No matter how late he was out the night before or how comfortable his cozy sheets feel up over his shoulders, sophomore Chad De Luca gets out of bed at 9 a.m. on Sundays to worship.
While students of many denominations can attend religious services, masses and meetings on campus, De Luca travels miles off campus to attend weekly Eckankar services.
Eckankar is a spiritual teaching to help someone understand life and find love while studying dreams and practicing spiritual exercises.
Once a month, De Luca drives to the local Best Western to sit in meditation while he hums “Hu,” an Eckankar chant, connecting himself to God.
De Luca also flies out of state at least twice a year for conferences in Minnesota as a member of the International Eckankar Youth Council. When he’s not leaving the state for seminars or practicing at services locally, De Luca writes programs for the conferences.
“I come up with the material for our youth programs at our two major conferences,” he said. “I come up with forum titles that I feel have a topic that youth can get tools and assistance from.”
De Luca’s parents raised him with the Eckankar religion. He said it allows him to understand the meaning behind what most people consider coincidences.
“Eckankar is really personal experience … nobody can tell you what a certain type of experience is supposed to mean,” he said.
De Luca and other ECKists, or members of the Eckankar community, believe everyone interprets situations differently. De Luca said there is no black-and-white answer to what a person takes from a given situation. In Eckankar, it is about what a person makes from that experience.
ECK cleric John Finnegan hosts and leads Eckankar worship services in Ithaca. He said he switched to Eckankar from Catholicism because of the edict that everything happens for a reason.
“For me, Eckankar is all about direct experience,” he said. “The difference was that in Eckankar I had these experiences that were very real to me, and I didn’t have to believe what somebody else told me.”
De Luca said he tries to learn from everyday situations, from meeting someone new to dreaming about someone from the past.
He said dream study also plays a huge role in the foundation of the Eckankar religion.
“Dreams give us messages that can help us in our everyday lives,” he said. “Once symbols and messages of dreams are discovered, a person is able to find ways to make their life better.”
De Luca said Eckankar’s focus on meditation has helped him through times of confusion and doubt.
“I had a dream two weeks ago where I was driving with my dad and all of a sudden, there were hundreds of bears in front of us just ripping cars apart,” he said.
Reflecting and interpreting the bears as a symbol of fear helped De Luca realize he was overcoming a fear of failure and detachment. At the monthly Eckankar worship service that De Luca attends at the Best Western in Ithaca, fellow ECKists describe fear as a negative force that keeps them from entering heaven.
During the discussion Finnegan said heaven is a state of consciousness.
“Heaven is right here,” he said. “When we let go of fear we are able to see that heaven is all around us.”
De Luca applies these realizations to his life at Ithaca College. His best friend, sophomore Dave Miele, said he learned about Eckankar through his friendship with De Luca. Miele said De Luca’s religion is relatively unknown, but De Luca explains it well.
“I think I’m a pretty knowledgeable person, but I didn’t know anything about Eckankar,” he said. “Sometimes people are little weirded out when he first talks about it, but after he explains it they’re totally accepting.”
With the pressures of being a full-time student and an international council member, De Luca said his life can be busy.
“I’ll do my work a lot on the weekends,” he said. “Whenever I get a break from schoolwork, I start working on my Eckankar programs.”
De Luca’s hectic schedule and morals keep him from partaking in some typical college activities like drinking. Miele said he respects De Luca’s choices.
“He doesn’t [drink] because of his personal beliefs,” he said. “He never tries to pressure us to follow his lead.”
De Luca said he credits his morals and positive characteristics to Eckankar.
“It’s so much of who I am,” he said. “Whenever people see stuff in me that they like, it’s mostly attributed to that. Just a lot of my traits come from Eckankar so I want to stick with it.”