This time of year, I experience a sacred quiet when I roll out my yoga mat. I’m better able feel God’s divine guidance, which time and time again, help me to trust there are no accidents.
My practice wasn’t always like this. Raised in a family where God was used as a weapon, I coped by identifying as agnostic. For decades, I resisted even the possibility of God.
Especially in the yoga studio, where, like a complete jerk, I’d complain to anyone who’d listen:
Pray on the mat? Um, no.
Chant Om? I can’t even with this spiritual shit. We’re here to sweat; why all this ‘woo woo’?
As a young child, the patriarchal, religious understanding of God didn’t feel right. My understanding of God was something that only served to control, or to show up when I did something wrong.
… And I often did wrong while spending childhood holidays visiting conservative, Fox News watching, ultra religious extended family in small town, South Carolina.
Growing up 3,000 miles away in a left leaning, typical Seattle ‘McChristian’ household (sure, we went to the Unitarian church… occasionally on Easter), I might as well have landed on the moon when I arrived for a visit; so bizarre and foreign the culture. All this talk of sinning, judgment, Heaven and Hell: God was everywhere… watching.
In small town South Carolina, God’s attention mainly focused on the First Baptist Church, the sun by which all activity in this small town of 2,000 rotated.
It was here, in 1981, where the second most humiliating moment of my childhood occurred. (The first was when I, a claustrophobic child, spent an hour stuck in my locker in third grade.)
Despite my protests, as she did every year, my grandmother enrolled me in a week of Vacation Bible School classes. On the third day, a Sunday, the morning started with this conversation: “Well of course you hate Bible School, Jenny,” my mother said. “…. We all did. But you have to do what we all did growing up here: Be nice and keep your mouth shut.”
So off I went, dreading the next three hours with Mrs Aileen, the child-despising Sunday school teacher. Aileen Wiggins, who doubled as the choir’s organ accompanist, was married to Luther, who spent the duration of every Sunday’s sermon clipping his fingernails in the back row pew.
That particular Sunday, Mrs Aileen, in her 1960’s style cat eyeglasses, announced a special surprise: The children were to stand before the congregation and sing the songs we’d been learning in Bible School.
Caught unawares, I cut my eyes at Sissy Greene, who returned a smug smirk. For Sissy was perfect: A flaxen haired fourth grader with perfect teeth and a sweet southern drawl, whom my grandmother regularly referred to as “The Lord’s Child.”
Sissy could recite all bible songs from memory. I could not.
Once on stage, Miss Aileen announced we had a visitor in our midst – and set about introducing me as: “Miss Winifred’s grandbaby from The North.”
Believe me when I say just how much of an insult it is for southerners to call someone a Northerner.
Then, in her syrupy voice: “Jenny, how about you step forward and show the congregation what you’ve learned this week. How about we start by you singing ‘This Little Light of Mine’.”
There, in front of the 200 person congregation at First Baptist Church, I failed miserably, only recalling the first few lines of the song.
For I hadn’t realized I’d be set up with a pop quiz. Which Mrs. Aileen knew I’d fail. In front of the entire congregation.
I have no memory of anyone coming to my rescue. I’ll jump to the assumption that my mother was present, but likely frozen to her seat – conflicted between mama bear instincts and her southern societal teachings to be nice and keep your mouth shut.
Wow. To be a woman & southern in the 1960s. Where to begin with that patriarchal experience? Likely she never learned the word “no”.
Miss Aileen then called on Sissy Greene, “to show us how it should be sang.” And Sissy belted her little heart out, including the last of the lines of the song:
Don’t let Satan blow it out!
I’m going to let it shine
Let it shine, all the time, let it shine
That really wasn’t nice of Miss Aileen, was it?
The point of my story? Our relationship with God is complicated. And highly personal. I spent decades avoiding spirituality altogether because my conditioning was conflicted – what I was told to believe from family I loved didn’t match up with what I felt.*
Whatever comfort you take in the divine – even if you take no comfort – is valid, because it’s YOUR relationship. YOU get to make that call.
As much as I resisted God, as my deepest wounds began to heal and dissolve, my experiences on the mat keep proving me wrong.
There are many, but just one example makes it hard *not* to believe when this chain of events unfolds:
Summer, 2016: I decide to check out Wanderlust Whistler. For all accounts, it was a total bust and I vowed never to return: An absurdly expensive (like $1000 a day expensive) three days where I fought with my boyfriend all weekend, was probably 20 years older wiser than every other participant, and experienced, at best, mediocre yoga in fluorescent-lit hotel basement conference rooms with no natural light…
…. Except for one class. Which I attended by accident. Not by choice, but because it was held next door to another class for which I had pre-registered but was turned away at the door for overbooking: Gah!
The class was taught by a Kundalini teacher (Bizarre with a capital B). I typically would’ve just left, but for some reason I stayed. After 20 years of yoga practice, post-class I felt enough of a fresh shift to perk my ears up.
This teacher’s random FB post showed up in my feed in Feb of this year (whom I don’t follow), where I saw she was offering a retreat in India in three weeks. Ok, why not? I love India. If I can get a cheap flight, coverage at the studio, and care for the dog and my daughter, I’ll go.
Everything fell into place easily to attend. Like SO easy. Which, if you’ve been to India, is highly unusual.
In India, I had a life changing, profound and healing experience where I spoke to my mother for the first time in 30 years. My DECEASED mother of 30 years. Without a doubt, it was REAL. I got to have that conversation that all of us who’ve lost a loved one desperately wish for when we say, “If I could have just one more day with her.”
That, right there, is my meaning of God.
* Another blog post, maybe for next time: Consider the blocks that occur when what we see or hear doesn’t align with what we’re told. Especially in our developmental years.