by Clare Stern, Better Together @ UNF Co-President, Interfaith Center Student Assistant
Every two weeks the UNF interfaith center has a coffee and conversation (C and C) where students, staff, and faculty come together and reflect on “the big questions.” I have been to many Coffee and Conversations over the last year and a half, and have heard many people speak, however this particular C and C caught my attention. Kelley Sweet (aka Amrita) a leader of the Krishna Club at UNF, spoke about her journey from Christianity to her life as a follower of the Hare Krishna tradition. I had heard about the Hare Krishna tradition here and there, but never in an in depth sense. I had heard Amrita’s name in passing and people telling me I would get along with her very well for quite some time, so the I was anxious and excited to hear Amrita’s story.
The gathering was rather large for our Coffee and Conversations; there were about 28 people from different walks of life: Jewish, Pagan, students, staff and campus ministers alike.
There were so many of us that we didn’t have enough seats, so many of us started gathering on the floor surrounding Amrita to listen to her story as if we all were children at family member’s house waiting to listen to ‘Twas the Night before Christmas.
As the conversation began, the room was filled with wonder and curiosity about Amrita’s spiritual life and journey. She spoke in a most cheerful and loving tone about her time at the Bhakti academy (a monastic place of residence) when she first took her vows to become a follower of ISKON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness) practice. This is also the time when she received her Vedic name, Amrita, “ aspiring servant to the eternal God.” She went on to speak on her time at the academy. It was her time there that allowed her to not only grow in her spiritual life, but to love and serve her community in a humanitarian capacity. In the Hare Krishna tradition, from what Amrita explained, serving your community is a way of loving the Divine or God. Amrita’s nature truly speaks to her given name. She is not a leader because she wants the recognition; she is a leader because the Divine calls her to show people love, kindness, and compassion on Earth.
Each week Amrita shows these characteristics by opening her home to the Krishna club members and even extends that to the greater community of Jacksonville members to come and have fellowship, a meal, and shared joy for life. One Krishna Club member in the room said how tasty the food that Amrita makes. Her response was nothing short of graceful. She said that is all in the practice and art of prasadam, the practice of preparing a devotional meal. The food prepared goes through a transformation from unoffered food to food that is sanctified by the lord. As a Spiritual-Episcopalian, I immediately thought of the Lord’s Supper. In order for Communion to be a sacred act and have its full meaning, it has to be prayed over and given thanks before ingesting. Through out the rest of her talk I heard so many things that struck a chord on my musical heart and everything from exercising spirituality through the practice of yoga, to the community that we serve and the eternal happiness and joy that we strive express to the world that we reside.
To see someone so filled with the Divine’s spirit is a beautiful and inspiring thing to witness. The beauty stems from her joy and happiness. Many times throughout the conversation Amrita mentioned the chant Hare Krishna:
Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna Hare Hare /
Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama Hare Hare
Once the chant is complete, the feeling that many often say they embody is a state of happiness. Happiness, love, joy and compassion are things that I see in my own practice as well. I don’t chant per say, I do however say prayers in community that leave me in a state of spiritual happiness and awakening. After her Coffee and Conversation, Amrita and I chatted a little and we both came to the same conclusion that those that know us both knew that we would become fast friends.
Would I have thought that I shared common ideas with a woman who is often see chanting on the UNF Green out loud or praying in a different tongue (Sanskrit) than my own? No! Are my eyes widened and heart filled to know Amrita and her story? YES!
Having this opportunity to listen and learn from Amrita allowed me to someone and something what is beyond my personal worldview and allowed me to find a soul sister who would have otherwise been a stranger.