The phrase “another center” comes to mind as I contemplate how to encourage you this week. I know I have trouble finding my center these days. Perhaps you struggle, too.
The phrase “finding my center” suggests locating a quiet, still point somewhere inside me. It is there for me if only I discover it, or, more generously, if only I give myself to it. But this is difficult. Apart from the challenge of moving through the noise of my many selves in my monkey mind, which is always jumping at internal and external sensations – wait, that’s not fair to monkeys! – there is the challenge of coming into a center that is full of clamor. What do I do then? What do you do?
Well, there may be another center. It may be wherever the wind comes from. It may be as far as I can see. It may be at my feet. It may be at the tip of my finger. This center may be “faraway, so close,” as the band U2 sings.
This Sunday I will preach on a text I referenced just two months ago. It’s the story of Paul and his friends encountering a faithful community that prays outside the city of Philippi alongside the river (Acts 16:11-15). Their leader appears to be Lydia. She is a merchant. The story suggests she makes her way in the world through a community that works – dyeing and selling textiles – and a community that pauses while it works to remember the God who provides.
Recalling this narrative now, my mind moves elsewhere. I think about other things. It is so hard to stay with the story. Yet the story is another center. Each time we encounter it, the story may pull us into another place that can change us. That’s how it is with our sacred texts and our way of reading texts in community. For instance, we have engaged the 23rd Psalm at least two times in recent months. Those words just won’t let us go. Texts keep coming back for us
The lectionary – three yearlong cycles of scripture that illuminate God’s covenant with God’s people as a testimony of God’s love for all creation, a love manifested in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ – keeps drawing us into another center.
The lectionary provides another opportunity to witness something that escaped our notice before. For example, who is this woman Lydia? She finds Paul’s message compelling. But what is so compelling about her? She prevails upon the missionaries (Acts 16:15) to follow her to her home and receive her hospitality, the highest exchange rate in a culture of honor, yet now offered by a woman who asserts herself in a patriarchal society, demonstrating that God is up to something greater than Paul and his friends imagine – greater than we imagine.
The lectionary gives us another chance, not another chance to get it right – life is not a test – but another chance to return to the story so that it continues to work on us, that we may remember what matters, recall what we long for, and realize what satisfies.
The lectionary may become the hand of Another who reaches out to each of us each time around and says, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).
We will read our sacred texts again on Sunday. Through prayer and song and story, we will circle back around. May God open our hearts yet one more time, and may God find us again in another center.