Centering Down

photo-nov-06-10-58-37-amCentering Down is an adult spiritual sharing group that takes place in the meetinghouse library every Sunday at 10 AM, before worship. All are welcome to join at any time.

Each week’s topic is included in the bulletin. It typically includes a few passages from the minister’s message, as well as some queries—questions to stimulate self-examination and thought. We might spend several minutes in silent reflection before anyone speaks. Individuals are encouraged to speak from their own experiences and to listen deeply to one another, allowing a little time for reflection between speakers. In this way, we can come to know one another better and share our unique portion of Light with one another.

The following are recent centering down passages:

Pray that God from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with might through his Spirit in your inner being, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts…
-Ephesians 3:14-17
This morning I want to talk about the divide in this country between those with “closed hearts,” and those with “open hearts.” It is important to note that the Bible’s understanding of the word “heart” is much broader than how we understand it in today’s English. In Scripture, and in Quaker theology, “heart” is a metaphor for the inner self. The heart is the spiritual center of the total self which affects our sight, thoughts, feelings, and will.

What are the marks of an open or awakened heart? First, an awakened heart is alive to wonder and sees the world as extraordinary. An open heart knows about “radical amazement.”

Second, an awakened heart and gratitude go together. Gratitude humbles us and keeps us grounded.

Third, an awakened heart is a questioning heart. An open heart is always seeking and searching for meaning in this life.

Fourth, an awakened heart is usually in transition, recognizing that the old foundations that used to work no longer do. An open heart is always in search of new foundations.

Fifth, an awakened heart and compassion and a passion for justice go together. Compassion and a passion for justice are the ethical impulses that go with an open heart.

How does one recognize a closed heart?
But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
-Amos 5:24
John Rawls was a philosopher who taught at Harvard. About 40 years ago he set out a theory of justice which is quoted whenever “justice” is discussed or debated. Amos would have liked John Rawls! His approach to the issue of justice is a variation on the issue of how to divide one piece of cake equitably between two children. The answer is that one child cuts the cake into two pieces, while the other has first choice of which piece to eat. Since the child with the knife does not know which piece of cake she will get, she has maximum motivation to ensure that both pieces are as big as possible. This will happen only if the two pieces are the same size.

Using a more sophisticated version of this approach, Rawls sets out his theory of justice, which he calls, “Justice as Fairness.” He imagines a group of people who will select principles of justice for their society. They meet behind what Rawls calls a veil of ignorance, which keeps them from knowing which positions they occupy in society.

What principles of justice will they choose? Rawls argues that people will maximize the minimum possibility. Rawls does not say that everyone’s piece of cake must be the same size, only that changes in public policy should not reduce the chance that people with small pieces can find ways to get bigger ones. Changes in public policy must enhance, not diminish the prospects of the least well off.

The Roman legislator and playwright, Seneca, wrote: “This is no time for playing around. You have been retained as counsel for the unhappy. You have promised to bring help to the shipwrecked, the imprisoned, the sick, the needy…Where are you directing your attention?”
There is a divine center into which your life can slip, a new and absolute orientation in God, a Center where you live with God and out of which you see all of life through a new and radiant vision… -Thomas Kelly
In his little book, A Testament of Devotion, the Quaker Thomas Kelly first shared about his transformational experience with God. Opening a series of lectures at Germantown Friends Meeting in Philadelphia, he said, “I want to speak as simply, as tenderly, as clearly as I can. For God can be found.”

When I first read these words as an undergraduate at Friends University in Wichita, Kansas, they leaped off the page and directly touched my heart. I was moved to examine my own life as a result of the authenticity of Kelly’s experience—For God can be found. Over the years, few words have touched my heart more profoundly than these.

Following his failure at Harvard, Thomas Kelly moved from knowledge about the God of history, to acquaintance with the God of the immediate present. A philosopher, Kelly examined his life, and out of such examination two fruits emerged:

The first fruit can be called a profound simplicity. Struggling long and hard with the difficult questions of life can lead one into a faith that is profoundly simple. A profound simplicity is the fruit of arduous study that has passed through the maze of complex thought.

Another fruit of the examined life is humility. Out of the examination of life issues, a spirit of humility is born that develops through the recognition that we have a long way to grow!

In what ways have you “found God” in your life experiences?
My grief is beyond healing, my heart is sick within me.
-Jeremiah 8:18
Groaning grief seems to be the ongoing theme in much of our world. Our headlines are filled with sorrow. And into our world come the words of the Prophet Jeremiah that are filled with sorrow and lament: “ that my head were a spring of water, and my eyes a fountain of tears, so that I might weep day and night for the slain of my poor people.” Jeremiah is a weeping prophet. He does not have a bright smile or slick hair or tell funny stories. Tears are his food day and night. His tears, however, may not be what you think. Within his sorrow and his tears is a seed of hope.

Prophets like Jeremiah are filled with hope, not just bearers of bad news. Their tears are rooted in a hope in God. His warnings of doom are always followed by promises of hope. The prophetic ministry of grief is always hopeful. Those who do not grieve cannot truly hope because weeping permits newness, healing and hope.

Peter Gomes has written, “Hope is not the opposite of suffering; suffering is the necessary antecedent of hope, because in and through suffering, hope manifests. A hope is forged upon the anvil of adversity. . . Hope is the stuff that gets through and beyond when the worst that can happen happens. Hope is not merely the optimistic view that somehow everything will turn out alright in the end. . . Hope is more rugged, that even if things don’t turn out alright and aren’t alright, we endure through and beyond the times that disappoint or threaten to destroy us.”

In what ways has the grief that you have experienced made you hopeful?