Today, if you hear his voice

Ben White's Adventures with softened hearts

How do Yoga and Christianity Intersect?

Talking about Yoga with Some Christian Yogis (#kamikazeyogi)

I’ve been looking for someone like the Reverend Kevin Flynn, an Anglican priest from Canada who practices yoga and writes about it. Yoga is a major part of the life of many people I love, and many people in the region to which God has sent me. I need help developing the theology of the intersection between Yoga and Christianity. I have tried yoga some, especially through the influence of my friend Anita Grace Brown. For Lent one year I listened most mornings to her podcast It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere in which she offers guided meditations with body movement suggestions. I liked the physical submission of doing what I was told in my earbuds and the variation of prayer, which was both distinct and similar to my usual practice of stillness and contemplation. It was a great way to focus.

Not surprisingly, Anita and I talk about this intersection all of the time. This week, she shared this post with me from Flynn, World religions: Christian Approaches and Reflections on his website christianspracticingyoga.com.  Anita is writing a book about her experience with Jesus and yoga called Kamikaze Yogi. I can’t wait to read it. It seems like she and Flynn are on the same wavelength, so I appreciate premeditating with this post.

How Inclusive is Jesus? (and How Exclusive are we?)

Flynn wants Christian to consider their posture toward other religions. He offers some common perspectives to help us identify. Anita and I are essentially always dancing around the divide between what Flynn calls the “Exclusivist View” and the “Inclusivist View.” Personally, for right now, I think I am closer to Flynn’s more generous subset of the “exclusivist” view, but I share his generosity and posture, or try to, toward other holy people.
This is Flynn’s paragraph that gets close to my perspective:

“A variant of [the exclusivist] view sees value in the human search for God but holds that God’s self-revelation in Christ fulfils and perfects these aspirations. This approach often speaks of non-Christian religions as “natural religions” and Christianity as “revealed religion.” While this variant ascribes real value to the natural religions, Christianity remains nevertheless inherently superior.” — Reverend Kevin Flynn

The language of superior or inferior is not quite right. I would say salvific or not salvific. The aim of Jesus is not well-being or holy living of his followers, though they are by-products of relationship with him. I don’t know how God will judge on the last day, so I don’t have to make any conclusions. In fact, Jesus tells me not to (Matthew 7:1-6); but I do know what Jesus said about himself and the great lengths that he went to in order to center himself as the means of salvation for all people. He seems to frustrate other paths intentionally, especially those which try to center religious practice. In the Gospels he seems like he really wants people to connect with him for who he is, not for what he offers. He wants a love connection, not a subscription to a system.

I want people to experience that connection with Jesus and I think anyone can through an explicit relationship with the real, living person Jesus is. He may be up to other things he didn’t talk about in scripture but these other ways are speculative. I’m a Bible guy, so I offer what I have been given without much sense of responsibility to codify things happening beyond that. Though I am intrigued and interested in the actual yogis I know, especially my friend, Anita, but also her friends and the others folks I’m always meeting. There are A TON of people interested in yoga, so I am interested too.

Following Paul in Athens (Acts 17 is the G.O.A.T.)

When it comes relating to World Religions I think a “yes, and” posture is the best. Like Paul in the Areopagus in Athens.

Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.

“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

“Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”

I would liken the technique of yoga to the gold or silver or stone in Paul’s speech, but not in a dismissive way (I don’t think Paul is being dismissive either). I see yoga as an amazing means for personal well-being made by human design and skill. At its best it brings people very near to an understanding of themselves as people who are in God — living and moving and having their beings. But the means of salvation which is Paul’s proclamation, and, according to Paul, God’s command, is that we need to repent — turn around. I think among the plurality of yogis I know, this repentance is turning from trusting the technique that they can control to trusting the living God that gives them the breath that leads their focused movement. Unfortunately, yoga in the United States is more often than not a commodity to be sold. The product is self-control, which when submitted to the Body of Christ as a gift from the Holy Spirit is incredibly fruitful, but when wielded for purely personal well-being it ends up being another source of misery.  It’s even worse when it is as a means of wealth generation alone. The maintenance of the tyranny of self that separates so many from God can be found as ubiquitously as the God who is “not far from any one of us.”

Thank God for Christian Yogis like Anita (and Kevin Flynn)

That’s why I’m so glad Anita is doing what she does. Yoga needs Jesus. But yes, the church also needs yoga, because the Western Church has been so dominated by Enlightenment rationality that many are divorced from their bodies completely and miss out on the wholeness of human experience that yoga undeniably affords many who practice it. Anita always says, “It’s East meets West.” God is doing a new thing. What Paul did in Athens was shocking then, so we must listen now to the Spirit and move with where God is moving next. Because God is not done calling all nations to himself, and humanity is still reaching out and finding him in surprising ways.

8 Comments

  1. Thank you for this post and being in thoughtful conversation with yogis and Christianity. Your friend, Anita, sounds awesome!

  2. Hi Benjamin,
    Thanks so much for your positive comments on my blog article. Suggesting “salvific or not salvific” in place of my binary “superior/inferior” is helpful. I’m inclined to say that any encounter with God — which I think yoga does offer, even if it is not yet in Christ — cannot help but have a salvific dimension. This is a point on which Christians clearly do differ.
    I entirely share your concerns about the marketing of yoga in N. America. Westerners, who love technique, may forget the asceticism that is required in both Christian and Vedic traditions and may end up using the powerful energies that yoga practice evokes and develops to turn into versions of Rasputin, to become a shaman rather than a staretz. The Self in the Vedic sense, just becomes a hypertrophied Western ego.
    You are right on about the way the Enlightenment has left so many Christians functionally disincarnate. We are so outside of ourselves, so external to ourselves, that we need yoga asana to go deeper into our own bodies and into the poetry of things. This is an ascesis of attention and wonder. Even our erotic energy with which we still struggle is to be transformed. John Climacus in his Holy Ladder says “May physical eros be for you a model of your desire for God.” So, too, Irenaeus writes: “The flesh is to be interpenetrated by the power of the Spirit, in such a way that it is no longer simply carnal but becomes truly spiritual through its communion with the Spirit…Just as the flesh is liable to corruption, so it is also capable of attaining incorruptibility.” And there is Tertullian’s famous statement in his treatise on the Resurrection of the Dead: “caro cardis salutis” – the flesh is the hinge or pivot of salvation.
    Peace,
    Kevin

    • Love all the patristics up in there, Kevin! Thanks for reading. our bodies and souls are not divided no matter how functionally they seem to be. On this we agree. We might disagree about the meaning of salvific and the particular work of Jesus. I’m not sure. What do you make of Jesus’ exclusivist sounding claims and actions? How do you reconcile them?

    • “any encounter with God — which I think yoga does offer, even if it is not yet in Christ — cannot help but have a salvific dimension.” My favorite line Kevin. Yoga done with Christ has completely transformed my carnal lower self which drove my sexuality in unhealthy ways toward creativity and abundant love which is pure and simplified. I now enjoy a mind directed by His purposes. A body who enjoys marital pleasures as evergreen. I remember one of the most powerful experiences attending the Universal Christ conference was when a stranger, a 65 year old man, told me how the practice turned his gaze from subject to object to subject to subject when looking at women’s bodies in class. I said– that’s the miracle of the practice!! tell everyone <3 Good news indeed

    • I replied too quickly!! Your last line Kevin is EVERYTHING– the flesh is the pivot of salvation…indeed it is. Once I fully allowed my sacral chakra energy to be transformed (which took me into a hell away from all light for more than 12 hours, lost, confused and crying out to Jesus– where are you? and why did you send me here??) I have entered the promised land, been restored to the garden and was led out of mental slavery. Praise God for loving me enough to allow me to trust myself in entering my dark night of the Soul and when I awakened, Jesus HimSelf placed a crown on my head.

  3. Enjoyed your clarity thanks

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