I arrange my Mondays around a certain ritual, a yoga class taught by my gifted teacher, Mireille (Mimi) Mears. She’s from Belgium. From Charleroi, to be exact. It's about 30 miles away from Brussels. Her nephew lives a few minutes away from the attack site with his wife and three children under the age of 6. Mimi always closes our class with a ritual, this prayer/meditation/homily (with her beautiful Belgian accent) and yesterday was no exception.
Sloth. It’s not just a strange, adorable animal we love to watch in videos. It’s also one of the “Seven Deadly Sins,” and one that I find hanging around in my daily life.
I didn’t think about sloth in particular when I chose my Lenten practices for this year, but it turns out to be the very beast (sorry) I’m trying to walk away from.
To be clear, I’m a pretty active person. I walk to work, run long distance, and I’m also very social. But the fact is, every night I look forward to getting home and enjoying what I tell myself I’ve earned: as much time on the couch watching TV and eating as I want. It’s relaxing, I figure, and takes no mental or physical energy.
This is the proverbial sloth in the room.
Yes, unwinding is good, but here’s the problem: I’m not really getting any rest from this. Sure, I’m lounging, and my brain takes a rest if I’m watching something inane; but as a Christian, rest means something different than it does for other people. Rest means Sabbath. Sabbath is the day of the week that we hold sacred, the day when we rest from our usual work and worries, the day that we give back to God and use to worship God. So ironically, my approach to getting the sloth out of my life is to bring the Sabbath into it, at the end of each day.
The Supreme Court of India is weighing whether yoga has a religious element, as it decides if public schools may teach the ancient discipline in the country where it originated.
India’s school policy considers yoga an integral component of physical education. But the court has expressed caution, and is considering arguments that yoga has a religious component. The issue is complicated because India is a secular democracy but has pockets of Hindu nationals who would like to force their way of life on others.
“Can we be asking all the schools to have one period for yoga classes every day when certain minority institutions may have reservations against it?” the court asked Oct. 18, referring to Christian and Muslim groups.
A California judge ruled Monday that the teaching of yoga in public schools does not establish a government interest in religion.
The decision came after parents sued the Encinitas Union School District to stop yoga classes introduced to elementary schoolchildren in the upscale suburb just north of San Diego.
In his opinion, San Diego Superior Court Judge John Meyer explained that although yoga is rooted in religion, it has a legitimate secular purpose in the district’s physical education program. He also said the practice, contrary to parents’ complaints, does not advance or inhibit religion.
In an elementary school classroom with an American flag draped over one wall, a couple dozen students rose to standing positions. Then they shifted into poses called “volcano part one,” “silent gorilla,” and “rag doll.”
Some students may not realize it, but the semiweekly, half-hour course might be gone by the time they return in the fall.
In this upscale, seaside suburb just north of San Diego, parents have filed a lawsuit arguing the Encinitas Union School District should do away with the yoga elective because the discipline is inherently religious, and the teaching of it in the public schools violates the First Amendment.
Class began at dusk in a dimly lit studio facing Pacific Coast Highway as the yoga teacher appeared, adjusting the shawl draped around his shoulders, and took his seat on a quilted meditation pillow.
Because the sun was setting behind him, the teacher appeared in silhouette. I could only hear his voice as he guided us through the 90-minute Kundalini yoga class – a series of meditations, chanting, vigorous breathing exercises, and asanas (or postures).
“I want you to know that this is a safe place,” the teacher, Cole “Raahi” Jacobs, told us midway through class. “You can feel whatever you need to feel. You are safe here.”
I did. I was.
At the beginning of the year, I embarked on a two-month sabbatical to recover from a rough 2012. I needed to recharge, and resolved to rest, spend time with the people I love most, and find some kind of physical practice that would be restorative.
As I waited in the room heated to 105 degrees, my friend Molly looked for a sliver of floor space for her yoga mat. “I probably need a more relaxing type of yoga,” I whispered, almost apologizing for bringing my type-A body to the crowded Bikram class, known for its intense heat and addictive practitioners.
At exactly 10 a.m., the yoga teacher entered the room: I stood in unison with the other students, much like I rise for the procession at my church on Sundays. Surprisingly, much of what draws me to Bikram yoga also brings me back each week to the Episcopal church.
I grew up thinking a lot of things were evil: cursing, smoking, Texas A&M, Democrats.
But one thing that never fell into the “damned” category was yoga. I guess it just didn't come up. So I was more than a little confused when a few years ago, pastors across the religiously affiliated spectrum started condemning my workout class of choice.
Seattle megachurch pastor Mark Driscoll has said multiple times yoga is evil, concluding, “A faithful Christian can no more say they are practicing yoga for Jesus than they can say they are committing adultery for Jesus.” Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Albert Mohler said — and was later lambasted for it — that embrace of yoga is contradictory to Christian commitment. Even the guy at the Vatican who does exorcisms said yoga is the “work of the devil.”
To which my initial response — to quote the Dude — is … well, y’know, that’s just, like your opinion, man. (Er, I mean men. White pastorly men.)
I returned to Sojourners this week, after a three-month sabbatical. The time away was a deeply needed one, and did my soul good. It did my body good too, and I feel better than I have in years — much lighter and healthier than before.
Sunrise walks on the beach, yoga and prayer to the morning light, and then running along the waves put many things in perspective. Wonderful time with Joy and my boys — Luke and Jack — made me remember how blessed I am.
A main purpose of the sabbatical was to write a new book and, gratefully, I am now on the last chapter. It’s about “why Jesus came,” and the writing made me feel closer to him. Re-reading C.S. Lewis' Narnia chronicles, while on retreat at a monastery overlooking the Pacific Ocean at the beginning of my time away, set the tone for the sabbatical.
My favorite chapter in the new book is called “Aslan, Narnia, and the Living Teacher Who Walks Among Us.”