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:

But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” -Luke 10:29
The story of the Good Samaritan, is one of the most beloved stories in the Bible. It is only found in the Gospel of Luke. A lawyer, seeking to test Jesus, asks him, “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 had tested Jesus, the Teacher, and he had won, or so he thought. The right answer was perceived to be the source of his redemption, his pathway to inheriting eternal life...life in the Kingdom of God. But, as we all know, having the right answers does not necessarily mean that one knows the Living God.

It is true that one may know about God, but may never have experienced God. One may study theology 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and not know the One about whom the theology is written. It is possible to have the right doctrinal formulations and the right liturgical protocol and be captivated by one’s own religious verbiage, and still be void of any spiritual experience. This is what was so concerning to George Fox and the early Quakers about the religious leaders of their day. In this story, Jesus does not say to the lawyer, “Great answer. You are my top student!” He tells a story of mercy, and says, “Do this and live.”

Many have written about this story and how the story “speaks to our condition.” David Lose has shared this interesting observation: “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 you have encountered radical grace and love, it is hard to look for anything, or anyone, quite the same.”

The experience of mercy is one of those humanizing experiences that brings out the best in the human condition. It is self-less...it is loving...it is caring. In what ways have you shown mercy to someone else? How have you experienced mercy from others?
Walking in newness of life…
Romans 6:4
Most of you know that I am a father. Our daughter, our only child, is now 45 years of age (I was a very young father!) married to a wonderful man, who knows how to deal with an only child who in many ways is spoiled. Over the years I have lived with questions about just how good of a father I was and am now. “How could I have been a better father to Lisa?” “Did I really need to spend so much time traveling during her growing years?” “Will all of my weaknesses be played out in her life?” If you are a father (and mother’s struggle with these questions as well) then I am sure that you have had times when these questions have also bothered you.

One of my favorite plays is Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller. Like any great classic, it is timeless in its message...Willy Loman lives in Brooklyn with his wife, Linda. They have two sons with the rather strange names of Happy and Biff. Willy is showing signs of dementia, and he does not want to travel anymore. He goes in to talk with Howard, his boss, who has taken over the leadership of the company after his father retired. The meeting does not go well, as Willy is forced to debase himself before his heartless employer.

In the end, Willy is not able to cope, and so he kills himself, hoping that he can still be the provider, with his family being able to cash–in his life insurance policy. The death of Willy is made more tragic by the fact that his insurance cannot be collected in the event of a suicide.

If there is one note missing from the play, and it is a major one, it is the note of God’s forgiveness. In all of the ups and downs through which we pass as fathers and as human beings, in all of our weaknesses and failures, like those of Jim Newby and Willy Loman, there is the surprising grace of God. We are loved and accepted...This is the good news of the Gospel. I believe that we worship a God of new beginnings, and of these new beginnings, there is no end. Forgiveness is giving up all hope of having a different past.

Do you truly believe that you are loved, accepted and forgiven?
...A person’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions… -Luke 12:15
I remember what Mark Twain said about the Bible… “It’s not the parts that I don’t understand that bother me, but the parts I do understand!” Throughout the Gospels, and especially in the Gospel of Luke, the one subject that Jesus has more to say about than anything else is our addiction, our love, our abuse and our idolatry of money and material possessions.

The Christian faith has claimed greed as one of the great sins. In the words of Pope Francis: “We have created new idols. The worship of the ancient Golden Calf has returned in a new ruthless guise in the idolatry of money.” At its root, greed is idolatry, seeking to fill our lives with everything except God. When our lives are focused on grasping for possessions, being filled with the world around us, there is no room for emptiness, there is no room for us to reach out and receive God. We need some emptiness in us, a spiritual void where the Inner Light can be discovered and then followed.

The People called Quakers are very good at asking Queries, holding up a mirror for us, shining a light into our souls. In our culture, a culture that is so saturated by consumerism, most people feel more at home at the Kenwood Towne Center than at a church or meeting. But we desperately need the spiritual community in our culture to tell us the truth about our lives, to remind us to whom our soul belongs.

Soren Kierkegaard reminds us that we live in a world where the price tags have been switched. The stuff that has little value costs thousands of dollars, and what has the greatest value...Friendship, love, faithfulness...doesn’t cost any money at all.

It is a constant process of working to get our priorities right in this life. And Jesus said, “Take heed and beware of all covetousness; for a person’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”

What do you value? Do you practice what you value?
Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves…
-Matthew 7:15
If you search far enough, most of us have our little emotional and intellectual sanctuaries, where we are very vulnerable. It may be our vocational setting, our church or meeting, our close circle of friends or our political party. This vulnerability stems from our belief that anything evil or corrupt or morally reprehensible could never happen within an institution or within persons that we believe are beyond reproach.

The sad truth is there are no permanent spiritual or moral oases to be had. In the words of Timothy Snyder as quoted in his book, On Tyranny: “We might be tempted to believe that our democratic heritage automatically protects us from threats...Americans today are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism or communism in the twentieth century. Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience. Now is a good time to do so.”

It is true that Demagogues do appear looking like great statesmen, and Pharisees can look like saints. Sometimes service masquerades as manipulation, and opportunism can disguise itself as care and concern. Self love is forever passing itself off as real love, and prejudice loves to take on the image of knowledge ability and expertise. It is important to remember that when good societies and good people are overcome by evil, it is more than likely going to be in those areas of life that we believe are immune from such corruption and tyranny. Our beliefs must never be immune from examination...Our devotion must always be in touch with our intelligence, and our concepts of what is appropriate and moral and right must forever be being updated.

How do we stand guard against false prophets and tyranny, and remain hopeful and positive about humanity as a whole?