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:

He entered Jericho and was passing through. And there was a man named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector.
-Luke 19:1-2
Spiritual experiences have a way of bursting into our lives from the outside. From outside our socio-economic group, from outside our “in-group,” from outside our ingrown patterns and ways of doing. In scripture, we experience God in the form of a Samaritan, or a leper, a prostitute, a centurion, and even a chief tax collector.

Zacchaeus was a “teachable” spirit, who was about the work of seeking new insights, new revelations and new experiences that would lead him to a new life. After meeting with Jesus, he was transformed, and said that he was giving half of his goods to the poor, and that if he had defrauded anyone of anything, he would restore it four-fold. That was all that Jesus needed to hear, and proclaims, “Today salvation has come to this house.”

Are there ways that we can prepare for the kind of transformation that Zacchaeus experienced? I would suggest two: First, we can prepare by paying attention to those who don’t quite fit into our “in-group.” By caring for those on the outside of our lives who move us beyond ourselves…By practicing the art of compassion in all the great and small acts of caring and giving that we do for one another.

Secondly, we should work at avoiding those things in our culture that are disruptive to our souls. What are those inner attitudes and outward actions that prevent us from growing spiritually? In the context of the Scripture reading, what is getting in the way of the Son of Man seeking and saving us from being lost?

Do you see yourself, like Zacchaeus, as a “teachable” spirit?
And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites…
-Matthew 6:5
Like many of you, I watched the PBS series on Country Music, produced by Ken Burns. I have never been much of a country music fan, but this program really got my attention. I found the tragedies associated with many of country music’s musicians quite moving. The alcohol and drug abuse of Hank Williams, and his death at the age of 29…The tragic plane crash that took the life of Patsy Cline at the age of 30, and so forth. All were put on full display during the Ken Burns documentary.

Whatever else country music is, it is authentic. It speaks about real-life issues that people face in their every day lives. Beyond the twangy guitars and yodeling, there is an authentic message that touches people where they live.

If there was ever a person who walked this earth in authenticity, it was Jesus. He had little patience for hypocrites and those who are not real with others. This authenticity would express itself in his teachings, one of which is found in Matthew 6:5: “You must not be like the hypocrites…” This verse is directly related to the way that one should pray, but it can be applied to every aspect of our lives.

The best of country music will tell a story from the heart, out of the authenticity of the songwriter and musician, and the best of each of us will always share from the heart and from our authentic selves.

How have you become more real and authentic in the way you live and how you interact with others?
O Lord, thou hast searched me and known me!
-Psalm 139:1
As we move along the path of life and spiritual growth, it is hoped that we will become more and more adept at discerning the rather intrusive God described by the writer of Psalm 139. We may never get to the place of discernment that the Psalmist did, but by reflection and remembrance we can ask, “How have I experienced God in this situation?” And, “What spiritual lessons have I learned?”

Profound teaching and learning often comes through a spirit of discontent. Restlessness of spirit will ignite our discernment process. It is when we are feeling content, however, and when we have the energy and time to reflect on such discernment, that we can move from experience to understanding.

I like Thomas Kelly’s line, “Inner Sanctuary of the Soul.” It is a contentment phrase. It speaks of a center to be discovered within each of us where we experience God in all that we do…A God who searches us and knows us, who knows when we sit down and when we rise up. It is a center where true contentment resides. And if you are in the throes of discontent, we know that the opportunity to enter a place of contentment is just around the corner. For such is the cycle of spiritual growth, and such is the working of this God without boundaries as described in Psalm 139.

In what ways have you experienced God? When has God felt absent?
Quaker Concern for Community
The life of a religious society consists in something more than the body of principles it professes and the outer garments of organization which it wears. These things have their own importance; they embody the society to the world and protect it from the chance and change of circumstance; but the springs of life lie deeper, and often escape recognition. They are to be found in the vital union of the members of the society with God and with one another, a union which allows the free flowing through the society of the spiritual life which is its strength.
-William Charles Braithwaite
Our life is love and peace, and tenderness; and bearing one with another, and forgiving one another, and not laying accusations one against another; by praying one for another and helping one another up with a tender hand.
-Isaac Penington
First, we have an inner teacher whose guidance is more reliable than anything we can get from a doctrine, institution, or leader. Second, we all need other people to invite, amplify, and help us discern the inner teacher’s voice.
-Parker Palmer
What is community to you? How can we better form community at Cincinnati Meeting?