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:

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
-John 1:5
Ever since January 6, new videos of the riot at the Capitol keep coming out. With each new video the horrendous scenes of what true anarchy looks like get worse and worse. It was bedlam, and it will take a long time to recover from what took place one overcast afternoon in early January.

Like many of you, my spiritual path as a Quaker and as a Christian seeker has led me to try and understand the times in which we are now living through the lens of my faith. The anger in politics, the distrust of institutions, the fear and the racism that seems to be a part of our society's inner core have led me to ask, what has become a trite question by now, "What would Jesus do?" Living on this earth during the Roman occupation of Israel, Jesus taught his ethic of radical love. It was a time like the one we are now experiencing.

The radical love that Jesus lived, leads to actions for justice that challenge many of society's norms. If life is lived in love, and if the institutions of society express this kind of love, we will find ourselves questioning the vast sums of money that we spend on wars. We will embrace diversity in all of its race, class, gender and sexual orientation. We will live in peace and contagious joy. This radical love beckons us to a better kind of life than the one we are now living.

And so a new administration comes to Washington, D.C., and a young poet offers us a vision of a new kind of nation. We hope for the best and pray that life will be better. We also look to our faith, and turn to a man who walked this earth 2,000 years ago, and whose aura of love is shining in our hearts today. The good news is that the light continues to shine. The darkness has not overcome it.

In what ways can we express the love that Jesus taught?
Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
-First Thessalonians 5:16-18
If you have been driving around your community, you have probably noticed the yard signs that say, "Pray for our country." It is a popular sentiment right now, and one with which I agree.

In a Tweet this past week, Dante Stewart wrote, "Faith demands that we be honest with the world as it is. Hope demands that we imagine the world as it can become. Love demands that our faith and our hope do whatever it can to create the world that we imagine so that we live in a world much better than the one that is offered." And I believe that prayer is an important medium through which such a better world can be formed.

If God is, and if God is like Jesus Christ, then those who call themselves followers of Christ are called to a life of prayer. It is an indisputable fact that Jesus prayed...prayed often...and believed that prayer worked. I am helped to know that all of the saints throughout the ages, from Paul and the early evangelists forward, prayed. I know that the Founder of the Quakers, George Fox, "excelled in prayer." These words are a part of a larger statement by William Penn about Fox. Penn wrote, "The most awe-full, living, reverent frame I ever felt or beheld, I must say, was his in prayer."

Through prayer non-believers have become believers and love has replaced hate. I believe in spiritual transformation, and I believe that through prayer God can work miracles. And if there was ever a time when we needed prayer and spiritual transformation, it is now.

What is your understanding of the practice of prayer?
Have no anxiety about anything...
-Philippians 4:6
The Apostle Paul's advice in this scripture passage is easier said than done. In just this past week we have been through the following anxiety producing experiences: 1. The recognition that we are still a deeply divided country. The scenes that we witnessed of protestors occupying the Senate and House Chambers in the Capitol Building are etched on our minds. 2. After much consternation, we learned that the Constitution is still strong and held up under the protests. 3. Black people continue to die at the hands of police. 4. We continue to struggle against Covid 19, recognizing the weaknesses in our health care system, and the ineptness of government to disperse the vaccine. 5. And finally, we are learning about how diverse our country is, with the votes of black and brown people sending a black man and the son of Jewish immigrants to the Senate from Georgia.

We are witnessing a transition period in history, which Krista Tippit has called, "unsettling and stress-filled." How do we cope?

First, it is alright to express anger over the negative experiences of the last week. Those who participated in the violence need to be held accountable. Second, we need to recognize that the ideology that shapes the thinking of these protestors will not go away on January 20. How do we deal with those who live in an alternative universe? Third, we need to remember that democracy is not a spectator sport. We need to challenge falsehoods. And we also need to practice some spiritual disciplines. Personally, I am coping by practicing meditative silence, simmering walks, and journal writing, which helps me keep things in perspective. It is a difficult time, to be sure, but anxiety will not lessen the stress.

How are you coping with the anxiety of our time?
One thing I know, that though I was blind, now I see.
-John 9:25
The reading from John Chapter 9 is the familiar story of Jesus healing the blind man by the pool of Siloam. It is about how God refuses to allow people to stay the same, and how the change that God brings about in individuals can be so difficult for others to receive.

Amidst all of the former blind man's wonder and excitement of being healed, he runs straight into the brick wall of cynicism and doubt. A series of people cannot come to terms with who he is and what has happened in his life. "You are not the same person," they say. "It can't be you! Life does not change. The world is the way it is." And the man born blind says, "No, it is me...I am the man...I was born blind, but now I see...I have been touched."

As we enter a new year, a year that we hope will be a year of healing and change for the better, it would be easy for us to be enveloped by the kind of cynicism the doubters in this story represent. The pandemic has a way of making people cynics. Many are anxious to return to the way things were. If we are honest with ourselves, however, the way things were before the pandemic were not that great.

The story of the blind man is never given a name because he represents all of us. His story is the story of our faith, a story of how the Light of the world comes to those who dwell in darkness. As 2020 ends and the portal of 2021 is before us, may we be given the gift of imagining a new and better world. And if you think that the world and the persons in it cannot change, read Chapter 9 of the Gospel of John..."Once I was blind, but now I see."

What are your hopes for the New Year?