(Linda, the Cliffs of Moher) Celtic Spirituality for Today: Traveling Deeper into My Roots At long last, I am resuming my blog. Thank you to all of my readers who kept nudging me and patiently as…
(Linda, the Cliffs of Moher)
Celtic Spirituality for Today: Traveling Deeper into My Roots
At long last, I am resuming my blog. Thank you to all of my readers who kept nudging me and patiently asking me when I would resume! As many of you know, my husband Ted and I just returned from vacation in Ireland, England, Wales, and Scotland.
(Tintagel Castle, of King Arthur fame, England)
I made this journey partly to get in touch with my Celtic roots. My paternal grandmother, Nannie, was born in Belfast, and ethnically was Irish, English and Scottish. Her father, my great-grandfather, was a stone mason, who built many churches in the UK. As usual for a nerd like me, I researched the places we would visit, and steeped myself in Celtic literature before and during this trip. I read James Joyce’s Ulysses; poetry by W. B. Yeats, How the Irish Saved Civilization, by Thomas Cahill, and, thanks to a recommendation by my friend Rod Rinell, am now delighting in Frank Delaney’s Ireland. In addition, for years I have been using the gorgeous, poetic, earth-centered daily prayer books by J. Philip Newell, of Iona (who also leads retreats at one of my favorite spiritual places, Casa del Sol, Ghost Ranch, Abiquiu, New Mexico).
(High Cross, Iona)
During a time of prayer on the mystical Island of Iona, I had an epiphany: perhaps Celtic spirituality has always tugged deeply at my soul because it is from there that my roots begin. Cahill’s book, in fact, helped me to realize that some of my struggles with certain aspects of traditional Western Christianity, and juxtaposed to that, some of my deep attraction to Celtic spirituality, are because of the deep, core emphases of Celtic spirituality, which line up so perfectly with three things to which I am most passionately committed: 1. a spirituality which is life-affirming and which sees the earth, in fact the entire comes, as infused with God’s presence; linked with this, a spirituality which honors and embraces our physicality, our embodiment, rather than condemns or negates it; 2. a spirituality which embraces and celebrates the feminine aspect of life; and 3. a spirituality which is passionate about issues of social justice, and insists on the God-given equality of ALL.
(Dingle Peninsula, Ireland)
I will touch on each of these three briefly. I have always bristled against those teachings in traditional Western Christianity which, based NOT on the teachings of Jesus, but rather on Greek philosophy, consider the earth, the human body, and all physical matter as not good, as in fact somehow evil or sinful, whereas the mind (reason) and the spirit are considered good, pure, and holy. Saint Augustine (354-430) compounded this earth and body negating teaching when he created the doctrine of Original Sin, which has plagued us now for over 1500 years. I preached a sermon a few years ago, where I confessed that I do not believe in original sin. The bible does not even speak of it. I do believe in sin itself, but NOT original sin. In fact, the book of Genesis affirms that God created everything, including us human beings, and proclaimed: ”It is GOOD.” WE are GOOD. When you study Augustine and his own life, his sexual struggles, and his espousal of a very dualistic religion, Manichaeism, prior to his becoming Christian, you can understand where his idea of original sin came from. But, interestingly, Ireland’s version of Christianity, partly because of its physical location and isolation, was not really influenced by Augustine, but rather by Saint Patrick, (386-461), a contemporary of Augustine, so never even heard of original sin!
(Saint Patrick and I, Hill of Tara, Ireland)
The sad ramifications of the combined emphasis on Greek philosophy and original sin are that for over 1500 years much of Western Christianity has looked at the physical, embodied aspect of life, which includes the earth, the environment, our bodies and sexuality, as “evil, sinful, bad,” things from which we need to escape, or “rise above,” into some ethereal disembodied “spiritual dimension.” In contrast, Celtic spirituality, which before Christianity arrived was called “pagan,” or Druid, saw the entire cosmos, and all aspects of human life as infused with God’s presence.
Saint Patrick embraced this. His poem on his breastplate proclaims: “I bind unto myself today, the strong name of the Trinity: the virtues of the starlit heaven, the depths of the salty sea, the old, eternal rocks.” He even used something simple, from the earth, the shamrock, to teach the Celts about the Trinity.
(Tintagel Castle, Cliffs)
Sadly, in much of traditional Western Christianity, based on Greek philosophy and Saint Augustine’s doctrine of original sin, women, whose monthly cycles and miraculous life-giving capacities or “fertility,” have historically been connected with sin and evil. Early Church fathers said “Woman is the gateway to Satan,” (Tertullian), or “It is still Even the Temptress which we must be wary of in every woman,” (Augustine), and other lovely things like that. In contrast to this, Celtic spirituality embraces the feminine aspect of life: think Queen Maeve, and Deirdre; think Saint Brigid of Kildare and Saint Juliana of Norwich; think of every feisty Irish woman you have ever known, and how her strength, spirit, and feistiness is appreciated by men and women alike, and celebrated! I of course think of my wild and crazy Nannie.
(the entrance to Saint Juliana’s one room cell, Norwich, England)
(the exterior to Juliana’s one room hermitage, Norwich, England)
Finally, Cahill points out that Saint Patrick was the first saint to preach vehemently against slavery and human trafficking. Patrick himself was actually not Irish. He was a Romanized Brit, who at age 15-16 was kidnapped by the Irish, and forced into slavery. He served as a slave in County Antrim (my grandmother’s county) for six years, before escaping. When he returned to Ireland years later to share the Christian Gospel, it was a social justice Gospel that he shared. Indeed his own six years as a slave led him to be the first in Christian history to denounce slavery. When some young women whom he had baptized were kidnapped by British soldiers to be used as sex slaves, he vehemently denounced this.
(Linda atop an ancient burial mound with a feisty Irish girl of the next generation)
So, I share this brief introduction to Celtic spirituality with you because I think it profoundly and powerfully speaks to us today. Many contemporary seekers are critical of the way Christian theology has for so long dishonored the earth and environment, has condemned our physical bodies and sexuality, has not had full equality for women, and has not spoken out loudly enough for social justice. Perhaps it is time to reclaim the Celtic Christian spiritual tradition.
(Linda, Cliffs of Moher)
I know that it resonates deeply in my own soul. Perhaps it also speaks to you.
This day, may you see God in all you encounter,
and may you reflect God to all you encounter.
Copyright August 17, 2016
For a more in-depth discussion of these issues, please read Thomas Cahill, How the Irish Saved Civilization
The Cross and the Resurrection Today
(Photo: Rev. Tim Rich, Rector at Saint Luke’s Episcopal Church, outside their community room, where people struggling with addictions come for mutual support)
For the past twenty years my church, the First Lutheran Church of East Greenwich, RI, has being doing a Stations of the Cross Walk on Good Friday. We stop at thirteen different “Stations,” where people are suffering today, where Christ, therefore, embodied in our sisters and brothers, continues to be crucified today. At each stop we read a verse from scripture, say a brief prayer, and do a symbolic action. As we carry three large crosses down Main Street, I am always struck by the fact that many people pay no attention!I realize that this is probably the way it actually was during Jesus’ walk to Calvary: shopkeepers and business owners and customers going about their daily lives as usual, oblivious to God’s saving love walking among us, suffering before our distracted or “closed” eyes. Our final stop is a cemetery, where we remember the women watching as Christ is laid in the tomb, and then going to prepare their ointments for anointing his body later. Our symbolic action, at that final stop, is to anoint one another with fragrant holy oil, and to proclaim defiantly, there among the tombstones, our hope in our own resurrection and new life in Christ.
(Tom Joyce, anointing his wife, Janet, and member of our youth group, Kassie McDonald)
This year I am also serving as the new Missioner at the Church Beyond the Walls, an outdoor street church in the nearby city of Providence, which ministers to and with persons from all walks of life, but mostly to and with persons who are suffering today, many of them persons experiencing homelessness. In this inner city setting, many of the Stations were particularly raw and jarring.
(Station 1: Members of the Church Beyond the Walls community, at our usual meeting place, Burnside Park, where we gather for worship every Saturday at 2 PM)
Ironically, although our group carried one huge cross and two smaller crosses, and knelt on occasion in the middle of the streets, many passed by without even seeming to notice us!
(Station 2: Sarah Davis, member of first Lutheran and Church Beyond the Walls, outside of the Supreme Courthouse)
For those of us who participated, however, these walks had a deep impact. It truly helped us to enter into the heart of our faith: the mystery of the cross and resurrection of Jesus.
(Station 3: Sarah and Catherine Thenault, member of Church Beyond the Walls, at Korean War Memorial)
(Station 4: Sarah and Pasquale Moretti, member of Church Beyond the Walls, and Catherine taking photo, at World War II Memorial)
(Our walk by the River, the Point Street Bridge in the distance)
(Station 5: Irish Famine Memorial)
(Station 5: Irish Famine Memorial. Is it not reminiscent of Michelangelo’s Pieta?)
(Looking back over Providence’s skyline)
(Station 6: Garden of Compassionate Friends, Parents who have lost children)
(Station 7: Former Site of “Tent City,” where many who were experiencing homelessness lived in tents. Note our cross leaning against the “cross” of the tree itself)
(Bearing the cross across “Tent City” field)
(Station 8: Former site of Confetti’s Nightclub, where many deaths by shooting took place)
(entrance to former Confetti’s Nightclub)
(Station 9: Outside Family Court. I realized after the large “parent” cross and the small “Child’s” cross)
It made us realize that Christ does indeed walk among us in our sisters and brothers who are suffering today, but also in the radiant faces of those who have been transformed by Christ, and who now live with Christ as new and resurrected people.
(Beautiful, radiant Catherine)
My hope and prayer for all of us in this Easter season is that we would rise with Christ, and live as Easter people, made new by Christ’s transforming love.
(Station 10: Site of former church, which turned into former strip club/brothel, now turned a very nice upscale pub)
(Station 11: This is the site, just feet away from where we gather weekly for worship, where a prostitution ring gathered, and members of our Church Beyond the Walls overheard young women complaining to their pimps that they had not been paid)
This day, may you see Christ’s suffering in your own suffering and in the suffering of all those you encounter, and may you experience Christ’s resurrection in your own life, and be a beacon of hope to all you encounter. May our lives reflect the new and transformed life that is indeed possible through Christ,
OUR resurrection, and OUR Life!
(Stations 11 and 12: Our final stop: The cemetery outside the Episcopal Diocese of RI: the cross becomes a Tree of Life for us)
Linda Forsberg, Copyright April6, 2016
An Easter Garden
As some of you know, I teach World Religions at nearby Salve Regina University. I do this because, with all of the fighting over religion going on in our world, I feel that in some small way, I am contributing to mutual understanding, respect, and peace in this world. In my classes I focus on those things which unite us as people of different faiths. Some of the people whose work have influenced my own are Joseph Campbell (The hero with a Thousand Faces, The Power of Myth), and the psychologist Carl Jung, especially his teaching on archetypes. These two brilliant thinkers teach us that there are universal spiritual themes which are shared by all human beings, across cultures, across historical timeframes, across religions. Certain universal themes emerge in the stories and dreams and rituals of all peoples. One of these universal themes is the primordial garden.
For Jews and Christians, of course, this garden appears in the very beginning: the Garden of Eden. In Hebrew the word Eden actually means “Delight:” the Garden of Delight. Eden is described in the book of Genesis as lush, verdant, an oasis in the the stark, fierce Middle Eastern landscape. What a powerful image this verdant garden must have been for desert people. In this Garden of Delight, people lived in right relationship with God, with one another, and with all creation.
In your own dream life, do you ever dream of such a primordial garden? A place bursting with luxuriant life? I have such a recurring dream. About twenty years ago I travelled to Vancouver, and hiked in the Rain Forest there. I was all by myself. I felt tiny, there among the massive, ancient trees. But safe, protected somehow, at home. Ever since that time, I have had a recurring dream of myself in that Rain Forest, but on a bicycle, coasting down hill both ways – there is no struggling pedaling up hills in dreams -the wind in my hair! Feeling free, and fully alive! Have you ever had a similar dream? Reminiscent of a primordial garden? The Garden of Delight?
It is a dream I wish would have no end. But as we know, reality is not all downhill coasting and verdant gardens. Real life, yours and mine, is made up of other experiences as well. We all have excruciating uphill climbs, barren wasteland stretches, fierce landscapes without and within, which we must also somehow traverse. Which brings us to another biblical garden which none of us can avoid: the Garden of Gethsemane. Literally “Gethsemane” means: “Olive press.” Last week, Holy Week for Christians around the world, we read once again the story of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, located by the Mount of Olives, when he was literally “pressed,” to the extremity of human suffering, crying out to God, “Is there any way that this cup can be removed from me???” We have all had our own Garden of Gethsemane experiences in our lives.
For me it was when my children were two, three, and six, and my marriage ended. The poverty level for a family of four at that time was $39,000. I was making $20,000, half the poverty level. Ashamed of my own poverty, when no one was around, I would go into the food pantry at the church where I served as Associate Pastor, for food to feed my children. I would say enthusiastically to my children, “How about breakfast for dinner?” “Yay!” they would exclaim, thinking it was fun. Little did they know that cereal was all we could afford, all we had.
During my own Gethsemane time, I was reading a bedtime story to my children, a book my sister had given my daughter for Christmas: “The Secret Garden,” by Frances Hodgson Burnett. This is a story about a young girl, 8-10 years old, whose parents have died of cholera, so she ends up living in a huge house in England with her mean uncle, who travels for his work, so is never there. In her grief and loss, she wanders the overgrown grounds, and discovers a Secret Garden.
It turns out that her uncle is grieving the loss of his wife, who had been an avid gardener. The little girl also discovers a hidden room in the rambling house. Locked away in the room is an “invalid” cousin. She befriends him, and each day regales him with tales of her Secret Garden. He begins to come back to life. Finally, she convinces the servants to put him in his wheelchair, and let him venture outside. The sunshine and fresh air invigorate the child. Before long, these two grieving cousins, are literally blooming into new life. As I read this book to my children every night for our bedtime story, I too began to come back to life.
At that same time my brother-in-law, who owns a nursery, asked if I wanted all of the sick or wounded trees and shrubs from what he called “the hospital wing” of his nursery. The yard of my home was a barren wasteland. I accepted his offer, and planted nineteen trees, as well as countless shrubs. For each tree, I dug a hole three feet wide by three feet deep. The vigorous physical exercise provided an outlet for all of the anger I felt over my divorce. I too began to bloom into new life.
Gethsemane is not the final garden. According to the Gospel of John, the Easter Gospel we read this Sunday, Jesus’ tomb was in a garden. We read that when Mary Magdalene went to the tomb, she thought Jesus was the gardener! I do not think she made a mistake. I think Jesus IS a gardener. Jesus is a gardener who wants to bring us back to Life, verdant, lush, abundant, resurrected Life!
A few months ago I received an amazing invitation. A woman heard about a ministry I serve, Church Beyond the Walls, and asked if she could volunteer to write grants for this ministry. Church Beyond the Walls is an outdoor street church, which ministers to people from all walks of life, many of them experiencing homelessness, loss, trauma, or their own Garden of Gethsemane. Last week this woman asked if I could go to a meeting to apply for a grant to begin a community Garden for Church Beyond the Walls and other similar nearby ministries.
I was in shock and awe! But because it was Holy Week, I was not able to attend the meeting. “Is there someone you could send in your place?” she asked. Immediately I thought of a member of our community, Pasquale, who is a gardener, who studies food as medicine, and nutritional healing, whose name, ironically, means “Easter.” He was thrilled to go in my place, and much more qualified than I. After the meeting he told me how the idea of this community garden, was like a blooming, a blossoming, within him. He is so excited to begin this project.
I think we will call it the Easter Garden! How many lives will be resurrected by our Easter Garden, and by Jesus, the Gardener? I am convinced that Mary Magdalene did not “mistake” Jesus for the gardener. I think Jesus IS, in fact, the Gardener. I believe Jesus wants to bring all of us back to Life, verdant, abundant, new, resurrected Life!
This day, may you see glimpses of resurrection Life in all you encounter,
and may you reflect the One who is OUR Resurrection and OUR Life to all you encounter!
Linda Forsberg, Copyright March 29, 2016
Photos: Linda at Glacier National Park; Linda walking up Multnomah Falls, Oregon; Te, Redwood National Park, CA; Linda, 100 kilometer bicycle ride, Nova Scotia; Linda, White Sands National Park, NM; Linda hiking Kitchen Mesa, Ghost Ranch, Abiquiu, NM; Glen Manor gardens, Portsmouth, RI; Linda Jedediah Smith State Redwood Park, CA; Sylvie planting Easter flowers; Sylvie and I making a Secret Garden for mommy’s birthday; Community Garden, Fairfield, CT; Garden near Mount Hood, OR
From the Inside Out: What Ash Wednesday is Really All About
Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday. I will be administering lots of ashes. From 8:00-10:00 AM I will be administering ashes outside, in Kennedy Plaza, to people rushing to work. Kennedy Plaza is “next door” to Burnside Park, where Church Beyond the Walls gathers each Saturday, for worship, followed by a simple meal, and fellowship in Christ. We are literally “taking it to the streets,” and I urge other clergy to do the same. In our post modern world, many peoples’ lives are changing. “Church” is no longer the center of peoples’ lives. Other commitments, some of them extremely important, like work and family, and making ends meet, take priority. So, following the way of Jesus, we will go out to where the people are, Beyond the Walls.
Okay, so it might sound weird, but I love Ash Wednesday. I love it because it is sobering. It is sobering to smudge my finger into ashes from last year’s Palm/Passion Sunday palms, symbolic of our heart’s fickleness, we who shout “Hosanna” in one breath, then “Crucify him!” with our very next breath. It is sobering to hear the words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” I like the sound of it in Spanish: “Recuerde que eres polvo y al polvo volveras.” “Polvo” sounds so shocking. “Dust.” Sometimes we need to be whacked upside the head.
The thing that strikes me about all of the readings for Ash Wednesday is that they all emphasize that it is not the externals that matter, but what is inside. Even wonderful, helpful, gracious acts can leave someone feeling hollow or looked down upon, if our heart is not in the right place. Tomorrow I am choosing to use the alternative reading from the Hebrew Bible: Isaiah 58: 1-12:
The people ask God, “‘Why have we fasted, and you have not seen it?…Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?’ Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking one another with wicked fists…Is this the kind of day I have chosen, only for people to humble themselves?…Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke.to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter – when you see the naked to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear!”
In other words, “Get out of your “SELF” and notice the needs of those around you! Don’t act all humble and righteous in your relationship with God, if you are not living that relationship out in your human relationships. That is why Jesus’ greatest commandment holds our relationship with God and our relationships with others together: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength AND love your neighbor as you love yourself.” The two simply cannot be separated.
My beloved friend and mentor, Rev. Carl Bloomquist, who now lives in the fullness of God’s presence, told me of a time when he preached a challenging sermon about how we cannot separate our relationship with God from our relationships with other people. A woman walked out of church and said obsequiously, while shaking his hand, “What a wonderful sermon, pastor!” Within the hour, he was on the highway, heading to his next event, when a car whizzed by him, and the driver flipped him the finger! As the driver and he exchanged glances, he was horrified to see that it was the woman who had just praised his sermon, giving him the finger on the highway! Of course, she had not known that the driver she was flipping off was her pastor, until it was too late. I commend him for never telling me who she was. But a couple of years ago, she “fessed up” to me.
It does not matter that she treated her pastor this way. What really matters is that she would treat anyone that way. If we truly see the face of God in all we encounter, then wouldn’t we treat everyone as holy? As sacred? Shouldn’t we see the face of God in all we encounter? The poor? They hungry? The oppressed? The one without a roof over her head? The addicted? The surly? The difficult? The challenging?
In the Gospel for Ash Wednesday, (Matthew 6:1-6; 16-21), Jesus tells us not to do what we do to be noticed by others, but only to do what we do as an act of love and devotion to God.
Can you join me this Lent on a forty day journey to the cross? And beyond that, to the resurrection? Can you, beginning Ash Wednesday, examine your heart, and where your heart is at? Can you take note of all those times your heart is on you, rather than on someone else? Even humility can be a form of self-absorption. Even fasting, almsgiving and prayer can be all about “US.” When we fail to notice the deep yearning and deep needs of those around us, we are flipping God off.
Polvo. Dust. That’s what we are sometimes. Thanks be to God Lent is about turning, which is what “repentance” literally means. Turning from inside, OUT, to see the face of God in all we encounter. Maybe then our faces will also reflect the face of God to those we encounter. Thanks be to God Ash Wednesday reminds us that we are dust, but dust which the Spirit can still breathe life into! May we all see God on the streets.
This day, may you see the face of God in all you encounter,
and may you reflect the face of God to all you encounter.
Linda Forsberg, Copyright February 9, 2016
Photos: Victoria, exiting the Cloisters, NYC; Sign for Church Beyond the Walls, Providence, RI; sharing ashes; sign from garden at Salve Regina University (Catherine McAuley is the Foundress of the Sisters of Mercy); youth on Good Friday Stations of the Cross walk; man in Balboa Park, San Diego; Kassie and friend, Good Friday Stations of the Cross walk, East Greenwich, RI
Let Justice Roll Like Streams
This coming weekend, the Gospel reading is one of my favorites. It is the story of Jesus , immediately after his baptism, entering the synagogue in his home town of Nazareth, and being handed the scroll of Isaiah. It says he opened it to the place where it was written:
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
After rolling up the scroll and sitting down, Jesus said, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4: 14-21; Isaiah 61:1)
This is one of my favorite passages in the bible. I had it framed in the sacristy at the church where I serve, so that it would be the last thing I would see before I walked out to preach my sermon.
Isn’t this what we are all called to preach and teach and live and embody? Isn’t this the Good News that we are called to share with this world?
This week I began teaching classes again at nearby Salve Regina University. I teach two sections of “The Quest for the Ultimate: Dialogue with Global Religious Traditions.” I begin with a film, made about fifteen years ago by National Geographic, called “In God’s Name.” It is an amazing film made by two young brothers, Jules and Gideon Naudet, French film makers who happened to be in New York City on September 11, 2001, making a documentary film about New York City firefighters. There they were, outside with their cameras running, when the Twin Towers were hit by terrorist attacks. Not only did they capture this on film, but they themselves were also caught in the middle of it, running with the crowds through the streets, fearing that they would die. Living through this experience made them ask Life’s Big Questions: “What is this human life all about? Is there a God? If there is a God and this God is good, why did God allow this to happen? Where was God that day?”
They realized, “Who better to ask than the greatest spiritual leaders of our times?” So they set out on a quest to find answers to these questions. They travelled around the world, and spent a full day engaging in deep conversations with twelve of the greatest spiritual leaders and teachers: the Pope, the Dalai Lama, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Ayatollah of Shiite Muslims, the Allamah of Sunni Muslims, the Archbishop of the Russian Orthodox Church, an Orthodox Ashkenazi Rabbi in Israel, etc.
So I have my Salve students, who have since 9/11 witnessed many more terrorist attacks done in the name of religion, begin their “Quest” by watching this film and asking their own big questions. One of the most common questions which both the film makers and the students asked is, “What are the things that unite all of the worlds’ greatest religions, and why can’t we focus on what unites us, rather than on what divides us?” In fact, that is why I teach this course, because in some small way I feel that learning about the beliefs of people of other faiths helps to create mutual understanding, tolerance, and respect, and in this way, contribute to peace in this world.
The final words in the film, were those of my own former National Bishop, Rev. Mark Hanson, who proclaimed: “There are two things we all share: our common humanity, and this common planet.” The film also emphasized that we all also share a belief in God, and a belief that we live out our faith in the way we treat others: in lives of love and justice.
I told the students that when we, as people of different religious traditions,work together toward a common goal – like protecting our planet, or ending poverty – we set aside our differences, and focus on that purpose which unties us. I told them about the World Council of Churches, and its smaller, local counterpart: the RI State Council of Churches. I told them about the Vigil that was held on Epiphany, January 6, at the RI State Capital, the day the governor and all of the state legislatures were sworn in. Muslims, Jews, Christians of all denominations, Buddhists, Hindus, and Native Americans, all gathered at the State House in Vigil to speak out as one voice to our governmental legislatures against poverty, to “Let justice flow like streams”(Amos 5:24).
Justice goes beyond charity. Justice speaks not only to individuals but to structures and systems. A famous illustration is the story of people in a small village who every day would go down to the stream to gather water, and find wounded or dead bodies floating in the stream. Every day they would rescue the wounded from the stream and tend to their wounds. Every day they would remove the bodies of those who had died from the stream, to give them a proper and compassionate burial. That is charity. But justice entails walking upstream to discover the cause of so many wounded and dying, and to advocate for the end of whatever it is that is causing so much harm.
This day, may we have the courage to walk together upstream
may we have the courage to do justice,
to let justice flow down like overflowing streams,
to see God in all we encounter, and to reflect God to all we encounter.
Linda Forsberg, Copyright January 21, 2016
Photos: Glacier National Park; Rabbi Ben Lefkowitz, with students and scroll; Administrative Building, Salve Regina University; New York City Skyline, Freedom Tower; Hannah with peace doves, Sanctuary Lutheran Church, Marshfield, MA; garden stone at Salve Regina University, Catherine McAuley is the founders of the Sisters of Mercy; waterfall, Multnomah Falls, Columbia River Gorge, OR
The Church Beyond the Walls
I am very excited because this week I officially became the “Missioner”of a community I have been involved with for the past two years called the “Church Beyond the Walls.” (I also continue serving as pastor at First Lutheran Church of East Greenwich, RI.) CBW is an outdoor street church, which follows the radical hospitality of Jesus. That means that ALL are truly welcome. This Saturday at 2:00 PM our CBW community will gather in Burnside Park in Providence, right next to Kennedy Plaza. The forecast says it will rain. We will gather anyway, as we do each Saturday, in rain, cold, snow, scorching heat, or lovely weather. We gather. We gather around the eucharistic table, there in the park, to be fed with the Word of God and the sacrament of holy communion. We gather to experience God-made-flesh for us in Word and Sacrament, and God-made-flesh for us in each other.
I love the way the Gospel is preached at the Church Beyond the Walls. The entire community reads the Gospel text together. Then the “preacher” cracks it open, by explaining it a little, giving some examples, and asking some questions. Then the whole community enters the biblical Story, the Story of God’s saving love for us, by sharing our stories: stories of sin and forgiveness, stories of endings and new beginnings, stories of brokenness and being made whole, stories of turning away from God’s presence, and stories of God inviting us to return Home, to come back into the embrace of God’s saving love. My favorite part of our worship is when we share these personal stories.
Four years ago when I went on sabbatical the topic I focused on was building community. I travelled to Turkey and Greece, to visit some of the places where the earliest Christian communities developed. I studied and wrote about the way Christian communities develop today. My theory is that just as Jesus gathered a community around him, and shared stories of God’s saving love and food (Word and Sacrament), building a community through deep, authentic relationships, so that is how we still build a sense of community today. Just as the earliest Christian communities gathered in small groups in house churches and outdoor places, and shared Jesus’ stories, and the eucharistic meal he told them to share again and again “in remembrance of me,” so we today build community, and experience God-made-flesh in sharing our stories, our own personal experience of God’s saving love, and in sharing the the eucharistic meal. Today, in Burnside Park, Christ is present in bread, in juice, and in the CBW community of sisters and brothers.
The early Christian communities then ended their time of worship with a fiesta, literally called an “agape meal” (pronounced “ah-gah-pay”). “Agape” is a Greek word for love, a word that the New Testament uses for God’s love, as experienced in Jesus Christ. The agape meal is literally a “love feast,” or an ancient potluck, because in the middle east, in ancient times and still today, we become one with others when we break bread together, when we share a meal together, when we celebrate together. As we break bread, we continue to share our stories, the stories of our daily lives, where we have experienced God’s presence during the past week. As we eat, and share our stories, we know Christ is with us, just as the earliest disciples experienced the risen Christ, as they gathered around a table for an agape meal.
Another thing I love about CBW is the invitation to the table:
“This is Christ’s table. Come, you who feel weak, and unworthy, you who come often, and you who have stayed away. Come you who love Jesus, and you who wish you could. Come sinners and saints, women and men, gay and straight. Come you who are sober, and you who are not. Come you who are homeless and you who have a place to rest your heads. Come you who are citizens of this land and you who are not. Here you are citizens of the kingdom of God. Now join God’s people at this feast prepared for you from the beginning of the world.”
Isn’t this what the Christian community in all places should be about? Shouldn’t every church, even those with walls, welcome all the people of God? Shouldn’t every Christian community follow the radical hospitality of Jesus?
How amazing that the Gospel for this week is the story of Jesus’ first miracle, or “sign,” at the wedding of Cana in Galilee. Marriage is about covenant. At almost every wedding at which I officiate, I quote the line from my favorite play, Les Miserables: “To love another is to see the face of God.” Each Saturday, I see the face of God in the faces of my sisters and brothers in our CBW community. My heart is glad and grateful as I look forward to celebrating our “marriage” this Saturday. Please pray for our CBW community and for me this Saturday, as we make a covenant with each other and celebrate our new beginning together.
This day, may you see God’s Light in all you encounter,
and may you reflect that Light to all you encounter.
Linda Forsberg, Copyright January 14, 2016
Photos: The eucharistic table at CBW; the altar at Pentecost, with Waylon and Linda; sharing time; our musicians, Maia and Sean; the eucharistic table; the whole CBW community; open cross, Stations of the Cross path, Christ in the Desert Benedictine Monastery, Abiquiu, NM