Late last year I started attending yoga sessions at a local studio. I’ve done about 150 classes in their various forms (gentle, yin, vinyasa). It’s been incredibly beneficial for my body, nervous system, breathing and mental health.
The fact that I am attending yoga classes may come as a surprise to many Christians. Church-goers I have sat alongside (or even taught to) over the years might be very concerned for my soul right now – particularly those from the inner-healing sector. They may think I’ve fallen from their interpretation of grace and perhaps even invited some demons in. In fact, the David of 10 years would have been very concerned and curious – but to be honest, I am glad I have been doing it. And I take comfort in something Thomas Merton once said, ‘If the you of 5 years ago doesn’t think the you of today is a heretic, you are not growing spiritually’.
Interestingly, I am doing really well and wish I had tried it earlier… but perhaps I wasn’t ready. And by no means am I suggesting everyone go out and enrol in a Yoga class or anything that (to them) seems a deviation from their faith or causes a division in their devotion. This is simply right for me now.
A couple of people I have talked with about it (including some curious yoga teachers) have asked how I have integrated my Christian faith into another practice which often receives pushback as being anti-Christian or spiritually dangerous.
My answer has been, ‘Slowly and relationally’.
I had to realise that I had been conditioned to stay away from certain things, including practices like this. So I simply started having conversations with God about it during class – something I can do with confidence, having worked for many years investing in a connection with the Trinity to the point I actually believe that nothing can separate us from God’s love.
Sure, the occasional classes involve a chant or two but I pray or chat with God – or tune out altogether. That said, the studio I attend doesn’t go heavy on the spiritual practices as others might.
The entire experience of doing something that was against certain tribal/religious rules has got me thinking of how seldom we test and question many doctrines, dogma, and rules that keep us bound. And please understand, these bindings are not exclusive to Christianity or any religion – they are universal and span life at every level. For example , our family of origin may create rules like, ‘It’s a woman’s job to take care of the home’. Or ‘Boys don’t cry’. And as kids, we simply trust and buy into it – till we don’t… or life reveals that those rules were fallacies and attempts to control. The family trance can be a very powerful and lingering force.
At a broader Ievel, I’m seeing an increase of clients in my Advanced Pastoral Care sessions who, like me, are in their second half of life and butting up against a sincere dilemma. This dilemma often involves smart, level-headed women and men struggling to live under the plethora of rules, morals, systemic dysfunction and problematic theology their faith (communities) has presented and propagated. Some of these people are (or where) senior leaders in churches too.
These wonderful people often confess the same thing; that is, ‘I struggle to attend the worship services and am tired of pretending to agree with many sermons so it’s hard to genuinely attend and connect. BUT I miss the fellowship and interaction.’ They are seeing that in order to belong to these tribes, they must adhere to norms, pretend to believe the same things, and relinquish self their agency to the tribe and its leaders. And it’s this sense of self agency which is becoming increasingly important to them.
There is no doubt that they sincerely love God and have a connection with Christ that is deep and real. They express appreciation of all the valuable things their faith has given them. However, many have begun to shift views on beliefs that underpin much of what is used for religious motivation- most of which, when distilled, are steeped in fear. Views on the afterlife, violence, embodiment, sex, gender, nationalism and race to name a few.
Hence, the dilemma.
Like all dilemmas, there is no quick or easy solution. The tension is necessary for the transformation. The tension is a sign you are on your way to something deep and meaningful. But yes, the desert can feel barren and lonely.
Looking forward, I sincerely believe we will see an increase of this kind of tension in the coming decade or two. This shift of consciousness has been energised by the recent global crisis but these events are just a chapter in a storyline spanning the last century or so. Industrialisation and institutional authority is now being questioned at every level. If we follow the 500 year patterns of major shifts for the Christian church, the last being the Protestant Reformation in 1517, we are due for another change now. Historian Phyllis Tickle argues that every time a major change occurs in the church, the dominant question everyone begins to ask is, ‘ Where, now, is the authority?’ Put another way, “Where now -or what now – is the basis for social order?”
I see this question of authority rising everywhere. It carries a deep resonance of frustration and disappointment. It seems that institutional homogenisation (make everyone the same) isn’t delivering its promise of peace, happiness and longevity – whether that promise comes from a pastor, politician, parent, president or otherwise. I’m not advocating a blatant disregard of all laws and rules that exist. I am simply noting the rapid increase of sincere questioning and experimentation in response to centuries of institutional-led disasters which have caused global death, decay and disaster.
I don’t have the answer on who or what the authority will now be – but I believe that the question must be answered, experimented with, and considered on an individual level. I sincerely hope (which is all I can do) people of the Christian faith consider that mankind being made in God’s image doesn’t equate to a literal lookalike contest where we all strive to imitate a 2,000 year old image of a Middle Eastern celibate Jewish male his 30s.
Instead, I hope – (perhaps idealistically) – that we might find a way forward which is compelled by love leading to differentiation (all acceptably different). I hope more may consider that being made in God’s image means we are focused on imitating the function (not form) of Unconditional Love.
I hope this dangerous grace delivers people from the punitive measures and unreasonable fears which produce false unity through conformity and homoginised conditioning in religious systems.
I hope the brave few souls who dare hold onto their love of Christ, despite feeling separated from the flock, are compelled to live in the tension and walk through the discomfort of a desert season, knowing a new generation is bound to emerge from the hazy horizon. A generation who, as in revolutions past, march to the beat of a different drum.