I have started doing Tai Chi. This is because it seems a fitting kind of exercise for a boomer who long ago hung up his athletic supporter–low impact, flowing moves, core strength, and balance.
But there is a link back to a metaphysical view that some take seriously. I’ve run into the same thing with Feng Shui, which I have used as a system for decluttering a living space. Both Tai Chi and Feng Shui use the concept of Chi. Chi is energy which flows through space and bodies. The common sense part of Feng Shui is that cluttering up space blocks movement and perception. The common sense part of Tai Chi is that the human body has a center of energy.
But I do not see Chi and Spirit as the same thing. Thus eastern practices are pragmatic and peripheral to my spirituality.
Tai Chi relates to my spirituality in that some of the movements mimic gestures of prayer and receptivity sometimes used in Christian worship. The body prays as well as the mind. So Tai Chi could be a preparation for prayer and worship.
But some of the writings about Chi get deep into Chinese magic. As I noted the other day, when talking about Egyptian magic, magic tries to control the powers of the universe. The Chinese ideas I have read seem pretty gentle compared to some other kinds of magic. At least, as publishers package these ideas for Western readers, the goal is to channel mystical energy. Channeling it seems less aggressive than forcing it.
Still, if you look back on my series on Samuel Terrien and the “elusive presence” of God, you will see that you can’t even channel God’s presence. The Bible presents a God whose presence is hidden and elusive. It is a presence we can in no way channel or control.
When I went to seminary we heard a lot about how Christianity desacralizes the world and opens the way for the secular. There was a lot wrong with that view. It privileges modern autonomy and individualism. But it probably does influence the way I treat ideas and practices from other religions. I see it as possible to put their metaphysics to one side. I have long been a big fan of both ancient Greek and Roman Stoicism and of Chinese Confucianism. But both of these have metaphysical systems I have to take less seriously than the original proponents of Stoicism and Confucianism took them.
Somewhere I read about an Anglican bishop from India who visited Vancouver British Colombia. If you have ever been to British Columbia you have probably seen that they love to put up totem poles to reflect the American Indian history there. This Indian bishop came from a culture where polytheism was still very real. So the totem poles offended him and he insisted on a ceremony to purify the space in which he stayed and spoke. The Canadians thought this was very odd.
I think we face a similar dynamic when using certain practices that stem from non-Christian religions. Some people take the religious doctrine behind them very seriously. Remember the problem some Evangelicals had with the Harry Potter books. Magic, for them, was dangerous even in fiction.
I don’t think Chi is dangerous. I stands for energy. I believe in energy. But this is natural energy, the kind that is subject to entropy and death. It is not Spirit. The proof of this to me is that the practices actually work for exercise or interior landscaping. If they were trying to channel the Holy Spirit, they would not work at all.