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:

God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God.
-First John 4:16
To get at the heart of understanding who God is, the asking of questions is central. It is to be on a quest. Each of us, whether we recognize it or not, is on a journey to understand and to seek a connection of his or her basic pieces of the human puzzle. In the words of a friend, whom I describe in the Introduction to Reflections from the Inner Light, “…to try and sort it all out.” We seek to discern who God is and why we are here.

If we are going to try and understand who God is, we must ask, “What tools do we have to help us in the process?”

First, we come to know God from the book of our Judeo-Christian heritage, the Bible. This is one of our tools. Although the Bible is messy, and filled with contradictions about God, I am helped by wrestling with it in my search for truth.

Secondly, we know about God from our tradition of faith. By learning about our Quaker tradition, and by being challenged by those persons who dedicated their lives to Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality and Stewardship of the Earth, we can come to know, in part, who God is.

Third, we come to know about God from our community, or from our interaction with one another.

Finally, we come to know about who God is from our own experience. As a Quaker, I would often hear my elders ask, “The Bible says this, and the Minister says that, but what can you say? What is your experience of God?

In what ways have you sought to know who God is?
What is the Quaker faith? It is not a tidy package of words which you can capture at any given time and then repeat weekly at a worship service. It is an experience of discovery which starts the discoverer on a journey which is lifelong. The discovery is not uniquely a property of Quakerism. It is as old as Christianity, and considerably older if you share the belief that many have known Christ who have not known his name. What is unique to the Religious Society of Friends is its insistence that the discovery must be made by each person for him or herself. No one can get it second-hand by accepting a ready-made creed. Furthermore, the discovery points to a path and demands a journey and gives you the power to make the journey.
-Elise Boulding
Do you agree with Elise Boulding’s definition of the Quaker faith as “an experience of discovery which starts the discoverer on a journey which is lifelong?”

Where are you in your journey?
Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”
-John 8:7
If you have ever tried to find a story that demonstrated the grace of God, the story at the beginning of Chapter 8 in John’s Gospel is the best that you will find. The “grace of God” is a phrase associated with the Christian religion, and is, I believe, an essential tenet of the Christian faith. It simply means that God’s love does not depend on one’s behavior, and it is not predicated on what you believe. In brief, grace is about extending God’s love to any and to all.

Quaker author, Phil Gulley and his friend, Jim Mulholland, co-authored a book titled, If Grace is True. It makes the bold claim that God will save every person. Phil writes, “Long before I believed that God would save every person, I claimed God as a loving parent…If God is a loving parent, then love will persist until every one of his children is reconciled to him.”

In John Chapter 8, the players include the Pharisees and the crowd, Jesus, and the woman caught in adultery. Both tradition and law dictate that she should be stoned for her offense. But was her sin worse than those who were condemning her? If we take the grace of God seriously, it completely undermines the image of God as a judgmental lawgiver enforcing on us a life of requirements before we receive God’s love. The theologian and writer, Marcus Borg adds, “If one does not leave the world of conventional wisdom, with its hypercritical nature and its eagerness to point out and condemn sins, then one remains in it…That, not hell, is the biggest threat to the eternal life Jesus offered.”

How would you define the “grace of God?”
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?