Guest post by Marian R. Bull
I woke up from one of those blissful, healing naps that I most love about summer Sundays, opened my e-mail, and got the joyful surprise of my life—a guest post from my daughter. Here it is.
This morning, I was lucky enough to find myself in the beautiful Cathedral of the Holy Name in downtown Chicago. A newly converted Catholic, I still sometimes find myself peering around in my peripheral vision at certain parts of the Mass, thinking, “Should my head be bowed right now? But that guy two pews up is looking straight at the priest. . . . ” I've got the hang of it by now, but I still need some help from my fellow parishioners. And I'm okay with it.
Today, while contemplating the bald, bowed head next to me, I was reminded of a recent article I read about what to expect from your first yoga class. One of the headers read, "You won't have a clue what to do. And that's okay." I got to thinking about the ways that yoga classes and Masses make us appear, and the way they make us feel, and the beauty inherent in each experience. (I would like to make clear that I don't go to yoga to hear the Word of God, and I don't attend Mass to increase my flexibility. But both are important, though not equally so, and fill distinct needs in my life.)
When I first started attending mass, I felt a bit silly. I felt love for—and from—God, and I felt fulfilled, but I also felt a bit lost in what my RCIA sponsor tenderly called “Catholic aerobics.” But I soldiered on and got accustomed to the bowing and the kneeling, and I found that it gave my prayers, both silent and recited, more intention and meaning. I also realized that not everyone was staring at me thinking, "That girl's head wasn't bowed at the right time. What a silly little neophyte!!" We were all there to worship, to connect with the Holy Trinity on both a personal and a congregational level. What mattered was that I was coming together with others, each on our own spiritual path, each with a love for this amazing Church. And honestly, the more the merrier, right?
Yoga class is a bit the same way. Sure, the upper-class mothers are in overpriced yoga clothes rather than their Sunday best, and the "aerobics" look a bit different, but in the end, we are all there to find something: a workout, a mind-body connection, an escape from our busy days. And in yoga, as at Mass, once I stopped worrying about being "worse" than my peers or looking silly, what I gained from my practice increased exponentially. I focused more on my physical and mental intentions, and I felt more fulfilled after each class. I didn't necessarily find Jesus, but I did find peace. And maybe a little bit of the Holy Spirit, too.
So why does it matter that these things are similar? For me, it's about two things: shutting up the voices in my head worried about seeming clueless, and letting myself find peace and meaning through an individual, yet shared, experience. I love quietly murmuring "Namaste" to my fellow yogis just as I love enthusiastically saying "Peace be with you!!!" to complete strangers at Mass. (Sorry, Bald Guy Next To Me, I may be overly enthusiastic, but I'm just super psyched about sharing my love for Jesus with you.)
Once you stop worrying, you remember why you're really there. And you actually have time to pray. And breathe. And listen to the word of God (or, in the case of yoga, to your thoughts and your body). And smile. Because, isn't it awesome??
One last vignette. I am very blessed that I have a boyfriend who has occasionally attended mass with me. (Neither of us was raised in the Catholic church.) And honestly, how well he knows the liturgy and all of its aerobics is about as important to me as what color shirt he wears. His company makes the Mass even more meaningful: sharing the experience of connecting with God is simply beautiful. I am also lucky that he has been open-minded enough to come to yoga with me. I've got to admit, in his first class, he looked like he didn't know what he was doing. And just like the article said, it didn't matter. Because as we walked out, he looked at me, and smiled, and said, "I haven't felt like this since the last time we left Mass.”