12 Miracles of Spiritual Growth: Stories from the Gospels help heal us today
In 12 Miracles of Spiritual Growth: A Path of Healing from the Gospels, author E. Kent Rogers takes the reader on a journey through twelve stories of Jesus’s healing miracles, showing how we can access the deeper wisdom of these accounts to heal and grow as spiritual people. We talked to him to learn more about the story behind the stories.
Swedenborg Foundation: For those who aren’t familiar with your personal background, you’re the founder and house father of an orphanage in Kathmandu, Nepal. Could you talk a little bit about the journey that brought you there?
E. Kent Rogers: At Bryn Athyn College, for my senior year final paper, I was meditating on the New Testament, looking at the correspondential, spiritual messages contained within all of the stories involving Peter, John, and Jesus. These stories began to show me that promoting whatever ideas I understood as truth was not what the God of Living Love really wanted most for me, even if those were good ideas about him and his love. What he really wanted was for me to get busy with the activities of loving. He wanted me to help people who needed help. The words of the New Commandment—the culmination of all Jesus ever did or said—sank into my heart and sparked a two-week-long spiritual experience that was unlike anything I’d ever known before. My sense of self was eclipsed, and I felt emotionally and spiritually united with all people and all of life. It was beautiful, and also overwhelming. It was this experience that caused me to withdraw my application to Bryn Athyn College’s theological school and begin working at St. Joseph’s Manor, a nursing home.
I wondered why I had needed such a powerful calling to serve as a nurse’s aid until almost exactly a year after the experience. A Swedenborgian gentleman came to Bryn Athyn looking for people to begin a small, family-like orphanage in Nepal where he and his partner had previously spent considerable time. As I listened to him explain the dream, I knew that this was an answer to the experience I had. Initially, my role was to raise money. So along with many generous and dedicated individuals, we founded the Loving Arms Mission. We quickly raised a considerable amount of funding. However, due to a number of complicating factors, it began to look as if the dream was going to fall apart and die. We investigated transferring our work to Sri Lanka, but that wasn’t going to work either.
I felt so dedicated to realizing the dream and also to honoring the intention behind the received donations that I offered to go to Nepal for three years and set up the orphanage with a Nepali staff, after which time I would come back to the US. The board agreed to this plan and along with Wendy Furry, I went to Nepal to set up the home. Within those three years, however, I met Shovha and fell in love with her. We married and decided to take on the roles of Mom and Dad for the children. I should note that by Nepali law, we cannot legally adopt the children. Officially, they are wards of New Life Children’s Home, our non-governmental organization in Nepal. In every other way, they are our children and we are their mom and dad.
If in my senior year someone had suggested I leave everything, move more or less permanently to Nepal and raise thirteen children, I’d likely have run the other way. God gave me the old bait and switch. However, despite the extreme external difficulties and internal trials involved, the life God has given me in lieu of the bait has been rewarding and full beyond what I could have hoped for. God may be tricky and perhaps even deceptive, but always for our benefit.
Kent Rogers and his wife, Shovha
SF: When did you start to write this book, and what was the spark that inspired you to do it?
EKR: I don’t remember exactly when I began writing 12 Miracles of Spiritual Growth—maybe about five years ago, which would have been 2007. I suppose the spark that inspired me was meditating and what I experienced while meditating.
It started with what became the first chapter of the book. I read the account of Jesus calling the Canaanite woman a “little dog” and was disturbed. I didn’t like the way he treated her and it caused a minor crisis of faith. Did I really want to follow and believe in a God who was so apparently rude for no reason? Yet because of the power for good I had already witnessed as a result of trusting in Jesus, I wasn’t willing to just give up on him. I decided I would meditate through the account and see if anything came to light about Jesus’s harsh words. Before meditating, I also decided to believe that Jesus was in fact speaking and acting from pure love for the woman, since that is who I understand Jesus to be, based on the vast majority of his words and actions—including the fact that he did indeed heal the Canaanite woman’s daughter. So I sat down and, after getting into a meditative state, entered into the life of this woman as fully as possible, especially the emotions implied by the account. I don’t want to spoil the punch line of the chapter, but I’ll just say that the experience was so powerful I found myself weeping with the joy of love.
I had previously meditated through various vignettes from the Word in this way, often the Old Testament, and had always found it useful. But this was a particularly special and potent meditative experience, so I decided to explore other New Testament healing miracles in the same way. The end result was this book, as well as some sermons I offered here in Nepal at our very small congregation.
SF: How have your own spiritual experiences affected your perspective on the Gospel stories?
EKR: I think it is the other way around: “How has the perspective of the Gospel affected my spiritual experiences?” And the answer is: completely. The messages of that living book enter in and alter me—the way I see, the way I act, and what I want. I sometimes have felt quite powerfully that I am not doing the reading, rather, I am being read or known and then altered by the experience of having been known. I’ve been blessed to have had a number of spiritual experiences and almost all of them are clearly derived from the Word of God.
SF: Did you make any surprising discoveries while writing the book?
EKR: The message of each miracle felt like a special and joyful discovery. I have also discovered that even a simultaneously powerful emotional and intellectual experience of a healing message doesn’t mean I won’t face the same problems again or won’t have to revisit the message again. Fortunately, I find the messages are repeatedly powerful, if I am willing to give them the time and attention. The healing messages are like seeing the peaks of heaven’s mountains for the first time. We feel excited by the beauty as well as the dual realizations that, one, they do in fact exist and, two, we can get there. When I get such a glimpse, I tend to think, “Oh yes! I’ve made it.” But as any climber or hiker knows, mountains are always deceptively distant and high. So it has been for me in relation to the discoveries of the messages of these healings. The third-to-last chapter deals with the healing of the man who waited thirty-seven years by the pool of Bethesda. A major aspect of the message I derive from that account is that even after Jesus touches and heals us, we still have to “get up, carry the bed, and stop sinning.”
SF: Which of the miracles in this book speaks the most to you personally?
EKR: Each of the miracles touched me quite deeply when I was willing to give them the focus and time required by meditation. I was surprised how each one was layered with depth of meanings that converged to express a specific, singular message of love and healing. So just seeing the magic of the Word of God in that way was very powerful and moving. It is at those times that we really sense that this is not just a book, but an active expression of an intelligent, living and loving being—God. No other book—or for that matter anything else I’ve encountered—has ever blown my mind in the way that the Word has consistently done.
Apart from the amazing experience of feeling the Living God’s presence so powerfully during the meditations, some of the miracles moved me on a more personal level due to the state of my life. Different chapters are more meaningful to me at different times. I think the message I got from the miracle of Jesus healing the man born blind from birth may have effected the most profound and lasting change. It was, well, it was like suddenly seeing after having been blind. The new vision was able to elevate me up above fear, anxiety, and upset. It’s not that I don’t still experience those feelings, but once I saw the message of that healing, something permanently changed for good. I can look back at the old way I understood God’s plan and say, in comparison to the new vision, I was blind. This shift in perception had been a long time in coming. For years I had been struggling deeply with certain aspects of faith which seemed paradoxical and inconsistent with God’s love. This miracle finally resolved that great tension. I was simultaneously finding similar messages in other places, including a good hard look at Divine Providence by Swedenborg. So the message of the miracle was like a capstone supported by other factors to create a door through which I could pass into a vision of reality for which I had been searching many years.
SF: Part of the exercises that you suggest are meditations that allow the reader to visualize himself or herself taking part in the events described in each miracle. What does that approach offer that a person wouldn’t get from just reading the story?
EKR: When we read a story, we engage our verbal-based intellect and generally focus on plot. I am much more interested in the deeper aspects of our mind and being and the deeper messages of the stories. Words and even verbal thoughts are vehicles, not in and of themselves meaningful. I believe verbal-based intellectual activity absorbs consciousness into that activity and away from true meaning, which is to say the experience of God as Love. It is sort of like standing around admiring a photograph of a really beautiful meadow with a pure river running through it, and even being excited by the fact that it is just outside the door, but failing to leave the house and go swimming. I am desperate to take a dip. Meditating on the Word is a way of retracting consciousness up and out of clunky verbal thought and into a much more real and intimate experience of spirit and also the Spirit who dwells within the stories. We in the West are almost all uniformly raised to focus and rely primarily on the intellect for definition of what reality is. We live in a culture of scientific materialism as a result. To me this is a false god which blinds us to the fact that all of life is alive and resplendent with the living spirit of God’s love. Everything is reverberating with holiness and laden with meaning.
St. Francis of Assisi, as well as entire Native American cultures, called all the birds, animals, trees, and celestial bodies brothers and sisters. The universe is a living being, an expression of Love, of which we are an important part. How could it not be so? That is how I want to perceive and interact with life, both because I believe that is how life really is and because it makes me interact with life in a better way. Meditating helps me to escape the powerful pull of intellectualization which prohibits me from entering into that richer experience of and relationship with life as the ever-unfolding living expression of God’s love.
Meditating on the Word in particular allows me to escape the shallow vision of the stories as plot, words, and intellectual messages. Consciousness is then available for a much more potent experience of God’s love as alive within each of those same stories. The key is to love all the people there in the stories, the “good” and the “bad.” Through empathy with the characters, we find out what it’s like to be them, and that is a transforming experience in and of itself. But engaging with empathy with the people in the stories of the Word results in powerful transformative experiences that go beyond even this because the Word allows us to engage with Jesus, God’s Love incarnate. To the extent we emotionally and empathically engage with the characters who in turn engage with Jesus, to that extent we find that Jesus is in fact engaging with us in a real and tangible way. The intellect is useful at times and in the right context, but it also is useful to escape it, to engage in a deeper aspect of mind—empathy and imagination. Meditation is a way of disengaging the intellect and entering into a deeper union with God.
SF: What do you hope that readers will take away from reading 12 Miracles of Spiritual Growth?
EKR: Ultimately, I hope for readers an increase in well-being as well as a perception of Divine Love as living, real, human, intelligent, and immediately present as the source of well-being. A secondary hope is that readers will take away a practice of meditating, especially on scripture, as a means to the primary hope.
12 Miracles of Spiritual Growth :A Path of Healing from the Gospels
E. Kent Rogers
978-0-87785-343-5, 232 pages, $15.95 pb
Bridge Book Award Winner 2011