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Dear Friends,

Today I have a guest blogger, Mike McNichols, who has an interesting approach to Eucharist, especially for Protestants, who have not taken Eucharist very seriously. I’ve struggled with the meaning of Eucharist and have now come to see it as a unique form of intimacy with Christ. I hope this essay invites you to reflect on Eucharist, no matter what your faith tradition. If you enjoy this, I’d recommend a book Mike has written called Shadow Meal.

Loaves and Fishes, Bread and Wine

 By Michael McNichols

Director, Fuller seminary, California Coast


I was raised up, for the most part, in Protestant/Evangelical churches. In those unique religious settings, the Lord’s Supper, or Communion as we usually called it, was seen as a purely symbolic ritual, serving to remind us of Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross. We only shared the Lord’s Supper once a month or so, and I could never quite get my mind around the whole thing. If it was only symbolic and just a way to remember something, then why did we really have to do it? Was it really necessary? I can read the Bible and remember about Jesus. I don’t need a tasteless wafer and a shot of grape juice to get me to do that.

It might just be me, but I even translate this thinking to other areas of life where symbols are used. Some of my neighbors fly American flags from the roofs of their houses. I’m fine with that, but I don’t feel the need to tell everyone that I’m an American when I live in California. The connection should be obvious.

So I’ve had to struggle and work through my thinking about Eucharist. And the more I struggle the more deep meaning I find, and the more I catch glimpses of the deeper reality behind it all.

We experience the Eucharist together in a relatively small space, as most churches do. We come, not out of our qualification or self-induced purity, but rather at the invitation of Jesus to come and dine. Our table may be a small table, but it represents the real table that Jesus has prepared—a table that stretches though the ages and across all nations. It is a table with countless seats and place settings, because the invitation to come is broad and sent to all people. It is a table where we receive the true bread of heaven, bread that will always satisfy. As Jesus said,


“Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away.” (John 6:37)


When I think of the story of Jesus feeding a crowd of 5,000 people with just a few fishes and some loaves of bread, I wonder if that isn’t what is happening at a deeper level: The real miracle is not that there is more food, but rather that there are now more people at the table. Jesus often scandalized the religious elite by claiming that the down and out, the outcasts and sinners were loved and valued by God. The religious leaders didn’t want those kinds of seats at their table because they thought it was only for people like themselves. Jesus says otherwise.

If the loaves and fishes are signs that point to Jesus, the bread of heaven, then maybe the receiving of that food is a sign of response to the invitation to Jesus’ table. The multiplication itself appears to be a sign of the limitless nature of God’s love and care and the sheer recklessness of his embrace. I don’t recall any one in the crowd having to be interviewed before eating in order to determine their suitability. Everyone was fed.

This Eucharistic practice of ours is both sign and wonder. It is sign because it points to the deeper reality of God’s broad and expansive love. It is wonder because we can never fathom how we were ever invited in the first place. But Jesus has seen through all of our attempts to hide and disqualify ourselves and has reached across years of pain, loneliness and brokenness to say, “Come.”


Hello Friends,

This week is a big week in my studio. I have an icon exhibit, The Red Sea Band, opening at Easter Lutheran Church in Eagan, MN. It’s at 4200 Pilot Knob Road and Diffley Road. It will run from next Sunday, June 29th through Labor Day. If you want to hear the powerful stories of the Red Sea Women’s Band take a trip out to visit. I am attending the 10:00 service there next Sunday if anyone wants to join me. Today, I am including Bathsheba, one of the band leaders in this post. She’s playing the blues on her jazz saxophone. And she has blues to play!


And the second gift I am giving to the world this week is a bite-sized book on kindle, called Where is God in Illness? It’s only $2.95 and gives hope and a healing message to those who suffer from illnesses and those who love them. Go to and type in my name (Janet Hagberg) to see this book. The cover depicts a strong tree growing in a barren place. This is the second bite-sized book in my four part series. Another one is due next month, Where is God in Divorce?


Bathsheba on Jazz Saxophone

Bathsheba on Jazz Saxophone


Bathsheba on Jazz Saxophone

Bathsheba was secure in her marriage to Uriah, one of King David’s loyal military leaders. But David saw her from his balcony bathing privately and wanted her for himself so he had her husband deliberately killed in battle. The child he had with Bathsheba died as a result of his actions but Bathsheba eventually birthed Solomon. When the time came to select a new king she got a commitment from David to anoint Solomon and he became one of the wisest kings ever to rule Israel.

Bathsheba is honored in scripture as mother of Solomon and as one of only five women in the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1.


Read more of her story in 2 Samuel 11-12, 1 Chronicles 3:4b-5, 1Kings 1:1-48, Song of Solomon 3:11, and Matthew 1.


Bathsheba endured many difficult things in her life and she told me that music was a way she expressed her pain. She chose to play the blues on her saxophone in the Red Sea Band.


How do you respond to Bathsheba’s story and her icon image?

When have you suffered as a result of someone having control over you?

How did you reclaim your own voice?





Many of us wonder how and why God does what God does! And we question God’s role in our lives. Here is a short video that Tamie Koehler and I did showing how we experience God working in our lives, calling us ever closer and sometimes with humor.


Reflections on this video

How do you experience God in your life?
What is your image of God?

How does God meddle in kind ways in your life?

What would you like from God now?



Spring at its finest

Spring at its finest

Reflections on this image: I took this image on my early morning walk this week.

What does spring mean to you?

What is your favorite symbol of spring?

What is springing forth in your life this season?

What do you need to do to prepare for new growth in your life?

Estrangement: Journey to Wholeness


Most people have experienced estrangement of one kind or another. Estrangements can occur abruptly, like a big fight that ends a relationship (family feuds for example). While other estrangements happen to us, like a job loss we felt was unfair. And some estrangements we initiate ourselves, like choosing conscious boundaries with a dangerous person. Whatever the reason, estrangements may linger in our psyches and some part of us longs for pardon, forgiveness or reconciliation. In our heart of hearts we also, for the most part, put the responsibility for the estrangement on someone else, finding it hard to name our role in it.


With all that baggage we bring to estrangement, it is hard to see a way out, a healing journey or even an oasis in the middle of the stress. And if we invite God into the mess at all, it’s usually to take our side or make things right. Or we are deep in our own remorse, shame, anger or hurt. What a tough spot.


To add insult to injury, many of us build this scenario: we think that if we just try hard to fix the situation, it will work out to our benefit (and secretly, we will be vindicated). Oh what a heavy load we carry. So we try to be nice, to reach out, to do what the person wants, or to show the other person what they could do to change. We usually get strange and hurtful kickbacks from this effort, or we find ourselves in between people, which is even more exhausting. Our motives may be well-meaning, such as avoiding pain, being a good Christian, wanting to look good or innocent, or wanting everything to be easier. Whatever our motives, we usually get sick and tired after we’ve tried to do all we can to solve the estrangement. And the beat goes on 😉


It’s so hard to have compassion for ourselves, but that is just what we need: kindness, honesty and utmost compassion. But how do we find that in the middle of such strife?


Let’s start with an understanding of how we got to that place of unrest and stress in our estrangements. It happened largely because of our “efforting.” Here is a model that shows this “efforting” and its side effects.



The model has concentric circles with feelings on the outside, actions next, outcomes or results next, then God in the middle. We move from the outside to the inside in this model, starting with our feelings of anger, hurt or shame. Our natural inclination is to try whatever actions we can to relieve, change or fix the situation. The results are often messy or get us more mired in the pain. By the time we get to the middle of the circle to God, we are usually hurt, exhausted and without much hope.




Let’s stop at this juncture of exhaustion. I’d like to suggest a real oasis, a place to pause right in the middle of this chaos and pain: an oasis where we can breathe and reconsider our options. Perhaps this can be the beginning of our self-compassion and love.


First we need to listen to our inner selves and bring God more attentively into this process. Put your hand on your heart. Quiet yourself. Sit in a comfortable position. Make your space as soothing as possible. Then breathe in and out slowly for a minute and clear your mind of things that clamor for your attention. Listen to your heart and ask God to be present in your situation.


When you have quieted, read over this French pantoum poem several times. First just hear it. Then listen for a word or phrase that speaks to you. As you read it again, let that word or phrase take you on a journey. Where does it connect to your life, to your estrangement? Ask God to show you how this word or phrase speaks truth to you. Write about this or draw a symbol of it for yourself.


I Long to Be Free


I long to be free loving Lord

My hurt and anger cling

Can I own-forgive-release

I claim the comfort of pain


My hurt and anger cling

My heart cries out to you

I claim the comfort of pain

I let you heal my soul


My heart cries out to you

Can I own-forgive-release

I let you heal my soul

I long to be free loving Lord


You may want to stay with this poem for quite some time, taking your pain and unanswered questions with you back to the poem, to see which words and phrases speak to you over time. Ask God to show you the path to freedom. Keep asking. Then watch what happens in your heart and in your life.


Now for the next steps in the healing journey: I would like to suggest that you use a similar circle model as before but this time start in the middle with God. You probably need support to do this: a spiritual director, counselor, pastor, coach or healthy friends. Start with God, bringing it all to God and listening to your heart, so you hear what the personal healing call is for you on this reconciliation journey. It is all about compassion, first from God and then from you to yourself and finally, in whatever form, to the other person or situation.



God is at center where we start, owning our own issues and forgiving ourselves. Then we move outward, to outcomes—actions—feelings, in that order.




The reconciliation journey consists basically of three steps: own, forgive, release. They may sound overly simple, but they are, in reality, difficult and complex. Remember, with God in the middle of the circle, which is where we now start, we have much more likelihood of finding peace.


Owning is perhaps the most crucial part and the first step of the healing process. It is important to take compassion into this phase of truth telling. In this phase, we own our part of the estrangement without taking on too much shame or guilt. This opens our hearts to new insights and truths that we may find painful. Most of us have a lot of baggage to unload. It may be hard to feel our anger at the other person, to give up our feelings of superiority or rightness, to find our newfound voice, to name our own complicity, to stand up to intimidation, to own our codependence, to release what the other person has that we want, or to let go of hurtful memories. After we own our part, we take a deep spiritual step with God, one that is necessary in order to heal our wounds.


Forgiving ourselves is the second step. This is the key, to heal and forgive ourselves before we try to resolve our estrangements with others. It is hard, but whatever it is, it is not too big or too hard for God. This forgiveness happens in the center of the circle where we commune with God. It may take years to be kind to ourselves and to forgive, knowing that we didn’t know enough or weren’t aware of what we needed to do or felt we didn’t deserve respect or love. Usually we don’t even realize that we need to forgive ourselves. So growth is available all along this journey. Once we forgive ourselves, we are in a much better position to forgive the other person or situation. And that is what ultimately heals us: forgiving someone whether they know it or not. But that is usually an inside job.


Releasing the other is the last step. This happens as you move from the center of this model outward. But you are now focused on God and on your own healing so the next steps take on new and different possibilities. You can now ask, what outcomes are healthy and which are idealistic, vindicating or revengeful? What actions will be life-giving, safe and freeing? And as you choose healthier and more lovingly detached outcomes, you see that your feelings are quite different as a result.


When you use the model this way, you can look more honestly at the outcomes or actions that would be healthy for you. If you are dealing with a person with severe mental illness, an abusive person, someone who brings back strong memories from the past, or an organization that has blacklisted you, it may not be safe to expect any reconciliation. Then the finest, most healing thing happens only within you, the healing and forgiveness that only God can provide.


Sometimes praying for that person from afar is the only healthy option. In other cases you may write a letter to make amends, meet with the person and a third party, or meet with them yourself. For some, a heartfelt word or touch at a deathbed is a healing gesture. There are many options. But in order to have the best option for the situation, we may have to release our expectations of complete reconciliation. But, paradoxically, once you use this model with God at the center, the options open further than you may have imagined.


The results, actions and feelings may surprise you. You may find peace, humor, new perspectives, sadness, calm, love, patience, grief, loving detachment, compassion, caring, loss, self-care, etc. And the best outcomes may include having clear and comfortable boundaries, being content to send love with no contact, or having partial or full reconciliation. Whatever the outcome, you are in God’s hands all the way and you will heal.


©Janet O. Hagberg, 2014. All rights reserved.

Poem, I Long to Be Free by Janet Hagberg


Reflections on this essay:

What estrangements do you currently carry?

How have you tried to fix them?
What has happened as a result?

Where is God in this process with you?

How have you owned your own part of the estrangement?
What new options do you see for your situation with God at the center?



This outline and model were developed as part of a workshop I did with Tamie Koehler. Kudos to her for adapting this circle model.








This model did not transfer to the blog so you need to imagine three concentric circles with feelings on the outside of the widest circle, then actions in the next circle, then results and lastly, God in the small circle in the middle. If you would like a copy of these circles email me at


  1. Outside the circle, write the FEELINGS you have been experiencing in the estrangement.


  1. First circle moving inward, write the ACTIONS you have been taking to deal with the estrangement.


  1. Second circle moving inward, write the RESULTS you have been experiencing from your feelings and actions.


  1. Center circle write your connection with God in this estrangement.




This circle did not transfer either so you need to imagine the same set of circles except that the middle circle is much larger than before. God is in this inner circle, then as you move outward, results, actions and feelings reside in the outer circles.




  1. Center circle write your connection/process with GOD as the main focus in healing and reconciliation.


  1. Second circle moving outward, write the RESULTS you are experiencing in the reconciliation process.


  1. Third circle moving outward, write the ACTIONS you have been taking when God and healing are the focus of the reconciliation.



  1. Outside the circle, write the FEELINGS you are experiencing.




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