When I’m not having awkward conversations with Christians about homosexuality, I find myself having awkward conversations about another aspect of my life: I’m a Christian who practices and teaches yoga, and reads Tarot cards. For many Christians this exiles me to the far fringe of the fringe – to those “crazy Christians who worship Sophia and call themselves Episcopalians.”
Perhaps I should lay all my cards on the table now: I’m not concerned anymore with towing the Evangelical line. I used to be – I used to protect my image as an orthodox, uncontroversial believer vigilantly, perhaps as compensation for feeling so invalidated by being gay in the church. Now, I dont care; my give a damn is broken. I’m not invested in protecting Evangelicalism’s easily violated sense of safety. In my view, a little unease, a little push on our tightly wound sense of security is a good thing. I’m not here to protect people from discomfort – I happen to believe that discomfort is a good thing. I am, however, invested in truth, discourse, and legitimate criticism. Yoga and Tarot are two of my passions, and I want to offer some preliminary thoughts on being a Christian who uses both yoga and tarot on a daily basis.
First of all, why? Why yoga when I could just go to a gym, and why Tarot at all?
The simple answer is that both are effective, complentary tools in maintaining my mental health. I use them in a much larger regimen to maintain equilibrium: alongside a strict sleep schedule, meds, and other tools. Both have been life savers for me. In short, I use them because they work. I also believe that’s why they’ve been around and in use for so long: they have a unique and positive impact on the human psyche.
On top of being useful for my mental health, they are also helpful in connecting me to God; specifically, the Triune God of Christianity. Both help me find stillness, both help to orient me towards God and to hear his voice.
This leads us, though, to the next question: how?
Both are undeniably spiritual practices. The word “yoga” means “to yoke.” It is not just exorcise – it is an integrative spiritual practice in which we bond with something higher than ourselves. I dont believe in yoga as simply exercise – if it is, you’re not doing yoga. Yoga, by its nature, trains us to connect deeply with ourselves, to rest, to still the constant movement of the mind, and in doing so, helps us connect with something beyond us – something that we can submit to. In other words, yoga creates the foundation for mystical experience.
However, much like the 12 Steps, the Higher Power to which you choose to be yoked is your choice entirely. I choose Christ. I am not worshiping idols, I am not bowing down to Shiva, I am not conversing with spirit guides. That is not my yoga practice. Instead, when I practice yoga, I’m practicing mindfulness: welcoming, accepting, and then letting go of every thought and feeling. I’m centering myself on Jesus, usually with the Orthodox Jesus Prayer: *inhale* “Jesus Christ, son of God,” *exhale*, “have mercy on me, the Sinner.”
When it comes to Tarot, a distinction needs to be made between two schools: the first is divination and fortune telling, and this is the most popular perception of the Tarot. The second school is the use of the archetypes of Tarot for personal meditation and insight, without necessarily believing it is spiritually led. I practice the latter, and not the former.
The archetypal imagery of the Tarot is so powerful, so perrenial, that it ignites insights and responses within you. The process of reading Tarot becomes an archetypal Rorschach test – you superimpose your own story, your own needs, your own unseen quandries onto the cards. They help to unearth the depths of your own psyche. The cards are also particularly helpful for me when I am in the midst of panic or depression – they bring me out of the storm, out of myself and into the archetypal.
In the cases of both yoga and Tarot, they assumed the role of magic in previous times precisely because they work so effectively. As I read Tarot, or rest in a deep yoga practice, I fully understand why these practices attained the occult and mystical status they enjoy.
But none of this really gets at the primary objection many Christians have: can a Christian use these tools decoupled from their occult and Hindu origins? Are not the inherent occult and Hindu nature of these practices contrary to Christianity?
I understand these concerns, but I don’t share them. I don’t believe that anything, in and of itself, is purely good or purely evil, like Sauron’s One Ring or Voldemort’s Horcruxes. I also think these concerns build on a misguided myth of Christian purity: that there is a “pure Christian culture,” and everything else, but this division defies reality and history. We are Gentiles, and all aspects of our church and society are a complex intermingling of pagan and Christian, secular and sacred, with all different religions and myths and philosophies, and I can’t help but feel that that’s part of the point. Christ came to redeem the world, and that means yoga and tarot as well as people. God did not just come to save people, but cultures, because people and culture are intimately connected.
This leaves us with the complicated work of deciding what stays in the Kingdom of God, and what goes. I happen to believe that Tarot and yoga, inherently mystical, occultic and Hindu though they are, should stay. Others disagree with me, and that is ok.
At the end of the day, I tell everyone uncomfortable with the concept the same thing: don’t compromise your boundaries. If yoga or tarot freak you out, or you have a conviction not to practice them, than don’t practice them.
However, I do find both to be powerful tools, and I would find the the loss of both tragic. In much the same way the wise men looked into their astrological magic and saw the Star of Christ, so I too look into yoga and Tarot and see God.