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Is yoga sinful?
(Chapter 9 verses 38-50)
John said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.’ But Jesus said, ‘Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterwards to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.
‘If any of you put a stumbling-block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched. ‘For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.’
Recently I was asked if yoga is a sin? I imagine this is because yoga comes from the Hindu religious tradition. The person was wondering if something non-Christian could be practiced by a Christian? I answered that from my perspective yoga is not sinful. But was I right? How do I know this? On what do I base this opinion?
It seems to me that the church has been very good at saying no. Perhaps this is for historical and cultural reasons. But in the last five decades the mainstream protestant denominations have been reassessing their moral message, in particular on questions of family life, divorce and remarriage, and on questions of human sexuality but also on issues of social justice. What things are compatible with the way of Christ? And what is not?
In the story above the disciples find themselves denying something only to discover that Jesus affirms it. They have found someone doing healing ministry in Jesus name but who is not from their group. They want to stop this unlicensed work. But Jesus has no problem, telling them, rather tongue in cheek, that if the person is doing his work at least they won’t speak ill of him! The irony is that is it is only a few days ago, according to the gospel narrative, that the disciples tried to do some healing and were unable to for ‘lack of faith’. Is there some jealousy here perhaps?
In any case Jesus says yes to someone doing something that is not against his work. So this too is my reason for affirming that yoga is ok. Yoga is not against Jesus work because it facilitates a sense of inner peace. It gives focus and it helps people to be more sensitive and ultimately more compassionate. Plus it is good for the body and Christianity affirms that we should look after our bodies because we are made in the image of God and the Holy Spirit abides in us and indeed we are all part of Christ’s body. In the doctrines of the Creation and the Incarnation the church affirms that the physical world is good and a place for sanctification. So all this make me say “Yes” to yoga!
In Matthew chapter 7 Jesus says you will know them by their fruits; a good and healthy fruit bears good fruit. St. Paul said the fruits of the spirit are love, joy, peace, gentleness, self-control, goodness and faithfulness. When we see these then we see things that are compatible with Jesus and we can be affirming.
But think about this question before I look at the second part of this gospel story: In your experience, where is the source of the greatest threat to organisations and to groups and even families? Does it come from outside the organisation, group or family or from within?
From this passage I think Jesus clearly thinks the greatest threats are from within, especially as regards threats to his movement.
That is why after criticising the disciples for failing to affirm that another person doing his work is not a threat he turns it around and tells them about the real dangers to his ministry. He tells them what should truly be denied and should be stopped; namely, the bad behaviour of his followers to one another within the Christian community. Jesus is very forthright here: Better to throw yourself in the sea than cause harm to people within the Christian community.
The sayings about cutting off limbs to avoid hell are difficult, not just because hell is problematic (how can we reconcile belief in hell with belief in a loving God), but also because this seems an extreme method of prevention. But again it shows Jesus’ concern here for harmony and mutual respect within the Christian community, the body of Christ. I think the body of Christ is the key metaphor here. Many biblical commentators see Paul’s influence on the writer of Mark’s gospel. This passage about cutting off limbs has an echo of Paul’s language of the body as an image of the Christian community. Harming the body of Christ is a direct assault on Jesus, it is like us crucifying him again!
When I reflect on this passage I think of the sins of the church and I want to repent on its behalf – pogroms, crusade, burning of women, child abuse and more. But I also recall the times when Christians have just been insensitive, unkind, inconsiderate and judgemental to others. And perhaps in this regard we are all guilty, I know that at times I have been insensitive and inconsiderate!
Certainly over the centuries parts of the body of Christ have done very bad, even evil, things. But that was never the way of Christ. The point is for us to model a better way of being church.
Mark Rogers, 10/10/2012
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I once visited Whistler in British Colombia. It was a beautiful summer day and there was a Yoga Festival so my friend and I joined (I had never attended such an event) and it was very enjoyable to limber up in the sun with music. Afterwards when it was time to drive back to Vancouver church goers had put leaflets on everyone's car windshield warning of the sin of yoga. It struck us both as being exceptionally weird and raised an issue I never knew existed. Needless to say we threw it away and never attended the church responsible for the leaflets.