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:

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life…But seek first God’s Kingdom and God’s righteousness…
-Matthew 6: 25,33
I was a first-year seminary student at the Earlham School of Religion when I began to think seriously about Jesus, particularly his humanity. I was enrolled in what was then called Theology I. My professor was Jim Yerkes. Sitting atop the back of his chair, and taking off his glasses to make his point, Professor Yerkes asked, “What I would like to know is, did Jesus ever stub his toe in the dark and then have something to say about it?” The question hit me and some of the other more orthodox students like a brick. Picturing Jesus holding his toe and jumping up and down on one leg while yelling…whatever…was beyond what many of us could imagine. It was a teachable moment for me, and I have not forgotten the importance of the question in helping me to more fully understand the humanity of Jesus.

For me, a more important question than the humanity/divinity debate about Jesus, is the question about what Jesus thought about God and those things that give life its non-anxious meaning. Jesus believed in a God who is present in human life, not a distant reality. Jesus understood that the Kingdom of God is already present, not a future hope. He believed that God is within us, as close as the human heart. Jesus did not experience God as a power operating in the world apart from humanity. God did not stop the world for Jesus, and there were powers in the world that eventually overwhelmed him. To know God’s power in the way that Jesus knew it, as the Kingdom within us, is to know God as a reality running through all of life. When one responds to this Light and Love, everything changes…everything is transformed.

Did Jesus ever stub his toe in the dark and have something to say about it? I don’t know…Perhaps. I do know that Jesus challenged his contemporaries and continues to challenge us to live lives that are not filled with anxiety, but are filled, instead, with God’s love.

What does it mean to seek God’s Kingdom and righteousness first?
And he sat down and called the twelve; and he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”
-Mark 9:35
There has been much discussion lately about how we treat others, from a focus on the anniversary of the violent Charlottesville demonstrations to the tweets from the President. It seems that we have entered a time when, for many, civility is not a priority in our interactions, and deep-seated ethnic prejudices are finding public expression. I am reminded of a post on Facebook which read, “Remember that God loves every person with whom you interact, so always be kind.”

An important life lesson was recently sent to me via email on the importance of all people, regardless of class or station in life. The author writes: “During my second month of college, our professor gave us a pop quiz. I was a conscientious student and had breezed through the questions until I read the last one: ‘What is the name of the woman who cleans the school?’ Surely, I thought, this was some kind of joke. I had seen the cleaning woman several times. She was tall, dark-haired and in her 50’s, but how would I know her name? I handed in my paper, leaving the question blank. Just before the class ended, one student asked if the last question would count toward our quiz grade. ‘Absolutely,’ said the professor, ‘In your careers you will meet many people. All are significant. They deserve your attention and care, even if all you do is smile and say hello.’ I’ve never forgotten that lesson. I also learned that her name is Dorothy.”

Jesus summarizes how we should live and treat others in Chapter 9 of the Gospel of Mark: “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”

In what ways have you been a servant to others?

Do you express your gratitude to those persons who serve you…bank clerks, cashiers, waiters and waitresses etc.?
Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain…And he opened his mouth and taught them…
-Matthew 5:1-2
A few years ago, there was an article in the National Journal titled, “In Nothing We Trust.” I was attracted to the article because it focused on my home community of Muncie, Indiana, often referred to in sociological studies as “Middletown, USA.” The article interviews a man who had lost his job…his wife had lost her job, and his home had been foreclosed upon. The man felt betrayed and cut adrift by a society that no longer valued him.

The statistics in this article mirror this man’s feelings as he expressed them to the National Journal: 7 in 10 Americans believe that the country is on the wrong track…8 in 10 are dissatisfied with the way the nation is being governed…Only 23% have confidence in banks and just 19% have confidence in “big” business, and so forth.

It was a different time, to be sure, but it was also very much like the time in which we are now living. There was a growing gap between the very rich and the very poor. There was a lack of trust in the traditional institutions, with religious leaders collaborating with Rome. There was little concern for those who were considered society’s “throw always” or “expendables.”

Into this culture of distrust and skewed values came a peasant prophet from Galilee, the “Over-The-Rhine” of his day. He gave people hope, and he talked about the Kingdom of God being made up of the poor, those who mourn, the meek, etc. He taught that this is not as good as it gets, and that hope can be found in a transcendent reality that can transform us, if we will but let it. He envisioned an inclusive community made up of everyone. He taught that It is within in this beloved community where we can find an anchor of trust, love and hope. Is Jesus on to something here?

In what do we trust? Where does our hope lie today?
…We are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses…
-Hebrews 12:1
Last week I visited the little Quaker Cemetery in Maryville, Tennessee, where I stood over the graves of my great, great grandparents. A few years ago, I traveled up the Inter-Coastal Waterway to the Albemarle Sound of the North Carolina coast, to the Newby homeland of Perquimans and Pasquotank Counties. I visited the little Piney Woods Friends Meeting and walked among the head stones in the cemetery. Here is where the first Newbys are buried who migrated to this country from England in the late 17th Century.

This quest for connection with my ancestral roots has been a spiritually moving experience. Some have asked me, “Why is such a search for one’s familial and spiritual heritage important?” and “How is such a process helpful in renewing one’s spirit today?”

I believe that to know who we are, we must first understand from where we have come. Howard Thurman once said, “Follow the grain in your own wood.” My grain in my own wood, and your grain in your wood are part of a larger familial tree. To follow the grain in my wood necessitates my understanding of how that grain came to be. Who are my people? What is my spiritual heritage?

Secondly, by more fully understanding my familial and spiritual heritage, I more fully learn about the meaning of community. My faith is relational, and it is also a faith that believes that this earthly existence is only one part of a larger continuum. It is the feeling that we are a part of a larger stream…a stream that has gone before us and which will surely flow after us. We are, indeed, members one of another.

What is your familial and spiritual heritage?