I saw her first almost 35 years ago. I had just started to meditate, to explore my spiritual self, when I was invited to the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles, to a talk given by Sri Daya Mata, the President of Self-Realization Fellowship. I had no inkling I would one day interview her for a book I’d write on women’s spirituality; no inkling that women’s spirituality would even become my passion. I was young, spiritually green, hardly a twig of a girl just beginning to become aware of the Divine Feminine, to recognize Her as the face of Goodness in the world. Listening to Sri Daya Mata speak that crisp winter afternoon I put a form to the idea of the Divine Mother and established a benchmark for my spiritual practice. When I returned home, I told my daughters I’d spent the afternoon with an angel. It was the only word I could think of to describe her.
In the years since that first meeting, I stayed in touch. I heard her speak on other occasions and brought my daughters with me to see “the angel.” I read her books. I thought about her often. I even wrote her a few letters asking for spiritual counsel. When it came time to write IN SWEET COMPANY, I knew I wanted to include her in the book. Though I waited a year to get the interview, I was always sure it would happen. When SRF called me the day before I was to talk with her to postpone our meeting, I wasn’t deterred. The next day, when the Northbound train I was scheduled to take to Los Angeles barely avoided colliding with its Southbound sister that had derailed, I knew an angel had protected me. When I met with her two weeks later, my heart was taken prisoner. Her spiritual stature was palpable; her love for God, her humanity and kindness, her practical common sense, her playfulness and joy, it all said to me, “This is what I want to be like when I grow up.”
Sri Daya Mata passed away Tuesday evening, November 30th. I was startled when I heard the news. Though I knew she was mortal, I never imagined being without her. Though I never saw her again after the day I interviewed her, her very presence in the world comforted me.
I have spent the day thinking about her, about the few but crystalline interactions I had with her. What will make her live forever in my heart is that, on the first day I “met” her at the Biltmore, she answered a secret prayer no one but God knew I’d made. That this happened transformed me from a tentative spiritual initiate into a full-fledged believer. Her response to my prayer proved to me that God listened to me, that God cared about the smallest trifling of my heart.
As my love for God deepens, as I strive to follow the example of her life, she lives still.