Tuesday, September 09, 2008

The Heart of Offering


This weekend my husband and I visited some friends in Denver. We were invited to join them for a yoga class and I decided to take them up on the offer. My husband and I have been doing yoga together on our own for years and thought it would be wonderful to join with other people and learn a new approach.

As the class began, the instructor invited us to place our hands in prayer position in front of our hearts, and to then make an offering of our class. She reminded us that every pose and every stretch could be a gift offered to another or the planet.

My mind went to the great reliefs on the walls of many temples in Egypt. The ancient progression of drawings there show us how, in their spiritual tradition, each candidate or supplicant brought a gift before making his or her request for teaching, healing or intercession.

Before meals together with my Native brothers and sisters, we make a spirit plate of food that is offered to our brother and sister spirits outside, sharing our bounty of food with them before we fill our own plates. When doing tobacco prayers, we make offerings to Great Spirit and the many beings the Creator has made.

With my Wiccan sisters, many times I have made an offering of candles and flowers on the altar as gifts to the Divine Feminine—honoring the sacred nature of the feminine before making any requests.

With my Hindu friends I have observed the humble offering of puja—giving to God what is truly God's—where even a song can be sung as a gift.

In my Catholic upbringing, we recognized the great offering of Jesus' suffering so that we might not need to suffer. Before my father died, I watched him follow in the same footsteps, offering the suffering caused by his cancer so that others might not need to suffer. I have sung with Native American sundancers, who also offered their suffering so that others might not.

Offering—bringing a gift of beauty, sacrificing pain or discomfort, giving to others in need, sharing from our abundance—are such rich tributes to the Divine and to life itself. Various forms of the practice of offering is done in religious and spiritual traditions across the globe. It makes sense for such a practice to be adopted by so many cultures. For all that we receive, doesn't it make sense to offer something in return—to give to the cycle of life as well as to receive from it?

In an age when so many of us have been focused on getting our needs met (an appropriate response to many years of not having needs met), it is refreshing to me to witness balance—to participate in a practice of willingly sharing from my heart (and in this case my body) what I have to give in the moment. The yoga instructor introduced a great reminder to me about the importance of making offerings whenever I can. She was a good instructor, pushing us gently past our perceived limits, and at the end of class I knew my offering of stretching into some of those poses were real gifts!

For more insights about the spiritual significance of making offerings visit "Ask Misa" at the New Dream Foundation Forums: http://newdreamfoundation.com/forums/index.php