Imagine you are a spiritual director. You are meeting with a directee, Jyne, who is a Christian, who is seeking God, who has gone so far as to seek out a spiritual director. You ask Jyne to describe her prayer, and she responds thus:

Case 6

I do yoga. It’s like meditation in motion. I meditate by moving my body into different poses, being aware of the motions and poses and breathing. It’s relaxing, and it calms my mind. It brings my mind into the current moment. I try to bring that peaceful, centered spirit into the day’s work, and I can get more done during the day because I’m not so distracted and anxious. And when I’m more at peace I can respond to the world and the people around me in a more loving way. When I feel anxious I take a minute to concentrate on my breathing and relax and seek peace. Is this a legitimate way to pray?

Pause, consider. What is this person seeking in prayer?
How is this prayer likely to form the soul?
What advice would you give?


What strikes you about the prayer? What is it that Jyne is seeking?

Jyne seems to be seeking peace, a calm heart, a centered spirit. She seems to value peace in that it helps her do the things she needs to do without anxiety and to interact with people around her in a more gracious and loving manner. But what is her spirit centered on? There is no mention of God or anything Christian. (Unless you count love as Christian.)

As usual, discernment is necessary. There are many counterfeit or false notions of love. Is the kind of peace Jyne is seeking a union with God’s will? Is the love she is seeking a Christ-like self-giving charity? What is the rest of her life like?

One striking thing about this prayer is that it is non-verbal. It’s not about saying things. It’s about calming the mind and the will and being at peace. But is that prayer? Or does prayer essentially involve words?

How is this prayer likely to form the soul?

Saying a prayer without meaning what you say is empty repetition. But what about the opposite—is pure, unverbalized desire a prayer? Most prayers in the Bible are expressed in words—how could it be otherwise if the Biblical author is to record a prayer in written form? But we do have at least some Biblical warrant for non-verbal prayer. Paul says that when we don’t know what to pray for, the Spirit intercedes for us with groans too deep for words. What is the purpose of these groans if they don’t verbalize particular requests to God?

And what about peace? How is that related to prayer? In fact, aren’t peace and desire opposites? When you desire something, you are not at peace, and when you are at peace, you do not have any unmet desires. The answer is of course that we should be at peace in the world and desire God. That is, we should love God with our whole heart and soul and mind and strength and our neighbors as ourselves. Words like “detachment” or “indifference” or even “peace” can be misleading because they give only half the story. We are detached from the world and attached to God. We are indifferent to all desires but one: desire for God. I have nothing, I am nothing, I desire nothing but Jesus.

And what about focusing on breathing, and going with the flow from pose to pose, and entering into the current moment, and forgetting ourselves? Is that prayer? For one that loves God with their whole heart, I would imagine that being lost to self is being found in him. I would imagine that it is possible to be in prayer while doing Yoga, or gardening, or going for a walk, or even doing the dishes. Even if words aren’t currently flowing through your head.


Jyne, I think you can find the answer to that question in yourself. What is it that you are seeking when you seek the centering that Yoga brings you? What desires drain away, and what replaces them, when you find peace and calm in motions and poses? What is the effect on love of God and neighbor?

Harry Plantinga

Harry Plantinga is a professor of computer science at Calvin University and the director of and