The Our Father, a yogini’s reflections

James Tissot – The Lord's Prayer (Le Pater Noster) – Brooklyn Museum
James Tissot – The Lord’s Prayer (Le Pater Noster) – Brooklyn Museum

On the morning before my grandpa had hip replacement surgery, I was so worried. Sitting on my mat, I launched into my old ways of praying, begging God to watch over Honey and everyone else who was involved in his care. A little bit of praying wasn’t enough and as I continued I found myself reciting several prayers I knew by heart, including the Lord’s prayer. I hadn’t prayed in that way in a while. I learned the Our Father going to church with my mom as a kid, and I learned the longer version going to Catholic school mass and Episcopal church with my grandparents. I don’t think anyone taught it to me or discussed it with me back then. I just picked it up, happy to be able to join in and hold hands with the grownups. On Honey’s surgery morning, there was a comfort and power in saying words that I had been saying since childhood in the context of church and God and religious people.  I mumbled those familiar words several times, but at some point I realized I’ve never really thought about what this prayer is saying, and I’d like to know what I think about it.

That was many weeks ago, Honey is slowly recovering, and I’m still saying the Lord’s prayer at the start of my morning practice. It’s an interesting thing to come to this prayer again and again. Some days, a line is especially  meaningful, on other days, something else might jump out at me. Now that yoga is so central to how I see the world, I feel like I have a new lens through which to view this Christian prayer.

Our Father who art in Heaven.

I like the feeling that all human beings are the children of a divine father, that we all have divine in our genes which makes us not only divine but also related to one another. Same father? That means we are pretty closely related, and when family is at it’s best, love is at the center of it. Love each other and remember that you are divine.

Heaven comes up a lot in this prayer. I have more to say about this below.

Hallowed be thy name

In yoga, there are pranava or sacred words that are said “to be new again and again.” “Oṃ” is such a word, which means each time you chant it, it’s as if you are coming to it for the first time. This is what I didn’t do with this prayer for the last 30 years.  There wasn’t meaning behind the words. But now, reflecting on what I’m saying each morning, it is like they are new again and again. This line of the prayer also reminds me that what we believe to be powerful has a power in our lives, including saying the name of something we hold to be divine.

Thy kingdom come

I’ve never been a part of a kingdom, but when I think of one, I imagine one of those walled in medieval towns, minimal bathing,  horses, and a lot of hay lying around. Beyond that, I also picture  people like the vegetable seller, the tailor, the blacksmith. They all have jobs to do and roles to play to help the community run smoothly and safely.  They have their dharma to fulfill. This line sets us up for the next.

Thy will be done

Iśvaraprānidhāna… thy will be done. Surrender. Maybe Iśvaraprānidhāna is surrendering to God or maybe it’s accepting that we are not in complete control of everything that happens in our lives… that there are other forces at work. I remember being in a workshop with Chase Bossart, before he was my teacher, and listening to him talk about Arjuna and the Bhagavad Gita. I could feel myself crack open again after years of having closed up to all the religion and spirituality talk I no longer agreed with. That weekend gave me just enough space that the possibility that there could be a plan for me made it’s way in. And with it, maybe I don’t have to understand how everything in my life will unfold. These were the beginnings of thy will be done. It’s such a humble, brave thing to say, and it’s a radically different way to organize my life.

On earth as it is in Heaven

Yoga is a dualist system based on the samkhya philosophy: there’s the divine and there is the material.  They come together so we can have a human experience on earth, and in this process, we often forget or confuse these aspects of ourselves. But through living and experiencing, we can come to know the difference between what is permanent, or divine, and what is changing, or material,  and as we uncover this for ourselves, we may ultimately see that divine/material, puruṣa/prakriti, heaven/earth… it’s all God. And this coming together of the heaven/earth duality in these lines reminds me of this possibility. Heaven isn’t meaningful to me as a glorified post-death destination, but when I think of moments when I can feel how beautifully, painfully holy it is to be on earth, to love my children, to feel light on my skin, to see colors and sky and stars… this makes this idea of Heaven meaningful. On earth, as it is in Heaven…

I’ve got more to say, but we’re getting kind of long and I need to go to bed. I’ll save the rest for next week…  I will let you know, I was tempted to discard my antiquated way of praying and these old prayers when they surfaced during that stressful surgery day, but I’m so glad I didn’t. Giving time to this prayer and finding the meaning that’s there for me now, in the context of my yoga practice, feels strangely vulnerable and makes me a little nervous. When that happens, I know it’s worth it.  So despite the resistance that comes up (I still have some beefs with my experience of Christianity and some of the messed up things that have come from the religion through the centuries), by keeping this inquiry very personal I can appreciate that the prayer is a powerful one, and I’m glad to have time to reflect on it.

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2 thoughts on “The Our Father, a yogini’s reflections

  1. Thank you so much for this post! I have been attempting to marry my emergent Christian sensibilities with my love and devotion to my yoga and meditation practice for several years. Recently, on a rough morning, I honored my brother Jesus on my mat and the gifts were immense! An embodied experience in forward fold of “On earth as it is in Heaven” as my upper and lower Chakras became ONE…<3 Bless your journey my friend…xo

    1. I’m so glad this is meaningful to you and I love hearing about your experience. I haven’t really been trying to see the yoga in Christianity or the Christianity in yoga, but then there it is, again and again, and I find that like you, I’m starting to feel more connections to my church upbringing as I am more connected to God through yoga. It’s really beautiful.

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