Friday, October 31, 2014
Why Yoga when God Offers More?
"Be still and know that I am God."
Is that an order from God, or a suggestion?
Or is it His invitation to us? His invitation for us to cease working for the peace, joy, and affirmation we dearly desire for ourselves?
No matter who we are, or where we live, or what life experiences we undergo in our culture, there is only one way to God. And it's through His invitation, right?
That invitation is to believe that God loved you so much, that He sent His holy Son, Jesus Christ, to be the only possible righteous sacrifice for your sin - sin that otherwise separates you from peace with God.
It's such basic Biblical doctrine, we believers tend to minimize its truth, and what such truth means for our daily walk with Christ. We tend to adopt our culture's works-centric nature, and think there's something more that we need to do, or there's something more that we need to experience.
Sometimes, we can also read things like "faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen," and - however inadvertently - translate such existentialism as some sort of "all roads lead to Rome" justification for our individualized spin on the Gospel.
Or we read where the Fruit of the Spirit marks those people within whom God is actively working sanctification: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control. And we see how emotions are tied into many of these good pursuits. We can then seduce ourselves into evaluating the Fruit of the Spirit, and its efficacy in our lives, based on our perceived emotional satisfaction with them.
For example, what about peace? We search for ways to have peace when we're emotionally troubled inside. But we forget that God is the One Who gives us His perfect peace, through the power of His Holy Spirit. If we're trying to be peaceful by virtue of our circumstances, or mental outlook, or our personality, we may find a certain amount of contentment, but will it be God's peace? Or simply sanguinity?
The same thing works with joy. Do you regret how often you don't see joy in your life? Might the reason you lack joy have something to do with our society's definition of joy, which tends to be an euphoria we try to conjure up out of our circumstances? How many of us committed Christ-followers don't actually expect God to give us instead His non-emotional, non-circumstantial joy? Have we forgotten that His joy is freely available to those of us who utterly, implicitly trust in His sovereignty, omnipotence, and omniscience?
Instead, how many of us who profess to be Christ-followers end up following paths to love, joy, peace, and the other components of God's spiritual fruit that rely more on what we can derive for ourselves, than what God tells us He wants to do for us, in us, and through us?
Take yoga, for example. For what is yoga used? Yoga, according to its ardent practitioners, is a Hindu discipline combining breath control, body postures, and meditation to calm one's soul. In other words, it's a works-based philosophy for personal satisfaction predicated upon the practitioner's personal, unilateral proficiency in yoga's components.
Meanwhile, there is not one mention in the Bible about how physical agility, mental awareness, posture, physical balance, stretching one's muscles, and being "in tune" with one's inner self contribute to our faith. Calisthenics are not a component of the Fruit of the Spirit. Indeed, not one facet of the Fruit of the Spirit depends on any expression or interaction of mind/body harmony. Obviously, what we know in our mind needs to eventually be enacted through our mortality, as we are able, but wasn't it often the sick, infirm, and even paralyzed people to whom Christ ministered? God never tells us we can tap into our life force through things like "victorious breath."
Nevertheless, yoga has become wildly popular across evangelical Christianity in North America. Many evangelical yogis say they stop short of all the life force stuff, preferring to extrapolate the physical stretching and balance exercises from yoga's Hindu-based philosophy. They say their brand of yoga is more body-oriented than soul-oriented. And to the extent that evangelical yogis merely want to sound hip by saying their daily calisthenic exercises are "yoga" instead of "muscle stretching," perhaps there's little more to it than that.
But shouldn't any self-professing Christ-follower be careful about going even that far with yoga? Remember, physical health and keeping fit aren't bad things for any of us, but all good things can be abused.
Some people derive deep personal satisfaction from exercising their love of money. And we say that's an inappropriate - even sinful - abuse of money.
Some people derive what they consider to be peace and joy from drinking too much alcohol, or abusing drugs like marijuana. Or we overeat, abusing food.
Our exploitation of good things knows no bounds. Some people push themselves physically because they enjoy the adrenaline rush they can get from doing so. Eventually, however, runners can develop all sorts of physical problems by not understanding their body's limits. There is also an almost enjoyable weariness that can come from a vigorous workout. But does any of this bring us into the right relationship with God that we should have through His Son?
Is feeling energized from a good workout what God is talking about with the Fruit of the Spirit? So why do some Christ-followers practice things like yoga so... religiously?
Is there anything we can do to win His favor? As His children, is there anything we can do to physically obtain the Fruit of the Spirit? Are the calmness and tranquility that may be achieved through things like yoga the same as God's peace? Tranquility achieved through yoga will be corrupted the moment something unpleasant happens to you, but God's peace should surpass all of our understanding. And there's no physical pose into which we can contort ourselves to find God's peace.
A right and honorable relationship with God is achieved today the same way it's always been achieved: through faith, not physicality, or mental exercises. Some evangelical yogis may think they can pick and choose the aspects of yoga that help them feel better, and that don't directly conflict with Christianity. But if you need physical exercises to give you the sensations of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, how do you know if it's the Holy Spirit's work inside of you, or your own breathing and stretching techniques?
Remember, true yoga is not a Biblical concept.
Originally, yoga was created to provide its practitioners the very same qualities with which Christ's followers are blessed. And to many goal-oriented Westerners today, the idea that certain emotional and physical levels of contentment can be achieved through one's personal efforts helps to explain yoga's popularity. But, in a way - and my apologies if this is vulgar to you - isn't yoga kinda like masturbation?
It can only provide an acceptable substitute for the real thing as long as you, by yourself, are strenuously striving for it.
That's not to say that there isn't a certain amount of "striving" during the process of sanctification we Christ-followers endure. But we are to "let the peace of God rule our hearts."
"Let" it "rule." Allow God's peace to reign in your life.
Don't conjure it up yourself, or try to exert God's peace from the harmony of your muscles and brain. The peace of God isn't a hormone, or a chemical, or a point of reality.
It is His presence in us - and our relinquishment of everything we think we need to do and be - that creates the vacuum in our lives into which His genuine peace can flood. Peace not as a result of anything we do, but peace from realizing He's done it all for us.
Faith in God isn't a state of mind. It is death to self. It is the confidence that even if God's peace wasn't beneficial to us (which it always is), or emotionally rewarding in any way (which it doesn't necessarily need to be to be effective), the literal fact of it simply being something from God makes it enough for us.
All of God's gifts are good. How can anything replace them?
So go ahead, do your aerobic workouts, and call it non-spiritualized yoga if you want. But hey, why should it matter to you that you're doing something trendy? And beware of the trap of expecting any workout, or meditation technique, to accomplish for you what God wants to be able to do in you through the power of His Spirit.
Stillness. It's almost un-American to be still. It's almost sacrilegious, too, even in our ambitious evangelicalism.
But stillness is God's invitation to us. Do we exercise it?