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:

…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?
God of the Double Search
A Personal Credo by Jim Newby
I no longer believe in a God who sits high above the clouds

And dispenses wrath at will and for whom

Excuses must be made when children are killed

And hurricanes strike, and AIDS takes the life of a friend.

I do, however, believe in a God of love and incarnation…A God who is

Real and who suffers with me, and laughs with me and who walks

With me in the darkest times of doubt but lets me doubt.

I believe in a God who is still loving and creating,

A God who is still forgiving and blessing,

Who is still evolving in process with me, and

Who shares my joys and my sorrows.

I believe in a God of passion and pain,

A God whom I can explore in prayer and dance with in paradox,

A God who is on journey with me, and in whom resides the

Soul of a child, opening to me passages into the eternal.

This is a God in whom I can believe, who can be experienced

In the beauty of nature, and who is reflected in the eyes of a

Struggling humanity. This is the God of the double search,

Who I seek in my spiritual quest, and who is also seeking me.

How would you write your personal credo?
You leave the commandment of God, and hold fast the tradition of humans.
-Mark 7:8
In almost every aspect of our lives, we follow traditions. There are family traditions, Meeting traditions, traditions we follow in our society and culture, and traditions we follow as individuals. Tradition can sometimes be a focal point of contention. The word “tradition” comes from the Latin, “traditio,” a noun stemming from a verb that means “to transmit, hand over, to give for safe-keeping.” It was originally used in Roman Law to refer to legal transfers and inheritances. Tradition has to do with the ways we transmit beliefs or customs from one generation to another.

Tradition, though it has many benefits, can easily turn stale if we enforce the tradition as rigid and frigid dogma. When tradition becomes traditionalism, we need to re-think the tradition.

Our religious traditions should, ultimately, facilitate a relationship and communion with the Living God or Inner Light. Tradition is not the relationship, but a means to foster it. What gave rise to the Quaker Movement in the 17th Century was a recognition that many religious traditions had lost their meaning. As in the time of the young Quaker Movement, the religious traditions of Jesus’ day were seen as priority, while an experience with the Living God appeared to be placed on the backburner. Jesus wants to make sure that we never become trapped within any tradition, following a tradition because we were told to do it or always have done it this way or that way, but don’t know why we do it and for whom! In this way, religious tradition can lose its theological substance and become empty and hollow.

In quoting Isaiah, Jesus brings us to the heart of the matter. He reveals how tradition can lose its heart, saying, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me…’”

How do the traditions we follow enhance our spiritual journeys?

How do the traditions we follow impede our spiritual journeys?
As a hart longs for flowing streams, so longs my soul for you, O God.
-Psalm 42:1
In his book, Sacred Journey, Frederick Buechner writes about how each of our various experiences of journey are centered in search: “We search for a self to be. We search for other selves to love. We search for work to do. And since even when to one degree or another we find these things, we find also that there is still something crucial missing which we have not found, we search for that unfound thing too, even though we do not know its name or where it is to be found or even if it is to be found at all.”

The “unfound thing” that Buechner mentions in our lives of search, is something that I yearn for, and I believe it is something for which all of us gathered here this morning yearns for. It is a deep and basic human longing… “As a hart longs for flowing streams, so longs my soul for you, O God.” This search, this longing for God is what the journey of my life has been about. Do you recognize it as well? And we cannot find this “unfound thing” by the same road that others may use, although I am grateful for the spiritual sign posts that others before me have left along the road.

I know how my journey of search is not helped…It is not helped by a belief that personal salvation is the ultimate aim of life and personal morality the ultimate value. The moral questions that seem urgent to me are the great questions of wealth and poverty, war and peace, power and justice, and all of those things that our Quaker Testimonies seek to address…I am also not helped in my journey by an understanding of God that is described in the Doctrine of Substitutionary Atonement, in a Biblical literalism, or in canonical exclusivity. It is also not helped by a denial of science in favor of religious doctrine, or by a limiting religious tribalism. My search for that “unfound thing” lies beyond these.

I have been given a boost in my own search by this place…Cincinnati Friends Meeting. It is here that I learn I am not alone in my search, and that we can grow together along the road less traveled.

What does your journey in search for that “unfound thing look like?