Friday, February 10, 2006

His yoke is easy; his burthen is light

And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

On Sunday, my pastor used this verse as his support for his answer to the question, "Why should I pray when God is going whatever he's going to do anyway because he's so much smarter than me?" That's not quite how Pastor Daniel phrased the question, but that's the gist of it. Daniel's answer was that we pray in order to be intimate with God. That we will be happier and healthier in a deep relationship with God rather than just a casual acquaintance. He said that time and space matters when it comes to intimacy. Just like in a romantic relationship, you need to go out on dates, away from everyday life, to really feel intimate with someone. He said that this intimacy helps us to align ourselves with God's goals for our lives. Just like we have to really get to know someone well in order to work well with them (anticipating their needs, predicting their reactions), as we spend more quality time with God, we will live our lives more and more in a way that works well with what he's trying to do in the world. Pastor Daniel said that the reward that is promised to us for seeking intimacy is peace. As we align ourselves with God's goals through intimate, simple prayer, our heart and our head begin to want the same things. We get peace as the different parts of ourselves stop walking different directions, which means they are pulling at each other, and begin walking in the same direction. Pastor Daniel said that this peace can been in how people handle crises. He asked us to think of people we all know that seem thrown into disarray at the tiniest possible disturbance and of other people who remain solid through the most horrendous trials. Those who remain solid are more at peace. Their hearts and their heads want the same things. Writers in the Old Testament ask God to create in them an "undivided heart."

The pastor that married me recently asked me if I had any new insights about how I process faith and love and direction now that I seem to walking out the other side of a fairly huge storm. I sent him my rather lengthy response the Friday before Pastor Daniel gave his sermon. I wrote, "If I am centered and fully aware of myself and my surroundings in the present, I am less likely to get tipped over by the unexpected. Rather than walloping me because I wasn't paying attention, the future can only run at me in little taps because I am paying attention to the now and all futures must ultimately become the now."

That rather hifalutin sentence that parallelled but preceded Pastor Daniel's interpretation of what God's reward for our good prayer will be was not about prayer, it was about yoga.

I went to my first yoga practice on Tuesday and it felt so good. Like when I was a kid on the softball field, I forget to think about anything in my life while I'm in a yoga studio. Iyengar yoga puts so much emphasis on aligning the body exactly right and moving slowly but correctly into stretches that there isn't a chance to think about what I have to do next or how badly I messed up earlier in the day. I'm working so hard to remember to keep my knees lifted, my pelvis tucked, my chest open, my eyes straight and any number of other tiny adjustments in addition to remembering to breathe, it just never occurs to me to think about anything else. The word yoga means, "yoke," as in to yoke two animals together so that they will pull the plow or the cart in the same direction. By practicing yoga, we yoke our hearts and minds and bodies together toward one task with the idea that in life, we will be able to perform the same focus for all tasks what we have practiced in the studio. When I practice yoga, my heart and my head are in alignment and there, I find peace.

Yoga is just another form of intimate prayer. It is a way to go into my room and close the door. When I clear my mind, God can fill it. One of the women I work with was in therapy the day after her foot surgery and was told that she had to wiggle her toes for the doctor before she could leave so that he could be sure everything worked still. Her head wanted to do this but her body feared the inevitable post-operative pain and although she stared at her foot and tried to will the one end to wiggle, her toes would not respond. The doctor recognized that she was psyching herself out and told her, "Clear your mind and the toes will wiggle." Lo, as she began to center herself, the fear left her and the toes wiggled without being told to. In fact, she missed the success entirely because she had cleared her mind so completely that she forgot what she was supposed to be watching for.

The reward for pursuing intimacy with God is peace. Peace is when our hearts and our minds want the same thing. Yoga makes the heart, the mind and the body practice wanting the same thing. If you clear your mind, the toes will wiggle. Yoga creates intimacy with God.


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