“The self is not the hub but the spoke of the revolving wheel. It is precisely the function of prayer to shift the center of living from self-consciousness to self-surrender.” – Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel
“The more we journey towards the Center the closer we are both to God and to each other” – Martin Laird
In the early church, teachers used the image of a wheel to illustrate something amazing about our relationship with God and our relationships with each other. God is the hub around which we turn, God is the center of the wheel of the cosmos, around which all life, all existence turns. Each of us is like a spoke around that hub. Our beings revolve around the center of all beings. But more than that: Like spokes, the closer we get to the hub of the wheel, the closer we get to all the other spokes. The more we are drawn to God as our center, the closer we get to one another.
This image of the hub in spokes is also used, as we heard, by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, the great Jewish leader who was an ally of the civil rights movement and Dr. King. The teaching here is that the act of prayer is the act of shifting our sense of center from ourselves to our true center, which is God. When we admit that we are but spokes in a cosmic wheel, we can surrender ourselves to the centripetal force of that true hub of all being. We draw closer to God. And in drawing closer to God we draw closer to each other, to all other beings. This is what prayer is. Whatever words we use or don’t use, whatever we feel or don’t feel, prayer at its heart is this surrender to our true center around which we turn.
When Jesus’ disciples asked him to teach them to how to pray what he taught them, what we call the Lord’s Prayer, is really, deeply, a prayer about revolving our whole lives around God, about the ways that drawing closer to God and drawing closer to each other. The prayer talks us through different layers of what it means. This is not just an empty formula that we memorized in Sunday school. It can be the only prayer we need, as long as we go deeply into the meaning of each element of it. This is why at our church we pray different poetic versions of the Lord’s prayer every – to keep it fresh, our exploring what this prayer means. Look! Look at how the Lord’s Prayer starts. The very first word we are pulled out of ourselves and toward our shared center. The first word is “Our.” It’s not “My Abba,” “My Father, my Mother.” It’s Our Creator. This is a communal prayer. It draws us toward each other as it draws us toward God. The prayer begins with re-centering ourselves around our true center: Our Abba. Now, Abba, meaning “papa” – and we can also say Amma for the “mama” aspects of this God who of course is truly beyond human gender: This intimate way of addressing God, Jesus’ Abba, this puts us in that hub and spoke relationship with God, we are connected and dependent on God, when it really comes down to it, no matter how tough and independent we may think we are. And it’s not just me or you who has this beloved relationship with God, it’s everyone, whether they know it or not. “Our Abba” “Our Abba who is in heaven, hallowed be thy name.” This opens us to the mystery of heaven, and the great power and mystery of The Holy One, whose name is truly beyond anything we can say or imagine … this brings us out of being self-revolved and into being revolved around our Holy One.
We could go on like this, reflecting and contemplating on each word of the Lord’s prayer. As a matter of fact, for the next three Sunday’s I’ll be going through the Lord’s Prayer – not word-by-word slowly. But I’ll be weaving in different sections from the Lord’s prayer in order to explore different dimensions of the shared life of a community of faith. The Hub and the Wheel is an image that says a lot about a community that tries faithfully to stay centered around what is Holy, Divine, true and good. A community that, at its heart is centered around a life of prayer and worship, spiritual practice centered on God. The more we are drawn closer to the reality of God in our personal lives and shared lives, the closer we are drawn to each other. And that can be wonderful, that can be warm – and that can be very uncomfortable, even infuriating at times. If we get closer to each other that means seeing and accommodating each other’s needs – which includes the need for solitude as well as the need for community – it mean’s seeing and accommodating each other’s reality of life and right to life and freedom. It isn’t always comfortable to be challenged to make ourselves less of the center. But it can also be uncomfortable to make our needs be known. There were several moving and insightful things that came up during our church vitality retreat last Saturday, this was one of them – sharing with each other when we are in need – many of you were there at this retreat, some of you couldn’t make it, or didn’t know about it (if you’re a visitor this morning, please forgive me this inside talk, I’ll keep it short. We have notes to share with anyone who’s interested, and we hope to do smaller versions with folks who missed it but would like to explore this model of church vitality). At this retreat we connected more with each other and connected more with what is vital and positive about this community of faith. And we connected more with growing edges, challenges, blind spots. One of those growing edges that was named in a couple different ways was the wish to strengthen the internal culture of caring for one another. It’s wonderful to name this, very exciting. This is a church that can be really high functioning, which is awesome. The challenge there can be thinking that we gotta have it all together and that we have to keep it secret when we are in need of some support – oh, I’m fine, it’s not like I’m a refugee fleeing war. There’s a lot of outreach, which is great – and it’s good to name the need to really tend to our in-reach as well. Which is happening, there’s already growth in that way, and it can only help to just name it.
There’s one way that the hub and spoke image doesn’t work. And that is that it’s a very tidy structure, a clean architecture. The truth is that the closer we get to God and the closer we get to each other the messier it is. God bless our messiness.