The scene: Kim Johnson’s sweet, century-old Victorian home in west Wash Park on a still-sleepy Super Bowl Sunday. Beyond the sun-splashed wicker porch furniture, the cluster of snow shovels and the bright red door is a link with ancient Nepal and the world’s oldest organized religion.
“Shiva Shiva Shiva shambo,” chants Johnson, sitting cross-legged in a darkened room lit by the glow of a single candle. It’s Sunday, and she’s recreating what she does every morning at dawn: greeting the Hindu god Shiva with offerings of fruits, pinches of rice, clouds of incense and the purifying flame of camphor.
“After I learned meditation and began regular practice, I began having inner experiences and just felt compelled to go deeper,” explains Johnson, a 52-year-old widow and mother of two.
Those words barely crack the surface of her journey. It began three decades ago as she took up Transcendental Meditation – she met her late husband, Fred, in a TM class – then moved beyond to study the Vedic traditions, which are the ancient root of Hindu practice.
Early on, she began having what she calls “subtle experiences,” such as hearing plants communicate. On a walk, “I heard singing, like a soft chorus . . . it struck me it was the plants making beautiful, vivid music, and I’m attuned to that.”
Ten years ago, she and her husband founded Shiva Mandir, a nonprofit center for the study of Vedic traditions.
Then, in 2005, a visiting Hindu priest sent her an altarpiece from an ancient temple in Nepal – “This isn’t from some gift shop,” she says – as a gesture to Johnson’s dream to build a Denver temple as a gathering place for all who follow Vedic and Hindu traditions.
For now, the shrine sits in Johnson’s purple-walled, former TV and sewing room, bathed under a purifying drip of water. One portion pierces upward: “This is the phallis, representing the masculine aspect,” she says. At its base is a circular symbol representing the womb, a shrine to life’s two complementary forces.
At first, she says, chuckling, the frankness of the symbols “weirds Westerners out.” (Not, of course, the large group of Westerners who meet in her home every Sunday for meditation and classes.)
Of course, life has changed a lot since Fred died unexpectedly of a heart attack three years ago. She says she’s still in contact with him, and “he’s working in other spheres to help this world, which is in some peril. But I still miss his physical presence very keenly.”
As for the future, she plans to change her name to Nafeeah, which is Sufi for “divine artist.” Her creativity will surely go into plans for her temple, though she’s careful not to promise more than she can deliver.
“Whenever you make a spiritual claim, it becomes a vow,” she says. “And the heavens hold you accountable.”
Religion’s history: Often called the world’s oldest organized religion. Developed about 4,000 years ago in Indus Valley, area of present-day India.
Faith: Includes many worship sects. Belief may be expressed in multiple gods and goddesses, or, conversely, in one god with multiple spiritual aspects.
Numbers here: 3,000-plus families, most from India, some from Nepal. There’s a concentration in the suburbs, especially Aurora and the South Parker Road area.
Temples: The Hindu Temple of Colorado, presently located at 8375 S. Wadsworth Blvd., Littleton, and ISKCON Denver (the Hare Krishna Temple), 1400 Cherry St.