We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Monday, June 30, 2014

On the Boundaries of the Spirit

We are not only living in the postmodern age, but we are also entering the post-religion age as well, which is to say that spirituality and religion are still generally identified with each other.  Christianity and Islam still provide the standard models for what it means to be spiritual.  But, as we dip our toe into a new era where spirituality is expressed in different, less classically religious ways, we are finding that the boundaries between what is spiritual and what is not are shifting.  The Spirit is encountering us in unexpected places and non-traditional ways.

A sports news posting entitled, "Strike a pose: Gophers embrace yoga" provides a striking case in point.  It reports that University of Minnesota Golden Gophers football head coach Jerry Kill and Gopher strength coach Eric Klein have introduced a regular course of yoga exercises into the football team's training program.  The rationale is that yoga restores the players physically and mentally, helping them to recuperate from the stresses of playing big time, Big Ten football.  It also helps them became more flexible, which will reduce injuries.  Gopher yoga instructor, Christine Ojala, explains that she is teaching the players to, "access the breath in a more informed and intelligent way." She observes that, "Yoga is one of the best methods for restoring the mind, body and spirit to their essential, balanced and strong states of being."

In Protestant Christian circles, prayer is generally understood to be talking to God. It is, to quote the website All About Prayer, "our direct line with heaven. Prayer is a communication process that allows us to talk to God!...To many people, prayer seems complicated, but it is simply talking to God." Asian spirituality, an increasingly important post-religious spiritual tool, is more about listening than it is about talking.  It often invites practitioners to learn to be still, to allow healing to take place.  In Western prayer we speak to God; in Asian meditation technologies the Spirit talks back.  Even when said before football games, prayer is mostly about religion and church.  For most westerners, yoga and other forms of meditation are spiritual practices that do not carry those same associations.  In them, the Spirit crosses the traditional boundaries, makes new connections, and finds new ways to entice us forward toward the full bloom of the Kingdom.  Amen.