Recently I walked through the streets of a local town, semi-preserved in it’s historical California gold-rush past. The sidewalks are raised, the street is low, the store-fronts are weathered, adorned with wooden shutters, street positioned posts (for hitching a horse?), and overhead awnings. The town is eclectic with it’s antique dealers, boutiques, art galleries, old-world gypsy fare, bars, and cafes. I find the place peaceful and fascinating. It’s one of my favorite places to go and watch the world; the people.
On a recent Sunday afternoon trip to this town, I encountered a Hare Krishna monk and his entourage. I considered this a treat. The whole group was clothed in colorful kurtas (I love kurtas!), singing in a language I didn’t know, while the monk kept rhythm with a large drum covered in wooden beads. I raced my mind with the question: “what religion is that?” because I tend to mix up all the Eastern religions in my brain. Or maybe I should have call it a cult, but I really dislike that word. I tend to reserve the word “cult” for unhappy religions and the people who kill bunnies and puppies in the name of underworld things, or even would be good groups that take extremes and are vicious to others. So, everything about the monks, Buddhists, Hare Krishna, Hindus, Yogis, and the sort, are happy. They, specifically the Krishna, represent themselves as a happy religion. They smile a lot, sing, and hand out flowers and hugs. They have this beautiful rhythmic chanting, tambourines, hand symbols; and of course play that big Ricky Ricardo Ba-ba-loo type of drum: the mridangam. I don’t see a lot of Christian groups doing this sort of thing, singing happy songs in the street, handing out hugs and such… odd.
There seems to be a-lot us Christians could learn from them. Being happy, being still, eating better, loving others unconditionally, taking time each day to just listen to the voice of God in the wind, the birds, the mind. Joy. Contentment. In my wandering years, I have sat and listen to some of these group’s messages; everything they say could be plucked out of their setting and placed within the church that is described in Act 2. Kinder, gentler, loving.
Oh to have the peaceful loving heart of a Hare Krishna with the correct recognition and devotion to Jesus.
At any rate, I couldn’t help myself, as I found myself crossing the street towards the group. I was dressed in my typical weekend wild-child-kurta, which somehow attributed to the sense of a welcoming warm reception from the group. Be-Vaughn*, the Hare Krishna, offered his hand to introduced himself – and I in return. His skin was rougher than I expected. I asked him what religion they practice. Funny, he didn’t have a “set” answer; at least not one I understood. He rambled something about Vedic Science of Yoga – I responded, “Oh I love yoga!” We got into a discussion of what type of yoga I practice, etc… I had to make it clear to him that yoga was not a religion for me, not a “practice” in his terms; rather it was an enjoyable method of exercise. (* I probably have this spelled wrong, Be-Vaughn is my best phonetically correct spelling)
Somewhere in the midst of this I felt God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit; Something nudging and clear, “He’s showing you his light, now you show him Mine.” Since I preach and rant about “light and salt” I knew exactly what this was about. Once again it was time to practice what I preach.
We continued our conversation and he started to put several books in my hands; a vegetarian cookbook and some other books on self-realization and heady Hindu-ish readings with covers depicting the beautiful Ganesha-god elephant. I said I liked the cookbook, but the others, while very beautiful, I did not want. Since I had never spent time talking at length with a Krishna monk, I didn’t know the books were a method of gaining money / donations. I lied as I told him I had “no money”, but turned it into only the smallest of white lies by adding “to give you”. I put the books back into his hands. He said, I didn’t need to give money, only a penny. He kept pressing for a penny; just a penny. I wondered, “God, am I to give him a penny, I don’t want to monetarily support his cause, I thought I was only to give money to Your causes.” I considered I never had these thoughts when dropping money into the work-boot of a fireman when they collect funds for burn victims. In fact, just that very morning, my pastor spoke of who our neighbors are in relation to the good Samaritan story. I began to wonder, was Be-Vaughn my neighbor, is he someone I help? I didn’t know the answer, and in the end I didn’t give him money, it didn’t seem “right”. But we had a wonderful talk. I told him I loved Jesus. I couldn’t believe these words were coming from my mouth, because I’m a wimpy evangelist. In-fact I had no goal at all to “win him to Christ” – all I knew was “be light and salt”.
In the end, I walked away with a vegetarian cookbook. Be-Vaugh told me to please keep it and think of him, he said I would be doing a good thing to make a meal from it and give it to someone who cannot do for themselves. I absolutely agreed and said I would, because “that’s exactly what Jesus would do”. It would be Jesusy. We smiled and parted ways. Before leaving I told him, “Namaste”, because I do honor whatever kindness he shows to others in his happy religion and spirit. And with shocked tears in his eyes he returned the same words, because in that moment, it seemed, he too, honored the Holy Spirit from Jesus that lives in me.
As I walked away, their song and chant started up again. My vivid imagination had Jesus by my side as we walked down the wood sidewalk, putting His arm around my shoulders, saying, “now that was fun, let’s do that again soon.”