Day 23: Yoga

December 20, 2021

My yoga mat, in my living room

Day 23: Yoga

From time to time when I pray, I think of the words of Henri Nouwen: “To pray means to open your hands before God.” In his little book With Open Hands he begins with the image of clenched fists. “When we are invited to pray we are asked to open our tightly clenched fists….You find yourself saying, ‘I would like it to be different, but it can’t be now. That’s just the way it is.”[1]

I have practiced prayer (quite imperfectly) for several decades. I appreciate Fr. Nouwen’s telling image of coming to God with closed fists. Another way I think about it is coming to God with head lowered, arms clutched angrily across my chest. (like a stubborn, unwilling child) Because, that is precisely how I am and how I feel when I come before God in prayer. Sometimes.

When I started to attend the yoga classes at my local YMCA, I knew very little about yoga. Yes, I had a basic understanding that traditional yoga involved spiritual practices like meditation, and releasing the mind from anything worldly or centered in this modern world. However, I also knew the very beginnings of a physical component to yoga, beneficial for stretching and exercising the body.

So, it was with this open, questioning mind and some expectation that I began yoga, once a week. I would also do cardio and weight training, but I added yoga to my routine.

As I became more accustomed to the moves and positions of my wonderful teacher Ina, over the months I began to still the mind, to keep a mindful awareness yet still, calmness as I moved through the various positions and moves called for by my instructor. (Did I mention that I just love my yoga instructor? A retired hospice nurse, and so knowledgeable about the physical body.)

I slowly came to sense myself calming as I began yoga practice. As I wondered about it, and thoughts about what yoga practice was doing for my body, my muscles, my tendons, and my general flexibility, I realized that this mindful awareness that I was learning to practice was very similar to the contemplative practice that several of the wonderful teachers on prayer and meditation told me to try to accomplish.

As Fr. Nouwen and others have said, I find my mind, heart and spirit unclench – when I practice yoga. I not only feel these beneficial effects upon my physical body, but I am also aware of the freeing nature of this contemplative mindset that yoga encourages me to practice.    

And one last thing. Yes, I am aware of the spiritual and religious (non-Christian) nature of certain kinds of yoga practice. No, I do not practice these ancient philosophical or religious traditions. Just as certain groups of people from other places in the world practice various kinds of meditation or contemplation does not mean that I follow them lock, stock and barrel, as well. However, I believe God is pleased with the mindful, prayerful awareness and contemplation that I have begun to practice when I practice yoga at the same time.

Many blessings to you as you practice mindful, prayerful awareness and contemplation, too.

@chaplaineliza

Thanks to the website www.contemplativemind.org for their excellent image the Tree of Contemplative Practices.

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: www.pastorpreacherprayer.com, matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks! )


[1] Nouwen, Henri J.M., With Open Hands (Ballantine Books: New York, 1972), 4.

Day 4: Meditation

December 1, 2021

Chicago Botanic Garden, Japanese island, photo credit Elizabeth Jones

Do you meditate?

Many people around the world meditate on a regular basis. Many of these people come from a variety of faith traditions. That is, vast numbers of people who practice meditation come from a faith tradition other than Christianity.

I did not know much about meditation when I was growing up. (I guess there were not too many Lutherans who were in the habit of regular meditation during the 1970’s, at least in my area.) By the time I really got interested about different types of prayer – which was during the late 1980’s – I found a number of books published about meditation and contemplation. And, these books came from a variety of different faith traditions.

If no one in your family or among your friends practices meditation, it might indeed seem different.  But, is meditation any more different than certain types of prayer that are practiced in many homes of devout Catholics in the Chicago area? Or, the types of prayer practiced by Orthodox acquaintances of mine around Chicago? This is an honest, sincere question. (I really would like to understand!)   

I love the simple definition given by Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh: “Meditation is simply the practice of stopping and looking deeply.” [1] That means to me stopping and looking deeply – with no judgment.

A snap response might be: “Oh, that is easy!” But, is it? A non-judgmental, open, interested stop, with a deep gaze – this might indeed be a challenge, whatever your faith tradition!

Thich Nhat Hanh goes on to say, “With mindfulness and concentration you can direct your attention to what is there and have a deep look. You can begin to see the true nature of what is in front of you.” [2] Isn’t this a way of looking at things (and people) the way God must see them? At least, starting to see them with God’s eyes?

I have practiced the different ways of meditation and contemplation this monk suggests in this small book. Mind-opening, to say the least. I cannot meditate on a regular basis, because my mind is too wedded to the written word. (I really enjoy praying with Scripture! But, more on that, later.) However, when I do try to meditate, I receive rich rewards. God knows that this is not my preferred way of praying, and I believe God honors that, and understands.

Yes, I have meditated, a number of times. I have been refreshed! And, I deeply respect and honor Thich Nhat Hanh, and his practice of coming before the Holy. This slim, little book holds a valued place on my bookshelf devoted to books on prayer, contemplation and meditation.

Please, pray with me. Dear Holy One, thank You for many different understandings of You and how You are in the world. How You relate to individuals, as well as how You might be as different people approach You in different ways. Thank You for helping me to open myself to new experiences in prayer. Thank You especially for this little book How to Sit. Help me glean words of wisdom and ways of prayer and meditation from its pages. In Your divine Name I pray, amen.

@chaplaineliza

Thanks to the website www.contemplativemind.org for their excellent image the Tree of Contemplative Practices.

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: www.pastorpreacherprayer.com, matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks! )


[1] Nhat Hanh, Thich, How to Sit (Parallax Press: United States of America, 2014), 18.

[2] Ibid.