BANGOR, Maine — Once a week a small group of men and women gathers in the parlor of the Hammond Street Congregational Church for group meditation.
A block away at Grace United Methodist Church on Union Street, a retired pastor often teaches tai chi to a group of senior citizens.
Practicing Christians, including those living in northern and eastern Maine, are freely borrowing practices from Eastern religions, a survey last year by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found. Part of that is the ease with which individuals can get information from the Internet, Richard Rosengarten, dean of the University of Chicago Divinity School, told the Christian Science Monitor last year.
The groups meeting at Bangor churches, however, are learning techniques not online but from real, live Christians — the Rev. Bruce Young, a United Methodist minister, and Bill Lagerstrom, whose background is in running spiritual development programs for people in recovery.
Both men said recently that religious practices associated with Buddhism, Taoism and other Eastern faiths have allowed them to be more open to the presence of God in their own lives, something they wanted to share.
Lagerstrom, 68, of Hampden retired to Maine about five years ago from New York City, where he ran Lazarus Ministries. For more than a year, he has offered a session on meditation and prayer. This fall, he added the study of Caroline Myss’ book, “Entering the Castle.”
“Centering prayer is a method of silent prayer that prepares us to receive the gift of contemplative prayer, prayer in which we experience God’s presence within us — closer than breathing, closer than thinking, closer than consciousness itself,” he said on his website. “This method of prayer is both a relationship with God and a discipline to foster that relationship.”
Lagerstrom offers mindful meditation, a technique adapted from Buddhist practice to fit Western mindsets. It helps practitioners relax and be in the present moment.
“A lot of people have said that God’s language is silence,” he said recently. “If we are constantly chattering with our minds fluttering all over the place so that we can’t hear ourselves, how can we possibly expect to hear God’s language?”
Young, 65, of Bangor retired in June after nearly a decade as pastor of the Lincoln United Methodist Church. For many years, he taught tai chi classes there. Last fall, he taught at Grace UMC and this month will begin teaching tai chi classes at the Hammond Street Senior Center in Bangor.
Tai chi is a series of exercises and postures developed in China as a system of self-defense and as an aid to meditation, characterized by slow, relaxed motions, according Webster’s New World College Dictionary.
Young took up tai chi in 1994 when he was working as a part-time minister and full-time school superintendent. As he learned the tai chi forms, he began to feel the energy often referred to as chi. It felt familiar.
“If you think about what Christ did, he put his hands on people and the Holy Spirit would pass through him to others,” the minister said. “People who saw this happen would see how it impacted others and ask for the Holy Spirit to pass through them.”
One belief of tai chi is that chi, described by many as a form of energy, enters the body through the top of the head, then flows through the body. The study of tai chi allowed Young to be more open to the Holy Spirit and to share that with his congregation, the pastor said.
Stan White, 68, of Brewer participated in Young’s class at Grace UMC. White, who is a congregant at North Brewer-Eddington United Methodist Church, tried out tai chi as a form of exercise to limber up his joints and improve his balance after a series of ministrokes. He said he found the slow-moving forms relaxing but had not practiced tai chi enough to make the spiritual connection Young has.
“In one sense it is spiritual,” White said Sunday. “There is an inner peace you feel while doing it.”
That feeling, according to the Pew study, is something Americans appear to be seeking in and out of traditional worship spaces.
Lagerstrom’s group meets from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Thursdays at Hammond Street Congregational Church. For information, call 862-5448 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Young will begin teaching tai chi classes again in March at Grace United Methodist Church. For information, call 942-8320 or visit: