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:

And the crowds that went before him and that followed him shouted, "Hosanna to the son of David!"
-Matt. 21:9
Our Christian tradition teaches us that today is the day that we celebrate the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. We are all familiar with the story, where Jesus sends two disciples to get him a donkey to ride into the Holy City. All of the pictures in our minds show Jesus sitting atop this little animal, with people laying palm branches and garments in front of him, shouting "Hosanna," and waving at him from the windows of their homes. We know the story.

For the Gospel writers, this story is important because it is used by them to support the prophecy that we find in Zechariah 9:9, which reads, "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on an ass, on a colt the foal of an ass."

Over the years, biblical scholars have been skeptical of this story. Many claim that the story was conceived by the writers to fit the prophecy of Zechariah. Whatever the historical accuracy of how Matthew tells this story, I like it because it is a snapshot of hope. It is a story that can be celebrated with joy because we are not supposed to know what happens on the Friday to come.

Shouting "Hosanna" in a time of pandemic may seem to some that we Christians are delusional. No, we know the seriousness of the situation. This does not keep us, however, from looking for signs of hope amidst despair. As we enter this next week, a week that is known as Holy Week, may we be aware of the snapshots of hope that are all around us, and give thanks to God for the strength and courage to face whatever may come. "Hosanna to God in the highest!"

What snapshots of hope have you been witnessing?
My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.
-2 Corinthians 12:9
Power is made perfect in weakness, writes Paul. As a nation and as individuals, we find our inner authority, our spiritual center, only when we face our weaknesses. And we are certainly learning about weakness during this time of sickness and quarantine.

Jesus was always hanging out with those who were hurting and who were oppressed. His mission was to invite weak and wounded people to enter the Kingdom of God, the beloved community of love, forgiveness, justice and restored life. But his starting point was weakness. He was in the business of transforming weakness into strength. The question is whether we will be vulnerable enough to allow God to turn our weakness into strength.

In our nation, and in every nation on earth, I believe that God is in the business of mending flaws. God is in the business of turning our defeats into victories, our disappointments into hope. The first step is to trust that the Light of God will help us deepen our weakness until that weakness becomes a path to strength. When this occurs, then impossible things can happen. By God's grace, our weakness can become a healing force, a conduit to help make other wounded people whole.

Our weaknesses and our wounds are not to be desired; they cause terrible pain. But our wounds can make our hearts softer, more aware of the pain of others. If our wounds as a nation and as individuals do not turn into bitterness, they can become a place where God works to bring about tenderness and kindness, and move us to compassion.

How have your weaknesses become strengths?
I have learned to be content in whatever state I am.
-Philippians 4:11
I am sure that all of you know what has been called, The Serenity Prayer: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.” The authorship is usually attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr, the theologian and social reformer of the Nineteen Thirties. The Apostle Paul did not use the wording of the prayer, but he lived by its precepts: "I have learned to be content in whatever state I am." As we begin our journey into the unknown of this pandemic crisis, I find this prayer and these words from Paul comforting. In this prayer, we are seeking the gifts of Grace and Acceptance...Courage, and Wisdom.

First, during this time we need to be kind to ourselves and kind to others with whom we come in contact. Everyone is on edge; everyone has a pool of tears with which they are living. No one is perfect...We all make mistakes, and we are all trying to adjust to the new realities of life in a time of pandemic. God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.

Secondly, our prayer asks for courage to change what can and should be changed. We need courage to change the way that we live and interact with one another. And out of this difficult time, there will be many stories of great courage. God grant me the courage to change the things I can.

A third element in the prayer asks God for wisdom to know the difference between what we cannot change and what we can change. We need God's wisdom to help us discern the difference.

How are you coping with the new realities we are facing?
We can damage our spirits by being too impatient when patience is needed, and too patient when impatience is needed.
The parable of the barren fig tree is only found in the Gospel of Luke. (Luke 13:6-9) In reading this parable, several things come to mind. First is the anger of the landowner. He wants the tree cut down for not bearing fruit during the first three years of its fruit-bearing life. And you and I can relate to such anger. Each of us has those places within ourselves that do not bear fruit, and which can cause anger.

Secondly, I would ask us to identify with the impatience of the vineyard owner, and the patience of the gardener. Both are important to the life of the spirit. We can damage our spirits by being too impatient when patience is needed, and too patient when impatience is needed. May we seek to discover within our own lives when God is leading us to be more patient and when God is calling us to be impatient.

A third way in which we can identify with this parable is in the plea for grace by the gardener. “Let it alone, sir, please!” I really find myself sympathetic with that little fig tree. There are times when it is okay to be barren. There are times when being in the wilderness is alright. As a matter of spiritual growth, to be barren and to be in the wilderness are important parts of the ebb and flow of the spiritual life.

The parables of Jesus are wonderful stories for our spiritual nurture. They are teaching tools designed to help understand the God of love which he proclaimed, and to move us into a deeper understanding of who we are and what our purpose on this earth really is.

How do you interpret the parable of the barren fig tree?