Down Dog

Beach Down Dog
Lake Michigan Down Dog, Photo by Alice Aukeman

When I first began practicing yoga, Down Dog was my most challenging pose. My hamstrings were tight, so when I pressed my heels toward the earth it looked like I was wearing invisible high heels. My arms weren’t accustomed to holding half of my body weight, and my shoulders quickly began burning.

I loved the first moments of Down Dog. Loved the feeling of pushing into the earth with all four of my limbs. Loved the stretching across the back. But then the blood would flow straight to my head and my temples would pound. Very quickly, I had to give up and bend into child’s pose, resting. It’s hard to be upside-down.

When I began practicing Down Dog, I had just stepped away from the church, disillusioned. The church had pretended that she was perfect, the answer to all the problems in the world…  when in reality, the church was yet another broken human institution. Realizing the reality hurt like a burning in my chest.

Stepping away from the church for a while felt like betrayal, felt like I was stepping away from faith and everything that I had been raised to believe was right.

What happened, though, was that stepping away from the church and looking at faith from a different perspective was a bit like turning the world upside-down. It became an experiment: what did the church look like from this direction? Like the blood in my body in Down Dog, my theological blood pulsed upside-down.

Eventually, I saw something other than my disillusionment: the book of Hosea. In this book, God commands Hosea to marry Gomer, a prostitute. Gomer keeps running away from Hosea, and Hosea keeps going after her. In this story, if the popular interpretation is right, if God is Hosea, and his wife Gomer is the church, then God keeps running after the very imperfect church. She was never supposed to pretend to have all the answers in the first place.

The more I practiced Down Dog, the more comfortable I became being upside down. The more I came to understand the church as an imperfect institution, the more grace I had for her imperfections.

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