Posted by: Mark Nielsen | March 5, 2009

Hail Yogi Mary, Full of Enlightenment (aka “Let It Be”)

” And Mary said:
   “My soul glorifies the Lord
    and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
 for he has been mindful
      of the humble state of his servant.
   From now on all generations will call me blessed,
    for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
      holy is his name.
 His mercy extends to those who fear him,
      from generation to generation.
 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
      he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
 He has brought down rulers from their thrones
      but has lifted up the humble.
 He has filled the hungry with good things
      but has sent the rich away empty.
 He has helped his servant Israel,
      remembering to be merciful
 to Abraham and his descendants forever,
      even as he said to our fathers.”

          (Luke 1: 46-55, NIV)

  • [ Editor’s note: For a unique and lovely Franciscan interpretation of Mary of Nazareth’s role in revealing God’s plan for humanity, I suggest Professor Daniel Casey Jr.’s 1999 article on the Magnificat (the Song of Mary quoted above). For a classic Protestant celebration of Mary’s spirituality and the “social gospel”, try Matthew Henry’s commentary here. ]

Now that you’re here, let’s review…

I’ve been presenting a series of  blogs  the past ten days, on the distinct problem of achieving a healthy self-image as a child of God, and a fundamental inner peace. My other goal, equally important, has been to present and begin to live out a healthier way of relating to other people, in the “real world”.

Along the way, I’ve dipped into various psychological schools of thought. I’ve touched on the addiction and recovery/12-step movement, and what it has to say about some of the ways our sense of self gets damaged or abused. I’ve mentioned John Bradshaw, and some of the various “inner child” theories on co-dependency and dysfunctional family systems.

I’ve also looked at what various world religions have to say on the subject, including the Sufi variation on Islam, and Buddhism.

Let me be clear, though: I fully and unapologetically admit that I have a progressive Christian theology at the core of what I stand for. I see the Jesus way, the Holy Spirit way, as both the answer and the method for achieving the personal peace, health, purpose and productivity that all these various religions and systems are trying to get at.

Nevertheless, I believe Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and other conceptions of “the self”, or the human spirit, have something to teach Westerners about how to stay in touch with God, and with our own role within the Creation. And as for the West itself, and it’s own tendency to “take sides”, let’s just say I am both a Catholic and a Protestant, a liberal and a conservative, and a few other things thrown in for good measure.

However, theologically, I’m not going to say alot more here about Mary, or differing concepts of salvation, or yoga, or prayer, or the Buddhist concept of enlightenment which I alluded to in my title above.

I am dodging the Mary issue partly because I am well-aware that I would soon end up stepping on somebody’s toes, and rushing in where angels fear to tread, by going too far in combining these widely disparate worldviews.

Just because I am a Catholic, and a pacifist Mennonite convert, with Evangelical tendencies, and a Buddha fetish … doesn’t mean I expect many people to want to follow where I would lead them. Frankly, it’s uncomfortable to try holding all these concepts in tension, and not let them go, or lazily dismiss one out-of-hand without further study. I wouldn’t wish this tension on anyone… but then again, maybe I’m advocating it for everyone.

In other words, I’m just talking here. My school of study has merely been failure and persistence, in my attempts to resolve these ancient and very deep questions. I’ve read a bit, here and there. But I’m still exploring. Thus I’m only an expert in pain and frustration, and to a much lesser extent in communication, linguistics, and how people learn. Other than that, as comic Nazi Sgt. Shultz once said, “I know NOTHINKKK!”  I simply believe in certain things, and in talking frankly about them.

Plus I just spent a number of previous blogs already getting into the nitty-gritty of this stuff, beginning with this post on Zen. But as I said above, I have focused more on how Jesus’ ideas and contemplative life tie into these spiritual questions and practices, not on Mary. Today, I just happen to love Mary’s enthusiastic, humble attitude throughout scripture, as an example of a near-perfect disciple. For example, just before speaking the Magnificat above, her “Let it be done unto me as you have said” (Luke 1:38) response to God’s angel is the first and best response that every human should aspire to have when God reaches out to us. It is the model of acceptance, of non-attachment to one’s own priorities, in favor of God’s.

Speaking of “Let it be” — and mostly off-topic, but quite fun — I discovered today that the “Mother Mary comes to me” line in the Beatles’ hit song Let It Be is actually a reference to Paul’s mother, who came to him in a dream at a time of crisis, and only indirectly does it refer to Mary the mother of Jesus. [Click link for extended article on the song’s origins, and bully-boy John Lennon’s somewhat dismissive attitude about it.] John said at one point it was Paul’s attempted homage to Bridge Over Troubled Water, an inspirational song written by another hero of mine, Paul Simon (though it’s sung by angel-voiced Art Garfunkel).

Either way, whether we’re talking about McCartney’s mum or the Savior’s, it’s still a very inspirational song. So thanks, Sir Paul. Shine on till tomorrow!

And finally, still somewhat off-topic, but a definite tie-in, I have been discovering recently that there are some Christians (including the ELCA Lutherans at my current church), who are doing yoga to re-establish some of the mind-body-spirit-God connectedness that has been lost in their lives.

Yoga, with its “centering” principles, when combined with a prayerful Christian attitude about the body as part of God’s Creation, seems to offer an avenue to peace and health that a purely intellectual (or Western) approach to God does not easily achieve.

Here’s an excerpt from a Mark Pinksky/South-Florida Sun-Sentinel article on how Catholic yoga teacher Richard Galentino, an author of a book on the subject ( Hail Mary and Rhythmic Breathing: A New Way of Praying the Rosary [Paulist Press, $6.95] ), talks about doing this work:

Conventional Catholic breathing and praying traditions, such as saying “in God” while inhaling and then “out me” while exhaling, inspired Galentino. The idea of incorporating Hail Mary occurred to him almost by accident.

“I found myself combining the two,” he recalls, “contemplative prayer with the rosary.”

Some Christians have long been critical of yoga because they believe it emphasizes the physical self, to the exclusion of Christian spirituality. Pope Benedict XVI even weighed in on the subject in 1989 when, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, he warned that some Eastern practices, including yoga, “can degenerate into a cult of the body.” Catholics, he said, should not confuse yoga’s “pleasing sensations” with “spiritual well-being.”

That concern is well-founded, Galentino says.

“I would agree,” he says, “and I think most yoga masters would too. In our contemporary society, it is easy to turn yoga into a materialistic `cult of the body,’ in which image and physical experiences become more important than relationships with others and God.”

In the same letter, Galentino says, then-Cardinal Ratzinger “also states that we can use the methods of other `great religions’ to achieve union with God as long as it is consistent with Christian logic. This is what I am doing with yoga.”

So it appears that no less than the Pope himself has weighed in on the subject of various methods to re-connect the mind, the body, and the spirit (or our “God essence”, our wounded but beautiful soul). Far be it from me, therefore, to disagree with Mary of Nazareth, the yoga masters, and Pope Benedict XVI. My soul, too, (and my body) magnifies the LORD, and my spirit rejoices…



  1. I too am struggling as I seek the path/paths that will help me in my quest to “make my way back”. The things that I know for sure are that I love God and His son Jesus. This knowledge leads me to an ever deeper understanding in my search, but also to even more questions and more searching. The more I know the more I want to know. It’s so amazing how I will read something that will make me ponder, and then a fuller understanding will be revealed in the very next thing that I pick up, often using the same words. It’s as if it just picks up where the previous ended..and then that will lead me to something else, just like working a zigsaw puzzle..which of course is what it is and eventually we will see the whole glorious picture.. Let it be…

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