british priest bans yoga in his parish

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.

hey christians, get out into the world!

For me, the sign of a good book is if it keeps you pondering long after you finished the last page. Karen Armstrong`s book, Through the Narrow Gate – A Memoir of Life in and Out of the Convent has done this for me. In response to my previous post our friend, Ray, summed up the old school thought of religious life,

Over time religious life had drifted into a kind of personal devotion to personal salvation. The male religious in this project entered religious life at a time when the essence of religious perfection meant a separation from the world. 

I believe there is still a place in this world for women and men who devote their lives to the discipline of prayer. Thomas Merton comes to mind. Though a brilliant intellectual, he chose the hermit life of a Trappist monk. He promoted the value of contemplation as not only a means of union with God, but of spiritual union with the world. His prolific writings came from this grounded spiritual life.

But after Vatican II, many religious orders opened the doors of convents and monasteries and began to share their gifts with the world. I have many friends who are religious sisters or brothers. These women and men are passionate about living the Gospel, not just meditating on it. Their action is grounded in prayer. Their prayer leads them to action. What a loss it would be if they were all locked up in their religious houses, seeking only their own salvation!

As Catholics, we do not believe that things of the spirit equal good, and things of the world equal evil. We got rid of this dualistic philosophy a long time ago. But it still lingers. It yanks my chain when I hear any Catholic spout that holiness can only be found within the four walls of a church or religious community. What nonsense!

Think of it this way. Most women and men who are drawn to committed parish life or religious life are pretty serious about their faith. These are, for the most part, good people. And, the world needs good people. Isn`t it stupid to gather good people together and keep them separated from the world? We need prisons for the bad folks, for the safety of society. But, we shouldn`t be imprisoning our good folks, using all their energies and talents for the church or community. We need good women and men bringing their goodness into family life, schools, the work place, our streets and shelters.

As Christians, we need to be with like-minded souls. We need the gift of community to be formed, to pray, and to find support on our life`s journey. But our faith community or church should never be an end in itself. A wise friend once said that `community is the vehicle, it`s not the destination`. This is so true. Whether we are in a parish, a small faith community, or a religious community, we need to embrace our faith and then go out into the world and put that faith into action. God knows the world is in need of some serious goodness!