This month’s newsletter follows the first week’s message, called “What Seeks to be Known” as well as the second week’s video newsletter called “Experiencing the Eastern Orthodox Tradition”. You may follow the links below this article.
Thank you for your responses to this month’s newsletters, which have shared my “leap of faith” into the Eastern Orthodox Christian tradition. It seems half of you are excited to follow my journey and the other half are “not so sure about this”. As I mentioned in my video last week, these sentiments represent the experience for me as well!
Most of you have appreciated my desire to understand the chosen faith of my husband, my interest in the ancient roots of mystical Christianity, as well as my commitment to learn “from the inside” through study, practice, conversation and participation in the Church. Despite its challenges I am grateful for this journey and feel like I’ve come upon a deep well of beauty, truth, and healing.
Many have struggled with concepts I shared in last week’s video. I think it was easy enough to embrace the practice of humility, along with the three pillars: prayer, service to the poor, and fasting. These elements can be found in our study of Yoga Philosophy as well as other faiths that first began to diverge from the Orthodox Church almost 1,000 years ago.
In Yoga Philosophy, the lack of humility is called asmita, or egoism, and it flows directly from the first affliction of the mind called avidya, or forgetting our connection to the Divine mystery. As I take this dive into the Orthodox faith I am strengthened by the shared assertion that humility is our greatest tool for returning to the heart. The Biblical language for “forgetting” our true nature is the word “sin” which literally means “to miss the mark”. The turning away from the ego and turning back toward the heart is the literal meaning of “repentance”.
I am aware that words like “sin” and “repentance” are challenging for those of us who are either foreign to Christianity, or have been wounded by our experiences with religion. I am reminded of one Orthodox priest’s response to the hypocrisy and harm inflicted by the Church. He said grimly, “You are right, but it is actually much, much worse.” Still, he and all Orthodox teachers through the ages remind us that it is not the faith or the Church that fall short, it is the human being led by the ego. And they will immediately note themselves as the one who sins the most, for this recognition, along with the decision to “turn back toward” God are the most important steps we can take to prepare ourselves to receive what is holy.
Truly I have asked myself why I’m going down this current path, having struggled like most of us with organized religion all my life. I think part of it for so many of us is an unknowable grace, even mentioned in the Yoga Sutras as something that descends upon those of us who seek deeper meaning and connection with an open heart. The Orthodox refer to this grace as the Holy Spirit.
It will take me some time to understand the aspects of this faith that are understandably problematic for many of us, not to mention figure out how to share it in words. I want to try to avoid what many of you have heard me say before. I often feel like I’m defending Yoga when I’m with Christians, and defending Christianity when I’m with Yogis. I think what I see and feel is a deep well that unites us, for how can it be anything different? It is with this approach that I will continue to dive into the waters of Orthodox Christianity.
It occurred to me that my experience living in three foreign cultures--Costa Rica, India and Africa--helps me with this pursuit. In each place I had to learn how to live within a different language, culture and world perspective and at least two revelations come to mind. One was that in all cases I had a period of feeling like a child. I couldn’t understand much of anything at first, and I can now see how this was a great gift. I was reliant upon the love, generosity and patience of the people around me, and learned the particulars of their world view through the process of knowing and loving them. This is the approach I’m taking with the Orthodox Church.
The second revelation, after three years in Africa, was a feeling of similarity to my village neighbors. I distinctly remember one day when I recognized that although everything about our lives was so different, I could recognize the unique qualities of the village clown, the entrepreneur, the religious leader, the talkative one, the quiet one, the wise grandma, the naughty child, the hopeful, the sad, the rich, the poor. We are all human. We have a lot more in common than not.
My study of the wisdom of nature over the last two years was an attempt to find a common language in a world of division. We can all experience awe as we look at the glorious red, orange and yellow leaves of Fall, further brightened by the lush green moss and deep brown soil against the backdrop of a blue sky, all aglow as the sun begins to set. It is a wonder to me that we are not more frequently dumb-struck by it all.
This mind-stumping beauty is what the Orthodox mean when they strive to come closer to God “with fear and trembling”. Though that language may not speak to you, it refers to the overwhelming awe and humility we recognize when the beauty and complexity of nature surrounds us. We become like a child as we see our place in a grand scheme that is beyond our understanding. Furthermore, we recognize that just like the incredible diversity of expression in nature, we too have a unique expression that brings love and beauty to this world.
Nature helps us return to our childlike innocence. The Orthodox understanding of the Garden of Eden is not only a beautiful paradise, but represents the childlike divinity of all of creation before the ego (the fallen or sinful nature) rose in power over the heart and spirit. I am reminded of the “beginner’s mind” of Buddhism as well as the child pose of Yoga asana. A favorite story from the Bible is from Mark 10:13, when a group of mothers brought their infants to see Jesus so that he could touch and bless their babies. The disciples rebuked the women but when Jesus saw it, He said to the disciples, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God.”
As we experience the ongoing aspects of our world that divide us, perhaps we can turn to nature to help us become more like children, so that we can remember how to love innocently, and seek to know one another through humility and an open heart. Perhaps through nature we can feel the Creator’s touch and blessing, infusing us with what Jesus deemed the most important commandments: to love God with all our heart, soul and mind; and to love our neighbors as ourselves.
With great love,
Content related to this months theme:
Guiding Theme | Issue #120 | What is Seeking to be Known?
Yoga Philosophy | Issue #121 | Experiencing the Eastern Orthodox Tradition
Our Yoga Nature | Issue #122 | A Child in the Garden of Eden
Yoga Therapy Practice | Issue #123 | A Quiet Ego Loves
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