Regardless of the years in black clericals, nothing had prepared me for that hot and muggy day.
My daughter dried my nervous forehead with a sweat-drenched handkerchief, as we traveled on a train that would drop us off just a few blocks away from the Bhakti Center in NYC.
Just a week before I had found out that His Holiness Radhanath Swami (a direct disciple of Srila Prabhupada) was going to be leading a Sankirtan on the following Thursday…
When I called to see if His Holiness would see me I didn’t expect for anyone to take me seriously… but when his disciples heard that I was a Lutheran Pastor, they treated me as a bonafide ambassador of Lord Jesus Christ- with great deference and love.
The cabin lights flickered as the subway train squealed feverishly while turning underground. For a moment, the urine-smelling train seemed to scream in the dark while Marisa held my sweaty palm tightly.
A voice resonated in my mind… “What are you doing Juan? Do you realize the trouble you’re getting into? Do you realize that when people find out what you’re doing, that they will call you an apostate for meeting with a Hindu Guru?”
Beware… the voice of Satan oftentimes comes in the guise of rational orthodoxy.
I was heartbroken… I had dedicated four years of my life into trying to revitalize a spiritually dead congregation located smack in the middle of a neighborhood overtaken by drugs, alcoholism and homelessness.
Things were just crumbling all around me and I was burnt out… but the mortal blow happened when some of the people I loved and protected the most, left the church, rather than working through our differences in prayerful conversation. I still love them very much, and hope that in their turning from me, they turned to Christ wholeheartedly.
When we arrived at the Bhakti Center, Marisa and I were received like ambassadors of Christ by the Cafe’s staff. A senior monk called Sundarnath Das came downstairs to receive me with loving reverence. He apologized on behalf of our beloved Guru for not feeling well, but assured me that if I stayed until the evening, that he would meet with us.
Little did I know that sitting just a few tables away was also a well known Hare Krishna Guru called Dhanurdhara Swami. When Brother Sundar introduced me to His Holiness, he immediately leaped up from his seat and exclaimed: “Oh, an ally!” We all laughed at his sense of humor…but deep down inside I felt sad as I pondered on how many Christian Pastors had treated the smiling guru with deprecation and condemnation.
He thought I was there simply being an ambassador of Christ. But the reality was that I wanted to experience the brotherly love and fellowship that I read about in the Bible for so many years, but never experienced in the churches.
I had never eaten authentic Indian food before… so when Sundar invited us to eat some Prassad I immediately said “YES!” with great enthusiasm. I think brother Sundar could tell that I was distracted by the succulent aromas that filled the restaurant’s air.
Before long, Maharaj Radhanath came out of his room and was ready to meet with me.
When I saw him I didn’t know what to do… so I followed my heart, took hold of his hands and kissed them. To my surprise, he reverently kissed my hands as well! Who was I for such a great religious leader to kiss the hands of a failed and rejected Pastor as myself?
The gentle and fragile Swami invited my daughter and I to sit on the couch with him. As we sat together, a thousand questions flooded my mind. But instead of us engaging in conversation, we simply exchanged a few words and sat there…silently.
It was as if the gentle Swami knew I had been engaged in spiritual warfare for years, and that I just needed a break. He wanted to enjoy the essence of my presence, rather than to be engaged in small talk.
That evening, the gentle Swami led a powerful Kirtan… but before the lecture, he introduced me as his friend.
That night, everyone sent my daughter and I off with garlands hanging from our necks and bags of food for us to eat on the way. We were even walked out by some of the devotees that were there..as if we were VIP’s!
It had been years since I had seen such great love for the Creator and such mystic enthusiasm during worship. I longed for so long to see Christians love God and one another in the same manner…
“We have the Truth,” I told myself a few days later, “so why is our devotion to God so lacking?” In the midst of my loneliness and mourning for those who abandoned me, I struggled daily with the question as to why the Christian Church lacked the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, etc.) while the Hare Krishnas seemed to possess them.
If the Hare Krishnas were demonic and we were God’s true children, why aren’t we ecstatic about Christ’s resurrection? Why didn’t we call on the Name of the Lord night and day with joy? Why were our churches so divided? Why were our Pastors treated with such disrespect and deprecation? If we were true Christians, why then did we live contrary to the teachings of Christ, and the Hare Krishnas so close to them?
Didn’t Lord Jesus Christ teach that “you shall know a tree by its fruit?” (Matthew 7:16)
At the end of that summer, I was captivated by the sun’s rays, mixed with the cool air and the first leaves changing color. While listening to an ecstatic Kirtan of Aindra Dasa, I almost converted to Krishna.
It wasn’t Christ that I was leaving… it was the Church I could no longer stand.
Just a few days before I had told my wife that wherever God took me, that I would cross my thumbs whenever praying with palms together.
I wanted more than anything in this world to be in the company of God-lovers. I was tired of the petty politics that are played in most churches. I was tired with the egocentric goals of church-growth. I was tired of hearing the myriad of excuses that Christians give for not reading the Scriptures. I was tired of the lack of passionate love for God.
I was tired of praying alone. Of worshiping alone. Of fasting alone. Of dreaming alone… I was tired of loving God, alone.
As I listened to Aindra’s powerful Kirtan, I began to be carried away into ecstasy. I longed for God’s essence so much, that I came to the point of not caring about the external qualities of religion. I loved God–and I wanted for Him to know that I loved Him.
As the chanting through my headset increased in ecstatic fervor, a sudden burst of devotional love and joy jolted through my body. I wasn’t sluggishly walking anymore. I was dancing on the street while cars were passing me by.
I felt the power of the Hare Krishna Mahamantra…
HARE KRISHNA HARE KRISHNA, KRISHNA KRISHNA, HARE HARE. HARE RAMA, HARE RAMA, RAMA RAMA, HARE HARE!
As I was being carried away by the ecstasy of the Mahamantra and the conch blasts of the devotees, my arms began to rise up slowly… I was ready to surrender to Krishna.
And just when I was about to explode with a resounding “HARE KRISHNA!” the vision before me brought everything to a halt.
The Mahamantra was still being chanted…the conch blasts were still resounding…Aindra was still singing in ecstasy… but everything in me came to a halt, like a speeding car hitting a tree.
When I had opened my eyes towards the heavens in order to surrender to the power of the Mahamantra, suddenly a burst of wind blasted through the clouds. There above me was a Cross in the form of an X , like when one’s thumbs are crossed when praying. Not only was the Cross before me, but also a heavenly face as if concentrating in order to form the Cross.
I fell to my knees in silence…in wonderment…
Just when I was about to surrender to Krishna, Christ appeared to me in the clouds of heaven.
I knew at that moment that Christ was interceding on my behalf so that I would not leave the Church. I understood that my sufferings for the Church were not in vain and that God had a greater purpose for my plight.
Through the Hare Krishnas, God exposed me to the method of singing the Names of God found throughout the whole Bible, beginning with Genesis 4:26.
If Christians spent more time calling out to God in devotional service, the Name of Lord Jesus would heal our nasty divisions, our love for Lord Jesus would increase, and perhaps, we would speed up His return. (2 Peter 3:12)
The Bible says that whoever calls on the Name of Jesus would be saved. (Romans 10:9-10) If the Church is in need of saving, then shouldn’t we be calling on the Name?
When our love for Lord Jesus increases, our love for the devotees will increase, and the world will know that we are Christ’s disciples… not by our dogmatic voracity, but by our true love for one another. (John 13:35)
At the corner of Krishna and Christ…
ALLELUIA ALLELUIA YEHOSHUA ALLELUIA; YEHOSHUA YEHOSHUA ALLELUIA ALLELUIA.
I will always hold my Hare Krishna brothers close to my heart as an example of pure devotion to the essence of the God Most High and for teaching me the art of timeless worship.