Welcome to the Yoga Church Sunday Sermons
Early Winter 2020 | Opening to Mystery
Happy New Year!!
2020. Pretty wild…
There’s so much talk about goals and resolutions and hopes and dreams right now. And some of it is useful.
My husband and I spent New Year’s day sitting in the sun talking about obstacles we’ve found our way through, things we’re proud of, and the big stories we need to let go of (an ongoing task). We talked about what’s real right now. And we decided we’re ready to be more playfully curious. You might have figured out that I can be overly serious! So I’m challenging myself to learn some new things just for fun. My first experiment: sourdough bread. (I’m not great at bread making…)
But as I said last week, there’s a lot that’s not useful about resolution season…
If—after reading the tenth post about someone’s “perfect year” or the millionth ad selling “10-steps to a better you”—you find yourself falling into anxiety, self-judgment, and sadness (or whatever other emotion), please stop!
Let’s rest in this moment of the cycle of life and be kind to ourselves.
Let’s take a break from outward performance and listen to the deepest desire of our heart.
This week’s sermon is about yearning. When you listen deeply inward, what do you yearn for?
Yearning is a feeling. And it can be hard to talk about…
So in this sermon I share stories. I talk about evangelicals, atheists, the unknowable name of God, two characters from the Hebrew Bible, and Krishna’s true form. It doesn’t really have an ending (yearning isn’t about resolution), but I’ll admit my writer’s heart wishes I could change the last word from inspired to enchanted. 😉
And I’ve got some good reflection questions and a super simple mantra & breath practice for you at the bottom of this page.
Early Winter Part 2: Yearning
And for the readers…
I once tried to become an atheist. And I utterly failed. I wasn’t raised with institutional religion; so when I went looking for a religious path as an adult, I accidentally found myself enmeshed in toxic Christianity. After a few years I became so disillusioned and angry that I turned toward the New Atheists. But in their writings I just found more black and white answers. They were different answers than I’d been taught in non-denominational evangelicalism, but they were just as fixed and definitive.
I thought my searching was a quest for answers. But every time I found one I became more and more dissatisfied. I had no words to describe what I desired back then, but I can see now that I was yearning for Mystery. My heart craved a connection with something that existed beyond answers. For years I was lonely in my religious searching. And because I couldn’t find any acceptable answers to my big questions, I started to believe that there was no spiritual home for me.
It took me a long time to realize that the biggest questions can’t be answered. And thankfully, I’ve come to see that I’m not alone in my yearning. As human beings we all long for deep connection. We all crave a sense of meaning in our lives. And sometimes, we search for that meaning through an entity we often call God.
The word God is electric. It’s dangerous. It’s triggering. It’s compelling. It’s comforting. It’s been used to incite hate crimes, war, genocide. It’s been used to inspire generosity, reconciliation, healing. The history of the word God is beyond complex. Intellectually I’m interested in understanding how the word God works in the world. And politically I’m interested in fighting against the ways this word allows for injustice. I don’t want the word God to allow me to spiritually bypass the very real justice work that needs to be done. The word God is powerful and common. As spiritual seekers we must take responsibility for how we use it.
In my teaching I no longer use the word without some sort of explanation and an invitation for personal translation. But in the depths of my own being, the word remains potent. The simple mantra ‘God be with me’ plays on repeat inside my mind. Holding it lightly I’m able to remember that the word God is just a word. It’s a stand-in name for something that can’t be named.
Mystery is also just a word, but it’s a different kind of word. It carries with it a sense of non-definition—of exploration and non-closure. My spiritual heart is fascinated by the Mystery we call God. And I yearn for union with the unknowable source, with, as Paul Tillich names it, the Ground of Being. Again, I hold all this language lightly. I remember that it will always be inadequate. But I continue to search after language that can be useful.
And in the loneliness that often accompanies spiritual seeking, I find refuge in the stories of ancient scripture. I wish I could remember the first time I encountered the story of Jacob’s wrestling match in the Book of Genesis. But I can’t. Because at this point the story has been so deeply etched inside of me that I can’t remember a time when it wasn’t part of who I am. I hold the story close because I think it was the first time I encountered someone begging for the unknowable name of God.
The story takes place at night, when at a particularly bad point in his life Jacob got in a fight. The fight represents an inner battle, but it’s not described that way. It’s physical. So physical that Jacob gets injured. At the heart of the fight, Jacob cries out for blessing. And then he asks for a name. He never gets a name, but he does receive a blessing. And then he makes the grand declaration that he saw God face-to-face and survived.
When Moses—in the midst of his own struggles—asked to see the Glory of God he was told: “You cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.” But the Divine voice continued and said: “There is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.” What a wild visual this scripture paints. Can you imagine the experience of Moses here? Standing on a rock gazing upon the back of God. God is palpably present and yet, utterly hidden.
In the 11th chapter of the Bhagavad Gita, Arjuna too asks for an experience of the Divine. He cried: “Oh Lord, master of yoga, if you think me strong enough to behold it, show me your immortal Self.” Krishna told Arjuna that he could never see these things with his physical eyes, but that he would give him spiritual vision to perceive the majestic power. One of the most famous lines from the description of this vision reads: “The brilliance of a thousand suns rising at once in the sky perhaps would be comparable to the splendor of this great Being.” Eventually Arjuna can handle it no longer and says: “I have seen what was never seen before; my heart is glad but my mind is afraid.” And he asked that Krishna return to his mortal form.
Divine encounter is a feeling and a personal experience. If we try and analyze these stories too much, we’re immediately returned to patterns of thought and the world of answers. But if we can hold them lightly, we can be awed by them. And our hearts—our hearts that yearn for Divine union—can be comforted and inspired.
- What does the word “God” evoke for you?
- This sermon includes three ancient stories of people asking in some way or another for the unknowable name and face of God. Have you ever felt your yearning reflected in scripture (or music, poetry, etc…)?
- Have you ever reached for the unknowable?
- Have you ever experienced something that felt like a divine encounter (you may or may not have language for this)?
- What do you yearn for in your relationship with divine mystery?
- What enchants you?
TRY THIS SIMPLE PRACTICE:
Choose one or two of these lines (or write your own):
- Here I am
- I am here
- I’m listening
- I’m ready
- I’m open
Sit (or stand) in a comfortable supported posture.
As you inhale, lift your chin and your arms toward the sky. Say “Here I am.”
As you exhale, lower your chin and arms, bringing your hands to your heart. Say “I’m listening.”
Repeat this 3-9 times and then rest in a few minutes of silent meditation. Notice what arises.
(Please feel free to adjust the mantra. You can use two lines or just one that’s repeated on both the inhale and exhale.)
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?