Disciple: Finding Our Center
By Bishop Sam Rodman
One of the great gifts to me at the end of my time in seminary was an introduction to meditative Centering Prayer. The Rev. Dabney Carr, who actually worked at Virginia Theological Seminary as the development officer, began a meditative prayer group using the principles of Centering Prayer, a form of prayer meant to increase our awareness of God’s presence within and around us. The offering was intended as a way to anchor ourselves in the life of the Holy Spirit as we prepared to leave seminary and begin our vocational lives in the church and in the world.
Centering Prayer has been one of the dimensions of my personal spiritual practices ever since. I am not an expert. I am what some would call a practitioner. I continue the practice because I have experienced the power of this form of prayer to clear my mind, steady my heart and enable me to focus on the whispers of God’s spirit that provide wisdom, guidance and direction for me and for the people and churches I serve.
More recently I have found myself revisiting this concept of centering, but from a slightly different perspective. After a difficult and, at times, confusing conversation with a member of my family, I was asked a question I did not know how to answer. The question was this: “Who are you centering in our conversations?”
And because I wasn’t sure exactly what I was being asked, or why, the question stayed with me. In fact, I carried the question with me into other conversations. After an extended period of reflection on the question, what I began to discover was this: In most conversations, I was placing myself, my perspective, my “insights” and my own experience at the center.
Now, one could argue that we all do this to some extent. But the reality I began to see was that I had become significantly, and maybe even dangerously, myopic in my point of view. I just assumed that others basically saw the world in the same way I did. Up until that point, it had seemed to me there was a particular way of understanding what was going on in the world around me.
Of course, the problem was—and sometimes still is—that I was centering my own experience to the exclusion of other points of view.
As I became more aware of this self-centered approach, it dawned on me that the reason this myopic mindset had become so prominent in my life, and in my interactions and relationships, was connected to my privilege.
SEEING THE FLOOR
Privilege has become a word with which some of us struggle. It is certainly an important focus in our work around racial reckoning, justice and healing. But it shows up in other contexts as well. Privilege is often defined as unearned power, status or access that gives some individuals or groups of people certain advantages in life over other individuals or groups.
If you are wondering what privilege has to do with the Gospel and the promises of Jesus, we might start with the Magnificat, the hymn that Mary sings when she visits her cousin Elizabeth and proclaims not only the greatness of the Lord but a holy reversal of the order of values the world had established. Bishop Jennifer Brooke-Davidson shares an enlightening reflection on just how extraordinary that was in her Advent meditation (page 24).
Finding our center in the Gospel values of Jesus often means letting go of, or setting aside, the privileges the world or our social station may have handed to us. This can be challenging. But it can also be eye-opening and liberating as we begin to discover there are a variety of perspectives, experiences and points of view that actually surround most of the decisions we make, or problems we try to solve, or conversations in which we take part.
I have an odd analogy that comes from the world of sports—basketball, to be specific, though it translates well to other team sports. Throughout my years of playing casually organized basketball, I heard an expression many times: “So and so had the ability to see the floor.” It wasn’t until I was well into my 30s that I experienced “seeing the floor” for the first time. Essentially, it is the capacity to see what is happening on the court not just from the perspective of your own relationship to the basket. When you “see the floor,” you also see your teammates and your opponents and understand where they, too, are in relation to the basket, to each other and to the ball, all at the same time.
Seeing the floor changes the way you understand the game, your place on the team, and where you need to move as a play unfolds or as you transition from one end of the court to the other.
Learning to get out of the center of a conversation, a relationship, or a challenging conflict or decision is like seeing the floor—not simply from only your own point of view but from the perspective, experience, wisdom and insight of other people who are with you.
So finding our center, especially for those of us whose race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or social class has given us significant privilege, ironically can mean stepping out of the center. This is especially true if and when we haven’t realized we are holding that space. To put it another way, centering ourselves in God may mean placing another person, another’s point of view or someone else’s experience at the center, instead of our own.
This can be awkward at first, but once we begin to see the wider perspective it becomes, to cite some other biblical metaphors, like the scales falling from our eyes, or having our eyes opened or ears unstopped. It can be like a captive who is set free, or seeing the one you thought was dead, alive and standing in front of you. It is like being born again.
At its heart, the Jesus Movement is placing at the center people who have been historically pushed to the margins, whether individuals, groups, races, tribes or nations. It prioritizes their voices and their experience.
In the beloved community, Centering Prayer and centering others go hand in hand. May we all find opportunities to put our faith into practice by making space for our siblings in Christ at the center of our conversations and at the center of the church.
Bishop Sam Rodman is the XII bishop of the Diocese of North Carolina.
Tags: North Carolina Disciple