Reflection on Discipleship
Written by Sarah Hill
SSJE Monastic Internship Program corps member
I am honored and grateful for the opportunity to write a Lenten reflection during the fifth week of Lent, using the theme of discipleship. I write as a member of the SSJE Monastic Intern program in Boston, MA.
The Brothers of SSJE often speak of the idea of “conversion”. When I first heard this term, I was confused because I assumed that the men choosing to live in a monastery had already been “converted”. What are they being converted to if they are Christians? These men were already followers of Christ in the most explicit way; they had experienced conversion from life outside the Religious life and had subsequently committed to the vowed life.
However, thinking of conversion as an event assumes a single occurrence. Something that happened once, and is now in the past. Rather, the Brothers speak about ‘conversion’ as an active and ongoing process: the conversion of daily living. In each moment and in each breath, engaging in the process of becoming more fully the person that God created them to be. The person God calls each one of us to be. This type of conversion cannot be achieved in a day or any quantifiable period of time. This is the work of our lives. St Paul explains this conversion as a transformation that draws you closer to doing God’s will:
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God- what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2)
And so the word discipleship, to me, evokes the idea of being a lifelong follower. One who has committed, recommits every day and will continue to commit to following Christ. This can be a difficult, confusing and often painful process. As the gospel reading for fifth Sunday in Lent says:
“Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also.” (John 12)
Because discipleship, or lifelong conversion, requires one to “hate their life” and not become conformed by this world, but instead to serve and follow God, Christians have used spiritual disciplines and ritual acts of worship and prayer to daily open themselves to God. And so it is with me- in order to follow Christ and be a disciple of Christ, in order to daily be converted towards a full and complete union with God, I must practice prayer regularly. Yoga has emerged as that prayer practice for me.
I am guided by a desire to feel united and connected to God. I am guided by the desire and the need, the yearning to more fully live the life that God has given me and to utilize the gifts he has blessed me with. To live abundantly and joyfully. And yoga helps me to open myself to the experience of divine union with God.
I have often tried to find this sense of peace, connectedness and experience of union with God by “trying harder”. By doing more and trying to live my life perfectly. However, this attachment to the world draws me further from God and encourages attachment to idols and attachment to my own power. Instead, I resonate with finding union and connection through prayer.
Why start my prayer with the body? I often wonder if starting with the body encourages vanity and keeps my attention locked on worldly things. But the intention of starting in the body is to practice keen awareness of what is around you, and your physical space is most present to you. We are often preoccupied by the body due to pain, obsession, discomfort, judgment and so my body is actually a great place to begin practicing non-judgment and awareness. Furthermore, the physical practice helps to remove some of the distractions and barriers (that often show up as pain) that direct our attention away from God.
Yoga encourages me to not only observe and bring attention to my life and the world that surrounds me, so that I can better access the people and ways in which God is speaking through my life, but to surrender my life to God and open myself so that I might be filled with His divine love. The most important pose in yoga, savasana, is a practice of surrender and letting go. I use this to help me better submit to God’s power. “Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit,” (Luke 23).
I end with a prayer that guides my teaching and practice of yoga:
God, I give thanks for the gathering of people here in this yoga class and in my life. And I give thanks for Jesus’ presence among us.
I pray that this practice of yoga may be an experience of opening ourselves more fully to receive your Being and Love. We open our minds, our bodies, our hearts, our spirits and our souls fully to you so that you may work within us and through us to most fully live this life you have given us.
I ask that we may also view this practice as a way to gain access to you and that we do not get caught up in the body, but rather use the spiritual practice of yoga to help surrender and receive your Love.