At St Margaret’s Church in Streatham Hill, I’ve been teaching yoga by candlight each Monday evening over the last couple of months. And I’ve been suprised at how special the sessions have felt in the big space.
Early in the evening, warm light floods in through the large stained-glass west window. As the sun sets and the space darkens the flickering light of candles creates an intimate atmosphere.
Looking up, hundreds of feet above, is a magnificent vaulted roof, illuminated by uplighters. It’s possible, while lying in savassana on the mat, or turning the head to look up in triangle pose, to lose oneself for a few moments in the space above.
The intention of yoga – to feel a union between our small individual selves and the big oneness of everything – seems to be within closer reach in the church.
I think it’s about architecture – but only partly. Church builders have known for a thousand years that part of their job is to inspire awe. The size, the height, the colour of brick and stone, the playing with light and dark at the same time bring us together and lift us upward.
But it’s also about something that’s created when people come together over and again for some special time.
Since St Margaret’s was built to serve the 900 residents of the late Victorian estate it sits in, people have come together here to marry, christen their children, bury their loved ones. And for many years they came together here each Sunday to mark a break from the demands of work and family and to spend time together as a community in song, prayer and worship.
It’s as if those repeated comings together, repeated moments of quiet reflection, joyful song, and mournful remembrance have left echoes or imprints that are still tangible whenever we’re there in the space.
St Margaret’s closed as a parish church in 2014, but it’s still consecrated and a Ghanaian church currently congregates there each Sunday; in the longer term it has plans to become a base for a resident Christian community serving the local neighboorhood in a wealth of ways: with a foodbank, bakery, nursery and much more.
Some Christian churches aren’t welcoming of yoga with its Indian roots that bring with them traces of other spiritual traditions such as Buddhism and Hindusim. So I’m thankful that Fr Gareth sees no contradiction in St Margaret’s being used each Monday night for people to take time away from their busy days, to rest, to be at home in their bodies, and to listen to the silence.
I don’t believe yoga is a replacement for the role faith once played more prominently in the life of our communities. But it shares some things in common, not least the permission it gives us to stop doing all the stuff that fills our days and for an hour or so each week just to be – and more fully appreciate the gift of being alive.