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:

For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be servants of one another.
-Galatians 5:13
Shortly before his 29th birthday in 1838, Abraham Lincoln produced the first expression of an idea which was to play an important part in his mature thinking a quarter of a century later. It concerned the American Dream. Because he was a student of history, he knew that many societies had arisen and flourished for a while, and then had disappeared. Lincoln worried that America might experience this fate, not by outward forces, but by inner decay. He wrote: "At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reaches us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction comes, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of free persons, we must live through all time, or die by suicide."

I am convinced that a society will die by its own hand if it cuts itself off from its spiritual roots. As Quakers we believe that our spiritual roots can be nourished by practicing the Quaker Testimonies of Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality and Stewardship of the earth. I would also suggest that we need to recover five important virtues that are necessary if we are to survive as a free society.

1. Courage...to believe in what you believe in without fear of consequences. 2. Competence...the ability to think reflectively and critically on how to deal with the complexities of modern life. 3. Civility...to treat one another with respect and care. 4. Conscience...to do the right thing by believing in truth and honesty, and 5. Compassion...to suffer with those who are treated in a cruel way.

Do you agree with Lincoln that our greatest threat as a free society is coming or will come from within?
"What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost, until he finds it?
-Luke 15:4
Being lost is a part of life. I know people who have said that it was at that point when they were totally immersed in chaos, when they were totally lost, when they had hit rock bottom that their lives began to turn around, and they began to see God in the chaos with them. George Fox understood this. At the lowest point of his search for answers to his spiritual questions he heard a voice which said, "There is one, even Christ Jesus who can speak to your condition." And upon hearing this, Fox said, "My heart did leap for joy."

In this parable, perhaps what Jesus is saying is that being lost, knowing that you are lost, admitting that you are lost, is a good thing. God will find you in that. This is the good kind of being lost.

There is another kind of being lost, however, that is not good. It looks something like the Pharisees and the scribes who are lost, but they do not think they are lost. This kind of lost is to be sure of oneself and one's place in life that all around is black or white...inside here, outside there...Republicans over here, Democrats over there. In such certainty, nothing can get in. When you don't know you are lost, there is no need for grace to be found.

Sometimes what we desperately need is to get lost...to get out of those boxes that feel good and secure and safe, and step out into the darkness. Sometimes we choose to leave the boxes on our own, and at other times we are pushed out of them by forces beyond our control. Sometimes being lost remains the only way to be found.

Do you know the experience of being lost?
Jesus turned and saw them following, and said to them, "What do you seek?"
-John 1:18
The first words that Jesus speaks in the Gospel of John are in the form of a question..."What do you seek?" The question is addressed to two followers of John the Baptist who are seeking to follow Jesus. Their response is, "Rabbi" or "Teacher." The question asked is not only for the disciples in the story, but for the readers of the story as well. What do people seek when they see in Jesus the spiritual qualities that they would like to emulate? In short, if I am going to follow Jesus, for what am I looking?

It is important for me to make the question a personal one. "What do I seek when I follow Jesus?" Or, "What is it about Jesus that makes me want to follow him?"

First, I like what Stephen Mitchell says about Jesus when he says, "Those who are drawn to Jesus have a hunger for the real." For me, this is the central hunger in my quest for God through my understanding of Jesus...the hunger for the real, for the authentic.

Second, in Jesus I find one who is detached from this world, and yet, paradoxically, intensely connected to it. In A Testament of Devotion, Thomas Kelly says, "God plucks the world out of our hearts, loosening the chains of attachment, and God hurls the world into our hearts, where we and God together carry it in infinitely tender love."

Third, in Rabbi Jesus I find one who loves me unconditionally, and in whom I can find reassurance that for all of my shortcomings, I am still loved. In the God of Jesus, I know that love is unconditional, a love that helps us to know that with all of our faults, we are still okay.

What do you seek in following Jesus?
Then Abraham drew near, and said, "Wilt thou indeed destroy the righteous with the wicked?
-Genesis 18:23
There are certain passages of scripture and message themes to which I periodically return. One of my favorite passages in Hebrew scripture is found in Genesis, Chapter 18. Here we have this wonderful dialogue between Abraham and God. God is proceeding along with intentions to blow up the cities, and Abraham intervenes. Abraham is concerned about God venting his wrath on evil in such an indiscriminate way. He begins to challenge God's thinking by asking, "What if there are 50 righteous persons in cities. Would you still destroy them?" And on it goes..."What if there are 45?" "What about 40?" "What about 30?" "What about 20?" "What about 10?" If you know the story, not even 10 could be found.

The outcome of this story should not be our focus. What is amazing and revealing is this odd dialogue with God, which was Abraham's struggle with himself and his own religious certainty. He had caught himself feeling just too good about what was happening...about those evil cities and people getting what they deserve, and about God seeing things just the way that he did.

Human beings throughout history have consistently been in their most dangerous condition when they were certain beyond a shadow of any doubt that they knew the will, the mind and the preferences of God. It has been from those points of strongest belief that we had so many persecutions, inquisitions, witch hunts, holy wars and disownments.

Of all the greatness the Bible ascribes to Abraham, it says nothing more highly than this: his mercy and caring went even beyond his belief and understanding of God.

When do our beliefs get in the way of our mercy and caring?