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 if any one will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town.
-Matthew 10:14
In my message this morning, I will be talking about what I call, “The Armageddon Anxiety.” The battle of Armageddon represents the final showdown of history, in which the forces of evil will throw themselves against the good and be finished once and for all. The term, Armageddon, which is only used once in the Bible, in Revelation 16:16, has become a form of shorthand that history will end not with a whimper, but with a big bang, in which God will emerge victorious.

“The Armageddon Anxiety” is something that crops up every time we experience accelerated change in the world. It is an anxiety that is all around us today, as doomsday criers announce the end of the world.

There is an undertreated word from Jesus that might help us resist such an anxiety. It was spoken by Jesus as a part of his charge to the twelve disciples when they went out from him on their first mission. As given in Matthew, it reads, (See Epigraph at top of page) This action can be labeled, “The Sacrament of Failure.” I am sure that such a charge was also given to the “Valiant 60” of Quaker history, that group of itinerant preachers who went out from Swarthmoor Hall in the 17th Century to share the message of Quakerism.

In brief, Jesus was saying to his disciples, “You can’t win them all.” There will be times when we will have to take a stand, be firm in our convictions, and be willing to accept the consequences of such convictions. And there will be other times when we will have to shake the dust off our feet and move on.

How does one discern the difference between a “Here I Stand” conviction, and one that is negotiable?
But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
-Luke 10:29
Mercy can be defined as, “Compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm.” In the Scripture reading this morning the lawyer receives a lesson on mercy. The lawyer asks, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” When he finally answers, Jesus tells him what he wants to hear. “You have given the right answer.” The lawyer knows what is written in the law. He goes on to test Jesus again, asking, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus responds by telling the story about what we call, “The Good Samaritan,” which is found only in the Gospel of Luke. And in conclusion, Jesus asks, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor?” The response from the lawyer: “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said, “Go and do likewise.”

I know how difficult it is to ask for help, and so do you. After all, we are successful and lettered people! But I also know that at times we may be the ones on the side of the road in need of assistance…in need of mercy. Perhaps the only way we can see ourselves as the Samaritan—the one called to give help and healing to those in need—is first to recognize how often we have been the traveler left for dead. Once we have encountered the radical grace, love and forgiveness of God, it is hard to look at anything or anyone quite the same.

The experience of mercy…giving or receiving…is one of the ways that helps us to grow spiritually. I am grateful for the experiences of mercy shown to me throughout my life, and the continuing spiritual lessons about mercy that I am always processing…It is a life-long learning experience. And I am also grateful that the God I worship is a God of new beginnings, and of these new beginnings, there is no end.

In what ways have you experienced mercy from others?
For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
-Matthew 16:25
What did Jesus believe about God? Jesus understood God to be present in the here and now, not a distant reality. This is what is meant when we speak about the “Kingdom of God within you.” This understanding of God suggests some limitations of God’s involvement in human life. Jesus did not experience God as a power operating in the world apart from humans. God did not stop the world for Jesus. Jesus understood that there were many things that he could not do. There was pain he could not stop and there were powers in the world that would eventually overwhelm him.

The basic reality that Jesus experienced as God had the character of love. In his new book, Unlearning God, Quaker author Phil Gulley writes, “So God is love, right? Well, that depends on how we understand love…I believe that God is that essence in us that reaches out to another, committed to their well-being, their enlightenment, their moral, emotional, relational and spiritual growth.” Jesus embodied in a radical way the kind of love that Phil defined…The kind of love that gave the life of Jesus its richness and ultimate meaning.

Being grounded in this radical love does not just happen. People must decide to act out of love…to believe that what one can feel, taste, count and measure are not all there is to life. It means giving oneself over to this transcendent reality that we call the God of radical love. This is what Jesus meant when he said, “…whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” To see life through the lens of radical love means seeing through the myriad of things that tend to obstruct our sight and limit us spiritually and emotionally.

What are those things that limit our radical love focus?
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
-Matthew 11:28
While living in North Carolina, I became acquainted with a writer named Reynolds Price. Because of a rare spinal cancer that almost killed him 20 years ago, he was confined to a wheelchair. His book, A Whole New Life tells about a healing vision he had of Jesus, that he believes saved his life. In an interview with the Oxford Review, he said, “When you undergo huge traumas in middle-life, everybody is in league with us to deny that the old life is ended…Everybody is trying to patch us up and get us back to who we were, when in fact what we need to be told is, ‘You’re dead. Who are you going to be tomorrow?’”

There are many issues that are a part of processing the question, “Who are you going to be tomorrow?” They are sacred issues, and how we live into them will determine the direction of our lives. For me, I am constantly working through these issues, and, like John Ruskin, “I am never satisfied that I have handled a subject properly till I have contradicted myself at least three times!” (Thanks to Rick Reckman for this quotation) I can, however, paint some broad strokes on where I have landed, at least for now:

1. Authenticity has become central in what I search for in persons and in communities. Are persons and communities credible, reliable, genuine and real?

2. I have learned to value the humility by which some persons live and interact with others. Humility has taught me to question and live into the mystery that surrounds me.

3. The idea of sabbath or rest has become more and more important to me. Earlier in life it was all about doing, now I love the words of Jesus… “Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

Who are you going to be tomorrow?