Love. Revere. Discover. Connect.

August 4, 2019: “Movement Culture”

What if your body could do anything you wanted it to do?  What if you could fly, or leap to the tops of trees?  Or just get down the stairs in the morning without feeling intense pain?  Imagine what you could accomplish. Would you be superhuman?  Or simply more human?   

The first Sunday of each month is food month.  Please bring non-perishable food items and/or toiletries to be shared with Kirtland’s food pantry at Old South United Church of Christ.

Call to Worship Rev. Denis Letourneau Paul

It’s nice to be back from a month of vacation, most of it spent out of state. 

I’ve missed being here with you in worship.  

I’ve missed the Continuity of life that gets played out in our shared practices.  

I’ve missed being part of the shared life of the community, and everything going on in everyone’s life.  I’m a bit sad that I missed John and Lovely’s wedding, but mostly I’ve missed our ritual of Joys and Cares that we place in the center of our space, and the center of our worship together.

But for a good chunk of my time away, I was among my people, in Quebec, Canada, the Land of my grandmothers’ prayers and grandfathers’ dreamings. My husband Joe joked that we were surrounded by people who look like me, with similar coloring and physical features.  Everywhere we went, I encountered the names of my family: Letourneau, Boulanger, Moisin and Begin.  It was really lovely.

And THIS is where I belong.  

Where WE belong. Because every week, we make a commitment over and over again not to think a like but to journey together.  We Mae a commitment to show up, even when it’s inconvenient.

You know, every once in a while I am surprised that everyone doesn’t know each other, and I had a couple of those moments in the last few days.  So now, let’s take a moment to greet each other, say hello, maybe even introduce ourselves.  Please, seek out people you may not know.  

I’ll end the greeting by sounding the singing bowl again.

Time for All Ages “What Kind of Muscles You Have”

Who is in the mood to have a little fun, and get up and move around?

[Up on the chancel]

Who can: 

Stretch arms/legs as wide?

Stand on one leg, arms outstretched?

Wiggle your ears? (Without touching them!)

Sit on the floor and touch your toes? (Without bending your knees!)

Do pushups?

Do the splits?

Do a headstand (with a little spotting?)

How about a HANDstand?

Who is willing to try?

Okay, here’s the tough part:

Who can go from splits, to a pushup, to a handstand, all in one fluid motion?

I’d like to show you part of a video that I came across.  This guy fascinates me.

[turn off sound when he gets to the part when he says information paralyzes you so you stop learning]

Ido Portal made some videos of himself moving, and millions of people all over the world, like me, were fascinated, even a little disbelieving that a human being could move his body like that.  He seems more like a lithe animal than a person.

No, more like liquid than bone and flesh.

He was a teacher of an Afro-Brazilian martial art called Capoeira, and integrated into that practice many principles of acrobatics, gymnastics, yoga, even dance.  Now thousands of people around the world learn from him and call themselves movers.  

In the video, he was talking about body builders when he said that they shouldn’t be asking each other “Bro, what kind of muscles you have?” 

Ido says we should be asking ourselves what kind of movement patterns we have.  Because movement is what makes us human.  We have the broadest range of movement of any animals on the planet.  

Cheetahs run faster.  

Orangutans are stronger.  

Mice can fit into tinier spaces.  

Birds can fly.  

But we have opposable thumbs, and huge brains, and we are nurtured by adults for the first two or even three decades of our lives, and that means we can do more than any other animal.

That also makes us teachers.  We are all teachers.  Whether we know it or not, we are always teaching and people are always emulating us, learning to do the things we do …the physical, intellectual, and spiritual things we do …. and copying us, maybe even trying to surpass us.  Because everyone has at least one thing they do really, really well. We don’t all have the capacity to move the way Ido Portal does.  Very few people on earth are as fit and as limber and as skilled as he is.  Most of us get stronger and more capable as we grow from infancy.  But most of us also get weaker and more frail after we reach a certain age.  And those ages all vary tremendously.  Some of us start declining in our 20’s or younger and some in our 80’s… or later.  I’m not falling apart, yet, but I know for sure I can’t do anywhere near as much as I could when I was 20 or 30.   And that’s okay because most of us have very real limitations we’ve adapted to our whole lives, limitations that we don’t deserve and can’t do anything about.

So I know … we know … we can’t all do the kinds of movements Ido Portal can do.

But here’s the lesson I want each of you to take away from what he does and how he moves:

We can all push push ourselves to our own new limits.  And when we do that, when we make a practice of always pushing ourselves just a tiny bit beyond what we think we can’t do, we can each be teachers.  

And it’s not JUST about how we move our bodies, either.  It’s about how we move through the world.  We can push ourselves to new physical limits by stretching our bodies, gently, more and more.   

And we can push ourselves to new intellectual and spiritual limits by moving our bodies to new places, across the globe, or just around the block.

The idea of my body learning and teaching is really exciting to me, and I hope it is to you too.


I’d like to share with you now a reading from Gaia Magazine, (June 2016) called “The One With the Broken Jaw,”

One of the most beloved yoga poses is called hanumanasana, full splits with one leg leaping forward and the other leg stretched back. Visualize leaping over an entire ocean or to the peak of a mountain or even all the way to the Sun. What inner powers must be accessed to take this great leap? This is the story of the mythic monkey named Hanuman and the story of every yogi and yogini too…

When Hanuman is a baby monkey, he is born with tremendous power since he is the source of Shiva himself and the son of the wind Vayu. One morning, his mother Anjana is out early collecting juicy fruits for her baby when he wakes up. The baby monkey is up earlier than normal, famished for breakfast.

He looks up into the sky and sees a delicious and succulent mango fruit (really the Sun) and takes a bold leap while opening his mouth to swallow the sky fruit.

The Sun cries out to the monkey not to come but Hanuman keeps flying faster than a comet as his hunger is so great. Lord Indra, who rules the kingdom of the Gods and Goddesses, wields his thunderbolt and strikes the monkey down to the earth where he breaks his jaw, hence the name Hanuman, which means “the one with a broken jaw.” 

Vayu, the wind, is very upset and sweeps up his little son into a cave for him to rest and recover. When Vayu becomes still in the cave and no air circulates through the earth, everything begins to stagnate and die because the air governs the principle of mobility and brings the arousal of prana, the life force.

The Gods and Goddesses convene to figure out a way to restore the world back to life from this massive asphyxiation without prana. They collectively go to the cave with gifts for Hanuman: protection from curses, longevity, spiritual wisdom, ability to cross the ocean, strength of a thunderbolt, immunity from burning fire, capacity to become very small or very large, abundance of happiness and contentment, and even freedom from death itself. Vayu is pleased and exhales deeply, releasing prana back into the world. 

Hanuman wakes up with his new powers and being a mischievous monkey, he wants to play and ends up wreaking havoc in the rituals of the sages. And so he is cursed to forget his powers until someone reminds him.

 Sermon “Movement Culture”           Rev. Denis Letourneau Paul

I have a friend — Sal — who is known for saying two things, regularly and repeatedly, for the last 30 or so years.

The first is that he can’t wait to be an old dude, because old dudes can always say what is on their minds…. and get away with it.  I used to kind of agree with that, but now I’m not so sure about that, especially as more time goes on, standards and expectations change, and I get closer to be an old dude myself.   I can’t imagine wanting to say everything that comes into my mind.  

The second thing he always says is how much he wishes he had a tail.  “Imagine,” he says, eyes sparkling wildly. “ Imagine how much we’d be able to do if we had tails.”

On Friday, Linda, our church secretary told me about her vacation in Costa Rica last month.  Little monkeys, she said, were everywhere.  Like squirrels here, going up and down trees, leaping and swinging, sometimes going up to humans and kind of begging, often showing no fear at all, only curiosity.  

When she told me about her family climbing steep cliffs, going up into trees, and even zip lining across the canopy, I thought of Sal, and imagined everyone in Linda’s family having a tail, living high up off the ground.

I was jealous.  Seriously.  I was a little envious of Linda’s adventure, but I was more jealous of those monkeys!

Which may explain why I feel such a connection to Hanuman, the Hindu monkey god, the one with the broken jaw.  The tail is a big part of the appeal.  It makes me kind of sad that in all the different iterations of what we call Western Religion, there isn’t some playful god with a tale, bridging the gap between spirituality and physicality.

Somehow, this connection between body and spirit is manifest more in what we call Eastern Spirituality.  

Have you ever heard of Aikido?  It’s probably the most esoteric and cerebral of all the martial arts, and the goal of Aikido, as I understand it, is to become one with your opponent, to view him not as a challenger but as an extension of your own body, so that you can anticipate his intentions and move with him, absorbing and using his energy.  

I’ve tried Aikido.  Oh, how I’ve tried aikido.  It’s impossible.  I like to think of myself as being pretty fit.  I mean, I can paddle a kayak 5 or 6 miles without ever pausing.  And I like to think of myself as fairly aware spiritually and intellectually.  I’ve got a masters of divinity, after all.  But the honest truth is that I just don’t have that kind of connection between mind, body and spirit.  The three-legged stool that aikido practitioners talk about just isn’t functionally for me.  All the legs are there, the stool just feels…… I don’t know…. wobbly.  I can’t do aikido, but I have Hanuman.

Hanuman is one of the main characters in the ancient Hindu epic, the Ramayana.  

Ancient India — like Ancient Rome — had dozens, if not hundreds of epic tales that were told orally over the centuries, slowly becoming bigger and more elaborate.  There were different versions of similar stories across regions and local communities.  I’ve come across three different versions of the genesis of Hanuman.  In one of them, he reaches the sun and is reduced to ashes, which fall to earth, only to be reassembled by the gods.  In that story, the only thing missing was the jaw bone.  At least the broken jaw part of the story is consistent.

The thing I like about that particular story though, is that later in life, Hanuman starts using his powers on bystanders, as pranks, kind of like a street performer or even a huckster.

Philip Lutgendorf, an American expert on Hanuman, claims that people in ancient India didn’t worship Hanuman until the Ramayana had been around for over a thousand years.  His status was elevated only after the rise of Islamic rule in the subcontinent, making him a kind of symbol of resistance to oppression and persecution.  

During the twentieth century, devotion to Hanuman has grown, with temples proliferating across not just India, but the world.  He’s commonly seen as an exemplar of strength, heroism, love and devotion, even cunning as a trickster.So this story of a little monkey who leaps toward the sun, gets injured, is cared for by the gods, and comes into his own power slowly is the inspiration for the spiritual journeys of yogis around the world.  It’s the symbol of a hero’s journey, which requires overcoming adversity in the form of numerous tests and tribulations.  

If you grow up surrounded by images and stories and statues and temples devoted to Hanuman, this can be an impetus for growth.  The little monkey that grows into a spiritual giant, a hero and even a soldier, can inspire you to greatness.  And if you want to excel in the form of Bhakti yoga that focuses primarily on movement of the body for physical and spiritual well-being, then he’s the perfect inspiration.

I don’t know about you, but I never even heard of Hanuman until I was almost 40 years old.  I didn’t grow up with Hindu symbols, and as fascinated as I am by the tailed trickster, I don’t really know much about the nuances of what he represents.  For example, he’s widely seen as a symbol of Indian nationalism in a colonized country.  Nationalism, of course, gets people killed, as is so evident in El Paso today.  So I have to ask, is Hanuman’s nationalism good?  Or bad?  And who am I, as an outsider with such limited understanding, to judge?  

The truth is that I am firmly rooted in the Western theological lineage, that is greatly influenced by the early Christian Gnostics, who believed that the soul is pure and the body is polluted and evil.  Their influence continued through to the Puritans who believed the body was shameful and only necessary for work.  Those ideas still help define who we are, and justify portraying sexuality as inherently dirty.  

When I was in high school, Footloose was the most popular movie, the story of a boy who just had to dance, even though he lived in a community where it was considered evil.  And those communities do exist.  Probably more now than 35 years ago.

But Ido Portal, even though he comes from halfway around the world and from a culture very different from my own, feels more accessible to me than Hanuman.  I can latch on to him and his message without feeling like I’m appropriating the symbols of a religion in which I am a mere neophyte.  His little monkey logo can be my inspiration, and he can be my yogi, if only from a distance.  And he’s inspired people all over the western world. 

I’m sure you’ve heard the new Old Adage that sitting is the new smoking. Most people in the United States and Europe spend more time each day sitting than we do sleeping.  Chairs only came into wide use in the 15th century in Europe, but before that, people spent most of their time squatting, which builds core strength and encourages staying slim.  

So Ido is trying to get us to do what they do in so many other parts of the world as just a regular part of daily life.  He  claims he’s gotten 14,000 people around the world to squat instead of sitting, for at least 30 minutes a day.  His goal is to get us to express every day the full range of motion the body is capable of instead of just the four postures we usually take: sitting, standing, walking and lying down.  He says that a body that moves well gratifies you in its movement 24/7.

His belief is that the body will help you do what you want to do. If you want to move, and you do, even just a bit, the body will reward you by making it easier each time, little by little.  If you want to be stationary, the body will help you do that by calcifying your bones, stiffening your joints, atrophying your muscles, and creating motor amnesia so that you can’t even remember that you ever could move your body.  Whatever you start doing, the body will get better at with time. 

Our bodies aren’t perfect.  They have their limitations.  They get tired.  They often don’t do what we want them to do.  So Ido talks about performance, and how an athlete might have perfect form when working out or practicing.  But then, in the moment that really matters, the moment when the judges and spectators are watching the competition, the body can be less than perfect, so that the natural imperfection feels like a betrayal.

But  the moment of performance is just that.  Performance for the sake of bystanders, people outside of your own body.  So you have to make every single moment of every single day have the kind of importance that the competitive moment has.  He tells athletes to make every moment matter, and make every movement have meaning.   I’m not that kind of athlete.  I don’t compete.  I don’t really care what other people think about my body or my physical performance in any feat of movement or endurance.  

But.  Ido Portal is teaching people … no, teaching me … that my body is capable of more than I ever thought possible.  

And, what’s fascinating about movement culture for me isn’t that people are devoting so much of their time and energy to be great at this kind of thing. This doesn’t feel like just another extreme sport to instill awe and intimidation in spectators.  These practitioners of movement culture are getting us to re-evaluate what is good, healthy, or even possible for each of us.  

We may not all have the same capacity, but we’re all capable of more than we think we are.  They are getting some people to start to reimagine the most basic relationship we each have, our relationship to our own bodies.  We’ll (eventually) collectively learn from them.  We’ll be healthier, more flexible (in mind and body) and more resilient.  So that we can live longer, and be more connected to one another and the cosmic energy of the planet.  We’ll be more capable of doing more justice, longer.

Of course, all of us are physically limited in some way.  That’s just reality.  Not a moral judgement. And our physical characters it’s can serve as a benefit in one situation, and detriment in another.   

Plus we live in the real world, influenced and even stressed by all kinds of forces outside of our control, so it’s not always possible to push ourselves just a little bit further.  It’s hard, in fact.  

I was so excited about movement culture back in June, as both a physical and spiritual philosophy.   The week before I left for vacation, I was sure that during the month of July, I would be moving constantly…biking, walking, hiking, paddling, doing yoga, maybe even trying some of Ido Portal’s basic movements.  Squatting.  I imagined myself squatting a lot!

I did all of those things. A little.  I took an impressive bike ride on a very hot day, and repeatedly paddled my kayak up and down rivers and through Lake Erie, but those are repetitive motions I’ve always done.  I squatted.  Twice, I think.

The reality is that on a 16 day vacation in Canada and New England, I gained 8 pounds eating all the stuff that I shouldn’t be eating, the only things available in restaurants. And now, instead of being able to do anything that Ido Portal can do, I actually experienced a tiny bit of pain in my left foot and my knees for the first time in a year and a half, brought on by diet.  But, I’ve gotten back into the usual rhythm of my life and habits.  The pain is gone and the weight is leaving me.  

I feel like that is the thing that is never going to change: the ebb and flow of life.  Sometimes, with little effort everything goes exactly as planned, and other times life just gets in the way of your best intentions.  

We just learn to live in new realities, always adapting, modeling ourselves after the teachers who came before us, whether or not they even knew they were teachers.

And each new reality teaches one, universal, never-ending lesson: If you want to survive, and actually improve life for yourself and others, and not just calcify into non-existence, you have to keep moving, pushing yourself just a little bit further each day you can.  That’s how you learn. That’s how you teach.  That’s how you grow.  Pushing yourself just a little bit further each day you can.

The fact that I keep learning that I can survive and even grow from every challenge that comes my way is what gives me hope.

With that in mind, I have a challenge for you.

In September, there are three Sunday events happening that you can participate in, move your body a bit, and teach in the process.

On September 15, there will be a CROP Walk for hunger here in Kirtland, in the afternoon.  It’s a very small walk, less than a mile.  The goal is to raise $10,000.  75% will go to ease hunger worldwide, which is really just a drop in a very large bucket.  25% will go to the food pantry here in Kirtland at Old South, which is a huge drop in a very small bucket.  You can see Bill Butler for details on how to register.  

On September 22, there is a worldwide peace march happening in a number of cities, including Columbus.  Since it’s my furlough Sunday, I plan on being there.  You are welcome to join me.  See me.

And on September 23, there will be a walk to end Alzheimer’s happening at Farm Park here in Kirtland.  It starts early enough in the morning, and is short enough, that you can get your steps in before even coming to church!    You can see Maggie Calkins for more information on how to register.

I plan on being there for all three of these events, raising money and awareness for good causes, enjoying the fall weather, and pushing my spirit and my body just a bit further than I normally would.