Sutra Sunday: Love and Community

Today’s study is about love and community.

1 Corinthians 13:3-8; 14:1 (The Voice)

I could give all that I have to feed the poor, I could surrender my body to be burned as a martyr, but if I do not live in love, I gain nothing by my selfless acts.  Love is patient; love is kind.  Love isn’t envious, doesn’t boast, brag or strut about.  There’s no arrogance in love; it’s never rude, crude or indecent – it’s not self-absorbed.  Love isn’t easily upset.  Love doesn’t tally wrongs or celebrate injustice; but truth- yes, truth- is love’s delight.  Love puts up with anything and everything that comes along; it trusts, hopes and endures no matter what.  Love will never become obsolete.  So in everything strive to love.

This passage is often read at weddings.  It is definitely a beautiful reminder for couples embarking on a new chapter of their love.  However, I feel, this neglects the true message of these words.  Love is not limited to our partner.  It is not limited to our families and friends.  The message can’t be any clearer “In everything strive to love.” 

Earlier in the book of Corinthians, Paul talks about the gifts each one of us is given to use during this life.  Some gifts or talents are given more weight than others.  This was a divisive element in the early church and is a divisive element of our society as a whole today.  Some talents are more valuable than others.  “…Paul shifts his focus to the central role love plays in a believer’s life in chapter 13.  Love is essential for the body to be unified and for members to work together.  Members of the body that are very different, with little in common, are able to appreciate and even enjoy others because of love.” (The Voice Commentary)

On some level we know this.  Sometimes love is the only thing we can share with someone who we don’t understand or agree with on any other level.  Though Paul is clearly addressing church members, this does not exclude non-Christians from the conversation.  If we can think of the body as this global community that we are all a part of, it is clear that love is the thread that was meant to bind us all together.  It is not enough to love our neighbors.  We are asked to love our enemies as well.  We are called to love complete strangers, as well as our closest friends.

This “we” I gather together is not the Church of Christ.  It is not a satsang of yogis.  It includes us all; all of the fabulous human beings participating in this crazy mess of life.  Everyone who is and was and will be.  The words of this particular book may be aimed at those who follow Christ, but those who choose another path are no less obligated to love those around them with all they are.

As a global community, we must find ways to allow the gifts of each person to shine.  The more we cultivate the talents of others with love rather than disdain, the more we allow others to become who they are, the more we discover how each person’s contribution can work together, the stronger this community will grow.  I realize we are a long way from this, but there’s no harm in dreaming.

When you come together, each person has a vital role because each has gifts.  One person might have a song, another a lesson to teach.  One person might speak in an unknown language, another will offer the interpretation, but all of this should be done to strengthen the life and faith of the community. (1 Cor 14:26)

Happy Easter

“He [Jesus] is calling everyone to resurrect with him and letting the old one, who is inside of you, die and letting the new one resurrect with Him. This is the Resurrection of Christ. Oh, yes, let’s praise Him. He resurrected 2,000 years ago, and even if he had not resurrected, He would still be Christ Himself. But to show the resurrection is possible, to show that God-Realization is possible or your own Realization, He has shown it. He has shown the Way. That is why He said, ‘I am the Way, the Truth and the Light.'”

Sri Swami Vishwananda
“Death is a change of form…Nothing can be dead totally.  Because everything is fully alive, because created by a living god.  How can a living god create a dead matter?  God created everything in god’s image.  What is god’s image?  Life.”

Swami Satchidananda, one of the great teachers of the Sutras, on death:

Are we missing the point?

If government was a magician, marriage equality would be the distraction we are meant to look at while the real work happens right in front of our eyes.   It is embarrassing that a nation which prides itself on “Justice for All” would have any question about what is right here.  Yet, no matter how ridiculous it may seem that we are talking about this year after year, it is important to stand with our brothers, sisters, friends and strangers in order that they be granted the same rights as all of us.  

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I have not heard a logical explanation as to why we should not allow legal gay marriage in the United States.  Most of them are framed in religious traditions that should not be used as the basis of any laws according to the Constitution.  Religious morals and beliefs are wonderful and personal, but the Constitution upholds many  laws that might offend certain parties.  There are religious sects that do not believe in the right to bear arms and groups that still believe all races should not have the same rights.

In truth though, I believe we are all missing the point.  On a political, religious and personal level it does not matter what “makes” people gay.  It does not matter if it is a sin.  It does not matter whether you agree with the lifestyle, chosen or otherwise.  It does not matter.

The point that matters, whether Christian, Yogi, Muslim or Atheist, is that as human beings we are charged to “Treat others as you would like to be treated.”  

This, The Golden Rule has been around since writing began.  It does not belong to any particular religion, but rather seems to be a thread through all religious traditions (check it out!! Wiki).  It is the only true north that can guide us when making any decision.

“Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, ‘Master, which is the great commandment in the law?’
“And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.
—Mark 12:28-31
If we are to take Jesus literally here, he is telling us that love and equality between all are the two greatest commandments.  All others must come after. All else is distraction.  This is why I say we are missing the point.  We are being distracted from our true purpose by these flashy tricks.  It’s not so easy to love one another.  It’s easier to pick one another apart.  It’s easier to condemn than it is to have compassion.
It is easier to condemn that which we don’t like or agree with.  It is easier to hate than to love, especially when faced with something we can’t understand.  Searching for understanding, is the first step to acceptance.  We often fall short.  We stop at the law or teaching and forget that we must wrap each in a love blanket.  Love is the bacon of the world, it makes everything taste better.

God did not create us all the same, yet we are created equal.  If life is to be a lesson, differences are our greatest teacher.  The greatest lesson we can learn is to accept differences with love and compassion.  God did not create normal.  At the deepest level we really are all the same.  If our life is to be judged at our death, it will first be judged according to how we treated our neighbor.  All the rest will come after.  What happens when you don’t pass the first question?

The Golden Girls had it right the whole time:

Is there life before death?

People spend a lot of time waiting for something to happen, for everything to be perfect, before they get busy living.  Yoga calls us to live in the moment, to create now, to live now.  

I am currently reading The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical.  The author Shane Claiborne is a founder of The Simple Way, a non-profit Christian community, that serves Philadelphia and throughout the world.  The book is a memoir of Shane’s journey as a Christian, from church in childhood to the streets of Philadelphia and Calcutta through the founding of the Simple Way.   It is also an invitation to change the world through radical love.  I am excited that I will be seeing Shane speak this weekend at The Justice Conference in Philadelphia.  If you are in the area, check it out and sign up!  Otherwise, you can join through simulcast!

Chapter 5, “Another Way of Doing Life” questions whether Christians must really live a life apart, a life that looks different than those of non-Christians.  It begins:

We have not shown the world another way of doing life.  Christians pretty much live like everybody else; they just sprinkle a little Jesus in along the way.  And doctrine is not very attractive, even if it’s true.  Few people are interested in a religion that has nothing to say to the world and offers them only life after death, when what people are really wondering is whether there is life before death.

…And yet I am convinced that Jesus came not just to prepare us to die but to teach us how to live.  Otherwise, much of Jesus’ wisdom would prove quite unnecessary for the afterlife.  After all, how hard could it be to love our enemies in heaven.

This might upset you.  It is meant to.  The path takes a turn, the world flips upside down, and you are left wondering, what now?

I believe Shane’s message here is two-fold:

1) We must stop waiting for tomorrow to start living.  I have heard it many times and many places, don’t put your life on hold until the until.  In high school religion class (I went to Catholic school) we read a poem about waiting at a train station, and when the train finally comes you switch your wait for the destination.  It is the message of the song “Cat’s in the Cradle”.

In yoga we are constantly asked to “stay present” or “be in the moment”.  We focus on the breath and stay with each pose.  Or we worry what the other people will think and stop ourselves from progressing until our hamstrings are looser or our arms are stronger.  In truth, the only way they will become different is to work on changing them.  Not through wishing and hoping but through the actual practice.

In life, everyone seems to be waiting for that perfect job, the right amount of money, the perfect city, the kids to leave the house, graduation, retirement… Waiting for that paradise, whether it be here on earth or it be in the afterlife, waiting.  When really, the paradise we are looking for is something we can create right here, right now (cue the music).  We are here to use this life we were given to help create the world that the ancients envisioned.  Jesus, Buddha, Patanjali and many others, along with their followers, all left instructions to live life in the moment.  They also left instructions on how to live that life.

2) That brings us to the second message.  It is not easy to live life according to the Bible or the Yoga Sutras or whatever precepts by which you lead your life.  Even when they are self-made precepts, they are difficult to follow one-hundred percent of the time.  No one is immune to hypocrisy.  It takes discipline and vulnerability to follow a spiritual path.  It also takes complete honesty with oneself.

These precepts were not meant to be easy to follow.  If they were easy, we would have all reached enlightenment already.  However, many of us want to get enlightened first and then live by the precepts of Yoga.  We want to wait to get to heaven to love our brother.

There really is no little nugget I can give you that will spring you into a life lived in the present.  There are no neat way to wrap this up.  But I can say,

Be present and live fierce.  

*****

I realize that some people may find my marriage of Christianity and Yoga unappealing.  I know that there are some who see yoga as something Christians should not engage in too deeply.  There are some yogis who might find the use of Christian language off-putting.  I was raised in America (a culture very heavily influenced by Christian symbolism) as an Episcopalian, went to Catholic school and started yoga in the midst of it all.  Christian doctrine and stories hold a lot of meaning for me and I believe in the fundamental teachings.  I do not find them entirely different from the fundamental teachings of Yoga.  And when they are conflicting, I get to ask why and delve deeper into my faith.

I remember reading a quote from a prominent Buddhist once, admonishing many Christians for jumping into Buddhism because they were unhappy with their own religion.  This is like eating hard-boiled eggs when you are tired of scrambled.  Different form, still an egg.  We must understand what it is that is making us discontent with what we already know.  I get that this will not be popular with everyone.

The disclaimer should read “I judge you”

“I’m not particularly spiritual.” “I’m not a hippie.” “I’m not a vegan.” “I’m not your typical yogi.” I judge you for being that way.

Cut the disclaimers. I’m tired of reading them. I am sure this goes on in other realms, but I cannot tell you how many “yogi blogs” I have come across that start or end with some variation of the disclaimer above. I am not immune. I have often used a disclaimer when speaking to separate myself from something I see as disdainful or uncool, i.e. “I am not religious, but…”.

How very un-yogic of me (now I must judge myself for judging…). This practice of disclaimers feeds into separateness and judgement, two things that yoga warns against. When we judge, we generalize. We use our past knowledge to inform us of a situation and make a call according to what we already know. Holding onto these definitions of what we are and what we are not allows for very little growth. Once we are convinced something is one way, it is very difficult to convince ourselves otherwise.

It may seem harmless to state “I am not a hippie.” Or better “I am not a crook.” But that does not tell me who you are. What does being “not a vegan” make you.

There are many preconceptions about what a yogi must be. As I mentioned in “Isn’t a Yogi a Sandwich?“, it is hard to define what a yogi is, but there are some qualities that we seem to agree fit the yogi stereotype. A hippie dippy flower child who oms between wheatgrass shots and colonics. All of these things may enhance a yogic practice and may be adopted as someone gets deeper into the practice. But they are not necessary.

In truth, it is our attitude that defines who we are. “Actions speak louder than words.” So we need not define ourselves with silly disclaimers. There is a lovely Christian hymn called “They will know we are Christians by our love.” When we live our life out loud, when we let our practice shine through us, people will know. There will be no need for us to tell them. So go out, live loudly, jump outside the box and put the lid on those disclaimers.

Tell me who you are in the comments below. Nothing is off limits!