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.”

 

 

 

 

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I had a curious conversation last week following my Inner-Light yoga class. A lovely woman, with whom I have recently been getting acquainted, attended my scripture yoga class for the first time.  She came up to me, after class, to discuss some insights that she thought might be helpful for me as a teacher.  She shared with me that she teaches trainings on diversity and is a feminist.  According to her, it was “an obstacle” to hear Scripture that portrays God as male, specifically referring to God as “He” and as “Heavenly Father”.  She also shared with me that she felt that this class might be alienating people, namely Muslims or Jews (although I would also include others in this category, such as atheists, Hindus, Buddhists, etc.).  Although I didn’t “enjoy” the conversation, (it was uncomfortable at times and sharpening for my mind) I was extremely grateful that this dear woman felt comfortable enough to come to me with these concerns.  We talked for the better part of an hour and sealed our time off in prayer- asking that our friendship would be strengthened out of mutual respect and TRUTH would be revealed.

This conversation came on the heels of reading a thought-provoking article in the September issue of the Yoga Journal.  In this article, Jacoby Ballard, the founder of Queer and Trans Yoga and workshops, (JacobyBallard.com) discusses the experience of attending yoga classes as a  “queer, transgender person”.  Jacoby explains, “Over and over again in yoga, the gender binary- classifying a person as either masculine or feminine, male or female- is reinforced, and every time, it’s painful.” Jacoby has developed a style of yoga that avoids gendered language.  He shares suggestions for making yoga classes more inclusive, such as taking the gender out of cueing during class and asking each person in the class their name as well as their preferred pronoun.  Pronoun preference is personal choice Ballard explains,  “Some trans people prefer to identify as the gender they have transitioned to, while others prefer more gender-neutral pronouns like ‘they’ or ‘xe,’ ‘xim,’ and ‘xir,’. (Yoga Journal, September 2016 p. 12)

When I read about Jacoby’s experience, I was mortified to think that I might have ever hurt someone, unknowingly, by referring to gender in my yoga classes (or outside of classes, for that matter!).  Likewise, it pained me to think that my student and new friend was hindered from drawing near to the presence of God in my class because I had referred to God as male and as our heavenly Father.

These are the things I know to be true according to Scripture (Bible):

  • God is a Spirit and does not possess human characteristics or limitations. (John 4:24)
  • Humans are made in the image of God, both male and female. (Genesis 1:26-27)
  • In Scripture, God reveals himself to mankind in male form. (Approximately 170 references to God as “Father” and both OT and NT used male nouns and pronouns when referring to God)
  • Jesus Christ came in the form of a human man to reconcile the world or “all flesh” back to the Creator. (Acts 1:3-7 & Matthew 28:18-20)

We can conclude, that while God is a spiritual being and not a man, God did choose to reveal himself to humanity through masculine form. This is illustrated throughout Scripture and also in the person of Jesus Christ.

As human beings, we are limited in our understanding of things beyond the physical realm. In Scripture, figurative language is often used to assign human characteristics, or behaviors, to God in order to help us understand who God is. The practice of assigning human characteristics to God, called anthropomorphism, helps to make it possible for humans to grasp the idea of an infinite God, who is a Spirit being.

Scripture reveals the nature and character of God to the reader through “language” that is familiar to the reader. So, while my friend is correct, God is not a male or female, the language of “God as Father” was meant to foster a better understanding of who God is to the reader; serving to help the created to understand the Creator.

This brings me to the subject of pronouns, and language in general. (Disclaimer: I am not a linguist.)

Language is a method and form of communication. Words are used in all languages as symbols, or tools, for communicating a deeper meaning. Words are meant to serve humankind by allowing them to convey thoughts and ideas with each other.

It seems to me that language, in the examples above, might be getting in the way… To further, the words being used to communicate a thought or idea to another person are actually hindering, rather than facilitating, the comprehension of that thought or idea.

In the setting of a classical yoga class, the instructor is in the leadership position of helping their students to move beyond daily distractions of the mind and body to encounter the Divine Presence within. (Of course, instructors may have different definitions of the Divine, but that is a conversation for another time…) Language is a tool to help instructors to convey the “thoughts and ideas” of the instructor to the class. In Jacoby’s experience, the language used in the yoga classes, which he attended, did not yield the desired outcome of drawing him into the safe, healing presence of the Divine. Somehow, language, more specifically pronouns, got in the way of the overall intention and idea being conveyed.

Last week, while teaching my Inner-Light yoga class, I quoted the following scripture:

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip—he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord watches over you— the Lord is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all harm—he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore. Psalm 121:1-8 

The idea that I intended to convey to my class was a message of comfort; my intention, and I believe the intention of this Scripture, was to draw the listener into deeper intimacy with their Heavenly Creator. The language was but a tool, which I chose to use, to convey a deeper meaning. Unfortunately, the deeper meaning was lost for my friend, because the words did not serve their intended purpose. I believe this teaches us something worth noting.

In the situations above, the purpose of the language, and words, being used was to draw people’s hearts closer to each other and to the heart of their Heavenly Creator. It seems that the language, instead of working as a tool to facilitate the communication of one’s thoughts and ideas to another, was actually acting as an obstacle to that communication.

If we are not careful, we will become servants to language instead of allowing language to serve us.

While I agree, it is important that we speak with intention and to choose our words wisely; I think it is also important that we listen to the words being spoken and try to discern underlying meaning and ideas behind those words. If we allow ourselves to hold too tightly to the words being spoken, we may risk losing the deeper meaning those words were meant to communicate. The consequence being a division between hearts.

Where in our lives might we be hearing only words and not the deeper, underlying messages being conveyed?

 Paul refers to this deeper understanding in Ephesians when he prays, “that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened”. In John 16, Jesus explains that it is the Holy Spirit that helps us to hear what is truly being spoken when he says, “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak”. Jesus teaches that there is a deeper hearing, or listening, than that of mere words.

In the spirit of humility and conviction, I will sign off from this post with the same words that Jesus so often ended his teachings. “Whoever has ears, let them hear.”

Getting out of the way…

I want to tell you a secret…  I am afraid.  This process of writing my thoughts down for everyone to see, to read, to judge, to like (or dislike) and to understand (or misunderstand) is really very terrifying for me.  You see, I have come to this realization in the past months and years; I have a very strong desire to be liked and to be understood.  I would say that being liked and understood are definitely idols in my life.

I don’t think the desire to be liked or understood are always negative things. Many times, these desires help me to be a more thoughtful and perceptive person.  Unfortunately, there are other times where these same desires will cause me shrink back from the world and to feel very alone.

This past March, I packed myself up and trekked across the country to a yoga training in Washington state. It was at this Yogafaith training (https://yogafaith.org) that I began to see my idols a little more clearly.  At the training, I was surrounded with other, like-minded individuals who wanted to learn how to teach yoga, while at the same time helping their students to deepen their relationship with God through the love of Jesus Christ.

Upon coming home, I began to see my new YogaFaith “tribe” posting what they were doing back in their hometowns. People who had never taught a yoga class before were starting to teach and their classes were FULL.   It was beautiful and inspiring to watch. It was ironic to me that I had been teaching scripture-based, “InnerLight” yoga classes in my home town of Black Mountain, NC since 2012, but I rarely, if ever, posted anything about it on social media. I felt that God was trying to show me something.

The conversation went (and is still going) something like this:

me: I can not (or do not)  want to share what I am doing on social media.

God: Why not?

me: people might think that I was bragging or self-promoting.

God: What if I want others to see what I AM doing in your life?  Technically, that’s not self-promoting, that’s God-promoting.

me: yeah but, who cares? Who wants to read what I have to say?

God: You will never know ‘who cares’ if you don’t put it out there.

me: what if it fails?

God: That’s Ok, I am with you.

me: what if people don’t understand me or don’t like me?

God:  That’s Ok, because I do.

me: but, I am afraid of what people might think.

God: (gently and firmly) Kelly, please get yourself out of the way.

So here goes…  this blog is one of my attempts to “get myself out of the way” and to share what God is doing in my life. It is a powerful (and scary) thing to set aside fear to walk in presence of the Most High Love.  I want to express my deepest gratitude to you, gentle reader, for being a witness to this. My prayer is that you would be blessed through the process and along the way.