Sunday, October 18, 2020

Separation and Intention


Matthew 22:15-22

The Pharisees went and plotted to entrap Jesus in what he said. So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.

Every time I hear this Gospel my first thought is “separation of church and state.” Jesus could have been a founding father. It took more than a thousand years from the time this statement was made for this to become even partially true.  Three hundred years after Jesus’ death Emperor Constantine’s conversion to Christianity and declaration that Rome was a Christian empire cemented Christianity’s place as one of the great world religions.  Certainly, this cannot be considered a separation of church and state.  Queen Elizabeth II is considered the Head of the Church of England.  We all still struggle with separating our religion from our countries, as Jesus intended us to do.

If I am to be a Christian and follow Jesus, how does my practice of yoga fit in? Is it separate? Is it a violation of Christianity to practice yoga? Is yoga church or state? In a word yoga means yoke or to join together. Thus, my short answer to these questions has always been “No” it is not separate but informs my Christianity and, more importantly, my ethics. The study of Eastern Religions deepens my Christianity. Yoga is church and state, depending on your personal intention.

The follow up question is normally, “Is Yoga Religious?” the answer is not so simple.  For me it is not, but it is spiritual, for others it is completely secular OR completely religious. The teachings of yoga as applied in the West are mainly secular.  What you experience in a health club is not religion or even philosophy but more health oriented. What you experience at an ashram in India may not be the reduction of physical pain but more spiritual or religious.  Yoga is vast. And as stated by Gary Kraftsow [founder of viniyoga] in the discussion Yoga As A Religion*, “If you have a deeper initiation into the broader tradition of yoga, then you recognize that what's relevant for one individual or group isn't the same as another. If you see what is going to be appropriate for the individual or the group you're working with, you can adapt and give them what's going to serve them. You don't want to shove mantra and prayer [at] someone who's not interested in it. The role of a teacher is to be able to assess appropriately the context that they're teaching [in] and adapt the tools appropriately so that it serves the people that you're working with. So it's not like there's one thing and that we're doing some kind of fragmentation. I think the deeper initiation and understanding you have of yoga, your responsibility as a teacher is to make it available and accessible to the individuals that are coming to you for help at whatever level they're coming. That's the emphasis of Krishnamacharya's [father of western yoga] teaching—that yoga is for the individual. It's not about the teacher; it's about the practitioner. And our job is to provide for them what's going to be useful for them where they are when they're coming to us.”

If yoga is so vast how do we discern its usefulness in our own lives? Brooke Boon of Holy Yoga states in the same discussion*, “I believe that we were created in the image of God, for the glory of God, for the worship of God. And all of the things that we're talking about in terms of Western yoga that we practice in gyms and in studios-the pranayama[breath], the meditation, and the asana [poses]—all three of those things are addressed in the Bible. I believe that yoga is a spiritual discipline that draws you closer to God. And so, if that is true, then the intention of my heart trumps the posture of my body. I think if some of these people [who] are fearful about yoga looked to the word of God in terms of the modalities of yoga, I think it would ease the apprehension.” As I stated earlier, my study of Eastern Religion informs and deepens my Christianity.  My intention is to draw closer to God.


*Yoga As A Religion?

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