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:

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
-Matthew 5:6
We are living in a time when whole segments of our population feel that they are being treated unjustly. Such feelings of injustice have permeated all communities of color, but most recently, and especially, our African-American and Latino communities.

I have been thinking this past week about the de-sensitizing of American Society. Hardening of the heart is a major spiritual problem. As a Quaker, I have to ask, "Can we offer any antidote to such hardness of heart? Is there a model of spirituality to whom we can turn?

During this time of turmoil I have turned to John Woolman, my favorite Quaker journalist, and one who took The Beatitudes seriously. In his Journal, Woolman describes his own transformation process, a transformation that moved him to be outraged by injustice. He writes, "... my heart was tender and often contrite, and a universal love to my fellow creatures increased in me."

Two elements of Woolman's transformation stand out for me, and, I believe, are helpful to our situation today. First, Woolman immersed himself into the fellowship of suffering.Following a dream, coupled with other awakening experiences, he came to recognize his interconnectedness with all who suffer injustice.

A second element was Woolman's ever deepening sensitivity and humility, which issued in his belief that turning all the treasures that we possess into the channel of universal love, becomes the business of our lives.

Are we able to grow in love and understanding during this time of turmoil in our country?
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
-Hebrews 11:1
This passage from Hebrews is an invitation into the mystery of life and faith. It carries within it two words which are most elusive in the world of questioning...Assurance and Conviction. They are words designed to lessen our anxieties, and provide us something firm on which we can rest our weary questioning minds and spirits. I don't know about you, but there are times I am absolutely assured of very little, and my convictions are usually accompanied with statements like, "On the other hand..." and "Yes, but..."

We live in a world of mystery, and the older I get the more mysterious it becomes. If we accept this truth, living in the faith of assurance for things hoped for, and conviction of things not seen, it seems that certain elements should become central to how we live life in the mystery.

First is patience. For the most part we are a people of impatience. We want it yesterday. We are fine with being cooped up at home for a month or so, but then we become impatient, and we want this virus to go away on our time schedule. Assurance and conviction come to those who wait...who have patience.

A second element is a sense of adventure. Alfred North Whitehead has said, "Without the high hope of adventure, faith degenerates into the mere appendage of a comfortable life." An adventurous faith, which encompasses a sense of spiritual expectancy, leads to assurance and conviction.

Finally, weaving throughout the practice of patience and a faith of adventure is the element of trust. It is a trust that whatever happens...whatever obstacles that come our way, we will find a purpose in God's pattern as it unfolds before us.

Is your faith one of assurance and conviction? How so?
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril or sword?... No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
-Romans 8
Elton Trueblood wrote about "living all our days in the midst of strain," and that "we have come into the stormy latitudes of history." Sitting at my desk as we are experiencing a pandemic, Elton's words seem profound and prophetic.

Even though it is difficult to reflect upon what we are experiencing at the moment and find anything more than horror and grief, some observations can be made. How we cope now tells us much about how we will continue to recover.

First, we cope by processing our corporate hurt and suffering by seeking a more intense connection with God, our families, and with our faith communities. During our most difficult times in life, we always turn to our most trusted institutions to process our hurt.

Second, we cope via a renewed quest for meaning in life. Such a quest is in response to the question that most of us have asked during this pandemic, "What is really important in life?"

Third, we seek justice....We seek to understand how all of this has come about, and learn how we can repair our social safety net so that we can be ready for future experiences of similar pandemics and depressions.

Finally, we cope because we have hope. Our faith is centered in hope, and Romans 8 provides the basis for this hope.

In the last few months, how have you experienced hope?
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise persons but as wise...
-Ephesians 5:15
There are many ways that we learn wisdom. Wisdom finds meaning and purpose in everyday routines that may seem small when compared with the major issues the world faces right now. The rearing of children, conversing with a neighbor while out walking, preparing meals and even expressing gratitude to the cashier at Kroger's when you buy groceries. Wisdom distinguishes the significant from the trivial. It sees the extraordinary in the ordinary. It finds the sacred in the otherwise mundane practices of life.

My definition of wisdom is simple: It is knowledge, to be sure, but it is more than knowledge. It is knowledge coupled with a child-like innocence and openness.

Many of you remember or have heard of Karl Barth, perhaps the most influential theologian of the last century. Shortly before he died, he was giving a lecture at Princeton University, and at the conclusion was asked, "Dr. Barth, what is the one thing that you want me as a disciple of Jesus Christ to know?" Barth's simple response, "Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so." Perhaps a profound and simple wisdom is the fruit of arduous study that passes through the maze of complex thought.

Eckhart Tolle has written words which sound as if they could have been written by a Quaker, "Wisdom comes with the ability to be still. Just look and just listen. No more is needed. Being still, looking and listening, activates the non-conceptual intelligence within you. Let stillness direct your actions." In this time of pandemic and quarantine, these words take on special meaning. May we be still, look and listen, and let the stillness direct our words and our actions.

How are you growing in wisdom during this pandemic?