What Keeps You Up at Night?

What Keeps You Up at Night?

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Maia is a young woman who, for the past two years, was our music leader at the Church Beyond the Walls, an outside street church in Burnside Park, downtown, Providence, RI. At just 16 years old, week after week, every Saturday at 2:00 PM, Maia drove from her suburban home to downtown Providence, found parking, walked alone through the city streets carrying a large djembe drum, found her way to Burnside Park, and served as our music leader, our Songbird, as CBW named her. CBW is a beloved community of people from every walk of life, and to me a glimpse of the kingdom of God. But CBW can also be a rowdy and rambunctious crowd. CBW is a community of people of every race and ethnicity; of every economic and educational level; of young and old, gay and straight; some housed, many not; most sober, some not. One day a guy OD’d during our worship, so we had to call 911. After Maia had been our music leader for a few weeks, I asked her how she felt about it. She thought deeply for a moment, then responded, “I like it a lot.” Long pause. “It makes me feel so…uncomfortable.”

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Maia did not mean “uncomfortable” in a “bad” way. Maia has heard me quote the words that were written on a huge banner in the chapel at Harvard Divinity School years ago when I was a student there – words which continue to spur me on:
“Jesus Christ came to comfort the disturbed, and to disturb the comfortable.”
This past Sunday at church I gave everyone an index card. I asked them to write down one action they took in the last couple of days that made them feel really uncomfortable, but they did it anyway, because as a follower of Jesus, they believed it was the right thing to do. Some people really had to think about it. Some people’s index cards were blank. They REALLY need to think about THAT.

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How about YOU? What is ONE ACTION you did this week as a follower of Jesus, that made you really uncomfortable, but you did it anyway because you knew it was the right thing to do? Or maybe you are not a follower of Jesus, but you did something that made you feel really uncomfortable because you knew it was the right thing to do. In this week’s Gospel Jesus challenges us: “take up our cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save your life will lose it; but whoever loses your life for my sake and for the sake of the Gospel will find it.” (Matthew 16: 24-25) I ask you, does that sound “comfortable”?

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A month ago I went to Gamaliel Community Organizer Training. It was a grueling, challenging week-long class, the same community organizing program done by President Obama. Throughout that challenging week, we were asked to identify our “Self Interest.” I still do not like that name. I think of it instead as our “Passion,” or in Hinduism, our “Dharma.” Our life path or life purpose. The thing we were put on this earth to do. Another way Gamaliel described it is, “What keeps you up at night? What keeps you from sleeping? What is going on in this world that is so disturbing, so challenging to you that it burns you up inside?” The prophet Jeremiah said, “I want to keep silent, but there is a fire burning in my bones, and I cannot keep silent.” (Jer. 20:9) What keeps YOU up at night?

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At Gamaliel training, I knew instantly: for me it is INEQUALITY. Sexism, racism, homophobia, every form of inequality that says to another “you are LESS THAN…” I grew up in the Church. I grew up hearing that God created every human being in God’s own image and likeness. I grew up learning that God loves EVERYONE God created, and so should we. But was that the reality I saw all around me as a little kid growing up during the 1960’s? Was that the reality I saw even in my church? HELL NO! So I have spent my life trying to do something about it.

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All these years later, is that the reality we see in our world today? HELL NO. And I’ll tell you, it has been keeping me up at night.
So it is time. It is TIME for all of us who can’t sleep at night because of the horrific inequalities we see all around us, to get out of our comfort zones, and TAKE ACTION. TO DO SOMETHING about it.

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At Gamaliel, one of the kick-ass instructors went over to a quiet member of the class, got in his face, and asked him, “What keeps YOU up at night?” He told her his anger about the treatment of LBGTQ persons in the world, and in the church. She said, “Yeah, well what are you doing with all of that anger you feel?” He said, “Well, I’m mostly stuffing it down inside.” She said, “How’s that working for you?” He said, “Not very well. It has turned into deep depression and frustration.” Then she said something I will never forget. She said, “We forget that there are a LOT of people who feel like we do, and that if we all got together TO DO SOMETHING about it, we could bust out of this jail! But instead we quietly stuff it down inside.”

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Here in RI, over the next couple of months, the RI State Council of Churches is hosting a five week anti-racism facilitators training called “Merciful Conversations: Let’s Talk about Race.” Then those people will train others, and those people will train others, and those people will train others. And there will be a grass root, ripple effect. We will move a step or two closer toward becoming the Beloved Community. If you are in RI, you can register at the RISCC website.

One thing is for sure. We will ALL feel very “uncomfortable.” There will be many many sleepless nights. But at least we’ll be DOING SOMETHING about it!
If in the last few days you have not done anything that has made you feel uncomfortable, you need to be a big enough person to own that. You are not serving God and this world by being “comfortable.”
Jesus Christ came to comfort the disturbed, and to DISTURB THE COMFORTABLE.

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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 September 5, 2017

Resist Hate Celebrate Diversity THAT Makes Us Great!

Resist Hate
Celebrate
Diversity
THAT Makes Us Great!

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Still reeling from the events in Charlottesville, VA, and wanting to DO something, to counteract such violence and hatred, so many of us have been asking, “What should we DO?” Family, friends and colleagues, clergy friends and colleagues in Boston are asking “What should we DO this Saturday, when Alt-Right members and Neo-Nazis will be gathering in Boston, preaching more hatred, more racism, more violence?” We can’t keep silent, and let the voice of hatred have the final word. But we also cannot stoop to their level, cannot become what we hate. As the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King said, quoting Jesus, “When we fight hatred with hatred, we only contribute to the amount of hatred in the world.” No, we must come up with a creative alternative. We must transform hatred with the only thing powerful enough to truly transform this world: Love.

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Two weeks ago I participated in Gamaliel Community Organizing Training, the same community organizing program that trained President Obama. At that training, each one of us participants was asked to figure out what Gamaliel calls our “Self Interest,” the thing that keeps us up at night. The thing we feel we were put here on this earth to fulfill, to change, to bring into being. Put positively, our “passion,” or what Joseph Campbell calls our “bliss.” For me that has always been EQUALITY. Radical equality of all people, following the example of Jesus. Anyone who knows me knows that I have devoted my entire life to fighting against sexism, racism, inequality of LBGTQ persons, and income inequality – inequality of any kind. At Gamaliel, we were told that whenever something challenges our deepest values, we must speak out, and we must ACT.

IMG_3079Last night, my husband, Ted, and I came up with an idea: to hand out American flags to everyone who feels that America is GREATEST when there is “Liberty and Justice for ALL.” Not just for rich, white men. We have seen a lot of confederate flags in the past week. That is NOT what makes America great. What makes us great is when we celebrate the diversity that makes us who we are as the United States. We need to reclaim our American flag, as a symbol of what really makes us great. We need to focus NOT on the things that divide us, but on the things that unite us. Now, when you see an American flag, know that it means an America that celebrates the greatest strength we have: our Diversity.

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One of the times I feel most proud of being an American is when I watch the Olympics. When I see the American flag flying high, I see black and white and brown Americans, and every shade of color the great Artist has made us, draped in the flag that makes us One. I see female and male athletes, cisgender and transgender, and folks all over the fluid spectrum we call “gender.” I see LBGTQ and straight. In the Olympics we do not say, “Even though you are the fastest, you cannot run this race because you are Muslim or Hindu, Jewish or Buddhist, Sikh or Baha’i, or practice Native American spirituality. We see Diversity in all its power and beauty, and THAT is what makes America great.
There are many more folks who feel this way than there are white supremacists. We have just let them make a lot of noise. It is time. It is time for all of us to celebrate the Diversity which makes us truly GREAT, the diversity that makes us the United States of America.
I do not want “to make America great again” by going back to the segregation of the forties and fifties, when women served you your coffee and LBGTQ folks were stuffed into suffocating closets. I believe America can be great NOW, when we:
Resist Hate
Celebrate
Diversity
THAT makes us great!

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May you see the Holy in all you encounter; may you reflect the Holy to all you encounter,
Linda Forsberg, Copyright August 17, 2017

Photos:  Hannah and Peace Wall at Sanctuary Lutheran Church, Marshfield, MA; original artwork of Genesis 1 and 2, created for Vacation Bible School, Victoria Forsberg-Lary; Mural from Trinity Lutheran Church, Manhattan; Quilt of Color, Our Lady of Calvary Retreat House, Farmington, CT; original artwork created for Vacation Bible School by Victoria Forsberg-Lary

True Love

True Love

day3-copyToday is Valentine’s Day. A day ironically hated by many single people, and even by some coupled people, like my husband, who does not want Hallmark to dictate the way or the day he is to express his love for me. Having spent more of my life single than coupled, I never did like Valentine’s day all that much myself.

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But today I re-read some of “Revelations of Divine Love” by my favorite mystic, Saint Juliana of Norwich, after whom my third child is named. Ironically, as I began to read Juliana, my daughter Juliana called me on the telephone, to tell me of a mystical experience she just experienced, and, on this Valentine’s day, to tell me she loved me.
So I wish to write briefly about True Love. A love not human in origin, but experienced by all who open their hearts to receive it.

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I teach World Religions at nearby Salve Regina University. Next semester I hopefully will be offering a second course in Christian Spirituality. In preparation for that, I have been re-acquainting myself with the Christian mystics, by reading an amazing book called “Light from Light: An Anthology of Christian Mysticism,” Edited by Louis Dupre and James Wiseman.

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This book invites the reader into the mystical experiences of twenty-five saints or mystics, throughout Christian history. A “mystic,” in my own simple definition, is a person who has had a direct personal experience of the presence of God in her/his life.

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Each of the world’s major religions has its own mystics. In our Judeo-Christian tradition, we see many such examples in the bible. As a young teen, my first immersion into the bible was the book of Psalms. It began as a confirmation assignment, which I grudgingly did in the car on the drive to confirmation class. But when I read the Psalms (which literally means “Songs,” and is a book of ancient song lyrics), they began to tug at my heart. A typical young teenager, my heart was filled with extreme emotions that wrestled with each other: feelings of joy and elation when I did well in school or sports or when that boy I liked liked me back, feelings that plunged toward despair when I witnessed the horrors of war, death, prejudice, cruelty, on the daily news. But here in the book of Psalms, the songwriter wrote of all of that – of the whole spectrum of this human life with all of its joys and beauty, and all of its struggles and heartache. I began to read the book of Psalms in my bedroom late at night, finding solace for my young soul.

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Without realizing it, as I pondered the Psalmist’s words, I entered into meditation…or what I later learned was called “contemplative prayer.” Through praying with the Psalms, I would on occasion have a direct experience of God’s presence, or, a “mystical experience.”  These experiences were reminiscent of earlier experiences I had had as a young child, mostly outdoors, for that is where my young soul is most at home. My first experience of God’s presence, in fact, was when as a toddler, I played in the sandbox in the backyard on a warm, sunny day.

IMG_1726My mother watched me from the kitchen window, where she spent so much of her time cooking or washing dishes. There in my backyard I was aware of a presence loving and protective, like my mother, as close to me as the breeze blowing through my friends, the trees, and caressing my face, or the breath in my body, enveloping me as the sun’s warmth and light. I knew I was loved.

Years later, as a young woman at Harvard Divinity School, I lived with a woman a few years older than I was, who “taught” me about contemplative prayer. My dear friend, Ginger, and I prayed together in our small apartment in Somerville, MA. But truly, it was no different than what I had been doing since I was a young child.

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Today as I meditated on the writing of Saint Juliana, and her experience of God’s love, I was lifted outside of myself into communion with this “sister” in spirit, who lived hundreds of years ago, and with God in whom we are One.

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In fact, each day, as I ponder the writings of a different mystic, I become part of that great mystical communion of saints.

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Some of us experience God’s presence through nature, that sand, those trees, that blue sky, that breeze, that sunlight. Some of us experience God’s presence through a sacred text. That could be any writing, poem, lyric that lifts you out of yourself and connects you to that which pervades and connects us all, that Spirit of Life, of Light, of Love.
I can assure you that, whether you are single or coupled, it does not matter. You are loved. Pretty much every mystic I read assures us that God is Love. So whether or not you receive chocolates or flowers or cards on this day, I hope your heart will open to receive the greatest gift of all. I hope you will know that you are loved.

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I close with the lyrics to a song, by Scottish Pastor George Matheson:

O Love that will not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in Thee,
I give Thee back the life I owe,
That in Thine Ocean’s depths its flow
May fuller richer be.

In God who is this Ocean,
this Love,

Linda Forsberg, Copyright February 14, 2017

This blog is dedicated to the two amazing Juliana’s in my life, Juliana of Norwich, and my daughter Juliana Forsberg-Lary

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Photos:  Painting by Victoria Forsberg-Lary; icon of Juliana  of Norwich; Cathedral of Saint Julian, Norwich, England; snow; icon of Saint Juliana; quote of Saint Juliana; Sylvie at Revere beach; Linda at beach in Greece; the Julian Center, Norwich, England; Saint Juliana’s anchorage, exterior; interior, Norwich, England; ceiling of Norwich Cathedral; painting by Victoria Forsberg Lary; Juliana and I, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

The Light No Darkness Can Overcome

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The Light No Darkness Can Overcome

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Many of the sacred texts for this season celebrate Light. “The people who walked in darkness, have seen a great light; all those living in a land of deep darkness, on us light has shined.” (Isaiah 9:2)

cropped-cropped-img_5962.jpgThis reading from the Hebrew Bible was addressed to the Jews during a time of darkness, when they had been conquered by their enemies, and were living in captivity in Baylon. For over 2000 years it has been re-appropriated by Christians to celebrate Christ, the Light of the world, whose birth we celebrate on December 25.

IMG_5197We do not really know what time of year Jesus was born. It could have been spring, summer, or fall. We celebrate it on December 25, around the time of the winter solstice, to celebrate the long-awaited lengthening of days, and the returning of the light. This year, for one of the first times I can remember, the first day of Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, fell on Christmas Eve. Both Judaism and Christianity, which share the same roots, celebrated the Light no darkness can overcome. On Christmas day we read one of my favorite bible passages, the magnificent prologue from the Gospel of John: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. Through him all things were made, and without him not one thing was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of the world. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never overcome it.”

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Let’s face it, we live in dark times. If you listen to the news, you know that there is a great amount of darkness in our world. It was not much different when Isaiah wrote to the people of Israel some 2700-2800 years ago. Both on a global level, (for example in the Middle East, particularly Syria, in Germany), and on a personal level, people’s lives are filled with darkness. The day after Christmas I was called to come to the ICU to give last rites to a beloved member of our church family. It reminded me of just three years ago, when my own father died just five days after Christmas. For many this season of “Light” is so dark, that many people celebrate a Blue Christmas. I did this on December 21 at an assisted living residence which I serve as chaplain. We celebrated Christ’s birth in the midst of a time of remembrance for all those who had died during the past year: death and birth held together, darkness and light.

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The Episcopal Bishop of Rhode Island, the Right Reverend Nicolas Knisely, sent to us clergy a brief four minute Christmas message. Like my own message, his was about Light in the midst of darkness. Many people do not realize that he is a scientist. His Christmas message spoke of photons, the smallest bit of light, that can still be perceived with the human eye, that despite its minute size, can still push back the darkness.

Ted Top All Time  303 PicturesIn my sermon I told the true story of a young boy who lived on the Isle of Crete during World War II. The beautiful Isle of Crete, which I had the privilege of visiting some five years ago, was occupied by the Nazis and devastated by Nazi bombings during World War II. This young boy combed the devastated countryside, looking for something to play with amidst the rubble. He came upon a rearview mirror, from a wrecked Nazi motorcycle. This became his most prized possession. He derived great joy from seeing how he could maneuver it to reflect light into dark caves and deep crevices in the earth. What joy it brought him to shine Light into the darkest places!

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Isn’t that our job today? To seek those bits of light in the darkest places? Also to reflect that Light of God into the darkest of places and situations in our world today?
Christmas continues for twelve days, culminating in the Feast of Epiphany, which is also about Light, the brilliant, radiant light of that Star, which guided the Magi on their long and arduous journey to the Christ child. In the early Church three events were all celebrated together, and called “Epiphany:” the birth of Christ, the visit of the Magi, and the baptism of our Lord. Each of these three events was indeed a kind of “epiphany” – a manifestation or showing forth or revelation of Light.

cropped-img_4803.jpgDuring this Christmas/Hanukkah/Epiphany Season, this celebration of Light, may you and I on our own journeys of life seek those glimpses of Light in the midst of the darkness of our world today. May we be like those photons, realizing that even in our smallness, we are able to push back the darkness. May we see the Light of God in all we encounter, and may we reflect that light to all we encounter, that Light no darkness can overcome!
Let your light shine!

Linda Forsberg, Copyright December 27, 2017

Photos:  Tunnel, Cliff Walk, Newport, RI; the Reservoir, Newport, RI; trail to Multnomah Falls, OR; Zach, newly born; misty morning in the Catskills; Chapel at Iona, Scotland; night sky; Carlsbad Caverns, NM; Christmas Tree, Second Beach, Newport, RI

Love Trumps Hate, Always

Love Trumps Hate, Always

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A deep chasm has nearly divided our nation. Whenever you have an election this close, where one candidate wins the popular vote and the other the electoral vote, a nation is deeply divided. While I and most of those I love have spent these post election days lamenting, the other half of our nation, and others I also love, are rejoicing.

How has the divide become so deep? The bipartisanship so pronounced? The halves so polarized?

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Most frightening is the level of anger and hatred, the intensity of the vehemence. Even many of those who voted for Trump have admitted that his platform normalized hate speech and bullying, and was openly and blatantly racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, laughingly dismissive of sexual assault, and mocking of persons who are physically challenged. “We are not voting for THAT,” they assured me. “We are voting for change. We are voting for him because we are tired of the the political system. We are voting for him because he is outside that system.” I “get” the desire for change. I “get” the desire to change the system. What I will never “get” is when the desire for change or bucking the system supersedes human rights. Hate is never okay. Racism is never okay. Sexism is never okay. Sexual assault is never okay. Homophobia and xenophobia and mocking of persons with physical challenges are never okay.

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As a faith leader who has worked for the past thirty-five years, averaging seventy-five hours per week, seeking to follow the way of Jesus by preaching, teaching, educating, advocating, organizing, and being a social activist, fighting for the full equality of ALL, I am saying nothing different than what I have been saying for the past thirty-five years. At a recent community-wide forum for which I was asked to speak, one man concluded, “So everything you have given the last thirty-five years of your life for has been undone by this election?”

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I prefer to not look at it through such a dismal lens. In fact, if anything, I feel that the work I have been doing is more important now than ever.

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The tricky and ironic thing about hate though, is that when we return hate for hate, we can end up becoming the very thing that we hate. We must not return hate for hate. As Dr. Martin Luther King said, “When we return hate for hate, we only add to the amount of hate in this world. When we respond to evil with evil, we only contribute to the amount of evil in this world. Dr. King urges us, instead, to follow in the way of Jesus, and to respond to hate with love. As a Baptist minister, Dr. King was referring to God-like love, which he knew was the only thing strong enough to transform hate and evil. A few days after the election, my friend since the seventh grade, Peggy Lebo, posted this on Facebook:

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No matter how we feel about the election results this is a call to take a stand for love- our world needs our love more than ever- no more time or attention on hate speak or division- we’ve been hearing that our vote counts but greater than that- our love counts- our love for the environment, our love for a world that works for everyone, our love for gender equality, our love for a government that would actually be “for the people,” our love for a vibrant, revitalized economy, our love for a world that supports true freedom of religion/spirituality… this is a call to action for our part as individuals and as a global community to bring what we love into the world- YOU ARE WHAT YOU LOVE- what do you love?

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Rather than be embroiled in hate, I choose to continue to work to bring what I love into this world: equality for ALL, and environmental stewardship of our precious earth.

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What about you? What will be your legacy for this world? What do you love? As Gandhi said, “BE the change you wish to see in this world.”
May you see the Light and Love of God in ALL you encounter, and may you reflect the Light and Love of God to ALL you encounter.

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Linda Forsberg, Copyright November 25, 2016

Riding the Wind of the Spirit

 

2016100795083413951476816746948Riding the Wind of the Spirit

It all depends on the wind, you know. In so many languages the same word for Wind also means Breath and Spirit. That completely changes the way I look at the wind when I ride. (In Hebrew the word is Ruach; in Greek, Pneuma; in Sanskrit Prana.) A week ago I rode my third Century: a 100 mile bicycle ride in one day. This ride, as well as my previous Century, was a fundraiser for the Church Beyond the Walls, an amazing outdoor street church I have been involved in for the past three years. Last January I was humbled to be offered the job of serving as the new Missioner, or Pastor, of Church Beyond the Walls.

10450733_692206324148203_848932003838272674_nChurch Beyond the Walls literally has no “walls:” no building. It gathers every Saturday afternoon at 2:00 PM outside in Burnside Park, downtown, Providence. Church Beyond the Walls also tries to have no walls of ANY kind, as our invitation to the Eucharist proclaims:
“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.”

cropped-10410680_697894760246026_3261113760899301748_n.jpgWe gave riders the option of doing 100 miles all in one day with me, or splitting it up over the course of the long October weekend, as two riders, Catherine and Pasquale, chose to do. Five of us signed up for the 100 miles in a day option, which took place on Friday, October 7. Three showed up: my friends Pasquale, Preston, and I. Plus we had the BEST S.A.G wagon (Support And Gear), with my husband Ted, always my greatest supporter, driving, and Sarge, a mechanical genius, available to help with any mechanical issues.
When you go through an experience as long and as grueling as a 100 mile bicycle ride, you learn a lot about your fellow riders, and a lot more about yourself. I confess that I was anxious about this ride. But the day before the ride, I saw my friends who were riding with me, and my fears disappeared. I knew that we could do it TOGETHER.

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What I learned about myself is that relationships are what is most important to me. Completing the 100 miles was important, yes, but I had done it before and knew I could do it. I realized that what was more important to me personally, was that my friends reached their goals. So I pledged to stay together with them no matter what, to encourage them in their riding. A second thing I learned, is that I am not a quitter. In fact, not completing the ride was not even an option in my book. It’s just one foot in front of the other. We had several situations which made the day a lot longer than I had anticipated. Having done it before, I had planned a generous amount of time, departing at 8 AM, and finishing by 6 PM. In reality we started at 8:30, and our extenuating circumstances made the finish time @9:30 PM. I unfortunately had to ride the last 18 miles alone. I missed my companions. I learned that it certainly is a lot harder to “go it alone,” in riding, and in life. But just knowing that the SAG wagon was nearby, with my friends cheering me on, gave me the strength to complete the ride.

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The biggest thing I have learned from many years of riding, is that it all depends on the wind. When my husband Ted used to ride with me, he ALWAYS checked the wind direction and intensity beforehand. If it is in your face the whole way, it can be challenging, or even devastating. If it is at your back, on the other hand, it can literally make the ride “a breeze.” So when I ride into a fierce wind, as challenging as it may be, I am reminded, and awed, by the Power of the Spirit. I take a deep breath, and feel filled with the strength of the Spirit breathing within me. When the wind is at my back, no matter how fierce it is, I think about how important it is in our lives, to go with the flow of the Spirit, and not to resist the direction in which it wants to take us.

20161007_090210_1476816754950A miracle happened the day of our Century. The wind was at our backs as we road south from Providence to Galilee. Then the wind shifted, and was at our backs on the ride back to Providence as well. In other words, the Spirit was with us the entire way!
This day, may you know that the Spirit is with you, as close to you as your next breath. May you know the Spirit’s presence in the friends who accompany you on life’s journey.

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May you also know the relentless power of the Spirit to move us in the direction we are supposed to go. May you never resist and try to ride against the Wind!

May you ride the Wind of the Spirit!
May you see the Spirit in all you encounter,
and may you reflect the Spirit to all you encounter.
Copyright, Linda Forsberg, October 18, 2016

Thanks to Ted (taking photo) Sarge (above left), Preston, and Pasquale!

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

 

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