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Mystical Practices of Christianity and Yoga come together

By Michael Ketterhagen

“Forty days more and Nineveh shall be overthrown.”

--Jonah 3:4a

“I tell you, …, the time is running out.”

--1 Corinthians 7:29a

“This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent.”

--Mark 1:15

We are to change now, according to the scripture readings in this past Sunday’s Catholic Eucharistic celebration. All it takes is 40 days and the world will be transformed.  That’s all it took for Nineveh to be saved.

I find myself filled with joy at the simple, subtle references to yogic philosophy and science within the Christian and Hebrew scriptures. I am reminded that the philosophy and science of yoga and the sacred scriptures of the Jewish, Muslim and Christian traditions are mystical writings, having very specific and helpful guidelines as to how to experience the joyful, fearless union with the Source of our Life.

When I heard the reading this morning from the prophet Jonah about his directive from the Lord of Life to warn the people of Nineveh that they had just 40 days to change their ways or else the consequences of their behaviors as a city-folk would be dire, I immediately remembered that the yoga tradition believes that dramatic change can happen in one’s personal life and the life of the world in just 40 days. However, they, first of all, needed to believe what Jonah said and then make a dramatic change in their lives. When they did that their city was saved.

Every single person, even the children, fasted (which is another symbolic word which means “stop doing what they were doing”) and acted in a dramatically different way (in this story wearing sack clothes and ashes). This immediately broke the karmic cycle of consequences due from their past behaviors. We don’t know what those behaviors were. We just know that there was that dramatic change after the belief in Jonah’s message from “the Lord.”

All throughout the sacred writings of the Hebrews and Christians, and even in some of the current Orthodox and Catholic Christian practices, the number 40 shows up—whether that’s raining 40 days during the flood story in Genesis (Genesis 7:12), or the Israelites’ 40-year wandering in the desert of the Sinai Peninsula before entering the Promised Land (Numbers 14:34), or Elijah fasting and walking 40 day and nights to Mount Horeb (1 Kings 19:4-8), or Jesus fasting and praying in the desert 40 days and 40 nights after he was baptized by John in the Jordan (Luke 4:1-2), or the Orthodox and Catholic 40-day experience of fasting during the liturgical season of Lent.

Now in this Sunday’s first liturgical reading from Jonah 40 days shows up again.

The number 40 means “a major transformation occurs.”  Each 40-numbered passage of time indicates that major changes have occurred…permanently.  All of existing life, except Noah and his family, were wiped out by the flood (Genesis 7:21). The Israelites left Egypt as a rag-tag group of individual slave tribes and became a nation strong enough to destroy all the inhabitants of the Promised Land (Joshua 3:1). Elijah changed from a fearful man, desiring death, to a prophet who met with God and who trained another prophet, Elisha (1 Kings 19). Jesus entered the wilderness of Judea confused about hearing the voice of the Spirit call him “my beloved Son” (Luke 3:21) and he came out of the desert knowing that he was called to be the Messiah of Israel (Luke 4:18-19), identifying with the Suffering Servant description of the Messiah (Isaiah 61:1-2a).

The Yoga Tradition says that if you do something, like never telling a lie, for forty days in a row, you will find it very hard to ever lie again, even if it is to protect or glorify your own ego.  Any 40-day, 40-night practice will transform us.

Now all we have to do is get up the courage to really want to change. What a powerful challenge!

I bow to the divinity within you!


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