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 Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.”
-Amos 5:24
Amos is a straight talker. He will not use an eight cylinder word when a four cylinder word is available. He is, perhaps, the most plain and direct speaking prophet in Hebrew Scripture.

John Rawls was a philosopher who taught at Harvard. 40+ years ago he set out a theory of justice, which he called, “Justice As Fairness.” He imagines a group of people who will select principles of justice for their society. They meet behind what Rawls calls a “veil of ignorance,” which keeps them from knowing which positions they occupy in society. What principles of justice will they choose?

First of all, according to Rawls, they will declare a principle of equal liberty...each person is entitled to the greatest amount of basic liberty, consistent with an equal amount for everyone else. Secondly, they will choose what he calls the “difference principle.” It states that social and economic inequalities must be distributed to the greatest advantage of the least-well-off person. Rawls argues that people will choose this principle because they will follow what he calls the “maximin” rule: always maximize the minimum possibility. In less elegant terms, if I do not know beforehand which piece of cake I will get, then I will do my best to divide the cake fairly.

Of course our economic system is built on the premise that people are free to work hard and get ahead, which means a bigger piece of cake. Rawls is not saying that everyone’s piece of cake must be the same size, only that changes in public policy should not diminish the prospects of the least well off.

Justice is about the character of our public policies as a nation, but it is also about the character of our conduct as individuals. Seneca wrote: “This is no time for playing around...You have promised to bring help to the sick...the needy, to those who are under the poised axe. Where are you directing your attention?
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen…
-Hebrews 11:1
We live in a world of mystery, and the older I get the more mysterious it becomes. Albert Schweitzer once said, “The highest knowledge is to know that we are surrounded by mystery.” If we accept this truth, living in the faith of assurance for things hoped for, and the conviction of things not seen, it seems that certain things should become central to how we view life and how we live life.

The first element is patience. I spoke about this a couple of weeks ago when I talked about the gardener and the barren fig tree in the Gospel of Luke. Sister Teresa once wrote, “Patient endurance attaineth to all things.” This may be a bit of an overstatement by the Sister, but I believe it is a basic element in the quest for a faith which is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen.

A second element of such a faith is a sense of adventure. Alfred North Whitehead has written, “Without the high hope of adventure, faith degenerates into the mere appendage of a comfortable life.” In Waiting for Godot, there is this question, “Do you believe in the life to come?” The sad response… “Mine always was.” A sense of adventure which encompasses a sense of spiritual expectancy, is important if we are to know a faith which is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen.

Finally, weaving throughout the practice of patience and living within a sense of spiritual adventure, is the element of trust. It is a trust that whatever happens...whatever obstacles or openings that come our way, we will find a purpose in God’s pattern as it unfolds before us. Without this element of trust that God truly IS, and that there is a meaningful purpose in my life on this earth, the only logical recourse is hopelessness. How do you define a faith that is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen?
Deep within us all, there is an amazing inner sanctuary of the soul…
-Thomas Kelly
It is only through the experience of feeling discontent that we can understand fully and appreciate the feeling of contentment. God nudges, provokes, shoves and blasts us out of old life patterns in order to help us grow spiritually….discontent. But God also helps us in times of contentment to broaden and deepen our spiritual lives as we reflect on what we have learned. For the most part, spiritual learning hurts. But following the pain and struggle that is associated with the classroom of spirituality, there are enclaves or respites into which we can move where we are content, at least for a while. Where being discontent is a time of change and growth, contentment is a time of relative calm when we can expand on the lessons we have learned.

Thomas Kelly has written about “the inner sanctuary of the soul.” These words are found in his little book, A Testament of Devotion, which is a compilation of essays produced following a major experience of discontent in his life—failing the oral examination for his doctorate at Harvard University. He went into a state of depression so severe that his wife feared that he might take his own life. In this time, which lasted over a number of months, he experienced what can only be described as transformation. Following this experience of academic failure, he reflected on what he had been through, and began to write about it, deepening and broadening his experience as he wrote. Contentment followed.

Are you feeling content? I like the phrase, “inner sanctuary of the soul.” It is a contentment phrase. It speaks of a Center to be found within each of us where true peace lies. And if you are in the throes of feeling discontent, we know, experientially, that the opportunity to enter into an enclave of rest and contentment is just around the corner. For such is the cycle of spiritual growth, and such is the working of God within the human condition.

Where are you along this continuum of spiritual growth?
A Journey Through The Vineyard…
Luke 13:6-9
The parable of the barren fig tree, which is found in the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 13, is rich with symbolism. As I look at this parable, a number of things come to mind. First is the anger of the landowner. He wants the tree cut down for not bearing fruit during the first two years of its fruit bearing life. We can understand this anger. Each of us has those places within ourselves that do not bear fruit, and which can cause anger. In true Quaker fashion, we need to turn inward and ask what is it within our lives that is not bearing fruit and that is causing us to be angry.

Secondly, I would ask us to identify with the impatience of the vineyard owner, and the patienceof the gardener. Both of these are important to the life of the spirit. It is a matter of trying to discern in so many areas of our lives, when it is time to go and when it is time to stay...when it is time to “hold them” and when it is time to “fold them.” And we can damage our spirits by being too impatient when patience is needed, and too patient when impatience is needed. When is patience needed in our lives? What are those times when we need to be impatient?

A Third way in which we can identify with this parable is in the plea for grace by the gardener. “One more year, please,” he says to the landowner. I really find myself sympathetic with the little fig tree. It reminds me of Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree! It is important to remember that in the life of the spirit, there are times when being barren and in the wilderness is alright. As a matter of fact, “barrenness” and “wilderness” are important parts in the ebb and flow of the spiritual life. When have you needed the grace of others? How have you expressed grace to others?

This parable invites us to begin our own spiritual journey through God’s vineyard by...identifying with the anger and impatience of the landowner, as well as identifying with the patience of the gardener. It also gives us the opportunity to reflect upon our need for grace and our need to offer grace to others. Are you ready for the journey?