“Moving From Your Center,” by Alicia McBride (FCNL)

Message given at Durham Friends Meeting, January 24, 2021

I appreciate that Quakerism recognizes that God can speak in everyday life. William Taber talks about worship as a stream that is always present and that we can dip into at any time. Knowing those moments of connection are possible both eases my frustration when my mind won’t settle during the appointed hour of worship, and also encourages me to be open to the wisdom I encounter outside of that time.

About 15 years ago, when I was just starting to practice yoga, one of my teachers described it as “the art of moving from your center.” He was referring to anatomy and body alignment, but that description sunk deep within me and has been something I’ve come back to, again and again, to describe the alignment – the integrity – I want to live into in my life more broadly.

Of course, this description presents two questions: What is my center, and how do I move from it?

I am holding these questions today, in the midst of the emotional roller coaster of the last few weeks. Excitement, joy, fear, anger, relief, and cautious optimism have all been present in my January alone. That roller coaster is profoundly un-centering and exhausting.

At times, I’ve responded to this kind of destabilization by trying to push ahead and power through – to focus on what’s in front of me, not on what’s behind. Sometimes, that’s necessary. But, in the long run, I have found that this approach, while tempting in the moment, ultimately works against the kind of centering I need to move with integrity.

In his book The Body Keeps the Score, Dr. Bessel Van der Kolk discusses the ways trauma reshapes both the body and the brain – and I would add the soul. We are what we experience. Ignoring what we’ve been through, however painful and unsettling in the moment, only means more we have to work through later.

I believe that all of us, in the United States today, are facing our own experiences of individual and collective trauma. There’s a layer of that trauma that’s personal to our identities and circumstances. There’s also a layer that is corporate – coming from the mounting death toll from Covid-19, and efforts to subvert the U.S. election, culminating in the violent assault on the U.S. Capitol and what it symbolizes about our country. Those layers often intersect; on January 6, for example, I experienced the Capitol riot as a threat to our government, a stark demonstration of the power racist, anti-Semitic, and Islamophobic worldviews have in the U.S. today, and also a personal attack on a part of the city where I work and where friends and family live. I can only imagine the trauma of those who hold marginalized identities, people who work in the Capitol building, and others more directly affected than I am.

In these circumstances, what does it look like to move through, not past, to re-center for the work ahead?

To me, it looks like taking the time to acknowledge my experience and to celebrate or mourn as I need to. It means recognizing the gaps – between how I want things to be and how they are, between what our country claims to stand for and how it acts – and radically reimagining how to shrink them. It means accountability and learning. It means absorbing the experience of our personal and national trauma to give us empathy and bring us resilience.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve found myself coming back to a passage from 1st John. It reminds me of what centered movement means, as well as what it looks to move away from it.

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love…There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. (1 John 4:7-8, 18)

As we settle into waiting worship, I invite you to consider: what is your center, and how are you led to move from it now?

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