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:

God so loved the world...
John 3:16
The story of John's Gospel , which is often referred to as the "Quaker Gospel," is a story about God's love for us. It is a story about how God gives God's heart to the world in Jesus, and how he should be received by those who believe. The Gospel says whoever believes in him will have eternal life. For the most part, in Scripture, to believe in something is not just an intellectual exercise. To believe means to hand over your whole being...to give your heart.

Giving your heart to someone is a radical act of vulnerability, and it is no less so for God. The moment you have said those three words, "I love you," you have handed over your heart to someone else. And in that moment, two things can happen: First, the other person can receive it gently, hold it, care for it, give his or her equally fragile heart to you, or, Secondly, he or she can drop the gift of your heart and watch it shatter into a million pieces. To love at all risks being broken. Not to risk love is to go through life fully protected, and fully alone.

For sure, a broken heart is not a pretty thing...it bleeds all over the floor, and it causes horrible pain. But a broken heart also becomes softer, more aware of the pain of others. If the wounds do not turn to bitterness, wounds in the heart can become a place where God works to bring about tenderness, kindness, and move us to compassion and empathy. As someone has said, "God shines through the cracks of the broken heart." Life, so it seems, is an accumulation of scars. Healing the scars on our hearts is a continuous process of growing in our ability to love...to allow love into our injured hearts.

The kind of true love that John writes about, involves more than just waving a sign at a football game that says, "John 3:16." It involves seeking God's passion for justice...fellowship for the lonely...love for the unloved and equality for all...In the midst of all the glitter and superficial ways of the Christmas Season, how can we practice this true love?
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.
-First John 4:18
While studying at Oxford University one summer, I had the opportunity to visit with the Anglican Bishop, Stephen Neil. During our time together, he said something that has stayed with me. He said that "Fear not," and "Do not be afraid" are the most common expressions in the Bible. As my own spiritual journey has unfolded, this has become a very important insight. Whenever God becomes incarnate in the human condition, or more specifically, in our lives, fear is a natural response. For the most part, we like order in our lives. We like familiarity. We trust the boundaries which our fears have established. They keep us comfortable and secure. Life, however, is filled with times when the order and familiarity which has become comfortable and secure, is turned upside down. Our lives become disorderly, insecure and uncomfortable. Because of the new circumstances that we are forced to deal with, our patterns are forced to change and fear enters the picture.

"There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear," writes the author of the First Letter of John. The God of "Perfect Love" is at one end of life's continuum, while co-dependency, spiritually deadening patterns of behavior such as control and power over others, guilt and all kinds of fears reside at the other end. Some of the ways we can grow toward the "Perfect Love" professed in the First Letter of John are encompassed within the practice of our Quaker Testimonies...Peace, within us and between individuals and nations...A recognition of the Equality of all persons...Community, whereby we recognize our love and responsibility for one another...Integrity, as we seek to practice honesty, openness and speak the truth to everyone; Simplicity in living, whereby we remove the barriers of material wealth which obstruct spiritual growth, and Sensitivity of connection with the earth and the entire created order. At the very least, the "Perfect Love" which eliminates fear embodies these noble possibilities within creation. How do the fears that you carry within you encumber your spiritual growth?
Be still and cool in thy own mind and spirit...George Fox
I love the word simmering. It is a word born out of meditative silence, but has more to do with life rhythm than with lack of sound. There is something about the word that reaches deep into my soul. This is especially true after times when words like frantic, hurry, and impatience are descriptive of the experiences through which I have just been. It is a calming word...a word closely associated with, if not synonymous with lingering, savoring and rest.

I first became acquainted with the spiritual meaning of simmering after I read the works of the African-American theologian, Howard Thurman. At a crucial point in my spiritual development, his writing became an important part of my journey. Thurman made it a daily discipline to practice what he called, simmering. He would never go directly to sleep when he would lie down in his bed, but would simmer...reflecting on the day's activities and meditating on how he had experienced God interacting with him. And he would never jump out of bed in the morning, but simmer...preparing his soul for the tasks which lay ahead. He did not believe in traveling by airplane, but would go, wherever his destination, by train. He did this because he felt that flying was too disruptive to the rhythms of his life. For Howard Thurman, being in tune with the spiritual rhythm of his life was basic to caring for his soul.

Simmering...It is a means to help one understand his or her life rhythm, and to stay connected to the spiritual aspirations within one's soul. In a world filled with anxiety, terrorism, continuous war and hurt, simmering can be soul saving. I am grateful for my Quaker faith and the practice of silence which has led me to simmering as a spiritual practice. And I am grateful to Howard Thurman for providing me a practical example of how simmering can help me understand the rhythm of my soul. On a daily basis, how can we care for our souls?
I will give you rest...
Matthew 11:28
Jesus understood the need for sanctuary...for rest and renewal. The pattern of his entire life was to confront the world with his teaching, preaching and healing, and then to withdraw from the world to a quiet place where he could pray and renew his spirit. People were often crowding around him...they wanted what he offered, forgiveness, healing, courage and hope. He never turned anyone away. But after days of teaching and preaching, and when he felt his energy waning, Jesus would go to a lonely place...a mountain or desert, to rest. In the passage from Matthew 11, he give us an invitation from his own practice: "Come to me and rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

With some theological imagination, I suggest this morning that there are at least three gifts wrapped in Jesus' invitation...

1. The fist is the gift of Sabbath. Jesus was a Jew. He knew about Sabbath time. Sabbath is a time of rest...It is a time of rejuvenation, restoration and renewal. Abraham Heschel called Sabbath, "Sanctuary in time...a day of delight...a day to savor the world. Being rather than doing." Evelyn Underhill says that we spend our lives conjugating three verbs: to have, to want, and to do. But the essential verb is to be.

2. A second is the gift of release. This gift offers the opportunity to let go of stresses and pressures experienced in day to day life...To release those inner obstacles that block our spiritual development. In the words of Queen Elsa from Disney's movie, Frozen, "Let it go!"

3. A third gift is the gift of spiritual energy. In "Quakerese," it is the energy that comes to us as we connect with and follow the Light Within.

As we enter this week of Thanksgiving, which will end in Sabbath and rest, in what ways can we renew our spirits?