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Hell or Hellish?

Reflections on the Afterlife and Near Death experiences


Hell. Hellish. Gates of hell. Go to hell! Gnashing of teeth. Hell to pay. Hellion. Hellfire. Brimstone. Millstones. To hell and back. To hell with you! Eternal damnation. Unforgivable sin.


What is hell and how does it inform our lives? Is it a place or an experience? In the future or in the present? To be honest I don’t know the answer to these questions but I will give a few observations from what I’ve read and then offer my own satisfying explanation that calms the issue for me.


I will cite four sources for my observations; Eben Alexander, MD, Fr. Matt Linn, Rev. Flora Wuellner and Rev. Rob Bell. I’ll start with Bell, who brings to light some little known information about the concept of hell. Hell is not uniformly defined in scripture but referred to in various ways, which adds a bit to the confusion about it.


*The Greek word for hell is Gehenna which means Hinnon Valley, an actual valley south and west of Jerusalem. It is the city dump, which is constantly burning and attracts wild animals who eat, fight and gnash their teeth. Jesus used this word in some of his strongest language about hell, giving his listeners a visceral image of what happens to people who mistreat others. Matt 5, 10,18 Mark 9, Luke 12,


*Peter uses the term Tartarus in II Pet 2, a term from Greek mythology where Greek demigods were judged in the abyss. Another Greek word is hades, like the Hebrew word, sheol, an obscure, dark murky place used in Rev, Acts 22, Luke 10, Matt 16 and Luke 16.


*Some would say hell is a holdover from a primitive mythical religion to promote fear of punishment in order to control people for devious reasons.


*Others suggest that hell is any separation from God and God’s intentions for us.


*Still others experience hell right here on earth—the stories of genocide in Germany, Rawanda, Cambodia. Limbs deliberately cut off. Medical experimentation. Child soldiers. Rape. Domestic violence. We use our freedom to make our own hells. We make our own hells here on earth by not believing that we are loved, and by creating our own suffering.


*Bell points out that, in the story of Lazarus and the rich man reaching out to him from hell, the rich man is a warning to people to change their hearts. The chasm was the rich man’s heart. Jesus uses this story to overturn the power structure, to show that the poor will be cared for. The rich man’s torment is that he has not died to his ego, status and pride. Therefore he is in torment.


Whatever we believe about hell, Jesus uses very strong language, images, metaphors—millstones around our necks, gouging out our eyes—to point out the consequence of rejecting our God-given goodness and humanity. He appears to want his listeners to ask themselves probing questions about their behavior.


But so often the people most concerned about hell are those who want to make sure their enemies are punished and that justice, in their eyes, is done. Bell points out that those most concerned about others going to hell seem less concerned with the hells on earth right now, while people concerned with hells on earth seem less concerned about hell after death. What an irony. Bell’s summary statement on hell: Jesus seems to be saying, hell now, hell later. Take both seriously!



There is a stronger message than hell consistently offered in the Bible

Bell goes on to describe the most prevalent theme of God in the Bible, not that of punishment but restoration. Renewal, restoration, correction, and blessing. God always has a purpose for his people’s lives.


An example is Israel’s exile and banishment, ending in restoration, correction and renewal. God’s intention is always to heal, redeem, love and bring people home rejoicing. This does not mean our behaviors do not have consequences but that God is not a scorekeeper.


Theologian and healer, Flora Slossen Wuellner, goes even farther than God’s acts of renewal of his people, to God actually allowing us to experience eternal life in the here and now. She writes about a feeling of an inner wellspring, a sense that, while still wounded, we are also so open to love and trust that we are enfolded into the arms of God now. She uses the story of Anna (Luke 2) who never left the temple but lived in that place of intimate relationship to God all her life, abiding in the One as a branch abides in the living vine and relating to all others as equals loved by the One.


My personal experience of God over the last thirty years has been consistent with both Bell and Wuellner, that of a God of love and forgiveness, compassion and faithfulness and divine intimacy. Certainly God feels angst and sadness over what I and others do to ourselves and one another, but the God I know is not a punishing God. The messages I consistently get from God are these:


~I am love. I live in love. I relate in love. I love you. You are my Beloved

~Nothing can separate people from my love even when they choose to remain

distant from it

~I am always faithful in welcoming people back to my love

~I would never condemn people to eternal punishment, banishment or hell



The Life Review: Owning our behavior while being unconditionally loved

In the ongoing research about the afterlife and near death experiences, the concept of the life review (rather than a hell experience) has come up repeatedly with people who have had these experiences and have actually been brain dead for lengths of time. Dr. Eben Alexander writes cogently and convincingly of his own experience in Proof of Heaven. And Fr. Matt Linn leads seminars that cover the recent research on Near Death Experiences, showing that these life review experiences and the overwhelming grace of God in the afterlife are consistent across all people and groups. And there are 600 Near Death Experiences a day.


I realize that these ideas fly in the face of much Biblical teaching, but for me, the new research provides a new combination of truths and a new experience of accountability. So when I combine an intimate loving image of God, a conviction that we all need some way to be accountable for our lives, and this new research, it leads me to ponder with stronger conviction, the experience of the extended life review.


The life review could be God’s solution to hell, accountability and the afterlife. I embrace the life review as helpful to the way I live day-to-day, to know that my actions, be they good or bad, have consequences and that they are not going unnoticed. I no longer fear that I will burn in hell but it helps me to be aware of hellish experiences I’ve either had, caused or helped alleviate here on earth. The life review also reinforces my view of God as unconditionally loving as well as correcting and restoring. And I have had some experiences of this life review on this side of the grave.


So what about this life review, and how we do we experience it as a way of making amends and of making meaning of our lives in the end?


The life review, as described by those who have had near death experiences, consists of a period of time in which we relive our entire lives. We relive everything that has happened, not just from our experience but from the perspective of the people involved. If we intimidated someone we feel that but we also feel what it was like to be intimidated. In the process of the review, we are held accountable for everything we thought, felt and did and—at the same time we are completely loved, accepted and understood. We feel what others have done to us as well. The feelings are real and intense. We feel compassion for those who hurt us when we know what affected them so deeply. While this process is not a judgment it is painful and may be even hellish. And there are glorious parts to it as well, the things we did that are exemplary or didn’t even know we did well. And the relief we feel in knowing the truth of our lives, the hidden secrets revealed. I have a young friend who recently had an initial life review experience, during his cancer journey. His first memory on the review, a bully episode, opened up a story of his ancestors’ trauma that no one had yet uncovered. It was a major step in the deeper healing of his family.


And after the review is over—it’s over. No punishment beyond feeling the feelings; no retribution, no hell or eternal damnation or fear of hell beyond that.


Now that is astounding. For me it’s also a scary to write about because, as I said, it goes so much against the grain of what I and may others have been taught, and what it says in the Bible (see references on page one). In some theological traditions we could even go to hell for believing in the life review! But could it actually be true? Could it? Thousands of people have now reported it to be true. But who knows?


Hell or hellish? Which is it? You decide.


I end with a lovely blessing for death by John O’Donohue


From the moment you were born,

Your death has walked beside you.

Though it seldom shows its face,

You still feel its empty touch

When fear invades your life,
Or what your love is lost

Or inner damage is incurred.


Yet when destiny draws you

Into these spaces of poverty,

And your heart stays generous

Until some door opens into the light,

You are quietly befriending your death;

So that you will have no need to fear

When your time comes to turn and leave.


That the silent presence of your death

Would call your life to attention,

Wake you up to how scarce your time is

And to the urgency to become free

And equal to the call of your destiny.


That you would gather yourself

And decide carefully

How you now can live

The life you would love

To look back on

From your deathbed.



Janet O. Hagberg, 2015. All rights reserved.



Reflections on this essay


What did you learn about hell as a child? What is your belief about hell now?


Do you know anyone who has had a near death experience? How has it affected them/you?


How does the concept of a life review affect your view of the afterlife?


What are you most afraid of, and looking forward to with your own death?





Eben Alexander, MD, Proof of Heaven

Rev. Rob Bell, Love Wins

Fr. Matt Linn, professional talks; plus numerous books by the Linn brothers with

Sheila Fabricant Linn

Rev. Flora Slosson Wuellner, Beyond Death

Holy Scripture

Lived experience, client experiences


Good Grief

by Barry A. Thomas


2005 sucked. There is not a much better way to describe my experience of that year. In the beginning of that year I was leading a small group and using the book The Emotionally Healthy Church by Pete Scazerro as curriculum. When we got to the chapter titled “Embracing Grieving and Loss”, I told the group, “I don’t think I know how to grieve, much less embrace it.” Within a few weeks of saying those ill-fated words, I was hit with a series of losses: my dad was diagnosed with cancer, I resigned from serving in a ministry I loved and my spiritual mentor moved away to another state. It felt like big parts of my world were falling apart. This happened during a period in my life when I was doing some intensive soul work. Before this period I would have stuffed my emotions, stayed busy and got on with my life. I would stay calm and carry on (as the Brits say). But not this time. For the first time in my life I was learning to pay attention to my heart, so for the first time in my life I gave myself permission to be sad. I didn’t try to hide it or deny it, I simply allowed myself to feel the sadness. This may not seem like much, but for me it was a huge step. I didn’t try to make myself sad; I simply acknowledged the sadness that was there and created space in my calendar to experience it.

So here is what grieving looked like for me:

First, I blocked off time in my calendar for solitude – time to simply get away to think, feel and be with God. This too was a new area of growth for me. I’m a “do-er” and have a difficult time being a “be-er”. Often times I would (and still do) approach a time of solitude asking, “How do I do solitude?” I was nervous at first. I wanted to “do” solitude right. It got easier and I got more comfortable the more times I practiced. I took whole days of solitude several different times. I read. I journaled. I prayed. I slept. The solitude gave my heart the space it needed to feel the sadness, anger and confusion of the grieving process.

Second, a friend of mine recommend I read a book by Sue Monk Kidd called When the Heart Waits. In it the author uses the analogy of a cocoon, the transformation phase between a caterpillar and a butterfly, to describe the dark and unknown experience of grief. She explains what it looks like and feels like to go through times of darkness. God used this book to tell me that what I was feeling was normal and that there wasn’t anything wrong with me. This was huge. Without reading this, I would have been full of fear. Instead I was able to okay with grief. I didn’t like it. It was not enjoyable, but somehow, deep down, I knew what I was going through was good.

Third, I was given the opportunity to get angry. This was a big deal for me because I usually stuffed anger. I have learned that if anger doesn’t get expressed in healthy ways, it will get expressed in unhealthy ways. I had some men teach me how to express anger in a healthy way and gave me the opportunity to let it rip in a safe, controlled environment. This was the lynch pin for me. By letting the anger flow I believe it propelled me through the grief cycle.

So that’s what it looked like for me. Eight months from the time I told my group that I didn’t know how to grieve, I had taken one full trip around the block.


So here are some of the things I gave earned about grief over the years:

  1. Any kind of loss is meant to be grieved. Obviously, the loss of a close friend or loved one is meant to be grieved; however, less obvious losses are meant to be grieved too. Losses that are not so obvious can be: a change in job; a change in season of life; loss of health; or a change in a relationship. In fact, any kind of change brings some sort of loss.
  2. The amount of grief to be experienced is proportional to the depth of the loss. Big loss – big grief. Small loss – small grief.
  3. People grieve differently. Some are very open about it; others are very private. Some need support; others need space. There is not some recipe book or formula on how to handle grief. It looks different for different people. I have seen several sets of parents who have lost a child. Most of the time, the mother and father have grieved the death in completely different ways. Friction can occur when one spouse expects the other to grieve the loss the same way. Perhaps this is why the divorce rate for parents who have lost a child is near 80%.
  4. Grief is experienced in stages. Depending on who you read, there are anywhere from 3 stages to 12 stages in the grieving process. If you were to ask ten different counselors to label the stages of grief, you would probably get twelve different answers. However, the stages look something like this: denial, anger, sadness, despair, confusion, void, hope, imagination, action and order.

The first benefit of embracing grieving and loss is that I have experienced God’s love and favor in new ways. I know what it is like for Him to walk with me through dark times and to have peace in the process. The second benefit is that I have much more compassion for other people. I am able to mourn with those who mourn. There is no doubt my heart has become more alive.

Yes, 2005 sucked. And because it did I grew by leaps and bounds. I now see grief as a good thing and my life and relationships are much richer as a result.




What are some of the losses you have experienced recently?

Which loss feels like the biggest one on the list?

What emotion are you feeling in regards to that loss? Anger? Sadness? Fear?

Heaven or Heavenly?

 Reflections on Near Death Experiences

and the Afterlife



Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? John 14: 1-2


Paul: I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven–whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know this man was caught up into Paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows–and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. 2 Cor. 12: 2-4


Jesus withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed…And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. Luke 22:42, 43


For behold I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. Is 65:17 RSV Also Rev. 21:1


For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any thing else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Rom 8:38


What about the mysteries of heaven, angels and the afterlife?

These verses above have been mysterious and inspiring verses for me, some since my childhood, before I understood anything about their meaning. Not that I know that much more now, but at least I’ve had a few more years to reflect on them and experience a bit more of life and God.


I’ve wondered and desired and doubted and anguished over heaven, hell and the afterlife on and off and have not had the courage nor the academic training to take this journey more seriously. And there are so many scary and threatening scenarios in the Bible about the afterlife that I’ve shied away from looking at it more closely. Just hearing about the weeping and gnashing of teeth or seeing the painting of hell in the Sistine chapel (where Michelangelo painted his arch rival writhing in hell) are scary enough to make me want to run the other way.


Yet when I read scripture passages like the heavenly angels appearing to comfort Jesus in his agony, I pause. I’ve been there too, where angels attended to me. Yet these passages are all so mystical that we usually skip over them because we are either too modern to take them literally or we see them as just part of that great poetic and visual scene-making that makes scripture so beautiful; the visit of the angel Gabriel to Mary, Jesus promising the man hanging on the cross next to him that he would be with him in paradise that day, the angels soothing the shepherds, scenes about streets paved with gold and places being prepared for us, personal angels negotiating conflict situations with other people’s angels in the book of Daniel.


So let’s ask a few evocative questions…what if there were times that our spirits were actually drawn beyond the veil between earth and heaven to catch a glimpse of the eternal as Paul described in Corinthians? Or what if Jesus had described heavenly things in detail as suggested in John 3:12, “If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” Or what if people do come back from the dead, as Lazarus and several others did? What then? What would we fear? How would we live our lives differently? What would we believe? Who would we believe in?


Do these experiences describe realities of heaven or are they merely heavenly? And what do we do with all this information– what difference might it make in our daily lives?


We are not alone in our pondering of the sacred unknown. Albert Einstein was aware of something way beyond himself, of the mysterious. He states in his credo: “The most beautiful and deepest experience a man can have is the sense of the mysterious…To sense that behind anything that can be experienced there is a something that our mind cannot grasp and whose beauty and simplicity are but a feeble reflection…To me it suffices to wonder at the secrets and to attempt humbly to grasp with my mind a mere image of the lofty structure of all that there is.”



My personal interest in angels, near death experiences and the afterlife

Ever since I decided to take my relationship with God more seriously and personally, and I began having deeper spiritual experiences of God’s presence and love, I’ve gotten more interested in the things of heaven, intimacy with God and the afterlife.


I’m also interested in angels, near death experiences and the afterlife in my role as a spiritual director and healer, or maybe especially in those roles, since whatever you believe about these things makes a big difference in how you live your life, how you view your death, and what kinds of decisions you make. It’s been a gift from God for me to be present to people who are in crisis, making big transitions, hitting the “wall,” or dying, and moving into the afterlife where, I believe, God dwells so richly. To be fully present to my friends and clients who are experiencing these things, it is vital that I have opened my heart and mind to what is happening on a spiritual plane as well as on a physical one. I seek to be present with as little fear as possible but rather with joy and awe. This allows me to stay grounded and be a calm presence to others.



So what about these near death experiences and the afterlife?

I had a chance to soak in the latest research on near death experiences at a class put on by my spiritual mentor and former supervisor, Matt Linn, SJ, a longtime healer, respected Jesuit and author of more than 20 books on healing and the inner life. He travels around the world, teaching and doing healing work, taking absolutely no credit whatsoever for the healing results; it is all God pouring love and light through him to people.


Whenever I hear of someone experiencing the unfathomable I want to learn more. And Matt was offering information from people in the scientific community as well as in the spiritual world. Scientific people, by nature and training, are more skeptical so I figured if they were writing about near death experiences there must be more validation and credibility than I’ve heard before.


And then, as I heard Matt describing near death experiences, I came to realize that the things he was describing were very familiar to me. So I asked him if it was possible to have an emotional near death experience and he confirmed that it was. I believe God was present to me during my experience, transforming my life as a result. Perhaps that’s another reason this research is so important to me.


I only have space here to touch on the highlights of Matt’s talk but I hope this raises enough curiosity, wonder and perhaps even push-back in you to warrant further investigation. His sources of research are listed at the end of this essay.


Let’s start by calming down and praying for wisdom, discernment, guidance—and perhaps a few angels to accompany us on this journey! Let’s ask God for his truth, his ever-deepening call to intimacy with Him. Let’s open our hearts to Jesus’ love. BTW, I’m not claiming to be objective. I’ve had too many personal and client experiences to claim that, but I’m willing to continue being on the journey, especially as a result of my experiences.


What are some common experiences for people who’ve experienced a near death experience (NDE) whether emotional or physical? There are roughly 600 NDEs a day now, according to the research.


*A feeling of peace and quiet; pain is gone

*The awareness of being dead, an out-of-body experience, viewing themselves or the situation from a position outside and above their bodies

*A dark space and being pulled towards a pinpoint of light, described as a tunnel where they are drawn rapidly towards the light. About 15% of people report this as frightening.

*An unearthly environment, dazzling landscape, with beautiful colors, music, gorgeous flowers

*Meeting and communicating with deceased people, mostly relatives

*Seeing brilliant light, or a being of light, complete acceptance, unconditional love, access to deep knowledge and wisdom

*A panoramic life review, seeing their entire life flash before them, and the capacity to talk for days about a life event that lasted for only a few minutes.

*A flash-forward, giving the impression that they are witness to part of life that is yet to come.

*The perception of a border to cross and if they cross it they will never be able to return to their body.

*The conscious return to the body, accompanied by great disappointment at having something so beautiful taken away.


David Sunfellow describes a few other take-aways from an NDE: God is intensely personal, actively involved in our lives. God is overwhelmingly loving, forgiving and compassionate, and also has a wonderful sense of humor. Many perceive oneness with God, as with everything else. We are all eternal. No one is ever lost. Our true nature begins to reveal itself again. The purpose of life is to love, to bring heaven to earth.


He noted a few other truths that people with NDEs experienced: that a kind word, a tender smile, and a gentle touch are important acts of life and that money, fame, power, material goods, and ego are painful wastes of time. We were all born with a specific purpose to accomplish. All aspects of life are good—even the distressing aspects. Everything serves a glorious purpose.



The astounding and transforming experience of the life review

The most astonishing finding for me was the often-cited life review. Details of it were described, that it was very intense, that our entire lives passed before our eyes slowly, and we had to feel everything that happened, to relive it. It was not a judgment, but parts of it were painful. The revelations are true and revealing, some are even glorious. And when it was over, it was over. No punishment beyond feeling those difficult feelings, no retribution, no hell or fear of hell.


Now that is astounding. It’s almost scary to mention it because it goes so much against the grain of what I and most others have been taught—and what, ostensibly, helped keep people in line for two millennia now. Could it actually be true?


I will leave this essay at this point and revisit this life review idea in my next essay called “Hell or Hellish?”


So is it Heaven or just heavenly? You decide.



Janet O. Hagberg, 2015, all rights reserved.

I did not cite the work of Dr. Eben Alexander in this essay but his work on the near death experience he had, is quite compelling. His book is called Proof of Heaven. He was a very skeptical agnostic neurosurgeon who got meningitis and was “gone” for about a week. His experience of the afterlife could not be attributed to any medication or treatment-induced hallucinations which is how some of these experiences are written off by the medical community. He even had an experience of the core of heaven and describes it as well as he can, using ordinary language. I’d recommend reading his book or listening to his CD.



Reflections on this essay:

What do you remember from what you learned as a child about heaven, death and the afterlife?


How does it affect you now? What feelings emerge from those teachings?


How does your current image of God reinforce or challenge those teachings?


What questions do you have now about heaven or heavenly things?




Chris Carter, Science and the Near-Death Experience: How Consciousness Survives Death.2010.

Jeffrey Long, Evidence of the Afterlife: the Science of Near-Death Experiences, 2010.

Raymond Moody, Glimpses of Eternity: Sharing a Loved One’s Passage from ths Life to the Next, 2010.

Anita Moorjani, Dying to Be Me: My Journey from Cancer, to near Death, to True Healing, 2012.

Kenneth Ring, Lessons from the Light: What We Can Learn from the Near-Death Experience, 2006.

Pim van Lommel, Consciousness Beyond Life: The Science of the Near-death Experience, 2010.


Web sites: Dr. Jeffrey and Jody Long’s site, summarizing their research. Included thousands of NDE. Kevin William’s site, summarizing the research on major NDE topics International Association of Near-Death Studies Index to NDE Literature, 1877-2011.



A few well known people in history who had a near death experience and write about it: Julian of Norwich 1373, St. Catherine of Sienna 1370, John Newman, 1833.

In the middle of the night with Dr. King

Last month I received the unexpected news that I had a cancerous brain tumor. A few days later, I had brain surgery, and started radiation and chemo not long after that. A complication from the surgery put me back in the hospital for a week with a tube threaded up my spine.

Between 1 and 2 am on one of those nights in the hospital, I felt like I was floating in some anxiety and sadness, making it hard to sleep. Then I felt like Martin Luther King, Jr. came to hang out with me in my hospital room, reminding me of my favorite speech of his–the one he gave the night before he died. When he gave that speech, he knew that his life was especially in danger. Next to me in the hospital bed, it felt like he delivered the ending of the speech again, as a message for me:

“Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land!”

“And so I’m happy, tonight.
I’m not worried about anything.
I’m not fearing any man!
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!”

In talking with my primary care doctor, Mt. Nebo has been an important reference point for both of us. This is the place where Moses first saw the Promised Land, which his people eventually made it to. While on the mountain, Moses realized that he was going to die there, but that the rest of his people would make it to Israel without him. My doctor told me recently about a powerful experience he had while visiting Mt. Nebo. In my hospital room, MLK was bringing home the connections between his life, Mt Nebo, and my journey, like the preacher that he is. My imagination and emotions might’ve been partly driven by the hospital stay and meds from a couple days ago, although hanging out with MLK felt as true as almost anything to me.

MLK reminded me that the biggest gift I can personally receive is knowing I did my part in getting us to the new land that is coming, and feeling the satisfaction of knowing how my little part is part of a larger movement towards that land. That feeling of faithfulness takes away fear. It removes the sting of death or failure. Dr. King reminded me that the Promised Land, for him, is not just solving one social issue or campaign. It is living now in the reign of God’s love on Earth. He breathed some of that power into me last night, washing away the pool of anxiety that had been in the hospital bed with me.  It felt like MLK was asking each of us to continue moving towards the beloved community he gave his life for.

MLK has been an important inspiration for me for the past 25 years, but I’ve seen him from an intimidating distance. We’ve never been on close speaking terms before. Last night, though, he seemed to be quite close, frequently calling me “son.” He talked with me about a night after his house was bombed and how he had to get to know God in a new way, instead of just knowing the God secondarily through his father or through others. Dr. King told me that was true for me now, that God was with me in new ways.

The conversation with Dr. King seemed to then shift away from just the two of us, to include all of you that I’m connected with, even though I was still alone in the hospital bed in the middle of the night. Dr. King seemed to be asking all of us questions like:

What is the Promised Land you are committing your lives to get to?

Who are your people, your land?

What would make that land good and real enough that it would be worth contributing your life to the journey, even if you don’t personally make it there?

What will help you let go when your part is done, and stay at your own Mt. Nebo?

I’ve grieved recently for the ways I probably won’t be to make it to all the places I long to go, with my family, with my community, with my nation, with our planet.

I’ve said before that I want to contribute my life in service of broader shifts in society from systems of domination to cultures that sustain life:

From wealth for a few to enough for all
From security based on force to security based on the quality of relationships
From predict and control management to trust and equip self-organizing
From industrial growth to local sustainability

I also long to see my kids graduate from high school, to impatiently hope they have kids of their own that I can fall in love with, to bike across the country with my son, to befriend a dolphin in the ocean with my daughter, grow old with my wife, and much more.

I still want all those things very much. But my conversation with Dr. King last night helped me feel more deeply in my body that what I most want is to be attentive and faithful to the small parts I’m asked to do, while fully breathing in the gifts of mountain top views of where we, together, can go. None of us can go to all of those places,

I feel sobered to realize that I’ve already lived five years longer than MLK. I affirm that his life was not lived in vain, and I left the time with MLK also clearer that my work is not done.

I pray that we may all see the glory of the coming of the promised land, see and trust our parts to play, and live savoring the reality of the reign of love, even as we help it be born.
Michael Bischoff

Here are Dr. King’s own words:



Hope In Hospice


As I write, my father in law’s long and wonderful life is drawing to a close. Thankfully, he is in a residential hospice just blocks from our home. My story of hope is about his graced journey.


Dad is the benevolent and well-loved patriarch of a large, blended family with five children, sixteen grandchildren, and fourteen great grandchildren.   He is also the most accomplished person I’ve ever known. He is a pillar in the Twin Cities legal, business, and educational communities, deeply respected and admired by all who have had the pleasure of working with him. He recently celebrated his 70th year of legal practice. In every positive sense of the word, he is a legend.


Having experienced nearly perfect health his entire life, Dad began noticing some abdominal discomfort in the late summer. Though not feeling very well, he attended our youngest daughter’s wedding at the end of September where he joined together with her fiance’s grandfather to give the final blessing at the end of their ceremony. What a high and holy occasion that was! Shortly thereafter, Dad learned he had pancreatic cancer. By Christmas, and having tried several chemotherapy treatments, Dad’s body was in great distress. After several trips to the emergency room and an extended hospital stay, Dad chose to discontinue chemotherapy and begin hospice care.


For many, this decision can be too frightening and can even signal a giving up, a defeat, a sure sign that all hope is lost. While I can understand, from one perspective, how these conclusions could be drawn, I have found this experience of accepting and preparing for the inevitability of death to actually be a fulfillment of the hopes that many of us, anticipating similar circumstances, might voice.


~The hope of having time and space to prepare to meet God:

Dad’s well-worn Bible is always at hand and he would spend many quiet moments communing with his God. Though he has read it cover to cover many times in his life, he wanted to work through some remaining questions he’s had and to discuss those with his family, his pastor and the visiting chaplain. Now that he is bed ridden, he asks family members to read Scripture to him. All who have had this privilege have been blessed with great comfort and peace.



~The hope of being able to bring a gentle and loving closure to family relationships:

Since his arrival in hospice last January, Dad has probably been visited by at least one of his adult children every day. Together they have shared laughter, tears, meals, memories, hand massages, spoken and written expressions of love, and quiet moments of being. A special gift has been the weekly Face Time calls between Dad at hospice and Mom at a different care facility. Though not very familiar with this newer technology and grateful to family for assistance, they have been overjoyed at the opportunity to spend sweet time together affirming their lasting love.


~The hope of leaving a lasting legacy:

Because of who he is and how he has lived his life, Dad is both deeply loved and highly respected by his grandchildren. Thanks to the creativity and foresight of his sons, Dad had the opportunity to be filmed with the various family groups of grandchildren as they each asked him what they deemed to be three important questions about his life. Not only was this experience deeply impactful for all involved, but this keepsake will also be a treasured gift for generations to come.


~The hope that this life mattered:

From the beginning, Dad has welcomed an ongoing stream of family members, friends, and business associates who have come to express their love, respect and appreciation for him and he too has been able to express these same things in return. Through these visits, he has had the privilege of hearing his own living eulogy and thereby has had the significance of his life confirmed and celebrated.


~The hope of leaving affairs in order:

Each week, Dad has taken the next steps in getting the myriad of practical details from his far-reaching life brought into a manageable semblance of order. He also wanted to participate in conversations about his funeral arrangements. It is clear that his greatest motivation in doing this is to leave those who follow as well informed and organized as possible.


~The hope of reunion:

Throughout his hospice stay, Dad has stayed in a cozy bedroom with lovely windows. Two of his most prized possessions are framed photographs, one of his beloved first wife, the other of his dear parents. While many special moments of connection have happened in hospice, the one that seems most holy to him is when the sun streams through the window and falls directly on these loved ones. No matter how tough the day, Dad sees this as an encouraging sign from above and he lights up too with the hope of seeing them someday soon.


With likely a few days left at most, we are all gathered around, some in person, some in spirit, praising God for this hopeful experience and waiting for the time when that heavenly sunbeam lands on Dad to take him home.




The springtime symbol

of chrysalis

graces my thoughts

as you lay dying


Such a vital and long life

you lived, to the full

until your body signaled

the time to let go


As in life, you have given

your all to this process

cherishing every connection

arranging every detail


But now you are turning

turning inward, onward

and soon death will gently

wrap you in its embrace


Let me remember

while it may appear

that all I’ve known of you

is no longer


Just beyond my seeing

but well within my knowing

you are being readied

for flight, for your risen life.




Just a few days after this was written, on the very day that I was going to send this essay to Janet, Dad broke forth from the chrysalis of this life and rose to eternal life. My husband and I and a few other family members were fortunate to be with him and to cheer him on as he took flight.


A few days earlier, as our daughter was putting our two and a half year old grandson to bed, he was saying his prayers. When our daughter explained that Grandpa John was going to be leaving soon for heaven, her son commented on how very special he thought that was. He went on to say with certainty, as one so fresh from God himself, that Grandpa John was going to get a sticker when he arrived, followed by a haircut. He was then going to be doing lots and lots of somersaults. May it be so!




Reflection Questions


~How is it for you to think about hope and the experience of dying?


~What hopes do you have for yourself or a loved one at the end of life?


~What symbols bring you comfort as you think about death?



Warm greetings! I am Tracy Mooty and the consistent theme woven through my life is soul care. I’ve especially enjoyed sharing this with my husband, our three daughters and their husbands, our three grandchildren, and our two pups! We’re an active bunch who enjoys golf, Frisbee golf, tennis, pickle ball, and most every card and board game. Janet and I first met at Colonial Church years ago, and, thanks to her mostly gentle prodding, we’ve partnered to offer all sorts of programs and retreats. She’s also the reason I’ve entered into this adventure!


c Tracy Mooty, 2015. All rights reserved.







Our Story in God’s Story

The Meaning of Jesus’ Life, Death and Resurrection

Every year I try once again to read a book or discuss with a clergy person or friend the theology of the atonement, which means the meaning of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.

My need for this is to make peace in my heart with the whole story of Jesus. My desire comes down to this: I live in a small and simple world in which I want God to be accessible, understandable (yet ultimately unfathomable), real and touchable. I also want to be challenged to do something significant and heart-felt in response to God’s presence in my life. So I prefer a theology or way of explaining Jesus’ life, death and resurrection that makes sense to my heart and soul, not just to my mind. And I want to live out my beliefs about Jesus in a life giving way.

This year I stumbled on a view of the atonement that has been right under my nose for about twenty years. My clergy friend, Gary Klingsporn, cited it, cogently, in a chapter he wrote for a book we co-authored. I include it as the core of what I’m writing here, along with added features that I have personally experienced in my journey with God. Essentially this view illustrates how we find our story in God’s story. I embrace this view as the one that resonates most at this point in my life and my faith. I will describe it for you in the way I understand it and then name it for you at the end of this essay.

God came into the world for love’s sake

First, God chose to come into the world out of love for us. He loved us so much, he wanted to show us that he could identify with our lives and our work. God wanted a closer relationship with us and one way to be close to us was to be one of us and live amongst us. Jesus was born to be God’s unconditional gift of love to the world. God’s utmost desire for us is to live in intimacy with him and in him.


Jesus lived out God’s love in the world

Jesus lived fully in God’s love and through God’s Spirit. Jesus healed people, called them to make significant changes, embraced all the outsiders and marginalized folks, taught the crowds with stories and simple questions (“do you want to be healed?”), took on the religious establishment and hypocrites, and mentored his close followers (both men and women). He did all of this by going off regularly into the hills or mountains to pray and to be refilled by God. Perhaps he needed to remember the divine long song that he heard at his baptism, “You are my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” He was anchored in his beloved. He knew that he was God’s human face of unvarnished love.

God entered into our suffering

God, through Jesus, entered fully into our humanity by living and suffering and dying on the Cross. So we know that God can enter all of our suffering and darkness and be present to us intimately in any of our pain. Why is suffering God’s entry point? I’d like to think that we just naturally want to be closer to God, but my experience as a spiritual director has shown me that we are drawn closer to God primarily by pain, which most of us try to avoid. That pain may result from illness, death, lack of meaning or purpose, abuse, addiction, divorce or any number of other things.

No matter the source of our pain or suffering, all of it is forever held in the heart of God. In fact, God tells us that he comes and makes his home in us. He is within us, waiting for us to come and lay our burdens down. Scripture says God stores all of our tears in a bottle and keeps a poignant ledger of all of our pain. God’s story is really our story, since there is nothing we have suffered that he hasn’t already experienced. In this way, God is a God of love and a presence in our pain.

God rose and transformed suffering and death

But the Cross, and our suffering, are not the end of the story nor the last word. Jesus rose from the dead and once again became present to his followers, promising them that he would leave his Spirit with them so they would never be alone. Meaning arose directly from his suffering. His story lived on in a new way. So, we, too, are called to rise from our suffering to see the light of a new day. Jesus always goes before us, as the angels told the women at the empty tomb.

Jesus does not leave us alone either. He offers us his Spirit, which is as close as our breath. In fact we could say that we live and breathe Jesus’ Spirit, he is that close to us. His Spirit gives us clarity, courage and compassion to live out our lives in life-changing ways.

What does this mean for us? There is a gift in our suffering

So if we see our story in God’s story, how does it interpret our suffering? If we attend to the deeper meaning of our suffering and embrace it with the help of a loving God and a healing process, we experience a transformation. We can see the deeper purpose, the larger call, the healing presence within the suffering, even if we are never fully cured or the memories still linger. Even Jesus used his scars to show whom he was and that he had healed. And those of us who cause suffering, by inflicting pain on ourselves and/or others are urgently called to admit our actions and take responsibility for them so we can be healed and restored as well. We can’t undo what we have done but we can make amends.

We can all move beyond our pain to a new way of life, a healed and restored life. We know, even in our pain, the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding. God attends to the details of our lives in loving, healing and often humorous ways and our intimacy with God grows—perhaps more in times of suffering than any other time.


The price of intimacy and healing

The closer we get to God, the more of his holy intimacy we experience. And with that intimacy we pay a price, a price that confirms our covenant with and surrender to our loving God, just as Jesus and his followers did in the risks they took and the way they lived out their lives. Jesus’ intimacy with and surrender to God brought him to a Roman Cross. How? His life of love was too radical for some. His unwillingness to be an earthly king provoked others. His life-giving stance flew in the face of authorities on all sides. His miracles prompted a larger and larger following, culminating with Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, propelling the Sanhedrin, the leading Jewish authority, to position him to be the scapegoat so the rest of the Jewish nation would be saved from the wrath of the Romans.

When we experience intimacy with God and his love, we begin to look at ourselves in the new light of this unconditional love and we are called to release all that is not of God. Our price of this intimacy will be unique to us and may require releasing, letting go, making peace, and facing places of pain or estrangement from God in our lives, but it will also be life giving. We may not see how life giving it is while it is happening because we live in the little picture and God operates in both the little and big pictures!

God may call us to release things that will surprise us as he reveals what it means to go deeper. We may be called to change our work. We may release friends who are toxic; even family members. We may be asked to leave the comforts of home. We may be asked to tell the whole truth of our lives and make amends. We may be called to address our sin, which is, in my experience, anything that gets in the way of deeper intimacy with God. This would include, of course, the seven deadly sins plus two; lust, pride (which some say is the root of all the others), sloth, anger, self-deception, envy, greed, fear and gluttony…or anything over which we harbor resentment, revenge, shame or guilt. In short, we may need to “die” to ourselves in order to live more fully in God!

The deepest truth in our “death” and surrender is this: In this process we find our place of restoration. God restores us to who we were always called to be when we were first created and brought into the world, to live out our “sealed orders,” as the great healer, Agnes Sanford so aptly describes. We were created in God’s own image. Now we are able to reclaim that image and bring our restored selves fully to the world. But God invites us even one step further…

God calls us to be healers in the world

As we heal from our pain, and weigh the call of intimacy with God, we will be invited to reach out into the world in miraculous ways, to pay forward what we’ve experienced as a result of our healing and intimacy with God. Many times our call is to work in the very areas of our own healing, to share our newfound strength with the world. Jesus lived out his intimacy with God through showing radical love to the people he encountered, no matter what the consequences. He taught his followers by the way he lived. And his followers lived out their lives differently as a result. So we can live our lives differently. What it really means to live a Christ-like life is to let God be as instrumental in our lives as Christ invited God to be in his life. It may be different for all of us but it is equally transforming. We are truly restored, and indescribable joy flows through our lives.

And what happens when we are living out our lives in total surrender to God’s amazing grace is that we experience God’s eternal presence right here on earth, God’s kingdom among us. And then death, for us, is a deeper and richer reunion with God, who adores us, and with those who have gone before us (the clouds of witnesses) who are beckoning us “home” to join the heavenly hosts. And so the final word is never death. The final word is LOVE.

If we could only know how wide and deep and broad God’s love is…and that nothing can separate us from this unconditional love. Here is a poem I wrote about how I experience that love, my intimacy with God. This poetic form is called a French Pantoum.


I am God’s Now

I am God’s now

My desire, to know my Beloved

Intimacy comes with a price

My life has been restored

My desire, to know my Beloved

No other love compares

My life has been restored

Eternity comes into view

No other love compares

Intimacy comes with a price

Eternity comes into view

I am God’s now

This theology is called Narrative Theology, finding our stories in God’s story and seeing that God is lovingly involved in all the details of our lives. Thanks to Gary for writing about this view in our book, Who Are You, God?, in the chapter called “What can we expect from God?” I am also grateful to Bob Guelich, my co-author of the Critical Journey, for naming what it really means to be Christ-like.

ÓJanet O. Hagberg, 2015. All rights reserved.

Reflections on this essay:

How do you resonate with this way of thinking of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection?

When have you experienced God suffering with you or being present to your pain or suffering?
When have you experienced a new meaning, purpose or a call from an experience of pain, disappointment, betrayal or suffering, whether of your own doing or at someone else’s hands?

What does it mean to you to let God be as involved in your life as Jesus invited God to be? How does that feel to you?

What would keep you from moving closer to God or letting God move closer to you?

Beatitudes: Matthew 5:3-11

Blessed Are Those who Mourn


Verse 4:

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (NRSV)


You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you. (The Message)


Blessed are those in emotional turmoil; they shall be united inside by love. (Aramaic)


Grief tells us that we loved deeply and that we are passionate. We are often unaware of the grief that we carry, that has been pushed aside in the rush of life or in the judgment that we should be done with its work. In reality, grief is slow. It rises and falls like a tide. Where in your heart do you experience a grief that lingers, that is calling for some attention? Notice the thoughts and feelings that respond, and be present to this experience. (The Artist’s Rule, Christine Paintner)



Reflections on this beatitude

Which of the four versions do you resonate with the most? Why?

Where are you feeling grief in your life; relationships, work, pets, loss of a vision?

How do you feel God guiding you through this grief process whether old or new grief?

How can grief be a blessing?

Marriage: Excruciatingly Wonderful

I have found marriage to be excruciatingly wonderful. It sounds like an oxymoron when really it is a both/and. Let’s start with the wonderful part. Romance is one of life’s keenest compliments. It feels magical to have another person love you, choose you, woo you. And it feels equally good reciprocating that love. You are best friends or good companions, sexual intimates, home builders and partners through the challenges of life. You may raise children together or care for extended family members. In marriage you get support to be the person you were meant to be and, as a marriage team, you bring your gifts to the world. You are enlarged to embrace complexity, to learn tolerance and to overlook your partner’s dirty socks. Through the tragedies you share, you develop an even deeper bond, and maybe even a special calling in your lives together. Together you enrich, heal or challenge the world.

In the movie, Shall We Dance, Susan Sarandon, the wife of an attorney (Richard Gere) is secretly having him followed because she thinks he is having an affair. It turns out he is learning to dance and is embarrassed to tell her. In a conversation with the investigator she describes the importance of marriage. She says the most important thing about it is that you have another person who is a witness to your life. Someone who knows you best and is there for the most important moments of your life, both positive and negative. It is, indeed, wonderful to have that special someone who knows more about you than anyone else and still loves you. I have experienced profound witnesses to my life in marriage. And I believe that marriage has been the single most transforming experience of my life, molding me into the kind of woman I was always intended to be. Even though marriage as an institution, has been through some tough times, with high divorce rates, these rough times seem, also, to make it resilient.

And…in all marriage there comes the excruciating part as well, when your romantic expectations aren’t met, when your witness doesn’t show up for the important event, or when your life together feels nothing like a team. All of these experiences are normal. They are things that happen to get our attention that it is time for us to grow.

Here’s my version of the truth about marriage. Marriage brings us our work to do. My advice: Do it. Get help. Go for classes. Ask others how they manage the issues they face. Don’t get adept at complaining about your loved one. Learn to have your own voice and speak your truth in love. And remember, sometimes tough love is the best kind for a while. I’m not a marriage expert and, Lord knows, my own track record is sub-par, but there are a few things I’ve learned about marriage that lead to life instead of resignation. I offer them for your reflection.

I’ve learned that love is what you’ve been through together. Live it to the fullest. I now know that if there is an addiction or mental illness going on in either of us, it’s my job to do my own inner work to get healthy and not take on the other person’s work, while still holding them accountable for their behavior. Sort of like the airline instruction of putting on your own oxygen mask before attending to others! It’s clear to me that if I’m drawn to another man outside my marriage it is a sign that I am avoiding some important issues I need to address within my marriage. I’ve learned that if marriage is not safe, due to any kind of abuse, what I need are clear boundaries, a strong advocate and an exit plan. I believe that God has to be central to my marriage or I am less likely to have the courage to do my inner work in order to grow. It is just too easy to stop growing if I get scared, insecure or withdrawn. Once I learned how to face my own fears in my marriage, I could see a similar pattern was going on everywhere else in my life, so facing it and changing my own fear response had a transforming effect on my whole life. Lastly I’ve learned that if you are waiting for someone else to make you happy, you will wait for a very long time indeed.

Healthy marriages grow deeper layer upon layer upon layer. They just keep getting better and more intimate. It’s not easy and sometimes it looks rather bleak. In fact sometimes there are years in which the marriage sustains your love rather than your love sustaining the marriage. But if we stop growing we settle into a pattern of resignation or, worse yet, bitterness. A wonderful therapist gave me this wisdom on marriage; we marry a person who is like one of our parents so when we do the work we need to do within our marriage, it can heal both relationships. I have found this to be a profound truth.

And let’s not forget the most transforming gift of marriage, that which has the most potential to form us as human beings—its ending. All marriages end, either in death, divorce or dissolution. We rarely consider the emotional cost of these losses going in. But how we deal with these losses, whether we deny them, embrace them, get bitter, get depressed or sick determines who we will become. Each loss takes us deeper into wisdom if we embrace it well or with good support. Those who have loved and then lost well—even though the loss is excruciating—are those who can love well again. It is a difficult truth to ponder but worth the effort. If we can be truly present to what we have together as a couple now, and if we can talk about it, it will be an easier journey after one of us is gone.

I’m in favor of marriage even though I do not think it is necessary for everyone. What I’m really in favor of is the opportunity to do the personal work that marriage calls us to do in order to heal our inner selves and live well. Then marriage has fulfilled its purpose in us. God uses marriage to profoundly heal us and open our hearts to who we are called to be. For me, marriage is also a metaphor for our relationship with God—our Beloved. If we have come to know how great it feels to bask in the glow of love from a person on earth …

What if we lived as if we really were God’s Beloved?

© Janet O. Hagberg, 2010. All rights reserved.

Reflections on this essay

What is your positive experience of marriage or a long-term relationships?

What is your excruciating experience?

How are you a different person because of marriage?

Did you make a decision to “settle” or to grow in your marriage? What resulted?

How did you process the loss of marriage if you’ve experienced it?

How do you experience yourself as God’s Beloved?

God’s Joke: the Vanishing Cemetery Plot

Several years after my divorce was completed, I realized that my ex husband and I had not settled the issue of our cemetery cremation plots. Having forgotten this, I had even offered the other half of my cremation site to a Ugandan refugee friend who had no money and no burial plans.

As part of my inner journey at the time, I was practicing the art of letting go, gracefully, of things I did not need or want any more, or that I was clinging to. Lots of things had already left my life, I had reduced my expenses significantly and I was beginning to practice living more consciously. This process of letting go brought up a lot of old memories that I needed to either celebrate or heal. It also allowed me to live more simply without feeling diminished. So I knew that there was wisdom in letting go and in living smaller.

But when the cremation plot issue arose, I got frightened. A cremation plot seemed a necessity and the cost of buying half of it back was prohibitive. I checked the costs of a new site and they were four times what we had paid. I simply could not afford it. I needed wise discernment on this decision. It felt big to me, almost foundational. I needed to make a good decision so I prayed, wrote in my journal and listened carefully to God’s direction.

In a graced moment that could only be God speaking to me, I received an idea, a small plan, that I felt would free me from the fear and provide me a way to the future. I needed to let go of my fear of not having a place to rest after I died. I knew the plan was right the moment it came to me. I would be cremated but have my ashes scattered in a place that was meaningful for me. I could then release my cremation site to my ex husband if he wanted to buy it from me. God transformed my fear into generosity and I offered to sell him my half for a low price if he would include a stipend for my refugee friend. I presented him with the options. He agreed to buy me out and the case was closed.

Or so I thought. But God was not done yet.

Several months later I heard about someone who had given her body for medical research. I remembered a dear friend of mine who had done the same thing. He even worked with the undertaker to have an athletic supporter put on his body that said, “Go Hawks,” the name of the mascot of the university he chose for his bequest. I chuckled when I remembered this story.

I pondered this bequest and called the University of Minnesota to see what the process entailed. I even told the story of my friend’s bequest to the man who was in charge of this process at the university. He chuckled too. I asked if I could do something similar, like have a silk scarf with the university logo on it put around my neck. He said he thought that would be fine. So I sent for the forms and kept praying about this donation as an option, as a way to keep on giving after my death. I was already an organ donor so I thought, “Why not give my whole body?” As I pondered this choice, it felt better all the time and I was deeply satisfied with my decision.

The day the forms arrived from the university, I sat down to read through the details and the alternatives. One of the issues was what to do with my body when the university medical school was finished with it. I knew they would pay for the cremation but would I just have them give my ashes to my friends to scatter them in a meaningful place? As I read the four options proposed by the university, one read like this: The university will, upon request from the donor, put the ashes in a special plot for all donors with an appropriate marker of gratitude at Lakewood Cemetery.

I began to chuckle. I knew this was God’s doing, God’s way of joking with me. It had to be. Lakewood Cemetery was the very cemetery I had just relinquished to my ex husband as my final resting place. Now it could, once again, be my final resting place. Not only was it free but it held more meaning and humor for me than it had before. And I would be totally disentangled from the cremation site that had become so complicated. This new site felt like a whole, healed place for me. I completed the paper work and got a silk scarf with little insignias of Goldie, the golden gopher, mascot of the university, running all over the scarf. I sent it all in to the university and now I cannot help thinking about those medical students who open the bag and have a reason to chuckle.

God’s humor is so imaginative.

© Janet O. Hagberg, 2009. All rights reserved.

Reflections on this essay

When have you been surprised or frightened by some unfinished business that could affect you adversely?

How did you step back and bring some calm or perspective to the situation that helped you cope?

What new insights came to the situation?

What humor was involved in the solution?

How do you experience God’s sense of humor?

2012-04-27_16-59-25_905Please stop for a moment in this busy holiday weekend to remember all the people who were killed in the CT elementary school shooting. One of the 1st grade victims was Charlotte, the grand daughter of a subscriber to this blog. Charlotte’s mother is from Edina and one of my best friends, Bobbie, is the sister of the grandmother so Charlotte is her grand niece.

It is a time of shock, deep sadness, anger, disbelief, grief, fear and confusion. What we do know is that God is weeping with us and is surrounding all of us in comfort and love. Clouds of witnesses and angels are everywhere holding the whole community affected by this tragedy. So imagine, if you will, that the angels (like in the icon above) are gently cradling these little children and the adults and taking them on their backs, covered by quilts and nuggled by other angels, directly to God’s lap. They are now safe and held deeply in love. Pray for the family, for Charlotte’s ten year old brother and for their whole extended family. Also pray for the perpetrator’s family and extended family who are affected by his act. All of these lives are forever changed.

Most of us feel so helpless in times like these. This blog is my way of doing a small thing to act on my grief. So if you would like to add comforting comments for the family on my blog that would be one thing you could do. I also just posted a chapter from my book on the death of a loved one (in the November archives) that may help you to understand your own feelings and the feelings of the family. If you would like to do something more, the icon that is posted here is hanging in the prayer chapel at Central Lutheran church on 12th St and 3rd Ave in Mpls in case you want to go and pray with it.

I offer you all a few excerpts from the hymn, Great is Your Faithfulness.

Great is your faithfulness, great is your faithfulness

Morning by morning new mercies I see

All I have needed your hand has provided

Great is your faithfulness, Lord unto me

And this is the verse I drew from my discernment cards today: Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you. Ps 55:22


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