Book Toha




I've traveled to the Mideast several times, but one trip stands out, and not just because I experienced a 7.8 earthquake next to the Blue Mosque!

I traveled mostly by myself that time, which allowed me to get to know people better. At the time, I sent some emails back to a friend, telling her about my trip. Here are some excerpts from those emails:

“What IS that?” my guide at the Omayyad Mosque asked.

  Omayyad Mosque in Damascus
    Omayyad Mosque

"I thought it was a cross...but now I see it's something different," he continued. In response to his question, I showed him the two pendants I wore on a single gold chain around my neck.

I was traveling in order to practice the Arabic I'd been studying at the University Of Minnesota. I was traveling in Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Egypt: mostly Islamic countries. I thought my any conversations on spiritual matters would be subtle.

The Journey Home, Painting by Cheng Yew Chung  
The Journey Home
Painting by Cheng Yew Chung

I was very surprised to find out--it was not subtle AT ALL! In every country I went to, and most cities, people asked me about my religion, and it made for some very rewarding travel. On August 17, 1999, I was in Istanbul in a nightclub talking to a young Kurdish man.

The pendants I wore were an Eckankar pendant that is a golden rectangle with a beautiful engraved six-pointed star representing the the highest state of consciousness, and a path leading into Its heart.

My other pendant is a golden raptor with a small emerald in its heart, its wings spread for flight. I call it my Eagle Of ECK (another name for the Holy Spirit) because for me it represents the independence of Trust in God, fearlessness, the soaring of Soul, the assuredness of a spiritual warrior. I wore the two together on my trip.

  “In every country I went to, and most cities, people asked me about my religion.”

The young Kurdish man in the nightclub had a tremendous sweetness about him, and a nuttiness too, singing the same Eagles song for hours. In between verses of "Hotel California" we talked about our love for our mothers (mine translated about a year and a half ago; his was in Eastern Turkey and he missed her).

The big earthquake

Blue Mosque  
The Blue Mosque

We also talked about God. I shared HU with him, and right before me, I saw his heart open wider and wider as he sang HU with me. I was still with Murat when the big earthquake happened.

It was 7.8 on the Richter scale. We were in a taxi en route to the tea garden next to the Blue Mosque (pictured at left). We felt some shaking and lurching but were completely unaware that it had been a major quake until we got to the tea garden and saw how upset the waiters were; they told Murat what had just happened. All we saw were the glorious stars made more brilliant by the power outage.

Spirit had caused our timing to be just so: we were safe. We sat in the tea garden drinking apple tea, singing HU as the residents and hotel guests began to swarm the area all around the Blue Mosque (pictured above), Hagia Sophia (pictured below), the Hippodrome, and all the surrounding gardens.

It was a rude hour for them to be awakened: 3 AM. I was grateful that I had not been jolted awake. And Murat occasionally continued his Eagles song. The whole neighborhood, the Sultanahmet area, was spared the heavy damage seen elsewhere in Istanbul.

The Hagia Sophia  

Reunited with friends

The next night, I flew to Lebanon, and through another wondrous gift from Sugmad (it's another story!), was united with friends of friends from my home city of Minneapolis.Not 10 minutes after I arrived at their Beirut apartment, we were in a discussion about Eckankar, my hosts enthusiastically asking me questions. I was laughing as I answered because I was surprised at the immediacy and depth of our conversation. I knew I would have a good time with these new, old friends.

The next week, in a Damascus post office, I met a Belgian student. He was traveling alone for a couple of days and would meet up with his companion in another Syrian city later. So we decided to travel together to Homs to visit the Crac Des Chevalier (pictured at right), an intact Crusader castle we both wanted to see.

In retrospect, it is sometimes hard to remember exactly how or why the subject of Eckankar comes up, but come up it does, and my Belgian friend HU'd with me too.

My Christian tour guide

Days later, back in Damascus, I went to the Omayyad Mosque. A man in the ticket office offered to guide me through it and I accepted. At one point in the tour, he said seemingly out of the blue, "I am a Christian, like you." I said, "but I am not a Christian."

Mausoleum containing the remains of Saint John The Baptist in Omayyad Mosque, Damascus  

That is when he took a closer look at my pendants, and I explained what they were. I looked around at the Muslims praying, and the tourists gazing at the beautiful architecture; we were 15 feet away from a mausoleum containing the remains of Saint John The Baptist (pictured at left). And I said to my guide,

"Do you want to know how I pray?"

"Very much", he said gently, with a smile.

"I sit quietly...I close my eyes...I think of a loved one, and focus my attention in an upward direction....and I sing, that. I sing a few times. HUUUU .....HUUUU...." He joined me. "And then I listen for God."

He gasped. "What does it sound like? A voice?"

"Sometimes, but it can sound like rain, or a flute, or wind, or any of God's sounds" I said. We HU'd together a little more.

Some weeks later, I found myself on a camel at Giza, riding around the Pyramids. My Egyptian guide here was riding a horse. He said to me "We will ride up behind the Pyramids, and there, you can make meditate."

When we got to the spot he liked, I got off the camel and began to go into contemplation. I sang HU. Bless his heart, my guide was like a talkative, buzzing bee around me; it didn't seem to him that I was doing much toward "making meditate." So I told him what I was doing. I said,

"Now after I sing, I must be quiet, to listen to Allah." "I understand," he said.

  “I had enough Arabic to very simply describe how we pray in ECK.”

I closed my eyes again and softly sang HUUUU....and I heard him singing with me. After a few times, I fell into my silent contemplation; when I opened my eyes, his big brown eyes were softer and shinier as I'm sure my own were.

Most of the time that I spoke of ECK, I was speaking in English, but there was one place I was happy to discover I had enough Arabic to very simply describe how we pray in ECK.

I was in a Cairo shop having some garments made. I was asked to wait for a fitting; in the meantime, two of the employees kept me company. After a few minutes of conversation, one of the men steered the conversation to religion. With his finger, he drew two short, crossing strokes across his wrist, and said in Arabic, "One of our workers is a Christian, did you see her cross?"

The young woman he was speaking of wore hijab, a headscarf, just as the Muslim women did. He continued,

"What religion are you?" I told him, "My religion is Eckankar."

Confused, he made the cross again, but the other man there understood me. I repeated it, then told them what I could; my spoken Arabic is fairly limited. But I was able to say,

"I this..." I demonstrated singing HU, "then I listen to God."

The second man understood completely and with a sweet smile, helped explain it to the first man. These are only a few of the experiences of sharing the Holy Spirit and the HU in the Middle East.

  “The people I met were eager to sing HU with me.”

I had gone there with the notion that my spiritual mission would be utterly subtle. Instead, it was completely obvious!

People asked me all the time about my religion. I was concerned about causing offense (as religious talk can do) but the people I met were eager to sing HU with me.