The woman then asked Wendy if she would like to go into the river and participate. Wendy, who is much more spontaneous and extroverted than I am, excitedly agreed and asked me to hold her cell phone. She went down the embankment, took off her shoes and walked into the river. She was greeted by a couple of young women and was guided to a rock just in front of Angela and helped to sit down on it with her back leaning against the older woman like a child leaning against her mother’s chest and enfolded in her arms. Angela rubbed the mixture all over Wendy’s arms, legs, neck, face, hair and under her blouse back and front. The women helpers would rinse her off occasionally with buckets of river water. Angela then gave Wendy something to eat out of her hand.
I asked the woman who was speaking with Wendy earlier if this was a limpia (purification ritual). She said, “Yes, like a limpia.” I saw one of the men in the river point towards me and then make a beckoning hand gesture to join them in the river. I assumed this was intended for the woman next to me, so I pointed to her. The man shook his head indicating no and pointed at me again, gesturing for me to come and join them. Now that Wendy had participated, I knew I would have to overcome my introverted nature and experience this also. I gingerly went down the embankment, took off my hat and emptied the contents of my pockets into it. As I was taking off my shirt, a drenched Wendy, came out of the water, touched my back, and said blithely, “Oh good! You’re going in too.” I stepped into the cool swift river water and was escorted by two young men to the rock in front of Angela. She made the sign of the cross on herself as I approached and I did also following her lead. As soon as I sat down I felt her strong yet gentle hands rubbing her special mixture on my back and then, as with Wendy, on my arms chest, neck, legs, head and face. One young man would occasionally dump a bucket of water over me with the warning, “Más agua en la cabeza,” (more water on your head) before dumping it. He asked me to cup my hands and put a piece of mango in them telling me to eat it, which I did. Angela spoke only Spanish, but her student translated her words to me as she gave me guidance for my spiritual journey. When she was finished, I was escorted to the river bank again, where another man told me to cup my hands. He poured oil into them and told me to rub it all over my body including in my hair and on my face as he was doing. It had a pleasant scent of cinnamon and other spices and it tingled as I rubbed it on. When Angela got out of the water, she took a sip of beer from a bottle, then shook the bottle and sprayed it on everyone making the sign of the cross. We then all took a sip from a bottle of beer that was passed around. As we were gathering our belongings, Wendy asked if we should do anything or leave some money for Angela. The young man we asked, said, “No. just come back and toss two pennies into the river in thanksgiving.”
This experience is one we will always remember and is hopefully a story you find intriguing. But why am I writing about it? We are all on a journey ~ a pilgrimage. For me it is on the Way of Jesus and of the Tao. Wendy and I express this in song on the second Sunday of the month when we attend an evening Contemplative Celtic Communion and sing, “Peregrinatio pro amore Christi, peregrini hospites mundi, proclaiming that we are pilgrims for the love of Christ, pilgrims, guests of the world.
We usually think that the goal of a journey or pilgrimage is to reach some destination. Wendy and I have traveled on vacation/pilgrimages with the goal of experiencing certain places: Chartes Cathedral, the island of Iona, the Chalice Well in Glastonbury and other sacred sites. For some the pilgrimage may be an internal one to what the Eastern Christians call theosis or John Wesley called sanctification. But maybe, the point is not to get somewhere ~ perhaps the journey itself is the point. As peregrini, we travel to new places and experience new people who are different than us, just as we did on the Willow River that day. And hopefully, by experiencing the other, we come to know ourselves, and the Holy One, at a deeper level.
On that first Sunday of June, we were planning to head home after our walk and celebrate our Sunday communion service ~ but we realized that we already had: purification, prayer, mango and beer communion, and anointing with oil.
If we are open, if we are not afraid, the Spirit may appear in many guises, many faces, through many cultures. What a blessing it is to be in the right place at the right time and open to the Spirit who Jesus tells us “blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”