On Thursday morning, I went to a yoga class for the first time in…quite a while. I used to do yoga pretty regularly, but for the last couple of years, I have convinced myself that I couldn’t because of injuries. My shoulder has been too stiff. My wrist isn’t strong enough to support my weight. My balance is all off kilter. I’ve felt too chaotic and uncentered for yoga.
Those of you who know anything about yoga are probably laughing at me right now, because you know that pretty much the entire purpose of yoga is to become more flexible, stronger, better balanced, more grounded and centered. It’s not a practice that you take up because everything is perfect; it something you do because you know you’re not perfect. There’s a reason we call it a “practice.” It’s something you do because you believe that with patient, persistent effort over time, your body and mind can learn to be a little better.
Sure enough, that first class was kind of awkward at times, but even the first time back, I could feel my body begin to remember how to seek balance, how to be both soft and strong. And my instructor just kept saying, “Breathe. Envision how you’re going to move. Relax into it…and move.”
It seems painfully obvious to me now that it makes absolutely no sense to use the excuse that I’m not good enough to do the thing that would make me better. But of course we act this way about all kinds of situations. Injury makes us hesitant to move the limb that needs healing. We don’t see the doctor because we know she will tell us it’s time to get serious about addressing that one issue we’d really like to pretend isn’t an issue. When we’re most deeply depressed or lonely or hurting, we are least able to reach out to a friend or find a counselor.
It’s been a rough couple of weeks in this country of ours. Personally I’ve felt disappointed, afraid, angry, despairing – and I know from talking to many of you that I’m not the only one. I’ve also talked to some of you who are happier about the outcome of the election, but the aftermath hasn’t been easy for you either. You’ve wondered about the level of protest, and perhaps been hurt by friends and family members who assume your vote means things that you never intended. All the news seems to be about how polarized and divided we are. This election seems to have made us more aware than we have ever been of our differences – and our inability to talk to each other about them in any helpful way.
A friend asked me last week why I was so upset – what had I really lost in this election? I guess it remains to be seen, but I think that what I’ve really lost at this point is the sense that the citizens of this country share any common vision of what we want for our future. And that feels to me like utter chaos.
In the midst of feeling so terribly uncentered and out of control, of course it fell to me to preach on the Sunday when we celebrate the reign of Christ. So, I came to this passage from Colossians, and at first it just felt…wrong. It seems too triumphant for a time like this. It doesn’t feel like all things have been reconciled. I don’t feel like the power of darkness has been vanquished. I’m not ready to proclaim that in Christ, “all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers–all things have been created through him and for him.” Frankly, the thrones, dominions, rulers, and powers of this world seem to be the most broken thing about it.
Today is the culmination of the entire church year. It’s the day when we claim citizenship in the absolutely astounding realm of Christ – where the currency is forgiveness and the law is redemption. We proclaim that light has conquered darkness – not sometime in the future, but now. We confess our faith that all things are held together by Christ and in Christ.
And we do it while everything around us appears to be falling apart.
I confess that I’ve struggled with this this week – with the gap between my theological affirmation of a world that is held close by God, and the world that I actually experience, which at the moment doesn’t look like it has much of anything holding it together. I have wondered these last couple of weeks about the meaning and value of celebrating the reign of Christ when everything around me looks so very different from that biblical vision of God’s domain of peace and justice.
But my yoga experience earlier this week opened up a little insight for me. See, we in the western world have sort of co-opted yoga as an exercise method, but it is also a spiritual practice in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. “Yoga” means “union” or “connection,” and for serious practitioners, yoga is the reality of what already exists, and the goal, and the practice that you develop to get there. It can never just be one of those things; the real benefit comes when you hold them together, even in tension. When the practice seems impossible, it’s the hope of the reality that pushes you through. When the idea of existential connection feels distant, it’s the practice that brings it close.
The thing about this passage from Colossians is that it’s a letter to a group of people who were similarly struggling to make sense of the gap between what they believed to be true, and what was happening around them. Their city was suffering economically; the church itself was divided over a serious doctrinal conflict. That’s why it begins with a prayer for strength, endurance, and patience. The author writes these things about the cosmic victorious Christ not because the people already get it, but because they need to hear it, so that they can live into it.
So I want to suggest that the reign of Christ is something like yoga: a reality, and a goal, and a practice. Faith in this ultimate vision of a world held together in Christ fuels our ability to live in ways that support that vision. And when our faith falters and the vision of a peaceful and just world feels distant, that’s exactly when the practice of the reign of God is most necessary. John Dominic Crossan, in his book God and Empire, says “The Second Coming of Christ is what will happen when we Christians finally accept that the First Coming was the Only Coming and start to cooperate with its divine presence.” Regardless of what is happening around us, the reign of Christ is best seen and experienced when we live it – when we operate as citizens of a reconciled and redeemed creation in which all things are already held close by God.
Like doing yoga after a long time away, this doesn’t always feel natural. Our peacemaking muscles get a little stiff, the sinews of justice weaken when they’re not used regularly. Balancing between the troubles of this world and the fullness of what has been promised feels a little precarious. All the stresses of our lives throw us off center. But that’s why they call it a practice. And the more we do it, the more fully the reign of Christ lives in and through us. So we breathe…envision…relax…and move.