The Two Facets of Christianity

Driving across Iowa is boring. However, it’s something that B and I find ourselves doing a few times a year, and two weeks ago was yet another one of those occasions. Before we got married, we used long drives as an opportunity to work through our 1001 Questions to Ask Before You Get Married book. As was its intended purpose, the questions spurred many deep and thoughtful conversations. Now, having worked through the book and passed it on to my best friend and her fiancĂ©, we are continuing the trend. Somehow, being confined together in a small space for 3+ hours with nothing to do but drive (and occasionally change the CD or playlist), we become reflective.

As I’ve shared before, B and I come from very different religious backgrounds and viewpoints. And, although we attend church together every week, our beliefs still differ greatly. But instead of tip-toeing around the issue, B and I have learned to listen to one another as we explain our views, where we’re coming from, and where we stand currently.

One thing that B shared with me on this past trip really stuck with me. As I was elaborating on my recent experiences with Yoga, and what that meant to my faith, he said that he didn’t really feel like what I was talking about had anything to do with Christianity. I got quiet. He continued, saying that, although Christianity is (obviously) a huge trend in American culture, and many, many people call themselves and view themselves as Christians, he feels there are very few real Christians in the world. He went on to explain that he feels like real Christians are people who are out there in the world, doing something about what Jesus preached and what God asks of us. It’s not enough to feel close to God or feel a connection to Jesus, B explained. You’ve got to get out there and work to change the world.

At first, I felt offended by what B said. I’ve been feeling so connected to God and my faith recently, that I took this is some sort of insult. I felt that B was saying that what I was experiencing wasn’t good enough. “Well,” I responded, “I’m a Christian. So you can consider me a Christian.”

But, having had a week to reflect on our conversation, I’ve been able to get my thoughts together a little more. So, here goes:

I believe that Jesus brought peace to the world. I believe that this is the connectedness I feel when I do Yoga. It’s the connectedness my dad feels when he meditates. Different people feel peace in different ways; regardless, this feeling is what needs to become internalized before one can go out into the world and respond to the charge that Jesus issued to his followers. When living in peace, one is able to hear God’s call and respond to Jesus’ request. The call sounds different for every person. This is the personal, spiritual aspect of Christianity.

For me, I feel called to work with children. I want to share the love and peace I know with my students, and I want to change their worlds for the better. I do this by teaching them to read so that they can experience the world through books, teaching them to think so that they can form their own opinions, and teaching them how to handle their emotions so that they can form strong relationships in their life. This is the action-based aspect of Christianity.

The spiritual and active facets of Christianity work together to make one’s faith. One part cannot exist without the other; peace and action work hand-in-hand in my faith.

So, readers: Do you agree or disagree? How do you find peace? What is your call?

Was Jesus a Yogi?

All week, I’ve been pondering an interesting development in my understanding of Yoga and its relationship to my faith. This past week in church, on the second Sunday of Easter, our pastor gave an interesting sermon on the Resurrection. It struck my interest so quickly, that I began taking notes. From my rough outline, penciled in the margins of my bulletin, here’s a quick recap:

(This is by no means a direct quote… Rather my summary of what was said!)

There are twelve appearances of the resurrected Jesus in the gospel. Interestingly, 12 is the Biblical number for “completeness” or “perfection”. Although there are rumors of other appearances, not penned or included in the holy word, these twelve hold the substance and the meaning behind the Resurrection.

One of the appearances (according to John 20:1-22) occurred the evening of that very first Easter. The disciples (all twelve of them) had gathered together to comfort one another in the sorrow they were feeling upon the crucifixion of their leader. They’d heard rumors all day–women around town were saying the tomb was empty and that Jesus had been raised from the dead, however, they were skeptical. They didn’t dare to believe this was true.

But then, in the midst of their gathering, Jesus appeared and said to them: “Peace be with you.” In these words is the meaning of Easter. With these words, Jesus transforms the pain and loss of his death into joy and peace. In the depths of despair, Jesus sheds light, bringing life from death.

He repeats these words, adding “as God has sent me, so I send you” (John 20:21). It is with these words that Jesus issues a charge for what will become the Church. It is with these words that we are called to respond to the resurrection, to share grace and peace with one another.

The next verse reads: “And with that, he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit'” (John 20:22 NIV). Through the breath, Jesus says, we are able to do everything that God calls us to do. Through the breath, we find grace, peace, and forgiveness.

As I contemplated the last part of this sermon, and Jesus’ use of the word breath, I drew a parallel between what Jesus said and did, and what I’ve lately been experiencing in my Yoga practice. The sense of peace that Jesus brought to the disciples when they learned of his Resurrection, the peace felt through the Holy Spirit, is the peace that I feel in Yoga. It’s through the movement of Yoga that I feel connected to God. And what guides movement in Yoga? Breath.

I had a brief, but impactful, conversation with my Dad on Easter Sunday. He’d read my most recent post on Yoga and explained to me that it mirrored the benefits he gets from Meditation. He told me that, over the years as he’s practiced Meditation, he’s begun to believe that Jesus taught people to achieve actualization through something similar to Yoga or Meditation. He even drew a parallel between Buddha and Jesus.

Sunday afternoon, as I surrendered deeply into Pigeon Pose, which has become my most contemplative position, I thought more about these connections. I’m convinced that the breath–which is with us always, filling us deeply from head to toe with oxygen that we so truly need–is a constant reminder of the peace God wants us to find in the Resurrection.

I’m comfortable with assuming that you breathe on a regular basis. So, I encourage you to add to that experience. Whether Meditation is your thing, or the movement of Yoga brings you to that point of centeredness, allow your breath to be transformative. Allow your breath to be that bridge between you and God.

Surrender. Let go. Release.

Tomorrow, being Easter, marks the end of my commitment to practice Yoga twice a week. However, it will not mark the end of this practice in my life. The experience of regularly incorporating Yoga into my life for the past forty days has truly been transformative. The benefits are numerous. Yoga is:

  1. a great stretch for tight running muscles
  2. a release for my tension-filled back
  3. increasing my flexibility
  4. a time to slow down and breathe deeply
  5. a time to think
  6. a time not to think

Every time I leave a Yoga class, I do so feeling calm, and peaceful. Yoga clears my mind, makes me a more patient and grateful person.

I struggle with an anxiety disorder, and the past few weeks were getting pretty tough. Whenever I’m having an anxiety “flare up,” I become very inflexible when it comes to any changes or anything unexpected. I tend to back away from things I cannot control, and end up ostracizing myself.

But something a Yoga instructor said during class a few weeks ago really stuck with me, and it’s a mantra I’m now trying to incorporate into my every day life. As we were finding Pigeon pose (a great stretch for my sore IT band, but also one that tends to be a little uncomfortable). I was feeling a little antsy in class that day, and my hip was killing me as I tried to find a comfortable position. But, she explained that this pose is about letting go. She encourage us, with each breath, to release our muscles and surrender to the posture. On my next exhale, I mindfully released the tightness in my hip, and sure enough, I sank closer to the floor. I let my forehead settle onto my stacked palms on the mat in front of me. Breathing deeply, I listened as she suggested:

“What would happen if you applied this practice to your life? What would your life be like if you surrendered? If you just let go?… If you just released control?”

Her words have stuck with me. After that class, I was able to break out of my anxious “slump” and have embraced the idea of living in the moment, and of just letting life happen. So far, allowing things to slip a little out of my control hasn’t produced any terrible results. As a matter of fact, I’m learning that some of the best moments are surrendered moments. And when times get tough, or I feel my mind slipping back into its old pattern, I say to myself (sometimes even out loud):

Surrender…

Let go…

Release…

Just try it.

 

Getting My “Om” On

Since Ash Wednesday, I’ve been getting my “om” on twice weekly. This is the second year that I’ve decided to add Yoga to my life during the season of Lent. I find that taking time to do something relaxing and meditative is much better for my spirit than depriving myself of something for 40 days–although I understand the religious associations with the latter. I grew up giving up soda or ice cream each Lenten season. (Although, to be honest, I thought it was completely unfair that Spring Break fell during that time, and granted myself a one week reprieve, which I justified by starting my Lent one week early.) And, although I was mindful of why I wasn’t allowing myself to indulge my cravings for carbonation or frozen desserts, I didn’t find myself feeling very spiritual about the experience–more just grumpy.

That’s why I decided to make a commitment to add something in to my life every year at Lent. The first year, I prayed daily. The second year, I exercised twice a week–this was back when that was not a part of my lifestyle. I think I skipped a couple years at the beginning of college, but then my senior year I tried the Yoga thing.

Yoga allows my mind and body to connect in a way that nothing else does. When I allow my mind to release all extraneous thought, and I spend time focusing on inhales, exhales, and fluid movements, I feel thankful for my strong body, my strong mind, and the God that blessed me with them. That connectedness becomes rooted deep within me until I feel it at times–even when I’m not practicing Yoga. It gives me patience, gentleness, love, kindness, and joy. Basically, I find myself over-flowing with the fruits of the spirit.

I love to practice a variety of Yoga. Some days, I challenge myself with a Power Yoga class at my gym. Other days, it’s Yoga on the mat in my living room with a Shiva Rea DVD. (My puppies like “sacred rolling” the best.) Recently, I started going to a Yoga studio close by, and have been impressed by how experiential those practices are. (Last week, I vocalized my first “om”.)

Every time I start doing Yoga with fidelity, I tell myself I’m going to keep it up this time. But then, without fail, things get in the way. Half-marathon training runs, the appeal of a higher-calorie-burning workout, or just life in general. This time, though, I’m hoping the practice will become habit, so that next year I’ll need to find a new Lenten devotion…