Put your hands over your head and stretch. Take a deep breath.
Doesn’t that feel good?
And don’t you vicariously feel good when you see your dog or cat or another person stretch and perhaps yawn?
Many years ago I learned that, to prevent my back from seizing up on me, I needed to do a simple stretching exercise before getting out of bed in the morning. I also do a coordination exercise a holistic chiropractor once taught me that’s supposed to help me think more clearly. And then I’m ready to, as the camp song goes, “Rise and shine and give God my glory…”
A few summers ago, Wade and I attended a yoga class that was all about stretching and breathing, led by our friend and neighbor José Blanco. It was surprising how challenging and tiring stretching and breathing can be, as well as how wonderful it can feel. Yoga, of course, is a spiritual discipline developed in Hinduism to focus body, mind, and spirit.
A lot of Christians don’t like to stretch. Orthodox literally means “straight thinking,” and many Christians like to keep to the straight and narrow, within the confines of what they consider proper belief and behavior.
Progressive Christians like to stretch our minds. That means we can stay in our heads way too much. That’s preferable to not going there at all. As they say, many people are lost in thought because it’s such unfamiliar territory.
Thankfully, stretching our minds may stretch our hearts as well, especially if we can catch our breaths.
Stretching is an antidote to confinement, an answer to tension, a solution for paralysis that is not permanent. It helps tissue lubricants flow, as well as the life-giving, oxygenating, vitality-inducing blood that we need to be nurtured and grow.
Our spirits and our spirituality need stretching too.
Jesus did not teach yoga positions, but he was still a kind of yoga instructor, because he taught spiritual stretching. His spirituality stretched the religion of those around him to move out of ossification—which means to make rigid, callous, or unprogressive—to move beyond laws written in stone and temples made of stone.
Anyone who has endured an obnoxious neighbor will know that “loving your neighbor” is a stretch. Anyone who has struggled with an image of an angry or distant God knows that “loving God with all your heart, soul, and mind” is a stretch. Those raised on negative self-images know that “loving your self” is a stretch. Those taught to fear or hate a stranger realize that Jesus’ urging to greet even those we don’t know is a stretch. And “loving your enemies” is obviously a stretch!
By stretching, a spiritual community becomes expansive and inclusive and nimble. A breath is a stretch, and Jesus was said to have breathed on his disciples his Spirit. That Spirit stretched their ability to share his story in the languages of strangers. That same Spirit has, throughout history, stretched at least parts of the church to welcome those it formerly resisted, excluded, marginalized, or persecuted.
And God’s mystery stretches our spiritual imaginations. In the apostle Paul’s words to the Athenians, God “does not live in shrines made by human hands” but causes us “to search for God and perhaps grope for God.”
Doesn’t that feel good?
Each Wednesday of Lent, I am providing links for the following six days, should you wish to use this blog as a Lenten resource for reflection.