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New Life

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Rev. Michael McNamara is curating a series that will explore the theme of Christian contemplative practice, which has been central to the formation and development of Christianity. We will learn from writers exploring spirituality from both the secular and the religious, embracing the paradox within that — a paradox essential to contemplative practice itself. How can this Christian or secular tradition impact today’s church? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.

by Kirstin Melone

The smell of cacao is hard to explain, but it strikes the nose with a pungent and earthy flavor. As I walk into the meditation space, I notice the candles, soft pillows, and loose fabric hanging from the ceiling, serving as a wall between the kitchen and seating area. Bodies are pushing their way in from the cold Leipzig air. They bend to take off their shoes. And then my nose is hit with a new smell of sweaty feet… got to love yogis.

As the group moves through the fabric and takes their seat, greetings are passed and warm embraces exchanged. We prepare for our cacao ceremony with Ian, a young New Englander who now lives in Berlin. He spent some time studying in the far east, discovering the monastic way of life, and now travels around teaching. He wears loose harem pants, a mala, and his fuzzy beard coils like a snake at the tip. His guru top knot completes the look.

Photo by Zackary Drucker as part of Broadly’s Gender Spectrum Collection. Credit: The Gender Spectrum Collection.

The cacao is scooped by ladle into our mugs brought from home and then passed around the circle to their proper owner. We get comfortable in our individual cushions and cover our lower extremities with blankets.

My eyes wander to those around the circle… a unit of bright-eyed, new-age followers. Hair is natural. Make-up is absent for the most part. Clothes are properly sourced. Shoes are worn and leathery. Feathered earrings, nose rings, and tattoos adorn the bodies.

As a teacher of yoga and meditation, I have become accustomed to these settings, but as a student of religion, I am hesitant… Not even a year prior, I had dropped out of a divinity program at one of the most prestigious seminaries. I had abandoned my hopes of becoming a pastor, and was still currently looking for how I should take my path alongside the church.

But how did I get here? To such a familiar setting… a small group if you will of like-minded individuals participating in an ancient tradition. Though the clothes and personas seemed different, the attention and following was so similar. Instead of a bible study or a prayer circle, these individuals wanted to chant and meditate. Instead of speaking in tongues of the Holy Spirit, they wanted to writhe with the force of Kali surging through their limbs. Instead of honoring the cup representing Christ’s blood shed for our sins, they wanted to honor the mighty healing powers of the cacao plant.

Yes, Christianity and Hinduism follow separate teachings and figures, but the thought kept creeping upon my psyche… How was this any different from what I had left behind?

I am torn by my love for religion. I relish in the ancient stories, the mysticism, and the questions of the universe. As a young Protestant, I had spiritual envy for the prayer mat of Islam, the yoga mat of Hinduism, and the altar of Catholicism. I craved a sacred space and a physical practice, something to stretch my body and mind. But I didn’t want to convert. I wanted to work with the community in which I was raised – to learn from my elders and pass on the faith. As the Church grew, I wanted to grow with it and shape it.

But the Christian world is not ready for change or to be challenged. And although many in yoga, meditation, & mindfulness world may not identify as Hindus or Buddhists, are they ready to be challenged? Are they ready to have their leaders called out? Are they ready to face their own limitations?

The modern world claims to be secular, to be science-based, to be open-minded… to have no time for religion. But generally, these are also the same people parading around with talk about crystals, energy-healing, and past-life regression? So why is it that those who criticize religion for being strict and limiting, have merely created their own form of ideological imprisonment?

We need to belong and we need to be part of a group of like-minded individuals that support and strengthen us, but when did we stop calling out what we know is crazy? When did we start failing to hold one another accountable – and to acknowledge when reality is being usurped.

In a time when we are more polarized than ever, when we cling to our groups – we cannot be afraid to challenge those closest to us. We have to continue to speak up and to ask questions. Humans have evolved and created narratives that shaped how we see the world. But we cannot forget that there have also been moments in history when those narratives have needed to die in order for something new to grow… for resurrection of life from death.


Kirsten Melone has always been interested in mind-body discoveries, from dancing as a child to practicing yoga in her 20s. Her hope is to better understand how to help individuals access their fullest potential as human beings. As a lover of stories, art, and nature, she seeks to embody the wisdom of ancient contemplative practices in an over-stimulated world. As a certified Yoga Teacher through Yoga Alliance, Kirsten makes herself available to anyone who is curious about going further into their practice or spiritual musings. She is currently working through a two-year certification program in Spiritual Companionship at the Shalem Institute of Washington, DC.

Opening the Door with Yoga

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Rev. Michael McNamara is curating a series that will explore the theme of Christian contemplative practice, which has been central to the formation and development of Christianity. We will learn from writers exploring spirituality from both the secular and the religious, embracing the paradox within that — a paradox essential to contemplative practice itself. How can this Christian or secular tradition impact today’s church? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.

by Sarah Pfeil

Yoga, like grace, arrived in my life when I needed it the most. I had gone through an arduous cancer journey and my spirit seemed broken. After my first yoga class, I knew I had found a way to regain a new sense of being, of wholeness.

The yoga path I am speaking of is a spiritual toolbox which includes all practices of yoga; ethics, breathing techniques, postures, mindfulness, and meditation. Through my practice of yoga, I integrated all aspects of myself into a personal relationship with God. However, the actual practice of yoga can take each person in a different direction. It is not necessary to subscribe to any particular religious beliefs in order to follow the yoga path. The yoga path can lead to a deeper understanding of God, to greater contentment, or to a stronger and healthier body. This is completely a personal matter and how a practitioner chooses to use yoga is up to them.

The heart of yoga is the cultivation of equanimity in mind and body, so the spiritual heart center can wake to the present moment of being alive and sink into the deep and sustaining relationship with God. We integrate all aspects of ourselves into relationship with God. The foundation of yoga, the 5 yamas and 5 niyamas, are the ethical precepts or core values of yoga. These ethics are about avoiding behaviors that produce suffering and difficulty and embracing those behaviors that promote love. The practice of the yamas and niyamas guides us into right relationship with ourselves, our neighbors, creation, and the Divine Spirit.

The practice of the physical postures strengthens our bodies. As physically embodied beings this vessel/body is where God has chosen to call home. Through yoga we appreciate and listen to our bodies. We release tension in our bodies and create openings for the Holy Spirit to move within us.

In every major religious tradition, the Spirit of God is the source of our life-giving breath. In yoga the focus is on mindful breathing. Yoga recognizes the breath as our life force. When we breath mindfully we remember that the breath of life that God breaths into us is the same breath that we share with all living creatures. We notice that with mindful breathing, our bodies relax, energy is flowing within us and we begin to feel a sense of peace on the inside. Our spiritual heart center softens and opens. The peace on the inside flows out to others as radiance and joyful light.

The practice of yoga is designed to move us into stillness and surrender. We develop awareness to notice thoughts as they arise and let them dissipate before we get entangled in them. As we witness our thoughts, the tight control of the ego-mind loosens. We create space in our minds to slip behind thoughts and surrender into the stillness. In this stillness we meet God.

The practice of yoga healed me…. physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. I became a Kripalu yoga teacher and had my own yoga studio. The biggest blessing of my studio was watching students allow their Divine within to radiate out. Minds quiet, the heart opens, change happens, and grace flows. Yoga is a contemplative practice and is an opportunity to remember lost aspects of our own Christian tradition. Namaste.


Sarah Pfeil is currently taking part in an 18-month spiritual formation program with the Shalem Institute in Washington, D.C. The program teaches leadership of contemplative prayer groups and retreat leadership. Sarah is a Kripalu Certified yoga teacher and a former Yoga Studio Owner. Sarah has a master’s degree in finance and spent 30 years as an executive in Health care Management and Consulting.

An Opportunity to Practice

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Rev. Michael McNamara is curating a series that will explore the theme of Christian contemplative practice, which has been central to the formation and development of Christianity. We will learn from writers exploring spirituality from both the secular and the religious, embracing the paradox within that — a paradox essential to contemplative practice itself. How can this Christian or secular tradition impact today’s church? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Rev. Mark Greiner

Please take a moment to notice your breathing.

For a full minute, simply enjoy breathing. What do you notice? Before reading further, what you do notice about your own breaths?

Is the breathing more slow or more fast? Is it deep into your belly or more in your chest? What sounds come with your breathing? Is there any congestion, or are you breathing freely? While noticing your breathing, do any emotions arise? Do the qualities of our breathing shift as we pay attention?

Our physical body speaks all the time, and we can listen.

I’m an acupuncturist as well as a pastor. As an acupuncturist, I help people listen to their own bodies. Our bodies speak, responding to the food we eat, what we drink, how we move, and more. Listening to our bodies helps us become skillful. As we become aware of what give us life, we can cultivate those qualities. Daily, we are our own primary care physicians.

“Mindfulness” is a wonderful set of awareness practices. (For an excellent guide, see Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life by Thich Nhat Hanh.) We can also have more than mind-fulness. We can have bodyfulness – a rich and ongoing awareness of our physical selves.

We are, all at the same time, body AND mind AND spirit.

The Gospel of John proclaims of Jesus: “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.” (John 1:14) What an amazing affirmation of our bodies. Not only did God delight in making creation, God entered creation in Jesus’ flesh!

Of any faith tradition, ours especially is about the flesh, about being embodied. Embodied faith flowers beautifully in both an outer journey and an inner journey.

All the time Jesus cared about people’s concrete, physical needs: being hungry or thirsty or needing a safe haven or healing. Following Jesus means embodying care in very tangible ways. The outer journey is about cultivating and safeguarding others’ well-being.

The inner journey cultivates and safeguards our own well-being. Jesus embraced the whole of his own humanity in body, mind, and spirit. So can we. We are minds, and more than minds. We are enfleshed temples of the Holy Spirit.

The inner and outer journeys are one in prayer. Jesus modelled regularly withdrawing to pray. As our own life in God deepens, we can become aware of more and more. Investing time in solitude increases our intimacy with ourselves, with God, and our capacity for intimacy with other people.

So we return to the simplest prayer of all: our breath. It’s said that the names root names of God are breathing itself. Jesus related to God as Abba (“daddy”). Breathing through the mouth, “Ab” is like the sound if an inhalation. “Ba” is an exhalation.

Let us breathe, and know God.


Pastor Mark Greiner focuses on healing and spirituality. Along with 25 years serving Presbyterian congregations, he sees patients as an acupuncture intern at the Maryland University of Integrative Health in Laurel, MD. His wife works with the Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake, and they have a daughter in college.

More than Mindfulness

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Rev. Michael McNamara is curating a series that will explore the theme of Christian contemplative practice, which has been central to the formation and development of Christianity. We will learn from writers exploring spirituality from both the secular and the religious, embracing the paradox within that — a paradox essential to contemplative practice itself. How can this Christian or secular tradition impact today’s church? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Rev. Michael McNamara

Since contemplation can be a bit of a slippery term, I would like to try and define Christian contemplative practice as accurately as one can. It refers to a long practiced, deeply rooted Christian tradition that goes at least as far back as the first time Jesus went off by himself to pray (although its not like he was the first person to do that, so it rooted in something even more ancient than the Christian church). At its most basic level, Christian contemplative practice could be understood as meditation or silent prayer — but it has a far more robust history and practice than that.

Contemplative practice has been central to the formation and development of Christianity. There are thousands of years of Christian writers exploring and putting language to their contemplative experiences of God, people like Augustine, Benedict, Bernard of Clairvaux, Meister Eckhart, Julian of Norwich, John the Cross, Teresa of Avila, Brother Lawrence, Thomas Kelly, Howard Thurman, Thomas Merton, Thomas Keating, Anthony de Mello, Tilden Edwards, Richard Rohr, and Cynthia Bourgeault. There are also various formal and teachable modes of practice including lectio divina, psalm chanting, labyrinth walking, icon meditation, and centering prayer that have been handed down and developed over generations. Christian contemplative practice reveals a non-duality to the world that uncovers a unity with God. Put plainly, Christian contemplative practice could be summarized as: intent to simply be present to God in stillness.

Over the past year, as I have been establishing foundations for a new worshipping community centered in contemplative practice, I have been meeting with folks across the religious/spiritual spectrum and a few things have emerged.

  1. There is clearly a longing for a deeper experience of life.
  2. There is a growing mistrust of the Church, particularly among millennials.
  3. There are burgeoning movements around mindfulness, yoga, and more general wellness, something for the sake of simplicity I will refer to (maybe unfairly) as secular spirituality since many (but certainly not all) practitioners in these emerging fields often go to great lengths to remain firmly secular.

It could be easy to worry about these developments, particularly when coupled with declining religious engagement, but I have seen reason for hope. If anything I believe there is an opportunity.

It starts with the fact that secular spirituality movements have offered a wonderful gift: through practices that grew out of ancient faith traditions more and more people are getting a glimpse of a “loving stirring” to the “naked being of God” (as put by the anonymous author of the 14th century spiritual classic The Cloud of Unknowing). Folks are experiencing something larger than themselves, a wordless formless expanse that resonates deeply.

Rarely, though, do the practitioners of secular spirituality have the language or infrastructure to help people more deeply engage in these experiences. Not all who experience these transcendent moments will seek to go deeper, but many will. The more rational approaches of secular spirituality — rooted in language that seeks scientific proof of its efficacy, language that speaks to the rational mind, words that tend to dwell in neuro-biological space — are not particularly useful in helping people encounter and embrace the paradoxes explored by the poetic and mythic language of faith and mysticism. As a result practicers are often left with beautiful experiences but lack ways to engage that experience beyond the rational mind.

This is where the Church can help. It can mentor and walk with those seeking a deeper spiritual journey. The Church can dig deep into its past and offer a robust framework for those looking to engage more deeply in these spiritual realms of the heart mind and soul. Church can offer language and a treasure trove of diverse experiences that can act as guides and way points for the journey deeper into God. The Church is also practiced in community building and can help form covenant communities of accountability around practice, a central element of Christian contemplative practice over the millennia.

The beauty of this is it is not just that the Church has something to offer in terms of experience and tradition and practice, but that it can also learn from those engaging in spirituality beyond the walls of a church. This month’s posts will explore both sides of this, from the secular side and the religious side, and will sometimes appear to be in paradoxical opposition to itself (just like good contemplative practice!). Hopefully these posts will get you to thinking, asking questions and seeking to dig a little bit deeper in this rich and abundant resource, a gift really, gift to the Church.

If we go back to our plain definition — intent to simply be present to God in stillness — in that simple presence exists amazing transformation. In that simple stillness we can trust that the “NEXT Church” will emerge out of the infinite love imbibed in creation by God.


Mike McNamara is a Presbyterian pastor serving Adelphi Presbyterian Church in Adelphi, MD, as well as forming a New Worshipping Community rooted in contemplative practice in Silver Spring, MD. Mike has a beautiful wife and two young boys ages 2 and 4. He has a particularly strong love of rock climbing and good coffee. Catch him at RevMcNamara.com and on instagram: @a_contemplative_life.

2017 National Gathering: Transformative Learning IV

Jen Kottler and Leslie Mott served as our Transformation Leaders at the 2017 National Gathering, joining us throughout the week during plenary sessions to help us find ways to process what we experienced and equip us to take those learnings home with us. Here is their final session from Wednesday morning.


Watch Jen and Leslie’s other sessions:

Transformative Learning I
Transformative Learning II
Transformative Learning III

2017 National Gathering Transformative Learning III

Jen Kottler and Leslie Mott served as our Transformation Leaders at the 2017 National Gathering, joining us throughout the week during plenary sessions to help us find ways to process what we experienced and equip us to take those learnings home with us. Here is their third session from Tuesday morning.


Watch Jen and Leslie’s other sessions:

Transformative Learning I
Transformative Learning II
Transformative Learning IV

2017 National Gathering Transformative Learning II

Jen Kottler and Leslie Mott served as our Transformation Leaders at the 2017 National Gathering, joining us throughout the week during plenary sessions to help us find ways to process what we experienced and equip us to take those learnings home with us. Here is their second session from Monday afternoon.


Watch Jen and Leslie’s other sessions:

Transformative Learning I
Transformative Learning III
Transformative Learning IV

Three Lessons This Christian Learned from Yoga

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, we continue to post a series curated by Sarah Dianne Jones and written by our workshop leaders at the 2017 National Gathering. What excites them about the Gathering? What are they looking forward to sharing and discussing during their workshop? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Jen Kottler

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) about “The Yoga Workshop”:

No, this workshop is not just for yogis (people who practice yoga).
Yes, if you would like, bring your mat.
No, you don’t have to have any prior experience with yoga to attend our workshop.
Yes, do dress comfortably.
No, we won’t make you sit on the floor (if that is uncomfortable for you), but we might encourage a bit of exploration.
Yes, we will ask you to breathe.

Phew. Now that we’ve got that out of the way…

I do yoga almost every day. It keeps me sane. And it gives me hope. It opens my heart.

This is not why I started doing yoga. I started doing yoga because, well, you know, it seemed the thing to do, right? I’m a pastor, but the “not serving a church right now” kind of pastor, and since I work from home, I settle into a new community by finding a place where I can go to work out – preferably within walking distance of our home. (My husband is an interim pastor/mid-council leader in the PCUSA, and when we change jobs, we usually move. Often, it’s to a new state or a place that we have not lived before.)

So while it started out as an exercise class, it’s become much more than that. As my yoga practice has deepened, my Christian faith has deepened. My prayer life has deepened. And I’ve learned many lessons about Christianity and yoga and life that I’m looking forward to sharing at the 2017 NEXT Church National Gathering. Here are three:

  1. Christianity is a practice. I’ve learned that rather than a set of beliefs, Christianity is more about how I live out my day to day life. One of my yoga teachers taught me to remember that in every moment of the day begins the practice of yoga. In the same way, I am reminded in everything that I do as I go about my ministry and my work, that I am practicing Christianity. I am living it out. Some days I live it out better than others, but each day is a new beginning.
  2. Patience can be learned. Anyone who has tried yoga knows, crow pose wasn’t built in a day. In fact, most of the poses in yoga take a lifetime to master, and so we continue to practice. And we continue to breathe. Even when it’s hard and you really would rather escape the pose and run to the bathroom, you don’t. You remind yourself that it will be easier tomorrow and you just continue to breathe.
  3. Meditation opens us to the voice of God. I like to think that prayer is when I talk to God, and meditation is when God speaks to me. It’s hard to hear what God is trying to say to us when we rarely get quiet enough to listen attentively to the still small voice. Learning to be still allows us to be still and know.

We are looking forward to sharing so much more during our time together! See you there. Namaste.

Diving into the Well: Yoga Practice and Christian Praxis” is offered during workshop block 3 on Tuesday of the National Gathering.


Rev. Jennifer Hope Kottler is a spiritual director and a certified clergy leadership coach (ACC) focusing on vocational discernment, women’s empowerment, self-care and congregations/leaders in transition. A daily yoga practitioner, Jen encourages others to try yoga and other mindfulness practices to deepen their spiritual journey. She will be leading the session, “Diving into the Well: Yoga Practice and Christian Praxis” with Rev. Leslie Mott.