A Sanctuary in the Sacred Grove
By Kay Walburger
Once upon a time somewhere in the Future there is a mystic place where Miracles are common daily events. This is a legendary place like Briggadoon, which appears out of the mist once every hundred years. This place has somehow appeared here and now. It is not far from the azure blue Pacific Ocean, rising out of the fog of modern confusion and appearing in a city called Tustin, California. Come now and visit . . . there is a ruby-crested, emerald-breasted iridescent hummingbird to guide us.
The hummingbird hovers above us and looks us in the eye to see if we are ready to tour its lovely home. The first thing we notice is all the natural beauty and the peace and serenity that surrounds us. In an instant all our senses are filled with delightful sights, sounds, scents, tastes, and textures of nature that evoke a mirrored of blissful emotions, an experience of well-being permeating our essence.
We feel near-by ocean breezes kiss our faces as they dance through this exquisite garden stirring the leaves and branches of the exotic trees planted so long ago. Notice the golden glow from ripe oranges in abundance in the orange grove and trees scattered about the property. They are a legacy still preserved from the hundreds of groves that were once so numerous they called this Orange County, California. Most of the once-thriving orange groves are now gone to build housing and shopping developments. This is somewhat of an oasis in time and beauty.
Where are we? What is this place? The setting is intriguing and contradictory. To the left is a beautifully preserved old Victorian House with lace curtains at the windows; to the right in the shade of an elder sycamore tree is a modern brick building. Off in the distance is a grove of orange trees and pathways, a fountain, and a labyrinth for walking. What in the world goes on here?
Good question! This place, buildings and campus, where so many diverse, yet mystic events take place is called Unity of Tustin. It is a Church like no other. The ministers, teachers, staff, congregation, and guests take the word 'Unity' very seriously. Many spiritual settings are ridged in ideas and boundaries that keep human beings separated, while Unity of Tustin is consciously setting forth a unique church paradigm of connection and unity. This is illustrated in the sharp contrast of the old beautiful Victorian House to the most recent expansion creating a new sanctuary while preserving the natural environmental setting. It is proven by the diversity of people and ideas that are welcomed, as they seek and find the loving wisdom that brings Unity and Harmony to our lives individually and collectively.
We notice this seems to be a calm, yet busy place. They have a seven-day-a-week ministry, as well as a marvelous metaphysical book/gift store. We are amazed at the diverse reading materials, tapes, art objects, greeting cards, and various other unusual items which all have spiritual significance.
So many people greet each other like long lost friends here; they look like one big, happy family. They come to receive the many blessings of the lavish natural environment of trees, shrubs, sweet-scented flowers and fruit-bearing trees; the celebration of friendships and relationships are nurtured here; the healing ministry that reaches into the deep dark places of the mind, body, and emotions to heal the soul of its wounds, scars, and dis-ease. There is so much compassion you can feel its balm everywhere and from almost everyone who comes and goes.
Our spry hummingbird takes us to meet the Senior Minister, Marj Britt. She is a radiant personality with eyes that dance with bliss every time she meets you! We feel she has magical eyes to see the spiritual splendor that lies within us, yet goes unacknowledged most of the time. It is exhilarating to be divinely recognized and accepted. It is a thrill to speak to her about anything and everything because she has 'joi di vive'. She is so eager to get to the gift exchange that is about to take place as we each give the gift of our selves and our purpose (known or unknown). Marj has extrasensory spiritual perception that knows and draws out our highest and best self. What a delicious feeling of Divine Connection and Unity!
Marj Britt tells us how she had a mystical vision of this place with its Victorian House and garden setting while she was in Seminary at Unity School of Christianity. Years later, when she first stepped foot onto this lovely campus, she was overcome by all its beauty and energy she knew she was standing on holy ground in the midst of a sacred garden. Spirit whispered that it would be an act of worship to preserve this magnificent natural setting and take an environmental stand as a way of acknowledging the loving Creator's handiwork.
During the six years she has been a Minister here, her congregation has grown from forty to more than 400 regular attendees. Expansion was an important next step. Many had serious concerns that the natural beauty they all loved would be destroyed in this process. They called together a group of any and all who wished to be part of the process of envisioning a way to save the sacred grove while enlarging the church and parking lot. This would take careful planning ingenuity and divine guidance to accomplish.
"The first miracle appeared when I discovered Roger Swim, a designer and builder with architectural training in our very midst," reports Marj. " We asked him to see if he could take all the written visions the study group had come up with and make sense of them in a blueprintable' way that was cost effective and realistic," continues Marj. "Perhaps you should ask him how he did that."
Our hummingbird friend and guide leads us to Roger's office where he is putting finishing touches on the expansion project now near completion. We like Roger at first sight; he has a friendly energy surrounding him and smiles a lot, making jokes for us to laugh at together. He begins telling us about synchronicities that surround this project and its successful completion.
"My background is in spiritual, metaphysical, science, math and architectural disciplines which I have had great successes doing for a number of years, and have found useful in the building contractor role," explains Roger. " I felt I needed to come up with a design solution which honored each church member's values and feelings concerning the natural setting involved. After much meditation and prayer they presented me with 573 ideas. My task was to whit-tle them into 15 solid ideas that all would agree with and support.
My intuition told me that they needed to be included in this process to feel ultimate satisfaction with the project. As I studied the 573 ideas, I began to find areas of similar concerns, for example: the gardens, the buildings, etc. Here I began to sort and organize them into broad categories and created a questionnaire to send back to the vision group to help them further select the most important features about which they could form a consensus."
"Again I sorted through all the new data and this time I created a prioritizing grid to help them sort through feelings and visions, and narrowed it down to ten. A wonderful group of church members who write the Sunday program helped me by writing a number of pithy paragraphs which consolidated the 573 original ideas submitted into 15 distilled areas of concern. This grid prioritizing helped by placing a numerical value on the most sacred top ten."
"The final event process was a 'Design Charrette', an intense onsite study of possibilities. With the final top ten ideas in hand, they divided into four groups and walked the grounds to see the problems or probability using legally required setbacks, etc. and other physical limitations. This live walkabout was exciting and by end of day we saw a collaborative solution come together as the group came up with a new major solution. They decided not to cut down the beloved trees and build a new sanctuary, but instead to enlarge the old one which saved garden space and many trees. This was a very satisfying accomplishment for me, because I had created a process and tools which honored each church mem-ber's sensibilities and welcomed their sacred visions, as they decided how to expand and preserve, at the same time creating consensus. This way everyone was heard and respected, creating support and unity!"
Our hummingbird now takes us to a gazebo in the heart of the garden to meet a very important woman in this process. Her name is Debra Lee Jordan and she is an amazing spirit-filled being and wise woman who not only talks to trees, but who listens to them and communicates easily with nature. She has a great reverence for the unity and harmony of all life. Many church members were still agonizing over the trees that had to be cut down for the expanded parking lot which the city ordinances demanded, so Debra was called upon to create a scared ceremony to help in the grief and letting go process. She called together several sensitive spiritual leaders to help with the ceremonies. They took groups of church members into the groves to communion with nature and speak to the spirits of the earth and trees, asking them to be a sacrifice for this important new growth. They declared their love for each tree and thanked them for all the beauty, love and wisdom they had shared with we mortals. In the Native American tradition where everything is sacred and spirit- filled, they waited until they were assured the trees were OK with what was being asked of them. The members prayed for God's blessings and thanked the tress, then finished their personal grief process. Some members wrote prayers on paper and hung them from the branches until they were cut and removed. Some say the trees went peacefully and were happy to be a blessing to such loving and spiritual human beings. Debra says trees are always very forgiving and she believes they fulfilled their Divine purpose and returned to the loving energy that created them.
Our time is nearly up and we still have not walked the labyrinth. The jeweled hummingbird reminds us to pause at the entrance to be fully conscious as we step onto the path. The labyrinth is an ancient tool for meditation. This experience is a metaphor for our spiritual journey as we quiet our mind and find peace on this classical eleven-circuit design. We wind around the looped, yet single path, to the center which looks like a flower in full bloom symbolizing illumination at the center of one's being. We feel a sense of unity with all the world's many religions which use the labyrinth such as the Jewish Mystical Tree of Life (The Kabbala ), The Hopi Medicine Wheel, The Man in The Maze and Navajo Sand Paintings, Medicine Wheels all across both North and South America, the Tibetan Sand and Meditation Man-dalas, Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, Chartes Cathedral in France, and even a four-or five-thousand-year-old Labyrinth found on Crete. The Labyrinth image holds the experience of wholeness and is universally recognized as a symbol for Unity. What a glorious thought for our planet!
We thank our hummingbird guide for the tour and story of the Sanctuary in the Sacred Grove, where every day is . . . Heaven and Earth Day!
For more information, please contact: Dr. Marj Britt, Roger Swim, or Debra Lee Jordan at Unity of Tustin, 14402 S. Prospect Ave. in Tustin. (714) 730-3444. Visit the website at www.unity-tustin.org
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