Everything is hard here. Even breathing is hard.
That look on my face- it says it all. The concentration. The introspection. The hard work. And all I’m doing is breathing.
But it’s not just the new breathing techniques I’m learning, trying to understand their different effects on my body and imagining teaching others to breathe in these ways. It’s also the Sanskrit syllables that now float through my brain, unrelated to the poses I’m trying to memorize. And it’s the 8 Limbs of Yoga (principles,) 5 Yamas (social ethics,) and 7 Chakras (energy centers) I have to memorize by next week (and did I mention they’re all in Sanskrit, too?!) Plus, my body isn’t used to such a long yoga practice every day and I’m learning I have limitations in sometimes very public ways. Everything’s hard here.
So Sunday I was looking for some relief, something recognizable, something that felt like home. I needed to center myself, ground myself and rest. I went to worship at Memorial Presbyterian Church, an historic congregation in downtown St. Augustine, where I had a connection with one of the pastors (we went to preschool with the same incredible Montessori teacher!)
I entered the massive sanctuary which was already crowded with the people who knew to get there early. As a latecomer, 10 minutes before worship started, I was seated in the back section, underneath a gargantuan scaffolding erected for restoration of the interior. As I settled into the uncomfortable pew that had been keeping parishioners awake for generations, I noticed that the pastors, instead of wearing the typical Presbyterian black professor-type robes were wearing white albs and colored stoles, just like my own Lutheran tradition. I let out a little sigh – home. As the service continued, we prepared for the Gospel reading by singing, “Alleluia! Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Alleluia! Alleluia!” with the same tune I’ve been singing since I was young (that’s LBW setting 2, for all the Lutherans out there.) Again, I sighed – home. The service continued with a commissioning of church camp staff, reminding me of my summer spent with Lutheran Outdoor Ministries of Florida, and a sermon from the senior pastor that I would have preached myself. We closed with a verse of “Go, My Children, With My Blessing” which never fails to bring tears to my eyes, and I was filled. Filled with love of God, filled with gratitude for the music and worship, and filled with peace down to my center. I was home.
On the way out, I connected with that fellow pre-schooler. In the midst of hundreds of worshippers, I happened to be sitting across from the one person I wanted to meet. Grace is funny like that. On the steps of this historic church, Pastor Amy and I shared memories of our teacher who came to the U.S. from Ceylon (Sri Lanka, south of India) and the incredible influence she’s had on our lives. I reflected on how strange it was that two Protestant pastors would name a Buddhist teacher as a formative figure. And that’s when I felt it. I began to sense something stirring within me, drawing me outside myself again. The Spirit was compassionate in nourishing me with a worship service that touched my soul, but was not content to leave me there. I was being called back into the world, back into the newness, back into the challenge.
It may be that I still have lessons to learn (and definitely more Sanskrit to memorize!) It may be that I am called to share what I’ve already learned with others. And it may well be that the true purpose of this outward movement won’t be revealed right away. But one thing I know: I am called to leave the comfort of my pew and get out and explore the world and the people and creatures who live there, so that together, we can create a new tomorrow, full of grace and hope and love.