Roots in You

Trees cannot walk, unlike
homo erectus now sapiens.
But our silva relations
are stars at standing still,
the sine qua non for
paying attention.

Simone Weil once wrote:
“attention is the rarest and purest
form of generosity,” so making of trees
exemplars – always giving
shade and sap
breath and beauty
warmth and wood.

Posing like a tree
demands more of me
than I first imagine:
balance, humility, serenity
and finally, roots in You.

Notice What You Feel

When I was younger, I used to think it important to be strong. Now I know it is wiser to be flexible and balanced.

This applies to many levels – intellectual, spiritual, physical, etc. – but I am increasingly convinced that intellectual and spiritual insights have to be grounded in physical practices. I have always been physically active and have written in other posts about the ways in which running has been spiritually and intellectually enriching. But over the last few years I have been spending more and more time trying to keep limbs and such malleable and have mused often about trying yoga.

I decided that this recent lock-in was a good time to give it a go, and so I asked my daughters, who are my doctors in many ways, for advice and they suggested “Yoga with Adriene.” Adriene Mishler recently completed a 30-day program called “Home” and so I began watching her January 2020 series on YouTube some days ago. I just finished day 22 with the theme of “Stir.”

On day 22 Adriene made a comment that gave me pause. She said “You should not be in pain, but we do want to be in a place where we can observe sensation.” I am a beginner, but what is slowly coming to clarity for me is the goal of getting your body into a place where some new awareness of what you physically feel is evident. She often says “scan your body,” or “pay attention to what your body is saying to you,” or “notice what you feel” or like. When I was younger, I played football, where strength was king, and no-one invited us to “notice what you feel.” Numbness rather than awareness seemed to be the goal. I recall, for instance, a drill where we would jog on the spot and at the blow of a whistle fall jarringly to ground: no pain, no gain. Perhaps things have changed. I hope so.

In yoga we are invited over and over again to observe breath, body, and the beat of the heart. Balance and malleability are the collateral benefits of a practice that is about getting to know the body and so the self. There is a spiritual tradition associated with yoga, and the practice of yoga in North America has sometimes been criticized for underplaying this. I do not really know enough at this point to weigh in on the critique, but I know that the attention to the breath in my daily time with Adriene has caused me to think deeply on the breath of God: the Holy Spirit.

Next month I will be teaching an intensive course remotely called Spirit and Community. The theme of body should loom large when Christians think about community (often called the body of Christ) and the Breath that animates it. If the bible sees the body as a fit cypher for the spiritual community of Christ, then we need to take a careful look at how we apprehend the body. Although much still needs to be decided in how the course will proceed, one thing is clear to me. A healthy body is balanced and flexible. This is true for physical bodies and for communal bodies. How could it be any different for communal bodies that are Spirited?

This Work We Do Together

This week was the beginning, again, of school. It is always such an exciting time, meeting new students, imagining how the first classes will unfold, and knowing all the while that anything is possible. But one thing is certain: I’ll blink my eyes and it will be Christmas.

Time continues to race on in life. I see our students and can’t help but remember my own foray into theology so many years ago. I never imagined that one day I would be a part of the team welcoming students into a new world. So much is the same: nervous excitement, wondering whether the right choice has been made, and trying to navigate the best ways through academic life. But much has changed. These days there are more women than men in our classes, which are increasingly diverse in terms of race, religion, sexual orientation, etc. This diversity makes the classroom an exciting place!

It is odd, but when I consider the differences, the time seems long, and when I ponder the similarities the time shrinks. Theologians and philosophers have thought long and hard about the nature of time, but it seems that all of us have responsibility to make our peace with time.

Students of history know well that the capacity to mark time with watches and such was an important step in the journey to the modern world. Time drives our way of being in the world; being ever watchful of the clock, pondering how to make the most of each day. I am not one to look longingly to the past, but on this issue, I exercise this right. Our overcommitment to projects; our constant checking of time whether by wrist watches or devices demonstrates the kind of difficulty so many of us have in getting settled into a place. We are hounded by the keeping of time.

I know from personal experience that this sometimes dangerous. I do my best work when I work sabbatical into my week. When I am rested, and wrested from the busyness of life new ideas and possibilities pop into my mind. This allows me to be more productive when I get back to work.

I hope our students learn this lesson sooner rather than later. People who burn both ends of the candle do not typically excel. I, too, need to be reminded of this truth. Down time makes on time more productive, imaginative and effective.

Of course this is not only a lesson for students. Their professors owe them the same so that we are better able to be creative, helpful and engaged in this work we do together.