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:

Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good.

-Romans 12:21
At the heart of the message that Jesus came to deliver us, is the gospel of peace. It is not just a footnote in his teaching, nor an editorial comment in the margins. It is central to his message. This is something the early Quakers clearly understood. The words of Jesus about peace were the beginning of our Peace Testimony.

We live in a day of terror and fear…Violence is a part of our everyday lives. The horror of the school shootings that are now occurring every week. The continuous wars in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, and the violence, both verbal and physical that has become so prevalent in homes throughout our country, are all creating a sense that violence is the norm. Amidst the violence perpetrated by the Roman Empire, the Apostle Paul wrote: “Live in harmony with one another…Repay no one evil for evil…Beloved, never avenge yourselves…No, if you enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head. Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good.”

These words were written to the church in Rome in the First Century, but they are just as important for us today. We already know the way to peace, we just need the will to get there. It is through justice for the poor, hungry and thirsty, whether that hunger be physical, spiritual or political. It is through common sense gun legislation that will keep firearms out of the hands of persons filled with hate and grievance. It is to focus on peaceful solutions to conflict rather than quickly resorting to violence. It is through a spiritual transformation, so that we will finally come to recognize, in the radical way that John Donne and the Quaker John Woolman came to recognize, that no person is an island, and that as part of the human family, we belong to each other. And, we can hold one another in the Light. “Blessed are the peacemakers,” said Jesus, “for they will be called children of God.”

How has the violence in the world affected you?
Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? -Psalm 42:5
You cannot imagine my relief and gratitude when I saw the sun rise last Monday morning. It was a brief respite from the gloomy and overcast days of winter in the Ohio Valley. The weather has been fitting for me, since I have been going through a time of spiritual dryness…a feeling that God is distant and that I am just going through the motions. It is not a full-blown “dark night of the soul,” but it can be described as a “twilight of the soul.” I have been through these feelings numerous times in my life, and so I know that they will pass.

During these times of dryness, how does one remain hopeful and continue to grow spiritually through them? I am sure that I am not the only one here this morning who has experienced such feelings and asked such a question.

To maintain one’s faith and hope during times of dryness, I find it helpful to establish a more disciplined routine. Discipline has always been an important part of my spiritual growth, but in times of dryness it is needed more than ever.

Another way to maintain hope and faith during these times of dryness is to connect with others. It is natural for anyone experiencing a dark, or twilight of the soul to turn inward. To connect with others in community, however, is a way to keep faith and hope alive. In community we are encouraged. It is the place where our sorrows are divided, and our joys are multiplied.

Finally, an important way to maintain hope when one is feeling blue, is to serve others. Again, it is so much more natural to focus inward during these difficult times. I am convinced, however, that serving others will help us put our own problems in perspective.

“As a hart longs for flowing streams,” writes the Psalmist, “So longs my soul for thee, O God.” And then he writes, “Hope in God, for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.”

Have you experienced a “dark night” or “twilight of the soul?”
It shall not be so among you. Mark 10:43
“It shall not be so among you.” In this statement we find Jesus’ declaration of a profound hope for his disciples. In these brief seven words is a radical vision of an alternative reality. Jesus is responding to the request from James and John to sit at the right and left of Jesus in his glory. He says, “You know that those who are supposed to rule over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over you.” This, Jesus is saying, is how the world does it…But it shall not be so among you.

Jesus envisions a wholly different conception of power, and he imagines for his disciples a radically different community. This vision requires a break from the ways the world has conceived and envisioned the practices of power—from the ways we have become accustomed to what the world has taught us to see, taught us to be, and taught us to act.

With the words, “It shall not be so among you,” Jesus invites his followers into a way of living, a way of being, and a way of acting that transforms life as we know it. Rather than vying for power…Rather than scrambling for prestige…Rather than all of our scraping for recognition and admiration…Rather than the constant acts of comparison in order to gauge our own rank or significance…Rather than seeking to outshine others through our witty criticisms and clever put-downs, Jesus pleads, “It shall not be so among you.”

What would it look like to genuinely rejoice in the achievement of a colleague, without having to immediately measure our own achievements alongside his or hers? What might it look like to be a person who is in a position of power, but who enacts that power by serving and empowering others? What would it look like for a leader to gain satisfaction by seeing others thrive in their gifts? It would be much more like the community that Jesus envisioned.

Is such a “Servant Community” even feasible?
We do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed every day…II Cor. 4:16
This is, indeed, a tumultuous time. Each day is filled with anxiety raising issues…The fear of more government shutdowns…Dreamers living on the edge and threatened with deportation…Russian interference in our electoral process…Wars and rumors of more wars…Basic scientific evidence of global warming ignored…Expressions of racism, and fears raised over what has been called the “deep state.” It is a time when the truth is in jeopardy and dishonesty is becoming normalized. These things, and many more, haunt our daily lives, and our dreams at night. Is there something, anything that we can do to provide hope and relief from the tension and stress that is so prevalent? Do Quakers have a message for such a time as this?

It was the Quaker, Thomas Kelly, who wrote in the midst of the 20th Century’s greatest calamity…World War II…these words, “Out in front of us is the drama of people and of nations, seething, struggling, laboring, dying…But within the silences of the souls of persons an eternal drama is ever being enacted…And on the outcome of this inner drama rests, ultimately, the outer pageant of history.

What are the marks of such an inner drama? Two stand out:

1. The first has to do with coming to terms with our issues of power and control. The world worships the power in dominance, control, prestige, status, influence, money and achievement. But the symbols of God’s power, as expressed in the spiritual writings through the centuries, all have to do with rubbing the edges of our fears and insecurities.

2. A second mark has to do with the compartmentalization of our lives, and our quest for spiritual wholeness. By maintaining a balance between certain spiritual disciplines, we can grow toward wholeness.

How are these issues being played out within you?