Abide With Me (Musing on Gravitational Centers)

Abide With Me is a book written by Elizabeth Strout about a New England minister set in the late 1950’s who loses his way after he suffers the tragic loss of his wife to cancer. The book follows him through his interactions with his family and the troubled members of his congregation.

The late ’50’s were a fearful time of unrest, the aftermath of two wars— WWII and the Korean War were still fresh wounds, our nation was caught in the midst of the Cold War as well.

Typically most Christians today when they find themselves searching for guidance and answers to moral dilemmas ask themselves WWJD?, “What Would Jesus Do?”.  However, Elizabeth Strout depicted her main character as a WWDBD? “What Would Dietrich Bonhoeffer Do?” kind of man.

He had found the works of the theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, during his studies at divinity school and Bonhoeffer’s words quickly became a fulcrum for the reverend, a way to balance out his thoughts and his sermons. A plumb line for how to behave as a grown man and as a minister to his flock.

Not my usual “cup of tea” but Elizabeth Strout is a very good author, she tells a compelling story and has quite the way with words. I had read another of her books, Olive Kitteridge. I plan on reading more.

Her Reverend finds himself struggling, hard to be the person he once was, hard to find the right words in his sermons, and hard to find the right words to help others, much less himself.  Throughout the book he must come to deal with a series of humbling blows to his sense of self. Not even WWDBD is working anymore.

Below is a paraphrase of a conversation between the main character and his theological mentor set near the end of the book. This conversation struck my “yoga bone” as the use of your gravitational center is crucial to the practice of Yoga.  A physical and mental journey to bring balance to life.

“A good thing to be humbled. But now I’m scared. I guess of not having a center of gravity, the way Bonhoeffer says a grown man has. I’m not sure I have a center of gravity. But you must. Why? As a matter of fact, I could imagine that none of us has a center of gravity. That we’re tugged and pulled by competing forces every minute and we hold on as best we can. Thats a relief because sometimes Bonhoeffer has this tone like he knows everything.  He knew a great deal but I suspect if he was concerned about his center of gravity it was because his center felt pretty wobbly at times.”  Elizabeth Strout, Abide With Me, 280-1

I was curious so I looked up the Bonhoeffer quote that references the center of gravity of grown up men, as it turns out, it is one of his more famous quotes, but interestingly enough it comes from a coalition of his correspondence during WWII, and was found in a letter sent a homesick soldier and not from his theological writings.

Bonhoeffer’s remarks about a grown-up’s ability to hold true to a mental center of gravity by staying in the present moment, without letting his mind tug and pull him away, regardless of the heartfelt desire to be elsewhere, is the very essence of the science of Yoga.

According to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the practice of yoga is a concentrated effort to rest the mind in a peaceful flow, any action we take that helps cultivate a sense of inner equilibrium is Yoga.

The lack of equilibrium brings about the opposite, it is very frustrating when your life is out of balance, not to dwell, but repeatedly falling out of a yoga balancing posture such as Tree is a blow to the ego.  We feel humiliated when others see, no doubt this is why the minister wanted to quit his post and run away after his mind toppled over and he broke down in front of his congregation.

My mind was a mess when I walked into my first Yoga class, but I am a testament to the benefit of balancing poses. At some point in my practice there came a moment when my body and my mind started working in harmony… as I worked to center my body I also centered my mind.

This certainly wasn’t my intention when I walked through the door, the brilliance of Yoga is that it happened anyway. So in this series of posts I would like to explore the juxtaposition between our physical center of gravity and developing a mental center of gravity.

“Abide with Me” as I work my way through these thoughts about gravitational centers.

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