Only Love

When I was looking for something else on YouTube a few minutes ago, it occurred to me that a group video which had been made as a gift for Amma might be on it. And it was! The video was posted in August of 2020. Ten thousand participants from 360 cities and 39 countries were involved in making it.

My Spirit Soaring

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Photo Credit: Wikimedia

When I read Sreejit’s post “Dungeon Prompts: Take Me To Church” this past Thursday, I instantly knew what the nature of my response to the prompt would be.  Even so, I had the sense that I shouldn’t write it then and there. Now I know why.

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On Sunday evening, I attended the ordination of a friend who was becoming a Unitarian Universalist minister. She had worked towards that goal for many years. It was a day of great celebration. The ordination rituals affected me in ways that I hadn’t expected. Towards the beginning of the ceremony, there was a procession of already-ordained ministers. It reminded me of college graduations where the professors walk in, each clothed in different robes reflecting the school they had attended. I took one look at these ministers and my “being” erupted in grief. Grief of recognition, grief of longing. Was it related to past lives? Maybe. Probably.  That grief came again as the group of ministers walked out of the sanctuary during the recessional.

Tapping into something beyond my understanding, but no doubt, I had been “taken to church.”

my spirit soaring
tears flowing
touched to the core
Home

 

During the ordination, in addition to thoroughly enjoying my friend’s experience, I was flooded with ideas for this post. Ideas continued to “come” for the rest of the night.  By the next morning, I was ready to write!

Otto_Greiner_Betende_HändePhoto Credit: Wikimedia

Spirit has “taken me to church” so many times during my life.

I remember feeling embarrassed as an eight to ten year old child when my mother brought a friend to my bedroom as I was kneeling beside my bed praying. I also remember avidly reading books and watching movies about nuns in my early teen years.  I had a sense I was “supposed” to become a nun, but that was not possible.  I wasn’t Catholic!

When I was in tenth grade, and living in Hawaii, I went to a Billy Graham crusade and became a born again Christian. Afterwards, I joined a Youth for Christ group at my high school. I remember the group traveling together on buses, singing hour after hour. That was pure bliss for me. I felt like I was part of a family, I belonged!.

Tapping into something beyond my understanding, but no doubt, I had been “taken to church.”

my spirit soaring
heaven on earth
joy abounds
Home

 Beliefs Men Live By

At the end of that year, my father retired from the Army, and we moved to Florida. I attended a Congregational church, which was my mother’s denomination. I loved being part of the youth group. During the summer of 1965, we traveled from Florida to Washington State and back, studying The Belief’s Men Live By. I still have many memories of that summer. It was also the time I decided I would go to a Free Methodist college in Seattle.

When I arrived at the college, I was still a fairly conservative Christian, much more conservative than my Congregational friends. The college that I attended was so conservative though that over time I became very disillusioned, and for the next twenty years considered myself to be somewhere between an agnostic and an atheist.

Spirit did not leave me during those darker times though. I loved to go to the University Unitarian Church the day after Christmas to participate in a Messiah Sing-a-Long.  I went every year until I started spending every Christmas season in India. Singing the Messiah was such a highlight in my life.

Tapping into something beyond my understanding, but no doubt, I had been “taken to church.”

my spirit soaring
heaven on earth
joy abounds
Home

 

About the same time, I started attending the Unitarian summer camp at Seabeck Conference Center. My children and I participated in that camp every summer for thirteen years. There I had the opportunity to be with a group that was like an extended family, where there were plenty of hugs, lots of rest, and fun, and children were cared for by all of the attendees.  Crossing the bridge into the conference center was like traveling to another world.  My whole body would relax and I could breathe fully.  I considered Seabeck to be my home in the universe for many years.  In fact, I still consider it to be one of my homes.

Tapping into something beyond my understanding, but no doubt, I had been “taken to church.”

my spirit soaring
heaven on earth
my soul is at rest
Home

 

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I was still quite negative about anything spiritual.  I reached a point when even hearing the word God made me feel sick to my stomach. That changed the night I went to Amma’s Seattle program in 1989. In the months prior to that event, spiritual people started showing up in my life, much to my dismay. In fact, it was one of them who had invited me to go to Amma’s program. My internal response to her was “NO” but “YES” came out of my mouth. When the day arrived, I walked into the room after the program had already started. As Amma and the Swamis (monks) began to sing, I burst into tears. My tears lasted throughout the night and I entered into deep meditational states. What was happening to me? My friend had told me that she thought I would like it once I adjusted to the cultural differences. What cultural differences? I had never had any contact with Eastern spirituality yet I felt completely at home.

Tapping into something beyond my understanding, but no doubt, I had been “taken to church.”

my spirit soaring
tears flowing
touched to the core
Home

 

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I went back to Amma’s program the next night, and to part of her retreat on Orcus Island the following weekend. Six weeks later, I attended her retreat in New Hampshire and six months after that took my first trip to India. Being an Amma devotee has been the center of my life, and the life of my children, ever since.

One of the first changes I noticed after I met Amma was that I was able to separate my love for Christ from my anger at the Christian church. In time, even my anger at the church decreased. After all we are all human and are doing the best we can on this life’s journey. My spiritual life once again became my major focus.

Being with Amma, however, had opened a part of me that I didn’t know existed, a part that contained so much grief.  I was still experiencing deep, and often spontaneous, trance states.   At times, I felt as if some part of me was at a party that the conscious part of me was not invited to.  Although I was very curious about that, I sensed it was a protective mechanism.  If I was experiencing this much grief without knowing what was happening, what would I be feeling if I knew.  I believed I was experiencing the grief of longing, longing for union with God.  When I was with Amma I usually felt a sense of peace and fullness.  But when I was away, my separation grief flared.

Through grace, Spirit led me to many places and situations that made the time away from Amma more comfortable.  They often were areas where left brained, reserved Carol Poole (my name before I asked and received a name from Amma in 1990) would never have considered going.

  • Soon after I met Amma, I started studying the tabla, an Indian drum. Over time I became aware that my tabla teacher was the leader of a rock band called Tribal Therapy. He invited me to come to a show but said I probably wouldn’t like it since it was rock music. When I went to his concert, I discovered his songs were all spiritually based. I had never danced before but something inside of me “turned on” and I danced the night away, filled with joy. I started attending his band’s performances as often as I could. I was one of the last people I would have expected to ever become involved with an Indian guru, and now, at 41 years-of-age, I had also become a band groupie.  Unbelievable!
  • One day in 1991, I walked to a service station near my home, inexplicably taking a different route than I would normally take. As I passed an open field I noticed a sign that said “Tent Revival starting August 28.”  A big “YES” erupted within me as I gazed at the sign. I was very surprised at my reaction because at that time I still felt very separate from the Christian church.  I eagerly awaited the night of the revival and when it came, it was wonderous. The revival was sponsored by Power House Church of God in Christ, which is an African-American church whose roots are in the Deep South. People were dancing in the spirit, speaking in tongues, praising God, and singing.  The sermon spoke to me, even though I needed to reframe some of the content. The Gospel music sent me into ecstasy. I started attending that church regularly, and did so for many years. Being in that environment “fed me” during the times I was away from Amma. Early on, my body started dancing spontaneously, in a form that was similar to a whirling dervish. The whirling felt familiar, probably from lifetimes long past. I found it hard to believe that I was once again attending a conservative Christian church, a Pentecostal one at that. I loved that I was able to immerse myself in the experience and was treated with love and respect by the congregation even though I had beliefs that were very different from theirs.  At one point, from the pulpit, the minister claimed ME as a member of the church.  (I had never joined because I didn’t believe parts of their Statement of Faith.)  I felt so grateful and blessed.
  • In 2000, when I visited St. James Cathedral in Seattle, a flyer caught my eye. It was for a Taize service that was going to take place in the church in a half hour. I decided to wait and see what Taize was. When the service started and the music began, my tears flowed.  The grief I felt was so familiar. The music used a call-response style and was in a variety of languages. Soloists sang the call portion and the congregation responded. After some time, the congregation continued with the main chant, and the soloists started singing melodies above it. The moment they started singing in that way, my body filled with bliss. I soon learned that Taize was the name of a monastery in France, one that is dedicated to reconciliation of the Christian church. I attended the weekly Taize service at St. James Cathedral for some time. Years later, two friends and I visited the French monastery when we were on our way to Amma’s ashram in India.  Below you will find a video of the monks singing my favorite Taize song, Veni Sancte Spiritus.

Each of these experiences tapped into something beyond my understanding, but no doubt, I had been “taken to church.”

my spirit soaring
heaven on earth
joy abounds
Home

 

There have been many special times on this spiritual journey of mine but these events have been some of the highlights. The path has taken me one place and then another. What stays consistent throughout is Amma. My journey with her has been the center of my life since 1989, and probably for lifetimes before this one. While Spirit has led me in many directions, the place where I feel most at Home is when I am enveloped in Amma’s arms.

Amma's hug

my spirit soaring
heaven on earth
my soul at rest
Home

 

Written for Dungeon Prompts: Take Me to Church and Weekly Photo Challenge: Enveloped

Amma’s North American Summer Tour begins in Washington State on May 30. To see her entire tour schedule click here