On June 14, 2020, Rev. Tony Ponticello addressed those attending the Community Miracles Center’s Sunday Gathering. Below is a lightly edited transcription of his talk.
Thank you very much for joining us. Happy to be here. Happy to see all of you here. Happy to be speaking again. This is the first time I have spoken since my birthday that I had last week. I am still within my birthday week. I am still in a very celebratory mood.
The title of my talk today is, “And the Body Becomes Holy.” We have a very long and established tradition that is millennia long, thousands of years long, of thinking of spirituality and believing that it contains a certain body negating rhetoric. If you are really spiritual then you are not into bodily things. This is a form of asceticism. This is what it is called in the more Buddhist and Hindu cultures. An ascetic is somebody who is denying their body and denying worldly things so they can be more spiritual. This is a very valid spiritual path for many people. There is this body negating rhetoric that goes on in spiritual movements and certainly in A Course in Miracles circles.
The Buddha’s story was that he was a royal, he was a prince. He disavowed all of that and lived with spiritual people, the ascetics, and learned how to do some very severe and drastic fasting and meditating and body denying things. At a certain point, he felt he had to not eat for a very long period of time and just meditate and meditate. The story is that he fasted for so long that he realized he didn’t have the energy to move. He realized that he was going to die. He thought “I could starve myself, but is this really the way to enlightenment?” He realized that he was perfectly capable of denying himself nourishment long enough to actually die, but he wasn’t actually enlightened. The legend is that a woman came and she had a bowl of sweet rice. She saw him sitting there looking like he was going to die. She gave him the sweet rice. He ate it and rejuvenated enough to have a different experience. He realized that extreme asceticism was really not where it was at and he found a middle way.
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A Course in Miracles also talks about this and talks about a middle way. On the path to the middle way, there is a plateau where the body actually becomes holy. People don’t think about ACIM as a discipline that is talking about the body being holy. However it was in the reading that was read earlier and it says that the body becomes holy. The Course says, “Because it is holy it cannot be sick, nor can it die. When its usefulness is done, it is laid by, and that is all.” (OrEd.Mn.12.5) I believe that when ACIM says things like this, it means them literally. I do not believe that this is a metaphor. I have had this discussion – this is one of my pet themes – many, many times. I think it is always obvious when something is a metaphor. A metaphor is an obvious literary technique. For example, “Ask not the sparrow how the eagle soars.” (OrEd.Tx.20.31) That is a metaphor. Another example is don’t, “... fix your gaze upon a disappearing snowflake and shiver in remembrance of the winter’s cold.” (OrEd.Tx.19.48) That is a metaphor. When the Course says, “… the body becomes holy. Because it is holy it cannot be sick, nor can it die” (OrEd.Mn.12.5) that is not really a metaphor. I know people like to call things like that metaphors, but they are not metaphors. They are literal statements. You either believe the Course means it, or you don’t. In another place the Course says, “You have surely begun to realize that this is a very practical course which means exactly what it says.” (OrEd.Tx.8.86)
When A Course in Miracles says that the body becomes holy, we have to engage with that like a literal statement and see where that fits for us and how we can relate to that. There’s a little bit of that last quotation that comes right before it that qualifies it. I want to read that. It says, “Use [the body] to bring the Word of God to those who have it not, and the body becomes holy. Because it is holy it cannot be sick, nor can it die.” (OrEd.Mn.12.5) We have to be using the body appropriately. We have to be using the body in the service of the Holy Spirit. That service is bringing the word of God to people who don’t have it. I do that. That’s what my whole life is about. I know I work long hours and really hard. But, I feel that I am doing what ACIM is asking us all to do – bringing the word of God to the people who don’t have it. You know what, I think that my body is holy.
As I went through my birthday this week, I had a greater sense of that then I have had before. I had a better sense of really feeling good in my body and good about my body. A Course in Miracles says that, “The body can become a sign of life, a promise of redemption, and a breath of immortality to those grown sick of breathing in the fetid scent of death. Let it have healing as its purpose. Then will it send forth the message it received and by its health and loveliness proclaim the truth and value that it represents.” (OrEd.Tx.27.11) If we are using the body to send forth Holy Spirit’s messages, the body is going to become a sign of life and a promise of redemption. It will communicate that to others and it will be healthy. It will be lovely. It will be beautiful. I believe that these are literal statements. The Course is making a literal promise here.
This is really the beauty secret that is hidden in A Course in Miracles. You can be beautiful and healthy and reflect immortality if you devote yourself to the Holy Spirit and are bringing people the messages that the Holy Spirit wants you to give to them. I defy and don’t affirm the usual conversation that goes on in the world about what happens when you get “older.” Last year I decided, I got the guidance, that I would no longer count the years that I have been around. It isn’t just a matter of not counting them. I wouldn’t even try to think about them. Of course I can calculate it because I remember what the year was when I was born, the number. All you have to do is subtract that from the current year and you get your age. I just don’t do that. I just pass over those ideas. I tell myself that I am ageless and timeless. I have a little birthday affirmation for me this year which I worked out with Rev. Rudy, “Everyday, I am getting younger, better looking and richer!” I just keep saying that to myself. “Everyday, I am getting younger, better looking and richer!” I feel that. I do feel younger. I looked at some pictures from some years ago. I think I am better looking now. I actually know that I am richer now. I think it is working. Try that on. “Everyday, I am getting younger, better looking and richer!”
A Course in Miracles talks about actually perceiving the body as a temple. Other spiritual disciplines talk about this, but people think ACIM is very body negating. After a little discussion about how atonement in physical terms is impossible, about how all those things are ways of maintaining the separation, and they all revolve around the protection of the body – then the Course says, “Perceiving the body as a temple is only the first step in correcting this kind of distortion.” (OrEd.Tx.2.45) It doesn’t say that the body isn’t a temple. It doesn’t say that we shouldn’t perceive the body as a temple, the way many ACIM students think. It says that it’s the first step. Okay, I want to take the first step. After I take the first step, I can take the subsequent steps. People are trying to take subsequent steps without ever taking the first step. The first step is perceiving the body as a temple.
So, I perceive my body as a temple. I want to do good things with my body. I want my body to feel good, to look good, to be strong, and healthy. I do those things that I am guided to do that make that possible. The current pandemic has really exposed this issue, that so many people are really concerned with the protection of the body. That’s what A Course in Miracles says we have to move away from. We have to move away from this idea that we are protecting the body from all of these “dangers.” That just maintains the separation. That’s trying to turn the atonement into something we can do physically. I do want to perceive my body as a temple, and my body will be a temple if I am devoting its service to the Holy Spirit. I will do what the Holy Spirit guides me to do to keep my body healthy and serviceable. For me, I eat good food, and I try to get good sleep. I exercise. I have been exercising quite a bit lately. I feel really good about that. I don’t put poisons into my body. I get sunshine. I interact with other human beings. That really helps me keep healthy and holy. I talked a couple weeks ago about all of the research which proves that hugging people, physical contact, is another thing that keeps the body healthy, holy and keeps the body a temple.
One of the things that Shelter-In-Place has discouraged is hugging. I can’t wait for that to get lifted. As soon as that gets lifted, or for those who want to now, I am definitely ready, willing, and able to hug. I am not going to give up hugging and handshaking. That’s part of manifesting my body as a temple. That’s part of keeping my body holy, and my body is holy. My body is a temple, and I am going to do those things which keep it that way – eating well, sleeping well, getting sunshine, human interaction, not putting poisons into my body, and hugging. Those are all things that I am going to do. A Course in Miracles says, “Everything used in accordance with its function as the Holy Spirit sees it cannot be sick.” (OrEd.Tx.8.79) If we are using the body the way that the Holy Spirit sees it and wants it to be used then it can’t be sick. It is a guarantee. Everything used otherwise is. “Do not allow the body to be a mirror of a split mind. Do not let it be an image of your own perception of littleness.” (OrEd.Tx.8.79)
Basically it’s saying don’t allow your body to be sick. If your body is sick or ill, you have to ask for guidance about what you need to do in order to heal that. Give Community Miracles Center a call. Let us put your body on the prayer/healing list, if that is going on. Get some prayer support for that. We are here to heal those things. We are here to manifest the body as holy, the body as a temple. We have the help, and we have the guidance. We have a discipline that tells us how to do that.
I think we have to fight against this rhetoric of asceticism which pervades a lot of spirituality and that many people in the A Course in Miracles community have picked up on. There is a real denial in the ACIM community of some of the societal values and the societal conversations. There are appropriate conversations for an ACIM student to have and conversations that are not appropriate. In the large ACIM Facebook group that I am an admin for, if you start talking about politics, even if you are doing it from the ACIM perspective, some people will say you shouldn’t do that. This is just the realm of the ego. ACIM students shouldn’t talk about that. It gets into race relations. We can’t talk about that. That just breeds division. When it comes to sex and sexuality, we can’t talk about that either. Should we be vegans? Should we eat meat? We can’t talk about that. Pretty soon I wonder, what the hell is left? What are we supposed to talk about if we are ACIM students, sunsets and flowers? I don’t really know. Those are challenging issues in the world. Those are issues in our culture. Those are things in our society that we are all dealing with. We are supposed to deal with every aspect of the world through the ACIM lens. I think that we talk about everything. We bring everything to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit has a perception of all of those things. We can talk about them.
I have also talked many times about how whenever A Course in Miracles talks about the body, you can pretty much exchange the word “world” and it works just as well. If ACIM is saying that the body becomes holy, you can also say that the world becomes holy. There is this rhetoric in the ACIM community about turning away from the world. I don’t think we should be turning away from the world. I think we should be seeing the world as our temple. That’s the first step toward healing. The first step is to heal the world. There is a lot of sickness in the world. There is a lot of poverty in the world. There is a lot of racism in the world. There is a lot of lack of freedom in the world. I think that ACIM wants us to deal with those things.
There is this quote from A Course in Miracles which doesn’t get mentioned a lot, “You have heard many arguments on behalf of ‘the freedoms,’ which would indeed have been freedom if man had not chosen to fight for them. ... Yet the argument that underlies the defense of freedom is perfectly valid. Because it is true, it should not be fought for, but it should be sided with.” (OrEd.Tx.7.11) We shouldn’t be fighting for freedom, because fighting puts an “us and them” spin on it. We are joined as one, it is not us and them. We should be siding with freedom. We side with freedom to make the world a better place, a more healed place. We side with freedom to make the world a temple. We side with freedom to make the world holy.
I should side with freedom. I should. I know I should. I should side with the freedom that people who have different color skin have the same rights and privileges as everyone. I do side with that freedom. I should side with the freedom that says that people of different genders, men and women and the non-binary gender, and people of different sexual orientations should have the same rights and freedoms that everybody has. I do side with that freedom. I am not going to “fight” for it. I’m not going to get in a fight about it. But, I am going to side with it. I am going to side with it strongly. I am going to side with the freedoms that I have as an American that are guaranteed to me in the Bill of Rights, the freedom of religion and the freedom of assembly. Personally, I feel that this has been under attack lately. Those are just my opinions. I have been siding with that freedom. I have been a voice for that. I don’t think that the government should be denying people freedom of assembly and freedom of religion for any reason. I am not going to get into a fight with anyone about it, but I am going to side with it.
I think that A Course in Miracles does want us to take this middle road. This is the same thing that Buddha came up with. You can’t be so world denying that you are just no earthly good for anybody. You can’t be so world denying that you’re going to kill yourself because you are starving yourself by not eating. You can’t be just totally in the world either, fighting for every cause that comes along. ACIM says that, “Many have chosen to renounce the world while still believing its reality, and they have suffered from a sense of loss and have not been released accordingly. Others have chosen nothing but the world, and they have suffered from a sense of loss still deeper, which they did not understand. Between these paths there is another road that leads away from loss of every kind, for sacrifice and deprivation both are quickly left behind. This is the way appointed for you now.” (OrEd.WkBk.155.4-5)
This is the way appointed for us now. We are in that first step to perceiving the body and the world as holy and siding with the freedom to make it holy. We are at that first step that sees the body and the world as a temple that should be reflecting and honoring the divinity that is the truth about us. I want a holy world. I want a world where people of different colors aren’t treated differently. I want a world where genders and sexual orientations and freedoms aren’t restricted. I want a world where we all have freedom of religion and the freedom to assemble. I will continue to side with that. I am not going to fight for it, but I will side with it. I will talk to people who have different opinions about that and talk to them lovingly, with an open mind. We will journey through this. We will journey through the holiness of the body and the holiness of the world together. I will continue to side with freedom.
I live in the United States of America. America is the land of the free and the home of the brave. I have the bravery to side with freedom. I side with the freedoms that are guaranteed to us in the Constitution and especially in our Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights is the first ten amendments to the Constitution. I talked about this a month ago. Let’s remember what the first amendment to the Constitution is, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” Those are foundational rights. I will continue to side with those rights.
I am happy to announce that I think this week, some churches in California are able to meet. I think that’s tremendous. I hope we continue the discussion, because I have a lot of energy about the fact that churches were not able to meet. I believe churches are as essential as a business as going to Costco. If we can go to Costco and walk around at Costco, with certain restrictions, we should be able to go to church with the same restrictions. After all, it is covered in the first amendment to the Constitution. I will continue to side with that freedom. I have the right to do that because that first amendment also says that I have the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
Some people would like to tell me that, as a minister, I don’t have that right, or that I shouldn’t be doing that. I seem to think that, as a minister, it is exactly what I should be doing. All we have to do is remember the famous minister Martin Luther King Jr. He certainly sided with freedoms. I have the exact same right. I’m doing it because I believe that the world should be holy and should be a reflection of that holiness. I believe that the body should be holy and should be a reflection of that holiness. I am working on the first step which is perceiving my body and the world as a temple where these principles are held sacred and are being manifested. I am working on communicating this to others.
So that’s my talk for today. Keep your body holy. Keep your body a temple. Keep the world holy. Keep the world a temple. Do what the Holy Spirit guides you to do. Become his voice and his hands and his feet. The health of your body and your world will be guaranteed. Your body and your world will be holy. That’s my talk for today. Thank you very much! ♥
Rev. Tony Ponticello is CMC's 20th minister. He currently serves as the CMC's Executive Minister (10.11.2021). He is also the President of the CMC Board of Directors. He was ordained by the CMC on Oct. 17, 1997.
c/o Community Miracles Center
San Francisco, CA 94147
This article appeared in the August 2020 (Vol. 34 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.