I skip my morning ritual today. I realize I no longer feel worthy of the river. I decide instead to simply dress and to eat alone. Eventually, the voice within me forces me to find my way to the community again. The Sun has worked its way to the center of the sky by the time I enter the sacred space. As I do, I notice a crowd by the pool, just beyond the smaller of the two Inipis.
I turn to one of the people still under the canopy, asking, “What are they doing?”
“Oh, one of the elders is doing baptisms.”
“Baptisms to what?” I ask. “Is it a specific religion?”
“I don’t know, just baptisms, I guess. I didn’t go over. It’s not for me.”
I stand for a moment, wondering if I should just join the people beside the river. I don’t want to look ridiculous in front of anyone. I’m insecure, and I feel awkward, inviting myself to what is happening. I feel like an intruder. I always feel like an intruder.
Eventually, I decide to take the advice I often give. I do not want to abandon any more opportunities. I can at least give myself permission to watch.
As I come to stand with the others, I try to be as invisible as possible. I see the people step into the water, and I see them step out, but I do not recognize any real change. I wonder if they feel different. Some of them are smiling. I want to ask them how they feel, but I won’t.
Then, I hear the call. “Step forward.” The voice is as clear as it always is. I know I should allow myself this experience.
The fear and the insecurity speak up as well. They scream in my head, telling me not to risk it, but this caution gets me nowhere. If I cannot have my Morning Star again, I will at least have this. I deserve this.
I’ve never seen a baptism like this before, except in the movies. Seeing someone dunking people in a river brings to mind movies from my childhood, movies about Biblical heroes, and saints. This isn’t the same as drops of water in a church. It stirs something in me, something I abandoned long ago, something sacred.
There are several people ahead of me, but I am patient. As we wait, I slowly step from the shadows and enjoy the company of those who are there.
The moment is subdued, and the conversation quiet, but there is comfort all around me, and I choose to revel in it. I still ache inside, but I feel better than I have since I returned from my Quest.
When it is time for my turn, I step from the crowd and into the cold water. I move slowly, coming to stand next to the elder in the center of the pool.
He says, “You must relax and trust me to do this work. Do not resist, and do not try to help.”
I nod, feeling like a small child.
He smiles at me as he gently lays one hand upon my back and the other across my mouth, pinching my nose between his thumb and just below his forefinger. I feel comfortable and safe in his arms. So, I surrender to him.
Just as I close my eyes, I hear him speak, “I baptize thee in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”
With his words, I feel him lay me back and into the water. The movement is slow and deliberate. The water consumes me, and I feel Spirit move all around me. Time stands still.
I see the white mist again, the one I saw suspended above the fire in the lodge. It glides, cascading with the water across my skin. Like silk, her hands move, washing away my shame and my guilt. She smooths healing across every inch of me and finally comes to my face. Gently caressing my hair as it floats in the stream, she allows her hands to cup my cheeks. Then, she gently leans forward, laying her forehead against mine. I am filled with her love, and I am blessed.
It seems as if an eternity has passed when I feel the elder return me to my feet. The white woman vanishes as I break the surface of the water and hear the elder’s final word, “Amen.”
I stagger a bit as I open my eyes to take in again the world around me. I feel slightly confused and more than a little disoriented.
As I turn to look at the elder, he smiles, “Well done. I think you were ready, my child. Did you feel the Spirit?”
I can only nod.
At this, he laughs heartily, “Well done, indeed.”
He gently guides me from the water, putting me into the hands of people. The rush of energy is all around me. I feel sure I will collapse, but the people support me. They guide me to a chair before I lose my footing.
Upon sitting, I am immediately surrounded by the people who were by the river. It is some time before I can speak again, but everyone I see shares what they felt as I entered the surface of the water. Some saw the woman, others saw me luminescent. It was real. It wasn’t just my experience. It was an experience we shared.
Eventually, I recover myself, but I am not the same person I was before I entered the water. I feel I might have been given the gift I lost by breaking my circle, but I wonder how many times in a row a person can undergo such dramatic changes and what effect this might have on the body. Will this keep occurring? I imagine it must end at some point. I wonder who I will be when the cycle is complete.
My energy returns to me, and with it, my deep joy. I still feel quiet inside, but my heart sings. So, I stay in the community circle for the remainder of the day and most of the night. I crave the people and desire the opportunity to drum and sing in support of the other Questers. I send my heart out to them and pray they may have the strength to complete their Quests. I pray they will never know the loss of failure, and that if they do, they will have their eyes open enough to find their joy again. I am so grateful.