He appeared at the door of the church holding a handout on Christian yoga classes held in the parish basement. “Are you aware that this is devil”s work? That what you are promoting is dangerous?”
Jesus & Christian Yoga Classes
by: The Rev. Dr. Linda Privitera
He appeared at the door of the church holding a handout on Christian yoga classes held in the parish basement. “Are you aware that this is devil”s work? That what you are promoting is dangerous?” I was more than a little surprised at the condemnation and the fact that as a neighbor, not a member, of the church he thought that he could criticize and demonize what we are offering here.
He knew nothing of our parish process, of the interview I had conducted with Dev, or the videos and book he had written or of his deep devotion to Jesus. In fact Dev, from an Indian culture, looked a little like a mystical Jesus. Those who joined his classes found the body postures of Yoga incorporating Christian prayers to be centering, and moving them toward wholeness of mind, body and spirit. Those who participated became a mini prayer community and the silence was a blessing in itself.
Years ago when I was a priest of the Episcopal Church in the United States Nancy Roth and her book Christian Yoga were groundbreaking new information for me; I had thought that yoga was a discipline of another spiritual tradition and that there was no conversation between the two. I had to learn that the silent prayer I had practiced in monastic communities, the Buddhist sitting prayers, the chants and patterns of the Sufi still prayer were all vehicles leading to a deeper wholeness. I learned that the body prayers while walking a labryinthe or making a pilgrimage had much to teach me about how my faith lived in my head or my heart but not in my whole being.
I challenged the assumptions of the neighbor at the church door, taking him into our worship space and pointing out all the ways in which the parish honored its Christian commitments. And I told him how glad we were to have Dev as a part of our invitation to wholeness initiative that included prayers for healing, table talk conversations on issues like regret, responsibility, forgiveness. I thought for a while about how the neighbors perceive a church they are not a part of. Do they know how we feed the bodies of others, teach a cooking class for the suddenly single, donate to the Food bank that serves over 140 programs in this capital city? Do they know that we visit nursing homes each month and worship with the students at the local community college feeding them during their exam periods? Are they aware of our open table meals during the holidays for those who are alone? Have they seen the children taking photographs of the beauty of creation in our property? Do they know we have held the citywide AIDS service and a U2chaist in our space? That during Black History month we have had a distinguished senator from Nova Scotia speak about racism in Africkville or that our national Aboriginal bishop spent time with us when he made a justice statement on Parliament Hill? Do they appreciate the friendships we have with a rabbi, an Islamic scholar, a Hindu philanthropist?
If we are up to no good perhaps it is because we follow a Jesus who made it his work to reach out toward those who were not always welcomed. I think that we offer radical hospitality in this parish of St. Michael and All Angels in the west end of Ottawa and I am privileged to be their priest.
In Jesus’s Name,
Rev. Dr. Linda Privitera
St. Michael and All Angels Anglican Church
The Rev. Dr. Linda Privitera was born in Pittsburgh, PA and underwent seminary training at Yale University Divinity School, and was in the second graduating class of female ordinations. She achieved a certificate in Anglican Studies from Berkeley Divinity School. She was a priest in the Episcopal Church for 20 years, serving urban parishes with the most recent in Arlington, MA. Linda+ achieved her doctorate in congregational development from the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, MA. In her private time Linda+ is an artist (with the Foyer Gallery), an avid gardener, reader of mysteries, spouse to her partner Melissa, a mother, grandmother, sister and friend.
Thank you for writing this.
I have encountered this attitude of fear toward yoga from many people who have an us/them approach to their faith, and seem to experience divinity as something outside themselves. I have practiced and taught yoga for over thirty years, and it always makes me sad when parents of high school students pull their sons and daughters from physical education classes during the yoga segment, because they perceive it as un-Christian, and the work of the Devil.
My experience of yoga has always been a path to deeper self-knowledge and peace. It is a profoundly spiritual practice, without being religious, and deepens one’s connection with whatever God one loves.