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:

As a hart longs for flowing streams, so longs my soul for thee, O God.
-Psalm 42:1
Doubt, anguish and longing for God have been a part of the human condition from our very beginning. Doubt and faith go hand in hand. It should not be surprising to any who know religious history that many of the most committed persons of faith are also the ones who experience God's absence in the most excruciating ways.

In a letter to one of her spiritual counselors, Mother Teresa wrote: "...the place of God in my soul is blank--there is no God in me. When the pain of longing is so great, then I feel God does not want me...God is not there. Sometimes I just hear my own heart cry out, 'My God' and nothing else comes--The torture and pain I cannot explain."

The longing for the "Absent One," as Mother Teresa calls God, is the theme in Psalm 42. "As a hart longs for flowing streams, so longs my soul for thee, O God...My soul is cast down within me...I say to God my rock, 'Why hast thou forgotten me?'"

And there is the example of Jesus and his own experience of darkness on the cross, when he quotes Psalm 22, saying, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

Many of us could write our own books about our experiences of God's absence, or "dark nights of the soul." This, however, is not the end of the story. There are other times when we affirm God's presence and rejoice in our transformational spiritual experiences. Why such contrasts? I don't know, but such are the rhythms of the spiritual life.

Have you experienced a "dark night of the soul?"

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on...
-Matthew 6:25
By now, most of you have read my book, Reflections from the Inner Light, and you surely remember my description of a meeting with John, which I describe in the Introduction. John had just been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor, and now he was thinking about life issues that before this tragic news he had thought about with only passing attention. He called this time with me "a time of sorting it all out." Why me? Why did God do this to me? What is God really like?, etc. "I am just trying to sort it all out." Although John's sorting was now on a fast track because of his diagnosis, it is a process in which we are all involved.

The following four questions have been helpful to me:

The first, "How can I come to know the meaning of human existence?" In this first question we are focusing on the process of revelation, or how have I experienced life, so that I am helped in trying to understand who I am.

A second question is this: "What is the nature of that ultimate reality which sets the limits and possibilities on my human existence?

The response to the second question is inseparable from our third question: "Where in human historical experience can one best turn to get help in deciding what is the meaning of human existence and the nature of ultimate reality?

Finally, "In what community is the meaning and purpose of life best understood and its fulfillment nurtured?"

How have you been trying to "sort it all out?"
He cried with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out."
-John 11:43
This past week a new book was released titled, Come Forth, by Father James Martin. It is a book of hope based on what Martin calls, "The promise of Jesus' greatest miracle." I have not yet read this was just released on Tuesday...but I have read the Lazarus miracle story a number of times, and have a few thoughts of my own on how to read such a story.

As with all miracle stories, the raising of Lazarus, a man who had been dead for four days, carries with it some difficult baggage. It is not easy for our reasoned 21st Century enlightened minds to understand how such a thing could happen. I suggest that the best way to approach this story is not historically, but metaphorically, which is also how Father Martin suggests that we read the story.

As humans we operate on what the Greeks called "chronos" time, or chronological time. But the Greeks also used a distinguishing term for God's time, which they called, "kairos" time. As we look at the Lazarus story metaphorically, we can affirm that each of us is wrapped with strands of cloth that keep us bound in a spiritual tomb. Each of us inwardly longs for that kairos moment, when the Inward Christ says to us, "John or Betty, come forth, unbind them and let them go." Just what are those things that bind us and deter us from growing spiritually?

By asking "What is the metaphorical value of this story?" each of us can be Lazarus, walking out of the tomb and loosening the binds of spiritual death that deter our growth. The good news is that we worship a God of new beginnings, and of these new beginnings there is no end.

What are those things that deter your spiritual growth?
Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then has it weeds?
-Matthew 13:27
Peter Storey, a Bishop in the United Methodist Church, once said that as humans we are, "addicted to division." In the United States our political and cultural lives are full of anger and rancor, with all sides pointing a finger at the other, and sometimes pointing a gun. The racist who gunned down three innocent African-Americans in Jacksonville, Florida last Sunday is a case in point...and it will not be the last time this happens. There is also the war in Ukraine, and the humanitarian disaster along the southern border. Name your part of the world and you will find division.

I believe that the healing of divisions in the world begins with the healing of divisions within ourselves. "At whom am I angry?" "How have I been hurt?" "How have I sought to resolve my issues of pain? These are important queries as we seek to heal our divisions within. In the words of Thomas Kelly, " is on the outcome of this inner drama that rests, ultimately, the outer pageant of history."

I am tired of division. Rather than living our lives in divided compartments, may we begin to take the necessary steps to become the whole and authentic persons we are called to be. Within the community of faith, let's seek to encourage and build one another up rather than tear one another down. In our body politic, may we agree to differ, but always resolve to love. In the wider world, let us work for peace and justice and the healing of divisions between people. We do not have to be addicted to division. With the help of God, transformation is always possible.

How are you working to heal divisions within yourself and within our world?