All posts by Linda Forsberg

Linda Forsberg is an ordained Lutheran Pastor (ELCA). She has served congregations in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island. For the past nineteen years she has served as the Pastor of First Lutheran Church of East Greenwich, RI. She is blessed to have discovered the art of spiritual direction at just twenty-one years of age, and has been receiving spiritual direction for over thirty years. She was ordained at age twenty-six, and began offering spiritual direction as part of her ministry. In addition to her formal education (BA in Religious Studies from Brown University, 1981; M.Div. from Harvard University in 1985), she has continued to learn about spirituality, which is her passion. She did post graduate work at St. John’s Seminary in Newton, MA. She took courses at The Institute of Creation Centered Spirituality at Holy Names College, in Oakland, CA. In 1994 she completed a three year program, “Spirituality of Christian Leadership,” at Our Lady of Peace, in Narragansett, RI. In 2004, along with a group of people from First Lutheran Church, she created Oceans of Grace, a Spiritual Life Center in East Greenwich. In 2009 she completed a four-year certification program in Spiritual Direction from Sacred Heart University. In 2010 she received her Doctorate of Ministry in Spirituality from the Lutheran Seminary in Philadelphia. She also has worked in retreat ministries for over thirty years. She is married to Ted Gibbons, and lives in Newport, RI. She is the mother of three young adult children, and five step-children. She has four grandchildren. She is an avid outdoor enthusiast, and loves hiking and cycling. She is also a certified yoga instructor and a black belt in kempo karate. She is Christian, but loves to study all of the major faith traditions, seeking the things which unite us.

Each Day a New Beginning

Each Day, A New Beginning

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When I was in graduate school I lived with a friend who was very involved in Al-anon. She used a little book of encouragement every morning, and left it on our coffee table. It was called “Each Day, A New Beginning.” One day I opened it, and read the words for that day. They spoke directly to me and to the struggles I was battling. Before long, I was using that little book every day as well. We were both Divinity School students, and preparing for lives of ministry. This woman also introduced me to lectio divina, to contemplative prayer, and to spiritual direction. Lectio divina, or “sacred reading,” is a form of meditation using a sacred text. We would use a passage from the bible, or from “Each Day a New Beginning.” One of us would read a short passage aloud, slowly and prayerfully.

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We would both tune in to the particular word or phrase or image from the reading which tugged at our heart. Then in a time of silence, we would each ponder, contemplate, the particular word or phrase, or for me often picture image, which had come to us. The belief is that the sacred text is “alive and active,” as the writer of Hebrews said (Hebrews 4:12). When you hear a passage, a story, a psalm, a poem, and one particular thing grabs hold of your heart, that is God speaking to you through the text. I later learned that lectio divina is a form of meditation developed by Saint Benedict in the sixth century. He used it with the monks in his monastic community. About a thousand years later Saint Ignatius of Loyola further developed it. To this day, I still pray and meditate each and every day, using lectio divina, and over the years have taught this ancient practice of prayer or meditation to hundreds, actually probably thousands, of people.

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When you meditate using lectio divine, you can also use another spiritual practice to help you to enter the text more deeply. Sometimes I journal with the particular phrase or image that speaks to me. On retreats, sometimes I incorporate art: painting, sculpting, composing poetry or music as we ponder the text. Being a physical person, I also use movement to enter into the text more deeply. In fact, this is how I usually write my sermons. I read the text during my morning prayer time. Then I go for a run, a walk, a hike, a bicycle ride, a yoga practice, bringing the text with me, tumbling it over and over in my spirit, pondering its many facets as I run, cycle, etc. Sometimes, the text truly ignites something in me, stirs me on a profound level, lifts me outside of myself into something bigger, into the presence of God, the author of this sacred text. When this happens, sometimes it frightens me, because the Spirit wants me to face something inside of myself that I do not want to face. So I ignore or deny the Spirit’s stirrings, and think of something else. But it still continues to tug at my heart.

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Over the thirty-five years I have been doing this practice, I have learned not to resist, so most of the time now I follow the Spirit’s leading and go to this place to which the Spirit is inviting me to go, to this place of epiphany, of realization, but sometimes it is a place even deeper than that. Sometimes the Spirit draws me into a place of deep union with God, knowing myself held in the embrace of something so much bigger than I am, knowing myself deeply united with God, and with all that is. Often in this place of union, I am moved to tears.

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Once a month, I get together with an amazing woman who is my spiritual director. Spiritual direction or accompaniment is an ancient practice where you meet on a regular basis with someone who invites you to go even deeper into your relationship with God. A spiritual director invites you to unpack and explore those experiences of God’s powerful presence which you have had during the past month, and what it might be that God is inviting you to in your life. If you have never heard of spiritual direction, I invite you to go to the website for Spiritual Directors International (www.sdiworld.org). SDI ‘s “Seek and Find Guide” can help you to locate a spiritual director in your area. I have been receiving spiritual direction for over thirty-five years, and offering spiritual direction to others for almost as long.

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As we enter this new year, and tomorrow as we celebrate the Feast of Epiphany, I invite you to see each day as a new beginning. I invite you to take time each day to steep yourself in sacred story, through reading a short passage from the scripture of your faith tradition, or through the sacred text of the landscape, of nature, of God’s creation, which also speaks deeply to our souls. Finally, I invite you to explore the sacred text of your inner landscape, of your own soul.
Martin Luther said, “Every morning when you wash your face, remember your baptism.” In other words, remember that each day God gives us an opportunity for a new start. Today, may you say Yes, and receive this day as a new beginning.IMG_5526

This day may you see God in all you encounter,
and may you reflect God to all you encounter.

Linda Forsberg, Copyright January 5, 2016

Photos:  Blog Header:  Easter Sunrise Service, Sandy Point Beach, Warwick, RI; early morning, Hunter, Catskills, NY; morning prayer, Panama City Beach, FL; Second Beach, Newport, RI; Walking path, Reservoir, Newport, RI; Catskills, NY; Third Beach, Newport, RI; radiant new birth, Nicolette and Liam

Say “Yes!”

Say “Yes!”

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Christmas Eve is just a few days away. My Vicar and I, once again, will share the Christmas Eve message. Last year we looked at the Christmas story from the male and female perspective, but switched it up: he focused on Mary, and I on Joseph. This year, we will flip it. I will focus on Mary’s side of the story; he will focus on Joseph’s side of the story. Both of them had the courage to say “Yes” to God. Do you?

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For many years now Mary has been my focus during the season of Advent. For many years I would read a little Advent book about Mary, called The Reed of God, by Carole Houselander. This year my spiritual director introduced me to two new books about Mary. One of these books is called Woman Wrapped in Silence, by John Lynch. It is a lyrical poem, in which Lynch invites you to enter more deeply into each of the many biblical texts which features Mary, the mother of Jesus. This book is one I have been pondering throughout this season of Advent. It is my Christmas present to all of my spiritual companions this year. She also recommended a book by the feminist theologian Elizabeth Johnson, Truly Our Sister: A Theology of Mary in the Communion of Saints. This book is not light reading; it is a rigorous theological study of the way Mary has been looked at through the centuries, which has been through a patriarchal lens. In other words, for thousands of years, the image of Mary we have had has been given to us by men, church fathers and male theologians, as opposed to women, who would much more truly understand what it was like to be a poor, young unwed pregnant woman in a culture where women had no status or power.
For thousands of years, Mary has been depicted in art and literature as meek and mild, passive and demure, the submissive “handmaid” of the Lord. Last Sunday, Mary’s Magnificat was the Gospel lesson for the day. Only a few years ago did it strike me that Mary’s Magnificat was in no way the statement of someone who was meek and mild.

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Rather, Mary’s Magnificat is a powerful and brave proclamation of a courageous young woman whose song challenges the power structures of her day, and turns them upside down: “He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their heart. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” (Luke 1: 51-53). It was no passive or submissive girl who said “Yes” to God, “Yes, I will bear your child,” when for her to do so as an unwed young woman meant that she could be stoned to death as an adulteress. Rather this is the proclamation of a woman whose brave faith inspires my own, whose example challenges you and me to say “Yes” as fully as she did. In the fourth century the Church Council at Nicea declared Mary “Theoltokos,” “God-bearer.” Mary was declared as the one who was brave enough to bear God into this world. Do you have the courage to say “Yes?” To bear God into this dark and troubled world we live in today? I pray that you and I say “Yes!”

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I must admit that Joseph also strikes me profoundly, especially during this season of Advent. Every year at this time the women’s group at our church, in addition to studying Mary’s side of the story in the Gospel of Luke, studies Joseph’s side of the story as well, from the Gospel of Matthew (see Matthew 1: 18-25). Of course Joseph was suspicious. Our children’s pageant last Sunday portrayed his obvious doubt that this child was conceived by God. Joseph’s options were limited: he could have Mary stoned to death for adultery; he could publicly shame and humiliate her; or he could do the more compassionate thing and divorce her quietly. Then in a dream God assured Joseph, and invited him to see that there was another option, an option he had not even imagined: he could marry Mary, and claim her child to be his own. For a man to name a child, meant that he claimed that child to be his own. We read, “When Joseph awoke from sleep he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him; he took Mary as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had born a son; and he named him Jesus (“Savior”).” (Matthew 1: 24-25). Joseph also had the amazing courage to say “Yes.” To say “Yes, God, I will open myself to an option I had never imagined. I will claim the Christ child as my own. I will protect him, guard him, and nurture him, for the sake of this world.”
Brave Mary. Courageous Joseph. Each daring to say “Yes” to God, opening themselves to God’s unexpected, beyond-human-imagining option.
This Christmas, can you say “Yes?” Yes, God, I will open myself fully to your option for my life?

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I pray that you and I will have the courage to say “Yes!”

This Christmas may you see God-made-flesh in all you encounter,
and may your life reflect this God-made-flesh to all you encounter.

Linda Forsberg, Copyright December 22, 2015

Photos:  My great nephew Connor underrating the tree:) Mary and Joseph (Deja and Max) from last Sunday’s pageant; A great Advent book; God-made-flesh:  our newest grandson, Ezra; stone at Salve Regina University

Savior, God With Us

You Shall Call His Name Jesus, “Savior:” Emmanuel, “God With Us”

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Advent is without doubt my favorite season of the church year. In the midst of the noise and chaos of the world, Christians are called to wait and pray in quiet stillness. When you enter our sanctuary at First Lutheran, you will see a sign inviting you to “Come to the Quiet.” I am sure that you join me in longing for quiet in this season of blaring noise. I love the dark blue color of this season of Advent, as contrasted with the gaudy red and green of the secular world. Indeed, this season is a “blue” season for so many. It is a blue season for those who are grieving the loss of someone they love. It is a blue season for those going through a difficult economic time in this season of commercialism and excess. It is a blue season for those who struggle in the midst of the darkness that has settled over our world in recent days, or who struggle with their own inner darkness, a darkness which cannot be soothed by tawdry glitzy decorations of Santa or Frosty or Rudolph.

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No, this is a season in the church year when we recognize that we need a Savior, when are reminded that we have a God who is with us always, shining as a light in the midst of the darkness, as a light which no darkness can overcome.

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Mary is the person who speaks to our hearts and our lives during this season of Advent. Mary, a poor, young, unwed peasant, who of her own free will had the courage to say “Yes” to God. Mary, who throughout the ages has been depicted as “meek and mild,” but who in reality was nothing of the sort. Mary who cried out in her Magnificat, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!” Mary, like you and me, needed a Savior. Life for Mary was difficult, challenging. Every social construct was against her. But she was far from meek and mild. Like her sister, Hannah, before her (see I Samuel, chapter 2), Mary knew about poverty and oppression. Modeled on the prophet Hannah’s song, she sang a song to the Savior who “shows strength with his arm, and scatters the proud in the thoughts of their hearts…who has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly, who has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” (Luke 1:51-53) Does this sound meek and mild? No, this sounds like a whole different kind of power, like the power of a God who saves us, and who is with us, to the end of the eons (Matthew 28: 20)
This is the season when we remember Mary, who let this Savior be born through her own body, through her saying “Yes” with her own life, to a whole new way of living.

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Thirty years later that child she birthed into this world would begin his ministry by quoting another prophet, Isaiah this time: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring 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.” (Luke 4: 18-19) Jesus, whose name means “Savior,” was telling us that he was ushering in a kind of world that flips the world’s values upside down. “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing,” Jesus said after quoting Isaiah. Jesus didn’t just make stuff up. He was steeped in his Jewish tradition, in the hopes and prayers of the fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers in faith who had gone before him. In particular, Jesus had been steeped in the songs of his mother. Jesus’ turning the world’s values upside down are a continuation and a living out of Mary’s own vision, prayer, song.

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This Advent, our world still needs a Savior. We watch the news, and it is clear, our world needs a Savior. You need a Savior. I need a Savior. We need a Savior who is “with us” in all things, to the end of the eons. But we need to remember that this Savior comes NOT in some disembodied form, some nebulous ethereal swirl, but incarnate, enfleshed, with us in body, not just in spirit. This Advent longing will only be birthed if you and I today have the courage to follow Mary and to say “Yes!” Yes, I will proclaim the song of my ancestors Hannah and Isaiah, Mary and her son Jesus! Yes I will offer my flesh and blood life, my very body and my daily living, for the purpose letting this Savior be born in my life. For when we have the courage to say “Yes,” then your life and mine enkindle other lives, until this light , at first so small and faint, begins to grow, and build, and overcome the darkness that fills us and surround us. “Yes, let it be! May you, and may I be a part of the Savior’s birth into this world this Christmas!

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May you see this light in all you encounter,and may you reflect his light to all you encounter.

Linda Forsberg, Copyright December 1, 2015

Photos:  Nativity from Church Beyond the Walls, an outside Street Church which meets every Saturday in Burnside Park, Providence, RI; broken  Christmas junk; light in the darkness on the road to Casa del Sol, Ghost Ranch, Abiquiu, NM; the birth of Zach; Christmas Tree with Cross at Second Beach, Newport, RI

Native American Spirituality and the Disenfranchised

Native American Spirituality and the Disenfranchised

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When my children were young, I worked hard to instill in them the belief that when they grew up, they could do anything, be anything. I especially wanted my daughters to know that, although in my day women could not always follow their dream and be who they felt called to be, they were blessed to live in a time when women here in the United States can become whatever they truly desire to be. I literally tried to drill this into their hearts, minds, and souls. So when my daughter Victoria was about six, she looked up at me with her dark brown eyes one day and proclaimed, “When I grow up, I want to be a Native American!”
Although we still chuckle about that, the more I research and study other spiritual traditions, the more I can say that if I were not a Christian, if I had to choose a spiritual tradition other than my own, I too would be a Native American! I say this for many and various reasons, but most of all because of the way Native Americans treat the “Anawim,” a Hebrew word signifying “the disenfranchised, those who cry out to God for justice.”

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Being an outdoor person, whose earliest childhood experience of God was through nature, I am drawn to the way Native Americans see the Great Spirit in all that is. My earliest childhood memory is from when I was just a toddler, and sat in my sandbox in my backyard. I was aware of Someone far greater than I am, who came to me through the breeze that rustled the trees and caressed my face, the blue sky and clouds that danced above me, the trees, the birds and insects, and my mother, who watched me protectively from the kitchen window, as she washed dishes, and prepared our dinner. As a slightly older child, daily I would ride my bicycle to a small nearby park called Elm Circle, where I would hoist my skinny young body up into the branches of “my tree.” From my perch I could see far beyond, to the city aptly named Providence, and felt held, rocked in the arms of its branches. There in my tree I poured out my young soul, the joys and exaltations of my day, my struggles and griefs. Only later, in my thirties, did my spiritual director help me to realize that my tree was my early experience of God. Forever, one of my deepest spiritual connections is with trees. Only very recently did I come to realize that trees in many spiritual traditions, including my own Judeo-Christian tradition, represent the feminine aspect of God.

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But the more I study alternative histories, as opposed to the white, educated,male, European history I learned in my formal education, the deeper my appreciation for our Native sisters and brothers, and the deeper my lament for what we did to them, nearly wiping out one of the most spiritually advanced and egalitarian cultures. I highly recommend you all read Howard Zinn’s, The Peoples History of the United States, which focuses on the history of non-whites, women, or those we could call the “anawim.”
For a course I am teaching at Salve Regina University, as well as at my church, and a nearby senior living facility, I am focusing specifically on how each of the major world religions treats the anawim, specifically the poor, women, and LBGTQ persons. In my opinion, Native American spirituality gets the “prize,” alongside Jesus, for the fullest inclusion and complete equality of the anawim, which is why I love Jesus, and why I also love Native American spirituality and have incorporated it into my daily spiritual practice (see Native American Prayers in last week’ blog).

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In terms of how they treated the poor, Native Americans lived by a radical egalitarianism. Because of their deep reverence for the earth and all of its abundance and blessings, they lived one of the simplest, and most environmentally conscious lifestyles I have ever known from all of my study and research. Native American culture is communal in the deepest sense of that word. When one truly honors the sacred nature of all that is, how could one not share the resources of the community with all? There were therefore no “poor” members of a tribe. Resources were shared equally among all. Those whom our modern United States culture dishonors and neglects – our elders, those who are challenged in some way, LBGTQ persons – Native culture reveres and honors for their unique wisdom.

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Women from ancient times experienced more equality in Native cultures than women today experience in many parts of the world. But for me the most remarkable discovery is that from ancient times Native Americans had a unique understanding of gender and LBGTQ persons. Rather than hold to the idea of two genders, as most cultures do, Native Americans held a belief in four genders: what they called masculine men, feminine men, masculine women, and feminine women. Imagine understanding this construct without looking at “feminine” or “masculine” in any kind of a derogatory way. In fact the middle two genders, men who exhibited a high degree of feminine characteristics, or women who exhibited a high degree of masculine characteristics, were highly revered, because it was believed that they had a fuller, more expansive perspective, incorporating “two spirits.: the feminine and the masculine.” “Two Spirit” persons often wore the clothing of the opposite gender, and participated in the activities of the opposite gender, and often served as healers or spiritual leaders of the community. From ancient times marriages happened between people of any of these four genders.

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How tragic that when Europeans arrived, Two Spirit persons were persecuted, rather than revered and held in high esteem.How tragic that today we aspire to a truly egalitarian or “equalist” * world (a word created by my friend Steph Smith and me, see earlier blog “I Am an Equalist”), but the one ancient culture that lived this egalitarian and equalist ideal, we persecuted and decimated. For this we must lament, and beg forgiveness.

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It is time to learn from our Native American sisters and brothers. Perhaps, when we as the human species grow up, we can all aspire to be like Native Americans!
This day, may we see the sacred in all we encounter,
and may we reflect the sacred to all we encounter.
Linda Forsberg, Copyright October 22, 2015

Photos:  Juliana and victoria as children; Tree, Hilo, Hawaii; Tree, Redwood National Park; Ted at Chaco Canyon, NM, one of the most ancient Native American sacred sites; Chaco Canyon; Linda at Chaco Canyon; Linda at Chaco Canyon

*Check our the film:  www.twospirits.org.  I show this film to my classes; also check out the book, “Two Spirit People:  Native American Gender Identity, Sexuality and Spirituality,” Edited by Sue-Ellen Jacobs, Wesley Thomas, and Sabine Lang

Native American Prayers

Native American Morning Prayers from Sister Jose Hobday (she taught me these in 1993)

Three Step Prayer

First Step: Plant your feet firmly on the earth. Using your five senses, give thanks to our Creator God for the countless ways God comes to us through creation- for all the beauty that your eyes see, for all the sounds that your ears ear, for all the scents that you smell, the tastes that you taste, for all that you FEEL (the sun, wind, rain, snow, warm, or cold). Pray this day that you may be open and attuned to the countless ways that our Creator God comes to us through your senses, through the gifts of creation.
Second Step: Let go of all the pain, struggle, regret, failures, garbage, $!#&* of yesterday – step out of it – leave it behind- brush the dust of it from your feet.
Third Step: With this third and final step, step into the gift of the new day, full of hope, promise, and potential. Give thanks for the gift of this new day, which God has made! Amen.

Prayer of the Seven Directions:

Begin facing EAST- This is where the sun comes up, and so the direction of new beginnings, hope, promise, and potential. Pray that you may be open to receiving these gifts this day.* Each turn is a quarter turn to your right.
Turn SOUTH – This is the direction of warmth, growth, fertility (!), also known as creativity and productivity. In addition, this direction represents faith, trust, and faithfulness in relationships. Pray for these things this day.
Turn WEST – This is the direction where the sun goes down. Thus, it is the direction of rest, of our dream lives, and of closure and endings that need to take place in order for there to be new beginnings. Pray for these things this day.
Turn NORTH – This is the direction of the cold, of winds, of strength, courage, fortitude, might, single-mindedness, focus, clarity and purpose. Pray for these things this day.
Turn back to the EAST – and turn UPWARD. For Native Americans this is the direction of Father Sky. Pray that your heart, mind, soul, and spirit will not forget to look upward this day, to the One who is so much greater than we are.
Turn DOWNWARD – and touch our Mother, the earth. Pray that everything you do this day will be in honor and reverence of our Mother Earth.
TURN INWARD- Place your hand on your heart and pray that all that you do this day will be true to the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit who dwells within you. Amen.

Spiritual Life Lessons from Two Native American Sisters

Spiritual Life Lessons from Native American Sisters

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This blog is part of a series on World Religions. I am teaching a class on World Religions at Salve Regina University, here in Newport, RI, and have been asked to teach the same course – minus the papers and exams – at my church and at a nearby assisted living facility. Most classes on World Religions fail to include Native American spirituality, but my own spiritual life has been so positively and deeply influenced by Native American spirituality that I could never conceive of teaching a World Religions class without including Native American spirituality. The tricky thing is that most of the major World Religions have a sacred book or text (The Vedas, Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, Yoga Sutras for Hinduism; the Bible for Jews and Christians; the Koran for Muslims, etc), but Native American spirituality, on the other hand, is still largely an oral tradition, with stories passed down orally from generation to generation.

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In my own life, I was blessed to know two Native American women, who graciously shared their stories and their life experiences with me, perhaps not realizing the deep and lasting effect they would have on my life. I wish to dedicate this blog to these two women: Nighthawk Flying, and Sister Jose Hobday. I met them both around the same time in my life, when I was a young mother of three, in my early thirties. That was over twenty years ago.

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Nighthawk Flying was the first of these two women whom I met. I was serving as a Chaplain at Calumet Lutheran Camp and Conference Center in West Ossipee, New Hampshire. (Ironically, “Calumet” is a Native American word that means “peace pipe.”) Nighthawk Flying, at that time a young woman about my age, was also on the staff at Camp Calumet that summer. She was teaching environmental studies. We were instantly drawn to one another in spiritual friendship. She taught the young people that all of life is connected, that life is a web. She taught them that we are to treat every part of God’s creation as sacred, every creature, every brook and tree, every rock and flower, all are sacred. All reveal God’s presence to us. All should be treated with reverence. Whatever we do to one part of the web of life, effects the whole. We cannot separate ourselves from the rest of God’s creation. An avid outdoor enthusiast, who always saw God’s presence most powerfully in nature, I felt that she spoke to the deepest part of me. I approached life as a Christian, she as a Native American, yet we both viewed life through the same lens: the Great Spirit infuses all creation, and all creation is to be treated with honor and reverence. All creation teaches us lessons; all creation is our sister, our brother, our mother, our father.

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As it turns out, she spent part of her time living in Rhode Island, so we continued our friendship, meeting at Pow Wows, having dinner at my home, sharing, spirit to spirit. She told me the Native American story of the Dream Catcher, of the of Spider Woman, of the Buffalo Woman. She gifted me with beautiful beaded earrings she had made. One of the stories she shared with us at Calumet, my children and I incorporated into our family life. It is the “talking stick.” I have used this with youth groups and adult groups as well. Nighthawk gave me a talking stick she had made, decorated with feathers, beads, and strips of leather. For Native Americans, and also for me as a contemplative, Silence is of utmost importance. I am often dismayed by the incessant noise of our culture. When I go to visit elders from my parish in nursing homes, I am shocked to see how many people have the television blaring all day long, to “keep them company,” they tell me. I always politely ask them if I can turn the television off while we visit. When I drive, 90 percent of the time I drive in silence, even if my drive is hours long. As one spiritual newsletter I subscribe to puts it: “In the Silence, we hear God speak.” (Friends of Silence)

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I also become dismayed when, in small group settings, one person hogs the conversation. I am surprised that people are often oblivious to the signals the rest of the group is giving them, such as shifting their bodies, yawning, even rolling their eyes or sighing aloud, revealing that the conversation hog should be silent and let others have an opportunity to speak. I remember being part of a group of women, where a girl in high school blabbed on and on from her short lived experience, while women her grandmothers’ age were left with no opportunity to speak. I longed to hear the wisdom of our elders! I do not understand why some people feel the need to fill the silence with noise.

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The talking stick helps with this. The group sits in a circle, with the talking stick placed in the center. When one wishes to speak, one takes and holds the talking stick, and considers one’s words carefully, speaking only what is necessary. No one is allowed to speak except the one with the talking stick. When one has finished speaking, one places the talking stick back in the center of the circle. The talking stick helps one to truly think about the power of words, and about speaking only those words which are essential.

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I met Sister Jose Hobday shortly after I met Nighthawk Flying. I was at the Center for Creation Centered Spirituality (ICCS) at Holy Names College in Oakland, California. One of the founders of ICCS was Matthew Fox. I went to ICCS for a number of years, taking Creation Spirituality courses. I took courses on Native American Spirituality with Sister Jose Hobday. She died just a few years ago, but lives on in my spirit, and in a daily spiritual practice I learned from her. Her book, “Stories of Awe and Abundance,” tells many of the stories of her life which I had the privilege of hearing her tell personally. Sr. Jose was a Lakota, who had become a Franciscan nun. As we know Saint Francis honors God in all creation, as do Native Americans. I learned so many things from Sister Jose, but perhaps the most important thing was daily prayers, which I have been doing now for over twenty years, each and every morning, outside in my backyard, or wherever I may be. Over the years, in my own teaching and retreat ministry, I have taught these prayers to thousands of people. I always give credit to the great woman, Sister Jose Hobday, who shared these prayers with me. Since everyone asks if I can write them down, I have done so, below.

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This day, may you see the Great Spirit in all you encounter,
and may you reflect the Great Spirit to all you encounter.
Linda Forsberg, Copyright October 15, 2015
P.S. Over the years, I am sad to say that Nighthawk Flying and I lost touch. In recent days I have tried to locate her, but to no avail. If anyone knows where she is, please ask her to contact me. Thank you.

Photos:  Ghost Ranch, NM; Linda and Sylvie; the outdoor chapel at Camp Calumet, West Ossipee, NH; Ghost Ranch; Linda doing morning prayers, Nova Scotia; Casa del Sol, Ghost Ranch, NM; Linda in the Grand Canyon

Judaism and the Disenfranchised

Judaism and the Disenfranchised

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This blog is part of a series on World Religions. I teach an Introduction to World Religions class at Salve Regina University, in Newport, Rhode Island, as well as at Oceans of Grace Outreach Center at my church, First Lutheran Church of East Greenwich, RI. The classes at the church are free, and open to all. (For more info go to http://www.firstlutheraneg.org). Because World Religions is such a vast topic, I am approaching it through a particular lens: the anawim. “Anawim” is a Hebrew word which means literally “the little ones, who cry out to God for justice.” In other words, the disenfranchised, the ones who have no voice. In our world today, I define “anawim” as “the poor, women, who sadly, are still disenfranchised in many parts of the world, and LBGTQ persons. I am approaching the world’s major religions pretty much chronologically. My last blog focused on the Hindu philosophy, considered the oldest living religion in the world, and how it treats the anawim (the poor, women, and LBGTQ persons). Today’s blog focuses on Judaism, and its attitude toward the poor, women, and LBGTQ persons.

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Judaism’s roots began approximately 4000 years ago in the Middle East. Many Christians forget that Jesus was Jewish, and that to understand our Christian faith, it is important to understand the Jewish faith, from which we come. Judiasm is considered the first of the three great monotheistic religions (the other two being Christianity and Islam). In addition, it is also the first three of the great Abrahamic faiths. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all hail Abraham and Sarah as the “Father and Mother” of our faiths. The Torah, which literally means “teaching” or “instruction,” refers strictly to the first five books of the Hebrew Bible (also called by their Greek name, the Penteteuch: namely, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy), but by others refers to the whole body of teaching of Jewish scriptures and instruction. Jews also refer to the entire Hebrew Bible (called the Old Testament by Christians) as the Tanak, a kind of acronym standing for Torah, Neviium (prophets) and Ketuviim (writings).

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Judaism is passionately concerned about the poor. Repeatedly it urges us to care for “orphans and widows,” the anawim of biblical times. Beginning with the ten commandments, one of the oldest parts of the Hebrew Bible, Judaism commands us not to steal and not to covet anything that is our neighbor’s. As the Torah expands the ten commandments into 613 laws, many of them also protect the poor. My friend and colleague, Rabbi Ben Lefkowitz, who came in as a guest speaker for my class at Salve, focused on some of the specific laws in the Torah which protect the poor. He noted “Thou shall not hold onto the wages of a laborer until morning,” meaning you shall pay a worker each day for their labor. He also pointed out that the Torah commands land owners are to pick their crops in such a way that they leave the corners of their fields and the gleanings (those crops which fall to the ground during harvesting) for the poor, so they can come and glean the fields for food. The Torah also commands us not to practice usury (charging interest). Today’s credit card companies and pay day lenders are therefore condemned by Torah!

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The greatest emphasis on the poor, however, is found in the Prophets. All of the biblical prophets speak powerfully on behalf of the poor. Amos, for whom the soup kitchen and shelter in Providence is named, is representative of the biblical prophets when he proclaims:

“…Because you trample on the poor and take from the levies of grain, you have built houses of hewn stone, but you shall not live in them; you have planted pleasant vineyards, but you shall not drink their wine. For I know how many are your transgressions, and how great are your sins – you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe, and push aside the needy in the gate…I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them…But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5: 11-12; 21, 24)

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In terms of how women are treated within Judaism, that all depends on the branch of Judaism. In fact, a recurring theme that is quickly emerging in our study of word religions is this: the literalist branch of every religion (by that I mean those who interpret the sacred texts literally, understanding it as dictated by God and therefore inerrant) are the branches of each religion which are oppressive to women and LBGTQ persons, whereas the branches of each tradition which interpret the texts as shaped and formed by the social and cultural values of their historical context, which change and in fact need to change to meet the challenges of each stage of history, are the ones which advocate for the equality of women and LBGTQ persons.
We must remember that the Bible reflects a Middle Eastern culture which is thousands of years old. We see on the news how women are often treated in Middle Eastern cultures today, and need to remember that the Bible is from this same culture, thousands of years ago. Women were property. They had no value or rights, except through their relationship with a man (father, or husband). Today, therefore, women do not have equality within the Orthodox branch of Judaism, but do have a great deal more equality within the Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist branches of Judaism.

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In terms of how Judaism treats persons of LBGTQ orientations, the same rule applies. So today, persons of LBGTQ orientations would have a difficult time finding acceptance within the Orthodox tradition, but would receive equal treatment within the Reform and Reconstructionist branches, and even within the Conservative branch of Judaism.

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Being a passionate “equalist,” feeling that all persons, female and male, LBGTQ and straight, are created in God’s own image and likeness, and should by virtue of that alone be treated with complete equality, I pray that his day, we see the Holy One in all we encounter,
and reflect the Holy One to all we encounter.

Linda Forsberg, Copyright October 7, 2015

Photo Credits:  McAuley Hall, Salve Regina University, Newport, RI; Stone marker in garden at Salve Regina University, with quote from Catherine McAuley, foundress of the Sisters of Mercy; Rabbi Ben with Torah scroll and students; crops at Harvest time, farm at ghost Ranch, Abiqui, NM; Multnomah Falls, OR; representatives of ELCA and Lutheran World Relief, at the UN’s 57th Commission on the Status of Women, NYC; Chung Hyun Kyung, Pprofessor of Systematic Theology at Ewha Women’s University, Seoul, Korea, and of Asian Women’s Theology at Union Theological Seminary, NYC, who endorsed the term created by my friend and colleague, Stephanie Smith and I, “Equalist,” to describe those who believe in the full equality of ALL (rather than say feminist, anti-racist, anti ageist, against prejudice toward LBGTQ persons, etc.  “Equalist” says it all in one simple word!)

The Little Ones, Who Cry Out to God for Justice

The Little Ones, Who Cry Out to God for Justice

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In this series on world religions, this week’s blog is on the Hindu philosophy. I begin with Hinduism because it is considered the oldest living religion, some say approximately 5000 years old, and hailing from the Indus Valley region. Today Hinduism is also the world’s third largest religion, after Christianity, and Islam. In my course I am teaching at Salve Regina University: “The Quest for the Ultimate: Dialogue with Global Religious Traditions,” each of us professors who teach a section of this required course looks at this vast subject through a different lens. The lens through which my course compares the world’s religions, is the lens of the “Anawim.” Anawim is a Hebrew world meaning literally “the little ones, who cry out to God for justice.: Anawim means the disenfranchised, the ones with no voice, the ones who fall through the cracks of society. For the purpose of narrowing the field a bit, I am focusing specifically on the poor, women, and, in response to the major concern of my university students, LBGTQ persons.

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Hinduism is unique in this comparative study. The Chair of the Religious and Theological Studies Department at Salve asked me, “Don’t all religions insist on us helping the poor?” To his query I responded, “Not exactly.” While most religious traditions are committed to helping the poor, the Hindu tradition, with its ancient and still deep-seated understanding of the caste system, does not. In fact, personally, although I find the Hindu philosophy fascinating, and have incorporated many of its teachings into my own daily spiritual path and practices, the caste system is the thing in the Hindu tradition which I cannot help but critique.

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Hinduism’s caste system is set up very differently than our unofficial caste system is set up here in the United States. We would put the wealthiest individuals at the top level, which would include Forbes billionaires: professional athletes, movie stars and other entertainers, entrepreneurs and CEOs of multinational corporations. In the Hindu caste system, interestingly, the highest caste was for the Brahmins, the priestly or religious leaders. Next came the Kshatriya/Warriers/Administrators/Organizers. This came to include political and governmental leaders. Thirdly, came the Vaishya/Farmers/Merchants/Producers. My grandparents were farmers. This would have been their caste. Finally, came the lowest caste, the Shudra/Workers/Untrained Laborers. In addition, were those who were so low in the system that they were literally “outside caste” or “outcastes,” known also at “Dalit” or “untouchables.

What is tricky about the caste system, is that it is understood also in terms of the Hindu belief in karma, literally “act or action” and reincarnation. Simply put, every act you perform has consequences, for good or for not good. You all be born in the next life according to the accumulation of the results of your many actions.
So, if you made horrible choices in your previous life, you would wind up in a lower place in the caste system, there to work it out for yourself, and hopefully to learn from your bad choices and accumulated actions, and move in the opposite direction in your next life. In fact, in one book I read, Huston Smith’s Illustrated Guide to World Religions, he writes that everyone goes through every caste in their soul’s journey through many different lives. The caste system is very rigid and fixed for this present life. You must marry someone within your own caste. If a person chooses to marry someone from a lower caste, they would also become a member of that lower caste, which for the most part prevents inter-marriage. You can see how this system does not necessarily encourage compassion toward those who are poor. After all, it is believed that it was their own bad choices that landed them in the caste they are in. Better luck next lifetime.
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In terms of how women are treated within the Hindu philosophy, I had wondered if the tremendous number of goddesses would result in more equality for women in society. In feminist patriarchal religious systems, after all, the supposed “maleness” of God is often given as the reason why women do not have equality within the religious system or the culture, which is effected by the teachings of the predominant religious system. Theoretically, being in the goddesses’ own image and likeness, could yield more equality for women. But sadly in the history of India, despite Hinduism’s plethora of goddesses, women have still suffered from gross inequality. Even Gandhi, for all his vision, treated his wife very poorly, and did not look at women as equals, although he opened a little bit in this direction toward the end of his life. Sati, an ancient practice in India, where widows would immolate themselves on their husband’s funeral pyres, was thankfully outlawed in by queen Victoria in 1861, and in Nepal in 1920. In 1988 India adopted the Sati Prevention Act, which made it illegal to aid, abet or glorify sati. But as the recent gang rape and murder of a young woman on a bus in India reveals, women are still far from equality in India.

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Two and a half years ago, I attended the 57th Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations, just prior to the gang rape and murder on the bus. I went to many workshops and presentations, and learned, to my dismay, that in India sex-selective abortions and infanticide are still practiced, when the fetus or infant is female. This is also called “gendercide.” In addition, child brides are still sold by parents, who cannot afford to support girl children or pay a dowry. Sex trafficking is still an enormous problem, and its victims are over 90% female.
Finally, in terms of LGBTQ persons, information is hard to find. My Hindu friends say that the Hindu philosophy does not focus on LBGTQ issues very much. In my research I discovered that female with female relationships are treated more harshly and negatively than male with male relationships, so it seems that the inequality for women, in general, is reflected in the attitude toward same gender sexual relationships.

When I asked my Hindu friend, Coral, about Hinduism’s lack of equality due to the caste system, as well as the inequality of women, she offered a wise and astute response, in which we can see a glimmer of hope. Coral suggests that although a person from a higher caste might not be motivated to help a poor person from a lower caste, or a woman, or an LBGTQ person, because their region mandates that, a person still must act knowing that their every action (karma) is leading them to a higher or lower level of existence. So if you are a person of the highest caste, and treat a person of a lower caste horrifically, you will be bringing bad karma upon yourself, which may result in a lower level for yourself in the next life, whereas if you treat those at lower levels with compassion, you will yield good karma.

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One final, hopeful way of looking at the Hindu philosophy, is that for anyone, the ultimate goal of life is “moksha,” freedom from the endless cycle of birth and rebirth. Through spiritual liberation, moksha, one can be catapulted out of the endless cycle (Sanskrit, “samsara”) of birth and rebirth, and become One with God/ Brahman, the Ultimate in whom we live and breathe and have our being.

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If you consider yourself a follower of the Hindu philosophy, and wish to debate any of these points with me, please do, as I always encourage a lively debate.
This day, may we all be set free, to see the Holy in all we encounter,
and to reflect the holy to all we encounter. Which is precisely what the Sanskrit, Hindu greeting, “Namaste” literally means.

Linda Forsberg, Copyright September 22, 2015

Photos:  Man in Balboa Park, San Diego; Governor Chafee signing the Marriage Equality Act, the lawn of the RI State Capital;  doing yoga in Greece; Hindu Goddess Saraswati; Vishnu and Goddess Lakshmi; Goddess Kali; UN’s 57th Commission on the Status of Women, New York; helping those who cannot shovel; Linda at Volcano National Park, Big Island, Hawaii

One God, Many Faces

One God, Many Faces

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This blog is part of a series, which I will be writing for the next three months. It will coincide with a course I am teaching at Salve Regina University, Called “The Quest for the Ultimate: Dialogue with Global Religious Traditions.” This course is a required course for all sophomores at Salve. Several different instructors are offering this course, but all from a different angle. My angle, from which I will study all of the world’s major religions, is the angle of the “Anawim.” “Anawim” is a Hebrew word, which literally means, “Little ones, who cry out to God for justice,” so in other words, the disenfranchised, the ones who have no power, no voice, no equality. Specifically, we will look at the poor, women, and, in response to requests from my students last semester, LBGTQ persons, and how the major religions of the world respond to their cry for justice.

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The first major world religion we are studying is Hinduism. Hinduism, considered more a philosophy than a religion by many of its adherents, is considered the oldest living religion in the world. After Christianity and Islam, it is the third largest religion in the world., with close to a billion followers. Its roots hail from the Indus Valley, and today it is most predominant in India and Nepal, but has spread to other countries as well. In both Great Britain and the United States, Hinduism experienced a new birth beginning in the late 1960s and 1970s, partly through the Beattles. Beattle George Harrison was deeply devoted to the Hindu philosophy.
This past Monday my students were blessed to have a fabulous guest speaker, Coral Brown. I have known Coral for almost twenty years, as her grandparents, and aunt and uncle are very active members of my church. Years ago, when Coral was on her own quest for a spiritual tradition, hr mother suggested she explore yoga and the Hindu philosophy. Coral responded, “Oh, that’s only a fad.” Her mother responded, “A 5000 year old fad is something you should think about.” Coral has been following the Hindu philosophy ever since.

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Coral began her presentation by focusing on the Sanskrit symbol OM. This is chanted, usually, at the beginning of every yoga practice. OM literally is AUM, the letters of the Sanskrit alphabet meaning, the One who is the beginning, the middle, and the end. For those of us who are Christians, we may think of “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the One who is and who was and who is to come.” (Rev. 1:8 and 21: 21:6) Most outsiders think of Hinduism as a polytheistic religion, but Coral emphasized that there is actually one God, who comes to us through many and various representations. She spoke of what is often referred to as “the Hindu Trinity:” Brahma, the Creator, Vishnu, the Sustainer, and Shiva, the Destroyer/Dissolver, who wipes the slate clean so there can be new creation. In the Hindu philosophy these male gods have female counterparts (Saraswati, Lakshmi, and Parvati/Durga/Kali, respectively, and various avatars or incarnations, but they are all expressions of the One.

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The thing Coral emphasized in her presentation, is that in the Hindu philosophy, as well as in most religious traditions, life may be looked at through a dualistic or a non-dualistic lens. We can look at “God” as outside of us, as above us, as separate from us (dualistic lens), or we can look at God as within us and all living beings (non-dualistic lens). The greeting/bow with which people acknowledge one another in India, which is also said at the beginning and ending of every yoga class, is “Namaste.”

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Literally, this means, “May the Holy /Sacred in me acknowledge the Holy/Sacred in you,” and in all beings. This is the non dualistic expression of the Hindu philosophy. For the students I compared this to something expressed by my husband, Ted, new to the Christian faith, who always says, “The problem with religion, is when people see God as separate from us. Then they argue with each other, and think our religion is better than yours, and end up fighting wars with each other over religion. But when you realize that God is within everyone, how could you ever harm another, who is “in the image and likeness of God”? (see Genesis 1:27) As we will see in the weeks ahead, this dualistic or non-dualistic approach will determine how we treat the Anawim, the disenfranchised who cry out to God for justice, namely the poor, women and LBGTQ persons. Do we see God and them as separate from us? Or are we able to see the face of God in the poor, in women as equally as in men, in LBGTQ persons?

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In next week’s blog we will see how the Hindu philosophy specifically views the Anawim.
Over the years, I have come to espouse, more and more, a non-dualistic understanding of God. I believe we cannot separate God from others; therefore, my prayer for you is,
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.
Namaste.
Linda Forsberg, Copyright September 17, 2015

Photos:  Linda in Box Canyon, Ghost Ranch, Abiquiu, NM; Charlene at Yoga; Ted and Sylvie

Back to School!

Back to School!

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This week students everywhere return to school, if they have not done so already. Here in the United States most universities begin classes this week. Labor day weekend parents all over the US labored to move their college students into their new dormitories. Tomorrow Salve Regina University, here in the city of Newport, Rhode Island, where I live, begins its classes. At 8:00AM tomorrow morning I will begin a quest with thirty young adults who are students at Salve. Together we will embark on a journey entitled “The Quest for the Ultimate.” It is a required course at Salve, and various instructors and sections of the course will be offered, each section approaching the great religions of the world from a slightly different angle.

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Although the title of the course was given to me, as an instructor I was invited to choose the angle from which to approach such a vast topic. I chose to approach this Quest for the Ultimate, exploring the religions of the world from the angle of the “Anawim.” Anawim is a Hebrew word, used frequently in the Hebrew bible by the prophets when referring to the “little ones, who cry out to God for justice” in other words, the disenfranchised, excluded, or oppressed ones.

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So in my section of the course the students and I will consider how the major religions of the world treat the poor, a particular timely subject given the gross income inequality in our world today; women, sadly still disenfranchised in many parts of the world, and still not having full equality even in the vast majority of the developed nations of the world; and LBGTQ persons (persons who are lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgendered, or queer/questioning). Tragically the latter two groups, women and LBGTQ persons, are often disenfranchised within many of the major world’s religious traditions themselves. Last year I taught my first course at Salve, and it was the students themselves who raised the question about the role of LBGTQ persons in each of the major world religions. Although I had a pretty good understanding of where each of the major Christian traditions stood on the LBGTQ issue, and could make an educated guess on some other faith traditions, I confess that I was more clueless than I should be in terms of the stance of some of the major world religions on LBGTQ persons. Clearly this is an important issue in the lives of the students for them to request that we investigate this topic. I then began researching this subject, and was surprised at the shortage of material available. I am feeling that perhaps it is up to me to develop materials on this topic, hence, the inclusion of the LBGTQ angle for this course.

I am thrilled and honored to have many friends of various faith traditions, who will serve as guest speakers for this course, to address these issues from within the different faith traditions themselves. It is very different to approach something as an outsider, to learn about a religious tradition and its practices as an outsider, than to share one’s personal experience as someone from inside that tradition.

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I am very excited to be embarking on this quest with the thirty students at Salve. I anticipate learning as much from them as they learn from me. In addition, the members of my bible study class at my church asked if I could offer this course at our church as well. I said yes. It will be interesting to see how a group of mixed ages, most of them significantly older than the college students at Salve, will approach the same topics and materials. Finally, and very unexpectedly, the elders I teach at a nearby assisted living community voted to do the world religions course rather than bible study this year! I will find it extremely interesting to see how persons in their eighties, nineties and beyond approach these topics. In the weeks ahead, I will share in these weekly blog posts, a summary of what we are learning in these classes: that is, how each of the major world religions stands in relation to the Anawim, specifically the poor, women, and LBGTQ persons.

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We will begin our Quest at Salve by stepping outside the classroom, and standing on the edge of the cliff where the building in which we gather stands, facing the Atlantic Ocean. Poised on this cliff, facing the ocean, we will imagine ourselves standing there thousands of years ago, before the buildings behind us existed, before the first white person stepped upon these shores, before the invention of written language. Gazing at the vast and dazzling ocean, what must those first Native peoples have felt, thought, sensed?

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Or when a storm came, and thunder and lightening pierced the dark sky and churned the tumultuous waves, what would they have felt, thought, sensed? Or as night fell, and the stars and planets appeared in the night sky, before air and light pollution existed, what must they have wondered? And if they fell asleep under the midnight canopy of stars, and awakened with the sun’s rising over the ocean, what must they have felt, thought, sensed as the sun’s brilliance dawned on them? Did they ask Who was the power, the creative force behind all this?

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In this way, immersed in wonder , mystery, and awe, the religions of the world were born, to somehow make meaning of that which is beyond our understanding, yet somehow sensed within us and all around us, within all creation.
Come, let us begin the quest together, the quest for the Ultimate.
This day may you see the Ultimate in all you encounter,
and may you reflect the Ultimate to all you encounter.

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Linda Forsberg, Copyright September 8, 2015

Photos:  Gramper Ted and Sylvie getting the backpack ready; Newport; the poor; Linda and friend in mosque; view from cliff walk, Newport, RI; stormy sky over third each, Newport; Easter sunrise, Sandy Point beach, Warwick, RI; Newport sunset