Jesus told them, "When you're celebrating a wedding, you don't skimp on the cake and wine. You feast. Later you may need to pull in your belt, but not now." Matthew 9:14-17 The Message
It’s happened again. This time, a Christian blogger – to be unnamed – denounced yoga as something designed to cause a demonic trance. No more said on that bit, but this seems like a good moment to write about three of my spiritual practices.
First off, I’m a Christian. I have a seminary education (MDiv) and have pastored a variety of United Methodist congregations these last ten years. Yes, I’m progressive in my theology, but I have one; I know what it is and it’s generally sound.
During my final year in seminary, we had an assignment to read a chapter a week from a book on spiritual disciplines (“practices” and “disciplines” being used interchangeably here), practice said discipline however briefly and write a page on the experience. As we approached the last week of class, I emailed both instructors. “Could I write on a difference practice?” I’d still read the chapter, but I wanted to write on something I’d been practicing a l-o-n-g time. After some emails back and forth, I received the go-ahead to write about music.
I started piano lessons 49 years ago but I've been playing (and singing) forever. I can play a variety of instruments (badly, anymore). I listen to “Alexander's Entry Into Pskov” from Prokofiev’s Alexander Nevsky (I witnessed a live performance in Philadelphia years ago) and I still get goosebumps. How can anyone listen to music – or witness any great art – and question God’s presentness among us?!
Still, why would I consider this a spiritual practice?
My mind has always been one that goes in three directions at once, usually at top speeds. Most of my life I had trouble shutting it down so I could sleep. Music helps me to be present.
We only get one “now” and it makes sense to live into it fully. Yet for much of my life, most of my attention was spent considering the future and reviewing the past. How many “todays” did I miss?
No more! (Well, not so much...) I will live in the present, today, now!
Although it’s a very imperfect fix, music helps me to be present. When I’m playing with the New Horizons Orchestra (miss you guys) I’m focused on the page in front of me, my fingers and bow, the sounds around me... oh, yeah, and the director <grin>. I’m present. When I sit at the piano, I attune to my fingers and listen. Again, I’m present. It’s imperfect, yes, because though I have a lot of practice in I also have a lot of practice at thinking over top of whatever I’m doing. Still this helps.
Two other spiritual disciplines I practice are meditation (Buddhist-style) and yoga. Horrors! But just as I don’t believe that Christians don’t have a corner on G-d’s word for us – G-d can connect with whomever G-d chooses – I believe people of other faiths (and some non-faiths) have things to teach us.
Yoga and meditation both help me get out of the way so I have a better chance to notice the holy. I can get so caught up in my own woes that I forget to celebrate what I have. Anything that pauses the navel-gazing so that G-d can reach me is all to the good.
Now I also pray, read the bible, participate in worship, tithe, give to those in difficult situations, and use my voice to speak out against injustice, but these other disciplines are equally valid and some days more so. When I haven’t taken time to sit with G-d in silence in meditation or made time to pray with my body through yoga, my service to G-d and others suffers.
I know some people have strict notions about what we should do to grow in G-d. But I question those who are so sure; how can they know? And I’m no longer convinced by other people’s “shoulds” (though I’m still working on my own).
Love G-d and love all the others around you. And practice drawing closer to the Source of All-that-is in the ways that best serve you for that purpose.