Scientology quacks at work:
After a Church of Scientology-backed group helped organize a campaign against it, Gov. Greg Abbott vetoed legislation that would have given Texas doctors more power to detain mentally ill and potentially dangerous patients, according to records obtained by The Texas Tribune.
The group in question is the Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) -- a Scientology front group that fights against alleged abuses in psychiatry and psychology. (Yes, it's an odd name. Scientology and human rights do not normally go hand in hand).
After all, Scientology hates psychiatry with a passion.
The cult's primary goal is to "clear the planet" by "obliterating psychiatry."
Here's a site you'll want to bookmark and use: What is Scientology?
In our view, CCHR is morally reprehensible -- a dangerous hate group.
So here's the moment more than 30 people, mostly women and children, made their way to freedom after escaping the IS barbarians who kidnapped them.
This footage -- filmed in Northern Iraq -- is part of Escape From ISIS, to be broadcast by the UK's Channel 4, tonight at 10pm UK time.
The Independent says
In August 2014 the area was attacked by Isis, with the militants killing hundreds and capturing 3,000 Yazidi women and young girls.
Isis locked up their captors and forced many to convert to Islam; the kidnapping has been described as the largest of its kind this century.
We steadfastly refer to IS/Isis/Daesh members as barbarians. These depraved savages -- who pretend to be Muslims -- have no qualms committing the most horrendous crimes.
Last April Human Rights Watch released a report that documents how Isis has carried out systematic rape and other sexual violence against Yezidi women and girls.
Human Rights Watch documented a system of organized rape and sexual assault, sexual slavery, and forced marriage by ISIS forces. [...]
“ISIS forces have committed organized rape, sexual assault, and other horrific crimes against Yezidi women and girls,” said Liesl Gerntholtz, women’s rights director at Human Rights Watch. “Those fortunate enough to have escaped need to be treated for the unimaginable trauma they endured.”
The news of Rodgers blessing committed, same-sex relationships has upset many evangelicals who have presented her as a model gay Christian. [...]
The most critical portion of Rodgers statement wasn’t her affirmation of same-sex relationships but her condemnation of how the church treats celibacy.
“I’ve become increasingly troubled by the unintended consequences of messages that insist all LGBT people commit to lifelong celibacy,” Rodgers wrote.
“No matter how graciously it’s framed, that message tends to contribute to feelings of shame and alienation for gay Christians. It leaves folks feeling like love and acceptance are contingent upon them not-gay-marrying and not-falling-in-gay-love…. It’s hard to believe we’re actually wanted in our churches. It’s hard to believe the God who loves us actually likes us.”
Are you a Christian sharing fake news? Cut it out!
Twelve years in, US bishops’ sexual abuse charter is facing challenges.
US Catholics at every level need to guard against “a tendency for complacency” toward the sexual abuse crisis says Deacon Bernie Nojadera, executive director of the Secretariat for Child and Youth Protection at the US Conference of Catholic Bishops:
“We have established procedures and policies, and we think that we have that in place,” he told Catholic News Service. “There might not be that ongoing mindfulness and certain small things might start to slide. They are not really paid attention to the way they should.”
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Full story: Religion News, Wednesday July 15, 2015
Summer. It’s that time of year when rules and dress codes relax. Even decades beyond school age, we feel as though the disciplinarians that normally keep us in line are looking the other way for a few months. As adults, we are often kept on that well-worn, responsible path by our own inner voice—its timbre a collection of tones and inflections collected over our lifetime. Some kind and loving. Some not so much.
This season offers you the opportunity to give your unhelpful inner teachers a well-deserved vacation. Bid them good-bye, and take your practice in a new direction. If your inner teachers are telling you that you aren’t strong enough, prove them wrong by practicing a strengthening pose every single day. Flip up into handstand and watch them gape, amazed. After three months of this, you will be strong.
Does one of those teachers tell you that your never be a back-bender and you better stick to your forward-bending forte? I have one who says that. Find a backbend—starting as gently and propped as needed—and prove to yourself that you can open your heart without sending yourself spiraling out of control.
Pick a pose that bothers you and explore why that might be. You just might discover something about your inner self that is being reflected back at you through your physical body.
This summer, stop internalizing the world around you. Spend some time in the yogic niyama of self-study (svadhyaya). In my book, Sophia Rising: Awakening Your Sacred Wisdom Through Yoga, I describe it like this:
“Leave behind the belief that to study means to seek external knowledge and claim it for our own. Limiting the search for truth to outside sources—books, the Internet, sermons, lectures, others’ opinions—can be dangerous territory. The most important study we can ever do is internal. It is also precisely the work that we often try to avoid. It is so much easier to absorb from the environment than to explore the landscape of the soul.”
Christians contemplatives will find this idea congruous with Thomas Merton’s translation of Moses’ mandate to “go sit in your cell, and your cell will teach you everything.”
This summer, become an explorer of your own soul’s landscape. Meander, and push your edge. Strive for new heights, then honor your discoveries with some restorative poses. Find out what you’ve been avoiding, and find the strength to face it. That work will remain with you long after the lazy days of summer have given way to the dictates of the rest of the year. And you might even find that some of those inner teachers softened their criticism over the summer break!
In addition to serving as the feature writer for the Texas Yoga Association’s newsletter, Monette Chilson is long-time yoga practitioner whose writing has appeared in Yoga Journal, Integral Yoga Magazine, Christian Yoga Magazine and Om Times. Her first book, Sophia Rising: Awakening Your Sacred Wisdom Through Yoga, was released this month by Bright Sky Press and is available at all online book retailers. She blogs at www.SophiaRisingYoga.com.
“Heaven will last,
Earth will endure.
How can they last so long?
They don’t exist for themselves
And so can go on and on.
So wise souls
Leaving self behind
And setting self aside
Why let the self go?
To keep what the soul needs.”
Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching, #7, “Dim Brightness”
Reading Lao Tzu reminded me of my experience of the Spirit in meditation. While abiding in the Spirit, peace and stillness is always at hand. There, contentment is a natural state; pressures from the outside world dissolve. The now is all that matters, and it is easy to recognize that past and future are mere shadows and figments of the imagination. Lao Tzu expanded that inner world, and I could see the bigger picture. I recognized the ways of God beyond myself.
In Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu captures the flow of creation in the embrace of the Creator and puts it into words. Written somewhere between the 6th and 4th centuries BCE, this sacred Chinese scripture is the basis for Taosim and highly influential in the Buddhist sphere. It is one of the most translated texts in the world, boasting over 250 translations. It is said to have been written by a scribe named Lao Tzu, or “Old Master.”
Through his poetry, Lao Tzu gives the reader a glimpse of God by exploring the way God moves and works in the world. God, called Tao (the Way), is nameless and indescribable, intangible yet the constant source of the tangible. This Tao flows and moves effortlessly, and by just being, causes all things to take place perfectly. The wise soul, or sage, never fights against this natural flow (Heb 3:15), but instead flows with it. These divine attributes are mirrored in Biblical passages:
• Indescribable: “Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways!” (Rm 11:33).
• Intangible: “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth,” (Jn 4:24).
• The source of the tangible: “In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God. God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him,” (Jn 1:1-3).
• Flows and moves effortlessly: “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit,” (Jn 3:8). (Note: the same Greek word means both wind and spirit.)
But although the topic is weighty, the Tao Te Ching never comes across that way. It deals with the most profound and sometimes even contradictory thoughts, but it does so in a lighthearted manner. Although similar to James 1:19, I found myself laughing when I read the following:
23 Nothing and not
Nature doesn’t make long speeches.
A whirlwind doesn’t last all morning.
A cloudburst doesn’t last all day.
Who makes the wind and rain?
Heaven and earth do.
If heaven and earth don’t go on an on,
Certainly people don’t need to.
Or the simple line, “To live till you die is to live long enough” (33).
Lao Tzu is at home in humility (Pro 8:12-13), and speaks of it in an unfamiliar way – as a path to true leadership. In many of his poems he advises leaders to become like water: molding and moving around the obstacles in its path with softness; willing to go to the lowest places. When he speaks of the greatest kind of leader in poem 17, he says they, “are hardly known to their followers,” which reminds the reader of God himself, willing to remain unseen yet leading all of heaven and earth.
The emphasis in the text remains firmly in the yin, or the female, quiet, meek and nurturing characteristics of all things, and Lao Tzu views these attributes as foundational. This echoed the personification of Wisdom as a female in the Proverbs. The yang, yin’s natural opposite (male, loud, strong, active), is reduced to something to understand and make use of if it makes sense to do so, like it is a tool. War and violence, clearly yang in their nature, are repulsive to Lao Tzu.
The irony of the Tao Te Ching is its ability to remain simple and complex all at once. The language comes across as almost elementary, speaking of nature and simple objects, yet the contradictions it offers invite the reader to pause and give it deeper thought. This is much like paradoxical scriptures such Proverbs 26:4-5, or Matthew 12:30 with Mark 9:40. It is full of wonderful truths put in ways seldom encountered in the West, but it won’t spoon-feed the reader. It rather plants a seed and lets the wise soul watch it grow.
Amy Arias is an instructor for the Holy Yoga Foundation, a non-profit organization that sends out teachers the world over to teach Christian yoga in their communities. She also writes a blog at JesusIsMyGuru.com, a site about all things Jesus and yoga
Some people think Christian yoga makes about as much sense as Jewish chemistry… or Islamic mathematics. It’s a fundamental category error. Yoga, at least as practiced in the west, is a system of physical and mental exercises that has nothing to do with Christianity, these critics say. Go to church. And go to yoga class if you must. But certainly don’t mix the two up.
But I disagree. Christians who practice yoga – or the other Eastern spiritual body-mind disciplines of mindfulness, meditation, Tai Chi, and so on – bring with them the unique philosophical outlook and habits of mind that come with Christianity. While they explore what the Eastern practices have to offer them, they do so on their own terms, with their own perspectives. If, in the process of practicing these Eastern disciplines, they make modifications to accommodate their spiritual beliefs, so what? Isn’t that their right?
Now, I admit that I prefer to get my Eastern stuff straight. If I take a Tai Chi, Aikido or a yoga class, I’d rather take it from someone steeped in the traditions of these disciplines. I’d rather use the terminology of the traditional discipline, study what the discipline offers on its own terms. Later, I may decide which parts of what I learned don’t really harmonize very well with what I truly believe from my western (Christian) perspective, but I’m a big boy and can make those judgments myself.
That’s why I’m not really a fan of the Praise Moves or the “Wholly Fit” style of Christian Yoga – although I’m sure it helps very many people and I know its practitioners are sincere — in which all of the yoga postures are renamed from their “pagan” roots. Ditto meditation. If I go on a Zen meditation retreat, I want my Zen straight. Teach me what Zen has to offer… on its own terms and in its own way… and then I’ll decide for myself it I can harmonize Zen meditation with my Christian faith. I find little in minimalist Zen meditation to which any regular Christian could object… while at the same time I am careful not to say that Eastern meditation is the same as Christian contemplative prayer.
Now, that said, I will admit that Christians who have been practicing these Eastern disciplines for a long time do make their own adjustments – and that’s fine. There is a Christian Zen sitting group near me that has been around for ages (decades). These folks have developed their own synthesis. They are faithful Christians who think that traditional Zen meditation helps them, grounds them, perhaps prepares them for a more mature prayer life. But it’s pretty traditional Zen, all in all.
After a while, I think long-term practitioners do feel the need to evolve something new that explicitly integrates what they learn from Eastern practices with the unique spiritual outlook that is Christianity. And that’s why I think there is a real Christian Yoga vocation (yoga being used in a broad sense).
The unique Christian understanding of incarnation actually brings a depth and a pathos to yoga practice that enriches it.
Unlike traditional yoga and Indian philosophy generally, Christians don’t believe that human beings “cast off” their bodies like so many worn-out clothes at death – only to take on new ones in a reincarnated existence.
Rather, Christians have this strange, rather radical, certainly unusual belief that we are our bodies – and that God will miraculously preserve and render them immortal and luminescent in a resurrected state. Thus, the yoga emphasis on bodily care, awareness and health is thus completely harmonious with the Christian understanding of our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit. This is what the founder of Christian yoga – Père J.-M. Déchanet – was getting at when he tried to adapt the spiritual psychology of William of Saint-Thierry to a fairly traditional hatha yoga practice.
Remember, Man, that you are dust… and unto dust you shall return. (Gen 3: 19)
Today is Ash Wednesday, the start of the penitential season of Lent, when Catholics and many other Christians as well go to church to receive ashes on their foreheads. Traditionally, when the priest or minister placed ashes on your forehead, he or she murmured the phrase, taken from Genesis: Remember that you are dust and unto dust you shall return. These are the words that God speaks to Adam and Eve in the Garden after the Fall.
These days, people prefer a more “positive” message, so many churches say something like, “Repent and believe in the Gospel,” or, if it’s a Jesuit church, something like, “Practice faith-justice!”
One of the weirdest and most macabre sites in Rome is the famous “bone house,” Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini, run for centuries by the Capuchin friars (an offshoot of the Franciscans). It never fails to creep people out… and it’s a great place to bring jaded teenagers who think they’ve seen it all. The entire place is decorated with the bones of long-dead (and not so long dead) friars. It’s difficult to even describe. All the walls, the chandeliers, everything is made out of human bones. If you want to know just how creepy the Catholic cult of relics can get, go visit the Capuchin bone house. But at the very end, you come to a skeleton of a friar, dressed in his monk robes, with this sign in three languages: “What you are now, we once were; what we are now, you shall be.”
Christian Yoga differs from traditional yoga in that it affirms both the reality of the physical body and the reality of death. Death is not an “illusion.” It is not merely a “gateway.” It is the cessation of physical life and the decay and decomposition of the body. To face that squarely… to look upon the dried up bones of the 4,000 Capuchin friars in the bone house and understand that death is real… is part of a mature spiritual life and one of the purposes of Ash Wednesday. To be a Christian who practices yoga is to cherish the body… to care for it, keep it healthy and use it to reach out to the Divine… and yet to know that, in its present state, it will not last. As St. Paul put it in his letter to the Thessalonians, “what we will be” after death “has not yet been revealed to us” but we know that we will be “like him,” like the resurrected Christ. We are not disembodied souls that “depart” the body at death, either to take on a new body or live in a spiritual heaven.
We are our bodies, and any life after death, we affirm, will be as embodied creatures — perhaps, like the resurrected Christ appearing to Doubting Thomas, bearing the scars and wounds we earned in our physical life. Whatever the place we go after death, it will be a physical place where human bodies can exist… perfected, resurrected bodies, perhaps, but bodies just the same. Thus, Christians who practice yoga re-affirm the beauty and joy and essential necessity of our physical bodies… while also knowing, as Christians, that these physical bodies will be transformed into something even more miraculous, even more luminous.
Under the high altar in St. Peter’s basilica in Rome is another altar… and underneath that altar is another altar… and underneath that altar is a giant box about fifteen feet square, made out of the precious stone porphyry, and inside of that box is an ancient brick wall that dates back to the first century A.D., and in the side on that ancient brick wall is a burial niche, and inside that niche was found, wrapped in purple cloth reserved on pain of death to the Roman emperors, the bones of an elderly man, in his 60s or 70s, that date back to the first century. On the brick wall were also found hundreds of graffiti with phrases such as petros eni, Peter is here, or the Chi Rho symbol altered so it looks like a key (as in “keys of the kingdom”).
St. Peter’s church is built on a hill, known as the Vatican, at the base of which was an ancient Roman circus. In the middle of the circus was an Egyptian obelisk, once twice as tall as it is now, that now stands in the center of St. Peter’s square. The circus was an oblong with a long middle area that ran down the center – very similar to the circus maximus that still exists today in Rome. In the center of the circus was the obelisk, and the chariot racers made their circuits of the center area much like Judas ben Hur does in the film of the same name. In the center area, Christians were routinely executed for “halftime entertainment” – the most colorful exercise of which was when they dipped the Christians in pitch and then lit them on fire. The road leading to the Vatican circus was a cemetery, lined with tombs.
The Romans had the bizarre habit of building their tombs along public roads so the monuments to their past glory could be admired by the citizens. When, as the ancient sources tell us, the Apostle Peter was crucified upside down in the center of the Vatican circus, probably around the year A.D. 64, the disciples took his body and buried it in the road cemetery right outside – marking the spot with special signs that only the Christian community would know. For hundreds of years, Christians came quietly and secretly to this grave to honor the leader of the Roman Christian community… until, in the early 300s, a decision was made by the Emperor Constantine to build a church over the site.
The problem was that the Vatican circus was at the base of a hill, so the engineering-minded Romans built an enormous retaining wall, dozens of feet high, and then filled in the space with soft dirt, covering the circus and the streets lined with tombs. On top of this level area, now known as St. Peter’s square, they built the first St. Peter’s basilica, which lasted for more than a thousand years… until, around the time of the Protestant Reformation, the popes commissioned great Italian artists, such as Michelangelo, to build a new basilica on the ruins of the crumbling old one. To finance construction, they sold indulgences… which led Martin Luther to launch the Reformation. The money was raised, the new church was slowly built, and people forgot about the ancient cemetery buried beneath the old basilica… until 1939. In that year, workmen digging below the church, to create a new crypt for the recently deceased Pope Pius XI, accidentally punched a hole in the floor of the crypts where they bury popes beneath St. Peter’s… and looked down and saw, dozens of feet below, a necropolis, or city of the dead, undisturbed for 1,800 years. Like Pompei south of the Vatican, this ancient necropolis was like going back in time. The first century streets go on for miles beneath St. Peter’s square. In was in this ancient necropolis that archaeologists discovered, in the 1950s, the bones of St. Peter, wrapped in a purple shroud and hidden in a burial niche inside a brick wall… inside an enormous marble and porphyry box… directly beneath the high altar in St. Peter’s basilica.
The papacy is the oldest continuous monarchy in history, dating back at least to the second century and, depending upon how you interpret the evidence, perhaps to Peter himself. Traditionally, popes – known as the servant of the servants of God – serve until death. There have been 266 popes… and today, for the first time in 598 years, a reigning pope has announced his resignation. In a few weeks, perhaps more, the see of Peter will be vacant (sede vacante), and the 118 cardinals eligible to vote will gather in the Sistine Chapel to begin the difficult task choosing a successor to guide the world’s 1 billion Catholics and other friends of the Catholic Church on into the confusing 21st century.
The mission of the pope is, and always has been, to be a guardian of the partheke, the “deposit” of Faith, handed on over the centuries… and to do so in a way that it can be communicated and understood anew.
The new pope will have his hands full. In the entertaining prescient 2011 Italian film by Nanni Moretti, Habemus Papam (“We Have a Pope”) about the election of a reluctant pope who ends up resigning, a nice touch was that we heard all of the cardinals praying: Please, Lord, not me… anyone but me!
I just heard , quite late, that James Arraj died of cancer three years ago. To say I was stunned is an understatement. I had sent an email to Jim, asking for permission to reprint one or two of his marvelous essays, and his widow, Tyra, told me of his death. Although I never met them, the Arraj family has been an inspiration to me and many other people over the years for so many different reasons.
Decades ago, James and Tyra made a remarkably courageous decision. James earned a Ph.D. in spiritual theology from the Gregorian University in Rome, but, as is true for many young academics, his job prospects weren’t great. He and his wife found themselves in San Diego, right after the birth of their daughter Elizabeth, and they didn’t like their options. Jim had found a job in the County welfare office but it looked like the two of them were going to be forced to take jobs they disliked… to afford living in houses they disliked… in an area they didn’t particularly like… and that would be it for the rest of their lives. As a result, they decided to take a different path.
They moved to an isolated forest in the woods of southern Oregon, built their own home, and raised their children in the forest. They actually videotaped the entire adventure — from flying over their isolated forest home to the building of their house. You can see the videos here.
All these dreams were to lead us to the forest where the land was beautiful and cheap, but far from paved roads and power lines, and a mile high in the snow zone of the Cascade Mountains. It was here our schooling began in earnest about simple living, and how complicated it was. The first thing we needed was a house, and quickly, for winter was coming. Making handcrafts and a bookcase or two hadn’t really prepared us for this. But we muddled through by reading books, drawing plans on the backs of envelopes, and overcoming our biggest obstacle, which was the notion that had been pounded into our heads all our lives – that you bought houses made by . You didn’t just jump up and build your own.
Once we got the house up – and it didn’t immediately fall down – from then on we would simply build whatever we needed or wanted. When the kids decided they wanted their own rooms, we told them to build them themselves, and they did.
With a roof over our heads the days took on a rhythm of their own, and grew into weeks and months and years. We would make bread. For a long time that was the kids’ job. We would do home school with the kids, and all of us would sit around the lunch table and discuss everything from tigers to tattoos. We would make tofu. Our electricity came from a solar panel which was connected to a battery, and then to an inverter that converted it from DC to AC. We would cut and split wood, and feed it to our wood stove made out of an old hot water tank.
Slowly our eyes began to open so we could really see the forest around us.
We never had a well, and we would haul drinking water from town in the summer, and collect rain and snow in our little ponds for the garden. Growing a garden was a tough job when you are almost a mile high and can have a frost any month of the year, and if you do manage to grow something, the chipmunks are waiting to pounce on it.
And each year there would be something new to build. Our favorite style was to dig some holes in the ground, cut and treat some poles, and then just go on from there. Not very complicated, but tiring at times. One year Elizabeth decided she wanted to have a place of her own, and she just went out and built it.
This decision gave them the gift of time – time to do the work they were called to do, which happened to be write books and make videos on Christian mysticism and its relationship to both Eastern spirituality and Jungian psychology. Rather than work as academics in a university setting, James and Tyra created their own way of life in the forest. They then created a remarkable website, InnerExplorations.com, which is one of the strangest and most fascinating combination of subjects you can imagine – high-level philosophical discussions of Thomistic metaphysics, video chronicles of what it’s like to move and live in a forest, simple living, Christian mysticism, Zen, and on and on. Needless to say, it was like a candy shop for someone like me. Christian mystic hippies living in the forest… can’t get more irresistible than that!
I first learned about the Arraj family because, like most homeschoolers, my wife and I were interested in simple living. We bought their books on simple living because, like many homeschoolers, we felt called to a radically different way of life. But then I discovered that we shared an interest in both classical Christian mysticism but also in eastern spirituality, such as Zen. I was hooked… and have spent hours and hours, over the years, poring through Jim’s articles on the similarities, and profound differences, between the spiritual paths of Asia and the western mystical tradition. Over the coming months, we hope to republish a few of Jim’s thoughtful essays on our website with the kind permission of Tyra.
I urge anyone interested in Christian Yoga to visit InnerExplorations. You’ll find many topics of interest and will be inspired by the Arraj family’s life in the forest.
I’ve spent more time than most working out the way in which my yoga practice intersects with and feeds my faith experience. Still, I find myself unexpectedly delighted each time I find a new point of convergence. Recently it struck me that the last stop in Christianity’s liturgy of hours — Compline, the final office of the monastic day established by Saint Benedict in the sixth century — is directly analogous to the savasana (corpse pose) with which we end our yoga practice. Both are contemplative closing ceremonies of sorts for cultivating spiritual peace within their own traditions.
They are markers which prompt us to stop and enter into a stillness in which we absorb the events of the day (or the results of our practice) without the analytical fervor that we, in our humanity, often bring to bear on such recollections. Both Compline and savasana have an osmotic quality about them that brings gentle closure with no effort on our part but surrender.
So as I sat by the fire after 2012 had turned into 2013 without any pomp and circumstance, it occurred to me that the waning hours of the year are very much like Compline and savasana. We look back on the year and say our nightly prayers like the monks at the end of the day. Then we lie down on a bed of energy created from all that has been in the last twelve months while opening ourselves to what is to come, like the yogis do in savasana.
Even more profound to me than the holy congruity between the two spiritual practices, is the fact that they are both rituals that happen without exception. They are not earned for good behavior, as in, “I’ll allow myself a period of savasana if I do an extra long shoulder stand.” Monks don’t say, I’ll indulge in a candlelit Compline if I do an phenomenal job on turnip-chopping during kitchen duty today.” They are graceful practices that arrive on schedule, unrelated to our performance, undeterred by the faltering and mundanity of our lives.
Perhaps some of you had the postcard New Years Eve. You know the one—sparkly hat, dressed to the hilt, a glass of champagne in hand and a passionate kiss from your sweetheart at the stroke of midnight. Mine looked nothing like that. But, guess what? It came anyway. The New Year didn’t wait around, lingering in the shadows till I donned my party dress and got my groove on. It came while I watched a dinosaur movie with my nine-year-old son and his buddy. Which was right after my teen-aged daughter announced that I was ruining her life by not letting her go out that night. And while my sweetheart was already sleeping. Alas, no midnight kiss.
But 2013 snuck in, tiptoeing and was waiting when I crept back to sit by the fire that should have long petered out. It came in the midst of my imperfect life that defies the flickering plastic images that try to tell me how to look and how to live.
There have been times in my life when I have shouted for the clock to hold up and wait until I was ready—until I had myself pulled together—ludicrously thinking I had the ability to control such things. Sitting by that New Year’s fire, listening to the rain, it hit me that while nothing about that night echoed the cultural ideal, it was, in its own odd way, perfection. I had a deep knowing that everything was exactly as it should be. And there was nothing I could do to make it better or worse. It was Compline, filled with relief and gratitude, and followed by a savasana-like sleep.
I had unwittingly embraced the imperfection. The choice, after all, is always ours in such moments—pine for what could have been or gaze with grateful eyes at what is before us. Here’s to knowing that whatever 2013 brings, God’s soft, Sophic light will be illuminating our path.
Monette Chilson is a yoga practitioner and writer who contributes to Yoga Journal, writes regularly for Om Times and pens a monthly column for the Texas Yoga Association newsletter. Her search for the sacred reveals itself in her writings on her blog and her first book, Sophia Rising: Awakening Your Sacred Wisdom Through Yoga. She blogs at http://www.SophiaRisingyoga.com
Like many Christians who practice yoga, I am hardly a purist. You could even call me a “cafeteria yogi.” I pick and choose among the various yoga practices that fit my overall lifestyle, level of fitness and religious beliefs. Fortunately, at every single yoga school where I have studied, without exception, the other students are exactly the same.
They are typical Canadian and American suburban professional types: harried moms, latte-swilling office workers, students, retired folk. The music is funky New Age chanting music, which, quite frankly, I find very relaxing and enjoy immensely. The teachers invariably say “Namaste” after class — which, despite all the hullabaloo among fundamentalists about its alleged polytheistic meanings, is just the ordinary Hindi way of saying “hello” (as my Indian relatives inform me). But beyond that, my yoga classes are about as pagan as an aerobics class down at the YMCA.
More and more people are awakening to this fact. Yoga is not the be all and end all of health. My doctor informs me that, while yoga is great for flexibility and stress-reduction, I still must hit the treadmill or swim for aerobics. If the yoga workout is particularly intense, it may qualify for the strength training that doctors now add to the list. (When are we supposed to do all this stuff, by the way?)
I find that two formal yoga classes a week are just about right for me — combined with brief but intense sessions when I wake up and right before I go to sleep. Yoga gives me something that no other activity does. It provides a systematic stretching and what I can only describe as “liberation” of muscle groups ignored by all my other sports (Aikido, tennis, swimming) and activities (walking on the beach with my wife).
It also quiets me down, physically and mentally, and harmonizes very well with a lifelong meditation practice. For Christians who find little time for prayer and contemplation in the hectic modern world, regular yoga practices literally forces them to quiet down. It relaxes you unlike anything else — and then quiets your mind.
Yoga (or Buddhist) meditation is not the same thing as Christian or Jewish prayer, but they can be a necessary preparation for prayer — even a prerequisite. Without the quiet, stillness and relaxation that yoga provides, many people find it almost impossible to pray. But Christian yogis, blessed with such islands of silence and stillness, inevitably find themselves spontaneously giving thanks and lifting their minds and hearts to God.
So, the bottom line is this: If you’ve been thinking about trying out yoga but are concerned about the alleged “spiritual dangers,” forget about it. The people who prattle on about that have rarely stepped inside a yoga studio in their lives. What you’ll find is probably people exactly like yourself — stiff, overworked, semi-arthritic, stressed-out modern men and women — who are trying to ease the kinks out of their tired bodies and souls. And that is a good thing. Namaste!
According to rabbinic tradition, the first commandment God gives Adam and Eve in the Garden is to have sex: Pru vehravu, “be fruitful and multiply.” It’s little wonder then that Christian theology has pondered for centuries the place that human sexuality and bodily existence have in God’s plan for the universe. On the one hand, anyone familiar with the Jewish testament knows that sexual attraction (and sexual sin) permeate virtually every book. What’s more, two centuries of crusading secularism has exaggerated Christian pruddery in the early centuries of Christianity and in the Middle Ages.
On the other hand, it’s also true that the monastic movement that led to so many cultural and educational achievements in the West did tend to emphasize the negative aspects of human sexuality and bodily existence — if only because vowed celibate monks and nuns inevitably saw sexual feelings as temptations to be avoided at all costs.
Into this tangled history stepped the late pope John Paul II. Raised by his widowed father in Poland during the nightmare of World War II, Karol Wotylwa was a working man, athlete and actor before he became a Catholic priest and a philosopher. His experience with young married couples during his early years as a pastor — combined with his in-depth study of early 20th century phenomenologists — allowed the young priest to see the sexual embrace and life in the body in an entirely new way: as quite literally a way to God.
When he was elected pope, John Paul delivered a remarkable series of 129 lectures during his Wednesday audiences on what has become known as the Theology of the Body (TOTB) — a very traditional, very radical teaching on human embodiment and sexual attraction that papal biographer George Weigel has described as “a kind of theological time bomb” that will have dramatic consequences …perhaps in the twenty-first century” (Witness to Hope, 343).
John Paul’s argument, in essence, is that both secular libertines and Christian pruddery have missed the point. Human beings are radically, essentially physical. Human beings are not “ghosts in a machine,” as Descartes described it.
In a dramatic way, the entire Christian understanding of the incarnation means that Christians are and must be “pro-sex” and must celebrate the body generally. I would even say that Christians take the body at least as seriously as the devotees of most religions, including even Hinduism. The doctrine of the bodily resurrection reflects the Christian belief that we are our bodies — that if we are to survive death then it must be a physical survival. A disembodied spirit would not be a human being.
In the Baghavad Gita, Krishna teaches Arjuna the exact opposite of the Christian view of our essentially bodily natures:
As a man discards his threadbare robes and puts on new, so the Spirit throws off its worn-out bodies and puts on new ones… The Spirit in man is imperishable.
While Christianity agrees with the Gita (and with yoga!) that there is an imperishable, immortal essence of the human being, which, for lack of a better word, the west has traditionally called the “soul,” it does not agree that the physical body is merely incidental to that essence — something that can be “thrown off” for a new one.
Rather, in the Christian view, we are embodied spirits or spiritual bodies — and thus it is our bodies themselves that are (or will be) immortal. Thus, the Christian hope is even more absurdly optimistic than people give us credit for: We actually believe that we will live forever… in glorified “resurrection” bodies, not as disembodied spirits. I’ve never been the least scandalized by those radical yogis who claim that yoga can lead to physical immortality of a sort or at least extreme longevity: it seems perfectly plausible to me given the Christian revelation.
That is why St. Paul tells the (male) Corinthians that they should take good care of their bodies and not defile themselves with prostitutes — and why Christian practitioners of yoga celebrate the body and do what we can to maintain good health. That is also why Pope John Paul II, in his teachings on the Theology of the Body, emphasized how incarnate human beings come to God in and through their bodies — and that sex, far from being inherently sinful, is actually a way to God. In John Paul’s teaching, sex (for non-celibate “householders”) is a sacrament (a “sign”) of divine presence because it is the preeminent example of that spiritual intimacy that is the birthright of all human beings.