I said a while back that I was intending to write a series of posts on the subject of Fear. I still have those intentions. I have a draft saved on Tribalism, as we speak, but first I want to spin off that and talk briefly about
We tend to fear the “other,” and that has no place in the Christian faith.
Fear, in the Christian faith, has to do with recognition of the bigness, holiness, and awe-inspiring presence of an all-powerful CreatorGod. “Fear of the LORD” is complex. It’s more than reverence, but still based in love, sometimes terror; not always safe, but always good. It’s too much for a blog post.
But that’s not the fear of man. That’s not the fear of “other” – to which we are so often prone.
::Term Definition: the “other” is something foreign. It’s something we didn’t grow up with, something that makes us uncomfortable, something different from the mainstream, powerful, or normal.::
Can I be a nerd, and talk about yoga real fast?
First off, I’ve been practicing yoga for 3-4 years. I’ve practiced it studios, gyms, my home, and even in an academic setting, so I feel I have a bit of “cred” in this area.
Ask any practitioner (or yogi), what is yoga about? and you’ll probably get a slightly different answer each time. It’s about a lot of things, and there are a thousand different components, branches, traditions, schools. Yoga is big. It’s about the body. It’s about the mind. It’s about the spirit. It’s about the connectivity of it all, about how we relate to each other, about how we view and treat ourselves, about how we view God and the spiritual realm. In my own practice, it’s been about recognizing that I can’t compartmentalize parts of myself. I’m one thing, and every part of me connects and has value. For me, it’s been a way of remembering common, shared humanity – about the importance of respect and peace. For me, it’s been a way to settle, cast off distractions, and give more of myself to God.
But yoga means so many things to so many people – and people of all different sorts of religions practice yoga. My first yoga instructor told us that yoga isn’t a religion: it’s a lifestyle that can help channel and strengthen your religion. Yes, there are highly spiritual aspects that focus on meditation, openings in the heart, mind, and body, and the idea of “nirvana” or oneness with the world and with the divine. But that is going to, by its very nature, mean something different to every person. And to a Christian yogi, there is nothing heretical about opening oneself up to meditate on, and commune with, God.
Unfortunately for western Christians, yoga is eastern. Yoga sprung from a non-Christian culture. Yoga is “other.” And western Christian leaders are absolutely terrified of such things.
E.W. Jackson, currently running for Virginia’s Lt. Governer, has stated that meditation/yoga is:
“about finding a mantra and striving for nirvana. . . . The purpose of such meditation is to empty oneself. . . . [Satan] is happy to invade the empty vacuum of your soul and possess it. That is why people serve Satan without ever knowing it or deciding to, but no one can be a child of God without making a decision to surrender to him. Beware of systems of spirituality which tell you to empty yourself.”
Popular Christian leader Mark Driscoll straight up claims that,
“yoga is demonic.”
“yoga is Hinduism.”
“it’s absolute paganism.”
“if you just sign up for a little yoga class, you’re signing up for a little demon class.”
(::that thing you smell? fear.::)
Needless for any responsible, self-possessed yogi to say, these men obviously know nothing about yoga. These men doubtless desire to protect their followers from evil, from temptation, and from wrong influences. However, from this noble desire has sprung the reality: they teach their followers to fear “other” in hate and ignorance. Because they fear something, and because for whatever reason they have not taken the time to learn about something, they teach others to continue in that same fear and ignorance.
Can yoga be abused? Anything can be abused.
Can the eastern roots of Hinduism, and its connection to yoga, be distracting or unhealthy for a Christian yogi? Of course. Practicing certain elements or lifestyles of yoga (of the thousands, and thousands of variations) would not be appropriate, helpful, or necessary for a Christian.
Like anything in this life, we look for truth and goodness through the revealed nature of Christ.
But, you know what can be found in the practice, lifestyle, and mindset of yoga?
Do you know what the eightfold path of Raja (or Royal) Yoga includes?
Abstaining from earthly distractions. Non-harming. Truth. Non-stealing. Chastity. Non-greed.
Purity. Study of Scriptures. Surrender to God.
The physical practice of steady pose, posture, and seat.
Control of vital energy; awareness of one’s breath.
Concentration of the mind. Meditation.
Did you know that? That doesn’t sound too “other” after all, does it?
“Teacher,” said John, “we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.”
“Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us. I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward (Mark 9:38-41).
Excepting C.S. Lewis’s portrayal of Aslan, I cannot think of any Christian teacher, author, or leader (in popular, layman’s culture anyway) highlighting the beauty and importance of God’s breath. In the Creation narrative, the world may have come into existence through God’s voice and his words – but man was created through his breath. Jesus breathed on his disciples to impart his spirit. In fact, the Hebrew word ruach means both breath and spirit – thus linking the life forces of our bodies and our souls in a mysterious and majestic way.
God created body; God created breath. He is not a god of Gnosticism – which despises the physical elements of life. God made us from ruach and earth, and I think we forget that in our pursuit of the spiritual. But it’s all connected.
That’s why the yoga mindset, the yoga lifestyle, could be such a powerful tool in a Christian’s life. Because the only base requirement to practice yoga is to breathe. It always comes back to the breath (as, again, any yogi will tell you). Physical poses? They work with your breath. Meditation? Work with your breath. Awareness and control of breath is the centerpoint of yoga, and it’s a brilliant and beautiful metaphor of the ruach.
::see what fear can crush, can kill? fear stops breath. fear stops life. don’t let it.::