Lent and the Sutras and Clooney

Image from the Prymus yoga room.  Photo by Pamela Crane
Image from the Prymus yoga room.
Photo by Pamela Crane

In the church calendar, Lent is a time for withdrawal and reflection, for cleansing both the physical and spiritual bodies. Traditionally, that is.

In my life, Lent generally falls during midterms, the time of the semester when I inwardly spontaneously combust with exhaustion. The idea of paying attention to Lent — or anything other than my classes — is overwhelming.

At the same time, midterms is a good time for Lent. I am at the end of my mental rope, the end of the amount of things that I can possibly pack into one day, the end of myself. I am empty. I see my faults–where I care too much, where I don’t care enough, where I’m nasty and grumpy and self-absorbed.

During Lent, during midterms, I see lots of mental gymnastics inside my cranium. My mind is not quiet.

This church season, Francis Clooney (Society of Jesuits and a Harvard professor of comparative religion) is posting a series of columns relating the instructions of the second chapter of the Yoga Sutras to Lent. In his latest post, Clooney writes:

“…the ‘yoga of action’ is comprised of ascetical practice, study, and a turning to the lord. Such yoga serves to quiet the mind, leading it away from attachments, from the “afflictions” — including ignorance and ego and craving — and toward a state of absorption, a turning within. While this program cannot be thought to be identical with what a Christian might do in Lent, the idea that these forty days should foster this quest for inner tranquility and detachment should surprise no one, even those more inclined to acts of charity and service.” 

In other words, Clooney relates the instructions of the sutras that coach the yogi to detach to Lent. Detachment, in this case, is defined as pulling away from (or dropping) the worries and ambitions of every day life and refocusing on an object (Desikachar’s term), or God (Christian term). Clooney calls this “absorption.”

I’ve been appreciating Clooney’s writing this Lent. I have his posts printed out and stuffed in my backpack. When I have a free moment (rare), I pull them out and read. Clooney is thorough in showing both the similarities and the differences between the philosophy in the Sutras and Christian theology. Flatly equating the two would be syncretism; however, working through the intricacies of their intersections is thoughtful, discerning work. As I’ve been reading through the Sutras and posting my thoughts on chapter one on this blog, I find that writing in this way is more difficult than I anticipated. Clooney has the theological background that I wish for, and I am enjoying learning from his insights.

Reading his posts, I am reminded me of my infrequent meditation practice. Last Lent, I meditated every day. This Lent, I’ve been meditating when I’m too overwhelmed to do anything else.

Today, I’m thankful for Clooney’s Lenten posts. (Post one. Post two.) They remind me of the bigger world outside of my tiny stressed out midsemester world. Perhaps I can combine all of the above: allowing how I handle the moments of being at the end of myself to be my Lenten practice — bringing me to the meditation mat where I surrender to God my mental gymnastics and stress.

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