Here's an email from Stefanie Dickens Underferth of Preston, regarding our errant handling of the yoga issue a few weeks ago -- I have a print column on that today, which I'll post here in a second:
I was deeply disheartened to read an article in the Post-Bulletin on Dec. 3 titled “Yoga is worship and idolatry.” The older I get, the more troubled I am when others use faith or religion as an excuse to judge or discredit another person’s belief. As someone raised in the Christian faith, I can understand and respect that yoga may not be a part of everyone’s spiritual journey. It is a large part of my own, however, and I feel strongly about shedding some light on the points mentioned in the article above, which I felt to be ignorant and unfair.
I can see that looking up yoga in the dictionary may lead some to put a face-value definition behind an argument that yoga is somehow blasphemous to anyone who is not a proclaimed Hindu. However, I have yet to encounter a yoga instructor who polls his/her students as they enter the studio. No one asks whether you are Hindu, Buddhist, Protestant, Muslim, Atheist, Jewish, Catholic, Agnostic, or Christian because all are welcome, embraced, and respected.
I certainly practice yoga for spiritual reasons. I happily chant "OM" in my own practice and along with my fellow classmates: a mantra that is used in the contemplation of ultimate reality. Within such meditation and mindfulness, one has a greater openness to being aware of positive thoughts and spiritual realities. “Namaste,” or literally “I bow to you,” is a greeting of respect for others. There are many interpretations of what it means in practice. My favorites include it being a symbol of gratitude and respect for others; allowing for the truth that we are all one when we live from the heart; an honoring of the place in others which is love, truth, light, and peace.
Interpreted from Sanskrit, those points sound quite similar to the message that Jesus Christ spread to his people, also in a very different language than the one I speak today.
I am sorry that Ms. Schleicher found meditation to be destructive to her faith and to lead her away from Christ. I believe meditation to be a form of prayer, and emptying the mind in meditation is a means by which to strive for peace and, for me, a way to let go of negative or destructive thoughts, both self-directed and those directed toward others. I assert that emptying one’s mind for this purpose does not separate one from her God, or Christ, or Savior but can only bring her closer to her divine power – that which exists within us and around us at all times.
Yoga does not “pretend to be sacred.” To me and many others, it is sacred. It is not “unspiritual and unfruitful,” and I believe that all people should feel welcome to practice the art form and embrace it in their lives, including Christians. It takes all kinds to make this world go round, and the more we open-mindedly experience of each other’s lives, the better we can understand and love one another.
Ms. Schleicher and I do have a fundamental difference of opinion. I believe there are many paths to the Divine, and I believe that there is more than one truth and more than one “right” religion. I am reminded of a message I recently heard that I will carry with me forever. When asked how he could respect other religions when he knew his own Jewish faith was “right”, a rabbi answered that God made trees, didn’t He? And if everything God made in His image was perfect, then why did He not make just one, perfect tree? Instead He made all kinds: oak, maple, sycamore, pine, etc. And all those many, perfect trees have branches, and they all reach out and up, toward the same place…to Him.
The Tree also happens to be one of my favorite yoga poses.
And here's an email from this morning, from a different perspective:
I write to express sincere appreciation for the article by Sara Schleicher. The well researched, well written article clearly exposes the contradiction of Christian faith that yoga presents.
Thank you to Sara Schleicher for the excellent article and to the Post-Bulletin for publishing it.