished, is what A Course In Miracles is so wonderful with. I gives us the confidence that enables us to do things like this, regardless of the difficulties we have had in our lives. Regardless of how many times we have wandered off, regardless of how many times we may have indeed stumbled – we are defined by the greatness in our lives. We’re not defined by our past. We’re not defined by our stumbles and we’re not defined by the times we have wandered off. We’re not defined by The Donna Reed Show and Father Knows Best. We’re defined by where we are right now and the Divinity that we have within us. We are defined by what the Holy Spirit is guiding us to do in this moment. I feel great about what my life has been. I feel great about what my life is now and I feel ready, with A Course In Miracles as my spiritual path, to do even greater things than I have done before.
That’s it. Thank you very much.
**1) The Stonewall Riots are unanimously considered to be the start of the modern gay rights movement. They were violent demonstrations that erupted in New York City in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, outside of a bar, The Stonewall Inn, frequented by transvestites and gay hookers that had been raided by the police. The demonstrations spread to other area and lasted several days. The modern Gay Pride Day celebrations and parades, that happen every year at the end on June, are commemorating the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots.
**2) The title of Rev. Tony’s upcoming book is *After Enlightenment*. Here is a short quotation from Alan Cohen’s Foreword.
“If you are new to *A Course In Miracles*, *After Enlightenment* will serve as a comfortable illuminating introduction. You will find metaphysical concepts explained in an easy-to-digest way, and what may at first appear to be abstruse and unattainable will become utterly livable. If you are a seasoned *Course* student, you will discover nuances, explanations, and applications that will deepen your relationship with the material. It’s rare that a book can speak equally eloquently to newcomers as well as veterans. This one does.” – Alan Cohen, author *The Dragon Doesn’t live Here Anymore." ♥
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This article appeared in the August 2008 (Vol. 22 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.