Fall Cleaning: Getting Rid of the Clutter in Our Souls

Fall Cleaning: Getting Rid of the Clutter in Our Souls

img_1967Last week we shifted into the season of autumn. The nights have grown cooler, the days shorter. There is a crispness to the air. Our bodies begin longing for soups and stews, the comfort foods of fall. Perhaps like me you are about to pack away the shorts, tank tops, and sandals, and take out the sweaters, jackets, and long pants. Perhaps like me you also long to clean out some of the clutter that accumulated over the lazy months of summer, to make room for the indoor activities of all. I always itch to do fall cleaning.

IMG_4584I am reading a book by Joyce Rupp called The Cup of Our Lives in preparation for a women’s retreat I will be leading in November. In this book Rupp invites us to select one of our favorite cups or mugs. She asks us to hold it in our hands, and to imagine it as representative of our lives. She reminds us that God longs to fill our cups – that is “us” – with God’s presence, but too often we are not open to this because our lives are cluttered with other things. Just like the rooms of our houses get cluttered with too much stuff, so also our inner lives get cluttered with too much stuff. Sometimes it’s easier to clear out the clothes that no longer fit, or the shoes that have grown too shabby, the plastic containers which no longer have lids, or the junk mail that’s accumulated in our “pile,” than it is to clear out the clutter that’s clogging our souls.

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Since I got back from vacation about a month ago, I have had problems with “storage” on my electronic devices. This often happens because I take too many photographs on vacation. The “genius” at the Apple Store actually told me, “Your devices don’t have the energy to shoot your photographs up into “the Cloud,” because they are too bogged down, too clogged up with photos.” I have an appointment later this week to straighten things out. Then a couple of days ago, I read Rupp’s chapter on “the cluttered cup of my life.” “How ironic,” I thought to myself. Is my soul also too clogged up and cluttered that I do not have the energy to focus on what really matters in this life?

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In our community of faith we have many young families. Many of them are pulled in multiple directions: both parents are working; this child has so many activities, and the other child has just as many at the same time but in a different place. I remember those days. The spiritual activities of communities of faith seem like just a lot more things to do, more stuff to clutter up peoples’ lives. At a recent clergy meeting colleagues of all different faiths said that attendance at church or temple or synagogue is continuing to decline because people are simply stretched too thin, with too much to do and too little time. Our lives feel more clogged and cluttered than ever. One of the Rabbis said, “I think people come to us to find meaning and purpose in their lives. I think we need to take a long, hard look at what we are doing, and ask ourselves if we are helping people to find meaning and purpose in their lives. I think we need to eliminate everything else, and focus solely on that.” His words have stayed with me.

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Rupp says we sometimes cling to things we really need to let go of. Maybe it’s old ways of doing things that no longer serve us in our lives. Maybe its practices or patterns that are no longer life-giving, and should be eliminated. Maybe there is simply “too much” inside our souls: too much self-chatter, too many regrets, too much negativity, too many “shoulds” and “woulds” and “coulds.” Rupp reminds us that we need to empty ourselves to make room for something new that God is longing to give to us. A friend of mine said that she never buys new clothes, without giving away as many pieces of clothing as she buys. I have begun to practice this in my own life. Something must be removed before something new can be received.

GRSS_018This autumn, as you fall clean your closets and the physical rooms where you live, can you ask God to clean out the mess and the clutter in the deep recesses of your soul? Can you let God remove the things in your soul that need to be eliminated to make room for the new life God desires for you?

This day, may you begin to make room for the Holy One within.
Copyright September 27, 2016

Photos: Chapel, Iona; Retreat Center, MA; blowing bubbles with Sylvie, Lynn, MA; chapel, Iona; the road to Casa del Sol, Ghost Ranch, Abiquiu, NM

 

I AM

I AM

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I just began teaching a World Religions course at Salve Regina University, called “The Quest for the Ultimate.” I always begin with an introductory film. The day before classes began, I went over to check out my newly renovated classroom. My film got stuck in the brand new, high tech DVD player! The Tech Expert who was installing all of the equipment could not eject my DVD either. Ditto the people at Tech Support. Thankfully, my experience as a single mom all those long years taught me to ALWAYS have a back up plan.

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My back up plan turned out to be a big hit with the students. I showed them a different film, a film called “I AM.” It is an independent documentary made and directed by Tom Shadyac, who directed such well-known blockbuster hits as Liar, Liar, Bruce Almighty, the Nutty Professor, and Ace Ventura, Pet Detective, and others. He “discovered” Jim Carrey, who stars in most of his films. He was a tremendous Hollywood “Success.” A single guy, he lived in a 17,000 square foot mansion in Beverly Hills. Then one day, he had a bicycle accident. He suffered a traumatic brain injury. He was in excruciating pain. He couldn’t bear the sight of light. He was told that he might never recover.

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He felt suicidal. His confrontation with death, ironically, changed his life. His pain began to dissipate. He began to look at life from a whole new perspective. He realized that, for all of his wealth and success, he was not truly happy. He set out on his own Quest. With a film crew of four, as opposed to 400, the number that usually worked on one of his films, he embarked on his Quest. He interviewed many of the great teachers and thinkers who had inspired him throughout his life: Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn (whose People’s History of the United States rocked my world), Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu (I have have heard him speak at several different events), Lynn McTaggert, Thom Hartman, (I never heard of either of them) and Coleman Barks (the leading expert on the Sufi mystic and poet, Rumi, also one of my favorite poets. I met Barks a year ago at a poetry reading). He asked each of these great thinkers two questions, “What is wrong with the world? “ and “What can I do about it?”

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All of these great thinkers said pretty much the same thing: that for the last few hundred years we have lived in a Newtonian world, where we apply Newton’s mechanistic laws of cause and effect on humanity. But humans are not machines. Secondly, in the United States, and many other “developed” nations, we follow a system of competition, based on Darwin’s theory of “survival of the fittest.” These two approaches combined have left a few “winners” at the top of the pyramid, and crushed those at the bottom. Plus, those at “the top,” like Shadyac himself before his “epiphany,” despite all of their “stuff,” lack a sense of meaning.

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All of the great thinkers Shadyac consulted say that there is emerging in our world today a new way of thinking: cooperation rather than competition; compassion as opposed to mechanistic cause and effect. The great thinkers Shadyac consulted all claim that as human beings we are actually hard-wired more for compassion than we are for competition. Darwin’s On the Origin of Species mentions “survival of the fittest” only twice, and Love about ninety times!!! Shadyac’s film shows scientific experiments from the animal kingdom of cooperation rather than competition. It also shows indigenous cultures which are communal rather than individualistic. In the animal kingdom, animals kill to eat, to survive. But animals never take or kill more than they need to survive. Among ancient Native Americans, there was no such thing as poverty, for in a communal culture, everyone’s survival was bound together. Hunters would share the hunt with every member of the tribe, including the young and the elders, those who were not able to hunt for themselves, knowing that the young ones and the elders contributed to the good of the tribe in other ways. The children brought joy to the tribe, and the elders wisdom. These gifts were as valued as the food brought back by the hunters. To take more than you need was considered a sickness, mental illness.
Shadyac looked at his 17,000 share foot mansion, filled with “stuff,” and saw it in a new light: as a form of mental illness. “Why do I need so much “stuff”? He asked himself?
But in our contemporary American culture, not all gifts are valued equally. Those at the “top” could care less about everyone else. “What’s wrong with the world?” Shadyac asked. He realized, “I AM.”

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He changed his life. He sold his mansion, and most of his “stuff.” He created an I AM Foundation, which donates his wealth to many worthy causes. He moved into a modest mobile home community. He began teaching his new ideas to the next generation at a local college. He set out on his Quest and discovered what’s RIGHT about the world: I AM.
In the Judeo-Christian tradition, I AM is the name for the God who was, and who is, and who ever shall be. Moses encountered this I AM God in the burning bush. The Gospel of John equates Jesus with the great I AM in the many I AM statements Jesus makes: I AM the bread of life; I AM the Good Shepherd; I AM the Way, the Truth, and the Life; I AM the light of the world.

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I urge you to watch this film. You will be inspired.
Perhaps you will realize, like Shadyac, that the answer to the question “What’s wrong with the world?” is “I am.” You and I, stuck in the model of mechanistic action and competition, and the mental illness of too much “stuff” are what’s wrong with the world.
Perhaps you will also discover, with Shadyac, that the answer to the question, “What’s right with the world?” can be answered the same way: I am. When you and I awaken to the great I AM who is not just within some of us but who is within ALL OF US, then we can stop being part of the problem, and become part of the solution. This day, are you bending toward the Light?

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This day, may you see the great I AM in all you encounter,
and may you reflect the great I AM to all you encounter.
Linda Forsberg, Copyright, September 14, 2016

Photos:  Linda on the path to Multnomah Falls; OR; Salve Regina University; Tunnel, Cliff Walk, Newport, RI; Quote by Catherine McAuley, founders of the Sisters of Mercy, Salve Regina University; Broken Heart sculpture, Garden for Compassionate Friends, for parents ho have lost children, Providence, RI; Man sitting at Balboa Park, San Diego, CA; the reservoir, Newport, RI; Victoria at The Cloisters, NYC

The Heroic Journey Home

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The Heroic Journey Home

Next week means Back to School for many. For me it means back to Salve Regina University, where I begin another semester teaching a required World Religions course, “The Quest for the Ultimate.” The Quest is about the most heroic journey any of us will ever make: the journey Home. The journey Home is the journey into the Ultimate dimension of life; it is a journey into the Home that is God. The journey is also one of the fiercest, most grueling adventures we will ever take, for it is a journey that takes place within us. Sometimes, it also takes place externally.

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When I was twenty-one years old, I read a book that changed my life. It was called, Merton’s Palace of Nowhere: Discovering God through a Discovery of Your True Self, by James Finley, a student of the great Roman Catholic mystic, Thomas Merton. In this book Finley says that we all go through our lives adding layer upon layer to the masks that we wear: the roles we play in our families, in school, in our careers. But at some point we grow weary of wearing so many layers of armor. We long for freedom from this heaviness we carry around with us, day by day. We experience some kind of epiphany, or sense some kind of an invitation, to begin the process of peeling away the layers, one by one. We begin to peel away the masks with which life has clothed us. Somewhere, beneath it all, we find a spark flickering beneath the dark, heavy sheaths of roles and expectations and responsibilities. We glimpse who we really are: our True Self, and in so doing, we find God within.

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This summer, in preparation for my vacation to Ireland, England, Wales, and Scotland, I did some reading. One book I read is called, Ireland, by Frank Delaney. It is a beautiful story of a young boy and his life-changing encounter with an old Story Teller. On one occasion, the Story Teller begins his tale: “I’m greatly drawn to epic people.The heroic in humanity is something for which we should all reach in ourselves.” Joseph Campbell, in his epic, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, tells us that the great heroes of every religious tradition – Moses, Buddha, Mary, Jesus, Muhammad – all follow the same pattern: call (invitation); setting out on the “journey;” testing in the “wilderness;”and finally returning Home. Strengthened from the time of testing, the heroes are ready to begin their mission to fulfill their Call, by sharing their experience with others, and inviting them into this process, this Heroic Journey Home.

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It seems that the summer months are often a time for journeying. Many people travel on vacation. For others it is a time of breaking the day-in, day-out pattern of school, or work, or routine. But by the end of my vacation, I began to itch for Home. I felt that deep longing for the beloved familiar.

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How about you? Where has life’s journey led you? Do you hear the invitation? “Come Home.” May this blog be an invitation to you, no matter how far you have wandered, how long your journey, how many your burdens, how grueling or challenging the testing, God invites you to come Home. Come home to a community of faith.  If you are in Rhode Island, Come Home to First Lutheran Church, or to the Church Beyond the Walls.  Come home to God.

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This day may you see God in all you encounter,

and may you reflect God to all you encounter.

Linda Forsberg, Copyright August 31, 2016

Photos:  Ted, on the cliffs overlooking Tintagel Castle, England; the path to the light house, near Portland, OR; Linda Tintagel Castle, England; Ted, Great Dunes, CA; Ted and Iznik at Home:  Second Beach, Newport, RI; Ted and Sylvie, Marblehead, MA

Celtic Spirituality for Today: Traveling Deeper into My Roots

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(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. 

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(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). 

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(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. IMG_0415 (1)

(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! 

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(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.

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(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. 

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(the entrance to Saint Juliana’s one room cell, Norwich, England)IMG_1084

(the exterior to Juliana’s one room hermitage, Norwich, England)IMG_1136

(Norwich Cathedral)

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. 

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(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.

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(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 Resurrection Today

The Cross and the Resurrection Today

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(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.

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(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.

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(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!

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(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.

IMG_7609(Station 3:  Sarah and Catherine Thenault, member of Church Beyond the Walls, at Korean War Memorial)
IMG_7611(Station 4:  Sarah and Pasquale Moretti, member of Church Beyond the Walls, and Catherine taking photo, at World War II Memorial)

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(Our walk by the River, the Point Street Bridge in the distance)

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(Station 5:  Irish Famine Memorial)

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(Station 5: Irish Famine Memorial. Is it not reminiscent of Michelangelo’s Pieta?)

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IMG_7622(Looking back over Providence’s skyline)

IMG_7623(Station 6: Garden of Compassionate Friends, Parents who have lost children)

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(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)

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(Bearing the cross across “Tent City” field)

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(Station 8:  Former site of Confetti’s Nightclub, where many deaths by shooting took place)

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IMG_7637(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.

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(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.

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(Station 10:  Site of former church,  which turned into former strip club/brothel, now turned a very nice upscale pub)

IMG_7648(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!

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(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

An Easter Garden

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

DSCN2933For 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

IMG_3240A 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.

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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.

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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!

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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

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