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:

Be Here Now: A Synergy of Quakerism and Mindfulness

“No longer forward or behind, I look in hope or fear, But grateful, take the good I find, The best of now and here.”
--John Greenleaf Whittier
As with the early Quakers and those along the way who reflected the best of our tradition (Fox, Dyer, Barclay, Penn, Woolman, Fry, Mott, Jones, Kelly, etc.), I have just recently been inspired by gleaning JGW’s gentle theology amidst the beauty of his poetry.

Let’s start with some fun with JGW! Name that poem!

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“The best spiritual advice is also the simplest: PAY ATTENTION!” (A. Green) My distillation and description of how Quakerism and Mindfulness synergistically share common ground:

First, they’re Universal. “The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.” (John 1:9). Early Friends and their reaction to Calvinism, predestination, the elect and chosen few, etc. – the set-up for exclusivity. Everyone is already connected to the Holy.

Second, they’re Internal. “I saw how people… read these things (the Scriptures) and applied them to others, but they did not turn in to find the truth of these things in themselves.” (G. Fox). Life is lived from the Center—with an inner transformation (i.e., awe, gratitude, compassion, justice, generosity, forgiveness, values, etc.) that leads to the outward sacramental expression of behaviors (we refer to them as testimonies).

Third, they’re Immediate.“Be here now!” (Ram Dass). There is no time more sacred than now, no place more sacred than here. “We have no time but the present. Therefore, prize your time for your soul’s sake.” (G. Fox). To get better at it… practice, practice, etc.

Live up to the measure of light you’ve been given and more light will be added.

How are you doing with the light you been given?
Therefore encourage one another and build one another up.
First Thessalonians 5:11
Over the years the Quaker Testimony on Community has become a most important focus of our life together, and one of the most important messages that we can share with the world. In a time of divisiveness and tribalism, the Testimony on Community celebrates diversity and inclusivity. On this New Member First Day, I would like for us to think, once again, about what it means to be in community with one another.

First, community is formed when we gather together in worship to feel the power of Spirit beyond our finitude...When we experience the Living God together.

Second, community is formed when we tell and re-tell our stories, our memories, and life's spiritually meaningful experiences together. To listen to the life stories of one another is a rare privilege in a world of surface living and disconnected moments.

Third, community is formed when we help one another process each other's pain...when we cry with one another and when we feel one another's suffering. In the Apostle Paul's words "If one member suffers, all suffer together."

Fourth, community is formed when we encourage one another and build one another up. We live in a hyper-critical world. In our Meeting community we should be able to live with one another without a critical spirit.

Fifth, community is formed when we live in a spirit of acceptance and forgiveness of one another, becoming sensitive to not wound the hearts of others.

What does a beloved community mean to you?
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine...No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us...
-Romans 8:35, 37
A friend of mine calls our time a time of "Existential Trauma." We are not only facing a second wave (The Delta Variant) of a pandemic that seems to go on forever, we are in a time of great social upheaval and deep social rifts. For the last month we have been watching in horror as thousands flee Afghanistan following the take-over by the Taliban. America, once again, is turning inward trying to understand why a 20 year commitment to a country has ended so badly. We have a political system that is in a constant state of gridlock. Racism continues to haunt us...There are gross economic disparities and mass poverty. We have an immigration system that is completely broken, etc. How do we cope amidst such strain?

First, we cope by processing our corporate hurt and suffering. When we are experiencing such strain, we need the assurance of the familiar institutions of our lives...our families and our faith communities.

Secondly, we cope via a renewed quest for meaning in life. Just as we cope by returning to and strengthening the bonds to the familiar institutions in our lives, so do we cope by more intensely seeking the meaning in life. Difficult times move us toward the spiritual basics...Love God and love one another.

Third, we cope by doing our best to brighten the little corner of the world in which we live... Feed the hungry, care for the poor, work for justice.

Our faith is centered in hope. What gives you hope during this difficult time?
When I look at thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars which thou has established; what are humans that thou art mindful of them?
-Psalm 8:3-4
Questions of faith have always played a major role in my faith development. I am sure that this is because of the importance the queries play in our Quaker faith and practice. I am convinced that questions are very important to our spiritual growth...Questions about God and Jesus...Questions about the Bible...Questions about who we are as humans, and questions about religious tradition.

I want to lift up three areas of human concern and suggest that in each of these areas the Bible is filled with questions.

The first area is that of human worth. How are we to think of ourselves? In the epigraph from Psalm 8 above, we find one of the best loved of the questions in the Bible. When faith asks the questions rather than making dogmatic assertions, it puts things in balance and helps us answer our own questions.

A second area is that of human suffering. Suffering is a huge stumbling block to anyone seeking a closer relationship with God. Bart Ehrman from the University of North Carolina wrote a book about suffering, calling it, "God's Problem." Of course in the Bible, Job is the leading figure when it comes to suffering. As we know, the Book of Job ends with no answers, just questions.

Finally, there is the area of human destiny. What future is there for humanity? Is there life beyond the grave? When a person dies, will she or he live again? These are questions that humans have asked since the beginning of time, and they are questions that can only be answered by faith.

How have questions or queries helped to shape your faith?