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 the servants of the householder came and said to him, 'Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then has it weeds?'
-Matthew 13:27
Peter Storey, a Bishop in the United Methodist Church in South Africa, describes the human condition in this way: "We are addicted to division. This addiction does not enter from beyond us, but rather the seeds of this addiction seem to be sown into the expansive fields of our very DNA. We are addicted to division."

Although Storey's evaluation of the human condition seems a bit extreme, he does make an important point. From a Biblical perspective this addiction begins in Genesis between Adam and Eve, and continues with Cain and Abel. And as other families are added to the human family, strife and chaos, hurt and confusion adds fuel to the addiction.

Today, in the United States, I have never witnessed such division. Our political and cultural lives are full of anger and rancor, each side pointing a finger at the other. And the wider world is painfully filled with division. The profound sadness of the continuing Palestinian/Israeli crisis that we learned about with Max Carter last Tuesday evening is just one example.

I believe that the healing of our addiction to division begins with the healing of the divisions within ourselves. Rather than continuing to live our lives in divided compartments, may we seek the necessary steps to become whole and authentic. I believe that if we begin to heal inwardly, then we can begin to heal outwardly. I believe in transformation and a God of new beginnings and of these new beginnings there is no end.

How have you experienced division within yourself and in your world?
Therefore encourage one another and build one another up.
-1st Thessalonians 5:11
Last Tuesday evening we concluded a class on "The People Called Quakers." This class is a pre-requisite to requesting membership at Cincinnati Meeting, and some took the class with this in mind. Others wanted a refresher course in the basics of Quakerism, and still others were just curious about what Quakers are all about.

In the spirit of that class, and with one of our important testimonies in mind, I would like to speak about what it means to be a beloved community. How is a beloved community formed within the Quaker tradition?

Community is formed when we gather together and feel the power of a Spirit beyond our finitude...When we experience the Living God together through the medium of group silence.

Community is formed within our Meeting when we help one another process each other's pain. When we cry with one another, and when we feel one another's suffering, intimacy develops. On the flip side, community is also formed when we share one another's joys.

Community is formed when we encourage one another and build one another up. The world is a critical place, but within our Meeting there is no room for hurtful criticism.

Community is formed when we live in a spirit of expectant hope with one another. And finally...

Community is formed when, despite one's failings and sins, we express unconditional love for one another.

How do you experience community at Cincinnati Meeting?
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind...
-Romans 12:2
In the above passage from Paul's Letter to the Church at Rome, he encourages those young Christians to be "transformed by the renewal of your mind." These were important words to that small group of Christians meeting in the heart of the Roman Empire, and they are important words for us who are living in the heart of the 21st Century American Empire. What does it mean to "renew our minds" in a day of untruths and outright lies?

Hannah Arendt tells about her beginning interest in mental activities in her Gifford Lectures, "The Life of the Mind." She was observing Eichmann on trial in Jerusalem, and wrote that the Nazi showed no evidence of being able to "stop and think," in response to questions, but rather spoke in "cliché-ridden language."

To "stop and think" and to examine our actions in a reflective way as we interact within our various worlds of activity is becoming less and less a part of our lives. "Cliché-ridden" language abounds and although we may not experience the demonic ways of Eichmann, we know something about the thoughtlessness of his existence. Thoughtlessness is everywhere in today's world. Denying science and all that this means for our fight against Covid 19, and the warnings of climate change, reach into the White House as well as into Congress. There is a growing number of people in our world who deny historical fact, claiming, for instance, that the Holocaust did not happen. And just to the south of us in Kentucky there is a museum dedicated to "creationism" which denies the science of carbon dating, and believes that the earth is only 7,500 years old! If ever we needed to renew our minds it is now.

How do we begin the revolution of renewing minds?
And the Pharisees and Scribes murmured, saying, "This man receives sinners and eats with them."
-Luke 15:2
In the Fifteenth Chapter of Luke, the accusations from the Pharisees and Scribes are nothing new. They are the same charges we hear in other places of Luke's Gospel...This Jesus is not conforming to our social standards, and is hanging out with the wrong types of people. He is sharing his table and fellowship with low-life sinners, unlike us!

In response to their criticism, Jesus does what he does best, and that is to tell stories. His stories tell us what God is like...God searches, God finds, God saves the lost, and God throws parties of extravagant love for sinners.

We become lost, and God finds. This is a continuous theme throughout Scripture. And most of us know what it is like to feel lost, both emotionally and spiritually. I know people who have said that it was at that point when they were fully immersed in chaos, when they were totally lost and had hit rock bottom that their lives began to turn around. Being lost and admitting that you are lost is a good thing. I know experientially, to use a word from George Fox that God will find us in that mess. This is a good kind of being lost.

There is another kind of lost, however, that is not so good. It looks something like the Pharisees and the Scribes who are lost, but they do not think they are lost. This kind of lost is to be so sure of one's place in life that all around is black and white, inside here and outside there, sinners over there, saved over here. In such certainty, nothing can get in, and we shut down spiritually. When you don't know you are lost, there is no need for grace to be found.

When we can admit that we are lost, God is ready to bring us home. How have you experienced being lost in your life?