A Place of Peace and Quiet

By Connie Barnard

A Place of Peace and Quiet

For years I have driven by the Meher Spiritual Center’s discreet entrance tucked in a woodsy thicket just north of the Tanger Outlets and Wal-Mart’s busy blare. Each time I have felt drawn to its quiet presence, intrigued yet intimidated by all I do not know. Today through friends of friends, I have arranged to enter its gates and explore the life and world of Meher Baba and those who follow him.

Even before arriving at its Gate House entrance, I feel a sense of peace rarely found in the workaday world. Dense forest gleams with early winter sun as silence surrounds me. My guide for the day, Mimi Hay, greets me warmly. A lithe, stunning artist with kind eyes and a soft voice, Mimi will spend the next three hours sharing her own story and the story of Meher Baba. Along the way, she will also tell the stories of several strong women, followers of Baba, who created this wondrous place to honor and welcome him.

As we walk the sandy, neatly raked paths spread over the center’s 500 acres, Mimi points out simple, well-tended buildings and talks about Elizabeth Chapin Patterson, daughter of early Myrtle Beach leader Simeon Chapin, who led the efforts to create a Western Center and spiritual retreat for Baba and his followers. In the 1940s Patterson and her good friend and fellow Baba devotee, Princess Norina Matchabelli, traveled all over the American continent in search of a location which met his specifications. Mimi says, “Baba’s Center in the West was to have equitable climate and ample water. It was to be built on land that had not previously been developed and ‘given from the heart.’” After searching for several years, Elizabeth came to realize that land possessed by her own father on the northernmost edge of Myrtle Beach met all these qualifications, including the challenging requirement for previously uninhabited soil. The wondrous tract also contains a mile of unspoiled oceanfront, two fresh water lakes, and such a wide variety of plants and wildlife that it has since been designated as a state wildlife sanctuary. When Simeon Chapin was approached about the property, he willingly transferred the land to his daughter who in turn presented it to Meher Baba “from the heart.”

A Place of Peace and Quiet: Photo 2

Each of the Center’s simple original structures was built according to Baba’s directions in preparation for his arrival. Among these is an old cypress mule barn from Conway which was taken apart and reassembled on this spot. It accommodates up to 200 people, as specified by Baba, and contains furnishings from Elizabeth’s and Norina’s own homes, now including an exquisite antique Mediterranean dining table and a special chair reserved for Baba. The rustic building blends with its natural setting yet features touches of graceful elegance with open rafters and a sky blue ceiling. A simple two unit cabin designated as Cabin on the Hill sits near Discovery Point where Elizabeth and Norina stood when they first realized that their long search for the right location had come to fruition. Several of the small cottages are former Army Air Corps huts which Elizabeth purchased, moved and re-fitted for guests at the retreat.

In 1952, Meher Baba came to the Grand Strand for the inauguration of his “home in the West.” Accompanying him on the journey was an amazing English woman, Katherine (“Kitty”) Davy, whom many here still remember with joy. When Baba left, at his request Davy remained an integral part of the center, touching many until her death in 1991 at the age of 100. Among these was a dear friend, Jane Barry Haynes, whom Kitty trained to become the Meher Center’s long term director. Jane’s daughter, Wendy Haynes Connor, met Meher Baba in 1958 on one of his two return visits to the Center. She still resides on adjoining property and has remained actively involved, both as one of its directors and as a volunteer. By Meher Baba’s direction, the retreat has remained open to “all who love and follow me and those who know of me and want to know more.”

Mimi explains that the term Meher Baba translates as “Compassionate Father.” It is these tenants of compassion, unconditional love, and quietude that first attracted her to his universal philosophy. Hay says, “Followers of Baba each have their own relationship with him, bringing together all religions of the world. There are no requirements except an open heart. I grew up in the Catholic faith and have retained those roots but added to them, as we say, like ‘beads on a string’”.

As we walk the Center’s grounds, I am most profoundly struck by its quiet. Guests and Center colleagues greet one another with the respectful words “Jai Baba,” but they are careful not to intrude. Meher Baba once said, “External silence helps find inner silence where you find God.” Baba truly obeyed his own admonition, taking a vow of silence in 1929 which he kept until his passing 40 years later. We approach Lagoon Cabin where he met privately with followers during his visits. Mimi points out that someone is inside, as indicated by shoes left outside the door. We wait, then respectfully remove our own shoes before entering.

Compassion and spirituality come naturally to Mimi who was born to American parents living in Japan. Her father, a CIA agent, was also a world class runner, Ivy League scholar, and a deeply spiritual person. He loved to climb Mount Fuji and introduced his young daughter to concepts found in Eastern philosophies. The family eventually settled in Connecticut, and her father became headmaster of the Greenwich Country Day School. Mimi grew up on the school’s campus where she developed a deep sense of social conscience. While still in high school Mimi volunteered at Koinonia Farm Community in rural Georgia during a period of tense racial and political strife. She worked with young children there, teaching them tie dye and other techniques she would use later in her own career as an artist. At Hollins College in Virginia, Mimi excelled in field hockey and lacrosse and was in line to play for the U.S. National Team when a torn ligament prevented her participation. She majored in World Religions and spent vacations volunteering at a Mohawk reservation on the New York-Canada border and a Christian community on Cape Cod.

A Place of Peace and Quiet: Photo 3

In 1972 a spring break trip to the Meher Center in Myrtle Beach changed the direction of Mimi’s life. Through a theater professor at Hollins, she had been introduced to Meher Baba and wanted to learn more firsthand. Mimi was struck by the Center’s natural beauty and gentle spirit pervading throughout. As she and I walk toward Long Lake, Mimi’s eyes fill with emotion. She recalls a moment at this spot forty years earlier when she closed her eyes and asked Baba to show her a sign if this was the path she was meant to follow. Not once but twice Mimi received very real signs of personal, mystical confirmation.

From that moment Mimi committed herself to Meher Baba; however, a couple of decades would pass before it all came completely together. In her own true life variation of Eat, Pray, Love, Mimi married the college professor, had two children, moved several times, went to grad school, became an artist, and went through a painful divorce. In 1995 she was alone with children to educate and the difficult decision of whether to accept a lucrative position in New York or follow her inner tug toward Myrtle Beach. As she drove down the highway, Mimi once again asked Baba for a sign of direction in her life. She received one, literally. On the side of the road just in front of her appeared a large black and white billboard bearing the words: “If You Want to Get Closer to God, MOVE.” And so she did…

Since that day, Mimi’s life has experienced many significant changes, all of them good. She has gained national recognition as a fiber artist, particularly her massive decorative fabric creations displayed across the country in banks, libraries, hospitals and private collections. Recently she has also moved in new directions that reflect her early roots: wearable art in the form of silk vests, scarves and jackets created using the Japanese Shibori technique, a sophisticated version of the simple tie dye method Mimi first taught the children at Koinonia. Several days a week she also volunteers at the Meher Center, leading tours for visitors from all over the world, assisting in the gardens, and coordinating art displays throughout the Center.

The move to the Carolina Coast also brought Mimi personal happiness. In 1999 she married area businessman Marshall Hay who serves on the Board of Trustees for the Meher Center. They honeymooned in Japan and India where together they climbed Mount Fuji and visited the Samadi of Meher Baba at Meherabad in Ahmednagar, India.

As I leave this haven of peace and quiet, I look back longingly, trying to hold on to a fleeting sense of calm and spiritual renewal. Then I climb back aboard the busy carousel of life, recalling a memorable quote from Meher Baba: “You have asked for and been given enough words. Now it is time to live them.”

About this writer

  • Connie BarnardConnie Barnard traveled the world as a military wife and taught high school and college composition for over 30 years. She has been a regular contributor to Sasee since its first issue in 2002.

You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

Leave your mark with style

Comment in style

Stand out from the crowd and add some flare beside your comment.
Get your free Gravatar today!

Make it personal

avatar versus gravatar Close