Fr. John Chandler, parish priest of St. Edmund’s in Southampton, England, banned yoga in his parish because it has its origins in non-Christian religions.The parish argues (via a spokesman) that the Catholic Church cannot permit activities which have their origins in non-Christian religions to take place on church premises.
Liz Dodd, a news reporter for The Tablet, has written a wonderful blog post outlining the stupidity of this move. She describes the many physical and mental benefits of yoga. She also points out how our Christian faith has borrowed from other religious traditions for centuries,
The origins of Christian contemplation lie firmly in non-Christian devotion. The Desert Mothers and Fathers of the third century AD – the spiritual parents of Christian contemplation – were inspired by the monasticism of secluded, non-Christian communities like the Essenes. Stylites – ‘pillar saints’ – like St Simeon Stylites – based their ascetic practice of living on small platforms (St Simeon notched up 37 years) on pre-Christian Syrian contemplative practice. Persian Zoroastrian, Mithraic and Greek and neo-Platonic religious movements all shaped early Christian tradition. And, of course, the Catholic Church succeeded so dramatically in Central and South America precisely because it integrated elements of indigenous religion into worship.
Thomas Merton is but one example of a modern day saint (not officially canonized) who looked to eastern contemplative methods to deepen his own Trappist spirituality. Br. Robert Lentz, OFM painted a moving icon depicting Merton dressed as a Buddhist in meditation pose. His description of the icon promotes the wisdom of seeking the good in other religious traditions in order to nurture our own faith.
Stories of pastors who enforce their own narrow-minded philosophies on others are depressing. We need fewer prophets of doom who see evil all around them. And we certainly need fewer paranoid minds who believe that a good Catholic is one who locks the doors of the church to prevent any new ideas to enter in. Locking doors just allows staleness to grow.
I’ll happily give the last word to Ms. Dodd,
I was taught to end my yoga practice by saying ‘Namaste’ to the teacher and my classmates. It translates (from Sanskrit) to: ‘I bow to honour the divine I see in you’. If Fr Chandler has a theological problem with that, I think his chakras need de-clogging.