“There’s a question I’ve been meaning to ask you for years,” my friend Caleb said in my dining room. He paused while he fetched his daughter something from the fridge, leaving me wondering what he might say next.
Caleb and I went to college together, a conservative Christian college in the Midwest. Over the past decade or so, he married one of my best friends, we all traveled to different parts of the world as missionaries, and when we returned, our theologies were different. Mine fell apart until yoga knit it back together in a round-about way. His had changed in ways I couldn’t see.
“You do yoga right?” He paused—this part was rhetorical—“How do yoga and Christianity go together?”
Wow, broad question, I thought. Where do I start? How do I start? Why was he asking? What did he want to hear? Was he concerned about my faith? My salvation? Or did he just honestly want to know how I saw them going together?
Here was my chance. Here was my chance to prove to another Christian that yoga was okay. That the marriage of yoga and Christianity was a really beautiful practice of faith.
“If you think about it,” I said, “Christianity has lost touch with the body. We’ve divided the flesh and the spirit, saying that the flesh is bad. Yoga helps Christians honor the body again.
“And really, yoga isn’t purely Eastern anymore, at least not in the way we practice it in the States. According to Mark Singleton, it’s a hybrid of yoga and Western calisthenics, which means it’s both Eastern and Western. So when you’re doing yoga poses, it’s not necessarily worshipping Krishna.”
“It’s the ‘not necessarily’ that scares me,” Caleb said. “I want to be sure. And if yoga is spiritual, then I’m not comfortable practicing something that might have other spiritual influences. Some of the things we saw in Africa really have me questioning.”
It was the academic in me who said “not necessarily.” I qualified my statement because other people practicing yoga poses might be worshipping someone other than the God of the Bible. Or no one at all. It’s not necessarily for God either – to me, yoga is spiritually neutral.
To me—and I said this—yoga was a spiritual practice like meditation: many religions use it as a tool for prayer. Yoga is body prayer.
“If someone has a nice dinner with bread and wine,” I said, “we don’t say that they are eating the body and drinking the blood of Jesus. It’s a physical tool.”
This didn’t help my case. Regardless, yoga was spiritual.
We talked a lot longer about yoga and Christianity, and it became very apparent that I wasn’t going to be able to convince Caleb of yoga’s validity for Christians. I don’t think he wanted to be convinced either. I think he just wanted to hear me talk about what yoga meant for me. And I wish I had started there instead of a broad generalization of history.
Our conversation reminded me of the Christian practice of evangelizing. When I returned from being a missionary, I was not comfortable evangelizing. I can’t convince someone that God is real. I myself cannot change another person’s heart or soul. That is between them and God. I only have control over me, testifying to my own relationship with God if it comes up. Perhaps yoga is the same way.
I’m not going to be a “Christian yoga evangelist.”
Caleb and I finished our conversation talking about Romans 14:23, which is a verse my friend Dayna used a few months ago. Romans 14:23 first discusses the debate about whether the early Christians could eat meat offered to other gods, and the Apostle Paul says it is okay. Then Paul says: “But a man who has doubts is condemned if he eats because his eating is not from faith, and everything that does not come from faith is sin.”
After reading this verse, Dayna said, “So for me, when I have to look at things to decide whether or not to use them or apply them to my practice or study of yoga, I ask myself, ‘Can I do that without doubting?’ And if I can do that without doubting, I embrace it.”
I practice yoga without doubting. Caleb can’t. And that’s where we are.
We put our conversation aside and graded papers together while watching college football.