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April 2, 2015

I have led a very blessed life. As a Baha'i, I believe in the oneness of religion, meaning that all revelations come from and lead to the same Divine source. I have been incredibly privileged to spend time with gurus, rabbis, priests, nuns, and other devotees both for my personal spiritual deepening and as co-founder of The Virtues Project. I now live on a small South Pacific island where Christianity in many forms is the primary path. With a population of about 1200, there are 15 churches dotting the island. I wrote the following column for the national newspaper. It reflects my love for Jesus Christ, and in it I share one of the most personal experiences of my life. I hope it will help you to discern your own Easter, your own new beginning:

Easter is a holy time. It is a time to remember the sacrifice Jesus Christ made, the journey of pain and suffering he endured, and the ultimate victory of his resurrection, when he rose again on the third day after his crucifixion. Any holy day, in my view, is a special opportunity to find the meaning in a sacred event, and to apply it in our own lives. This, to me, is the real gift – bringing spirituality to life.

I had an awesome experience during a ten day spiritual retreat taught by a Catholic priest and nun. The purpose of the retreat was to learn how to become a spiritual director, and to do that we practiced with one another. It was one of the most profound experiences of my life for two reasons: first, my spiritual co-director Peter and I dove very deep in our sessions. Second, I had a vision of Jesus. Peter helped me to realize that I had two conflicting images of God. One was the father, the mother, the giver of Grace. The other was the abandoner. How could He let me be abused when I was a child? Why wasn't God watching? Where was He when I needed him most? I remember a scream and crying in Peter's arms. I felt as though I was splitting in two. And then, we spoke of God the father's relationship with His own son, Jesus. Seconds from the moment of his release into death on the cross, Jesus was heard to say, "Father, why hast thou forsaken me?" The experience of being forsaken, abandoned, alone in our pain, was known even to the one favored and beloved by God. And there was comfort in that for me, because I was certain that God never ceased to love Christ. For me, the greatest torment was feeling unloved.

There is comfort in knowing that even the holiest individuals on earth have suffered, and that suffering is a part of life to be endured. The resurrection of Jesus, His Easter, was a gift to all of us, telling us that we can all rise from pain. There is new life. Transformation is possible if we see with a spiritual eye. Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice. He faced it with great courage, and He faced it alone. Knowing his death was coming, He went to the garden of Gethsemane to pray, feeling sorrowful and deeply troubled. He asked one thing of the disciples -- that they keep watch with him while he prayed. He fell to the ground and begged God to take this cup from his lips, "but not as I will but as you will." He surrendered his will to God's. And when he turned to his disciples, they were sound asleep. "Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?" He was betrayed by those closest to him.

We have all had times when we felt betrayed by those closest to us, left alone to deal with our suffering. It takes deep courage to turn to God and surrender to His will in times like that.

The second profound experience I had at that retreat was while receiving "Annointing Massage" by a nun who is one of my closest friends. I suddenly found myself on the Via Dolorosa, where Jesus carried His cross. I saw him standing by a pillar, blood dripping down His face from the crown of thorns. He looked deep into my eyes and said, "The presence or absence of pain is no indication of the presence or absence of the love of God." I can see that vision so clearly, even now, many years later. For me that was a turning point in my life, helping me to accept pain, suffering and loneliness along with love and companionship as part of life and "no indication" that I am unloved.

When my brother John was close to death, the pain from his brain tumor became excruciating and no amount of medication could cope with it. I was beside myself. My brother asked me what was wrong and then told me to take Vitamin T – Trust. I said, "John it's kind of hard for me to trust God when you are in such pain." "What makes it hard, Lin?" he asked. "I guess I feel God is forsaking you." Then he said something I will never forget. "But it's not true. Even in the pain, I feel the hand of God." How would our lives, and our suffering, be different if we sacrificed our belief that we are alone and unloved, and instead, took to heart, one of Jesus's last prayers: "Thy will, not mine, be done."


Author photo
Linda Kavelin-Popov

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