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. We are incorporated as a non-profit organization, Re-Member Ministries, in Missouri and Colorado, IRS ID#43-1403466.
How We Began
We began when Denny and Matt, who are brothers, studied at St. Louis University as part of their Jesuit formation. Their pastoral care training included working at Wohl Psychiatric Clinic with troubled patients. On weekends they gave healing retreats to people who had experienced hurts similar to those of the patients at Wohl, but who by the end of the retreat came to see the gifts that had come out of those hurts. What made the difference between the troubled patients at Wohl and the grateful retreatants? It seemed to be forgiveness.
Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross had recently identified the five stages of dying: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. She found that people would naturally move through those stages if accompanied by someone who loved them unconditionally. We (Denny and Matt) realized that the stages of dying are the same as the stages of forgiveness. Our patients at Wohl seemed stuck in the anger or depression stages, whereas many of our retreatants who had found the gifts in their hurts had been able to move on to acceptance. We began to adapt the processes that helped people move through the stages of dying and used them to help people move through the stages of forgiveness.
We experimented with this on weekend retreats and wrote our first book, Healing of Memories, as a term paper for a pastoral theology class (actually, Denny submitted the same paper for four different classes!). Our more complex book on forgiveness, Healing Life's Hurts, followed soon after and integrated healing through the five stages of forgiveness with psychosomatic medicine. This opened us to interfacing with the medical and psychotherapeutic communities, and we gave retreats and conferences in professional settings, including workshops sponsored by various universities and the American Medical Association.
Sheila joined us several years later, after she had finished her seminary training in theology and pastoral care. She knew how to develop courses, and together we designed ones that could be used by people who had little or no professional training, to accompany the books we were now writing together as a team of three. Hundreds of people taught these courses in a wide variety of settings, such as hospitals, universities, prisons, psychiatric treatment centers, sexual abuse survivor groups, miscarriage support networks, groups of widowed and divorced, recovering alcoholics, and in many more settings all over the world.
One person who would use our courses was Rosa Cedillo, of Pecos, Texas. When she was four years old, Rosa found her father lying dead in a pool of blood at his brother-in-law's restaurant. During a fight, her uncle had shot her father and then killed himself. Rosa spent her childhood in a family consumed by poverty and grief. She carried the trauma of the murder with her for years. Then she attended a healing retreat with us at her parish. When we asked participants to recall painful experiences that they wanted to heal, Rosa focused on her father’s death and the anger and sorrow she had carried ever since.
We led the retreatants in a series of healing processes that emphasized taking in love. For example, each person could take part in a washing of feet to lovingly wash away experiences of pain and sorrow. “I felt a lot of inner peace after the retreat,” said Rosa. “I felt better mentally, physically, and spiritually. The anger inside me was gone.”
Rosa was so transformed by her experience of healing that she began giving weekend retreats herself and teaching our courses to hundreds of other people. Then, she and her friends twice raised funds, dollar by dollar, for us to return to Pecos by hosting everything from dunk tanks to burrito sales. The retreats and the burritos for lunch were free. Some 500 people from the area got all they could eat, thanks to Rosa.
Working with thousands of people like Rosa has taught us that it's not the hurt itself that causes damage. Rather, it's feeling unloved in the midst of whatever it is that happened. Thus, our retreats include recalling a hurtful experience and various processes to bring healing love into the midst of it, just as Rosa did.
Before we ask people like Rosa to recall a hurtful experience, we invite them to get in touch with positive memories, meaning memories of a moments when they were in touch with the love that they are. We do this because holding these moments in our hearts for even as little as ten seconds helps our heartrate to become more coherent, which in turn causes a whole cascade of positive physiological and emotional changes and enables us to face painful memories with hope and courage.
Outer and Inner Expansion
As the three of us continued writing books and giving retreats together, we were invited to more than sixty foreign countries and our work expanded into new areas of growth and healing as well. One of the best things we did was learn to speak Spanish well enough that we could give retreats all over Latin America. Everywhere we went, we saw the same most common hurts: lack of affirming love in early life, unresolved grief for the loss of a loved one, difficulty with forgiveness, and sexual abuse. And, the same healing processes seemed to work in every culture.
Again and again, as we worked with personal hurts around the world, we saw their relationship to societal hurts, and our work took on an aspect of social liberation. Increasingly, we were invited to countries with highly charged civil strife. During one session in the mountains of Guatemala, we witnessed torture victims and torturers turning to each other in mutual forgiveness. At a spirituality center in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Catholics and Protestants mourned together the loss of loves ones in the “troubles.” In South Africa, we led retreats and gave talks in Durban, Johannesburg, Soweto, and Cape Town, where black and whites were able to forgive and be vulnerable to one another. In Nicaragua, we led a retreat for Contras and Sandinistas, and in Argentina we led one for the families of those who were assassinated by the military dictatorship and the families of the generals who did the killings.
Over and over, we saw the hurts behind social unrest. If the hurts can be healed, countries can begin the slow process of reconciliation. In every country, people have hurts; that’s why they show up. When people from different sides of a conflict show up, they soon realize that their hurts are the same. For example, in Northern Ireland we had chosen a Catholic and a Protestant for a foot-washing ceremony. When they told their stories, it turned out that each of them had lost a brother. As soon as one heard the story of the other one, they felt complete, real compassion. They could say to one another, "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." They saw that war was the real enemy, not each other. When people share their pain and their stories, they start to build bridges.
As we ourselves learned and grew, we focused each new book on whatever had recently been most helpful to us. For example, after we (Denny and Sheila) were married and we were waiting for the birth of our son, John, we and Matt studied pre- and perinatal psychology. This led to our book on healing hurts from the womb, Healing Our Beginning. Later, we wrote two children's books, What Is My Song? and Making Heart-Bread, to help parents share the same simple processes with their children that we shared with John. As the three of us began to explore the discoveries of modern physics regarding non-local consciousness and healing, we integrated it with spiritualilty in our book Simple Ways to Pray for Healing. As the political and ecological situation in our country and our world seemed to grow worse, and we learned more about the corruption that underlies economic injustice and war, we worried for John's future. We shared how we regained hope in Healing the Future: Personal Recovery from Societal Wounding.
Our research for Healing the Future led us to our friend Fran, who inspired our current writing project, on near-death experiences. Fran is a social activist whose political advocacy includes a particularly controversial issue. She publicly speaks up about this issue in ways that have brought death threats and other forms of retaliation to some of her colleagues. When we asked Fran, “Where do you get your courage?,” she told us that it comes from reading about near-death experiences (NDEs) every day. Like so many who have actually had an NDE, Fran said, "I'm not afraid to die." She showed us her current NDE reading, Lessons from the Light, by Kenneth Ring.
In his book, Ken suggests that not only NDE experiencers but all the rest of us can open ourselves to the lessons of the NDE. In other words, just getting absorbed in hearing or reading about NDEs, as Fran did, can have some of the same effects upon us as actually having an NDE. These effects include an abiding awareness of an infinitely and universally loving Light that holds us and that is us. We experienced this as we read Ken’s book, listened to friends who have had NDEs, and immersed ourselves in more of the NDE literature.
We had already been interested in NDEs for years, and we had realized that the elements of an NDE are similar to processes for growth and healing that we have led for many years in our retreats and seminars. Our experience tells us these are universal processes that are built into us. Thus, in our next book, we will offer the healing processes we have used with our participants, but with a different intention: as avenues or windows into the state of consciousness of people who have actually had an NDE so that we can enter, at least to some degree, that same state of consciousness.
Three Core Values
During our years together, with all the different new ideas we have explored and places we have traveled, three core values have emerged as the foundation for our lives and our work. These values are safety, empowerment, and universal love.
In our retreats and our writing, we always begin by creating an environment of safety. We try to create this environment in a number of ways, including our emphasis on beginning with memories of love mentioned above and by encouraging our audience to always do only what feels really right to them. We believe a fundamental source of safety is the relationships among the three of us. We experience our family relationships with each other as providing an umbrella over retreat groups and readers. Our committed brotherly and marital love seems to create a safe space and helps people open up in ways that might not happen otherwise. We believe this comes through in our books, as well, and even on those retreats when (although we prefer to work together whenever possible) only one or two of us are available.
A second core value is empowerment. Our goal is to empower the people who attend our programs and read our books. For example, at retreats, we encourage sharing and praying in two's and three's, rather than inviting people to come to us. During Question & Answer sessions, we encourage people to reflect on the meaning and implications of their questions for their own process of growth, rather than giving “right” answers. We set up chairs in concentric semi-circles and avoid being any higher above or further away from the people than necessary, so that the physical space conveys equality and shared community. We ask that Matt be called just that, “Matt,” without the title “Fr.”, to avoid any tendency to elevate priests. We want retreatants and readers to find their own resources for growth and healing, and to share those resources with one another. This is one of the reasons we emphasize simple processes that people can use themselves and share with others.
A third core value is universal love. Our travels to countries all over the world, and our recent travels to some of the further reaches of human consciousness as experienced in NDEs, have taught us that universal love knows no boundaries or religious denominations. When we began, two of us were Jesuit priests, and all three of us worked exclusively in Christian environments. Today, although one of us, Matt, still is a Jesuit priest, we work with people from many traditions and we believe that each person knows the way home. We respect each person's unique journey and the spiritual tradition that best speaks to him or her. Thus, we return to where our ministry began, with love: all things are made of the same infinite love, and it is love that heals.