Friday, December 17, 2010

Hearts and Hands and Voices

As we continued with our studies of the chakras this month, making our way from chakra 4, the heart center, through chakra 5, located in the throat, and on toward chakra 6 (the "third eye") and chakra 7 (the "crown chakra"), an old hymn started running through my mind. 

I'll get back to that hymn later, but I need, first, to confess that I never knew, until now, that the hands are also associated with chakra 4. I'm not sure why it's taken me twenty years of yoga study to know that while chakra 4, the heart center, is obviously centered near the middle of the chest, the hands (and shoulders and arms) are also considered part of chakra 4. As we moved toward chakra 5, which obviously is associated with voice, I became very confused because, as a writer, my voice is often expressed with my hands. 

I do, of course, talk in the normal way, using my vocal chords and mouth, but I almost always have to write something out before I know what my heart is saying to me. And I am often trying to find the  right voice for a character, or the right voice to use for an article I'm writing. I rejoiced, like all writers do, when I felt I had found "my voice" as a writer, and the words began to flow easily and without effort. I, therefore, have had a very hard time separating my heart, my hands and my voice. I didn't know whether it was even possible for me to differentiate these two important energy centers.

And then this hymn started playing in my head. Over and over and over. It's a very old Christian hymn, written around 1636 by a German clergyman, Martin Rinckart, just as the plague descended on his town, eventually killing upwards of 8000 people there. 

Rinckart obviously wrote the words of this hymn in German, but the best-known English translation goes like this:

  Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices,
  Who wondrous things hath done, in whom his world rejoices,
  Who from our mother's arms hath blessed us on our way
  With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today. 

I've always associated this hymn with the Mayflower pilgrims since, as children, we often sang it in church or Sunday School around Thanksgiving Day. Although it is clearly a song of thankfulness, I have always picked up on a strain of underlying suffering, which made sense, knowing that the pilgrims had just made it through a very tough year and were facing another harsh winter. Now, knowing the situation that the author himself was in, trying to minister to a flock that was suffering greatly, called on to bury thousands of his parishioners, I now see that there is much, much more to the story behind this hymn.

Despite the somewhat dated language (the use of words like "hath" and the sometimes-jarring reference to God using a male pronoun), I love this hymn, and not just because I've been singing it since childhood. Martin Rinckert's hymn is a hymn of devotion, so by singing it I can practice bhakti yoga, the yoga of devotion. 

I also love how Rinckart's hymn reminds me that my act of devotion can be offered up not just with my voice, but also with my heart as well as with my hands. I love the reminder that true thankfulness and gratitude comes by offering our heart and a hand to another, that it is often in the doing for others that we most deeply experience true gratitude. I love the deep lesson of this text that when we are truly thankful, the heart, hands and voice really cannot be separated.