Michael Beckwith has become something of a tidal force in contemporary spiritual circles where churches and practices are frequently filed under the “New Thought-Ancient Wisdom” moniker.
The internationally famous minister, inspirational speaker and author who became a household name with the success of the movie The Secret and his PBS special The Answer Is You, who communes with the likes of the Dalai Lama, Oprah Winfrey and Larry King, will bring his message to Ojai’s Symphony of Life Spiritual Center on Oct. 28.
Beckwith was ordained in Religious Science in 1985, and shortly thereafter founded the Agape International Spiritual Center, a ministry that, in 20 years, has become the veritable new thought Mecca of the West Coast. Agape International boasts some 9,000 members and enjoys such popularity that services at the Culver City location are broadcast to an overflow crowd that must be seated under a tent in the parking lot — a crowd that clearly doesn’t mind experiencing Beckwith’s service from a distance.
“Even my dad, who is a devoted Muslim, loved this place, because the truths did not conflict with his beliefs,” raved Khalida K. of Pasadena in an online review of Agape. “The truths taught are congruent with all truths of all times, all people, all places. It’s universal.” Such praise is reflective of Agape’s inclusivity — it’s frequently referred to as a “trans-denominational” spiritual community. Agape’s outreach programs feed the homeless, serve incarcerated individuals and their families, advocate the preservation of the planet’s environmental resources, and globally build and support orphanages whose children have survived the ravages of war and AIDS.
Filmmaker and Ojai resident Mikki Willis, who founded Elevate Films (The Secret, What the Bleep Do We Know?), met Beckwith in 2006 under somewhat serendipitous circumstances and remains close to him today. “Rev. Michael is the fountain of wisdom from which most of the Southern California conscious movement is sipping from these days,” he says. “He’s hip, hilarious and speaks from a place that never negates another’s belief or invalidates other systems.
He’s all about loving without conditions, and after producing two movies and a PBS special featuring Michael Beckwith, I can honestly say he walks the talk in every way.”
The Agape website describes a letter Beckwith received from Coretta Scott King, who wrote: “I greatly admire what you are doing to bring about the Beloved Community, which is certainly what my dear husband worked for.”
Despite a busy schedule that keeps him all over the world, the Rev. Beckwith readily agreed to support Ojai’s Symphony of Life, whose spiritual director, the Rev. Karen Wylie, completed her ministerial training at Agape in 2008. “This teaching is about remembering who we are, not saving souls but glorifying our souls,” Wylie notes. “The church is within us all.”
Such an inclusive notion is a cornerstone of Beckwith’s ministry, and of the new thought movement at large, which grew from the thought of such great American thinkers as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau and the transcendentalist movement. Emersonian transcendentalism spoke to those whose spiritual yearnings were left unsatisfied by traditional Judeo-Christian theocracy, among them Ernest Holmes, founder of Religious Science, otherwise known as Science of Mind, whose United Centers for Spiritual Living can be found worldwide, including thriving communities in Ventura, Camarillo and Santa Barbara.
Community lies at the heart of most churches and spiritual communities, and Beckwith’s is no different. “Community is extremely valuable as a place of inspiration and remembrance,” he notes. “It provides the context for giving back, so that you are not always living in a selfish ‘my-my’ consciousness. In community,” he concludes, “you have opportunities, opportunities to give back, which is so beneficial to our evolution.”
Clearly, it’s a perspective that resonates, and not simply among Agape’s nearly 10,000 congregants. Beckwith’s Facebook page boasts more than 48,000 followers, and sales of his 15 books — titles such as Spiritual Liberation: Fulfilling Your Soul’s Potential and 40 Day Mind Fast Soul Feast — are robust, and his acclaim reaches still farther. The influential minister was written into the Congressional Record of the 107th Congress in 2003, and he is the recipient of the 2004 Africa Peace Award, the Thomas Kilgore Prophetic Witness Award, the Howard Thurman Stained Glass Window Award at Morehouse College, and the Humanitarian Award of the National Conference for Compassion and Justice.
With a calendar that demands his presence throughout the world, his evening in Ojai has to be regarded as something of a coup for Wylie and her spiritual center.
“They’ve grown so much,” notes Wylie, who was among Agape’s congregants long before fame settled on Beckwith’s shoulders. “I started there when they were just beginning, holding services in the Miramar Hotel on Wilshire. I was at their New Year’s retreat, that I’d been going to for years,” she recalls, “and I told Reverend Michael about our church and asked him if he’d do a benefit for us, and he said, sure.”
Beckwith’s teaching — and his example — encourages all of us to “give back” from what he perceives are virtually unlimited resources. “There’s enough for everyone,” he explains. “If you believe it, if you can see it, if you act from it, it will show up for you. That’s the truth.”
”An Evening with Michael Bernard Beckwith and Rickie Byars Beckwith,” hosted by the Symphony of Life Spiritual Center, Oct. 28, 7 p.m. at the Matilija Auditorium, 703 El Paseo Road, Ojai. Tickets are $45, available online at www.solsc.org, or in person at the Center, 441 E. Ojai Ave. For more information, call 715-9796.