On Sunday July 22, 2007, Rev. Tony Ponticello addressed the congregation at the Community Miracles Center in San Francisco, CA. What follows is a lightly edited transcription of that lecture.
If you look at the front page of your program (also this Miracles Monthly) you will see a picture of our own Rev. Rudy Colombini taken yesterday. He was performing his very first wedding. He was marrying his step son Jason, who is there on the right, to the lovely young lady Christine who is on the other side. It was a beautiful wedding. I was there. It was lovely, at the family home in Hillsborough in a beautiful garden. Rev. Rudy did a great job performing the ceremony.
When you perform a wedding there’s an interesting little legal distinction that goes on for the minister doing the wedding – the way the State of California describes what you do as a minister. The minister is called the person who “solemnizes” the wedding. This means that you are the person who is making sure that it is not frivolous, or entered into carelessly. You, the minister, are supposed to make sure that the people who are there getting married know what they are doing and that they take getting married as an important step in their lives. You make the occasion solemn.
Actually, people can marry themselves, legally, and this is something for you to know. If you are ever in an emergency, life or death situation and you are there with the person who you want to marry and you feel concerned that you are not going to get a chance to marry this person because you, your beloved, or both of you, may be dead in a moment, you can actually marry yourselves. Then, if it comes that you both do not perish that marriage is legal. You will still have to go through a certain amount of paperwork to get it recorded. This is because people actually marry themselves so the emergency marriage is considered legal in the eyes of the law.
Couples marry themselves, but the government likes it when someone of authority, like a minister, is there to make sure that it is not entered into frivolously. I guess if you are in a life or death situation the state is assuming that it is not going to be frivolous.
When you are a minister signing the marriage certificate, as Rev. Rudy had to yesterday, it asks you what denomination you are associated with. A Course In Miracles ministers frequently have a little bit of a quandary when they are asked what denomination they are associated with. Frequently ACIM ministers will just write, “Non-denominational.” That will be legal. You can say that, and there are “non-denominational” ministers. But for me, I certainly do not want to describe myself as “non-” anything. I am not “non-.” I am an A Course In Miracles minister. I always write “A Course In Miracles” in the denomination box on the marriage license. That is what I encouraged Rev. Rudy to write and that is what he wrote yesterday. He had no problem writing that. He is here associated with our church. I have known others who have had difficulty thinking of ACIM as a denomination. What does that mean? Many do not like to think of ACIM as a religion. What does being a religion mean?
If you talk to A Course In Miracles students anywhere – maybe you go to a conference like we hosted here last February – when you move into the conversation of, “Is A Course In Miracles a religion?” or “Is A Course In Miracles a church?” you frequently get a negative reaction. Students balk at the idea. They react negatively to that idea. They are repulsed by that idea. I have always found this kind of amusing. ACIM speaks very positively of “church.” It speaks in a neutral way about “religion” saying both positive statements about religion and negative statements. Obviously, it doesn’t think of the term itself in any way negative. Here is a quotation from the Course about “church.” “I am sorry when my brothers do not share my decision to hear only one voice because it weakens them as teachers and as learners. Yet I know that they cannot really betray themselves or me and that it is still on them that I must build my church. – There is no choice in this because only you can be the foundation of God’s church.” (Tx.Or.Ed.6.11-12)
That passage goes on to say some other positive things about “church.” In fact, nowhere in A Course In Miracles does it say anything negative about church. It doesn’t speak about church that often but every time it does it is in a positive light. So, if ACIM speaks of church positively why do so many ACIM students react so negatively to the idea of church any time it is brought up. I find it amusing.
The same thing is true with the word “religion.” Everyone gets very feisty around the idea of religion. If you look “religion” up in the dictionary it says, “... the personal commitment to and serving of God or a god with worshipful devotion, conduct in accord with divine commands especially as found in accepted sacred writings or declared by authoritative teachers, a way of life recognized as incumbent on true believers, and typically the relating of oneself to an organized body of believers.” That definition seems to fit very clearly what we do with A Course In Miracles. We certainly have accepted sacred writings. That’s the book, ACIM itself. We have authoritative teachers who have studied it for a long time and who write about it. While they are not of divine authority, or flawless authority, we accept certain people as having significant information that helps to guide us. We are associated with all of this so, whether we want to call it a religion or not, by definition it seems to be a religion.
There is an old saying that tells us, “If it looks like a horse, and sounds like a horse and smells like a horse – it’s probably a horse!” Well, if it looks like religion and sounds like religion and smells like religion it’s probably religion whether people call it a religion of not. I think this is true with A Course In Miracles.
As I said, the Course does speaks positively of religion. Here is a quote from the Psychotherapy pamphlet, “As true religion heals, so must true psychotherapy be religious.” (P-2.II.7.1). That’s a positive light on the word “religion.” It also uses the word “religion” in a neutral way. It talks about the ego’s religion and the insanity of the ego’s religion. It is telling us that there can be “true religion”, there can also be false religion, but there is nothing inherently negative about the term “religion” in A Course In Miracles. It just depends on how we use it.
The marriage license asks the minister to declare his or her denomination. If you look up the word “denomination” in the dictionary is says, “... a class or society of individuals called by the same name; especially: a religious group or a community of believers called by the same name.” If you call yourself by a particular name and you are a religious group or a religious community, then you are involved in a denomination. I’ve been involved in A Course In Miracles circles for over 25 years. Generally ACIM students call themselves – “A Course In Miracles Students.” That’s it. Sometimes, if you are from Wisconsin and associated with Endeavor Academy and Miracles Healing Center you may call yourselves, “A Course In Miracles Teachers.” I think it’s interesting that they don’t call themselves “students” but they say, “A group of A Course In Miracles teachers are coming.” They want to bring themselves up into the awareness that they are teachers. Technically, if we wanted to create a more accurate term, since ACIM equates teachers and students we should probably all call ourselves, “A Course In Miracles Student/Teachers” or “A Course In Miracles Teacher/Students” depending on what feels more accurate for us in the moment. Either of them work. We are ACIM students; we are ACIM teachers. That’s what we call ourselves. That is the denomination.
This denomination that we are has very specific, prescribed modes of thinking and practices that it wants us to participate in. I find it interesting – something to note, amusing sometimes or just plain peculiar – that people bring into A Course In Miracles practice a lot of things that actually don’t seem to be a part of the practice. Or they focus on things that are just hinted about or talked about obliquely. There is plenty that is actually in this practice and focused on, yet people bring so much stuff to their ACIM study that is found in other practices.
One of the things that people bring in from other practices is meditation. Many people like to think of meditation as a strong part of A Course In Miracles. While it certainly can be said that prayer and silence frequently work themselves into the Workbook lessons, ACIM is not a spiritual discipline, a religion or a denomination, that focuses strongly on meditation. In fact the quotation that is in your program that was read earlier by Rev. Larry points that out. It says, “You are attempting to follow a very long road to the goal you have accepted. It is extremely difficult to reach Atonement by fighting against sin. Nor is a lifetime of contemplation and long periods of meditation aimed at detachment from the body necessary.” (Tx.Or.Ed.18.66) So, long periods of meditation aimed at detaching our connection to the body are not necessary to ACIM practice. It doesn’t say that they are antithetical to it. It doesn’t say that if you do that you can not be an ACIM future for release from a state of present unworthiness and inadequacy.” (Tx.Or.Ed.18.66) Meditation, especially long periods of meditation, or possibly a focus on meditation, is not ACIM practice. Actually ACIM calls it tedious and time consuming. The ACIM discipline, or religion, is not a discipline or a religion with tedious or time consuming practices. student. But, it is saying that this is not a necessary part of the program. I especially like what it says next. It’s kind of an insult. “All such attempts will ultimately succeed because of their purpose. Yet the means are tedious and very time consuming, for all of them look to the
What does tedious mean? I love to look words up in the dictionary. Tedious means, “ ... tiresome because of slowness, dullness.” A Course In Miracles is not a tedious discipline. It’s not tiresome because of being slow or dull. This must mean that it is fast, dynamic and interesting. It’s a fast, dynamic, interesting discipline. But a lot of people still bring this prayerful, meditative, silent, slow practice to it. I said that this is not a bad thing. It is just not, in my mind, what our practice is teaching us.
What is A Course In Miracles practice teaching us? If we just continue reading from the previous quotation, the next couple of sentences will tell us. “Your way will be different, not in purpose but in means.” (Tx.Or.Ed.18.67) In other words our way is not different in what we are trying to accomplish but it is different in the means that we are going to use to accomplish it. Our way is different. Our denomination has a different way. The passage continues, “A holy relationship is a means of saving time. One instant spent together restores the universe to both of you.” The means ACIM uses for its practice, the means this denomination this religion uses, is relationships. This discipline thrusts us head first into relationships. It encourages us: to be in relationships, to forgive brothers and sisters who annoy us, to see that it is just our own thoughts that we actually need to heal, to accept that we need to be grateful to brothers and sisters for annoying us because that annoyance gives us the opportunity to heal ourselves. No wonder it’s a dynamic, fast discipline! It thrusts us right into involvement with people and many times that involvement is difficult. It’s certainly dynamic at least – something dynamic and interesting.
Yet, as I said, people still carry over things from other spiritual practices possibly that they knew from before or that they used in distant pasts that seem lifetimes away. There is a certain, spiritual carry over that comes with people who are studying the A Course In Miracles. Yet the Course tells us, “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.” (Tx.Or.Ed.18.68) In order to use A Course In Miracles we have to use the means that ACIM is giving to us, which is relationships. Meditation, especially long periods of meditation aimed at detachment from the body, may have served others well. It’s not saying that is a bad thing, but to truly practice the Course means we are doing something else.
Meditate all that you want, but you are not truly an A Course In Miracles student if you are not grappling with its profound teaching about relationships and what that means. That is the unique means that this Course is giving to us. A lot of people bring all kinds of things from other religions. They bring a lot asceticism or a lot of world denying ideas. Somehow, being a religious or spir-itual person means that we have to give up things in the world. However, I do not see ACIM as saying that. The Course says, “The love of God for a little while must still be expressed through one body to another because the real vision is still so dim.” (Tx.Or.Ed.1.105) I’m certainly in favor of body to body love expression. The Course also says, “The Holy Spirit sees the body only as a means of communication and because communicating is sharing, it becomes communion.” (Tx.Or.Ed.5.65) I’m in favor of body communion too. It all sounds very sexual to me. These passages could certainly lend themselves to that interpretation. I do not see ACIM as being any kind of asceticism that would say that sex is a less spiritual activity, or something that is at a lower level of communication, than anything else which seems to be in the world. However, I do believe that there are many vestiges of asceticism left over from many Eastern traditions. There is a lot of robe and rice bowl stuff that still goes on in many ACIM circles. I don’t see it in the teaching.
There are also a lot of vestiges of traditional Christian guilt that get brought into A Course In Miracles circles and traditional Christian unworthiness. While some Christians may take affront with that statement I was a good Christian boy. Every Sunday my mother took us to church. During the Catholic mass, at that time, we would sit there and at a certain point in the mass we would pound our chest and say, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof. Speak but the word and my soul shall be healed.” We said this three times, “Lord I am not worthy ...” There is still a lot of that unworthiness stuff that creeps into our spiritual practice of ACIM.
There’s a lot of guilt. If I’m involved with the world, if I’m a sexual person and if I like the good fun things of the world, then I must be off the path and I should feel guilty about it. My Catholic upbringing taught me to feel guilty about anything that tasted good, or felt good. It must have been bad for me. I admit that the Catholic religion and broader Christian faith have changed a bit since I was a Catholic boy in the 1950s and 1960s. Yet, I’m studying something totally different now. Maybe that unworthiness works for some people. I don’t know. What I know for sure is that ACIM tells me the love of God must be expressed from one body to the next, that bodies can be a means of communication and that communication can be communion. That seems pretty hands on and passionate to me. It fits what I feel about my own life and my own persona and I like it. This spiritual discipline, this denomination, this religion, resonates with me. We have this odd way of borrowing things from other disciplines inappropriately. We also have a way of trying to rebel against other disciplines in a strange and inappropriate manner and I think it’s just a distraction. It’s just a way to distract ourselves from what ACIM is actually teaching us which is get involved in your relationships, all of them – your special relationships, your significant other relationships. Shift them all to holy relationships.
You should have holy relationships with everybody: with all your friends, with all your family, with your acquaintances, with everybody that you meet on the street. See every encounter as a holy encounter, as an opportunity for you to have salvation. That is what this discipline teaches. We can be profoundly practicing this discipline as we walk down the street, as we go into a cafe to buy a cup of coffee because it gives us an instant to have a holy relationship with that person who is giving us that cup of coffee and there is no more profound spiritual practice, according to ACIM, than that holy interaction, the holy relationship that we are having with somebody. That is the discipline. That is why it’s a fast discipline because we can be practicing it all the time, every single minute of our day. With everybody who we encounter we can be profoundly practicing our spiritual discipline. We don’t have to wait until we get back to our little temple, and light the candles, and turn all the sound off, and turn the cell phones off, and take so many deep breathes (laughter) and get the right meditation cushion .... We can be profoundly practicing our discipline every second of the day – dynamically. It’s not tedious. It’s not time consuming.
We’re studying a spiritual discipline that is teaching many profound and unusual things. When I want to find of a summation of A Course In Miracles I always remember the first review in the Workbook. It’s the review of Workbook lesson number 17. This is actually Workbook lesson number 54. Lesson 54 is a review of five lessons and one of them is Workbook lesson number 17. I like what it says. “I see no neutral things. – What I see witnesses to what I think. If I did not think I would not exist, because life is thought. Let me look on the world I see as the representation of my own state of mind. I know that my state of mind can change. And so I also know the world I see can change as well.” (Wk.Or.Ed.54.3) This is what ACIM teaches. This is what our religion teaches. It teaches that the world we see is actually a graphic representation of our own state of mind. The world is our state of mind. There is no reason to retreat from the world by going into your mind because your mind is the world so your not going anywhere. If your just going into your mind you might as well go out there into the world anyway because it’s the same thing. There is a purpose for controlling the thoughts that we think and thinking loving, spirit guided thoughts. You can do that with your eyes closed and you can do that with your eyes open. It doesn’t really matter. Probably, it’s good to do it a little both ways and this is what the early Workbook lessons teach us. It might help to do it all the time. There is no reason for a practice that helps us to retreat from the world because the Course is telling us that there isn’t a world there. It’s just our minds, so there is no place to retreat to.
I was talking earlier about the “non-denominational” issue. People still call us on the phone and ask if this is a “non-denominational” church? I always say, “No. It is not non-denominational.” A non-denominational church is a very valid thing. A non-denominational church will study a little Hinduism. They will study a little Christianity. They would have a little meditation associated with it. They might have a little Ethical Humanism. They would do a lot of different things because they would be non-denominational. Frequently they are wonderful community centers because everybody feels welcome. It’s a very powerful thing, a true non-denominational church. But that isn’t what this is and that isn’t what we A Course In Miracles teacher/student do.
We don’t study a little of this and a little of that in an equal way. We study A Course In Miracles. Our denomination is ACIM. We certainly can study whatever else we want to and a lot of us frequently do. What I have noticed from ACIM teacher/students is when they study something else they sift it through the filter of ACIM. They equate what they are hearing with what they know about ACIM. Sometimes this gives them a deeper appreciation of the Course. When other disciplines are expressing something that is reflected in the Course and students are now hearing it stated in another way, this gives them a deeper appreciation of the Course teaching. It probably gives them a deeper appreciation of the other discipline too. But ACIM teacher/students are usually grounded in the Course as their main path. They are not non-denominational. This is there denomination.
There are accepted sacred writings in this denomination. There’s the book, A Course In Miracles. There are authoritative teachers. They are not absolute authorities but there are a lot of teachers who have done a lot of good work and you can go to them for some clarification and good ideas.
Are we a religion? I think we are. The word is used positively in A Course In Miracles. If it’s good enough for ACIM it should be good enough for me. The word “church” is used positively in ACIM. If it’s good enough for ACIM to think positively of church it’s good enough for me. Our ministers can marry and perform the legal rite that the state says you need to be an ordained minister to do. Our ministers certainly can do that. They can “solemnize” the wonderful ritual of a wedding. I hope when it comes time, when they have legally married a couple and that certificate asks them to declare what denomination they belong to, they can proudly and with full acceptance say and write that they belong to the denomination, A Course In Miracles. I hope they will feel good about that.
That's it for today. Thank you very much. ♥
c/o Community Miracles Center
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San Francisco, CA 94114
This article appeared in the July 2007 (Vol. 21 No. 5) 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.