Yoga Theology: Revisiting the ALL of Surrender

Three years ago, I wrote a post entitled, "Yoga Theology: The ALL of Surrender" and reflected on the largeness of the three-letter word, ALL. Hearing a modern arrangement of the hymn, "I Surrender All," last week led me to search the blog archives for a piece I only vaguely remembered.

I remembered the title.

I remembered that I had experienced a struggle.

I remembered that God taught me on the yoga mat. 

Memory is an odd and and complex part of the human mind. As I re-read the piece, the details came flowing back to me. I went from a foggy recollection to a clear reflection of the yoga class  after only a few sentences. Oswald Chambers once wrote, "Let the past lie; but let it lie in the sweet embrace of Christ." Some parts of the past are best left at the foot of the cross or buried with Christ. Other details of the past may rise from that sweet embrace and resurrect us continually.

I had spent the day on a prayer retreat and attended a yoga class in the evening. I desperately wanted to surrender ALL, but one concern nagged at me like a mosquito at sunset. The more I swatted and slapped at the worry, the less I surrendered. Only when I quit fighting so hard did the "mosquito" leave me alone. Only when I turned my gaze upward, lifted my hands in offering, and connected my posture to my prayer did I begin "to feel the sacred flame" of God's salvation. 

While I may have forgotten about the buzz around my yoga mat in August of 2012, plenty of other mosquitoes have arisen since then.

I still take the prayer of "I surrender all" onto the yoga mat regularly.

"All" is still a short word with a heavy load. 

Still--God hears the plea and waits for us--if we will turn our eyes away from the buzz and towards his balm.

I revisited the hymn and noticed how every verse is a plea to become more like Jesus. At the heart of each petition is repentance. The song had a very different meaning for me than it did in 2012. Back then, surrender meant rolling my concerns onto the yoga mat where I met with God. Today, I hear the call of "surrender" as an invitation for God's Spirit to roll into my heart. Rather than lift my concerns to God, I pray that God will come into the concerns. The word  has not changed, nor the Spirit's power working through it. In different times, under different circumstances, the word can have many, glowing interpretations.

So it is with many words. So it is with the Word of God. So it is with God. 

Below is the recording of "I Surrender All" that jogged my memory and led to this post, as well as a reprinting of "The ALL of Surrender." If you have trouble viewing the video, visit www.darianduckworth.com/musings 

all good things to each of you,

Pastor Darian

From August 7, 2012

Yoga Theology: The ALL of Surrender

When I was teaching yoga regularly, the classes often began with an invitation to surrender. I would encourage the students to leave their cares and concerns outside of the room with their shoes. As we gathered on the mats, we were "to let go of our worries with each exhale."

It seemed so easy -- until I became a student again.

I spent this past Tuesday on a monthly Pastor's Prayer Retreat, a day when I seclude myself in order to pray for both personal needs and requests submitted by parishioners. The six hours spent in prayer were enlivening yet challenging, and I was grateful for the Spirit's guidance in this time away. The day concluded by attending a community yoga class, a time for me to unwind.

But there was one concern that I just couldn't shake. There was one person I couldn't "leave outside the room" or "let go with an exhale." Why couldn't I just surrender? I started silently singing the hymn, "I Surrender All," and quickly discovered that ALL is a heavy three-letter word. I could give up almost all -- but not all. I found myself frustrated as I moved into the practice. As soon as I would settle into a pose, the need would resurface in the forefront of my mind.

There is great struggle in surrender. The five verses of Judson Van Deventer's well-loved hymn may be melodic, but the lyrics are not a hand-holding humming of "Kum Bah Yah." These words come from a heart desperate to trust. The song was born from Van Deventer's own struggle to choose his vocation, and most of us who sing it have some part of "all" with which we're in conflict. It's easy to preach, "let go and let God." But it's hard actually to do so. Some part of "all" crawls on the yoga mats of life with us.

And the good news is: it's okay. It's okay if we don't surrender "all" by the time we get to the last verse of the hymn. It's okay if we are slow to loosen our grip. It's okay if the burdens linger. Perhaps there is a lesson to learn in slow surrender, as I experienced on the yoga mat.

In one particular pose, I was comfortable yet challenged with my hands lifted overhead. The concern returned to my mind. Instead of getting frustrated, I looked up at my hands, raised as if holding an offering.

"I surrender this person to you," I whispered. My breath deepened. I relaxed.

We moved into the next pose that called for us to turn our hearts upward.

"I surrender this person to you," I prayed again. More relaxation.

I repeated this prayer, relaxing more each time, until we did handstands. Then my petition suddenly became, "Lord, don't let me fall on my head!" Yoga had become a visual prayer that enabled me to practice what I preach. Surrender was possible, but it took time, effort, and intentional release.

By the end of class, the concern was still on my mind, but I had begun letting go. I had begun surrendering. I was trusting more than I did before. And sometimes that's all we can do.

all good things to each of you,

Pastor Darian