Meeting Mother Teresa and my journey to find the divine feminine

Meeting Mother Teresa and my journey to find the divine feminine

This picture has been with me for as long as I remember and for as long as I remember, I have been yearning for the divine.  It hung in my room as a child, and I carried it with me to all of the places I have lived as an adult. But only recently have I realized its miraculous nature. I feel blessed to have had a moment with a Saint and a woman who devoted her life to serving the poorest of the poor, who stood courageously for what she knew was right. She is an inspiration for me.

When I was in 6th grade, my mother came to speak at my school about her experience volunteering with the Missionaries of Charity in Hong Kong. She told our class the story of a woman who was so poor that she lived in a closet and had barely any possessions. When my mother visited her, she gifted my mother an apple. This touched my mother deeply as she realized the true meaning and sacrifice of giving. Not giving what is comfortable, what you don’t need, but giving your only sustenance to a wealthy foreigner who could have bought dozens of apples. It did not make any rational sense for the mind but it did for the heart for the heart only knows love.
Another anecdote my mother recounted was that she was nervous about me handing out sandwiches to lepers and men with tuberculosis on the streets outside the convent. The sisters reassured her, promising that I would be protected. 

I have vivid memories of standing in my elementary school playground praying the rosary. I would silently repeat the prayers in my mind as I moved the beads through my fingers, my rosary in my pocket. Nobody knew I was praying the rosary, I don’t think my parents knew either. I also remember reading about the lives of Saint Bernadette and Saint Therese of Lisieux when I was about 9 years old and holding them as my ideals. I wanted to live a life like that, I wanted to dedicate my life to God, I considered the possibility of becoming a nun. Every night, before falling asleep I would pray the Our Father and Hail Mary. I had a beautiful card above my bed of the statue of our Lady of the Miraculous Medal from Rue du Bac.
After 5th grade, my parents moved me from Public School to a Catholic school. My mystical christianity soon became tainted by the sermons about sin and guilt and the mandatory weekly confessions. I still was fascinated by the magic of prayer and how I felt when I reflected on the stories of the Marian Apparitions and the lives of the saints but I grew disillusioned with the rules and the rote repetition of the prayers, of sitting down/ standing up at exactly the same times. Something huge was missing. Where was the powerful mystical experience, where was the devotion and love? 

As part of our school, each year, we took a pilgrimage to a different holy place in France. We went to Lourdes and Rome and Lisieux and stayed in monasteries. I vividly remember walking down the halls of a monastery somewhere in a beautiful part of France and sensing in my whole body that I had lived in a monastery before. It felt like home. I loved the little room we stayed in and I imagined my life as a nun, the steadiness, the rhythm and the prayerful existence I could feel all around me. We would wake up at 4am and walk across the grass to the chapel to attend mass. This was the first time in my life I had intentionally woken up early and prayed in the early morning, the “amrit vela” as it’s known in the east, the time of nectar. I felt entranced by the sensation of being in a room lit with candlelight, and surrounded by the voices of humans praying and singing together. I was deeply moved. 

My family would go to the Episcopal Church in Paris for Easter and Christmas. My father grew up Catholic and my mother protestand. I was baptized by a woman in a prostestant church in Hong Kong. I received my 1st communion and Confirmation in the Catholic Church in Paris. 

My confirmation was another powerful moment, I remember feeling out of my body when Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, dressed in red robes, approached me. He had a kind powerful and loving presence and as he anointed me I felt that same way I felt in the bath at Lourdes. This ecstasy and bliss, like I was stepping out of time. One of our classmates had an angelic voice and sang the Ave Maria. As I listened to her sing, my heart collapsed into softness and tears welled up in my eyes. It was the most beautiful sound I had ever heard. 

I remember our trip to Rome, visiting the Vatican, the Sistine Chapel and numerous magnificent churches but what moved me the most was my time in Lourdes. In 2000, there was a big Jublile during which 80,000 catholic youth did a pilgrimage to Lourdes. It was amazing to walk on the streets of Lourdes surrounded by thousands of people singing and praying together and holding the flags of their respective countries and schools, all united by our faith. As I was familiar with the story of Bernadette Soubirous, I was very eager to experience the site of the apparition. We were taken to a changing room and given something that looked like a white sheet to me, we were to wrap it around ourselves and step into another room. I don’t remember knowing what this was about or maybe I wasn’t paying attention and chatting with my friends, we followed along. 

All of a sudden, I found myself in a room that looked like a cave, natural grey stone walls, it felt ancient, like we could have stepped into biblical times. There were a few steps up and a woman on either side of the steps. They indicated that I was to hold on to each of their arms as they led me up these steps. The steps then flattened at the top of what looked like a big bathtub carved into the stone. They kept guiding me forward, there were steps that descended into the water. I don’t remember them speaking, there was a powerful, mystical silence. The water was cold but it didn’t bother me, I stepped down, deeper and deeper until they guided me to fully immerse myself. When I emerged out of the water, I felt changed. It was cold but it wasn’t just that, I felt alive, elated, it is a sensation that has never left me. I looked up, I felt like I was in an altered state. I stepped down the steps and back to earth. I didn’t want to speak to anyone so I discreetly got dressed and eclipsed myself. I felt like my prayer for a mystical experience had been granted. I experienced something I had never experienced before, it felt like being reborn, like a quantum shift. 

I don’t remember much else about that trip other than sitting in a circle with a group of maybe 8 fellow students and a “guide”. I remember asking questions, but none of the answers resonated with me, the depth of my experience didn’t match the intellectual explanations about sin and heaven and hell. I wanted to feel, not be told. The priests and nuns in our school did not seem to lead joyful and inspired lives, they seemed weighed down by “shoulds” and heaviness. Where was the bliss and love?
The trip to Lourdes would be my departure from formal Christianity. 

I left Paris and came to the US to attend college. All of this seemed far away. There were fascinating classes, fun friends, parties, exploration of potential careers. I felt I left all those experiences behind in France and would continue my search by taking a better and different path. So like many, I looked East. After graduating, I found yoga, I was hooked. It felt so good to be in the body, it felt like praying with my body. And I loved the mystery of the sanskrit chants and the activism. I stopped eating meat, I read and learned as much as I could. I then trained to be a Kundalini Yoga teacher, I dove in deep, there were countless yoga kriyas and meditations I could learn and teach. I would help others find the light within. I felt “high” many times during classes, the intense breathwork and the repetitive movements helped ease the existential angst I felt. I wanted this to be it. I wanted to have found the “right” practice. For 13 years, I taught and learned about yoga, meditation, mindfulness, energy healing, shamanic wisdom, journeying. It “worked” yet I was still searching. It never settled in deeply, I didn’t have that moment of being fully at home. So I thought, I have to learn to love and accept myself, the answers are all within. God is within and all the wisdom is within. Yet I craved guidance, someone I could trust. I instinctively could not follow or fully trust the “Guru” of Kundalini Yoga and it turns out, for good reason. A few months ago, hundreds of allegations came out against him. That myth crumbled and even though I always had held back from considering him my teacher, it is difficult to process, there is grieving and anger and it will take time. I knew it was no longer my path, but I didn’t know where to turn. I asked for guidance and waited.

A few weeks ago, I was taking a zoom class about family constellations and the teacher was wearing a black sweater with the roaring face of a panther on it and a necklace with a small gold medal. I immediately recognized this medal, the miraculous medal from Rue du Bac in Paris. I had this same medal, and my parents had them too and I remember being deeply moved by my visit to the church. I went to search for it in my jewelry boxes. I found it, I was deeply moved to be holding it and put it on a chain that hangs right at my solar plexus. I have been wearing it every day since. I gaze down at it, and hold it in my hands. I feel Our Lady’s strength and support carrying me through the day. I ordered books about Mother Mary’s apparitions, about the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, about the Goddess and then one day I found The Way of the Rose. My heart reacted right away upon seeing the cover. I bought the audiobook and listened, fascinated. My heart felt full, like I was coming home after all these years. Sometimes I had to pause the audiobook because the strength of the resonance was so strong I had to take a few breaths. It felt like coming home after a long journey. Back to where I started but with a completely new perspective.

Perditta and Clark had filled in the blanks, everything I had felt was missing, the love for our Mother Earth and our Divine Mother. It’s not one or the other. We can’t live for a heaven that will come when our bodies go back to the earth. The way to experience the divine is right here, right now, in our beautiful glorious bodies. 

-Nina Mongendre

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