May 7, 2017
A really interesting – and somewhat neuralgic -- topic surfaced during this Lent’s soup and sermon program. It deserves more attention and broader, too.
Yoga is a religious discipline that arose centuries ago in the context of Hinduism. There, it is an ascetical practice whose purpose (like everything in Hinduism) is to free the practitioner from the forces that keep him or her locked in an endless cycle of reincarnations. In recent years – in the West -- it has come loose from those religious roots and become a ‘secular’ form of ‘physical exercise’ whose purpose is to create limberness and ‘centering’ in the face of the stresses and pressures that disturb the inner peace and balance of the individual.
‘Yoga’, as practiced at the nearest spa could not be more different to Yoga as practiced by a serious Hindu on the bands of the Ganges. They are, in fact, totally opposite to each other. The goal of the western practice is personal and individual; the eastern practice is ordered to the extinction of the individual person in nirvana.
I am not opposed to inner peace or physical suppleness; nor am I a practicing Hindu. But as a ‘sorta’ religious person and a teacher of religion, I think it is important that we pay attention to the tendency of ‘first world’ countries and cultures and inhabitants to take artifacts and practices and – in earlier times, people – from other climes and cultures and bend them to their own purposes as if they had no inner life or nurturing context of their own.
Lest I be accused of singling out the practice of ‘yoga’, let me point out that every Lent I mention the difference between fasting and dieting. I also try to school penitents away from confessing because it makes them feel better, or coming to Mass because it makes them feel good rather than seeking real pardon for real sins and really deepening insertion in to the Body of Christ that Church is and receives in the Mass.
You see, religion and religious practices, because they point up and work against the unbridled egotism of western, consumerist cultures, can do a lot to make our world a better place. But when they are cut off from the ultimate goal for which they were created – communion with God and our neighbor – there is a kind of perversity at work that demands our attention.
Jesus warned against this when he asserted that Not everyone who call me ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the kingdom of heaven; only the one who does the will of my heavenly Father.
Personal health and well-being are not ‘off label’ uses of religion; they are the fruits of practices that limit and corral the ego and consumerism and self-seeking. To the extent that these fruits remain merely ‘personal’, they are opposed to religion – whether that religion is Christianity or Hinduism.
Be patient, please. I want to spend next week’s space looking at this from the other end.
Really and truly and faithfully yours,