Week 28: ECKANKAR, 13 July 2008

In my former life, as a composition prof, I used to emphasize to my students the importance of knowing the answers to the following questions: Who’s your reader? What’s your purpose? All writers, I would tell them, have a reader and a purpose in mind, even if it’s often deep in the subconscious mind.

There are a number of wildly different readers of this blog — from our religiously conservative parents to Witnesses looking for the book study announcement to atheists and agnostics and Episcopalians. Knowing this makes writing about today’s service completely impossible, because of what I’ll term here the Inner Evangelical Voice. Here’s the issue, illustrated:
Jen, writing: Today we went to ECKANKAR, where we were greeted warmly at the door.

Inner Evangelical Voice: Of course you were warmly greeted, that’s what cults do.

Jen, writing: The greeter suggested a seating for three in the middle of the left side.

Inner Evangelical Voice: Control. Yep. See? Cult.

Jen: We sat beside a lovely woman named Teresa, who whispered occasional words of clarification to me during the service.

IEV: Cult. I’m telling ya.

Jen: Alaetheia was invited to a youth group activity.

IEV: Get ’em young. Cult tactic.

Jen: And several people talked to us afterward.

IEV (chanting): Cult. Cult. Cult. Look it up in Walter Martin’s The Kingdom of the Cults.

Jen: Would you give it a rest? None of these things is particularly noteworthy in a run of the mill Protestant church . . . except that you often don’t even get a good greeting.

IEV (triumphant): Ha. See? Cults are great at that warm welcome.

Jen: Okay, now you’re not even making any sense.

IEV (taunting): If you’re questioning that you’re questioning if they’re a cult — that’s a sign of a cult.

Jen: Oh, for fuck’s sake — that doesn’t even make sense.

IEV (sing-songy): Cuuuulllt.

The IEV is really fucking annoying sometimes, at best, it gets in the way of a logical progression of thought . . . worse, it generally tries to obfuscate completely, on a mission of its own ends. There is a thought that permeated (and probably still permeates) the evangelical subculture that attending services, talking to people from, or reading the literature of other religions has a deleterious effect on one’s own spirituality. When I was young, either a box of Cracker Jacks or a Kinder Eir had a teeny Ouija board in it, which my parents whisked away before we had a chance to even examine the thing–such was the ability of inanimate objects to sully one’s soul. (Ditto for Tarot cards, the Parker Brothers version of the Ouija Game, anything involving fortune telling, Halloween, Dungeons and Dragons . . . I have friends whose parents additionally eschewed C.S. Lewis (witches and magic), shopping on Sunday, and Catholics, on much the same grounds).

The ECKANKAR worship service has three parts: The reading (from one of the ECKANKAR texts), the HU Song (a meditation that begins with a calm chanting of “HU” (sounds like “Hugh”), and the Group Discussion, using the reading as a starting point. The Cleric, Mindy, read the readings (which were also printed in the bulletin), and told a story about becoming more aware of God’s love in her life via her interactions with her dogs. She began the HU Song with a focus on the spot between our eyes. I’m thinking that this was a third eye kind of thing, but it made me think about my right eyebrow, which seems to be trying to become two eyebrows, which I find disturbing.

photo-44.jpg(The camera is a mirror cam, so the eyebrow you see on the right is my right eyebrow).

The HU Song at this service was prettier than the ones you can catch on YouTube, but I think that’s mostly because the congregation this morning was almost entirely comprised of soft-spoken, melodic women. (Of the two men present, one was named Hugh — we wondered afterward if this was something that led to in-jokes among ECKists, or if this was too solemn in the context of the religion — like Latino Catholics named Jesus).

At the conclusion of the service, we sang “Amazing HU,” to the tune of “Amazing Grace.” I have included the lyrics to both below.

Amazing Grace
John Newton Joan and Harold Klemp

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound

That saved a wretch like me!

I once was lost, but now am found;

Was blind, but now I see.

’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,

And grace my fears relieved;

How precious did that grace appear

The hour I first believed!

Through many dangers, toils and snares,

I have already come;

’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,

And grace will lead me home.

The Lord has promised good to me,

His Word my hope secures;

He will my Shield and Portion be,

As long as life endures.

The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,

The sun forbear to shine;

But God, who called me here below,

Will be forever mine.

When we’ve been there ten thousand years,

Bright shining as the sun,

We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise

Than when we’d first begun.

Amazing HU, how sweet the sound

That touched a Soul like me!

I once was lost, but now am found

Was blind, but now I see.

‘Twas HU that taught my heart to sing

And HU my fears relieved

How precious did HU then appear

The hour I first believed!

Through many dangers, toils, and snares

I have already come

‘Tis HU has brought me safe thus far

And HU will lead me home.

The HU has given life to me

Its Sound my hope secures

My shield and portion HU will be

As long as life endures.

The earth will someday pass away

The sun forebear to shine

But God who sent me here below

I’ll be forever Thine.

I kept thinking: this would probably work better to Gilligan’s Island or House of the Rising Sun (try it! really! more fun!). But I think I had two reasons for finding the tune objectionable: first, I don’t really like changed lyrics to songs, and second, I have something against songs that change person, tense, or number mid-verse (see the final verse of the ECK version). For these reasons, I liked the HU Song much better than Amazing HU. (This does, however, point to an inconsistency on my part, since apparently I’m happy to swap out the original Gilligan/Rising Sun tunes and sing Amazing Grace to them . . . hmmm. Going to have to contemplate that).

Anyway, they were warm and welcoming, and it wasn’t half as weird as we thought it might be.

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7 Responses to Week 28: ECKANKAR, 13 July 2008

  1. okwuchukwu says:

    Twas HU that taught my heart to sing; And HU my fear relieved! How precious did HU then appeared, the hour I first believed.

    So amazing!

    I’d prefere the warm welcome to any other kind. It sure gives me the feeling of coming HOME


  2. Jen says:

    I was trying to explain how strong the indoctrination of evangelical Christianity is . . . that, even as an adult in a new experience that I chose, there are these whispers against those that are different. I expect that many prejudices are begun in this same way — passed from generation to generation without explanation, and taken in as part of one’s self. So there we were, in a lovely space, with wonderfully nice people, and a very nice service — and there’s that voice in my head, lacking proof, lacking merit, completely unfounded, and full of prejudice, whispering terrible things to me. (Not a literal voice, just the voice of prejudice).
    And it was that (and not a commentary on Eckankar) that I was trying to express.

  3. Grant says:

    A warm greeting, someone explaining various parts of the Eck Worship service to a visitor, people expressing Love…all these = a cult? Well, if so, then I am proud to be an Eckist and a member of a cult!

  4. Johnny says:

    I think it is a great idea to have rewritten the words to Amazing Grace. Sharon is right, HU is not a person. HU is one of the ancient names for God.

    But what I really like about the revised lyrics is that it identifies me as a “soul.” I’d like to think that am not a wretch. Nor is anyone else. We may do wretched things at times, but ultimately we are all spiritual beings living in this world to learn and love through the experiences we have. God loves us no matter what. We may still be responsible for our actions and still may need to pay the price for misdeed, but that’s all part of our spiritual education. So we don’t need to be saved. That’s beautiful. In fact, it’s amazing. Get it? Amazing HU touched a soul like me.

  5. Laura Reave says:

    Hi, Glad you didn’t think the service was too weird. It is unfortunate that the one song you heard was “Amazing HU” since most Eckankar songs are original compositions by members, and they are unique and beautiful. But many people really love that hymn too. The man’s name would be seen as just an interesting coincidence. Yes, people do tease individuals named Hugh occassionally, in a light way: “Well, I suppose it’s only proper that Hugh should lead the HU song.” Members of Eckankar usually tend to have a good sense of humor and don’t take themselves too seriously. They also don’t feel required to agree with the way that everything in their path is presented. The most important thing is the individual spiritual experience, usually in contemplations or dreams. In this path, worship services are not at all crucial to individual spiritual growth and development.

  6. Sharon says:

    HU is not a somebody. HU is an ancient, sacred name for God. As far as the song “Amazing HU” – it is a public domain song. Harold and Joan updated the song to bring out the love that God has for Soul. The melody touches the hearts of many people and it is nice to sing a song about God’s love where you do not have to identify yourself as a “wretch”.

    You are Soul. You exist because God. Loves you!


  7. zachary says:

    You are so in a cult.
    Hee hee.
    I can appreciate your observations. Yet, I find it horribly offensive for anyone to mess with Amazing Grace, especially in service to Hugh somebody. Talk about blowing the first commandment. We did some variation on where is God in life in our small group last night, and our newest couple ran out to their car and grabbed a guitar( which the husband took up less than a month ago) and sang us some incredibly cool and original tunes. I had such a Jesus hit, I almost lost it. Yeah, God.

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