By Caryl Matrisciana
When I was twenty years old, my family returned from India, where I was born and lived for most of my life, to England, our homeland. It was during the turbulent sixties, and I was about to be introduced to a movement that didn’t even have a name yet. How could I have possibly known then that the strange and mystical religion I had been surrounded by in India would someday be at the heart of a spirituality that would influence millions around the world?
I will never forget that hot, muggy day in London in the summer of 1966 when I was twenty years old. How could I forget? After all, it was the day that changed my life forever.
Perhaps if I had been out in the English countryside or beside the sea, that hot, stifling day would have been bearable—but in the city it was miserable. Oh, to be in a garden with its soothing assortment of colorful flowers, my feet dangling in a cool spring!
Reality was all too blatant. The British capital was steeped and simmering in its own crowded bustle, intense noise, and pandemonium of traffic. By day’s end I could hardly bear the sound and sweat of it all as I was jostled along in an overcrowded, red, double-decker bus through rush-hour traffic.
Still, in spite of all the unpleasantness, a breathless anticipation filled my soul. That surging excitement was my only motivation to struggle across blistering-hot London. I knew I was on my way to a marvelous experience.
Eventually the bus rounded Piccadilly Circus and honked impatiently at the myriads of pedestrians overflowing onto the streets. The sidewalk vendors and little shops were teeming with hundreds of tourists. T-shirts hanging on shop canopies sported the slogan “swinging London,” along with coffee mugs, postcards, and dozens of other souvenir items.
A New Spiritual Gospel
The phrase “swinging London” had recently been splashed across the world’s newsstands by Time magazine1 and had captured an atmosphere that really did permeate the London air. I basked proudly in the energy that surrounded me, enchanted with the good fortune to live and work in this pulsating metropolis.
The bus changed gears noisily and puffed out dirty diesel fumes. We moved slowly down Shaftesbury Avenue, the heart of theater land, in Soho. My pulse pounded harder. The next stop was my destination.
I pushed my way through the crowded bus and jumped off with a spurt of enthusiasm. Renewed vigor had me effortlessly nudging my way through throngs of theater goers who crowded the sidewalks. At last I arrived! I stood still for what seemed to be an endless moment, absorbing the glowing neon advertisements that assured me I was at the right place. The theater marquee carried but one word. The name of the show was Hair.2
Soon I was to experience the musical blockbuster that the whole world was singing about. The people milling around me were quite different in appearance from those on the bus. Denim jeans, casual Indian cotton shirts, and hippie informality identified almost everyone. Hairstyles ranged from long to longer to longest. I grinned to myself, realizing I too looked like the in generation. At the same time, it was a relief to know that my parents couldn’t see me now. How they would argue that I was not conforming to the “required London theater dress.”
I had waited months for tonight. Tickets for Hair were nearly impossible to buy. I clutched mine protectively, waiting to squeeze through the door. Scanning the crowd, I searched for the friends I was to meet.
The air buzzed as people hummed various songs from the score that was about to begin. Never before had I gone into a show already so familiar with its lyrics and tunes. For months the airwaves had carried those melodies around the world.
Still, I could not have imagined the impact the show itself was to have on my life and thinking. I would not have guessed how religiously I would follow this new spiritual “gospel.” I was about to be “converted” by the message of Hair, along with thousands of other people of my generation.
We shuffled inside and located our seats. The theater darkened. The rustle of programs stilled. Chills and goose bumps spread through the audience as the orchestra began to play. There was heavy, loud rock music as magnificent, full voices swelled in harmony. There were colors, lights, and sounds. Everything mingled together to draw me willingly, passionately, into the phenomenon. Never before had I known such intense involvement in a theatrical production.
With exciting extravagance, the show animated and popularized outrageously impudent and risqué ideas. Tricky little songs whipped us into attitudes of rebellion and promiscuity. We cheered and applauded the demise of family, society, government, and country. We decried the past and its values. We sang about the hopeless state of our planet; we coughed and choked for the pollution and wept over the sadness of war.
Every person in the audience was transformed into a mystical searcher through the song lyrics. Everyone contemplated the plaintive question asked in, “Where Do I Go?” That particular song had us following everything, nothing, and even myself. It had us asking the eternal question posed in the lyrics, “And will I ever discover why I live and die?”3
Like many other people my age, I had never considered that topic before, but I was to do so a thousand times in the days and months to come. That evening’s performance was to lead me, and countless others, on a spiritual quest.
Having disparaged the past and present and looking grimly into the emptiness of no solution, Hair suddenly gave a glimmer of hope. We whooped ecstatically through the marvelous escape presented in “Hashish.” This gleeful song promoted the wow experience one could achieve through no less than twenty-five different highs.
In the years to come, I would get hooked on one particular high and try several others. I would understand all too well the appeal of replacing realism with psychedelia.
A New Way of Thinking
L ittle did I comprehend at the time that through this musical I was being subtly introduced to a new religious system. One song ridiculed the faith of my youth. It encouraged us not to believe in God per se, but instead, to see that we ourselves were like gods. Joyfully we sang the immortal words of the great poet William Shakespeare, taken from his play Hamlet:
What a piece of work man is!
How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty.
In form and moving, how express and admirable, In action how like an angel,
In apprehension how like a god.4
My perception of the world was about to change. From here on I was being introduced to a new alternative to my old way of life—one that in the future was to jealously lead me into an uncompromising spiritual dimension. “Let the sunshine in,” the cast vocalized.5
“Let the sunshine in!” we responded at the tops of our voices. Oh yes, oh yes! Let the sunshine in! My heart ached with hope. How I longed to experience this new “opening” and its promised sensation. In any case, it would have been hopeless to struggle against the overpowering emotional, mental, and sensual seduction taking place. (To read this entire chapter one of Out of India, and for endnotes and credits, click here – picks up on p. 17.
LTRP Note: In December of 2016, Caryl Matrisciana went home to be with the Lord. While she will be terribly missed by so many family members, friends, and co-workers in ministry, her tireless work in defending the Christian faith will live on.