July 28th, 2019 7th Sunday After Pentecost (Proper 12) YR C

Your Kingdom Come- Diane Beuerman

Your Kingdom Come

Your Kingdom has come.

It is right here,   right now.   You have all seen it.  We have moments when the fog lifts and our mind and heart become one  and space is created for God’s Kingdom to be revealed. It can happen while walking down the street with a chattering child or while driving in heavy traffic or playing the bass guitar with friends or listening to  Bach or Stevie Wonder or Taize chants or baking bread for communion or sitting in the Oncology Dept. at the hospital with a friend or watching a homeless man walking in the labyrinth or hearing the first birds of the morning or seeing that morning’s sunrise.   These moments of connectedness to God are a special gift from God.  They point us in the direction of the Kingdom.  Instead of viewing a fragmented world, we see it’s wholeness.

The picture of the world which is created by the internet, television, newspapers is far from a complete or honest picture. Much is left out and much is exaggerated and much is shameful. How can I say that God’s Kingdom is here?  The world situation  can seem like quick sand pulling us into despair.

As Christians we know that God’s love  is always available and we  have learned how to create that place, that space for God to enter;  where the heart and mind come together and create a space for God’s love.  This gives us room to perceive the wholeness which is God’s Kingdom on earth.  There are many paths or gateways to God’s Kingdom and there are moments, usually only moments when the gate opens and we enter.

Fifteen years ago I was living on the Oregon coast in Bandon where my husband Dave was a deacon at the Catholic church.  It was a somewhat conservative setting which motivated me to attend a Peace and Justice workshop at Portland University.  While there, my attention was drawn to two women who had started a Pax Christi group by just being present at a Portland train station with a Pax Christi sign.  I thought, well that is simple;  Diane, just do something.

On returning I talked with Dave and we decided to” Just do something”.   We telephoned the six people from church who seemed progressive and invited them to a Pax Christi meeting at our home.  They immediately said yes and we met once a week for two years.  Thus started our Centering Prayer experience since one of the women, Sylvia, had been praying this way for 10 years. She was thrilled to instruct us and have community with us.  Then we moved to Eugene.

I tell you this story to emphasize how inexperienced and average we were.  All we had was the desire to practice our religion in a way which made room for God’s love.   Out of desperation does come beauty.

In Eugene a friend told us about a small Centering Prayer group at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church and we continued Centering Prayer with them.  Our church offers Centering Prayer groups on Tuesday and Friday.

Why have I decided to talk about Centering Prayer and God’s Kingdom?                                                                                         Centering Prayer helps to create that space, that place which gives God a chance to introduce us to God’s Kingdom. Much of what I say here has been influenced by Cynthia Bourgeault, an Episcopal priest, teacher and retreat conference leader.  She has worked closely with Fr. Thomas Keating at Contemplative Outreach and Fr. Richard Rohr at the Center for Action and Contemplation.  Her practice and understanding of Centering Prayer is greatly informed by the 14th century spiritual classic, The Cloud of Unknowing and from Jesus’s gospel message. It is a practice that helps us to Let Go of our stuff and make space for an unknown and mysteriously perceived divine presence.  In other words we don’t know what is happening when we pray and it can feel as if nothing is happening.  We notice though in our daily life that there is change in how we respond to irritations and complications.  Just this week I found myself upset about receiving a parking ticket while shopping downtown.  I started with the “if only I” thoughts.  If only I hadn’t looked at that other item, if only I had looked at my watch, if only I had put that extra quarter in the meter.  Then I remembered the letting go ritual and I did let go, I even thought “I can use this as an example in my sermon.”  Then I laughed at myself and let go.  This is a simple example of letting go. Friends have told me that they have noticed this same change in their own behavior.

In Centering Prayer you don’t concentrate your mind on anything.  It is not about paying attention to your mantra or following your breath or following thoughts as they come and go; it is about Letting Go of those attached thoughts.  All meditation, Jewish, Buddhist, Islamic, Hindu and Christian is about turning off the constant flow of thoughts.  All have the goal of looking for something deeper.  That is what we have in common.

Maybe the most descriptive centering prayer story is one told by Fr. Thomas Keating.

During one of his workshops a woman was practicing centering prayer and reported that she was a complete failure at the practice because during the 20 minutes of silence she had  10.000 thoughts.  Lovely, said Fr. Thomas, 10,000 Opportunities to Return to God.

The fruits of this practice are experienced not by having wonderful visions or messages from Mary or Jesus because when they appear we let go of them by introducing our sacred word.  This can be  quite a challenge and leads to great humor and much laughter.

There is a wonderful Greek word, Kenosis, which refers to self emptying.  Paul talks about this in Philippians 2:5  where he says, “You should have the mind of Christ.  Though Christ’s state was that of God he did not deem equality with God something he should cling to.  He emptied himself.”  This emptying or releasing or Letting Go is the opposite of clinging.

Cynthia Bourgeault demonstrates  Letting Go by  moving fisted hands  from a position in front of the body to unclenched hands slowly and gently moving to the side of the body.  I have grown to love this beautiful gesture.  In centering prayer this gesture is identified as returning to God.  It is consenting to the presence and action of God.  This is a gateway to God’s Kingdom on earth.

There is no mantra in this practice, instead we call upon a chosen word, our sacred word, to bring us back to God.  This word is not chosen for it’s meaning but as a reminder of our intention.  It is repeated only when we become engaged in a thought,  We don’t put our efforts into stopping thought but every time we get caught in a thought, we Let Go and return to God. Releasing is where the rubber hits the road. The heart of the practice is in surrendering our thoughts to God, returning to God.  This is how and when the mind and heart are united.  You have all experienced this unity. Talking about it does not explain it because it can not be explained.  It needs to be experienced.  You all have experienced a moment of God’s love changing your perception. You all have entered the Kingdom of God on earth, always at an unexpected moment.

When the space has been created for God’s love to reside in us, it is  imperative that we treat all humankind with care.  It is no longer me and you, it is We.  This realization of unity may be fleeting but it is real.  It is a stable reality,

There are many gateways to God’s Kingdom.

I end with a few lines from a 14th century Hafiz poem and also with a Taize chant.  Hafiz was and is a popular Persian, {Iranian} poet.

What is this precious love and laughter budding in our hearts

It is the glorious sound of a soul waking up


Sing to the Lord all my being     Let everything in me proclaim God’s salvation.

Sing to the Lord all my being   and remember all of God’s marvelous deeds