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 behold a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
-Luke 10:29-30
The lawyer in the story of The Good Samaritan would fit well in our times. He doesn’t want to get his hands dirty. Instead, he wants to engage Jesus in a question and answer dialogue…a debate about theology and the question, “How do I inherit eternal life?” But Jesus will not take the bait to debate! Instead he says, “Go…take a risk. Cross the road. Go and be a neighbor, especially to those who are considered expendables in our society…the poor…outcasts…the asylum seekers…the lonely.”

To take a risk, opening the comfortable circle that we have made for ourselves and allowing others in, is what Jesus says we should do if we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. The Levite and the Priest went down the road on their side, isolated and alone. But the Samaritan took a risk, and in the process found the cure for his own loneliness.

Our faith claims that this is how God relates to us. God is not in a heavenly fortress thinking about humanity and wondering if we are ever going to get it right. Quakers believe in a God of the here and now…a God who is constantly interacting with us. God is with the Samaritan, crossing the road and opening the circle that forever wants to close in upon itself. God takes risks and becomes vulnerable in order to be in relationship with us.

The longer I live the more I am convinced that a faith filled with passion and hope begins on the other side of the road, in the ditch with the wounded and hurting in our society. It is found by making the circle we live in wider and more diverse. On this Thanksgiving First Day, and as we gather with family and friends this Thursday, let us remember those who are on the other side of the road, hurting, lonely and in need of our loving touch and support. May we be filled with gratitude, and may we be filled equally so with compassion for one another.

How are we sensitive to those on “the other side of the road” who are crying out for our love and compassion?
For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile persons. To eat with unwashed hands does not defile a person.
-Matthew 15:19-20
In Matthew 15, Jesus and the Pharisees are arguing about what appears to be practices of ritual cleansing. The Pharisees believed that unclean food or failing to observe the laws of purity would lead to an unclean life or a lack of holiness. For Israel holiness was the most important thing.

Israel believed that the heart was not simply an organ pumping blood through the body. The heart was the physical, spiritual, emotional and intellectual center of one’s life. For Jesus and the people of Israel, you were your heart, and your heart was you.

Traditionally, Christians have used the word “sanctification” for holiness. It is a word that is closely associated with the holiness tradition, but some Quakers have used it as well. What I believe is a better and more Quakerly way to speak about such holiness would be, “Living in the Light.” This simply means the process of becoming holy. To “Live in the Light” is what happens to us when we seek to follow in the ways that we believe God would have us live…to love as God would love, and to care as God would care. Allowing our hearts to be slowly remade by the work of the Spirit is about developing good habits and practices of spiritual living and speaking. The words that come from a heart that “Lives in the Light” are words of kindness and generosity, good humor and hope… words of beauty and truth. Our words matter. Jesus says it is not what goes into the body that is significant, but what comes out of the mouth.

Are you careful not to wound the hearts of others?
Life is difficult…
-M. Scott Peck
Throughout my life I have experienced sadness and grief. I am sure that It is not any more than what most of you have experienced. It has been, however, my sadness and my grief, making it an important part of my personal earthly pilgrimage. My father dies of an unexpected heart attack at the age of 62, and my mother leaves this physical life after 8 years of suffering from complications due to Alzheimer’s Disease. A classmate from high school dies suddenly of a heart attack, and a friend succumbs to cancer. My best friend dies while scuba diving in the British Virgin Islands, and as I write this my beloved sister lies in critical condition in the Wilmington, Ohio hospital. As I have walked through each of these experiences of grief, I have been reminded of the opening words to The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck, “Life is difficult.”

All of us sit beside our own pool of tears. Loss and grief are universal experiences. The questions for each of us who have been through these times of loss are two: 1. What can I learn from the experience of pain? And 2. How does my faith sustain me?

Kimberly Patton, a professor at Harvard Divinity School responds to the first question: “…in myth, in ritual, in theology, the broken heart is not a regrettable symptom of derailment, but is rather the starting point of anything that matters…The religious imagination reveals the broken heart as the very best means to wisdom and growth…These are times when we will learn compassion…times when the unbearably wounded will themselves emerge as healers.” It has certainly been my experience that those who bear the mark of pain have learned from loss and have grown in spiritual compassion.

Secondly, how does our faith sustain us? Our faith teaches us that we have one another for support in difficult times, and this support is centered in the One whom the Apostle Paul called, “The God of all comfort.” We have one another and we have faith in the God of love to comfort us. In these affirmations, we place our hope.

How have you worked through your pain and loss?
Therefore, I tell you, do not be anxious about your life…
-Matthew 6:25
Living in this time in history is a worrisome experience. We worry about our world…climate change and how we are perceived by other countries…We worry about what is happening in Washington and if our broken government will ever heal itself. On a more personal level, we worry about our children or our parents and if we will have the strength to meet the challenges which we face providing for their care. We worry about our bills and our health and the many other things that pop up each day that need our attention. It is a worrisome time.

The English term, worry, comes from an old German word meaning to strangle or choke. That is exactly what it does. It is a kind of strangulation which probably causes more mental, spiritual and physical afflictions than any other single cause. Someone has said, “Worry is a thin stream of fear that trickles through the mind, which, if encouraged, will cut a channel so wide that all other thoughts will be drained out.”

Two weeks ago, as we witnessed the Kavanaugh Hearings and watched in horror the terrible political divide in this country, the historian, John Meacham, shared a quotation from George Eliot, which he uses in his new book, The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels. Eliot wrote, “We are doing the best we can through dim lights and tangled circumstances.” Using Eliot’s quotation from a different historical period may let us off the hook too easily. I believe that we can do better, and that we are not doing our best. Meacham is right, however, to emphasize the “dim lights” and “tangled circumstances” of what we are experiencing today. Freeing our minds from worry does not mean to free our minds from concern that will lead us to action that will change the direction of our country and world for the better.

What worries you?

How do we free our minds from worry and yet continue to stay concerned?