Centering Down

Centering 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:

Look carefully, then how you walk, not as unwise persons but as wise...
-Ephesians 5:15
There are many ways that we learn wisdom. Wisdom finds meaning and purpose in everyday routines that may seem small when compared with the major issues the world faces...Rearing children, learning how to be a good friend, conversing with your neighbor, giving your best in your chosen vocation, etc. Wisdom distinguishes the significant from the trivial. It sees the extraordinary in the ordinary. Wisdom finds the sacred in the otherwise mundane practices of life, as well as the painful places in life...those places of grief and sadness, from which it may seem that we will never recover.

My personal definition of wisdom is simple. Wisdom is knowledge, to be sure, but it is more than knowledge. Wisdom is knowledge coupled with a child-like innocence and openness.

I saw this definition modeled in the life of my mentor, Elton Trueblood. His wisdom came to him through a deliberate effort to be more loving in the world of academia. "For many years I have been conscious of a tension in my life," he writes in his diary. "On the one hand I felt the need, with strict loyalty to logical consistency, to explore erroneous and shoddy thinking, particularly among students. On the other hand I have felt the demands of compassion for these same persons. The difficulty is that loyalty to the former conception sometimes gives the impression that the latter is lacking...At this point in my life I have determined that I shall try to err, if I err, on the side of love and tenderness."

Eckhart Tolle wrote these words on wisdom, words that could have been written by a Quaker: "Wisdom comes with the ability to be still. Just look and listen. No more is needed. Being still, looking, and listening, activates the non-conceptual intelligence within you. Let stillness direct your words and your actions."

How do we cultivate wisdom in our day-to-day lives?
We shall nobly save or meanly lose the last, best hope of earth.
-Abraham Lincoln
Shortly before his 29th birthday in 1838, Abraham Lincoln produced the first expression of an idea which was to play an important part in his mature thinking. It concerned what would later be called, "The American Dream." He knew that many societies had arisen and flourished for a while, but then disappeared. Lincoln understood that even the most noble things can be lost, if the conditions of survival are not met.

Throughout this past week, Lincoln and our constitution have been weighing heavily on my mind and heart. As a result, I am more convinced than ever that the best hope for our society's continued existence resides in its spiritual resources, which includes the recovery of five important virtues, virtues which I have shared with you before, and have never been more needed than right now:

First is Courage....This means to stand for the right without being self-righteous, and to do the right thing, even if no one else knows about it.

Second is Competence...This requires the ability to think reflectively and critically on how to deal with the complexities of modern life.

Third is Civility...If our society is to be renewed we must recognize that we are a community of one another.

Fourth is Conscience...To cheat on taxes, to lie, to do sloppy work, are all a part of the loss of conscience in our society.

Fifth is Compassion...Such compassion means to suffer with and to have your own heart ache each time a cruelty is done to another.

Are there other virtues that we need to recover?
Within the silences of the souls of persons, an eternal drama is ever being enacted.
-Thomas Kelly
I have never lived in a time when our country and world has experienced so much fearful anxiety. Each day is filled with anxiety raising issues: Wars and rumors of wars, global warming, election fears, racial divides, loss of integrity and civility within our society, etc. These issues and many more personal issues fill us with anxiety.

Thomas Kelly, Quaker philosopher, penned the words at the top of this page. He is an author that I frequently quote and is the author of one of the books I turn to most often for spiritual guidance. In his book, A Testament of Devotion, he writes: "Out in front of us is the drama of people and of nations, seething, struggling, laboring and dying. Upon this tragic drama in these days our eyes are all set in anxious watchfulness and in prayer. But within the silences of the souls of persons, an eternal drama is ever being enacted, in these days as well as in others. And on the outcome of this inner drama rests, ultimately, the outer pageant of history."

On the outcome of this inner drama rests, ultimately, the outer pageant of history. These words were written during World War II, the greatest calamity of the 20th century. Kelly had the insight and experience of God within his own heart to recognize that the outer pageant of history depends upon the inner drama within each soul.

During this tense and anxiety filled time in our world, it is important that we remind ourselves of the drama within each of us, and how that drama affects the drama being played out in the "outer pageant of history."

Has your anxiety been raised over what you are experiencing in our country and world? What are the spiritual issues of your inner drama?

And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said: "Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
-Luke 6:20
The passion for justice in the Bible goes back to the origin of Israel. It begins with Moses and the exodus. Ancient Israel's foundation story is a narrative of liberation from bondage in imperial Egypt---an oppression that was political, economic and religious, and a liberation that was political, economic and religious.

The same passion continues in the prophets of Israel several hundred years after Moses. Now the target was the injustice created by the monarchies of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. Such figures as Amos, Isaiah, Micah and Jeremiah were voices of protest against human suffering created by unjust systems imposed by the powerful and wealthy. Marcus Borg says that such pre-modern societies were marked by three traits: 1. They were politically oppressive. 2. They were economically exploitive, and 3. They were religiously legitimated.

Passion for God's justice and criticism of the domination system surfaces again with Jesus in the first century. In Luke's version of the beatitudes, the kingdom of God is combined with the poor and hungry. "Blessed are the poor," writes Luke, "for yours is the kingdom of God."

The justice passages in the Christian Testament and especially the Gospel of Luke are difficult reading for those of us who are North Americans: "Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation...Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry, etc.

Taking the kingdom of God seriously means taking the systemic causes of human suffering seriously. The message of Jesus is not just about personal transformation; it is about justice for all. In the kingdom of God, the corporate heart of justice is just as important as an individual's transformed heart.

Have you been personally affected by the practices of injustice?