Scripture: Joshua 24: 1-3, 13-26
In this story from the Old Testament, Joshua has gathered all the tribes of Israel at Shechem, a sacred site where Joshua had previously enacted a covenant with God and the people. Now advanced in years and long past the great battles of Jericho, Joshua takes in a deep breath, and then speaks forth in the voice of a prophet. “Thus says the Lord,” Joshua says, and then narrates all the mighty acts God has done for the people of Israel, from Abraham through the conquest of the land. He speaks of God’s faithful presence with and action on behalf of the people. Joshua, very kindly, doesn’t mention all of Israel’s failures–their lack of faithfulness, or their forgetfulness of the covenant.
After narrating all the good God has done, Joshua charges the people to revere and serve God alone, and not all the other false gods the people had worshipped prior to Abraham and while in captivity in Egypt. “Choose this day whom you will serve; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord, ” Joseph famously commands. The people, inspired by the words of their leader, respond with full heart, “We also will serve the Lord.” Joshua then makes a covenant with the people and their God.
With the sights of that holy place filling their eyes, and with such sacred language running through their ears, the people of Israel make full-hearted promises to be faithful to God, which is what a covenant is. To make and keep a promise requires a full presence, and a potent attention. The people held that in Shechem. Israel, however, would soon be distracted, and break their promise to God, as they had done in the past. They would worship false gods once again. God in God’s lovingkindness, will continually call them back to be present to God’s love again.
The people of Israel are so human, and so prone to distraction and the breaking of a promise. Thank goodness, for it shows us how to receive forgiveness for our own distraction from the true God. False gods call, and their allure and our inability to be present leads to broken promises. How easy it is to be distracted by screens of any kind, or the false gods of money, prestige, or success. God’s forgiveness and mercy offers the capacity to commit anew to our promises. By being fully present in the here and now, we can make and keep our promises.
The practice of presence, of being fully in the very now rather than lingering in the past or stretching anxiously to the future, enables us to keep promises and be true to the one true God. The invitation in the yoga class is be practice being present. We do this by connecting deliberately to our inhale and our exhale. The breath invites us to be fully present in this moment. This attention then enables us to keep whatever promises we might have made to God or to people whom we love.
In this practice, we will do the pose Janu sirsasana, and will practice deliberate breath work while here to call us to be fully present to the moment and to our promise.
(Pose directions are taken directly rom Yoga Journal’s website) https://www.yogajournal.com/poses/head-to-knee-forward-bend
Janu Sirsasana (Head-to-Knee Forward Bend)
Sit on the floor with your legs straight in front of you. Use a blanket under your buttocks if necessary. Inhale, bend your right knee, and draw the heel back toward your perineum. Rest your right foot sole lightly against your inner left thigh, and lay the outer right leg on the floor, with the shin at a right angle to the left leg (if your right knee doesn’t rest comfortably on the floor, support it with a folded blanket).
Press your right hand against the inner right groin, where the thigh joins the pelvis, and your left hand on the floor beside the hip. Exhale and turn the torso slightly to the left, lifting the torso as you push down on and ground the inner right thigh. Line up your navel with the middle of the left thigh. You can just stay here, using a strap to help you lengthen the spine evenly, grounding through the sitting bones.
Or, when you are ready, you can drop the strap and reach out with your right hand to take the inner left foot, thumb on the sole. Inhale and lift the front torso, pressing the top of the left thigh into the floor and extending actively through the left heel. Use the pressure of the left hand on the floor to increase the twist to the left. Then reach your left hand to the outside of the foot. With the arms fully extended, lengthen the front torso from the pubis to the top of the sternum.
Exhale and extend forward from the groins, not the hips. Be sure not to pull yourself forcefully into the forward bend, hunching the back and shortening the front torso. As you descend, bend your elbows out to the sides and lift them away from the floor.
Lengthen forward into a comfortable stretch. The lower belly should touch the thighs first, the head last. Stay in the pose anywhere from 1 to 3 minutes. Come up with an inhalation and repeat the instructions with the legs reversed for the same length of time.