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:

My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.
-2 Corinthians 12:9
Power is made perfect in weakness, writes Paul. As a nation and as individuals, we find our inner authority, our spiritual center, only when we face our weaknesses. And we are certainly learning about weakness during this time of sickness and quarantine.

Jesus was always hanging out with those who were hurting and who were oppressed. His mission was to invite weak and wounded people to enter the Kingdom of God, the beloved community of love, forgiveness, justice and restored life. But his starting point was weakness. He was in the business of transforming weakness into strength. The question is whether we will be vulnerable enough to allow God to turn our weakness into strength.

In our nation, and in every nation on earth, I believe that God is in the business of mending flaws. God is in the business of turning our defeats into victories, our disappointments into hope. The first step is to trust that the Light of God will help us deepen our weakness until that weakness becomes a path to strength. When this occurs, then impossible things can happen. By God's grace, our weakness can become a healing force, a conduit to help make other wounded people whole.

Our weaknesses and our wounds are not to be desired; they cause terrible pain. But our wounds can make our hearts softer, more aware of the pain of others. If our wounds as a nation and as individuals do not turn into bitterness, they can become a place where God works to bring about tenderness and kindness, and move us to compassion.

How have your weaknesses become strengths?
I have learned to be content in whatever state I am.
-Philippians 4:11
I am sure that all of you know what has been called, The Serenity Prayer: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.” The authorship is usually attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr, the theologian and social reformer of the Nineteen Thirties. The Apostle Paul did not use the wording of the prayer, but he lived by its precepts: "I have learned to be content in whatever state I am." As we begin our journey into the unknown of this pandemic crisis, I find this prayer and these words from Paul comforting. In this prayer, we are seeking the gifts of Grace and Acceptance...Courage, and Wisdom.

First, during this time we need to be kind to ourselves and kind to others with whom we come in contact. Everyone is on edge; everyone has a pool of tears with which they are living. No one is perfect...We all make mistakes, and we are all trying to adjust to the new realities of life in a time of pandemic. God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.

Secondly, our prayer asks for courage to change what can and should be changed. We need courage to change the way that we live and interact with one another. And out of this difficult time, there will be many stories of great courage. God grant me the courage to change the things I can.

A third element in the prayer asks God for wisdom to know the difference between what we cannot change and what we can change. We need God's wisdom to help us discern the difference.

How are you coping with the new realities we are facing?
We can damage our spirits by being too impatient when patience is needed, and too patient when impatience is needed.
The parable of the barren fig tree is only found in the Gospel of Luke. (Luke 13:6-9) In reading this parable, several things come to mind. First is the anger of the landowner. He wants the tree cut down for not bearing fruit during the first three years of its fruit-bearing life. And you and I can relate to such anger. Each of us has those places within ourselves that do not bear fruit, and which can cause anger.

Secondly, I would ask us to identify with the impatience of the vineyard owner, and the patience of the gardener. Both are important to the life of the spirit. We can damage our spirits by being too impatient when patience is needed, and too patient when impatience is needed. May we seek to discover within our own lives when God is leading us to be more patient and when God is calling us to be impatient.

A third way in which we can identify with this parable is in the plea for grace by the gardener. “Let it alone, sir, please!” I really find myself sympathetic with that little fig tree. There are times when it is okay to be barren. There are times when being in the wilderness is alright. As a matter of spiritual growth, to be barren and to be in the wilderness are important parts of the ebb and flow of the spiritual life.

The parables of Jesus are wonderful stories for our spiritual nurture. They are teaching tools designed to help understand the God of love which he proclaimed, and to move us into a deeper understanding of who we are and what our purpose on this earth really is.

How do you interpret the parable of the barren fig tree?
Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.
-Isaiah 43:1
The words found in Isaiah Chapter 43 are a long-awaited message from God to Israel. Israel had suffered near total desolation, beaten by foreign armies, dispersed to foreign lands, separated from members of their families. They were a conquered people living in places where they were considered human trash. In the minds and the hearts of the Israelites, we can be sure that the question was asked, “Where is God?” Israel’s collective experience seems to be of a people who experienced the radical absence and silence of God.

I hope that your personal experience or that of your family has never included exile, dehumanization and suffering that have brought you to the brink of asking, “Is life worth it?” I have never been that low, but I do know about feeling God’s distance. I know about depression and the feeling of hopelessness. It is during these times that we feel the absence of God, the utter and unbearable silence of God, as did Israel. Most of us have experienced dark nights of the soul that can feel endless.

It was the psychiatrist Carl Jung who said, “…the birth of the Self is always a defeat for the ego,” and it is in the dark night that we, as an ego, experience our utter impotence and powerlessness. And St. John of the Cross says that the dark night is the time when the divine light of God is shining on us most brightly. The dark night becomes the very doorway through which we become re-born into the life of the living.

Somewhere I read the line, “God’s Light shines through the cracks of broken people.” This Light is both healing and sustaining, comforting and encouraging.

How have you experienced God in your dark nights?