I Threw the Baby Jesus Out with the Bathwater
In the small farming community where I grew up on eastern Long Island, NY, Christianity was the only religion. We belonged to the Presbyterian Church my father’s ancestors founded in the 1640’s and attended services regularly. Then, everything changed when at fifteen, I signed up to be a Rotary Exchange Student for my junior year of high school.
I included Sweden, Denmark and Australia on my country request list, then made a split second decision to add India, a choice that completely altered the path of my life. I was chosen to go to Bombay, now Mumbai, a huge city on the west coast of south Asia. Sometimes I describe going there as if I was going to the moon. Everything about it was utterly foreign.
Bombay is known for being a multi-lingual, multi-faith, multi-racial city — the complete opposite of my little hometown. During my year there, I was encouraged to keep going to church, so I spent Sunday mornings in an Anglican hobbit-style chapel up on Malabar hill. I also went to Hindu weddings and festivals and watched as Jains and Parsi’s worshiped or buried their dead. My four families were of different faiths, social classes and from various areas of the country. In time, I began to question a lot around my assumptions about people, my faith, the church, my whole belief system.
In that year, the seeds were planted for my future work both as an advocate of bridging eastern and western health care techniques and a participant in the emerging field of Yoga and Christianity.
As I grew into adulthood, I became increasingly uncomfortable and angry about what I was taught in the church. I felt there were crippling limits in the Christian path, at least the way I was taught as a child. For example, Original Sin (we are bad at the core) took priority over Original Blessing (we are good at the core). Being baptized was required to have inner access to God (only baptized Christians have the spark of God inside of them; everyone else doesn’t). Certain beliefs took priority over direct experience, even if experience made sense intellectually or intuitively and belief did not.
These teachings and many others caused me conflict rather than solace. Having to earn my worth through certain beliefs severely damaged my self-esteem which led to years of depression and low self-confidence so I threw the baby Jesus out with the bathwater of the church.
To help me make sense of my place in the world, I studied scriptures from many traditions. The one that made the most sense, yoga, came out of the Vedic scriptures of India. Yoga’s philosophy helped me better understand, and over time actually allowed me to see Christ more clearly.
Classic Yoga offers both a philosophy of life AND a system of progressive steps to grow spiritually. It is a system based on direct experience. That made sense to me. It says: try this under the guidance of a qualified teacher, then this, then this. See what you find; then decide for yourself. It does not have any required dogma or set of beliefs. Neither does it exclude following Christ as a Guide, a Savior, a Rabbi teacher.
The yoga teachings say everyone has a spark of light inside them. It is where we are connected to God, our Source of being. I did not have to go out and get it through behavior or belief. God was, is and always will be inside me because God made me in God’s image and it was good, very good (just like in Genesis 1). This felt right to me.
It honored all of me, accepting my worth as inherent with nothing necessary to earn or create. We are naturally connected to our source, but sometimes, we forget. The work is to clear the mental patterns of forgetting and to remember — remove the clouds and shine the already inherent light.
All the while I was studying, practicing and teaching yoga, Jesus kept nudging me to have another look at his teachings. For a long time, I resisted.
He followed me around encouraging me to explore new interpretations of his teachings that actually made sense to me and that more closely align with my understanding of who I am, why I am here and what I need to do to fulfill my spiritual work while on the earth.
I started reading the bible again and then exploring writers who had a wider view of Christianity, i.e. Neal Douglas-Klotz a Hebrew/Aramaic scholar (Prayers of the Cosmos), Father Tom Ryan (Prayer of Heart and Body), Father John Main (Door of Silence) and so many other contemplatives. What a relief to find others thinking like me - blending without watering down the essence of either yoga or Christ!
My special interest (okay, obsession) has been studying the intersection of Yogic Ethical Guidelines (yama/niyama) and the Ten Commandments which someday will become a book to share.
Along the way, I came to better understand Christ as much bigger than the church’s teachings and have (mostly) forgiven her grave missteps.
With yoga, I am a richer disciple of Christ.
In the church, I did not learn how to ‘glorify God in my body’ or any deep listening skills. I learned what to believe but not why; how to behave, what to wear but not how to honor my body as beautiful; how to shut my mouth but not how to listen.
Yoga teaches acceptance and care of the body. It invites the body into moving prayer.
Yoga opens me up to hear more deeply, to take responsibility for my emotional and mental life. I feel accepted, integrated and whole. In time, it has brought me back to the bible and Jesus’ teachings.
My direct experience pushed me away from Christianity and pulled me towards the yogic path. And my direct experience – re-reading the scriptures, the capacity to listen and the inclusion of the body in prayer - pushed me back to Christ.
There are differences: some of the yoga philosophy is in direct opposition to Christian Theology. I have wrestled with that too, but I have been able to suspend a sense of inner conflict. I can live with the paradoxes as part of the Mystery, as celebration of a multi-faith world created by God. The key for me? The work is the same: Do Your Spiritual Practices and Trustfully Surrender.
Christ shines the Light that I want to follow. Even when I rejected Him, he never left me. I have retrieved the baby… or He has retrieved me.
Top photo and candle: Square Space; Church: Veena Gupta