About Linn Ministries
Linn Ministries includes the retreats and conferences given by Dennis, Sheila & Matt Linn in the United States and around the world, and our books and tapes. A part of our ministry is Christian Video Library, where all our materials can be ordered and our videotapes can be borrowed on a donation basis. We are incorporated as a non-profit organization, Re-Member Ministries, in Missouri and Colorado, IRS ID#43-1403466.
Following is an article about us by Carol Schuck-Scheiber, published in the Summer, 1997 issue of the Jesuit magazine, Company. We believe it conveys the spirit of our ministry.
by Carol Schuck-Scheiber
Rosa Cedillo of Pecos, Texas, was four when she found her father lying dead in a pool of blood. Her father had gone to the scene of a fight at his brother-in-law’s restaurant. In the ruckus, her uncle shot her father before killing himself. Rosa should have spent her childhood skipping rope and flying kites like other little girls; instead, she spent it in a family tormented by grief and poverty.
The trauma of the murder stayed with her for years. Then one day in 1993, the 48-year-old Hispanic woman attended a healing retreat at Santa Rosa, her parish, given in Spanish by Matthew and Dennis Linn and Sheila Fabricant Linn. When the Linns asked participants to recall hurtful experiences that they wanted to heal, Cedillo focused on the anger and sorrow she felt over her father’s death and her difficult younger years.
The Linns walked retreatants through a series of reflections based on scripture and on God’s healing grace. Then each retreatant took part in a washing of feet - symbolically washing away experiences of pain, humiliation, or sorrow, “I felt a lot of inner peace after the retreat,” says Cedillo. “I’ve been feeling better mentally, physically, and spiritually. The anger inside me is gone.”
Cedillo was so transformed by her experience of healing that she set out to bring it to others. She and her parish prayer group have twice raised funds for the Linns to come to Pecos dollar by dollar by hosting everything from dunk tanks to burrito sales. Some 500 people from the area have attended the Linns' healing retreats. Cedillo and her enthusiastic prayer group are just some of the many thousands of people who have been touched by the unique ministry of Matthew and Dennis and Sheila. They are an untraditional team. Matthew and Dennis are brothers, and Dennis and Sheila are husband and wife. Matthew is a Jesuit priest, as was Dennis.
All three have formal training in theology and pastoral counseling. But their work defies labels. They are “healers,’’ but not the sense of people tripping over themselves to touch them. Rather, the Linns see themselves as simply helping people to tap into God’s grace.
They write books and articles as a team and have traveled to over 50 countries to deliver talks and retreats. Their message is grounded in Ignatian spirituality and almost always relates to healing: healing one’s image of God, healing past hurts, healing the loss of a loved one, forgiving one who has hurt you. “We’re basically just storytellers,” says Matt. The three use their own experiences as jumping off points for talking about pain, reconciliation, and healing. ‘‘We teach people processes. We try not to present ourselves as healers or the ones with the answers,’’ Sheila adds. “That would emphasize us as having the gift of healing. Instead, people learn that they can heal themselves.”
Just as the healing they discuss so frequently is a process, so too was their coming together. Back in ‘69, Matt and Dennis were giving ever more popular Ignatian retreats. The two met Sheila in ’81; the three did a video project together and discovered that they shared a very similar spirituality and style. They have worked as a team for the last sixteen years. One of the central themes of that work in recent years has been healing one’s image of God. “We encourage people to ask God for healing,” says Sheila. “If you don’t have consciously or unconsciously a good image of God, you can’t do that. You don’t ask someone you don’t trust for healing.”
To counter the bad image of God - usually as a punishing, distant God-the Linns encourage the notion of a loving God, casting not just as father but also as mother and nurturer. They also stress God’s presence in all experiences of life, good and bad.
“One of the easiest ways to receive healing is to change your image of God,” says Dennis. “Of course, that’s what the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius are all about - about following God, changing your image of God.”
To help retreatants heal their image of God, the Linns have them role play. “We have people get in touch with the moment they felt most distant from God, and then we have them get in touch with when they felt closest to God,” says Dennis. “In groups of two we have one person be God and the other be the hurt person. The one who is God pours all the love of God in that hurt person- all the love they experienced when they felt most connected to God. Then we have them reverse roles. That experience gives people a felt sense that God loves you at least much as the person who loves you most.”
The sense that God is present during even the most horrific experiences can be healing say the Linns. The idea is a core tenet of Ignation spirituality: that God is present in all of life. “ It’s not the hurt itself that causes damage,” says Sheila, “it’s feeling unloved in the midst of whatever it is that happened. One of our convictions is that the love of God transcends space and time and can go into any moment in the past. The other thing we assume is that imagination and memory are as real as ’real’ events. There are lots of studies that back that up. When you imagine something, your physiology changes just as it does during a real event.”
Thus, the Linns’ retreats on healing life’s hurts focus on recalling a hurtful experience and bringing God’s love into the midst of it through the power of one’s imagination. Retreatants then ritualize the process of infusing God’s love into their pain, just as Rosa Cedillo did when she healed the trauma of her father’s murder during the footwashing ceremony.
Although the Linns seem to emphasis an individualized approach to finding God’s grace, there is an aspect of social liberation to their work. It is no accident that they have been invited to numerous countries with highly charged civil strife. During one session in the mountains of the Solola Province Guatemala, they witnessed torture victims and torturers turning together to a healing God during one of their retreats. At a spirituality center in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Catholics and Protestants mourned together the loss of loves ones in the “troubles”. In South Africa, the Linns led retreats and gave talks in Durban, Johannesburg, Soweto, and Cape Town at places where black and whites were able to turn in equal vulnerability to a loving God.
Earlier this year, the Linns filmed a nine-part television series for a Hungarian TV station, with the intent of bringing healing into the hurts suffered by the population during 40 years of communist rule. The programs were also broadcast to Hungarian refugees in 27 countries, Communism, says Matt, eroded religious and family values and left in its wake the highest suicide rate in the world... as well as a divorce rate of 45 percent.
“There are hurts behind the social unrest,” contends Dennis. If the hurts can be healed, countries can begin the slow process of reconciliation. Internationally, people suffer from three main hurts, say the Linns: emotional deprivation as a child, sexual abuse, and the loss of a loved one. And in countries with much conflict, the loss of loved ones affects a wide swath of the community. Each killing fosters more resentment and hatred.
“We come in through the back door,” says Dennis. “We don’t say in South Africa, for example, that this retreat is to put black and white together, or in Nicaragua this that retreat is to put Sandinistas and Contras together. Everybody knows that our retreat is going to deal with grieving the loss of a loved one. Everybody has hurts, and that’s why they show up. When “everybody” shows up, interesting things happen. “In Northern Ireland we had chosen a Catholic and a Protestant for a foot-washing ceremony,” Dennis continues. “When they talked about their stories, each of them had lost a brother. As soon as one heard the story of the other one, there was this complete, real compassion. It was so easy for them to say, ‘I understand, and I forgive you and people like you. And I want to ask your forgiveness for the way that people like me took the life of your brother.’
When people start to share their pain and their stories, they start to build bridges.” The Linns say their international acclaim comes from using storytelling and other simple processes for healing that people can readily grasp. Their audiences have ranged from 30,000 Koreans in a stadium to Guatemalan peasants in a grassy field to Hispanics in a Texas church.
Dennis left the Society of Jesus and married Sheila in 1989. The marriage raised eyebrows. “Dad cried all the way through our wedding; Mother wore her funeral dress,” noted Dennis in a 1992 interview. But the team was so effective—so many people had responded enthusiastically to their message—that they simply carried on with their work. And the relationships the three share have turned out to be an important facet of their appeal. According to Sheila, the three model committed brotherly and marital love by who they are. They represent both laity and the institutional Church.
“It’s like an umbrella over the group when people sense there is a strong, committed family relationship between the three of us,” says Sheila. “They can feel that. We don’t have to talk about it. It creates a safe environment. That helps people open up in a way that wouldn’t happen otherwise.”
The Linns have been able to widen the circle of people who receive their message through books, tapes, and videos they have published or produced in fifteen languages. Just as they divide responsibilities according to their gifts when they do a talk, give a course, or lead a retreat, the Linns also divvy up book authorship. Their nineteen books are written in disarmingly simple prose, shot through with personal stories. Their concept is to get across complex psychological and spiritual concepts to ordinary people. They begin the writing process by outlining their ideas for a book and then assigning chapters to whoever “has the most energy around a particular part,” according to Matt. Then they come together and examine what they’ve written, collect other ideas, and test them during retreats.
The Linns find their life’s work richly rewarding. It is satisfying to note personal growth within the people who have attended workshops and retreats, they say. All of them enjoy plumbing the depths of the spiritual life. Their personal relationships with each other and with God inform their work, and their work informs their prayer and personal relationships. Furthermore, says Matt, their many travels allow them “to feel at home anywhere in the world.”
A fitting tribute to their work comes from George Kominis, a retired airline pilot living in Old Saybrook, Connecticut, who taught the Linns’ course on healing in a prison. A handful of inmates have turned their lives around as a result of the Linns’ concepts.
“I wouldn’t have been able to help a living soul were it not for the foundation of the Linns’ prayer course, Healing Life’s Hurts,” says Kominis. A prisoner who today is living a clean life after serving several years for arson wrote a letter to Kominis: “I can’t begin to express the love in my heart for you, as my brother in Christ Jesus! I did as your letter instructed me, and I didn’t come short of anything but a miracle. Thank you for showing me that God works through people. For in your actions I realize it is the love of Jesus. I’m free, I’m free, I’m free, ‘cause Jesus set me free!”