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:

The world is full of suffering. It is also full of overcoming.
-Hellen Keller
The Apostle Paul wrote in his Letter to the young Roman Church, “We rejoice in our sufferings because suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character, and character produces hope and hope does not disappoint us because the love of God is poured into our hearts through the power of the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5) These verses out of the Letter to the Romans, what many scholars believe to be the most important of Paul’s Letters, is not saying that tragedy or pain make us happy. Rather, Paul is saying that God is about the business of helping us to transform sadness, our losses, our anger into something positive through the power of love…And that positive is hope.

Over the years I have grown fond of Don Quixote and his colleague, Sancho Panza. His story is portrayed in the musical, Man of La Mancha. Don Quixote, in the words of the musical, is always, “tilting at windmills.” This has become an idiom in current English to mean a fruitless battle against a trumped-up enemy. In the musical, Sancho Panza sings a song that asks the question, “Why does he do the things he does?” Why does he risk his life and limb to prove some point of gallantry? Why doesn’t he just let things lie as they are?

The answer, I think, for Don Quixote is not unlike an answer that Paul might give…One finds strength in the endeavor to be faithful to God in the power of hope to overcome what is evil—to empower us with character and equip us to engage in the fight for justice.

When Paul writes about hope, he is writing about the hope that has empowered our heroes—Heroes like Martin Luther King Jr., the Quaker, Bayard Rustin, Mother Teresa, and the Quakers who fill the Books of Sufferings. That is the hope that allows us to do the things that we need to do for justice, for peace, for equality and for the expendables of our society, the poor, the immigrant and for all of those who have given up hope. It is a hope that can be transforming.

How has the power of hope transformed your life?
Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands…and put my hand in his side, I will not believe.
-John 20:25
You know the story…Following the crucifixion, the disciples were locked in a house for fear that they too will be killed. And then, as recorded in John, “Jesus came and stood among them.” For some reason Thomas was not with them, and when told about the appearance of the resurrected Jesus, he said, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands…and put my hand in his side, I will not believe.” And this is how he earned his nickname, “Doubting Thomas.”

As the story goes, a week later Jesus appeared again in the house, and this time Thomas was present. Jesus turned to Thomas and said, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas did what was requested, and exclaimed, “My Lord and my God.”

Two things in this story stand out for me, both of which have to do with vulnerability. First is the courage that Thomas showed by his doubting, thus making him vulnerable to ridicule from his believing colleagues. For Thomas, the crucifixion had destroyed his hope. In the act of doubting, he put his hands into the nail prints and into Jesus’ side, thus moving him to exclaim, “My Lord and my God.” A new transformative experience of God took place, and a new paradigm of understanding the work of God in the world was beginning to unfold.

The second aspect of this story that I find so meaningful is the vulnerability that Jesus displayed by openly showing his disciples his scars. Here is the post-Easter Christ, and he is still carrying the scars of his crucifixion. Here in the safety of this small company of persons that Jesus had come to trust and love, he becomes vulnerable by showing his scars.

We all have doubts, and we all have scars. I am convinced that one of the ways we can experience the Living Light of Christ is in this place of relationship and authenticity, where we share our doubts and share our scars.

How do you respond or relate to this story?
"Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road…”
-Luke 24:32
This is the day that Christians from around the world are celebrating the resurrection of Jesus. Quakers have always emphasized that every day is Easter, or that Christ is always being resurrected within our hearts. In our earliest years we did not celebrate the resurrection only once a year…For Friends, it was a continuous celebration.

There are different ways to look at the resurrection. Some insist it did not happen. These persons cannot wrap their minds around what we read in the Gospels. How can someone be brought back to life following death? For them, it is impossible.

For others, they accept the resurrection without question. It is the central article of their faith, and what they read in the Gospel narratives is Truth, with a capital “T,” even though the accounts of the resurrection vary with each narrative.

Still others regard the resurrection as a symbol or metaphor. It is just a story like other stories in Scripture.

A fourth way is what I would call the Quaker way, and that is keeping an open mind and open heart. We can believe in miracles and we can believe in science. We can be open to the resurrection experience in our hearts, and we can be open to how the Gospels portray Jesus’ resurrection, asking questions and processing the scholarship that is available to us. These are not mutually exclusive.

Whatever happened on that First Day following the crucifixion of Jesus, it had a profound impact upon the Disciples. It altered their behavior and their understanding of God. Their Jewish tradition of Martyrdom and redemption gave them the words by which to proclaim, God raised Jesus from the dead. They experienced something that made their hearts burn within them and was the cause for the complete transformation of their lives.

How do you explain, and/or experience the resurrection?
“My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me…”
-Matthew 26:38
The drama of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane is one of the most remarkable scenes in the Gospels. Here in Gethsemane we see Jesus in his complete humanity. In this final struggle with his humanity, Mark introduces the conflict with the words, “He began to be panic-stricken and distraught.” Matthew characterizes Jesus as sorrowful and troubled.”

Matthew’s account of what took place at Gethsemane indicates that it was a soul wrenching experience…The soul of God and the soul of Jesus engaged with one another. Three times Matthew tells us that Jesus prayed, “My father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.” And three times he returned to the three sleeping disciples to garner their support. “Won’t you watch with me, just one hour?”

Gethsemane is a place where souls meet. I would suggest this morning that for those who are 21st Century spiritual seekers, Gethsemane is any place and any time when we struggle to know the will of God for our lives. Gethsemane is a spiritual environment that is charged with possibility and hope, healing and risk. It is difficult to know clearly God’s purpose and will for our lives, and when we believe that we finally know, we will agonize over a decision to follow or to hold back.

Think about the last time that you were in Gethsemane…In that place where souls meet. Every time that we seek to know the will of God for the future direction of Cincinnati Meeting, we are in Gethsemane. As we seek direction and clarification in our own personal lives, we are in Gethsemane. Whatever it is that thrusts us into a state of aloneness with God, that is a Gethsemane experience. And we need Gethsemane. We need Gethsemane to make caring decisions about ourselves and others, what Quakers would call “discernment.” We need the courage and strength that comes from meditative silence when we open our hearts to the “still small voice.”

What have been your Gethsemane experiences?