Opening my heart to God offers the ability to forgive

Scripture: Genesis 45: 1-15

God knows I want to forgive.  It is just so hard.  A self pep-talk of “forgive, forgive this!” doesn’t work.  Forgiveness requires opening to grace.

Joseph in this scripture shows how to open to grace.  In the face of the old hurt and pain between brothers, Joseph didn’t close down into retribution. He wept.  He cried so loudly that the ripping open of his heart to God’s grace was heard far away in the household. Joseph let his heart break open to God.

Joseph manifested weakness rather than strength.  He doesn’t try to come off as the guy in charge. He sets aside the trappings of power and joins with his brothers in a space of vulnerability and intimacy. When his brothers were so dismayed at being in the presence of their brother whom they sold into slavery that they couldn’t even speak, Joseph gently urged them to come physically closer.  It is hard to reconcile at a distance.  Then Joseph identified their common story.  He named what they shared, brotherhood.  Joseph also named the truth in that story—they sold him into slavery.  He didn’t punish or shame them, though. Joseph doesn’t require sorry or regret from them. He sees through to what life is like for them—full of fear, and the struggle for survival without food.  He is compassionate, aware of what it might be like to walk in their shoes—or sandals.

Lastly, he names that out of really hard and difficult stuff, God can bring life.  In no way is Joseph condoning the evil actions of his brothers.  Rather, God is active and at work even in their brokenness. The brother’s sinful objectives have been thwarted by being drawn into God’s life-giving purposes.  Joseph is able to speak this gospel word because he has experienced it deep within his own life.  He weeps again as he extend forgiveness to his brothers.

So, the path of forgiveness as Joseph lives it:  let your heart break open, weep, offer weakness and intimacy, stand closer, identify what you share, name the truth without shaming, let go of need for regret from others, see through to how other person’s life is, look for how God worked life out of hard stuff.  Weep.

With a whole lot of grace, I might just be able to forgive.  I think I’ll have a good weep to begin and let my heart crack open.

Yoga

With this practice of forgiveness, we are really going to open our hearts–by opening the chest, hips and doing backbends.  The heart space will extend open in each pose.  We are going to open up!

Eka Pada Rajakapotasana– the prep version of this pose is known as pigeon.  From down dog, bring the right knee down on the mat near the right hand, with the right foot down and pointing back to the left hip.  The left leg extends long behind you, toes tucked under.  Big lift through the heart, with the shoulder blades back, and the tailbone dropping down.

From here, loop a strap over the ball of the left foot.  Allow the strap to fall over your shoulder. With the palm up and elbow bent, reach around with the left hand to grab the strap.  Draw your foot in.  If able rotate the arm in, then bend the right arm also to hold the strap. Head looks up and back.  Open the heart.

2017-8-17 from Myers Park UMC on Vimeo.

When I connect to God’s love, I receive healing and compassion

Scripture Theme:  Genesis 37: 1-28 Joseph and brothers

Joseph’s brothers are hoppin’ mad at him.  He is their father’s favorite child.  This unjust love by their mutual parent understandably hurts them.  They feel unloved and rejected by the one who is supposed to love them unconditionally.

To add to their wounded feelings, Joseph describes a vision of sheaves of wheat, in which Joseph’s sheaf rises up taller in the field, and his brothers’s sheaves gathered around it and even bowed down to their little brother’s sheaf.  Joseph’s brothers hated him because he shared such a vision.  Who can blame them?  Not only is their snotty-nosed little brother the favorite of their father, but now he is sharing dreams in which he is elevated and worshipped by his older brothers.

This was too much for the brothers to bear.  Feelings of rejection now coupled with feelings of jealousy, anger, unimportance, and insecure.  Joseph is the trigger for these feelings–understandably and justly so.  Jacob should have loved all his children equally and Joseph seemed arrogant and impetuous in sharing the vision of his dream of superiority.

The brothers became addicted to these hurt feelings.  They became in bondage to feeling less than, unimportant, unloved.  This bondage kept them captive to their own bitterness and resentment.  Out of their addiction and the concomitant bondage, they acted in violence.  This is often the case when we feel captive and unfree to strong forces of emotion.

Some wisp of love  in brother Reuben keeps them from killing Joseph. They settle on violently throwing him in a pit, making him suffer because they too have suffered in a deep pit of “less-than”.  Then, some little bit of grace is ingested with their lunch. They decide to sell him rather than leave him there.  Better to be rid of him than to have done irreparable harm to him.  The brothers think, ‘Let’s get him out of our lives, so we don’t have to see him, think of him, hear him.’ This is where this lectionary pericope of scripture text ends, but the story keeps going.

The truth is that Joseph remained with them still, eating away at them even as their lunch settled in their stomachs. They had to watch their father grieve the death the brothers invented for Joseph, had to endure famine–as their insides were eaten away with guilt.  Much later (chapter 45), there is a beautiful scene of reconciliation and forgiveness, but it comes after great cost.

I wonder how the story would have gone if the brothers had opened their hearts up in compassion to the one (s) who had hurt them? I wonder how my story, how your story would go if we opened our hearts up in compassion to ones who have hurt us? Like Joseph’s brothers, out of feelings of insignificance, of feeling unloved we have been in bondage. Our ability to love has been restricted.  We have been unfree.

In our yoga practice, we will work on our core, the place of our gut, where our deepest feelings reside.  Through twists and core work we will access the strength, the power, at the center of our being.  The intercessory prayer below will help us to access the power of God to open our hearts to compassion for the “Josephs” in our lives.

Yoga

Kapalabhati breath:  This form of breath is cleansing.  It enhances the elimination of metabolic wastes and dispels congestion.  It engages the energy of the lower belly (solar plexus or core).  It means literally “shining forehead” or skull, and should bring about a glow on the face of the practitioner.  Sit on the floor comfortably.  Take a deep breath in.  As you exhale, pull your stomach in, navel to spine. Forcefully expel your air from your lungs, with the primary movement being from your diaphragm.  Allow your lungs to fill up naturally.  Perform this cycle ten times, then allow breathing to return to normal. Repeat these cycles of ten movements, three to four times.

Utkatasana: Standing with feet hip distance apart, bend knees.  Scoop the tailbone under and extend the spine long. Draw the shoulder blades down your back, and extend your arms.

Prasarita Padottanasna:  Take a wide stance on the mat with the feet 3 to 4 and 1/2 feet apart.  Extend both arms shoulder height.  Stretch the left hand to land outside of the right foot.  Place the left hand at the heart, roll shoulder blades on the back.  Twist deeply.  Then extend the left hand to the sky.  Breathe five rounds of breath.  Press into the feet to rise up.  Repeat on the left side

Navasana:  sit with both feet extended on the mat.  Draw the knees toward your chest.  Hold hands under thighs.  If comfortably, release both hands out to the side, keeping the shoulder blades on the back and the spine long.  Extend the legs if possible

Yoga 2017-8-10(1) from Myers Park UMC on Vimeo.

Prayer

(very effective to do this with legs-at-the-wall, or viparita karani)

Hold an image of the person you are moved to pray for in your heart. After each question, pause, so that you might join with God in a prayerful stance of listening. Stay centered in your availability to join God’s prayer.

  1.  Holy One, what is your prayer, your deepest desire for this person? (long pause)
  2. Holy One, what is your prayer in me, in what way is your flow of divine love and energy making a claim in me regarding the life of this person? (long pause)
  3. What do you want my prayer to be for myself in this regard? (long pause)
  4. Is there anything getting in my way of joining more fully in your prayer for this person?  Are there any boundaries I have created in my heart that I now need to relinquish? (long pause)
  5. Holy One, is there anything you would have me say or do in regard to this person on your behalf? (long pause)
  6. In what ways would you have me simply be present to this person? (long pause)
  7. Holy One, refashion my heart to be one with the desires of your heart for this person in the world.  (long pause)

References:

Gerald May, The Awakened Heart.  (Harper San Francisco: San Francisco: 1991), 29, 30.  May discusses how addiction and bondage breed violence because we don’t love rightly.

Guided Intercessory prayer is from Shalem Spiritual Guidance Program

Open to Grace

Scripture Theme: Hebrews 4:16

Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Terrified.  I woke up nervous, having overslept, butterflies already out and fluttering around my pillow. Today I teach a yoga class to middle school students in a summer literacy program—students living in poverty, who’ve never been exposed to yoga before.  I felt totally and unprepared (and in fact, this was truth). I hadn’t woken up in time to run through the yoga practice. Lord have mercy. The nervousness stayed with me through breakfast and through work that morning, hovering behind my clavicle bone. I envisioned the worst. The students are going to laugh and refuse to do the poses, I thought. They probably won’t even take off shoes and socks to practice on the mat. I envisioned complete rebellion.

Terrified.  I arrived at the school. As I pulled my yoga mat out of the car, I realized I’d left my yoga practice notes back on my desk in my office.  I did not have time to go back. I did not remember the flow of the poses, because I hadn’t practiced them.   Lord have some more mercy.

Terrified. The middle schoolers entered the library. I knew they could sense fear and incompetence on an adult; I just prayed the afternoon heat dulled their sense of smell. With the firmest and most confident voice I could muster, I asked them to take off shoes and socks. They complained about the appearance of their feet, but they did it.  I asked them to choose a mat on the floor, and to lie down on their backs.  They did, and immediately began talking and laughing.  In the best, “take charge, but with kindness” voice, I said, “hug your knees into your chest. Deepen your breath.  Open to grace.” In a little miracle, they did the actions. They quieted, they connected to their breath. They opened to grace. And so, in truth, did I.

In the end, the students didn’t speak about how much they loved the yoga, how much better they felt.  There were no words of affirmation or thanks for me. I had no idea if they liked it or had really hated it and had just been kind to humor me.  The middle schoolers did seem calmer, gentler to each other, though. I felt calmer, too—and more gentle to myself.  Perhaps, this was grace enough, was miracle enough.

I learned later that the students had given the yoga practice high reviews.  They were excited for me to come back. Amazing. This experience taught me that it is so important to do what terrifies me, if that means I’m offering myself to others in love.(even if mixed with fear).  When we do out of love what scares us, it just might be what someone else is hungry to receive, butterflies and all. We take a deep breath, we open to grace, and we experience miracle.

Yoga:

We practiced setting our foundation (part of the body touching the ground), and then opening to grace, before beginning a pose.

 

 

 

When we offer our fear and amazement to God, God offers us the courage to give birth to something new in our lives.

Scripture Theme: Mark 16: 1-8

In Mark’s story of the resurrection, the three women (Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome) run off from the tomb, full of terror and amazement. The Greek word for terror is tremos, from which we get the English word ‘tremble.’ It describes a kind of knee-knocking fear. The Greek word for amazement is ekstasis, from which the English word ‘ecstasy’ derives. It means ‘a displacement of the mind,’ or in common parlance, to be ‘out of your mind.’

These women have knee-knocking, out-of-their-mind fear and amazement as they flee from the tomb. They had come to anoint a body for burial and found an empty tomb. So they run into a future they can’t see and new life they don’t understand.

After the trembling subsided, and the astonishment stopped tying up their tongues, they spoke with conviction and faith. Mary Magadelene and Mary the mother of James and Salome did preach to Jesus’ disciples the good news–or we wouldn’t have the gospel of Mark. The sixteenth century reformer Martin Luther writes on these Marys that “these women show us a beautiful example of a spiritual heart that undertakes an impossible task, without which the whole world would despair.  Yet a heart like this stands firm and accomplishes it, not thinking the task impossible.”[1]

These Marys and Salome beckon to us. “God is trying to work something new in your life,” they say. “This new thing makes your knees knock and stirs your mind. You are scared and amazed just thinking about it. This is what it is like when resurrection happens—we are terrified and amazed at the same time.”

Take hold of their encouragement. What is God calling to your spiritual heart to do?  What impossible task are you to undertake without which the world would despair?  Stand firm in your heart. This task is not impossible. Practice resurrection.

Yoga:

Our strength to do something new starts in our core. When we generate movement in the core, it activates our creative potential. This energy out of our abdomen is not based in fear, but offers serenity, quiet, and calm to do generative work.

Yoga pose: Uttanasana- Inhale, lifting the head, exhale to breathe deeply into belly. Do this rhythm several times, with the breath and folding in giving the belly a massage. After several breaths, place the hands to the front of shins, inhale, exhale (3x), again giving a belly massage with breath.

Parsvottanasana – With the right foot forward and left foot back, fold forward from the hips.  Fingertips come on either side of the shin. Stretch your heart forward on the inhale, exhale, fold.  Inhale/exhale (5 x), massaging the belly with the breath on the exhale.  Switch feet.

Baddha konasana- With the soles of the feet touching, holding onto the ankles, rise tall through the crown of the head, exhale and fold forward.  From the hips send energy out to knees. Inhale, lifting the head, exhale, connect to your core. Send energy from the core, the hips out through the knees and into the world. Then rest into the serenity of the pose, letting go of fear, and opening up to the new.

[1] Martin Luther, “A Sermon on Christ’s Resurrection”  Church Postil  www.lectionarycentral.com/easter/LutherGospel.html   accessed on April 2, 2012

When I offer myself to others, I receive Christ

Scripture: Mark 14: 3-9

Giving can be selfish in a way.  When we give to “someone less fortunate” the gifting makes us feel better about our own lives.  We can go forth, feeling better, but not really sacrificing much.  We keep our houses, cars, stuff, and still feel magnanimous. The other person, the receiver of our gift, might feel a lessening of dignity for taking our scraps of generosity.

The woman with the alabaster jar, however, reveals a different model than toxic charity.  She lavishes upon Jesus’ feet a year’s worth of wages in oil.  Her life will be financially difficult because of this offering.  How will she feed her kids, pay rent, buy necessities?  She may lose her home, her stuff, her way of life.

Yet, she decides that anointing Jesus’ feet is worth it. Jesus thinks so, too.  He calls what she did a “beautiful act” and tells her that her offering will always be remembered as part of the gospel.  She gave in a way that honored another, that offered good news.

I wonder what it looks like for us to give in a way that honors other human beings, that offers to them good news. How might we pour out our lives, as did the woman with the alabaster jar, in a way that asks something of us, and that transforms our lives? In return, we receive back in full measure the gospel.

Yoga:

Postures in which we are both “pouring ourselves out” and in turn, receiving back peace and calm, best exemplify this text.  Restorative poses are perfect to live into the story of the woman with the alabaster jar for this reason.

Standing at the Wall pose—Buttocks go against wall.  Place your feet a few inches out from wall, a little wider than hip distance apart.  Inhale and stretch your arms up, exhale and fold, hold opposite elbows.  As you pour forth your body, receive in grace and peace.

Viparita Karani (Legs at the wall pose)—Sit down next to a wall, with hips as close to the wall as you get them.  Slowly swing your legs up to the wall. Hug ankles together and flex feet back.  If it is more comfortable, you can place a folded blanket under your hips to give you some lift, and/or under your hand.  As you are offering your legs up, receive in grace and peace. Then, go out and pour out your life.

When I throw off what hinders me, I can be more fully who I am

Scripture: Mark 10: 46-52—The Story of Blind Bartimaeus

 I’m not the best at making drastic, dramatic changes in life, just because I hear Jesus calling me to something.  First of all, it’s hard to know that the nudge I feel toward something might actually be Jesus.  Secondly, change is hard.  Maintaining life as I’ve known it remains much more comfortable than upending the routine.  The routine may have problems, but at least I know it.

Bartimaeus, blind beggar though he is, commands my respect. He makes a huge change in his life. The crowd says, “Jesus is calling you.  Take heart, get up.”  Admittedly, he had it easier in hearing Jesus’ call to him than I do.  He got to actually hear and see Jesus.

Even so, Bartimaeus makes a change—which is more than I might have done in the same situation. He takes heart, he stands up, and grasps his cloak—the most important thing he owns. He would have used the folded cloak in his lap, with a bowl-shaped indentation to catch tossed coins as he begged.  The cloak defined his space on the path apart from all the other beggars. By day the cloak protected him from the scorching desert son, by night it became his shelter and his home.

Bartimaeus can’t move to Jesus, encumbered under folds of fabric. To throw off his cloak he will have to cast aside any coins he has received.  To throw off his cloak he will have to cast aside his economic security blanket.  To throw off his cloak he will have to cast aside his only home. To throw off his cloak he will have to cast aside life as he has known it—and though a routine with problems, it is still familiar.

Coins clatter to the ground. Bartimaeus casts off his security blanket, and comes to Jesus.  By throwing off what hindered him, namely the only life he could remember, Bartimaeus opens up to a healing life.

Jesus comes in front of each of us every day, and stops to call us to new life.  Jesus extends in this very moment grace, grace under whatever cloak you may be covered, under whatever is keeping you from the fullness of life in Christ.

Yet to come you have to throw off your cloak.  You can’t leap toward Jesus when you are still encumbered within the folds of the life you know. To throw off your cloak, you may have to cast aside that one thing that is keeping you from really, truly following Jesus. What is it?  Throw it off. Open to a new and healing life.

Yoga:

Standing with feet hip distance apart, place your hands at heart center in prayer position.  Take heart. Inhale, lifting the arms up to the sky, breathing in courage.  Exhale, releasing the arms down, with hands coming back into prayer.  As you exhale, imagine throwing off whatever is cloaking you.  Repeat the flow of your arms and breath several times.

Peak pose: Trikonasana- In triangle, or trikonasana, place your free hand over your heart.  As you inhale, extend the hand to the sky, as though you are casting off a cloak. Exhale, bringing the hand back to heart center. Repeat this action for 3-5 breaths.  Cast off what cloaks you. Take heart. Jesus is calling you.

In times of fear, we connect to Christ as our strength

Scripture Theme: Mark 13: 1-8, 24-27

Going backwards scares me. When I can tell that a yoga teacher is leading us into a class of backbends, my stomach tightens and I think, ‘oh, no!  Can I politely step out like I’m going to the bathroom and then just leave?’ Yet, I’ve made all kinds of arrangements to be in that class, too much to undo because of my own fear.  So I sigh. I acknowledge my own nervousness. Facing fear isn’t fun.  Backbends make me do that.

Mark 13 is all about things that scare us.  The future, namely.  The future in this scripture is full of famine, war, deprivation.  Scary.  The sun gets dark in this text, and there is no moonlight.  Who isn’t afraid of the dark, especially a future that is dark?

So we do backbends. We go into the dark, the unknown, the uncharted territory that we cannot see. It requires great courage, and really good alignment so the spine stays healthy.  The amazing thing that happens when you do backbends is this. . . when you are done, it feels awesome. The movement of the spine moves the synovial fluid, and with it, old stuff gets moved out, and joy can move in.  Even though I get totally scared about a backbend class, I love love the way I feel when it is over.  Something about going into the unseen and coming out again, something about trusting that I’m held even when I think I might just collapse, something about the spine bending and coming back again, just makes for joy.

God knows this.  Even though Mark 13 shows the darkness of a future that we cannot see, it ends with Christ coming in glory and gathering angels.  It’s like the angels are gathering the corners of the sky, which probably requires a backbend, and bringing the whole of creation under Christ.  Christ brings the light into the darkness.  There is no future in which Christ’s light does not shine.  In this we can trust, even when it seems the very sun is dark, even when we feel like we are going backward rather than forward.  Even when are totally scared, doing backbends into the dark, we can trust that on us, Christ will shine.  Shine on. Shine on.

Yoga: 

Backbends can be really robust and vigorous, like full wheel, or urdhva dhanurasana. They can also be more subtle, like a gentle backbend while standing in tadasana. I’ll offer a pose in between super vigorous and gentle—Salabhasana .  Lie on your belly, arms extended along your sides, palms down, forehead on the mat.  Invite a rich inhale, lift the head, shoulderblades on the back, press into the palms. Two –three breaths here, then exhale to release. Shine on.