Jesus and Yoga

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“To yoga or not to yoga,” that is the question. 

It’s at least a question that I’ve been asked a half-dozen times over the last few days.  The questioners had been told that yoga was demonic – and that yogis would be opening themselves to demonic power. 

(Just for clarification, a “yogi” is a person who practices yoga.   It is not referring to Yogi Bear, Yogi Berra, or Yogi Tea).

I’ll start with a quick answer to the question:  “I’m not good at yoga, but I am definitely good with yoga.”

Now, let’s upack why I’m good with it.  

1.  I have grown weary of Christians being known more for what we’re against than what we’re for.  Let’s see, just in my lifetime, there has been rock music, movies, cards, wine, dancing, long hair, tattoos, swimming with the opposite sex, kissing someone before you are engaged, reading “Harry Potter” or “DaVinci Code.”

Have I missed one?  Probably.  You can add your own.  Well, Yoga, for some people, is on the list.  

Each of these activities, we were told, can lead to your spiritual downfall. Wouldn’t it be nice to be known what we’re for – love, kindness, goodness.

2.  Because yoga has Hindu roots, a lot of Christians condemn it.  Two things here -First,  “All truth is God’s truth.” – Thank-you, Augustine.  Just because something does not have a “Christian” label, doesn’t make it untrue or unChristlike.  The universal Christ is much bigger than our culture.  Second, will the good folks who condemn yoga based on its Hindu roots have a Christmas tree in their house in a few weeks?  According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, and other sources, that Christmas tree in our living rooms has its origin in pre-Christian worship of trees and pagan customs.  Throughout history, Christians have taken something from the culture and re-framed it, re-interpreted it, giving it new meaning as a symbol of Christianity. 

Maybe people are doing that with yoga.  Why not? Christmas trees and yoga.  I like them both.  

3. Is yoga like the meat offered to idols which Paul addresses in 1 Corinthians 8:1-8? Maybe so.  “Can I put this meat that had been used as a sacrifice to an idol on my sandwich?”  That was the question asked by Christians in Corinth.  

Here’s Paul’s answer:  “We know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is no God but one…Food will not bring us close to God.We are not worse off if we don’t eat, and we are not better if we do eat,” 

“But,” Paul adds, some people’s consciences are so weak they can’t separate the meat from the idol.”  So, to them, Paul seems to say, “Don’t eat the meat.”  To others? “Pile it on the sandwich and enjoy.”

Maybe there are some “weak consciences” when it comes to yoga. Maybe for Paul, and others, yoga is just fine.  

4.  The term “yoga” is from the Sanskrit word yuj, which has three meanings:

  1. To “unite” or “yoke” as in uniting/yoking together our mind and body and spirit. 
  2. To be aware.  Nothing exists except awareness.  
  3. To have control or focus.  

Those things don’t seem too scary, do they? In fact, they sound kind of spiritual – not too different from the spiritual disciplines many of us have been taught.

See how these expressions of yoga fit with our connection to Christ:

a.  It is God’s purpose to “bring everything together in Christ, both things in heaven and things on earth in him” (Ephesians 1:10). Yoga recognizes and releases the interconnectedness between our mind, body, and spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:23). 

b.  Awareness. Oh my goodness, I need this.  How many distractions there are in life! The notifications buzzing, ringing, vibrating on my phone.  Non-stop news.  Incessant talking. 

I need something that helps me tune out everything except my awareness of the present – of my breathing – of the peace that comes from being still. 

“Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).

Yoga helps make that real. 

c.  To have control or focus.  Wow. I need that, too.   I need to control my thoughts, my desires, myself!  Isn’t that kind of a part of the whole Christianity thing?  

“I discipline my body and keep it under control so I won’t be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:27 – Paul was a sports fan).

“For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love, and of self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7).  

Yoga can help us move toward a sense of union with God…

…union with ourselves.

…union with all of God’s creation.  

Yoga can create an environment in which I intensify my awareness of:

….wow, I’m tight!

…my breathing.

…God’s presence in me and love for me.  

You know that “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” thing (Matthew 26:41)? Yoga helps make both strong.  It combines both to make both strong.  

I’m good with that.  

 

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Nerdy or Cool? False Self or True Self?

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I thought the days of glasses being nerdy were over.

You know, “Four Eyes?”

I thought what was considered nerdy yesterday was  considered hipster and hot today.  Just take a look at all the celebs wearing “nerd” glasses.  Ask Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder what’s up with the Clark Kents he wears during the post-game interviews.  Russell’s glasses don’t even have lenses in them.

 

russell-westbrook-hipster-outfit

“Russell, why do you wear glasses without lenses?”

His answer?  “I see better without ‘em.”

Glasses don’t mean “I spend all day at the library” anymore.  Now, glasses mean, “I have amazing fashion sense.”

Evidently, classmates of my Lunch Buddy didn’t get the memo. My Lunch Buddy at a local elementary school (Lunch Buddy is a program of Big Brothers/Sisters), got glasses over the summer.  I saw them on my first visit with him in the new school year.

Here’s our conversation:

Me: “Hey, cool glasses!”

Him: “I don’t think they are.”

Me: “Why don’t you think they’re cool?

Him:  “Hmmm.   I don’t know.”

Me: “What do your friends say about them?”

Him: “They call me a nerd.”

I asked the boy (who happened to have a speech impediment) sitting next to my Lunch Buddy what he thought of the glasses.

“I like them,” he said.

“Now, you are a friend!” I told him.

Here, on the other side of the table where I was sitting,  was a boy with glasses who is called a “nerd” because of the glasses, sitting next to a boy with a speech impediment.

I know about speech impediments.  I went to speech therapy for 5 years in elementary school.  I know how childhood labels stick.

Maybe you do too.

Labels that people put on us stay with us.  Shape us.  From these labels put on us we develop our sense of self.

My mom died 7 months ago.   She was a beautiful lady, inside and out. She wasn’t convinced.  I think she felt sure about the inner beauty but not so much about the outer beauty.  When she was an impressionable young girl, her dad told her that while she was smart, she wasn’t very pretty.

That perception became her perception.

I’m reading Divine Therapy by Thomas Keating.  In that book, Father Keating, a “member of the Cistercian Order in the Benedictine tradition“  (from Amazon’s “About the author” page), talks about the “True Self” and the “False Self.” The False Self, he says, is created when we experience emotional trauma throughout our lives.

The False Self “develops as the survival mechanism in early childhood, to deal with the frustration of the instinctual needs that the child feels are not being provided.”  Those needs are summarized in the categories of power/control, esteem/affection, and security/survival.   When those needs are not met we develop attachments to people, places, behaviors, situations that brings us comfort in the absence of those needs being met.

For Keating, the False Self is our wounded self.

Wounds:

Overhearing a dad say, “I wish he was more like his brother.” So this child grows up imitating his brother to achieve his dad’s affection.

Being rejected or abandoned as a child.  Out of fear of being abandoned, this child, grown into an adult, leaves a partner, or drops a project.   “I’ll leave before being left.”

Being called a “nerd,” being teased and/or bullied.  So, up goes a protective shield – either withdrawing into a shell like a turtle, or turning the tables and teasing, bullying, humiliating others.

Hearing your dad, to your face, say you’re “not too pretty, but…”  Did she even hear what came after the “but”?

All of these wounds create our False Self – a hurt, angry, insecure, unsure self, hiding the True Self.

The True Self is that part of us made in the image of God – “a brilliant jewel even though it’s at the bottom of a pile of garbage.”  The True Self, in God’s image:

*is good

*is capable of feeling and expressing the goodness of God

*is the place of the fruit of the Spirit, the evidence of the Divine Presence – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, self-control.

How can I let the true self live and the false self – die?  Oh.   Maybe that’s it.  Die.
Is this what Jesus meant when he said,

If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves…? Luke 9:23

…unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain, but if it dies, it bears much fruit. John 12:24

Maybe the self to be denied, the self to die, is the false self!

Let it die so the True Self can live!

The solution for Keating is experiencing “Divine Therapy” through Centering Prayer.  As we get deeper into the presence of God, we see the hurts of the past, we hear the names of our childhood.  We meet our False Self.  And then let it go.

We meet our True Self – good, loved, accepted, worthy, purposeful, and loving.  We embrace it.  We express it.

We are my Lunch Buddy and my mom.  We all have been wounded.

I’m on a journey.  I’m learning to let go of the nerdy and False Self and live out the cool and True Self.  And I want to take my Lunch Buddy with me.