Scripture “…since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us…” Hebrews 12:1

Spiritual Focus 

And so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us but what stands before us…”  Amanda Gorman

Breath Prayer Inhale: I choose Exhale: love

Staying in relationship, keeping our personal support systems in place during the pandemic, has been tough.  Mental health issues and a whole slew of societal ills have increased, attributed in part to increased isolation, and contributing to the pervasive feeling that we are living in difficult, divisive times.  We humans are wired for societal living—to live in relationship with others– and relationships can be challenging in the best of times.

The biblical readings this week speak to both the pros and cons of human relationships.  The writer of the scripture from Hebrews describes the wealth of ancestors from whom we spring as a source of great inspiration and support, a “great cloud of witnesses”. Any of us who have felt supported by an elder or inspired by the story of a historic figure, friend or relative, can relate.  But in the companion gospel reading Jesus warns that following him may lead to division and strife.  It won’t be all “Happy Families”, and we can relate to this too.  Who among us has not had to tread carefully at family gatherings where members disagree with each other?  

In an intersection of yoga and faith, the yoga concept of “tapas” speaks to this challenge.  Tapas, one of the five niyamas, means literally “to burn” and it is sometimes translated as self-discipline.  In her book The Yamas and Niyamas: Exploring Yoga’s Ethical Practice, writer and yogi Deborah Adele likens the concept of tapas to the Prayer of St. Francis.  It begins, 

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me bring love.

In other words, we always have the choice to respond to our neighbor with loving kindness—even when we don’t agree or are annoyed or angry with them.  We may burn from the effort, and it may feel at times like a grueling race, but when we choose to respond with love, we put our faith into action, live our yoga practice off the mat, and bring healing to the world.  As running writer John Bingham, puts it, 

The miracle isn’t that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start.”

The Hill We Climb by Amanda Gorman

When day comes, we ask ourselves, where can we find light in this never-ending shade?

The loss we carry. A sea we must wade.

We braved the belly of the beast.

We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace, and the norms and notions of what “just” is isn’t always justice.

And yet the dawn is ours before we knew it.

Somehow we do it.

Somehow we weathered and witnessed a nation that isn’t broken, but simply unfinished.

We, the successors of a country and a time where a skinny Black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother can dream of becoming president, only to find herself reciting for one.

And, yes, we are far from polished, far from pristine, but that doesn’t mean we are striving to form a union that is perfect.

We are striving to forge our union with purpose.

To compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and conditions of man.

And so we lift our gaze, not to what stands between us, but what stands before us.

We close the divide because we know to put our future first, we must first put our differences aside.

We lay down our arms so we can reach out our arms to one another.

We seek harm to none and harmony for all.

Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true.

That even as we grieved, we grew.

That even as we hurt, we hoped.

That even as we tired, we tried.

That we’ll forever be tied together, victorious.

Not because we will never again know defeat, but because we will never again sow division.

Scripture tells us to envision that everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid.

If we’re to live up to our own time, then victory won’t lie in the blade, but in all the bridges we’ve made.

That is the promise to glade, the hill we climb, if only we dare.

It’s because being American is more than a pride we inherit.

It’s the past we step into and how we repair it.

We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation, rather than share it.

Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy.

And this effort very nearly succeeded.

But while democracy can be periodically delayed, it can never be permanently defeated.

In this truth, in this faith we trust, for while we have our eyes on the future, history has its eyes on us.

This is the era of just redemption.

We feared at its inception.

We did not feel prepared to be the heirs of such a terrifying hour.

But within it we found the power to author a new chapter, to offer hope and laughter to ourselves.

So, while once we asked, how could we possibly prevail over catastrophe, now we assert, how could catastrophe possibly prevail over us?

We will not march back to what was, but move to what shall be: a country that is bruised but whole, benevolent but bold, fierce and free.

We will not be turned around or interrupted by intimidation because we know our inaction and inertia will be the inheritance of the next generation, become the future.

Our blunders become their burdens.

But one thing is certain.

If we merge mercy with might, and might with right, then love becomes our legacy and change our children’s birthright.

So let us leave behind a country better than the one we were left.

Every breath from my bronze-pounded chest, we will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one.

We will rise from the golden hills of the West.

We will rise from the windswept Northeast where our forefathers first realized revolution.

We will rise from the lake-rimmed cities of the Midwestern states.

We will rise from the sun-baked South.

We will rebuild, reconcile, and recover.

And every known nook of our nation and every corner called our country, our people diverse and beautiful, will emerge battered and beautiful.

When day comes, we step out of the shade of flame and unafraid.

The new dawn balloons as we free it.

For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it.

If only we’re brave enough to be it.

The Prayer of St. Francis

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me bring love.
Where there is offence, let me bring pardon.
Where there is discord, let me bring union.
Where there is error, let me bring truth.
Where there is doubt, let me bring faith.
Where there is despair, let me bring hope.
Where there is darkness, let me bring your light.
Where there is sadness, let me bring joy.
O Master, let me not seek as much
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love,
for it is in giving that one receives,
it is in self-forgetting that one finds,
it is in pardoning that one is pardoned,
it is in dying that one is raised to eternal life.

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