Worry not. You didn’t miss anything. I’m not going all Eastern religion on you.
Sometimes I go to church on a Saturday (actually, I always go to church on Saturday, who am I fooling? I am married to the Jim Bob Duggar of Korean Adventists. Saturday morning, a-churching we will go!). Then I go to yoga on Sunday. And the church and the yoga studio? I’ve realized they are not so distinct from the other.
Yoga starts and it is hot as all get out. That’s the point. You get all sweaty betty and your muscles loosen and hey! look! You’re contorted like a seahorse, you flexy lexi!
Church can be equally steamy, or it’s freezing cold. There is never a happy medium at church, have you noticed this? Either your make-up is melting off your face and the choir is passing out under its robes or you are shivering your tochis off and you no longer wonder why elderly women always wear seven cardigan sweaters on top of one another in July. It’s because they spend so much time grocery shopping and at church. Which are also the same thing: the frozen food aisle and church.
Once you get into the yoga routine, you are trying mightily to keep your third eye open, and I don’t even know what that really means, other than the yoga instructors always say it when we’re supposed to Be Mindful and Have Awareness. Awareness of how many women in the studio are wearing lululemon athletica and how I’m wearing Target yoga pants from 2001? Oh sorry, not that?
Everyone knows church is a fashion show. It will always be a showcase. The hats, the bags, the shoes, the dresses. I have nothing new to contribute to this, other than that I’ve lived in four different regions of the country: Midwest, Midatlantic, New England, Southeast and it is all the same. Except in the Midwest. People sometimes wear sneakers (white! ghastly!) to church and that is pure blasphemy in the South.
By the time we’re really into the vinyasa flow of the yoga class, the instructor will say something like, “Yoga is all about showing up. You show up for your practice and that is enough.” I always internalize this because this is often the point in the class when I do a faceplant onto my mat after attempting crow or eagle and then I remember I’m not a flying species. So I can hear the yoga teacher offering these platitudes for the class while totally looking straight at me (maybe with her third eye?), like, Hey girl. Points for trying.
Back when I was a reluctant churchgoer in the Haus of Catholicism, my old man told me that once I made my first communion, I had to go to church every week. And that happened. Every week for a long lot of years. You pretty much had to be hit by a stray bullet to get a church pass when I was growing up. When I got to college, I still went to church. I can’t say for sure if it was the Catholic guilt or if it was what my dad said, about having reached a part in my life where I was grown up enough to have to do something like go to church on a weekly basis. I’d like to think that somewhere I’ve always believed that we gain a blessing just by showing up. Sometimes our church practice, like our yoga practice, is just lazy and sloppy and tired. Sometimes we’re feeling strong and secure in our pew or on our mat and we’re smiling even when the sermon or the vinyasa runs a little long or gets a tad repetitive. Showing up. It takes courage, doesn’t it? For church where we sing and sit and listen and pick the play-dough out of the carpet that we foolishly brought thinking it would occupy our children when really it is occupying our time in the wrong way. For yoga we sit and bend and starfish out next to the guy who is sweating out the garlic he ate for lunch.
Church and yoga studios are, for all appearances, neat and tidy places. But they are in the business of doing very messy work. We sit on parallel seats, be they pews or mats, and we try to stay quiet except for when we’re not meant to be quiet, as with singing or heavy breathing. We follow our cues like good little boys and girls but then the past week’s stresses come pouring out, sometimes without warning. Something strikes us as true in a sermon or something pinches a muscle that we overexerted this week and the real messy stuff comes uninvited. And yet, this is precisely where it should be.
Because beyond the climate control and fashion show and the whole attendance policy is this sacred space where hurts are dealt with and minds are allowed to focus or run wild and people grapple with the eternal and the right now.
At the end of a yoga class, the yogis bow with their third eye and utter a Namaste. Sometimes they clap. Good job. I’ve been enriched by you practicing alongside me. Even if your lululemon swag offends me with its cuteness and your sweat is now all over my mat.
At the end of a church service, we usually close the service with a blessing and a song. The difference I see is that the work was not just about what happened here in the service, but ultimately, about what Jesus did for us; this worship was just a response to that glorious sacrifice, that eternal expression of perfect love.
We all need our sacred spaces where we feel a sense of predictable and orderliness but aren’t afraid to deal with the untidy business of life, either. The most important part, in my view, is that we be changed by the sacred, that we not file the experience away as another class, another worship service.
I want always to be changed because of what Jesus changed for this world and by what He is preparing for us in the next. I strive to be changed by showing up, no matter the weather inside or out, and no matter what I’m wearing on the outside or what’s happening to me on the inside.
Change me, Lord. That this little body might be something of its own little sacred space. Hot and cold, strong and weak, fancy and sloppy, totally neat and one giant mess in need of your grace.