How Good It Is To Centre Down
We’re approaching Pentecost: in two week’s time we’ll be celebrating the coming of the Holy Spirit to the disciples, transforming them and giving birth to the Church. In some ways it’s the most significant celebration of the year, because it makes the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus not just stories of events that happened centuries ago, but realities that weave into our lives today. The Holy Spirit is God the Weaver, God yesterday and today and tomorrow, God in Christ and God in us and us in God.
Today’s readings speak about that: Paul telling the Athenians that behind the many faces of the gods and goddesses they worship is the one God, the source of all life, unknown to them but close, so close: the one “in whom we live and move and have our being.”
And in the gospel Jesus is speaking of the Spirit who will come to them after he is gone, so that they won’t be orphaned: the Spirit will abide with them and be in them, and join them with him and with the Father. It’s an interweaving image again: “I in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” Like a Celtic knot, the strands weaving inseparably in and out and held together as one.
It’s that interweaving of the Holy Spirit in our lives that makes it possible for us to carry forward the work of Jesus in our day. We couldn’t be Christians in any meaningful sense without the Holy Spirit. Our faith would just be words or ideas. It’s the Holy Spirit working in us and sustaining us and weaving our lives into the life of Christ that enables us and empowers us to live our faith out and engage it in the world.
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how we at St Aidan’s can keep going with our mission and ministry here, under the pandemic restrictions. This is typically a busy parish: we’re not large, but we tend to have lots of pots on the stovetop, with lots of people involved in our outreach, our special events, our various projects, our church services, and so on.
Since much of that came to a grinding halt in mid-March, we’ve been trying to find ways to carry on but without being hands-on, without being together, without gathering to pray and plan and see things getting done. It’s been a time of experimenting with new methods of working and ministering together, but if I’m honest it often hasn’t felt like enough. It’s been frustrating and difficult. At a recent clergy meeting a number of us agreed that we feel we’re working harder but accomplishing less.
It’s easy to get so bogged down in what’s changed and what has to be done differently or not done at all that we lose sight of who we are and why we exist as a faith community. If you take away our services on Sundays and weekdays in the church, and if you take away our groups meeting together, and our home visits, and parish lunches, and children filling the Sunday school rooms, and our workshops and learning trips, and our ministry to the homeless and marginalized, then who are we?
So let’s remind ourselves of our mission, as we’ve expressed it over the last decade. Very simply, it’s “To know Christ and make him known.” And that hasn’t changed. With our core values of diversity, spiritual formation and community engagement, our purpose is to deepen our understanding of who Jesus is, to walk more closely along his path with him, and to live out our discipleship by our actions in the world - actions aimed at justice, compassion, inclusion, reconciliation, healing.
And that work still goes on, pandemic or no. Let me give you some examples of the ministries currently underway:
· The eco-spirituality group is hard at work on helping us connect our faith with ecological awareness and action. They’re sending out a survey for parishioners, to get a sense of what others are doing, and they’re working on educational and direct action projects.
· Refugee support continues. We can’t welcome newcomers just yet, but the families and individuals who have already arrived still require and receive our support and assistance.
· Bag lunches are being served in place of meals, for people who live close to the edge. And we’ve donated our outreach funds to support the work of St Stephen’s, All Saints and the cathedral as they continue to minister to the homeless.
· Our family ministries are continuing, from Gemma making her wonderful, creative videos for kids with songs, stories and crafts, to Michael delivering mailings by hand to those shut in their homes without access to computers, and Marguerite calling through the parish list to connect with vulnerable parishioners.
The Holy Spirit is at work here, weaving her way into our lives in these new and unexpected circumstances, even as we struggle and worry if we’re doing OK. Especially as we struggle and worry.
I was reminded of this two weeks ago when I took part in a Zoom retreat for clergy leading congregations in these anxious pandemic times. The retreat started with the reading of a poem by Howard Thurman, an African-American theologian, philosopher and civil rights leader, who was a mentor to Martin Luther King Jr. The poem starts like this:
How good it is to center down!
To sit quietly and see one’s self pass by!
The streets of our minds seethe with endless traffic;
Our spirits resound with clashing, with noisy silences,
While something deep within hungers and thirsts for the still moment and the resting lull.
That spoke powerfully to me. The streets of my mind have indeed been seething with endless traffic. There’s anxiety in the air with every breath we take, about risks of infection, risks to our economy, the length of time this will go on, the devastating impact it’s having on people. I worry about how the church will survive, how our finances will do, how we’ll be able to keep going with our mission and ministries….. on and on and on.
So how good it is to centre down! How good to settle into the deep abiding presence of God, in whom we live and move and have our being. How good to centre down to that place where we are enclosed in God, Christ in us and us in Christ, and the Holy Spirit weaving the connections of love and healing and peace around us.
In fact it’s only by centering down that we can then go on and carry forward our mission and ministry, otherwise we run out of gas as we try to do it by ourselves. We need to centre down and be still and listen.
Thurman’s poem goes on:
As we listen, floating up through all of the jangling echoes of our turbulence, there is a sound of another kind –
A deeper note which only the stillness of the heart makes clear.
It moves directly to the core of our being.
That’s where the Holy Spirit moves – in the core of our being.
That’s where we need to make space and be still and listen.
Sitting in front of my computer with 200 other clergy in N. America and beyond on that Zoom retreat I was reminded of the importance, the necessity, of centering down if we’re to be able to do what we’re called to do.
And the poem ends with these words:
Our questions are answered,
Our spirits refreshed, and we move back into the traffic of our daily round
With the peace of the Eternal in our step.
How good it is to center down!
We as God’s people have work to do. As followers of Jesus we’re called to serve the world, this community, the lost and the least.
There’s much to do, and it’s hard right now. Whether you’re a parent juggling working from home and home-schooling your children, or whether you’re an elder living alone and missing your usual circle of family and friends, this is a difficult, anxious time.
But we’re not alone; we’re not orphaned. Far from it.
Our lives are woven through by the Holy Spirit, breathing life into us, and drawing us close to the life of Christ and the heart of God.
So let’s “move back into the traffic of our daily round,” but as we do so may it be “with the peace of the Eternal in our step.”
And let’s remember how good, how essential it is to centre down.