Spring was beautiful in Siberia, the icy world relaxed out of its formal, frozen pose and smells returned. Grass, trees and other clorophyllic smells filled the air. The stairwells warmed up, and the urine stench reactivated in the heat. We got to shed our heavy fur and leather coats–trading them in for light jackets that made us feel indecently undressed. During this time of the earth’s rebirth, my missionary companion and I were teaching Lyuda and Kristina–a mother and daughter who were devotees of Hare Krishna.
“We will come with you to your church if you will come with us to ours.” Lyuda said on a bus ride to Lake Baikal. The festive atmosphere of all our church members going on a picnic together was infectious.
“Certainly, we will come. When would be good?” I replied. Mentally rubbing my hands together like some kind of missionary mastermind.
“Come on Sunday, after your meeting.” She replied.
“Okay, but you will come to our meeting first?” I said.
“Next week I will come. We are doing a big gardening project at our church this week.” she answered.
Church that week was typical for us. I ran around frantically, making sure investigators (those we were teaching) knew which stairwell to go up to get to our meeting, finding people at the bus stop, making sure people had friends to sit by. Playing the piano in Sacrament Meeting, then supervising Primary. I was like a incompetent cat herder, trying get people into their classes. Being in charge, being in control–it was exhausting. I didn’t know how to lead people to do what they were supposed to do! Another long church meeting with the Krishnas seemed like undue punishment. I vowed that I would just sit and listen.
We boarded the bus they told us would pass by the Krishna worship center. Two adventurous elders decided they wanted to see it too, so the four of us got off on a dirt road, outside a gated compound that seemed quiet and industrious. It seemed vaguely Beatles-in-India. People were milling about, sweeping the dirt with their twig brooms. We caught sight of Lyuda and Kristina they were pulling weeds from beside the main building. Everyone was wearing saris. I was jealous. I wondered how indecently undressed I would feel without my blazer, thick tights and jacket.
“Come right inside.” Lyuda swept her hand toward the door. “We will begin very soon.”
We filed inside the room, full of windows, with benches only along the sides. We parked on one and waited. Looking like tourists at a train station, we had bag straps draped across our knees and trailing onto the floor. We piled up our jackets and blazers as we warmed up in the sunny room. We had a lot of things.
A man strolled into the room with the confidence of a rock star. Then he faced the front wall, with his back to the room, pulled out his Tamborine and started chanting. “Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare” his voice swelled and his Tamborine picked up the tempo. He started swaying, dancing, side-to-side-grapevines. He was worshipping. He never looked back, he kept going with increasing fervor. When he started his worship, people started trickling in. They stood behind him, filling up the room with their bodies and their chants. Soon the place was completely full, everyone unified in their words, though unique in their movements. Dancing, swaying, arms up, arms down–but praying together by their own free will.
I was overcome by the simplicity of the head Krishna’s leadership. He led from the front. He didn’t look back, he just did what he was supposed to do and people followed. The Spirit whispered, “This is what I want you to see here. The beauty of allowing agency, and leading with a good example.” My Sundays became a lot simpler after that. I went where I was supposed to go and did what I was supposed to do. I didn’t worry about what other people chose–I trusted that they would come when they were ready. I also bought a flowing silky blue skirt with embroidery all over the bottom. It was deliciously light.
Leading in life, whether spiritual, in family life, or even physically has been greatly simplified by remembering that day in the Krishna compound. Just last week, we went on a walk to my old elementary school. My sister and I, seven kids, a bike, a scooter, a stroller, and lots of energy. The adults chatted and strolled as we “brought up the rear”, but we had a hard time keeping everyone going in the right direction, at an acceptable pace. The kids just wandered. I said to my sister “Go in the front, we will follow you.” And suddenly, everything straightened out: They could see where we were going; they had confidence that Emily knew the way. We didn’t need to correct and scold–she didn’t even need to look back.