Michele Minehart

words & yoga

Category: Yoga (page 1 of 3)

Sunday Sermon: The Passage that Changed Me

As an eternal nerd, I feel nearly everything I read leaves a mark on me somewhere. Some marks are more noticeable than others. I might notice evidence of a reading in places that no one would likely see, a more private evolution. Other passages and ideas look more like a big scar across my cheek or a limp in my gait. They change me forever.

One such reading is in the Bible, the letter to the Galatians, as Eugene Peterson translates it. (He renders it in more of a thought-for-thought medium, as opposed to literal word-for-word. While I do appreciate precision in language, his work feels much more congruent to the whole, which is why I love adding this version to my regular rotation).

This passage, in chapter 5, verses 22-23 (although the original letter lacked such demarcations), Peterson writes the words of Paul:

But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard — things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely. (Emphasis mine).

This is much more beautiful, meaningful and helpful than listing the one-word Big Ideas of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self control.  At different times in my life, I’ve turned to the above reading and noticed the way God had indeed proven faithful and left the sprouts of such fruit. By and large, I now read it and hunger for the fruit he paints in this picture.

As you might guess from the emphasis I added, there’s a particular element that will continue to show up over and over and over again. A conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. Even after years of “Christian Living,” when I stumbled upon this little gem my world was shaken. But rather than a shake like earthquake that destroys everything you built, this rattle was like a trip to the chiropractor that returned my body to alignment.

A conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. Living God’s way leads to a recognition that it all belongs to God because it was all created by God. God is in all things. I remember teaching junior high students Ephesians 2:10, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Every student was given a jar of play-doh and ask to create something – anything. As we shared our handiwork, we noticed how the creator’s fingerprints were evident throughout each piece of art. The created bears the mark of the Creator. 

If it’s true of each of us, it’s true of all of us. And all things God created. Which, at last count, was every living thing. “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.” (Psalm 150:6)

This sounds beautiful, but one has to wonder why this became such a game-changer for me. It seems logical, yes? I could probably say that I believed such a theory, would agree to such a creedal statement. But reading this collection of words helped me to change my modus operandi. I didn’t simply agree with such an idea. I needed to live like it was true.

Every single person, place and thing I encounter bears a mark of divinity. The cashier at Meijer has God’s fingerprints on her. The bread that I bake comes from flour, from grains of wheat, which could only grow with the sun and the rain and the natural life-to-death-to-life processes of the seed which God set into rhythm. The trees I walk beside have lived and known God’s presence long before I stepped foot on this earth.

The world is not a group of objects set before me solely for my own enjoyment. Each and every being bears a mark of divinity. To live with “goodness” means to live with a recognition and a respect. I honor my own created goodness. And I look for, seek out, point toward that same created goodness in other living beings.

Yoga finally gave me a word for this: nameste. The light that is within me sees and honors the light that is within you.

This idea, honoring all of God’s created order, is the backbone of the first testament. (And the second, for that matter.) The laws which seem obtuse and irrelevant were God’s way of asking us to consider treating his work with respect. “Eating kosher” considers the cheeseburger abominable, but it is less about the cheese and more about remembering the life of the mother calf and the baby calf that provided the meal. God is ordering us to honor the divine image in that life. For some people, this results in abstaining out of respect. For others, it’s a blessing and a recognition that the meal comes from a place outside of ourselves but bears the same created mark as that which is within us.

In the beginning, God created humankind with an imago dei, a divine image. It remains there, underneath all that we believe we “really are”, the many ways we identify ourselves. Under the good, the bad and the ugly remains the essence of God. Living with goodness means recognizing that in all things and treating them accordingly.

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Strength and flexibility

I can often tell at the outset of the week when I’m about to get myself contorted. My schedule paints an accurate picture of the times of my life when I ignore reasonable boundaries of pace and order. I use my flexibility to work and rework the schedule until I can fit everything I want into it. And if I move quickly enough from item-to-item, I can complete the process without noticeable  effects.

I hyperextend. Instead of being strong, I flex. The parts of me which bend well, I allow to hold all the weight.

Let’s back up. Certain parts of our bodies were designed to work in certain ways. Some parts operate to provide us with strength and stability. Take our long leg muscles, our glutes, and the many core muscles that wrap around our midsection. They hold us up.

Other parts give us flexibility and movement. Our joints allow us to bend, our shoulders and hips rotate to allow us to walk, reach and grasp. They move us.

Having one of these abilities without the other significantly impairs our experience. Most humans have some degree of both in their lives, but very often we have a favorite mode from which we operate. For example, I tend to hyperextend in my joints. Where the average elbow will stop, my elbows will see how many more degrees it can stretch. This sounds fancy and fun until you turn 65 and have spent your life asking your shoulder function as your back muscle should have been all along, because it often turns into other issues. The joints get inflamed and fired up at the overuse.

For folks who operate out of their strength, change of position becomes a challenge. That hamstring is a humdinger of a powerhouse for athletes, propelling bodies faster down the field. Yet it can be a challenge for many people with such powerful strength to bend over and touch their shins, let alone toes. All strength and no flex spells injury when you try to perform in not-so-perfect conditions.

Neither operating out strength nor flexibility is “bad” or “good.” They just are.

As my teacher says, “As the body, so the soul.”

So my hyperextension manifests itself in my life as well. I can bend and work a schedule until I can do everything I want, often to the expense of other people or my own exhaustion.  Other folk do the opposite. We all have our ways. We figure out our shortcuts based on our habits.

So now, I reflect.  I’m asking the flexibility of my schedule to hold me up when perhaps I shouldn’t be (such regular activity will eventually result in burnout, I’m sure). So where are the places designed to give me strength and stability and life that I don’t tend to lean into?

Perhaps my schedule isn’t the only place I ask flexibility to do the work. Marriages, friendships, nutrition, rest – all of these things can be sources of strength or flexibility. But in what ways do they exhibit evidence of over-extending or strength to the point of rigidity?

As the body, so the soul. So, for now, I watch, I listen, I observe. I notice the habits and perhaps I will decide to try a different way of moving about in this world.

Visit me elsewhere:

Empty Branches

Last weekend, because I’m not proficient with ceiling fan instillation, I was relegated to working in the flower beds. The Lamb’s Ear and the hostas waved dry and empty stalks. The decorative grass was seedy and eating our front porch. A few other things, no longer recognizable, were completely dried up. The place was a mess of dead leaves.

In the hour I spent hacking and chopping and trimming and scooping, I gave a lot of thought to the the autumnal processes. Plants, after living the glory of full bloom, offer new seeds to disperse into the world and then, generally, spend the next several weeks in hospice. The classy ones, like the oak trees and burning bushes, use brilliant hues to say their goodbyes while others simply shrivel up and the next thing you know, you have empty branches.

Nature pretty much self-directs this process. Trees aren’t shocked when they end up naked; in fact, so goes the cycle of life. In order to have new life, we must rid the old growth. The simple truth remains: nothing new will grow where the old hangs on past its season.

This past week I participated with my yogis in what we call an “Ayurvedic Reset.” There are several components, most notably the mono-diet of kitchari. I ate it for lunch and dinner all week; kitchari is considered the “child’s pose of food”, a gentle place to find your breath again.

Quite honestly, I enjoy kitchari… about once a week or so. The last batch I made ended up tasting quite awful to me. Part of me wanted to join in for the fish tacos and call my near-week’s abstinence “close enough.” So many other things sound more delicious. Like tacos. Or, by the end of a reset week, maybe even leather shoes. Or chalk dust. Honestly, I love food so much that restricting me to one type is nothing short of torture.

So why participate in such practices? Life is short, eat the brownie used to be the motto of my college years. Which is true. I’ve decided never to turn down a plate of my grandmother’s noodles for similar reasons.

If you get into certain spiritual circles, fasting often comes up. You can’t swing a cat without hearing “every time I get hungry I just pray.” And that is nice. Well done. I’m glad people find that element of the fasting practice helpful. I do not.

But here’s what I’ve learned: by limiting my diet, I practice how not to limit my joy. 

Food brings me joy! It’s a love language. I believe Shauna Neiquist will back me up on this. And, as you would have it, Rob Bell. He spoke to me personally on this. Well, through his Robcast, recorded weeks prior… but I heard it while in the want-to-quit middle of my reset and it resonated deeply. He said we tend to mis-believe our joy is limited to only the food, drink, habit or sensation we’re craving.

And I thought back to my flower beds. Each branch sprouts only one leaf at a time.

A healthy tree will bloom over and over, enjoying new seasons with something different on its fingertips. What if the same is true for our souls? We can practice enjoying something, and then set it aside so to allow room for something else just as joy-worthy to sit down for a spell.

So perhaps we take a cue from the trees and realize we need to let a few things go? Just for a time, a season, a purpose – let them fall. Because when we do, we will likely find something new is able to grow.

I want new things to grow in my life, but I don’t get to have that without a regular cycle of letting things go. “Clearing space” is a mantra I keep close.  This can mean getting rid of stuff that was once vibrant. But nothing blooms year-around (at least not in these parts) without manufactured conditions; hibernation is key for a plant to offer something again in the spring.

And so it goes for our souls. It’s time to let go of the things which have passed their season. Perhaps not forever, but for now. If you want something new to grow in the future, it might be time to put things into right places. And maybe, right now isn’t the time for new growth. Right now is the time to get settled in for the long winter’s peace. Some things, including you, are allowed to go dormant for a season.

As the trees show us, letting go can be quite beautiful.

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