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:

Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and maimed and blind and lame…
-Luke 14:21
At their best, the people called Quakers believe in radical hospitality. We believe that God is not bound by the lines of race, sect, class, sexual orientation or gender. What we experience within Cincinnati Meeting is a mirror of the spirit of Jesus who shunned no one, and who consistently spoke in ways that broke down artificial barriers, and who, in his own life, shared bread and wine at table with all manner of people.

The Society of Friends has an important voice to raise to the world, a vision of how the world is meant to be. Our Testimonies build a sense of identity around that voice and vision. Such practices as Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality and Stewardship of the Earth strengthen our community by reminding us who we are. Who we are is a people that moves against classism, racism, sexism, and sectarianism...against the setting up of walls between groups of people who come to God in different ways. This is why it is important for us to be a part of EquaSion, an organization made up of some 26 different faith traditions. Jesus told a story about a man who gave a banquet. Some of the guests did not want to come or were too busy to come. This did not stop him. His was an energetic, active, even aggressive hospitality, bringing people in from streets and country roads. His hospitality extended to those fleeing oppressive governments and gang warfare.

I think of God in this way, the host of a banquet where everyone is welcome. How might we imagine life together in a world where the poor are blessed and the abused made safe...Where those on the edges of society might find acceptance, love and community?
Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.
-Amos 5:24
Amos is the most plain and direct speaking prophet in Hebrew scripture. The above verse was the scripture passage that Martin Luther King Jr. emphasized in his famous, "I Have a Dream" speech in "August of 1963. It is one of those passages that is ingrained in our culture.

Justice is about the character of our public policies as a nation, but it is also about the character of our private conduct as persons. A few years ago I read an article about a teacher name Miss Thompson, and a student named Teddy. The story is one of the finest examples of working for justice as exemplified through the work of a public school teacher. I was reminded of this story a few days ago when I listened to Cathy Barney share her experiences with the under privileged children in a program she directs called, Artsy Fartsy. This Meeting has been the chief sponsor of this program since its inception.

In brief, the article about Miss Thompson and Teddy is about the transformation of a teacher as she learns about the home life of one of her students. Her open dislike for Teddy began to change when she read all of the reports about him, including the death of his mother and the difficult home situation in which Teddy lived. She began to work with him...for justice...to bring out his full potential.

More than four hundred years after Aristotle, Seneca wrote: "This is no time for playing around...You have promised to bring help to the shipwrecked, the imprisoned, the sick, the needy, to those whose heads are under the poised axe. Where are you directing your attention?"

It is an important query for all of us: Where are we directing our attention?
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise persons, but as wise...
-Ephesians 5:15
There are many ways that we learn wisdom. Since this is the day that our society celebrates "mothers," I am reminded, as you are, of the wisdom that I received from my mother. Wisdom finds meaning and purpose in everyday routines that may seem small when compared with the major issues the world faces...rearing children, learning the meaning of friendship, preparing meals, paying bills, etc. Wisdom sees the extraordinary in the ordinary. It finds the sacred in the otherwise mundane practices of life.

Wisdom can be gleaned from a particular place. I believe that there are places where we are more susceptible to spiritual growth than other places. We are shaped, and we learn wisdom from the places that we inhabit.

Wisdom is often learned in the painful places of life, as the Book of Job suggests. My 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.

Eckhart Tolle wrote the following words, words that could have been written by a Quaker: "Wisdom comes with the ability to be still. Just look and just 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."

On this Mother's Day, 2022, and during this time of social rift and tribalism, these words take on special meaning. May we be still...look and listen, and let the stillness direct our words and our actions.

What is your definition of wisdom?
Centering Down, My grief is beyond healing, my heart is sick within me.
-Jeremiah 8:18
In his Confessions, Saint Augustine recounts when his mother died at the age of 56, when he was 33 years old. He was by her side when she died, and as he closed her eyes he said, "a great wave of sorrow surged into my heart." He did not openly cry until the next morning. "The tears which I have been holding back streamed down, and I let them flow as freely as they would, making of them a pillow for my heart. On them it rested..." Augustine's heart rested on a pillow of tears.

Groaning grief seems to be the ongoing theme in much of our world. Our headlines are filled with sorrow. How can anyone read about the "Last Stand" of those Ukrainians in the city of Mariupol, all huddled together in a bombed out steel factory, and not weep? And into our world come the words of the Weeping Prophet, Jeremiah: "O that my head were a spring of water, and my eyes a fountain of tears, so that I might weep day and night for the slain of my poor people."

Jeremiah is not just a bearer of bad news. His tears are rooted in a hope in God. Jeremiah would have understood what Augustine meant when he said that his heart rested on a pillow of tears. Tears, Jeremiah knew, are a part of the texture of hope.

In his book, The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus, Peter Gomes writes, "Hope is not the opposite of suffering; suffering is the necessary antecedent of hope...A hope worth having is forged upon the anvil of adversity..." Where do we find hope amidst the grief that Jeremiah says is "beyond healing?"