WESTMINSTER -- "Eckankar: the ancient science of soul-travel."
A bumper sticker with that slogan attracted Westminster resident Jim Riddle to the Eckankar religion in 1972, and the slogan continues to bring people who are interested in reincarnation and believing that all actions have a spiritual impact on daily life.
The teachings, which Eckists say have been around for centuries, were written down by Paul Twitchell in the mid-1960s.
They include belief that dreams are God's tool for telling people about themselves, their past lives and the future. In addition, one's true life is spiritual and is reincarnated until Soul realizes that and moves beyond the material existence.
"The three crown jewels in Eckankar are: Soul is immortal; Soul always lives in higher worlds; and Soul always lives in the present, there is no past or future," Mr. Riddle said. "The crown that these reside in is that Soul exists because God loves It."
Members also believe in soul travel, or a change in attitude that can be exhibited as an out-of-body experience. A simple example is how one's mind thinks of something else while the person is mowing the grass.
"Your body is well-trained to do this mundane job, so you can go off somewhere," Mr. Riddle said. "You may call it daydreaming, but it is a form of soul travel."
Member Gary Angell said his first experience with soul travel, long before he became an Eckist, was when he was raking leaves at the age of 13 or 14. As he slowly got over the fact that he had to be doing this chore, he became engrossed in the sound of the rustling leaves.
"I felt like I didn't have to think to run my body, that I could actually pull away," Mr. Angell said.
In addition, the group believes problems can be solved or questions answered through contemplation. Different from meditation, this involves someone actively imagining a situation. Eventually, Spirit will take over and paint a picture of the solution.
"You start expressing it with your imagination, and then Spirit takes over and fills in the rest," Mr. Riddle said.
The group has been meeting on Sundays at the Longwell Municipal Center in Westminster for about a year. However, because the building will be used as a recreation center in the fall, the congregation is looking for a new meeting place.
"It [the building] will strictly be for people with tennis shoes in September," said Sharon Riddle, adding that she had preliminary approval for the group to meet at East Middle School.
"They approved us meeting there before we got this facility, so they should approve it again," she said.
Services consist of readings from an Eckankar book, led by visiting clergy from around the state. Discussion then begins on the leader-chosen topic, such as "Replacing fear with love," "Recognizing life: a turning point" or "Your choice: decide what you really want."
Just like all spiritual Eckankar exercises, the meetings open with the group singing Hu, pronounced 'Hugh,' an ancient name for God.
"That's to show it's time to get serious about spiritual things," said Mr. Riddle. "It's to raise our consciousness to a spiritual level."
Members also meet informally to discuss books on Eckankar or topics such as dream interpretation. Children's classes, called satsangs, are also held twice a month.
However, members are not required to attend meetings to remain in good standing.
"You can be a member and not be active [in the group]," said Mr. Angell. "We study discourses on our own, get films or have book discussions in small groups."
For example, Mr. Riddle said he studied for five years on his own before he began attending Eckankar services in Finksburg. Although he had discovered Eckankar in 1972 and was sure he wanted to study it, Mr. Riddle said he didn't want to be "turned off" as he had been with other denominations.
"I wanted to make sure I had a firm grounding before I got around other people," he said. "I didn't want my understanding to be tainted."