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:

Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her...
-John 8:7
No story in Scripture demonstrates the Grace of God better than the story in Chapter 8 of John's Gospel about the woman caught in adultery. The Grace of God is a phrase associated with the Christian faith. It simply means that God's love does not depend on one's behavior, and it is not predicated on what you believe. In brief, GRACE, as I understand it, is about extending God's love to any and to all. It is indiscriminate.

Quaker author, Phil Gulley and his friend James Mulholland, co-authored a book titled, If Grace Is True. It makes the bold claim that God will save every person, regardless of religious affiliation. Phil writes, "Long before I believed God would save every person, I claimed God as a loving parent...If God is a loving parent, then love will persist until every one of God's children is reconciled to him."

In John Chapter 8, the players include the Pharisees and the crowd, Jesus and the woman caught in adultery. Both the law and the tradition dictate that she should be stoned for her offense. This was the conventional wisdom, for the law was meant for punishment against human wrongdoing. Jesus had something else in mind...forgiveness.

We are called to be ambassadors of reconciliation, extending God's Grace to ourselves and to others as well. I am grateful to the Scribe who placed this story of God's Grace in the Gospel of John. It is an important picture of the way that God feels about us. It is a story about God's love. It is a grace and love that leads us to experience and believe in a God of new beginnings, and of these new beginnings there is no end.

Do you believe in the indiscriminate grace and love of God?
"Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe."
-John 20:25
The story is a familiar one...Following the crucifixion, the disciples were locked in a house for fear that they too will be killed. And then, as recorded in John, "Jesus came and stood among them." To prove that it was their Lord, Jesus showed them the scars in his hands and side.

Thomas was not with them. When the other disciples told him that they had seen the Lord, Thomas stated the familiar words shown above. About a week later Jesus showed up again, and encouraged Thomas to do just as Thomas had suggested. After doing so, he exclaimed, "My Lord and my God!"

Two things in this story stand out for me: 1. The courage that Thomas showed by his doubting and 2. The vulnerability that Jesus showed by openly showing his disciples his scars.

First, for Thomas the crucifixion had destroyed his hope. In the courageous act of doubting, for which even Jesus rebuked him, a new transformative experience of God took place, "My Lord and my God!" A new paradigm of understanding the work of God in the world was beginning to unfold.

Secondly, in the safety of the small group of disciples, Jesus showed them his scars. Jesus demonstrated that by sharing our scars with our trusted friends in a beloved community, we can become REAL. When we become authentic and real with one another, we become wounded healers, and we can experience the real and Living Christ with one another.

Has doubt and questioning helped you to grow spiritually?
They said to each other, "Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures?"
-Luke 24:32
Although there are many different accounts of the resurrection story, there are certain things on which they all agree. All of the gospel writers agree that the resurrection occurred on the first day of the week. They all assert their conviction that something happened following the crucifixion of Jesus that forced them to entertain the possibility that the ultimate barrier that each human life faces...our finitude and mortality, had somehow been breached. Whatever the Easter moment was, it had a profound effect upon the Disciples, which altered their behavior and their understanding of God. On these things we can all agree.

Personally, I must admit that after reading the gospel accounts of the resurrection, and after critically looking at the problems those various accounts can cause to the logical mind, I became a skeptic. The question that I had to ask myself, and one that all skeptics need to ask is, "Can an experience be real if the explanations of that experience are inconsistent and divergent? I have concluded that the answer is, "Yes." I have little faith in the use of language to explain events, and human witnesses to agree on the exact occurrence of events. I do, however, have a great faith in the trustworthiness of people's actions and behavior to affirm that an event happened. Just how the event we call the resurrection happened is beyond my ability to understand. One thing, however, that is not confusing are the changed lives that occurred in the post-Easter disciples. These early followers of Jesus had tried to use words to explain what was beyond words. And the event that was beyond words to explain changed their lives forever.

How do you understand the resurrection of Jesus?
Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!
-Mark 11:9
Toward the end of his gospel, Mark assembles all of the key actors in the drama of his story. Mark does not give us a systematic theology or a platform of social ethics. He gives us a story, with the key actors being the Romans, the Jewish leaders and the rebels.

We tend to conclude that the story of Jesus' last week was really all about the government, the religious leaders and the terrorists, or rebels. These seem to be the people who are setting the agenda. But the story as told by Mark suggests that Jesus does not concentrate on these obvious groups. In different ways, these are the groups that encourage that Jesus be put death, but they are not what the story is all about. The story is about the other two groups that Mark talks about, the disciples and the crowd.

Like everyone else, neither the disciples nor the crowd come out of this story looking very good. However, I believe that they portray the two key dimensions of what Jesus is doing during his last week on earth. The crowd represents what we might call the "public" aspect of Jesus' Passion. Jesus' ministry, teachings and death are for everyone. On the other hand, the disciples portray the "personal" aspect of Jesus' Passion, or God's intense love for us, his followers.

During the week ahead, I suggest that it is important for us to step out of our assumptions about the power that is in government, the hearts of religious leaders, or in the minds of terrorists. Instead, may we gather around the power of God's enduring love...a power that was made present in the form of the fragile, crucified Christ.

Can you identify with any group in this Holy Week story?