Christians and Yoga

By The Rev. Dr. Linda Privitera 

He appeared at the door of the church, holding a handout on Christian Yoga classes being 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 neighbour  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, of the videos and book he had written, or of his deep devotion to Jesus. In fact, Dev, who comes 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 An Invitation to 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 labyrinth 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 and table talk conversations on issues like regret, responsibility, and 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 on our property? Do they know we have held the citywide AIDS service and an 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.

(The Rev. Dr. Linda Privitera is an Anglican Priest from the Anglican Diocese of Ottawa)