John 4: 7 – 9, Jill A. Kirchner-Rose, MVID, DMIN — Carol Robb approached me some months ago and suggested that we have a “Beatles Sunday.” I was intrigued by the suggestion and brought it before my staff. They enthusiastically agreed that a Beatles Sunday could be both fun and meaningful. So, welcome to Beatles Sunday! Given that there is a new Beatles movie out in the theaters entitled “Yesterday” – a movie about a world without the Beatles, I concluded that today would be a great day to hold “Beatles Sunday.” Do we have any Beatles fans in the house? Many would argue that the Beatles are unquestionably the best and most important band in rock history with the most compelling story. In fact, there is no term in the language analogous to “Beatlemania.” So, let’s play “Name that Beatles tune.”
1). “I Want to Hold Your Hand”
2). “Strawberry Fields”
3). “In My Life”
4). “Here Comes the Sun”
5). “Let It Be”
6). “Come Together”
7). “We Can Work it Out”
8). “With A Little Help from my Friends”
9). “Get Back”
10). “All You Need is Love”
Yes, all you need / we need is love – that is truly the message of the Beatles and of course, the message of the Gospel. This last week I read a book entitled, The Gospel According to the Beatles. Many of you may recall that the word “gospel” means “good news.” Did the Beatles really have a gospel? It wasn’t their intention. It wasn’t the reason why they got together and made music. In fact, they declared themselves agnostic. But over the years they were perceived as bearers of good news. “The Beatles affected not only the feel and quality of life – they deepened it, sharpened it, brightened it” (Greil Marcus, rock critic). Many believe that the Beatles changed American consciousness. Their gospel came not only through the lyrics, important as they were – but through the sound of the music, the space between the words, and their way of living. They had no formal training, but they had an instinctive understanding of how to match mood to sound. The Beatles generated an intensity of joy with the awareness that exuberance was not only possible, but in their presence, inevitable.
These lads from Britain – John, Paul, George and Ringo — came together in the sixties, during a time of great spiritual turmoil. Church attendance had declined and record sales had increased. Members of that generation could quote more Beatles lyrics than they could Hymns of the faith. They knew more about John the Beatle than John the Baptist, more about Paul of Liverpool than Paul of Tarsus (Turner, S., The Gospel According to the Beatles, p. 32). John Lennon made the controversial comment that the Beatles had become “more popular than Jesus.” In essence, he was saying that for a certain generation, in a certain part of the world, the Beatles were occupying the position that had traditionally been reserved for religious leaders. The Beatles were seen as shamans, gurus, enlightened ones who passed on their insights in three-minute sermons. They were approached by the diseased and disabled who believed that their mere touch had healing power (Turner, p. 11). They were a kind of religion and the youth found a new church of sorts through them.
Fundamentalist Christians were uneasy about the Beatles’ influence. Moreover, the fact that they drank, smoked, danced, wore their hair long, and went on un-chaperoned holidays with their girlfriends didn’t endear them to church-goers either. Some fundamentalist organized a “Ban the Beatles” campaign and even held Beatle album bonfires. Ironically, though the Beatles were not church goers, many of their core beliefs – love, hope, peace, freedom, transcendence – were secularized versions of Christian teachings. Yes, their lyrics ran the gamut from spiritual wisdom to social justice, with a constant theme of love. “All You Need is Love.”
It’s unlikely that they would have transformed from skeptical Liverpool boys into peace-loving mystics speaking of karma, nirvana and the coming golden age, if it hadn’t been for the chemical catalyst of LSD. Though I have never taken LSD, my understanding is that many generally experience a sense of unity, euphoria, and love when using the drug. It was during this time that they sang such songs as “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and “Getting high with a little help from my friends” as well as “All You Need is Love.” While using LSD, George felt consumed by a feeling of love. “I felt in love,” he said, “not with anything or anybody in particular, but with everything. Everything was perfect, in a perfect light, and I had an overwhelming desire to go around telling everybody how much I love them.” It seemed that love powered the universe.
Of course, we don’t need to do drugs in order to know that love powers the universe. In fact, the Beatles came to this conclusion. George said this, “My experience with LSD led me to look for something higher. I want whatever it is that’s the highest high of all time. Something that surpasses LSD. And I found that is what God is. God is the biggest buzz of all time. You don’t need any acid, and acid is not good for you. It makes your mind rot after a while” (Turner, p.131). The Beatles discovered that LSD was a step on the pilgrimage rather than the destination. Let me add that for those who struggle with addiction of any kind, a wise person once shared that the ultimate goal of unity, love, nirvana is never wrong – that is what we all seek as humans, our highest state of being, but some methods are more harmful than helpful. So, don’t question the ultimate goal, question the method of getting there. Many in the 60’s were just waking up to the idea of chemical salvation, but by 1968, the Beatles were advocating getting high the natural way.
In 1968, all four Beatles and their partners flew to India to an ashram for two months to study Transcendental Meditation. They left behind the only culture they’d ever known and found themselves living in sparsely furnished bungalows with no air-conditioning, attending lectures and meditating. They were drawn to Hinduism because the Hindu religion pervaded the country’s life in a way that Christianity did not in the West. For most of the Christians they knew, religion was only practiced during certain hours on a Sunday. Interestingly, information about Eastern religion was made more widely known in the West than ever before through the influence of the Beatles. During their time in India, the Beatles came to believe that God is not “out there” waiting to be contacted. But God is “in here” waiting to be discovered.
The music they made while in India was informed by the simplicity of their surroundings. Just as they used mantras in their meditation, so they did in their music. “Hey Jude” was one of those mantra songs with the word “la” being repeated 220 times in the song. Another mantra song is “Let it Be.” Interestingly, that song incorporates Christian scripture passages as well: “time of trouble” (Psalm 10:1), “the brokenhearted” (Luke 4), and “a light that shines” (John 1). Let it be – that is live in the world without attachment…just let it be. Buddhists say that change is inevitable and as soon as we come to peace with change, we will have inner peace. The song that we will hear during the offertory is “While my guitar gently weeps” – this Eastern idea that everything is connected to everything else. Much of their spiritual wisdom found in their lyrics emerged from their study of Eastern religions.
Fifty years ago, in 1969, the Beatles performed together in public for the last time. They were together for only 8 years, but their music shaped generations of people across the globe. To this day, we can affirm that there is still something sacred within their music – something that reminds us about what ultimately matters – love. And all we really need is love. The author of 1 John says this, “God is love. Everyone who loves is born of God.” St. Paul puts it this way, “Faith, hope, love abide – these three – but the greatest of these is love.” Jesus the Christ says this, “I give you commandments: Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. The entire law can be summed-up in love.”