Leah's Lent: Journals and Yoga Poses

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My husband likes to say,  “Don’t ask a question you don’t want the answer to.” 

Several times in these first two weeks of Lent, I wished I had not asked the question of how I wanted to move through Lent.  Two answers came to me : one thing to give up and one practice to embrace.  

For Lent, I am denying myself reading books. Me : the writer, the language-crafter, and book aficionado, is giving up one of my absolute favorite things.

No sooner than I’d felt the nudge to stop reading books (and to only read Scripture or my own journals), a friend texted me,  “What are you reading for Lent?”  she asked.  It was as if God wanted to confirm that I’d heard his nudge correctly.

I hesitantly replied, “My old journals or the Bible.”  

 Anyone raised in my household or who sat in my classroom can attest to the fact that I put a high value on reading, but I am keenly aware that I  can use it as an escape from thinking my own thoughts or from noticing my feelings.  I use reading as a non-caloric, substance-free way to numb. Reading, for me, is a distraction from the hard work of writing, and since it is so worthy of an activity, I feel justified and redeemed.  I even read and study as a way to fool myself into thinking I am practicing faith; when really, I am just reading about someone else’s spiritual practice.  Don’t get me wrong,  I’ve had my life changed by the work of certain authors and I will read and study again after Easter, but for 40 days I need to fast from the words of others. 

I can think of about one thousand things I would have rather given up.  

As it is, in reading God’s words or my own words, I’m having to face myself.  

On Ash Wednesday, I heard the priest say, “It is a bold thing to have your heart torn open.”   Re-reading my journals does that to me. It forces me back to the painful past, some of which I would just as soon forget.  To be fair, my journals are also filled with plenty of recollections of answered prayers and gratitude lists, but the fear of revisiting the hard places keeps me from wanting to read them.  This Lent,  Jesus is asking me to look back, to see where I’ve come from, to embrace a few things I left behind, and walk with Him as He embraces the sins of the world.  It will be freeing and liberating, He promises.  The Easter story tells me there is resurrection, light, and life on the other side of darkness.  

The Wounded Healer has issued me an invitation to share in His suffering and know Him more deeply when I’m refusing the temptation to occupy my brain with the words of others and enter into silence.  

 I’m being invited to practice what I know in my mind, but have yet to learn in soul and body.  

As for the practice I am embracing during this Lent season, I am working on balance poses.

A few days after I asked what I wanted to embrace during Lent, I noticed I was wobbly while trying to hold a crescent lunge in yoga class.  My yoga practice has been minimal lately, and I realized how quickly I’d lost some of my balancing ability.  Balance is built over time, incremental moments, day after day. I tend not to practice these poses at home because they are the ones where you stand still and wonder if you’re actually doing anything.  I’ve been averse to ‘not doing anything’ most of my life. Doing makes me feel alive and worthy of taking up space. Stillness and silence has had to be forced on me in the past. Accepting that I am loved by God by simply being has been a hard thing for me to grasp. 

Yoga is a solitary thing, even when you practice in a class with others.  It’s an activity in which one is intentionally choosing a contemplative silence by focusing on the sound of your own breath.   There is nowhere to go but within when you are standing in tree pose, focusing on a single spot with your eyes. In the silence, you notice pain, frustration, inadequacy, anxiety, anger…it all bubbles up.  It’s also not lost on me that I am bringing another kind of balance to my life, when I shut out some of the noise of words and allow the body and soul time to speak. 

The bulletin from the Ash Wednesday service describes Lent as a season of austerity. During Lent, we make space for resurrection day. The feast is more glorious after the fast.   My books, as much as I love them, are their own kind of noise in my life.  When they’re taken away, that space fills with silence which makes a place for listening. There’s a new, noticeable weight to the words I read in Scripture and the words I recorded years ago as I cried out to God on the pages of my journal.   The stillness of balance poses works the same way - they create space for the body and soul to speak, to notice the importance of each breath I take, to be grateful for living that moment,  and to ask for help to see and name what I’ve buried inside.

Jesus intentionally headed toward stillness and silence as he approached his final days on earth, ‘for the joy set before Him’.  May I do the same, trusting Him to meet me in the empty spaces.  

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Photo Credit: Jonathon Kohn Photography