There has always been a spiritual home inside of me, and at times, it may have grown dark and cold, but mostly a light was always left on because of my grandmother. When I was "finding" myself in my late teenage years, I rejected aspects of my Catholic upbringing. This struggle would continue as I wrestled with myself and tried to find what was true for me on my terms.
A fading memory flickers in and out, always there, but reawakened on a recent visit to Carmel. I’m in my early twenties, sitting at the kitchen table with my grandmother discussing how the Catholic religion is not the only one that is good. On that she agrees, but I feel her desire to want me to embrace it as she has. At the time, I was exploring Eastern thought. When I saw the look in her eyes and knowing her passion and devotion to Catholicism, I realized it didn't matter and I backed down. I didn't want to take that from her. At the same time, I didn't want her to take my explorations from me. At that moment, her own wisdom to me whispered in my ear: To respect my elders.
I remember a point in my life, a seemingly long sporadic time of feeling angry at the world, easily upset, slightly depressed. Time shows that there is an order to events that don’t often go in a straight line, but usually connect, disconnect, and reconnect. Amongst the many synchronistic influences and events along the way, one defining moment was when an old friend called me out of the blue with an extra ticket to see a Buddhist monk speak in Berkeley. I didn't have anything else to do that night so I went along. I didn't know who Thich Nhat Hanh was at the time and didn't know what to expect. I still have the ticket stub. Touching Peace: Thich Nhat Hanh, Berkeley Community Theater. The year is 1993.
I met my friend in Berkeley. He would have to head back home to Santa Cruz that night. We caught up on old times while we waited in the long line to enter the auditorium. Inside, we took our seats. The whole place buzzed with conversation, people finding their seats and visiting with people they knew. The velvet red curtains stood out to me. They looked regal and added warmth.
Next I remember people taking their seats and the chatter fading to silence after someone announced Thich Nhat Hanh.
As soon as Nhat Hanh walked out to the front of the stage in his robes, the Buddhist nuns nearby, I felt an instant peace in every part of my being. And then he spoke in his calm, loving voice. Nhat Hanh radiated the most positive, loving energy that I have ever felt and it spilled out into the room. I was touched. His voice was low and it was difficult to hear him at times. But because of how he spoke and the genuine smile on his face, the love and compassion—his body language—this made the words not matter. He embodied the words, the teachings—and delivered them with love. He was truly present with every ounce of his being right there in an auditorium emanating with his inner peace, that same love and compassion reflecting back to him.
Ever since that day, I felt changed. I felt renewed; the light inside of me would be restored. As I continued to learn from Nhat Hanh through his books, I appreciated how he respected all religions and encouraged us to make peace with the religions we were raised in. Over the years in between, I came to embrace Catholicism, mostly the way I remember my grandmother practicing it through her actions, through her loving kindness.
The two spiritual traditions that guide me most today are Zen Buddhism and my grandmother's Catholicism. Nature serves as my all encompassing teacher, which is embedded within and lives in me. I am a human being that connects with her grandmother’s light, connects with human light, who does this on her own terms, where the great blue sky and all the creatures are her guides.
In Carmel, walking through both the monastery grounds and the mission grounds, I feel my grandmother's presence and I also feel Nhat Hahn's presence. I feel the light inside as I walk quietly through the small monastery garden and pathways with images of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the ocean in sight. I light a candle at Mission Carmel, sending positive thoughts to those in heaven and all around.
I feel blessed to have been touched so deeply by two living angels and to know that I have that presence in my being—in light and dark times. For that, I am eternally grateful.