A blog written by one of our 300hr students, Emilie Street (500 hr certified yoga teacher and Enneagram educator). You can connect with her work here.
Once upon a time, as a young teenage girl, I developed a certain resolve to pursue the priesthood. A good little Episcopalian, I prayed often (keeping a prayer journal for quite some time), and I turned to God in both small moments and in big ones—often losing myself to what I deemed to be “his will.”
God was everything to me. My best friend, my savior, my safe place. It was all that I could hope for to devote my life to him and to share his love with the world. I did all the right things—I was involved in the Episcopal Diocese, I studied religion in college, I invited countless friends to join me at Episcopal gatherings, and I made known my intent to pursue seminary. By all accounts, I was on the right path.
That is, until one day during my sophomore year of college, when things changed. I was sitting in my Abrahamic Traditions class, when my teacher explained that some Islamic interpretations of the crucifixion actually assert that Judas died on the cross, rather than Jesus. In Islam, while Muhammad is considered the one true prophet, Jesus is still considered one of God’s earlier prophets. She went on to tell us that the theory holds that God would not put his prophet through the fate that Jesus suffered, so Judas’s body took on the form of Jesus, leading to his death in place of Jesus.
In that moment, I remember considering how strange this theory was and how they may have come to that conclusion.
And then, in the very next moment, I found myself wondering how it was any stranger than what I believed and how I had come to my own conclusions concerning religious rights and wrongs.
A flip had been switched, and from that moment forward, I was unable to shake the thought.
Before I knew it, the foundation of my faith was broken, and suddenly, God was gone.
I pleaded for him to come back, I cried endlessly, and I shamed myself—believing that if only my faith had been strong enough, he would still be here. My heart was crushed and my safe place taken away. I went on for the next couple of years hoping I would find my way back to him, denying that I had ever lost him to begin with. When I finally realized that I wouldn’t, I shut him out completely—no more God, just Emilie, alone to face the world on her own.
I became comfortable here, and knowing that the pain of the loss was too deep to revisit, I allowed his absence to be as it was.
Some years later, I was living in Bocas del Toro, Panama, a series of islands off the Caribbean coast. I had begun practicing yoga in place of running, since my home was water locked and there was no place to run.
Yoga began simply as a form of exercise, but over time, practicing yoga every morning in the rainforest, something began to awaken in me—a familiar feeling—a connection with something bigger than myself.
But this was different, what I experienced was not separate from me, but a part of me—within me and all around me. In every face, in the breeze, in the singing of the birds, in the pouring of the rain, in the glinting of the sun off the endless ocean.
It took me some time to recognize that I was here once again. I was with God. That in reality God had never left. Yet, something had changed. God was no longer confined to the barriers I once placed on him. In fact, God was no longer “him.” Nor was God “her.” God was simply God—the divinity of all things.
My relationship and understanding of the divine had become something new. It is a relationship that continues to be crafted by me and me alone. It is one that has arisen naturally from my own lived experience, and now, it has a stronger foundation to stand on than before.
I say all this not to contend that my understanding of God is more valid than someone else’s, in fact, I strongly believe all experiences of the divine are equally valid. I say this instead to highlight that what I held onto for so long was an institutionalized version of the divine—a God that could be recognized only through the lens of my own narrative— and when the narrative crumbled, so did God.
In opening myself up to both experiencing and welcoming other narratives, my view of God has expanded. Now I find myself learning and adopting teachings and practices from many different viewpoints-- Hinduism, Buddhism, Christian Mysticism, and so on.
In doing so, I’ve come to question why any of us ever expected God to be just one thing?
Why did we ever expect God to fit in the box that we created?
Why did we ever expect God to follow our rules?
Why did we ever expect that we could understand all that God is?
God is unfathomable, and yet somehow, palpable.
Yoga has taught me to feel God within me and all around me. It has inspired me to learn about and be open to the divine in all its forms. And my life is much richer for it.
It is through this practice that I see now that God is in all things, and that all our thoughts, all our words, and all our actions are prayers to the divine. I see now that Jesus was a holy person who came to show us that it is possible for all of us to live a life free from the grips of ego (sin) and in doing so, become deathless. I see now that for all these years, my best friend, my savior, my safe place wasn’t outside of me—it was me, and it was all things and nothing all at once, material and immaterial. And I see now that I have no reason to fear losing God, because it would be impossible to do so.
So the girl who once hoped to become a priest became a yoga teacher instead, in hopes that we all may see that God can never leave us. That we might realize somewhere within and beneath our egoic minds God is waiting for us. Ever present. Ever awaiting our return.