YOGA: worshipping other gods?

There are many questions and concerns that Christians may have about whether and how and if to practice yoga. I want to address some of these questions and concerns in a series here on my blog. If you have questions or concerns about the practice of yoga as a Christian, I’d love to hear from you. Would you reach out to start a conversation? It would help me immensely with understanding and engaging the worries and fears that are rooted in peoples minds and hearts around this practice.

It’s also important to say at the outset that there’s no reason at all that anybody, or everybody, ought to, or needs to, or should, practice yoga. I am not trying to proselytize yoga, I intend to give a witness of my own experience, and to address widely-held fallacies.

So here’s the first go: that doing yoga poses unwittingly worships other gods, and is a gateway to worshipping satan. “The movements in and of themselves are god worship practices whether we mean them to be or not.”

This is not a straw man — this is an actual objection that was put in my email inbox this past week.

As a priest with ten years of full-time parish ministry, I have seen lives fall into darkness and evil and death. I have seen people choose to be separate from God. In my experience, this has happened from pride, from willful indifference, from addiction. I have not seen anyone “unwittingly” fall into separation from God. I have seen grave concern and much ink and worry spilt over possible sin or evil that a person might fall into in ignorance, but I have not found that innocent ignorance tears lives apart or shunts one into darkness (willful ignorance — ignoring the good counsel of the faithful around you — does destroy lives and move one into darkness).

It’s a powerful idea that putting one’s feet in a certain pattern, or bending one’s knee in a particular angle, or breathing in while crouching down, could have the effect of calling upon something in a spirit world — controlling or drawing up some force greater than oneself. This is not an idea which is subscribed to in Scripture or Christian tradition (Matthew 10:28; Psalm 104:26; ).

We cannot unwittingly worship a false god by moving our bodies into a push-up position, even if it is a posture that is part of a series called a “sun salutation.” To consider our bodies to be such dangerous weapons, to be ignorantly discharged in innocence toward such destructive ends, makes one wonder what the creator of such a dangerous tool might be thinking.

What if we were to run a race without sufficient thought and glory to God? What if we were to lift weights with ourselves in mind? What if we were to garden for the sake of commercial gain? Are all of these activities sown with such danger to our eternal lives?

The stretches and strengthening of yoga, the poses, and postures, and series, and repetitions, have served me to observe my inadequacies and overindulgences. Yoga practice has been a way that God has communicated to me when I am avoiding the message he is seeking to bestow, or the duty I have been given to undertake, or the work to which I’ve been called. Yoga practice has been a way that God has shown me the goodness of my body, the strength and resilience of this creation he has made and given me for my care and responsibility.

It is absolutely true, and I do not seek to obscure the many threads of yoga’s origin in various world religions. I am personally unconvinced or convicted that it is an irredeemable practice which intrinsically leads practitioners to darkness, evil, and death.

Breath of God

ERH Sermon photo 04 28 2019

Sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter; John 20:19-31

In springtime, PBS’s Masterpiece Theater hosts its annual season of Call the Midwife. It’s been going the last few weeks, and if you don’t know the show, it’s about a company of midwives and Anglican nuns in a poor part of London in the 1950s and ‘60s, in every single episode, there’s a moment when a mother has just delivered her baby, and the midwives and momma are waiting for a baby’s first cry. There’s the anxious eye-darting, the building tension.

Perhaps you’ve even had your own “Call the Midwife” moment, waiting for your own baby’s cry. Or in the reverse, perhaps you’ve been sitting at the bedside of a dying loved one, wondering if that heave of breath you just heard would be the last one.

I was sitting next to his bed the morning my grandpa Chuck died; I’d gotten to the hospice house early, as the sun was rising, and we sat alone in his room, him lying quietly on the bed, me to one side, with a view out the window over his his body. His breath was irregular by then, with long pauses between exhale and inhale. More than once, I thought I’d witnessed his last breath. I remember musing how much like a baby he looked, bald head, smooth skin stretched over his back-tilted face, eyelashes resting gently on his cheeks.

I’d never met my great-grandmother Marian, his momma, but I felt a kinship with her in that moment, as she must have spent time, too, watching him sleep, listening eagerly for each breath. Continue reading

the tidiness of yoga


We moved almost two months ago, and while the cardboard boxes were more-or-less emptied and banished from the house within the first week (not a coincidence that we had 8 days before starting our jobs!), on both the packing end and the emptying end, I did a lot of dumping into boxes, and then shoving into drawers or closets or bins.

I realized I didn’t have to process everything at exactly the moment it was presented to me. There is simply too much to organize and make decisions about and let go of to approach the process linearly — plowing through each item intentionally on the front end, or on the back end. Marie Kondo and I differ on this point.

Instead, I processed the things that really, really needed to be dealt with immediately — the boxes of dishes and pantry staples — and surrendered a few extra drawers and some closet space (okay, an entire closet) to “stuff to be dealt with later.” If you’re a born-and-bred pack rat, this method might not work, but I’ve learned from yoga that you can deal with things as you’re ready. A moment or chance will come when the urge to organize strikes, or when you’ve got a bit of energy and are seeking some order, or when an anniversary reminds you of something more emotional or spiritual that you’re now ready to sort through.

And those chances don’t just come around once. If you’re attentive, they keep coming around. Yoga taught me that it’s okay to shove things into drawers, both physically and emotionally; it’s okay to choose not to deal with it right now and to trust that at another point, you may be ready to face what’s been put in the dark for a little while.

For whatever mystical reason, that day was today for me. Interspersed with naps (32 weeks pregnant & 100-degree heat makes for low-energy conditions), I finished my dresser drawers and organized my plans for the closet. In the intervening 8 weeks, I’ve learned more about how I use the space in this new home, so I’ve been better able to decide where to put these objects without a permanent resting place.

Maybe it’s the same in our lives, too — when we give ourselves time to process events, emotions, and relationships, we gain perspective and wisdom while we wait.

image via mgstanton