Welcome to the Yoga Church Sunday Sermons.
February 10, 2019
People don’t usually expect their minister to be a yoga teacher.
They also don’t expect their yoga teacher to be a minister.
But here I am!
This combination has given me the opportunity to work with so many different kinds of people. And I’ve had the great pleasure of coming alongside many of them as they wrestle with big questions.
In this week’s sermon I respond to the reflections and questions of three wildly different women.
This sermon is about faith, belief, and spiritual practice. And no matter where you find yourself on the spectrum between deeply devout and firmly atheist this sermon has something for you.
What do you want to have faith in?
Awhile back, someone asked me to write a sermon about faith. She said that “faith” is something that’s drawn her for many years—it’s something that feels important to her, even foundational. But she also said that she’s not sure what faith means to her or what it is that she has faith in, or what role faith does or should play in her life.
These are big, potent questions—full of transformational potential. They’re related to so many different aspects of our life and being. And they’re not just her questions. They belong to all of us. I’ve heard so many different versions of them expressed by so many different kinds of people. Let me give you just two recent examples.
I’ve worked with a lot of people who were raised in a particular faith tradition who as adults struggle to find a sense of faithfulness that feels authentic to them.
Let me share the words of a woman currently searching for her own sense of spiritual authenticity. She wrote:
“I grew up in and out of church, but I attended a Christian liberal arts college where I felt both compelled to explore Christianity and repelled by Christianity. For the last 6 years since college, I have put Christianity and religion on a shelf. It felt like something I couldn’t “solve,” and by “solve” I mean that I couldn’t figure out my repulsion to the word “God” and the discomfort I felt in worship of this God. And yet I still crave ritual, and spiritual practice. I want to come to terms with a fulfilling spiritual practice; I want to determine what I believe in.”
I’ve also had the pleasure of working with agnostics and atheists, who bring totally different perspectives to questions about faith and belief. Listen to this email I recently received:
“I’m not sure why but lately I’ve been wondering, is trying to learn more about spirituality even for me? I don’t believe in God, or souls or spirits really. It’s not that I don’t want to. I just don’t. I think consciousness is mainly an accident of human evolution. I’m open to other ways of looking at consciousness, though, and I know that no one really has the answer and we don’t really know what consciousness is for sure. I think that even though things happen because of something else, life is mostly chaos, and that trying to be kind to ourselves and others is the best way to deal with the chaos, uncertainty, and grief we all face.”
These reflections and questions from three very different women light up my heart. And they highlight the immensity of certain questions. Certain questions simply don’t have one, perfect answer. Faith—which encompasses belief, religion, spiritual practice—is a big idea and there’s no one right way to understand it or enact it. But I truly believe it’s an idea worth wrestling with.
I want to point out that when we start talking about the concept of faith, we often go right to the big unknowns, which actually leads us to talking about doubt instead of faith. But it’s important to understand that faith is a part of daily life. It doesn’t have to be esoteric. As a word, faith simply refers to having trust and confidence in something or someone. Do you have faith in anything or anyone? Is there a partner, close friend, or family member that you trust—like deep in your bones trust? Are there things in the world that you can reliably be confident about? Do you believe that 2+2 will continue to equal 4? Do you have confidence that the sun will set tonight and will rise again in the morning?
We all have faith. I invite you to look at your life, your habits, your relationships. I promise you’ll discover that you have faith in a lot more than you realize. And paying deeper attention to this practical, everyday kind of faith will help you dig more deeply into aspects of faith that exist in relationship to belief and doubt and mystery.
Now, I’m not the kind of minister or teacher that’s ever going to ask you to have blind faith in anything. And it wouldn’t matter if I was, because authentic faith grows from deeply personal, experiential knowledge. You get to decide what you want to have faith in. And then you get to practice building that faith. Because faith and practice are intertwined. They depend on each other. Let me give you a really practical example of what I mean…
When people come to see me for yoga therapy because of back pain, one of the things I offer them is a simple movement practice designed to stretch and strengthen the muscles of their back. Hopefully they leave with enough faith and trust in me that they’re willing to do the practice—the work—I’ve given them. If they go home and put forth the effort to do the practice every day, their back pain will more than likely ease. And as their pain lessens, their faith in the movement practice will grow. Their faith is no longer about me as their yoga therapist. It’s about the exercise that is helpful to them. They’ve built faith that if they do the exercise everyday, their back won’t hurt. This is what I mean when I say faith comes from personal and experiential knowledge.
If you’re struggling to understand what faith means and what role it should play in your life… If you’re struggling to figure out what you believe… If you’re wondering whether or not spirituality is even for you, I invite you to reverse engineer the problem a bit. Authentic faith and belief and spirituality aren’t the kinds of things that can be forced or rushed or solved… They grow from an inward desire, and are followed by seeking, trust, effort, practice, and experiential understanding.
The yoga therapy example I just shared began with a desire to be free from pain. We can walk through another example. One where the starting desire is spiritual authenticity and meaning in life. We know that desire is followed by seeking. So the next step is to seek out a teacher and a set of teachings you can trust. But the teacher isn’t the answer. The teacher is no more than a guide. And the teachings don’t provide the belief. They provide a map. Every single one of us—with the support of the guide and the map—has to do our own work. We have to be willing to show up and put forth the effort of honest practice. We have to wrestle with our own biggest questions and doubts until we find some sort of experiential knowledge that’s meaningful to us.
The process of faith begins with a desire. You have to listen inward. What’s the inkling in your heart calling for? You have to discern what you want to have faith in. And then you have to actively search after that faith and find the right practices that will help that faith grow. You have to find the practices that effectively respond to the call of your heart.
It needs to be mentioned here that we live in a diverse, global world. In our searching we have access to so many different ideas and systems of faith and belief. We must decide what’s right for us. In my yoga therapy example it’s important to note that if the exercises—after dedicated practice—hadn’t helped the person’s back pain, they wouldn’t have gained faith in them. They would have started over and sought out something else, physical therapy or even a surgeon.
One word of caution here though… In order to find something of deep meaning you have to be willing to go deep yourself. If you spend your life in the seeking phase, trying a little of this and a little of that and a little of this and a little of that, you’ll never plum the depths of anything. Searching after faith and belief and meaning isn’t a superficial endeavor. You have to stay with your practice long enough to discern what answers it holds for you. You have to stay with your practice through the hard parts and even the boring parts. You have to be willing to wrestle with the mystery of it all.
And on that note, I’m going to stop. Even though there’s so much more to say on this topic. But next week we’ll dive deeper into it through the telling of a story. Because one of the things I have faith in is that there is great power in a good story.
In the meantime, keep listening inward to the desire of your heart. What do you want to have faith in? Only you can answer this question for yourself.
- Look around your daily life for all the things you have faith in… How can this everyday faithfulness support a larger idea of faith in your life?
- I shared an example of a person with back pain trusting me as a yoga therapist to give them movement exercises. The person dedicated themselves to the effort of the practice and their back pain eased. Their faith in the exercises grew. They had faith that if they did them everyday, their back wouldn’t hurt. Can you think of an example like this in your life? What action have you done over time that helped to grow your faith in something?
- What’s the inkling of your heart calling for?
- As you look ahead in your life, what do you want to have faith in? What kinds of practices will help you build this faith?
- Are you willing to stick with your practice long enough to hear the wisdom it has to offer?
We all benefit from the wisdom of spiritual community. And community means more than one voice, so please add yours to the conversation. What did this week’s sermon and reflection questions spark in you?