Stealing Yoga

Stealing Yoga

Dear India,

I would like to thank you for gifting the world with the beautiful practice of yoga. I would like to apologize for all of the ways that Christians (including myself), have intentionally or unintentionally, disregarded your religious and spiritual traditions and overlooked their contributions to the world for thousands of years. I would like to acknowledge our indebtedness to you India, for your rich philosophical traditions and practices. Thank you India, for sharing your gifts with the world.

My heart is broken over division within the yoga community. As a Christian practicing yoga, I have seen this division up close, hearing heated protests from both Christians, as well as those who hold a Hindu philosophy (referred to as Hindus in this post). I have discussed some of the concerns Christians may have with the practice of yoga in a previous blog post.

In the next several posts, I would like to discuss some of the concerns that I have heard from those who come from a Hindu background and worldview. My hope is to build understanding and to generate thoughtful and respectful conversation between seekers, both Hindu and Christian alike. May PEACE (shanti) and LOVE (maitri) and prevail…

Asteya and stealing yoga

In the Eight Limbs of Yoga, discussed in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, a book compiling the theory and practice of yoga, the third yama, or ethical guideline, is Asteya, the practice of non-stealing. At first glance, this means abstaining from taking something that is not yours.  However, the wisdom of Asteya delves deeper to include abstaining from taking anything that is not offered to you, including material objects but also more abstract objects such as time, thoughts, energy, emotions, ideas, and perhaps even yoga.

One of the loudest Hindu arguments, or protests, that I have encountered about Christian’s practicing yoga is the way in which Christians have casually stolen many of the Indian spiritual practices of yoga with no acknowledgement or homage given to the culture through which these practices were birthed and nurtured for thousands of years. This “theft” has often been accompanied with attempts by Christians to purge these spiritual practices of their Hindu roots in order to suit a Christian audience. Christian organizations, often with good intentions, have “rebranded” yoga, renaming the postures and practices birthed in an Indian culture to fit into a Christian worldview.

Additionally, exclusivist beliefs and judgements that are sometimes expressed by those of the Christian faith have further widened the chasm between Christian and Hindu yogis. While many Christians have found the practice of yoga beneficial, it would seem that they do not value the philosophies, culture, or people through which the practice originated. With this perceived thievery, it is no wonder the people of India, and the Hindu faith, have a distaste for “Christian yoga” or any of its variant forms.

As Christian practitioners of yoga, we must ask “have we stolen yoga?” If so, what were our intentions? We must seriously consider how the eighth commandment, “Thou shall not steal” might apply in this situation.  (Exodus 20:15) Lastly, and maybe most importantly, how will we respond when confronted with the realization that we have inadvertently hurt our Hindu brothers and sisters in the efforts to bring yoga to the Christian community?

For the serious Christian yogi, we will be asked to examine our Christian dogmatic exclusivity and are required to remember that ALL truth is found in the person of Jesus Christ, who is the Truth. (John 14:6) Therefore, we can enter into the spiritual practices and philosophies of yoga searching for common Truth that was revealed in the Word of God and the person of Jesus Christ. We can enter and engage the culture with the intention of seeking where God is already revealing himself and prepared to speak Christ intelligibly into the conversation and culture. (Acts 17:22-31; 1 Peter 3:15)

Aparigraha and the gift of yoga

While it is true that those who are “stealing” yoga would do well to apply the truth and wisdom of Asteya, there is a flip side to this conversation. It is interesting to note that a criminal charge of theft, or larceny, requires that the specific intention of the theft permanently deprive another individual of his or her property. Thus the accusation of theft brings some interesting and thought provoking questions with it.

  • Can yoga be owned? If so, who owns yoga?
  • Is the gift of yoga meant only for those who hold a Hindu philosophy?
  • Can something be stolen if it was meant to be given away?
  • Do Christian yogis intend to deprive Hindus the practice of yoga?
  • Is there enough “yoga” to go around for everyone?

The fifth yama in Pantajali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga, Aparigraha, translated as ‘non-greed’, ‘non-coveting’, or ‘non-hoarding’, urges us to let go of everything that we do not need; a practice easier said than done. Greed often stems from the belief that one does not have enough. Greed tells us that when someone else receives something, it takes away some of our own provision. Biblical teaching agrees with the yogic philosophy that worldly possessions cannot truly be possessed and will eventually be destroyed. (Matt. 6:19-20) The wisdom of Aparigraha teaches us to possess only as much as necessary, keep only what serves us in the moment, and to let go when the time is right.

I see a picture in my mind where the people of India are holding the gift of yoga.

In one scene, Christians take yoga away and India is scorned as ignorant, judged as heathen, and the spiritual discipline of yoga is renamed and rearranged to suit a Christian audience. In this situation, the practice of yoga is stolen, interfaith dialogue is stunted, and the division between Hindus and Christians increases.

In another scene, Christians take yoga away and acknowledge India, and the Hindu faith, for holding deep wisdom, sharing a particular revelation of God, and birthing a powerful spiritual discipline. In this situation, the practice of yoga is a gift freely given, interfaith dialogue is encouraged, and both Christians and Hindus have an opportunity to share and learn from one another.

The practice of yoga calls us down our own individual path of self-inquiry, inviting us to observe the unique “turnings and colorings” of our minds.  The discipline of yoga requires that we examine our thoughts and beliefs, cultivating discernment, awareness, self-regulation, and a higher consciousness. As yogis, we are each asked to do our own work.

Where are we stealing what doesn’t belong to us?

Where are we holding on to more than is necessary?  Where do we need to let go?

The study and application of Asteya and Aparigraha, might just be the balm needed to begin to heal the rift between Christian and Hindu yogis.  I pray that we would all be faithful to do our own work. In that spirit, I will finish where I began, with a sincere apology and the bright hope of walking the path of yoga authentically in the Love and humility of Jesus Christ.

Shanti & Maitri (Peace & Love)

Dear India,

I would like to thank you for gifting the world with the beautiful practice of yoga. I would like to apologize for all of the ways that Christians (including myself), have intentionally or unintentionally, disregarded your religious and spiritual traditions and overlooked their contributions to the world for thousands of years. I would like to acknowledge our indebtedness to you India, for your rich philosophical traditions and practices. Thank you India, for sharing your gifts with the world.

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Jesus & yoga (part 1)

Jesus & yoga (part 1)

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 1 Peter 3:15-16

And so I begin the task of explaining how and why I have reconciled my practice of yoga with my Christian faith… My hope is to answer honestly and intelligently for all interested to know how a Christian can keep a clear conscience while practicing a spiritual discipline that was birthed in a culture that was predominately Hindu.  I recognize that this is a sensitive subject. I enter the conversation with care, gentleness, and respect.  I do not intend to argue or convince anyone to agree with my convictions.  I do, however, believe that I am responsible for being prepared to answer this question, and to give a researched account of how and why I believe yoga to be a biblically sound practice for a Christian.

The topic of Christians practicing yoga is controversial with arguments from both the Christian and Hindu perspectives. I will try my best to address the primary concerns as I understand them for both sides of the argument. This is the first in a two-part blog post where I will speak primarily to concerns from Christians using Christian texts. In my second of the two-part blog post I will try to address the concerns, as I understand them, from the Hindu perspective. To begin, we must first answer the basic question what is yoga by examining its purpose and practice?

What is the purpose of yoga?

To prepare the body and mind for meditation with the intention of encountering the presence of God within.

What does the practice of yoga involve?

The yoga of ancient times consisted of solely breath and meditation practices with the intention of communing with the Divine.  The postures were developed later as a means of enhancing the capacity of the body and mind so that a person could sit in meditation for long periods with as few distractions as possible. Thus, modern yoga is made up of three pillars: breathwork (pranayama), postures (asana), and meditation (dhyana).

Through these three pillars, one is able to cultivate the state of Samadhi (Communion with God). Though not the ultimate goal of a yoga practice, Samadhi is the primary tool used for the purpose of achieving Moshka or Kaivayla (freedom or liberation). Through Samadhi, one experiences communion with God and is given new perspective of the true nature of the universe enabling them to walk in freedom through life. (Chapters 1 & 4, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali)

Some say that Kaivayla is Samadhi in action, I would translate this to “Freedom is a life lived through communion with God.”

So the practice of yoga, from a Christian viewpoint, is the practice of communing with God which can enable one to live free from the power of sin and death. (John 15:14; 2 John 1:9; 1 John 2:27-28; Galatians 2:20)

Is yoga a religion?

The short answer to this question is no. Yoga is not a religion; Yoga is a spiritual practice or discipline. However, much of the confusion that surrounds this question is due to the fact that the practice of yoga was birthed through a culture steeped in Hindu philosophy. The ancient yoga texts were influenced by the Hindu philosophy and often describe the discipline of yoga from a Hindu worldview. While it is true that a Hindu practicing yoga will understand the concept of “communing with God” differently than a Christian practicing yoga due to their differing points of view, one does not need to be a Hindu to practice yoga. Much like chanting, fasting, prayer, service, and the study of scripture, the discipline of yoga can be practiced within different worldviews and in varying belief systems.

Can the physical practices of yoga be separated from the spiritual aspect of yoga? 

Technically, the answer to this question is yes, the use of Mantra, prayer, and meditation techniques can be omitted from a yoga practice. However, I would quickly follow up with the question “why would you want to do that?”  Asana, the physical practice of yoga, was expressly designed to prepare the body and mind to experience the presence of God. When practiced within a Christian worldview, practitioners are seeking communion with the Holy Spirit who dwells within. In this state of communion (referred to as Samadhi) the practitioner is no longer consumed by external realities (“the world”) but instead is absorbed by the presence of God (the things that are above). (Colossians 3:1-3)

Separating physical and spiritual aspects of a yoga practice could be likened to separating the physical and spiritual aspects of kneeling down to pray.  While you may be strengthening and stretching the muscles of the lower body while getting up and down from the kneeling position, without the spiritual aspect of the practice, you would miss out on the sweet and powerful benefit, of actually entering into a conversation with God through prayer.

Can Christians practice secular yoga?

In any learning situation, I believe it is important for the student to be aware of who their teachers are and what beliefs they hold.

This does not mean that Christians should not receive instruction from non-Christians, (or vice versa) but that as Christians, we must cultivate discerning minds. To practice discernment, we must first be knowledgeable about our own faith and sacred text, the Bible. Only when we are knowledgeable about what we believe to be true, are we able to recognize something as untrue. Aristotle says, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” Believers are to have “educated minds”. We are to learn with eagerness and to examine the Scriptures to see if what we are being taught is true. (Acts 17:11)

All truth is GOD’s truth, and God is in the business of revealing his truth in the world. Christians are meant to practice discerning God’s Truth at all times as part of our witness in the world. Paul demonstrates this skill of discernment in his sermon on Mars Hill. He had carefully observed the Greek religion and examined their worship. He was familiar with Greek literature and was able to quote Greek poetry containing God’s Truth to the people of Athens at the Council of the Areopagus.  It is through Paul’s discernment and his ability to speak Christ into the Greek culture that “some joined Paul and believed.” (Acts 17:22-34)

As Christians, I believe that we are to follow Paul’s example when encountering other beliefs and faith traditions. It is my great delight when I hear biblical Truth- regardless of the source. It is the voice of the Good Shepherd reminding me of the wonderful and surprising ways that He is working in this world. I see it as my great joy and privilege to be able to speak Christ into the philosophies & psychologies that accompany a traditional yoga practice!

When practicing in a non-Christ centered yoga class, I start by setting my intention and saying a prayer that my yoga practice would be honoring and acceptable in God’s sight. I pray that God would make himself known to all that are truly seeking. I ask God to reveal his love to my teacher, my classmates, and/or my students. I ask Him to show me opportunities where I may share the love of God as demonstrated in Jesus Christ with those who are seeking.  While listening for God’s truth, I am careful not to participate in chanting of scriptures or mantras that I believe might conflict with my Christian faith. Instead, I might quietly meditate on a bible verse or the lyrics of my favorite hymn.

For me, practicing yoga in a secular context becomes a form of intercession, or moving prayer, asking that God’s love would be revealed in Christ and that His kingdom would come and his will would be done on earth as it is in heaven.

By practicing yoga postures am I worshipping Hindu gods?

No. True, authentic, worship entails much more than physical posture alone. Worship is a state of the heart. Only as we turn our hearts towards Jesus in Spirit and Truth may we truly worship our Father in heaven. (John 4) While physical posture may enhance our worship (i.e. kneeling in prayer, lifting our hands in praise), one cannot enter into worship through physical posture alone.

Repeatedly, scripture shows us that true worship is not mere outward action but requires the proper intention of the heart. In the Old testament, Isaiah warns the Israelites about their meaningless and empty sacrifices, worship, festivals & feasts, prayers, and fasts. God considers the Israelite’s worship an abomination and accuses them of trampling in His courts. (Isaiah 1:10-17; 58) Similarly, in the New Testament, Jesus warns his followers that being consumed only with keeping God’s commands and studying His word is not “true” worship; something is still lacking. (Matthew 15:1-20) King David points us to the missing piece in Psalm 51:

Open my lips, Lord, and my mouth will declare your praise. You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.

The outward action of worship is only righteous when the inward state of the heart is in its proper place. It is not through the posture of the body that one enters into worship, but through the posture of the heart. Entering into a yoga posture will not automatically cause you to worship the Hindu mythological character that the pose was named after, just as kneeling down in prayer will not cause you to worship the biblical God. It is only through a fully penitent heart, broken with sorrow over sin that our worship becomes true and acceptable in God’s sight.

So why is there confusion?

As previously stated, the practice of yoga was originally comprised of breath and meditation with the intention of communing with the Divine.  The postures were later developed solely for the purpose of preparing the body and mind for meditation. In fact, the Sanskrit word Asana, literally means “to find a firm and steady seat” illustrating that the purpose of these postures was to enhance meditation by helping the mind and body to get still. The physical postures were never intended to be postures of worship.

Still, some Christians fear that by practicing yoga postures, they may unknowingly be worshipping Hindu gods and breaking God’s command to have “no other god before Him”. (Deuteronomy 5:6-7)

While we have already addressed the nature of true, authentic, worship above, we can (and should) investigate further into the postures and the meaning of their names, to discern if there is anything that may conflict, or converge, with Biblical truth.

Most postures were named after animals and objects and often broken down further into numbers (one, two and three) and characteristics of the pose (upward, downward). However, there are a handful of postures that were named after mythological sages and deities of the Hindu faith. What are we to make of the names of each posture?

When we enter into the warrior poses (Virabhdrasana I, II, & III) are we worshipping the Hindu warrior Virabhadra, whom the poses are named after? When we enter into mountain pose (Tadasana) are we worshipping the mountains?

“The myths behind the asanas are intended to serve as inspirational guides that can enhance our yoga practice, fueling it with a deeper, meditative quality.”  (Myths of the Asana, 2010)

The stories and myths that accompany each posture carry symbolic meaning enabling a yoga practice to not only work the body, but also to work on the mind or psyche. Much like the parables of Jesus, the wisdom found in these myths are meant to teach a deeper truth, illustrating a moral or spiritual lesson that helps us to have a deeper understanding of ourselves and our connection to the world in which we live. However, one does not need to engage with Hindu mythology to benefit from the symbolic nature of yoga postures.

For example, when entering Tadasana (mountain pose), Christians can meditate on Jesus as the firm foundation of God that supports and holds them. We are reminded that those who trust in God cannot be shaken. We can reflect and ask ourselves if we are building every part of our lives on the love of God that is Christ.

Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people, from this time forth and forevermore. Psalm 125:1-2 ESV

When entering the warrior postures, named after the Hindu warrior Virabhadra, Christians can meditate on the strength of God and remember that their true strength comes from Him alone. (Isaiah 40:28-31 & 41:10) We become mindful that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us (Philippians 4:13) and can draw on this strength to battle our own sinful thoughts and actions. As Christians,  we become aware that we harbor a spiritual warrior within, the Holy Spirit, who is ready to help us to fight the temptations of this world and enable us to surrender our imperfect wills to the perfect will of God. (Matthew 26:39, Mark 14:36, Luke 22:42, John 6:38)

When we look at the meanings and symbolism behind each asana, Christians may find that these myths complement biblical truth and give us a fresh perspective on God’s Word. (For more ideas, I have created the Postures of Prayer: a Christian yoga deck to help Christians to find meaning in the some common yoga postures.)

Is the practice of yoga beneficial to the Christian? Will yoga clearly help me in my walk with Christ? Is yoga an active good?

I do not believe the practice of yoga to be inherently good or evil. A better question might be “Can God be glorified through the practice of yoga?”

I believe this question can be answered individually for Christians in different settings as God convicts the heart of each believer according to the works that He has prepared in advance for them. For example, a believer in India practicing yoga taught by an instructor who is teaching a Hindu mantra in Sanskrit may be convicted by the Holy Spirit differently than a believer in the United States practicing yoga postures, breath, and meditation techniques at a local, studio, gym, or YMCA.

When we look to Scripture, we can find some similar situations concerning circumcision (Acts 15) and the consumption of meat which had been sacrificed to idols. (1 Corinthians 8 & 10) The early church was divided regarding how to handle these issues while under the new covenant of God, which is faith in Christ.

In the case of circumcision, Paul denounced the practice for Gentile Christians, claiming that every man who accepts circumcision is… severed from Christ and has fallen away from grace. (Galatians 5:3-4) But, interestingly, it is Paul who personally circumcises Timothy, whose mother was Jewish and whose father was Greek. In this single instance, Paul was convinced that circumcision would be beneficial and would help further the kingdom by removing a stumbling block that could impede the Jews ability to accept the gospel of Jesus Christ. (Acts 15 & Romans 3:1-2) Here we see that believers can be convicted differently in various situations according to God’s specific purpose.

Similarly, Paul establishes that there is nothing inherently sinful about eating meat that has previously been involved in a feast ceremony, although he emphasizes that Christians should be careful to avoid participating in the feasts themselves. Paul also warns the early Christians that they should never violate their conscience, nor should they encourage an activity that may cause another Christian to stumble. (Romans 14:1-23) In essence, Paul is making it clear that, in Christ, we are free from the law to glorify God and grow His kingdom by carrying out the work that He has prepared for us in advance.

Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. 1 Corinthians 9:19-23

My journey with Jesus (and yoga)

It is not my intention to convince others to share my conviction. I wish to simply share my story and encourage others to seek God’s Word and godly counsel on the subject of practicing yoga as a Christian.

Personally, I have spent much time in study and prayer over my yoga practice as a follower of Christ.  I have sought the counsel of my pastor, my elders, my accountability group, and my husband. I have not glazed over the controversy that surrounds Christians practicing yoga.  I have put my practice of yoga on the altar of God. I believe that God has given yoga back to me for the purposes of deepening my relationship with Jesus and showing me what it means to truly ABIDE in Christ.

Furthermore, I believe that God has given me innumerable opportunities to talk about the Love of God, which is Christ, from my yoga mat.  Here are some examples of how God is using my practice of yoga to bring him glory and to build his Kingdom.

  • God opened the doors for me to teach Christ based yoga classes at Cheshire fitness
  • He gave me the opportunity to teach “yoga through the lens of Christ” as a PE credit at Montreat college
  • He enabled me to teach and write curriculum for YogaFaith, a Christ- based yoga teacher training recognized by the Yoga Alliance
  • He inspired me to create The Postures of Prayer: a Christian yoga deck
  • He has given me a passion for creating Getting Still Studios, a website for Christian prayer beads and a small Christ-centered yoga studio

I have enjoyed sweet communion with the Holy Spirit in my yoga practice, and I have been given the privilege of sharing the love of Jesus in my yoga classes. God has entrusted me with the gift of teaching other Christians what it means to ABIDE in Christ and move with the Holy Spirit. He has drawn me deeper into study and meditation on His Word. He has opened my eyes to just how amazing our God is and how big His plans are for blessing all nations! Through my study of the ancient philosophies and teachings of yoga, God has shown me over and over again that He truly is, El Elyon, the most High God, and that He is in the business of revealing himself in this world! (Genesis 22:18 & 14)

Soli Deo Gloria! (To God alone be the glory)

Amen

Of Altars and Egos

Of Altars and Egos

Not long ago, I was approached by popular yoga website and asked if I would like to have them review my Postures of Prayer yoga card deck.  Initially, I shrugged it off and figured that this yoga site had made a mistake and didn’t realize that my yoga deck was centered around the Christian faith.  When I received the second email asking if I would consider submitting my yoga deck for review, I was confronted with the question, “What is holding me back?”

I searched my heart, and I found several stones hidden there. The first stone I uncovered was fear.  I was afraid of submitting my card deck to a yoga organization that did not share my same worldview.  More specifically, I feared rejection and humiliation. I feared others would judge me for my beliefs.

I’m not sure if you are aware that being a Christian yogi is kind of a controversial role.  Both Christians and Hindus alike have voiced strong opinions about the idea of Christians practicing yoga. (blog posts to follow)  I was afraid that I would be caught in the middle of this controversy.  I realized that by not submitting my yoga cards, I was operating from a place of fear, otherwise known as ego, self, inauthentic self, or sin.  As I placed the stone of fear on the altar of God, I was reminded that in Christ, I am held by the Love of God. I am safe. There is nothing to fear.

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. 1 John 4:18

The next stone I unturned was the stone of pessimism. My quick dismissal of the opportunity to share the Postures of Prayer was due entirely to my assumptions of how a Christian yoga deck might be received by other yogis. I was convinced that the editors would not take a Christian yoga deck seriously, and was sure that they would be turned off by a yoga practice centered around Jesus Christ.

This stone of pessimism was a particularly complex and heavy stone. Wasn’t this a form of reverse discrimination?  Who was I to presume what God  would do in this situation? How could I possibly grasp how God was revealing himself? Why was I so convinced that the gospel of Jesus would be rejected? Lord have mercy, I am embarrassed by my audacity!

As I labored bringing this stone to the altar of God, I was reminded that as a followers of Christ, we are meant to be a people of hope. We have been given a message of hope and are called to embody this hope, recognizing that in Christ all things are possible.  God is on the move in this world, reconciling heaven and earth. Where men may fail, God is ABLE. Stories like Joshua leading the Israelites into the promised land, and Gideon leading an undersized army to victory teach us that all God requires is a surrendered heart willing to trust in his power.

My message and my preaching were not with persuasive words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith would not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power. Romans 11:12

Was I withholding the gospel story?  Was I standing in God’s way? It was clear that my fear, pessimism, and lack of trust were holding me back from submitting my card deck.  Unintentionally, I was minimizing the power of God. It all came down to the question “what could potentially bring God the most glory?” I decided to put my heart on the altar and to trust in God.

If their purpose or endeavor is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop them. You may even find yourselves fighting against God. Acts 5:38

I submitted the cards for review. I wrapped them up all pretty and hand delivered them, trying to make a good impression. I was very nervous.  I was facing my fear and you know what?  It was good. While the review of the Postures of Prayer yoga deck was not extravagant or glowing, it was fair and accurate. I felt humbled and grateful to the editors of yogabasics.com for their spirit of openness and willingness to embrace true diversity of thought. Through this experience I was reminded that we are all pursuers and seekers of Truth. I am comforted by the words of Jesus “…ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” Luke 11:9-10

My favorite part of the whole experience was the picture that appeared at the top of the blog post. (see above)   In the picture, there is an altar with candles, crystals, and statues of the Buddha. The cards on the altar range from Magic and Light affirmation cards to Dark Days tarot cards, and there placed on the altar are The Postures of Prayer: A Christian yoga deck. I was surprised and thankful to see Jesus represented on that altar. I was embarrassed that I almost kept him from being there. If you look closely on the altar you might just see the stones that I left there.

Namaste & Imago Dei

Namaste & Imago Dei

As a follower of Christ, I have spent much time in study and prayer over my yoga practice.  I have sought the counsel of my pastor, my elders, my accountability group, and my husband. I have not glazed over the controversy that surrounds Christians practicing yoga.  I have put my love of yoga on the altar of God for him to take from me if it did not bring him Glory.

Instead, what I have found is that God has given me innumerable opportunities to talk about the Love of God, which is Christ, from my yoga mat.  He has shown me that he is El Elyon, the most High God, and that he is in the business of revealing himself in this world (Genesis 14).  In fact, I have even found God’s truth woven throughout many of the teachings and the sacred texts of ancient yoga philosophy.

One such example is the greeting “Namaste” used frequently at the beginning and end of a yoga practice. In this gesture, hands are held in prayer position at the heart center, eyes are closed, and the head is bowed as a sign of mutual respect between teacher and student.  The Sanskrit word, Namaste, broken down into its roots means: Namah (bow) as (I) te (you). It literally means “I bow to you.”  and is also translated as ‘the divine Light in me honors the divine Light in you’.

Some Christians find this greeting to be controversial because, when taken literally, this might imply that we are bowing and worshipping each other as gods. It is not my intention to argue or talk others out of their personal convictions, however, I do want to share why I have found Namaste to be a beautiful and biblically sound practice which reflects the second most important command as described by Jesus.

One of them, an expert in the law, tested him (Jesus) with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. Matthew 22:35-40.

For me, Namaste is a reminder of several of God’s beautiful truths.

To begin, God is the Creator of all. Scripture says that humans were created Imago Dei, Latin for ‘in the image of God’. Each person we meet, whether they have accepted Jesus as their personal savior or not, is made in the image of God.  When I use the greeting Namaste in a general sense (to nonbelievers),  I am proclaiming God as our Creator and bowing to the beauty of his creation, his image reflected in each person I meet- believer and nonbeliever alike. Namaste calls me deep into the command to love others as I love myself. I do not bow to them as gods. I bow to them in deep respect for, and adoration of the One who created us all.  I bow because their Creator loves them and invites me to join him!

Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Genesis 1:26-27

Furthermore, when greeting a follower of Christ, the word Namaste takes on yet a deeper meaning.  As Christians, we believe that Jesus has done the work to reconcile God and humankind. When we believe and trust that Jesus has restored our relationship with God, the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in us, transforming our lives from the inside out. Believers then, both individually and corporately, become the dwelling place of God on the earth. When using the greeting Namaste with fellow believers, I am recognizing that the Holy Spirit dwells within each of us. To be clear, I am not saying that we are gods; I am saying that God lives in us.

Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? 1 Corinthians 3:16

Additionally, in the Gospel of John, the imagery of light and darkness is used to describe the birth of Jesus into this world. Christ is introduced as the “the true light, which gives light to everyone” born into the darkness of the world. When using the gesture Namaste in a Christian context, I am reminded that Jesus is the true Light and that his followers are meant to be a reflection of this light in a dark and hurting world.

In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:4-5

I am thrilled when I hear the truth of El Elyon, the most High God, being revealed throughout cultures, history, and time.  Our God is a big God! It is an honor for me to recognize that truth and to have the opportunity to introduce the person of Jesus into the story that God is already telling. I find this kind of truth being revealed in the Eastern greeting, Namaste.  My choice to use this gesture in my yoga classes is beautiful reminder to me that all of humans are made in the image of God, and we are meant to love each other as we love ourselves, as image bearers. At times, I use the greeting Namaste in humble gratitude, remembering that through faith in Christ, the Spirit of the Divine has chosen to live in his followers and to reflect His Light through us into the world.

The truth held in the greeting Namaste is a truth that contains the power to heal many of the great divisions in this world.  The power to unite people regardless of their cultural, racial, religious, social, political, or personal differences. In viewing ourselves, and each other, as smaller parts making up the whole of God’s great creation, we can come to realize that we need each other and perhaps develop a deep respect for each other in spite of our differences.

In closing, I pray that God would be glorified on earth as it is in heaven. Lord, help us to look for your image in each person we encounter, and enable us to live out the beauty and truth held in Namaste in light of Imago Dei.

 

Love the Creator, Love His Creation…

Love the Creator, Love His Creation…

Today is Earth day, and I am passionate about God’s Creation.  As part of the Evangelical Church, I have been surprised, and saddened, at the lack of concern that fellow believers have for the environment. The Church, as God’s representatives on earth, should not be indifferent to the state of His Creation.  The Church, of all people, should care for God’s Creation, because we know that God is revealing himself through His Creation!

The heavens declare the glory of God;
    the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
    night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
    no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
    their words to the ends of the world. Psalm 19:1-4

What does the Bible say regarding Creation care?  In Genesis, God made the earth, He calls it “very good”, and then He gives humans “dominion” over Creation. (Genesis 1:28)

As God’s image bearers in Creation, we were intended to act as His representatives; to show the world what God is like. So when God gave humans dominion over the earth, we are meant to do that in a way that the character of God is reflected. This in no way means that we are to be indifferent or abuse nature, but instead, we are meant to be stewards of God’s Creation. Remember, Adam was placed in the Garden of Eden to tend it, and to care for it, not to exploit it.

The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. Genesis 2:15

So on Earth Day…who better to celebrate the goodness and beauty of God’s Earth than God’s children? We, as ambassadors of Christ to the watching world, should enjoy a day in which we celebrate the good gift of God’s creation. Christians can, and should, take the lead to educate ourselves, and others, in ways that we can be better stewards of the world that God entrusted to us.

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. Romans 1:20

Harnessing Love

Harnessing Love

The day will come when, after harnessing the winds, the tides, and gravitation, we shall harness for God the energies of Love. And on that day, for the second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire. -Teilhard De Chardin

Do not underestimate the energies of Love. Love holds the power to accomplish great good, however, if handled incorrectly, it also has the potential for great destruction.

What does it mean to Love well?  

We have been given the perfect picture of LOVE embodied in the person Jesus Christ. Study the life of Jesus, and you will become a better Lover.  Let us be students of Love.  Jesus teaches us to:

  • Love God with all that you are. Love God with all of your being. (Matthew 22:37-38)
  • Love others as you love yourself. Love the same. Love equally. (Matthew 22: 39)
  • Love when it doesn’t make sense. Love your enemies. Love those who have hurt you. Love those who you don’t like. Love those who don’t like you.  (Matthew 5:43-48)

Heavenly Father, You are LOVE. Abide in us; and perfect your Love in us. Holy Spirit, teach us how to rightly love you, ourselves, and others. Show us where and how to harness the power of Love in our lives.  Shape our hearts to reflect your Divine Love in our homes, workplaces, and relationships. Amen.

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.  Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. 1 John 4:7-12

Lessons in Loving

Lessons in Loving

I recently had a revelation when reading in Mark 12 where Jesus is teaching his followers about the most important of all of the commandments.  Mark reads:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:30-31

First and foremost, we are made to love God with all that we are; heart, soul, mind, and strength. The Message translation reads, “love the Lord God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence and energy”. I find the practice of yoga to be beneficial in the Christian life because it addresses the person as a whole: body, mind and spirit.  Yoga, Sanskrit for union, serves to unite the mind with the body in the quest to unite the soul to God. For the follower of Christ, we are reminded that we have been united with God through Jesus Christ and that the Holy Spirit lives in us. Ultimately, we are to love God with all of our being, and we can only love God as much as we have received his love for us. This is the first step and most important step in learning to love well.

However, it is the follow up to this most important commandment that recently caught my attention.  It states that we are to “love our neighbor AS we love ourselves” (emphasis mine).  You see, there is an underlying assumption in this directive that we know how to love ourselves well; thus, by knowing how to love ourselves well, we will know how to love others well. Do you hear the relationship?

Unfortunately, I believe that most of us are confused by what it means to love ourselves well. We are either caught up in: the pride of who we think we are; the shame of who we wished we could be; or the guilt of who others want us to be. But can we love ourselves because God loves us?  Is that enough? The truth is, when we learn to love ourselves rightly, because God loves us, we will be better able to love others!

We are to meant live in the balance, the tension, if you will, between loving ourselves and loving others.  For some, it is easier to love others than it is to love themselves; others are prone to love themselves better than they love others.  It would do us all well to examine our hearts, honestly, and become familiar with our individual leanings.  Jesus is clear, we are not to love ourselves more than others; and likewise, we are not to love others more than ourselves, we are to love others AS we love ourselves.

That brings me to this New Year. Many new people will be finding their way into the gym where I work in an attempt to fulfill the most commonly made (and broken) resolution in the United States- to lose weight.  Unfortunately, most will not carry their new found health habits beyond March.

But what if we reframed our resolutions this year to look differently? What if we took the opportunity to love ourselves better; and examined how we might love others as we are loving ourselves?

Instead of dieting, what if we began eating to nourish our bodies, and what if we desired that others would be able to eat to nourish their bodies?

Loving ourselves as we love others.

Instead trying to lose weight, what if we began to care for and steward our bodies as God’s handiwork, his masterpiece,  and what if we desired that others would know and care for their bodies as God’s masterpiece?

Loving ourselves as we love others.

Instead of viewing our bodies as an object to be manipulated,  what if we chose healthy habits for our bodies and our minds knowing that we are God’s dwelling place on earth-God’s temple- and what if we desired that others would know and love their bodies because because God lives in them ? (1 Corinthians 6:19)

Loving ourselves as we love others.

The list could (and does) go on for ever. Go ahead and try it… Desiring good things for the right reasons and pursuing them for ourselves as well as for others.

It is important to note that this “loving” works both ways. I have sometimes found myself operating out of “Christian guilt”, after all Jesus gave his life for me, shouldn’t I give my life for others?  While this is true, the concept needs to be held within the tension of LOVE.

For me, this has looked something like:

  • Looking for the best in others; as I look for the best in myself.
  • Caring of others; as I care for myself.
  • Protecting others; as I protect myself.
  • Trusting in others; as I trust in myself.
  • Helping others; as I help myself.
  • Giving to others; as I give to myself.
  • Being truthful with others; as I am truthful with myself.
  • Praying for others; as I pray for myself.
  • Wanting for others; as I want for myself.

I am reminded of the relationship within the Trinity; Father, Son and Holy Spirit each acting to glorify the other; loving each other in sacrifice and humility. What would happen if mankind learned to love like this?  I imagine this is why Jesus declared these two commandments to be the more important than any other, and I am inclined to think that this what Jesus had in mind when he taught us to pray “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”