This story has always remained with me, both for the depth of the distress of having been dumped (in the most literal meaning of the word possible) and the rawness of the essential Christian message--forgiveness is costly and hard-won, but Always possible.
I thought about this, of all places, while in Egoscue Yoga class, a small group conducted in near darkness, in a room at the local Multiplex Gymn/ Walkting Track/ Physio place. The ninety minute class concludes with dedicating exactly half an hour of just stretching your flexor muscles. This is accomplished with relative physical ease, and no great feat. You lie on your back with one leg up on a chair at a 90 degree angle and the other leg extended, but held correctly.
Quite frankly, I had never heard of the flexor muscle, nor the need to stretch it this long--15 min. on one side and then 15 min. on the other side. I am probably supposed to empty my mind, relax and think about my breath, but I am finding it is rather a time for my mind to go all over. No doubt, I am not into the practice enough. And then, the whole thing is likely just a ruse to get some sort of positive energy, or chi, or chai, or charka--what do I know--out of it.
Be that as it may, I have never had a problem with the flexor muscle, and in fact, my lower back is quite fine. But in the quiet womb of that room, things happen. Once in a while I have sighed. What happens next is that, when I sigh, the instructor comes over and asks if I am OK. She may even re-adjust the elevated leg somewhat, if it does not look like an exact 90 degree angle to her. Really, I have not received so much attention for little things in a long time, and she is very sweet about it, but it is a little embarrassing, since it seems that this does not occur with the other people. Or else it is so subtle with the others that I miss it. The instructor's manner is very beautiful--ever so gentle but deliberate, like a mother soothing a child. She seems like someone you could trust yourself to, a guru, one might say. In fact, her touch is somewhat pleasurable and relaxing.
G.K. Chesterton wrote a piece contrasting Western saints and Eastern saints. Saints of the West have their eyes open when depicted, focusing outward. Saints of Eastern religions are shown often with their eyes closed, involved in some meditative technique.--Here I lie, in semi-darkness, supposedly a Western saint, happily trusting in the blood of the lamb of God, thinking about Mother Theresa and Chesterton. (The latter, Rome is going to make into a Saint sooner or later.) And also in thinking about my Yoga instructor, she strikes me as saintly, too. For all I know she could be Buddhist or Catholic, or hey, Lutheran, or even Atheist.
Anyways, regarding my instructor's touch: it takes me back--back to gentle touches of the past--my mother's, first love, love that was amazed, wide-open-eyed, profound and not goal or climax oriented. A self-less love and in that sense a thought-less love, featuring pure touch, no desire. A love that just beamed down on you. A love that is love. And yet, we can't stay there, in this love, permanently. It is ever only a moment. We have to go on, see the tasks at hand and accomplish them.--And desire is not bad, in itself. Buddhism wants to extinguish all desire.
See! I have thought all that already while about 5 min. into the flexor muscle stretch. Only 25 min. left to go.
From love, touch and desire, my thoughts move on to marriage, aging, friendship, losses and rejection. In the midst of my self-pities, I have been finding the indignities and losses of this stage of life a hugely unpleasant surprise. It all hits me with a ton of bricks right here and now. I don't even want to go into in writing it down. There are important relationships I have ceased working on because they feel like rejection after rejection.-- At this point in the Yoga class, I could let out a great big groan, which would surely send the instructor flying over here. The rejections you receive, or perceive to receive, as you age, require strength to overcome, strength to still try and live graciously. The effort seems superhuman, at times. Who can bear it all and be happy still? -- By now, I could proceed from a groan to a howl.
Well, I won't howl here. I have this much control over pain. There is a pain which cannot be reached, or nobody wants to reach, or nobody wants to expose. Or is it that nobody wants to deal with? Or maybe it just does not even do any good to think about it, or to feel it?
Even Jesus felt it. And he howled. In public. Naked. He let us hear it. He felt rejected. "Why have you forsaken me?" The bystanders mocked him, of course. "He trusted in God; let him deliver him."
Did Buddha feel it? --Well, he is the one who tried to meditate it away. Extinguish.
What about Mohammed? And Joseph Smith, and all false prophets? They would have never said that they felt forsaken by God. They certainly felt like important martyrs for a cause but still they had God in their back-pocket. He was always on their side. They would bludgeon the whole world before they admitted weakness, fear or abandonment.
I am beginning to wonder if I am stretching right. By now something should start feeling stretched. Maybe the position is off. Maybe the instructor is not quite firm enough with me. Maybe I am wasting my time. And on top of it, now I feel close to crying and howling. Actually, I think I am crying. Ahhh, better wipe away those tears before the instructor comes to see what's wrong now. She is very attuned to the vibrations around here. She probably caught me at it, even though she did not come, she, the vigilant watcher over me.
Still, I am thinking about this pain, this dumping of women on trash heaps, dead or alive, infected or dying, abandoned, useless. I am thinking about over-powering sorrow. At the bottom of it all is an insatiable hunger for love, a deep, vast desire and longing often described by better writers.
There is a Paul Gerhardt hymn that says about the newborn infant King in the manger: "Oh, that my soul were a huge chasm or a wide ocean, that it may grasp you." Well, I can say and certify that the soul is, indeed, a very huge chasm and great sea, and in spite of that even more expandable in additional sorrow and joy. We say sometimes that the heart has a Christ-shaped hole in it. Yes, truly, it is Christ-shaped, but it is not a little hole, it is an ocean sized expansive black hole. The reason only Christ can fill it is, first of all, because he is big enough. And qualitatively, only Christ can fill it because the answer can only be forgiveness and hope, resting in God's hands.
By now, I wonder if it is worth thinking about all these things, if it is worth going to Yoga class, and if it is worth writing down. Finally, the flexor stretch is done. The instructor intones a kind of blessing: "May you be well. May you be happy."
Ok. Em. Yea.
Time to go. Cook some dinner. Or something.
On Sunday mornings, one can see people walking with their yoga mats to the gymn instead of going to church, nowadays. I am afraid that I have the same sort of self-centered thoughts some Sunday mornings, as my mind wanders, but at least I get to sing and pray and feast on the Lord's forgiveness for my sins, and have coffee with my friends. And none of it should distract me from getting some aerobics, which is most lacking in a daily routine, since we drive everywhere by car.
Some people might tell me that I should not go to Yoga class, as it may be an anti-Christian activity. I cannot say at this point that it is, in this time and place. It may be so, if there are other activities and prayers. I will watch out for it, the devil being roaring lion ever circling. I also am not sure that it is helpful to descend so deeply into self-pity, as I generally do, when I just let my mind go like this. It's a veritable snake-pit, down there. But then there maybe things to work through... Some good. Some bad. And Christ also serves us through the helping professions. My Yoga instructor may be a helping professional. In that sense her simple touch, maybe the touch of Christ.
Thanks be to God.
1. Tim. 4:4
"For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving,"
“There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every person, and it can never be filled by any created thing. It can only be filled by God, made known through Jesus Christ.”
- Blaise Pascal, Pensees
New Century Version (NCV)
22 Then Paul stood before the meeting of the Areopagus and said, “People of Athens, I can see you are very religious in all things. 23 As I was going through your city, I saw the objects you worship. I found an altar that had these words written on it: to a god who is not known. You worship a god that you don’t know, and this is the God I am telling you about! 24 The God who made the whole world and everything in it is the Lord of the land and the sky. He does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 This God is the One who gives life, breath, and everything else to people. He does not need any help from them; he has everything he needs. 26 God began by making one person, and from him came all the different people who live everywhere in the world. God decided exactly when and where they must live. 27 God wanted them to look for him and perhaps search all around for him and find him, though he is not far from any of us: