Pr. Ben Adams
August 24, 2019
I’m now in week three of a challenge to myself to practice yoga each day for thirty days straight. So far, what I have discovered is that I am not a very flexible person, about which my YouTube yoga instructor Adrienne reminds me, is totally fine, we’re all on our own journey, just find what feels good. Thanks, Adrienne, for that advice and grace I so often desperately need.
Maybe you can relate to my inflexibility – it is humbling, and especially as I age, there are certain things my body just doesn’t do anymore. But one thing I’ve noticed as well about practicing yoga is that it lives in my consciousness long after my sessions are done, and I think about it for the rest of my day. I’ll catch myself lost in thought and my yoga practice comes up in my mind and it reminds me to focus on my posture in those moments when I begin to slump or slouch.
Posture is defined by the American Chiropractic Association as the position in which we hold our bodies while standing, sitting, or lying down. Good posture is the correct alignment of body parts supported by the right amount of muscle tension against gravity.
Sometimes when I am trying to achieve this correct alignment of my own body, I tense or tighten up my muscles to hold what I think is the proper position, but what I am realizing more and more through my yoga practice, and through my breath, is that good posture and rigidness are at odds with each other, and it’s actually in developing flexibility that my body is able to fall into correct alignment.
But the forces of gravity are constant, pulling on us, and before we know it, we are slumped, slouched, bent by that same gravitational force that keeps us grounded. There are other forces pulling us down too, forces like racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, bi-phobia, ageism, ableism, nationalism, and capitalism that have left a lot of us bent over, and drastically out of alignment.
It’s safe to say that the unnamed woman in our Gospel today who was bent by a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years was intersectionally subject to a combination of many of these forces. And where we, and where Jesus finds this woman today, is in the synagogue. And immediately when Jesus sees her, he calls her over and says, "Woman, you are set free from your ailment." Then he lays his hands on her, and immediately she stands up straight and begins praising God.
There are many who would interpret this text and only find the good news of this story in Jesus’ healing of the woman, and don’t get me wrong, the healing is certainly good, but Jesus does not heal this woman in order to restore her posture and realign her with a broken world that bent her in half in the first place, but rather, Jesus heals this woman to reveal the ways in which the inflexible, oppressive rules of this world must be bent so that all people can be set free.
Good posture is important, but if we only focus on that physically, we fail to see the ways in which our posture in other areas is out of whack. Because good posture spiritually, emotionally, relationally, impacts how we relate not just to ourselves, but to the world around us. In healing the woman, Jesus demonstrates his care for our bodies, but in healing the woman on the Sabbath day, Jesus demonstrates his desire to heal our world of its compassionless, oppressive, inflexible systems. The healing and freedom that Jesus offers the crippled woman, even though he must bend the rules to do so, is an invitation for the rest of us as well to assume a flexible, open, graceful, Christ-like posture towards creation, our fellow siblings, and towards ourselves, all of which are being bent over by the demonic forces of this world.
Hong Kong has been on my mind a lot lately, and for two reasons, one, there are massive protests happening there as we speak, and two, my wife, Tara, has been there on a work trip for last week. If you haven’t been keeping up, the protests in Hong Kong were sparked by a proposed bill that would allow the transfer of fugitives to jurisdictions with which Hong Kong lacks an extradition deal, with the most important newly proposed jurisdiction being mainland China. Opponents of the bill have expressed concerns about the possibility of politically motivated persecution and unfair trials on the mainland. With this real threat to democracy in Hong Kong, millions of people have taken to the streets to protest.
As I read about the protesters and their tactics, I couldn’t help but see a baptismal connection. And that’s because their rallying cry has become, “Be water, my friend.” This is a famous saying of the late martial arts star Bruce Lee, and the protesters who have adopted this mantra have waged their fight by organizing themselves into an apparent leaderless movement and rolling from one spot to another like unexpected waves. You see it’s not the rigidness of the protesters organizational posture, but it’s shapeless flexibility that has resulted in their effectiveness. Maybe we too can embrace that go-with-the-flow grace and strength of the protester’s movement and apply it to our own baptismal journeys.
Be water my friend. Wherever there are places and people that have been bent, laid low, scorched, dried out by the forces of this world, let us move freely, flexibly, gracefully to those places and people like the waters of our baptism that were abundantly outpoured for us, and for Nolan tonight. Let us be water that finds its perfect correct place and posture in the driest, lowest places of this world.
Adrienne, my YouTube yoga instructor, talks about our journeys often. We, with Nolan now too, are on our baptismal journeys, and our baptismal waters can remind us to be water. As we move through life let us not be tempted to believe that good posture for us is to be rigidly, inflexibly aligned, but to trust that in moving like our baptismal waters we will embody the fluid grace with which our baptism has sealed us.
Moving like water will allow us to bend to meet people who have been brought low, it will invite us to bend the rules when they don’t serve the well-being and liberation of all people, and it will free us to assume a good, open, and flexible posture.
After all, good posture is important, and we even embody the importance of our posture in our worship. You’ll often be invited to bow or to pray with open hands in what we call the orans position. Now the Greek word for bent over used in our Gospel to describe the woman could also mean curved. Thus, we could see that the spirit that is ailing this woman in our Gospel is not just one that has left her bent over and crippled, but it is also spirit of being curved. Connecting that to our theology, Martin Luther would often talk of original sin as the soul curved in on itself.
In that light, we could regard praying in the orans position as an act of resistance against the spirit and sin that would curve us in on ourselves, unable to look outside of ourselves to the needs of our neighbors or creation. Praying in the orans position opens our hands and our hearts to the world around us and we embody our hope to be able to see beyond our own belly buttons. It’s not about being straightened but being uncurved by sin.
And in being uncurved by God’s grace poured out on us in baptism, we are set free to notice the needs in and around us. The dry and low places and people that need water. The fluidity and freedom of our baptismal waters invites us to flexibly bend and move into those places with the good news of healing and liberation not offered to us by the inflexible systems of this world. Be water, my friends, and be liberated by Jesus Christ who bent down from heaven to meet us and who bends the rules to set us free and realign us into good posture. Amen.