Yoga Awareness Led Me to Running

Growing-up, I was a swimmer. I swam. A lot. I swam for two years at Denison University before I detoxed from chlorine. In order to stay connected to the level of physical intensity that swimming gave me, I started running. And  I ran. A lot.

As my spouse would train for marathons, I would run along side him. I loved the strength. The sweat. And the longer I ran, the stronger I felt. Bob called me, "the Energizer Bunny."

Then we started having kids. And I stopped. Running became a chore and a burden. So I hunkered down for the next 6 years with my over-and-over again pregnant body and did yoga.

That was 12 years ago.

This past June I noticed people running and for the first time in 12 years I started to long to run. I started to long to move my body through the air like a runner. I longed to sweat and feel my heart pound. I wanted to release energy swirling around in my body in the way that running offers.

All the while I kept on doing more yoga, thinking that if I just did one more class, I would fulfill the need to move with more intensity and energy. I was having a hard time with the idea running would mean less yoga. I've been doing 4 yoga classes a week for years. Would my practice take a hit if I started running? Would it look different? Feel different? Would I lose flexibility since running compounds muscles?

I went to my GYN for my annual check-up and told her about these feelings. Also told her I had been feeling like a stuffed sausage in my body most of the summer. Her response, "I'm a few years older than you.  You need more cardio in your life. If you feel the need to run, strike while the iron is hot. It doesn't get easier."

I went out the next day and bought a pair of running shoes.

Within 2 months, I'm running almost 5 miles several times a week.  I've also been doing body weight exercises several times a week (thanks to a regimen set up by my yoga teacher, Jane Bahneman).

I'm taken by how strong my body feels. And  yes, my yoga practice has shifted. I feel a bit tighter, especially in my hip flexors and hamstrings. Prior to running, I was stuck on the idea that my yoga practice is about being flexible. The more flexible, the better. And, for me, not the healthiest of attitudes towards a practice that is intended to be lived off the mat, rather than obsessing over what happens on the mat.

Expanding the awareness of my body's needs and acting upon those needs is yoga itself. Expanding my movement,  my sweating, my strength. My running has let my yoga expand in how I feel in my body, how I notice my muscles in a more acute way, and how I can let go of the need for yoga to give me everything I need with my body.

Once I started running, I realized how much pressure I was putting on my yoga practice. I wanted it to be everything---the place to sweat, be strong, flexible, and release my extroverted, Pitta energy. I realized I was expecting yoga to serve everything. I was also expecting my yoga teacher to serve up everything in a class. Ew. That sounds like an un-healthy relationship people can have with Church and clergy---Church and my pastor must be all things, at all times.

post-run-yoga-stretechs1
post-run-yoga-stretechs1

I feel a bit tighter in my hips since I started running. And my arm balances and inversions feel stronger, more centered. I've relaxed a bit and stop hoping each class will be the class where all my needs are met. I'm doing less studio classes and more classes via yogadownload.com. I can cater my yoga for post-running and target specific muscles. This is a healthier relationship with the practice, my mind, heart, and Spirit.

At the end of yoga, savasana and the movement of going into a fetal position as the transition to sitting-up  symbolize a dying to the old ways and rising-up to new beginnings. Yoga calls forth the movement out of dead ways of living and into new expressions of a healing life.  I'm thankful that my practice created this awareness that let me notice a longing to move my body in a new way. I'm thankful that yoga pushed me to embrace those feelings and not just start running, but to embody new beginnings of strength and freedom.

Om and Namaste.

Yoga: Farting in Yoga. Is Anyone Farting in Worship?

farting yoga cat
farting yoga cat

People fart in yoga ALL. THE. TIME.  Google "farting in yoga" and you'll see it's a thing. Just to be clear--there is the passing-gas-butt-fart. Then there is the "queeb" or the vagina fart or the vaginal flatulence.

There is no way around farting in yoga. Many of the asanas, or the physical poses in yoga, are designed to aid digestion and to work toxins out of the body.

Poses like hero pose or knee to chest pose help align sphincters and massage internal organs. This means that all that expensive Lululemon gear will not protect you from tooting during a class. You may look cute and you are going to FART.

That's the beauty of yoga. The physical practice pushes and releases toxins, energy, gas, emotions.....everything....out of the body that isn't serving the body. The body is cleansed, re-aligned, and restored during the practice in order to live out a deeper compassion and gentleness in the world. Yoga gets rids of the crap in order for compassion, mindfulness, and awareness to take over.

Hero Pose
Hero Pose

Farting in the name of justice. That's yoga.

Which makes me wonder.....

Is anyone farting in worship? Does liturgy expel, release, push out of our bodies that which isn't serving us? Are we using our bodies in worship to the point that our body releases?

Probably not.

More like worship has us sitting in the pews with our bodies wondering, 'when will this human get up and move so I can get rid of all this #$)(*()# that needs to go?"

What would it be like to have liturgy that makes us fart? I know. It sounds kind of silly just to type that out. But really. What would it mean to have liturgy that makes us sweat, work, take us to our physical edge and the body responds with a release? Could we fart in front of each other and not be embarrassed? Do we have that type of vulnerability in worship? Or would some respond with "we don't do that kind of thing in worship." Or "farting is disrupting MY worship." Or better yet the adult passive aggressive body language could kick-in and we could glare at the farting folk among us.

The sanctuary would certainly smell different. The familiar sounds of worship would change. The conversations afterward would be different. "I totally farted today. Did you hear it during our 3-part harmony of "What Does the Lord Require of Us? My fart hit the beat."

Farting during yoga. It happens. It's supposed to happen. What is supposed to happen and/or not happen with our bodies in worship? Who decides what's supposed to happen with our bodies in worship? What norms have been created in sanctuary space that we only do "certain" things with our bodies? Who created these norms?

Yoga: Fed-Up with Fear

Tripod Headstand
Tripod Headstand

Inversions, or going upside down, are key postures in the physical practice of yoga. Headstand, shoulder stand, handstand....going upside down where your heart is higher than your head has known physical benefits to the endocrine, immune, and lymphatic systems.

That's good stuff.

In a recent yoga class at Tranquil Space, the fear I have with inversions hit me full force.

I'm afraid I'm going to fall over. I'm afraid I'm not strong enough. I'm afraid I can't do them "right." I have the strength. I have the balance. I'm just afraid.

In this recent yoga class, I was in a wide leg forward fold. This is a pose that sets the invitation to go into a tripod headstand.

I consistently avoid that invitation from the teacher like the plague: "for those of you who can do tripod headstand, this is a time to get into that pose." I instantly retreat into myself, reluctance raises its ugly head, and I just stay in my wide leg forward fold telling myself that I'm fine just where I am.

True---I am fine where I am.

And I'm fearful of going into tripod.

So there I was, in the forward fold, and the invitation was set again---time for tripod for those who want that challenge!

I heard these words in my head: "I'm fed up with fear." Well, look who I started paying attention to in yoga---GOD.

Within seconds I started to create obstacles to avoid tripod. My blocks are in the way. My water bottle is in the way. I'm too far away from the wall. I'll need to move my mat to protect my head.  [Insert other bullshit that takes on the form of an object].

Funny. All those things can be moved out of the way....so.....I moved them out of the way.

And up I went.

Fear stayed with me as I went upside down and I pushed all the #()$*#)( aside and stayed in headstand.

A few postures later tears came down my face. Not surprisingly. We had been doing a lot of hip openings in the class and hips are considered to be the place where emotions are held. Ignore the hips and you ignore emotions.

The tears felt like a release, my own witness to moving through a posture I've clouded-up with fear. I felt a shift in myself in the postures that followed my tripod---body felt more open and I felt stronger. What I love about yoga is how I can feel these shifts in my body, knowing that I carry with me this breakthru experience into other aspects of my life.

Fed up with fear. Thank you, tripod and God, for bringing this to my attention.

Yoga: Jennifer Harvey and the Practice of Yoga

Jenny, Chris, and Harper on the first day Iowa had marriage equality.
Jenny, Chris, and Harper on the first day Iowa had marriage equality.

This is an occasional column on powerful people doing powerful things. The Church of the 1950′s is done and dead. People talk about how the Church needs to change. This column highlights people living that change now through creative thoughts, methods, and endeavors. In sharing stories of powerful people,  I hope that radical change and the dismantling of domination is seen as having unlimited possibilities.

Guest Blogger is Jenny Harvey, whom I adore, and known now in the academic world as Rev. Dr. Jennifer Harvey. I met Jenny at Union and ran many a miles together, early in the mornings, in Riverside Park.  I loved sharing time and conversation with Jenny at Union, and still do now as we've grown-up into married adults with kids, a dog, and the never-ending quest to find time for yoga. Jenny is now a professor at Drake University and lives in Des Moines with her spouse, Chris, and two kids, Harper and Emery.

Here, Jenny reflects on her consistent, spiritually aware yoga practice.

“I practice yoga.”

“I’m someone who practices yoga.”

I’m not sure if there’s a difference between these two statements, but lately it’s seemed worth wondering about.

For years I dabbled knowing the flexibility and strength yoga could help me build would be good for me. But I usually couldn’t shake this thought as a sat, posed, breathed or whatever-I-was-doing: “Seriously, my time would be better spent running.” A soccer player and runner, I couldn’t find the will or way to take yoga seriously even while this nagging voice (and a lot of people I really respect) kept telling me I should.

Then came my late 30s, with its aching knees (making running more dicey), two babies (so soccer too time-consuming) and a decision to make a one-year commitment to yoga twice-a-week. Some part of me knew I had to practice with consistency for a sustained period before I could actually know what yoga might be in my life.

Turns out what it might be is the emerging understanding that practice is everything.

Looking back I see my commitment even then was a decision to practice. (Of course, I wasn’t thinking that at the time. I was just praying to the ‘groupon’ gods: “please send me another yoga coupon so I can keep going without paying full price.”)

Practice.

Besides loving bodily activity, I’m also a person of ideas. I teach, write and tend to live in words, thoughts and categories. My ongoing relationship with my religious tradition—Christianity—has been vexed relative to how adequate (or inadequate) I have found its “beliefs” to be; how much its “claims” make sense; what the right kind of “thinking” about the divine might yield in my actions.

I didn’t anticipate that a year-long commitment to what I saw merely as a new type of physical activity would become spiritual activity that would turn this way of understanding upside down.

Here’s how it’s happened. The constant refrain of my teachers as I practice, urging me to “be in the moment” has crept into life off the mat. The constant reminder as I practice to let go of negative energy (self-judgment, worry, control) has found me turning away from my own or others’ negative energy off the mat. The realization that what I am experiencing on the mat has as much to do with how I choose to see it than to what is happening physically has become more and more my default recognition off the mat.

I’m coming to understand life as practice even as these practices have begun shaping my life.

It turns out my fixation on getting ideas and thoughts right first is backwards. It turns out practice changes thoughts and ideas, how I see and how—even who—I am.

“I am someone who practices yoga.”

Yoga is teaching me that I am (that’s the “someone” part) literally what I do (“who practices yoga”).

There isn’t a self, separate from practice.

The implications of this truth are astronomical for about a million other things in life. Practice is always process and never perfection. Practice has an insistent rhythm that transcends will or mood. But for me today the most important is this: a release from lifetimes telling myself “I should [idea/thought] do this [action]” only to be frustrated at my lack of follow through, discipline, choices, or whatever.

Putting practice first is nurturing fragile and tentative transformations for which I’ve longed for years, ways of being that thought I would get to eventually if I had figured it all out in my mind first.

Well before my year was over practice became part of who I am (for now—by nature practice also assumes impermanence: the physical with the spiritual; ideas about “should” less distinct from that which I simply do; postures on the mat not so different from those emerging in me (as me) off the mat.

Practice.

More about Jenny:

Jenny, Chris, Harper and Emery.
Jenny, Chris, Harper and Emery.

Jennifer Harvey is a yoga-obsessed writer, educator and parent interested in how social structures shape us and how we can transform ourselves into people who create more just, compassionate social structures.  She is passionate about racial justice, the problem of whiteness, queer life, community and spirituality.

Her forthcoming book Dear White Christians: For Those Still Longing for Racial Reconciliation  will be out in November 2014. She also the author of Whiteness and Morality: Pursuing Racial Justice through Reparations and Sovereignty  and Disrupting White Supremacy: White People on What We Need To Do. Jennifer blogs at Huffington Post and her own blog formations.  where she posts her written attempts to make living connections among all of these passions and interests.

Yoga: Dying to the Old Self, Rising to the New

Corpse Pose
Corpse Pose

Yoga practice is a type of ritual. While there are various types of yoga styles, most follow the same pattern: a short gathering time to set an intention and turn inward, then the practice itself, and finishing with a closing where the practice is integrated into the whole body. There are three postures at the end of the yoga practice that are vital to me: corpse pose, fetal position, and the final sitting position with the sharing of namaste.

Corpse pose, or Shavasana (sava=corpse), is the position of death and dying. As the practice comes to a close, we are invited to release the back of the body to the floor. Legs are mat width apart. Hands are facing up to the sky. Neck and chin are neutral. The breath shifts from the heated ujjayi breathing to a relaxed state. In corpse the body is still, calm, and ready to integrate the benefits of the practice.

Throughout the physical practice, the nervous system has been given a host of new neuromusclar information. Corpse pose, the pose of death, gives the system a chance to catch up, integrate that new information before the body deals with the highs and lows of daily life.

This is the pose that invites me to die to my old self, and rise to the new. I hear these words in my practice, especially from my teacher, Jennifer Triassi. On my back, palms raised to the heavens, my body connected to Earth, I let my body release itself from the old patterns of living and take on new ways. I am not always conscious of what those old and new are--I am putting my trust in the posture and my body to identify those ways.

It's the pose of resurrection. And I take on the resurrection at the end of every practice.

New Beginnings
New Beginnings

After a few minutes of corpse, I transition into a seated position. In yoga, transitions are poses in and of themselves. How I transition to a pose is just as important as the pose itself.

From corpse, I move into the fetal position. This is the position of new beginnings. From the pose of dying, I rest for a few seconds in the pose of newness.

From fetal position, I find myself in a seated position. Rested. Still. Calm.

Namaste is the word that closes out yoga practices. It has various translations and the one I've connected with is "I recognize the light in you." We bow as we say, "Namaste." '

Om. Light. Namaste.
Om. Light. Namaste.

Namaste can come off as a fluffy, Lululemon-light, romanticized way of closing the practice. Super. Now that we are all "om'd" out, got a yoga butt, and see light in everything, we can blow out of practice and head to Whole Foods.

I practice yoga in a class, rarely on my own. This is intentional. In a group, corpse/fetal/namaste take on a collective experience. This closing ritual binds me to those around me, reminding me of the collective responsibility yoga gives me. If I recognize the light within all, there is a collective responsibility to respond to that light. I can't say "I recognize the light in you" and then act like an asshole. Recognition of light means I see you as a living, breathing being.  Namaste pushes me to recognize ways systems diminish and silence humanity. I have a responsibility to live out these poses and the sharing of namaste, in a collective way, off my mat, outside the room, and into daily living.

Namaste.

Yoga: Vulnerability and My Yoga Teacher

My yoga teacher, Dave Kidney, started off class on Wednesday sharing this story: I don't know if you've heard the news from this morning, but there was another violent incident at a school. The school is in my hometown in PA. This is my nephew's school. We've talked to him. He's fine. Many students are not. 

Dave was referring to the 22 students stabbed by Alex Hrbal at Franklin Regional High School outside Pittsburgh, PA.

Dave went on to share his wonderings about Alex, his brokeness and woundedness and how that's been inflicted upon others.

As Dave shared, he was on his yoga mat in front of the class, in a modified yoga squat. His head was turned towards the window, eyes fixed on nothing yet holding a deep, profound gaze. Dave's words were soft and gentle, even as he talked about Alex.

Dave invited us to set an intention for the class. This is typical at Tranquil Space. He offered the invitation to go beyond us--to his nephew, Franklin High School, and Alex.

Dave closed saying, again, his nephew was Ok. I wanted to call out from my mat in the way back of the room, with my eyes seeking to make a connection with his, "How are you?"

There are lots of unwritten rules when it comes to yoga classes:

  • Don't step on someone's yoga mat.
  • Avoid "cross talking" to your neighbor during class.
  • People generally don't ask questions (out loud!) about poses during a class.
  • Don't start chatting it up with your yoga teacher when he/she comes over to assist you. "Hey! Great earrings, Kimberly Wilson, where did you get those?"

Yoga invites vulnerability in my physical body yet the class itself is quite contained as far as extending that vulnerability "across the mat."

Dave infused vulnerability in his sharing and I felt it all the way at the other end of the room. Before Dave even sat down to share, he made small talk with people in the class. Checked in with someone on their injury. Greeted a new person. He was present and available.

This is quite different than another class I took earlier in the week. The yoga teacher came in just minutes prior to starting. Announced she would be teaching the class only a few more weeks (ok, she's checked out). Her assists felt like air brushing against me. These assists make me wonder, "are you committed to my body or not?" The tone of her voice throughout the class made me think, "are you bored? Do you even want to be here?"

Dave's sharing lasted a few minutes. He made a choice to share and release that story in order to send healing out of the room and to the traumatized community of Franklin. He made me realize, yet again, that there is more at stake doing yoga than me nailing crow pose to tripod headstand back to crow pose. The planet's well being is at stake. Our well beings are connected and yoga is one healing modality to "get at" that healing.

For my physical practice, it meant I trusted Dave more because I saw more of him through his sharing. When he came over to assist me, I gave him all of me, and I found myself in a twist practically staring up at the ceiling. In that moment, I was able to experience more of me.

Dave, I've been thinking about you all week. I hope your heart is well.

Lent 2014 at Pilgrims, Part 2 of 3.

Our "created just for this Lent" communion table.
Our "created just for this Lent" communion table.

Lent 2014 at Pilgrims, Part 2! Read about Part 1 here. During our worship planning session for Lent, Mary Ester, one of our members, said we should move the furniture (communion table, pulpit) out of the sanctuary and have the preacher, storyteller, and announcement person be in the open, arid space. Mary said she can hide our bodies behind furniture. Let's break down the barriers between bodies and people.

So we did. We have a newly constructed, small, wooden communion table that looks like it might fall over at any minute. The preachers, storytellers, and liturgist are just in the middle of our liturgical space.....with our bodies.

I've noticed, within me, this keeps the energy moving. Up until this moment in the service there has been lots of movement in body, energy, and voice. Even though Jeff maybe be moving around just a bit while he's preaching, it's enough to keep up the flow that's already present. The thought of a preacher getting behind the pulpit at this point in the service feels like an energy killer.

This means sermons with notes!

More vulnerability. More risk. More of the preacher being "seen" by those around.

After another hymn, announcements, choir singing we move on to communion....

Before we come to the table, we do a walking meditation. As Jesus moved himself towards Jerusalem, his primary mode of being was walking. So....we take on that body movement and posture in a walking meditation before we come to the table.

We ring a meditation bell, Rob (our music director) starts a very simple droning on the piano, and people walk mindfully around the sanctuary. One of the leaders offers up three meditation questions, one at at time, that are based on the theme of the Sunday + Biblical character.

Examples: When the blind man was healed, I wonder what that healing felt like in his body? I wonder what healing feels like in our own bodies?

Mountain Pose
Mountain Pose

After about 5 minutes of walking with questions, we come to the table singing "Come Bring Your Burdens to God" and stand near the table in mountain pose under the three crosses. The question becomes: where will you stand? Close to the table? Out on the margins of the mashed up community? The invitation is a "all is welcome, no exceptions" and claim your own place at the table. Where will you stand? Close to the table? Close to others? On the  margins of the mashed up group?  What pushes your comfort zone without putting your body in major discomfort.

This is yoga---finding your edge. Taking your body to the edge is place between new sensations and pain. You seek new sensations. Avoid pain. This is how change takes place in the body.

We offer time for prayers---for broken and whole bodies, for the broken and whole planet.

Our communion liturgy is improvised. Jeff and a couple of others have chanted some initial words that move us through the Prayer of Great Thanksgiving and people call out the content. Example: Let us give thanks for the planet which God created (chanted). What of creation do we need to give thanks for? (spoken) People call out the thanks.

We work our way through the primary elements of the Prayer. We improvise the Words of Institution. Example: Leader shares "On the night before Jesus was betrayed, what happened?" People fill in the rest of the story. It's a multitude of voices at once. 

We share the bread. Share the cup. Offer anointing of hands with the words, "Jess, your body is sacred."

Our closing hymn each week in worship.
Our closing hymn each week in worship.

We sing "Sacred the Body" hymn #27 out of the Glory of God as the closing hymn each week. Note: This hymn was created by Ruth Duck for a worship service I was part of while at Union Seminary in NYC. #amazing

In the next blog post on liturgy, I'll give my reflections on the liturgy as a whole and the "back story" ritual and  movement theories that are present.

Yoga: Rajas, Change, and the Month of March

Rajas is one of the three qualities (gunas) that emerge from the primary elements of nature--matter, energy, and consciousness.  The other two qualities are Tamas and Sattva.  In the world view of yogic philosophy, these three basic components are the fabric of creation and impact the choices and behavior of living things.

  • Rajas represents action, change, movement, birth.
  • Tamas represents dullness, inertia, non-moving, and inactivity.
  • Sattva is the quality that represents harmony, balance.

All three are present at all times in living beings, they ebb and flow with each other As humans, we have the conscious ability to make choices that impact the level of gunas in our bodies and minds.While the yogi's goal is to cultivate sattva, the ultimate goal is  to be unattached to both the good and the bad, the positive and negative qualities of all life.

I get really annoyed looking up yoga poses and only finding white people.
I get really annoyed looking up yoga poses and only finding white people.

That being said, it's been a "rajas" kind of month.

At Tranquil Space, where I spend a lot of my yoga time, "rajas" is the focus for the month of March.

We've been focusing on "revolved side angle" as a body shape/pose that gets at rajas---it's a deep, deep twist that creates rings out the old, dull energy of a long winter and gets our juices going for spring.

But life in general has had strong rajasic qualities for me.

  • Lent at Pilgrims, and our focus on the body,  has involves new experiences like inviting people into simple yoga poses, using a thurible, and generally more "out of our comfort zone" experiences. The first Sunday in Lent, right before worship, I was feeling rajasic energy and the sensations that come up for me with change is right there about to happen, minutes away.
  • My  nephew continues on with his journey with Leukemia ALL. Good news came for him in March.
  • I co-lead a workshop at PCUSA's "Compassion, Peace, and Justice" day at New York Avenue with Ruth Farrell who heads PCUSA's Hunger Program. The original co-leader couldn't make the conference and I was asked if I could step in. Sure! Soon enough I found myself knee deep in trauma theory to unpack the workshop on "Land, Trauma, and the Bible." I had to stand up, with confidence, and explain the structural impact of trauma, colonization, and the Psalms. Thank you, Holy Spirit.

After a few weeks of feeling like I was in the final spin cycle of a washing machine, I got on my mat for one of my favorite classes of the week and found myself finally releasing this rajas energy.

After we were done with the twisting and ringing out that comes with revolved side angle, I found myself almost collapsing on my mat. Releasing. Thoughts came to a standstill.  Tears started to fall down my cheeks. I wanted to be in child's pose the rest of class-that's one pose I go to when I want to touch the place inside of me where I feel safe.

Eventually I was in corpse pose, dying to my old self and rising to my new. More tears came as my body released the spinning motion of change.

I was able to change the configuration of the rajas element inside of me. I found rest and ease. New beginnings. And gratitude for the power of my body to re-shape its interior self.

Want to ring it out and try revolved side angle?

Powerful People: Bethel Lee and Yoga Chapel

Bethel Lee
Bethel Lee

This is an occasional column on powerful people doing powerful things. The Church of the 1950′s is done and dead. People talk about how the Church needs to change. This column highlights people living that change now through creative thoughts, methods, and endeavors. In sharing stories of power people,  I hope that radical change and the dismantling of domination is seen as having unlimited possibilities.

Bethel Lee is chaplain to Yoga Chapel, a ministry that weaves together the art of Christian reflection with the wisdom of the physical yoga practice, and ordained into the United Church of Canada. I've said this before---Bethel creating a yoga chapel pretty much makes her the most interesting person in the world to me.

Below is a reflection Bethel wrote for Yoga Chapel and the yoga practice she's offering during Lent that focuses on the garden. It's so beautiful. Bethel created a yoga practice that is woven into this reflection, in between the opening and closing meditations. This Maundy Thursday, our plan at Pilgrims is to end our service in our own garden, using some of Bethel's words.

Opening Meditation: Genesis 2:4-9

The author of Genesis describes the beginning of Creation in this way: God waters the face of the earth, just as we might water a bed of flowers. And then, with this now fertile ground, God plants a garden in this new world. And this garden is where humanity begins.

It would’ve been quite a different story if the author had placed our origins say in the desert, or a valley, or a swamp. But sometimes this is how we perceive ourselves. When we’re not doing so well or when we’re really struggling with something, it can be tempting to believe that the place we come from, that the stuff we’re made of is no good. Swampy. Bleak. Brittle.

Lent is traditionally a solemn time, a difficult time. And during Lent we are called to remember that “from dust we came and to dust we shall return.” In the season of Lent we are called to remember how fragile life is, how fragile we are – our bodies, our thoughts and all our big plans– we are humbled that in the large scheme of things, they are but dust.

But as the writer of Genesis insists, this dust that we come from and this dust to which we return isn’t passive or meaningless – indeed it is rich and fertile, and when watered by God it always bears the capacity to give birth to new life. No matter what might fall apart in your life – whatever may be going on in your body, your thoughts or plans, the message is that there is always hope.

If you were to hold the same view of Creation as the writer of Genesis does, how might that change how you see yourself? How might you understand and treat yourself? How might you understand and treat others, if you too carried the vision that the source of your being, the place from which you come, is a garden – a place flourishing with energy, a place where things grow with wild abandon, a place of beauty and a place of new life.

Closing Meditation: Mark 14:32-36

Toward the end of his ministry, toward the end of his life, we find Jesus in a garden. In a garden called Gethsemane, he pours his heart out to God as he battles unbearable grief. This garden scene seems worlds away from that idyllic garden in Genesis – that hopeful beginning, that place of bubbling life. This garden, at night, where Jesus has thrown himself onto the ground seems like such a dark and desperate place.

Yet, I can’t help but wonder if in Jesus’ darkest hour, it was this sanctuary of a garden – surrounded by this green growth and organic beauty that he could see and touch and smell… I wonder if it was this garden that reminded him of who he is and what he’s made of. As Jesus waters the garden with his sweat and his tears, I wonder if he remembered in this moment that there is always hope for new life when God is the Gardener.

In the words of May Sarton, may God, “Help us to be ever faithful gardeners of the spirit, who know that without darkness nothing comes to birth, and without light nothing flowers.”

Powerful People: Abby Mohaupt

This is an occasional column on powerful people doing powerful things. The Church of the 1950's is done and dead. People talk about how the Church needs to change. This column highlights people living that change now through creative thoughts, methods, and endeavors.   First up is Abby Mohaupt. Abby is an artist and Pastoral Resident at First Presbyterian Church, Palo Alto. I met Abby through Sara Miles who thought we would like each other. And we do! Abby Here Abby write about compost and yoga--two of her loves.

Every Sunday, two to four Tupperware containers appear (like magic) under my desk in my office. These containers are filled with rinds and coffee grounds and banana peels and apple cores.

Two members of my congregation used to sheepishly try to sneak this garbage into my office in paper bags and leftover lettuce bags, until I presented them with their very own reusable containers, and said for the millionth time that compost is wonderful.

I take these containers home to my compost pile, letting their contents join the weeds and worms, stems and stalks, pits and peels from meals ago.

This is real resurrection.

Turning the new earth and the earth-to-be—mixing past and present and future—soil invades my fingers nails.

The scent of earth fills my nostrils.

The heat of decomposition warms my skin.

O God, this earth is so good.

I could eat it.

These peels and rinds and pits—they are reminders of death and what has been.

They transform in the ground, resurrecting into dark earth—full of new life to give to the meal that has not yet been planted.

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Every Monday, I rise before the sun and walk a block to the yoga studio to breathe deeply and let my body transform into new shapes.

Joining my class, we sit on our mats and set intentions for our practice. I always try to focus on how strong and wonderful this body of mine is.

Breathing in, I remember the breath of God.

Breathing out, I give thanks for the Spirit.

My fingers—still muddied from that new earth—spread across the mat and I push my hips up and back, my toes curling under. I give thanks for these muscles and this skin, stretching and moving.

And rising into mountain pose, I give thanks for the ground beneath me. That beautiful, eatable ground.

These are moments of God—of grace—incarnate.

I didn’t believe my body could be transformed into crow or warrior or eagle.

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Home again.

I wrap my hands around my mug filled with coffee. My mug from one of my budding composters.

Not grounds.

Not compost.

Just coffee.

Breathing in, I can smell the delicious earth.