healing mountains & seas #ujjayi

You know that noisy breath that yogis practice?  Ujjayi breath calms the mind & body and serves as an anchor for yoga practices.  You don’t have to be posin’ to use it–often I practice the deep, intentional breath walking down the street (my yoga teacher says it’s really breathing that does you good in any exercise).  When you constrict the muscles at the back of your throat and force the air through, up and out of your nose, it sounds like the ocean–that’s what I always hear people say.

As I’ve fallen in love with the mountains over the last year, finding deep comfort in the tall mounds of earth that peek out behind trees and skylines, drawing the horizon higher, I’ve been a little crestfallen that the foundational breath of yoga has to do with the seashore instead.

What joy on Monday: our little family hiked to the summit of Mt. Pisgah, and as we wound higher and higher, I realized that ujjayi breath doesn’t only sound like the waves of the ocean: ujjayi breath sounds just as much like the wind blowing determinedly through the trees and ridges of the mountains.20140430-115653.jpg

Now I envision my dear Blue Ridge Mountains as I take poses and force air through my throat.  Not only does that air mimic the wind of beloved hills, but also reminds me that the mountains and trees stand steady in the midst of blowing tempests, even as it allows the living air to change it slowly and slightly.

 

holding breath

There’s a reason that holding your breath kills you.

Out in the garden over the weekend, I filled up boxes with compost-y soil.  It was hard work, but that was just what I needed–I’d been too static (stagnant) the last few days and needed some inner stirring up and re-settling.

Having learned in yoga practice to breath through the difficult parts, I noticed how my body hadn’t quite learned to carry that practice to yard work yet.  When I heaved a shovel full of soil into the wheel barrow, I held my breath.  My breath was shallow and short.  As I lifted my shovel and moved the wheel barrow, I constantly reminded myself to take long, deep breaths.

It’s the breath that stirs things up and helps the body re-settle anyway.  “Exercise is all about the breath,” I was told once–we don’t get the same benefit from a work out or a yoga session or yard work if we aren’t letting the breath in and out like bellows, stoking our inner fire, burning off the grumpiness that comes from stagnation.

When we hold our breath to get through a difficult moment, we’re refusing the healing and energizing power of the breath.  When we put our heads down, give up our regular prayer lives, slack on our exercise regimen, stop responding to our friends’ calls,–just to get through a week or a season of busy difficulty–we’re holding our “breath,” refusing the healing and energizing power that God offers us through the Holy Spirit in prayer, in each other, in our own bodies, and in worship.

Whatever happens–especially in difficult, put-your-head-down, hauling soil kind of times, keep breathing.

Bill Nye, Ken Ham, and the Apostle Paul

Earlier this week, everybody’s favorite scientist from the 1990s, Bill Nye, went head-to-head with Ken Ham, founder of the Creation Museum.  It was the sort of showdown that you hoped both sides knew better than to engage, and yet there they were on network television on Tuesday night.  They were there to try to settle once and for all whether the world was created by God or came to be through evolution.

The problem that neither one seemed to notice, however, is that effectively, one of them came with a goalie stick, full hockey pads, and a helmet, while the other one came dressed ready to play catcher in a game of baseball.  They were both well-prepared, they had worked through all the proper arguments, each one was well-versed in the game that he was ready to play.

The problem is that they were ready to play different games, and even worse, they’d both showed up on a soccer field.  Let me explain:

Bill and Ken have gotten caught up in “lofty words” as Paul puts it in today’s Epistle lesson; they’re trying to use “plausible words of wisdom” to explain the “mystery of God.”  In 1 Corinthians, Paul cautions us against this kind of attempt, knowing that few, if any, converts have ever been made through intellectual persuasion or clever reasoning. Paul explains to his friends in Corinth that when he came to witness to them as a missionary, “[he] decided to know nothing among [them] except Jesus Christ, and him crucified’ (1 Cor. 2:2).

If you’ll excuse the crassness of the analogy, the mystery of God is the soccer field.  So if we’re not playing hockey, and we’re not playing baseball, how can we find and put on our soccer cleats instead?

We live in a world where knowledge is power.  Paul’s world wasn’t much different in this way; the educated people were the ones who held powerful offices in the government and in the community, and as Paul is quick to remind the Christians in Corinth, these powerful people were exactly the ones who sentenced Jesus to death (1 Cor. 2:8).  In the first century, as today, we learn from a very young age that there is a price to pay for doing something wrong.  We’re located just across the street from the Supreme Court of South Carolina; we know well that there are consequences for our wrong actions.

But what happens when Jesus comes on the scene?  There are plenty of questionable women, shifty businessmen, and mentally-ill people who have been shoved to the edges of the community, paying the price for their wrong actions.  Jesus walks straight toward them, embraces the ladies of the night, goes to dinner at the crooked shopkeeper’s house, and opens his arms to those who are made helpless by problems with their minds.  We don’t see consequences, we see love.

What does Paul mean when he says he knew only Jesus Christ and him crucified?  This is the Gospel.  This is why we come to church on Sundays, why we pray, why we do hard, good things like asking each other’s forgiveness, like forgiving someone who doesn’t ask, like getting married, like continuing to keep your word by showing up even if there’s no one to notice you’re there.

The mystery of God is contained in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.  We believe that God walked among us in a person, Jesus.  We believe that God’s way of living is so unreasonable in the middle of a consequence-ridden world that through our fellow human beings back in the first century, and through our own sinfulness today, Jesus was killed (1 Cor. 2:8).  We believe that even when evil did its worst—when the wise and powerful of first-century Judea murdered God incarnate, God brought Jesus back to life. Jesus submitted himself to consequences even though he spent his whole life forgiving everyone else’s.

This mystery doesn’t change.  We see echoes of it in the Old Testament, when God tells Abraham that somehow, a child, a son, will be born of two very old shriveled up bodies–the unreasonable, the impossible—our living God makes it happen.  The birth of Isaac, along with other Old Testament stories, point toward Jesus’ resurrection–these are not the sort of “plausible words of wisdom” that Paul speaks about as the stumbling block in Corinthians; they are, as Paul puts it “a demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (1 Cor. 2:4).

We’re not supposed to be able to explain everything in our world, how it came to be, how it all adds up.  We are supposed to witness to how it is that God builds a relationship with each one of us.  Our hope is not in words like “evidence” or “proof,” words that have come to bear a lot of weight in our society.

The living God, who we have all come to worship and encounter here today, sets for us the example of forgiving every person who hurts us, of not holding a grudge against anyone.  This God loves us just as much, whether we choose to pray and to study his Word, or to profess that he does not exist.  None of this, none of the Gospel, makes sense to us in a world where there’s always a price to pay if we’ve done something wrong.

This grace—the mystery of God’s love for us—cannot be explained away in a primetime debate, nor can it be put into words very well at all, despite our great literary efforts over the last many centuries.  God’s grace is best known by its being shown to us in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God incarnate.

God shows us that there is no power, no evil, stronger than himself.  Though we may feel helpless to our sins, unable to control our reactions, unable to forgive or let go, as if we can’t escape the way this world teaches us about consequences—despite all this–we prayed at the very beginning of our time together this morning that God would set us free.  We asked God to loose the bonds of sin that tie us up, the ways that we hurt each other and hang on to hate.  We asked God to then fill us up with his grace, with the abundant life that he first revealed fully in Jesus Christ.

“Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God” (1 Cor. 2:12).  Amen.

 

Come, Holy Spirit

Over the last two weeks, I’ve heard(/sung) the ancient hymn Veni Creator Spiritus as many times as I’ve heard it throughout my life–it’s been a spirit-filled few weeks (see: holy week).  This poem has been used by Christians since the 800’s to pray for the Holy Spirit to be present and come upon those who are gathered.  It’s used in the Episcopal church at ordinations, though its text is appropriate for any time one wants to invoke the Holy Spirit (every day, anyone?).

At the weekly Sunday morning breakfast here at the cathedral, someone asked me, “How do you get the Holy Spirit?”  I told him, “I think all you can do is pray for it.  It will come–probably when you don’t mean for it to show up.”  Another person asked, “Why are there so many different Christian churches, like Episcopalian, and all that?”  My response was immediately on my tongue, as if inspired, “Because we humans are really bad at listening to the Holy Spirit.  We have such trouble being truly sensitive to God’s movement and work, correcting our myopias, and practicing humility with each other that we break apart Christ’s body–the church–again and again and again instead of laying down our pride and committing to unity.”

With that lament, we pray: Come, Holy Spirit… enable with perpetual light the dullness of our blinded sight.