Everyone eventually dies. Greg McCelvie faces this reality almost every day. With a father and mother who both passed away in the last three years, as well as many of the patients he cares for in the nursing home where he works, Greg has seen death come suddenly, carrying away the spirits of those that he knows and loves.
But Greg has also seen the beauty of life coming into being. At only 48 years old, Greg became a grandfather. As he held little Sam, softly bundled in his arms, Greg knew that this child deserved pure love. Over the past five years, the opportunity help raise a child, while also mourning the loss of parents and many patients, has launched Greg into a process of discovery about the meaning of life. He said, “Part of my journey is to find my purpose. Trying to discover who I am and where I am going.”
Greg had been raised with a Christian spiritual foundation, but over time, he and his wife found themselves becoming increasingly dissatisfied with certain religious concepts. Although he loved the teachings of Jesus, Greg didn’t resonate with the idea that Jesus was the ONLY way, or that salvation involved a statement of faith, rather than a way of life. After trying various churches, Greg and his wife eventually dropped out of church altogether. Still, Greg never gave up on his hope of finding some sort of teaching that would value the dignity in each person, honor the variety of spiritual paths, and shed light on what awaits us in the afterlife.
Then just last summer, while looking through the books at the Sasketoon Public Library in Canada, Greg found a book unlike any other that he’d read. It was called The Essential Swedenborg. Although he’d been reading other spiritual books, something about this one stood out to him, and he began taking it with him to the park to read and ponder in the sunshine. The words were dense, and he found the language challenging, but the concepts were beautiful.
He said, “What drew me to the faith was the concept that all religions point to God. That attracted me.” He added, “In the nursing home I work with a lot of evangelicals who have a certain idea about salvation. But I like how Swedenborg puts it – that salvation comes from just living a good, honest, upright life. That’s the way I see it.
I may make mistakes, but I try not to hurt anyone emotionally or mentally. That’s a path to salvation that makes sense to me.”
He began looking online for more connections to Swedenborg, and he came across the Journey programs. He did both “Pause” and “The Path of Integrity,” and found them very helpful both in his newly developing understanding of Swedenborg, as well as his personal spiritual growth. He said, “Through working on myself, I have been finding a lot of peace. I’m trying to mend relationships, make amends with family and learning to live in harmony.”
One of the life areas where Greg has found an opportunity to practice these spiritual concepts has been in his relationship with his brother and sister. After their parents died, Greg’s siblings split the inheritance, without involving Greg in the process or even letting him see the will. But Greg does not speak about this with resentment; he only mentions it as an example of how he views people. He said “I don’t see people as commodities, or as ways to make a profit, or as convenience for my personal gain. I see each person as a valuable gift, and worthy of love.” And his efforts have been paying off – his relationship with his siblings has become stronger, and he has learned to accept them and their choices.
One area where Greg practices peace is with his Alzheimer’s patients: “I’ve been there 6 years and it’s challenging. You have to show a lot of love and a lot of patience. That develops a lot of spiritual character. It’s not their fault – they didn’t ask to lose their mental faculties. Sometimes I think God put them in my life to help me learn to be kind, and not to judge.” Greg’s co-workers have noticed how much the patients seem to gravitate to Greg. They say, “We never see you mad!” Greg’s loving attitude also makes an impression on his patients: “They can see that they can trust me because I show love and dignity and respect.”
In addition to his siblings and patients, Greg finds meaning in his relationship with his grandchildren. “When our daughters were born I took a lot of overtime shifts and I wasn’t around much. But it seems like God sometimes gives us second opportunities. Now that my career and my wife’s career is established, and our parenting days are over, we can show a lot more love and really appreciate our grandchildren.”
Finding the writings of Swedenborg has been a solid part of Greg’s process of finding peace within himself and with others, and in discovering the true meaning of life. He now has a few more books of the Writings, and hopes to join an online Journey group to connect with more members of the New Church faith.
When the time comes for Greg to die, he wants to feel that he has lived a good, honest life. Although he still has more to learn, what he’s discovered so far is this: “If you’re genuinely trying to show love and reach out to others, and you try to live with pure intentions and motives, others will come around and either see the way you’re living and want to do the same, or choose differently. Either way, you’ve done your best, and you can be at peace.”