Centering Down

Centering 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:

For the Son of man came to seek and to save the lost.
-Luke 19:10
Spiritual experiences have a way of bursting into our lives from the outside. From outside our socio-economic group...from outside our "in-group"...from outside our ingrown patterns and ways of doing. Did you ever notice how in Scripture it is always the religious insider or the most self-righteous person who is also the most clueless when it comes to a new revelation of God in the world? We experience God in the form of a Samaritan or a leper, a prostitute or a centurion. And because of such experiences we view life from a completely different point of view...What we used to make fun of, we find ourselves doing, and what we used to do we now walk away from.

The focus of God's transforming power in the Scripture reading this morning is centered in a rich, Chief Tax-Collector named Zacchaeus. He was a teachable spirit, this Zacchaeus. He was about the work of seeking new insights, new revelations and new experiences that would lead to new beginnings.

I wish that I had known Zacchaeus in the flesh. I would have liked to ask him about his life after Jesus came to visit, and what would be his advice for those of still trying to sort it all out in this life. I don't know for sure what he would have said, but I would suppose that the following two suggestions may be a part of his advice:

First, pay attention to those who are peculiar and different, and who don't quite fit into our "in group." Pay attention to those on the outside of our lives who move us beyond ourselves.

Second, I think Zacchaeus would have encouraged us to fast from those things in our lives and in our culture that are disruptive to our souls. "What are those things or inner attitudes that prevent us or stifle us from growing spiritually?"

Who are those persons who are peculiar or different to whom you need to pay attention? What are those things or inner attitudes from which you need to fast?
And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.
-Acts 2:2
Today is the day that Western Christians celebrate Pentecost. The word is from the Greek and means 50th. For Christians it signifies 50 days after Easter.

Quakers believe that every day is Pentecost. They believe that the same Spirit and Light which blew through those gathered in Jerusalem on that first Pentecost, continues to transform and guide us today. The transformative experience may not look the same as the first Pentecost, but we believe that the Spirit of God that was present then, is still working in the lives of persons now.

And so how are the Spirit and Light of God working in the world today? In many ways, I am sure, but especially so in the following:

The transformative power of Spirit and Light are creating community out of isolation and alienation. Those pilgrims who came to Jerusalem fifty days after Easter did not know one another. They came from many lands, speaking in many different languages. Yet despite their language and cultural differences, this diverse group became an inclusive group and one in the Spirit of God. This same Spirit, through the medium of silent worship and fellowship, as well as spiritual nurture groups, is helping us form a beloved community today.

Secondly, God's Spirit and Light are creating hope out of hopelessness and despair. We are living in a difficult time that for many can seem hopeless. In such a time as this, how can we experience a sense of hope? As Quakers we believe that God is still active in our world, despite violence, wars, dirty politics and all of the woes reported in the News. People of faith, under the leadership of God's Spirit and Light are creating opportunities to bring justice to the oppressed, and offer peaceful solutions in a world filled with violence. As Mr. Rogers would say, "Look for the Helpers...Look for the Helpers."

How are Spirit and Light working in your life?
Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God.
-First John 4:7
This being what our society has deemed, "Mother's Day," I would like to take this opportunity to share some words about my mother. Although my mother left this earthly life 25 years ago, a day does not go by that I do not think of her. My mother died of complications due to Alzheimer's disease. Toward the end of her life, my mother, a woman who took such great pride in her family, did not know me. Quietly she would sit in her chair staring down at the floor. Periodically she would mumble, and her hands would move as though she were knitting or playing the piano. At the peak of her creativity, "gifted" is not too strong of a word to describe my mother's artistic talent.

Toward the end, I began to notice that she could still share certain gifts: First is the gift of grief. As with any loss that has connected us with another, grief is a natural response. I grieved the loss of her counsel, and I missed what can only be called her stubborn determination and her Quaker gentleness.

Second is the gift of laughter. Although she did not know the reason for the laughter when I would visit her, she could still smile. Her mere presence evoked fun family stories and lots of laughter.

Third is the gift of gratitude. I became grateful for the experience of spiritual connection that I felt as I sensed her confusion.

Fourth is the gift of forgiveness and repentance. Because my mother's illness progressed slowly, there was time for the gift of forgiveness and repentance.

Finally, there is the gift of love. As my mother slowly drifted beyond this earthly realm, I could still love her. "God is love," writes John. My mother's illness could take away many things, but it could never destroy love.

What memories does a day like this evoke within you?
Beware of the scribes...
-Mark 12:38
The Gospel of Mark, Chapter 12, is a particularly contentious section of the Gospel. Here we have Scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees and other religious leaders trying to entrap Jesus. Jesus is not very gentle with them, but continues to teach them about the Kingdom of God.

What is the issue with the Scribes that Jesus has to warn us about them, telling us to beware of them? There seem to be several symptoms of their wrongdoing, but, I believe, the root cause is that instead of glorifying God, they have glorified themselves. And instead of loving their neighbors and caring for the most vulnerable in their society, they have, in Jesus' words, "devoured widow's houses and have recited long prayers for the sake of appearances."

It is easy for us in 21st Century America to commend Jesus for his words and to dislike these Scribes. But we need to step back for a moment and ask, "Why did they become Scribes in the first place?" Certainly a few may have entered into the vocation for the wrong reasons, but the majority, I would assume, probably wanted to faithfully serve God with all of their hearts. So what went so badly wrong in their lives that Jesus specifically denounces them? I believe it is this, and it is a problem with political and religious leadership throughout the ages: The Scribes began with a desire to do good, but they were swept away by power, praise, lobbyists and possessions, and slowly turned away from their first love. The Scribes had fallen into the same trap that so many fall into--the one where we begin by wanting to serve God and do good for the world, and end up desiring only that the world does good for us. All of their studies, prayers and actions had not been able to penetrate their hearts, or if at one point their hearts were penetrated, they have now become hardened.

Are our hearts open, recognizing with The Little Prince that "It is only with the heart that one can see rightly?"