Disclaimer: Actual persons described in these stories already
have their own aliases…
These stories are affectionately dedicated to my ragtag assortment
of sacred teachers…
The Cult of the Beet
I’ve never been a joiner when it comes to churches...
It’s not that I haven’t tried. Heavens!! I have!
I raised myself Catholic. I never missed daily Mass,
let alone Sundays and holy days.
As I was to learn, too much fervor is not necessarily a good thing...
Eventually I gave the Protestants a try...with disastrous consequences.
I was promptly married off to a preacher's kid
and assigned to teaching Sunday school, a post for which I was thoroughly unqualified.
The PK was a troubled young man, harboring a dark side
beneath his charismatic smile.
They, unfortunately, are Legion...
After a harrowing escape, I blended in with the masses of backpackers traversing the Americas in the 70s.
That 4000-mile foray landed me on a windswept hilltop overlooking
the ocean in the Canadian Maritimes.
It was there that I vowed to have nothing more to do with such things!
But, as I was soon to find out, the Ineffable had cooked up It's own scheme ...
Along the way, I had dispatched myself to investigate congregations
of every hue and stripe in a seemingly endless search for a spiritual home...
I was not averse to tangling with snake handlers, Quakers, Spiritualists, Hutterites, Gospel tent revivals...you name it, I tried it.
So-yes, I have tried...
I have just never found a church that comes very close to representing
the 'God' I discovered....
Busy with their programs and agendas…mostly power over people’s
minds and wallets, ego-tilting, bible-toting, premature ejaculations
based on premature notions…
I did kind of like Hurricane’s church, though….
She ran what she called "The Sit Down and Shut Up Church."
Hurricane actually lived in a church…
It was given to her by God. I was there. I saw it unfold...
In her lively church, you could play music as loud as you liked
and sing all night if you were in the mood.
But when it was time for Church...everybody better shut up and listen awhile.
And they better be ready for some Truth...
Now, she’d call Church at 1 in the morning as often as not.
She’d excommunicate you again at 6 am, too.
She was getting her pastoral training on the job, shall we say,
and it was, at times, a bumpy apprenticeship with strange goings-ons,
but I have known that to happen...
You just don’t question God’s order of life...that is, once you know
the Voice for yourself.
Confounding us is part of the plan at most times, it seems.
I call her Hurricane 'cause she was ‘like the wind’ in the biblical sense.
And not just any old wind. She was a force of Nature, that one.
Mercurial as hell, too.
Her sermons followed no particular pattern.
One day you got the sermon on loving yourself.
The next time it might be a revelation of the cosmos...
Church happened all over the place, too.
"Church-on-the-Run", I called it.
She'd hit the streets on the bitterest cold winter nights
offering rides to strangers till dawn.
Then there was the long night in a bar talking a young man
out of suicide. Well, actually it was worse than that…
He had planned to take about 20 people out with him that night.
Her congregants were scattered far and wide.
She tended to them as she got to them.
I was in and out of the church for awhile.
She needed to fly free and at a moment’s notice.
So, for that matter, did I...
Nothing against the Bible, mind you, but let’s have
a little truth in advertising…
The first books of the Old Testament were lifted wholesale
from much earlier writings and older civilizations,
like the Sumerian. Major portions were left on the sidelines.
As many have suspected, there has been major tampering.
In the final analysis, some things have the ring of truth
about them and some just don’t.
Once I asked a major Christian figure if he knew about the plagiarism.
"Oh yes," he replied calmly.
I was amazed. "How did you find out?"
"We learned it in seminary."
"You mean you ALL know about this?! That what they're teaching is bunk!?"
"Yes, we know."
"Then why aren't you telling the people?!!"
"Because it would destroy Christian civilization as we know it.
Bad for business..." replied the multi-millionaire music producer.
And what about the mysteries? Nobody wants to deal with those...
How well I remember peppering preachers, priests, nuns and teachers
with questions about the mysteries….and not just the ones that were written
in the book, but the ones that were bombarding my life, as well.
Given the experiences I was having, I was even becoming a mystery to myself. Had I lived before? Could anyone explain to me how my grandmother appeared to me in a cloud- while she was still alive? What do I do all night long that lands me back in my bedroom so exhausted in the morning?
And what about that spontaneous non-combustion aka Kundalini awakening?
The Catholics were all mystery with none of the inquiry deserved,
the Protestants all doctrine, blind and dull to the mysteries,
Self-help, alternate bibles and 12 Steppers abounded.
New Age religion was fast becoming a sideshow carnival.
Even the folks that were savvy enough to connect spirituality
with sexuality had missed the boat.
Very messy stuff...
Picking through the rubble, I found the occasional gem,
but eventually, I realized I was better off striking out on my own.
I found little reality amongst the huddled masses.
I was after the meat of the matter...the Mystery itself.
I didn't care to wrangle over a name and a form or a group.
Just give me some Reality...
Not long afterward, things began to perk up!
I had given up the search, as I said.
Baby and holy bathwater-out the door-down the drain!
God's Funeral! All of it assigned to folly!
But yet, something pushing from an unknown quarter
began to make itself evident in most unorthodox ways.
Some thing or some one seemed to be at work behind the scenes.
This thing seemed to have an irrepressible sense of the comic
and the tender and the against-all-odds resilience of Life.
There was a Personality at work...
orchestrating a whole spate of events and turning my plans on their ears.
What's more, it pursued me...like a jilted Lover...
After months of strange and undeserved beneficence, I turned
my face to the sky and fairly demanded "Who ARE you?!"
And for good measure, "...and WHY are you doing all this for me?!"
In due time, the name was given....the name I had cringed at...
the name that was painfully and reluctantly named after all
the others failed to elicit a response.
All I can say is that the joke was on me! (and may it ever be so!)
A very different game was on...
THIS was not some concocted deity.
This was God, if you will, on His terms, not the church's, not mine...
Teachers began to turn up...in the most curious ways,
not to mention the most varied and improbable disguises...
I give special mention to those who turned up on the path
at exactly the right time, most notable among them being:
Psycho Taxi Boy aka Mike Bacon, Lobster, Rip, deaf Reno:
head carpenter of my houseboat, Gary H: Patron Saint of Lost Causes, Hyemeyohsts Storm, Dr.Lao of 7 Faces fame, and BP of The 1st Church of Bob.
Someone slipped me a copy of "Jitterbug Perfume" by Tom Robbins.
I sniffed at first...peculiar book, that one.
It is, among other things, a book about beets...and the secret to immortality and, oh yes, perfume...all subjects for which I had a keen interest at the time.
Moreover, it seemed that we had stumbled upon the same keys
in the quest for immortality (though I must add that they should be
used judiciously for desired effect).
I was entranced...not immediately, mind you, but I found in him
the wit and the mischief and the gladness that I knew must attach
to the Divine.
There was a liveliness of mind and spirit that I recognized.
There was also the necessary flagrant disregard for the pompous,
the ordinary and the stern.
He was a kindred...and more.
He beckoned me onward...
Boy, did he!!
So, imagine my surprise when I began to realize that I was involved
in a church of sorts after all...
Well, if not a church exactly...a loose knit congregation.
I’d had my suspicions about an affiliation with the cult,
but my involvement was unexpectedly confirmed the day
I arrived home to find a beet on my doorstep.
There was no turning back.
The apport had landed.
And that is how I came to be affiliated with the Cult of the Beet...
How should I describe such an entity?
By way of Rules? Sacraments? Eligibility? Sacred Emblems?
The Rules are somewhat elusive, shall we say...
Dispensed with an eye toward loosening the stays,
sharpening the essence, confounding the 'monkey mind'
(as overbearing intellect may affectionately be referred to).
It is somewhat like dancing on air...among the stars.
One must intuit them along the way, moment by moment,
nothing being fixed or even observable by all adherents.
As for Sacraments...well, there IS the Christmas Dance...
The Christmas Dance is a bright and lively concoction served up
by the Divine each and every year to show forth the true Spirit of Christmas.
If one has ever experienced a Christmas Dance, one knows that
there is no predicting its form or the time of it's arrival, but there
is no doubting it when It mysteriously makes its appearance.
And I found that there is a sort of Confirmation.
A Confirmation conferred without warning...
The Almighty doesn't fool around...unlike It's pious imitators.
Who could guess what would follow the Divine Kiss?
The ones who know are conspiratorially mum.
Or if 'mum' fails to suffice, they are given to mumbling...
usually something about the good Dr. Lao.
(I’d been bumping into the effervescent and enigmatic Dr. Lao for years... )
Ahh, but that is another story....
As regards Eligibility, it is not for me to say...or even to speculate,
given what I have been graced to see over the ensuing years.
This is no ordinary array of souls...
What gospel would be complete without beatitudes,
or in this case, Beet Attitudes?
These are liberally sprinkled throughout Jitterbug Perfume...
Beliefs! What do we believe?
Ah! That was all made simple for me by the elfin, monkish Rip.
Though he struggled with other issues of this life, he had mastered this one.
Rip simply believes Everything.
Rip used to go on to me about everything imaginable and unimaginable
in our late night discussions …aliens, vortexes, elementals and ley lines.
Auras, chakras, crop circles- all things paranormal-
every woo woo thing that came down the pike!
He was straining my brain with all his theories.
Finally, one night, in exasperation, I said to my friend
"Rip!! Do you REALLY believe all this CRAP??!!
To which he simply replied, all clear-eyed and open, "Yes."
Was this poor man out of his mind?!
I’d been refining and defining and apparently confining my beliefs for years.
I KNEW at least a few things…probably more.
These revelations would ruin everything I had so carefully arranged.
I found myself unable to do anything but wrestle with his remark
over the next few days and sleepless nights.
I was highly annoyed, greatly disgruntled.
How could such a simpleton be more right than ME!?
Why, I had debated bible scholars, philosophers and cult believers with ease.
I had no ready answer for Rip.
On another level, I could not escape the impact
he evoked with that simple word.... Yes.
Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes…
But he makes no sense!! Yes. Yes. Yes.
He believes! He simply believes everything.
How can someone believe in everything?!
I could not follow.
No. no. no!
Finally, as I fretted into the night once more, I compared our lives
in light of our stances. I laid there alone with my perfectly arranged
beliefs and thought about the measure of Life they had gained me.
Truthfully, although they HAD at one time been Life-giving,
at this point they were dry and virtually lifeless forms.
Rip, on the other hand, was as vibrant and full of cheer
as he was quirky!
I wondered...would it hurt to conduct a little experiment?
How about if I tried believing some of this stuff?
‘I... be..lieve...,’ I stammered in utter dismay at myself.
Ugh! I felt ridiculous!
Once more for good measure, ‘I believe...’
'WHAT do you believe?' an invisible voice asked.
I groaned inwardly, forcing the fateful words out.
‘I believe...…arrgghh.....I believe EVERYTHING!’
Oofff! I'd said it! I landed with a thud in unfamiliar territory.
In the next moment, everything changed!
In a happy flash, as though the long-absent sun had burst
through the clouds, a ridiculous joy stole over me.
It tickled my ribs, levitated me and danced me around the room.
'I believe! I believe everything! Yes. Yes. Yes…!!'
After that, there was no more war, no more controversy,
no more weariness of mind and spirit.
I breathed easier after that.
My spiritual life sputtered back to life, too.
I stopped being such a crank.
And the Mystery began to visit more often.
Emblems of the cult vary considerably...
How could it be otherwise?
The Formless takes form at will and in moments least expected.
A thumb of certain proportions, a splendid beet, a parrot...
Let him who has eyes to see perceive...
As for theological concepts...
Spontaneity seemed to be key, as does Laying Aside One's Notions-
learning to drop judgment along the Way...
As does having an affinity for what lies behind Door #3
and under the wizard’s robe, along with a certain willingness to forgive
all manner of personal nonsense as a means of finally capturing it alive
and teaching it a thing or two.
But, by and large, the path is far from linear and trying to pin down
the Mystery is futile-
except to say that We are at the center of that Mystery,
the body a temple...
ground zero, really, for all manner of phenomena.
An inside job...
The kingdom really IS within.
Maybe the Thai people say it best with the word 'sanuk'.
No day would be complete without sanuk, they say!
In fact, it is the most important and necessary aspect of daily life.
Sanuk is a kind of joyful playfulness.
As a Thai friend explained, " Having sanuk is our way of thanking
the Creator for letting us be here!"
And as Tom Robbins similarly proclaims: "Joy in spite of everything."
see also "The Christmas Dance", "The First Church of Bob", "Dear Evan"