Coauthors Frank Rose and Bob Maginel talk about the Tucson-based program behind their new book, The Joy of Spiritual Living.
SWEDENBORG FOUNDATION: Tell us about your spiritual growth program. How long has it been running?
FRANK: We started our program in 1988 in Tucson, Arizona. Originally it was a series of twelve tasks. Each group had thirteen sessions, the last one to report on the twelfth task and talk about where to go from there. Many participants were eager to continue, so we developed five more sets of twelve tasks each. In recent years, we have sometimes reduced each set to eight tasks to fit people’s busy lives, but the basic format has not changed.
BOB: Over the years, we have documented seventy-two tasks that can be used by groups and individuals. Each task offers a simple way to improve awareness and understanding of how to respond to negative forces or get closer to our Maker.
SF: Your new book includes practical tasks like “Stop Giving Advice” and “Let Go of Rushing,” along with more contemplative ones like “Overcome the World.” How did you select the eight tasks for this book?
BOB: They are some of my favorites. They have been meaningful to me, and they fit a pattern that teaches three things: awareness, choice in responding to any given situation, and reliance on help from a Higher Power to overcome challenges.
FRANK: We felt that the tasks chosen for both this new book and our earlier book (The Joy of Spiritual Growth, 1999) are basic to the whole concept of spiritual growth. They seemed to be the tasks people have benefited from the most.
SF: What is particularly Swedenborgian about your approach?
FRANK: Since God is infinite and we are finite, and God is all-powerful and we are powerless, one might wonder what part we have to play in our own spiritual development. Swedenborg’s teachings about the mind, human freedom, and our part in the process (known as regeneration) help us understand what we can do to support a process which is essentially God’s work.
BOB: Swedenborg’s description of the levels of the mind in True Christianity is the model we use throughout the program. The “house” model is simple and memorable. Friends who have no knowledge of Swedenborg other than the references in our first book have told me that some of my reactions were coming from my “basement”! I am so pleased that they understand and use the model to become aware of the levels of our minds. For me, Swedenborg’s writings make Christianity real and more easily integrated into my daily life.
SF: What other teachings do you use?
BOB: Many of the concepts we use are based on teachings found in a variety of religions. We believe that any spiritual work that brings peace, contentment, and happiness is worth pursuing.
FRANK: One of the main sources for our work is the six-volume treatise Psychological Commentaries on the Teaching of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky, by Maurice Nicoll (1884-1953). Nicoll was a psychiatrist, a colleague of Jung, and a student of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky. He also studied the works of Swedenborg. His commentaries provide a wealth of information that we have studied to help us create the tasks that are the core of this program.
SF: Why does your book include transcripts from your sessions?
BOB: The wonderful people who work our tasks with us, in a small group environment, provide the insight and wisdom that we could never conceive on our own.
FRANK: The program’s power lies in the observations and experiences of the participants. We feel the best way for people to benefit is to do the tasks themselves. By reading what other people have experienced, some readers get a clearer idea of what is involved and are more motivated to work on the tasks themselves. The program is done best in small groups, but the book is set up so that anyone can follow the whole program in the privacy of their own home and heart.
SF: In practice, what’s distinctive about your program?
FRANK: It differs from other growth programs primarily in that participants find, for the most part, that they can actually do the tasks and they make an immediate difference in their lives. Years after participating in one of our groups, people have reported that they still use the tasks to achieve more balance and harmony in their lives.
BOB: The tasks in our program are based on real-world challenges faced by the people who participate. What a wonderful way to become aware of how our Higher Power wants us to react to the challenges we face. What a fantastic way to instill reliance on good religious principles.
SF: How do you know your program works?
Frank: My first obligation as group leader is to do the tasks we assign to participants. The main result for me is that I spend most of my waking hours in a positive state of mind. And if, for some reason, I find myself turning negative, I have tools ready at hand to get into a better mood. Other people have reported the same. They say this course is life-changing and life-enhancing.
Bob: When people closest to me recognize that I have gained peace of mind and serenity, and react so much better to the negatives that challenge my daily living, I know the program has worked for me. Testimonials from hundreds who have joined the work with us give me the motivation to continue to share the life-changing results of our spiritual growth work.
About the Authors
FRANK ROSE received an M.Div. from the Academy of the New Church in Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania, where he also taught. He has served as pastor to groups in England, Scotland, Wales, Holland, Belgium, France, and Canada in addition to serving at the Sunrise Chapel in Tucson, Arizona, where he co-founded the spiritual growth program upon which this book is based.
BOB MAGINEL spent twenty-two years in the US Air Force, retiring at the rank of colonel with degrees in management (University of Texas) and science (Air Force Institute of Technology). Following his retirement, he founded Mobility Manufacturing Inc., a maker of powered wheelchairs. He and Frank Rose co-founded the Arizona Spiritual Growth Foundation, and both continue to serve on the board.