Last year I was given the blessing of a trip to Brazil. I went expecting to stay for only two weeks but near the end of week number two, I was invited to stay longer (room and board covered.) I accepted! Although it wasn’t a piece of cake living in a foreign country and not knowing the language, I experienced a lot of beauty and power. My soul was profoundly touched, and I came home changed.
I spent my first week in Abadiania, having felt called to experience the phenomenon of the healer known as John of God. Afterward, I went to a spiritual community, a Marian center, tucked in the rural hills of southeast Brazil. (There was both an active monastery and a large lay community based there.) After one week there, and two days before my departure home, the Mother of the order summoned me and told me she believed it was dangerous for me to return to the States. She invited me to stay longer. Even though it would be extremely inconvenient (and some might say irresponsible, for I had several part-time jobs at the time), my heart felt an immediate “yes.” I sensed I had soul work to do there; and for someone like me, soul work trumps work for monetary remuneration–even when I was at risk of angering several bosses. (And yes, that, too, was part of my soul’s growth.)
Here are some of the lessons I learned while in Brazil:
1. There are deeply spiritual, devout, and pure people in this world! As Americans, most of us don’t experience being in a building with a thousand people–of all ages, shades of skin color, and socioeconomic strata–who love God, with a passion that is deep and true and pure. I could feel their devotion. I could see it on their faces. The purity of the people was quite evident to me. I didn’t sense any egotism, arrogance, or self-righteousness. I didn’t see or feel any cattiness, rudeness, impatience, unkindness, vanity, or sexual energy. People were there to pray, to sing, and to serve. Sometimes when we sang particular songs, the atmosphere was palpably holy. One doesn’t often experience true holiness in the United States.
2. We really don’t need many things. At this particular center, there are about 300 residents, about half of whom are part of the Grace Mercy Order. There are many permanent lay residents and many who rotate in and out for weeks or months at a time. The monastics have taken a vow of poverty, but those who have chosen to live there permanently have very few possessions as well. Then, those like me, who come for a short period of time, come only with what fits in their suitcases. The center provides food, clothing, beds, linens, toiletries, and shelter. Nothing else is really needed. When one is immersed in sacred work, the need for the material falls away.
3. It is quite possible to survive, and even enjoy life, without phones and internet! While in Brazil, I had no international calling on my phone; and I had to travel to and/or get special permission to use the internet. While I confess to missing being able to keep in touch with friends and family back home, I was quite surprised that I didn’t miss Facebook as much as I suspected I would. I had more than enough to do without it. And this included such things as walking the labyrinth, communing with the (unbelievable) stars, teaching, meditating at the pond, helping out in the kitchen or with other chores, reading, and, of course, all the services, lectures, and prayers that were offered there. Not having internet readily available was a conscious choice of the leaders of the community. The hope is that everyone will take more opportunity to turn within. (See #4.)
4. It’s good to focus more on the inner world. When this community was originally founded, there was an emphasis on silence. Idle talking was actively discouraged, including during meals, so that one could practice tuning into the inner world of the heart. From this place of quietude, one can more easily access that still, small voice. One can more easily discern direction, guidance, and wisdom.
5. It is possible to live in harmony with the Earth. I was impressed with the level of environmental consciousness apparent in all aspects of life in this community. The soaps used for dishes, clothes, and cleaning were all very mild and natural. During meals, no napkins were used. After meals, each person washed their own dishes and it was instilled in each person to use cold water when possible and very little of it. Instead of garbage bags, small trash cans were lined with specially folded newspaper. Washing machines were only used for linens and towels. Every person did his or her personal laundry by hand, the excess water was flung out with a centrifuge, and then clothes were hung outside to dry. No heaters, fans, or air conditioners were used anywhere on the enormous property. Originally much of the land in use by the community had been a monoculture plantation, mostly coffee. The community was strongly committed to returning the land to a more natural jungle state. Large numbers of trees were planted, ponds were created, and wildlife began to return, including parrots and toucans, snakes, and even wolves.
6. We are here to be of service to one another. In America, the focus is usually on the self. We are expected to strive for personal freedom, financial success, and the acquisition of material things. In many other parts of the world, the focus is on the family or the tribe/village. It is anathema to be as self-centered as we tend to be in our world. In this Brazilian community, however, everyone is conscious of the whole world–and not just humanity, but the animals and the plant and mineral kingdoms, too. There are people who give months or years of their time to helping refugees, caring for orphans or elders or homeless dogs and cats.
7. This is a critical time on the planet. Most of us know there is an enormous amount of chaos and turmoil on the planet right now; but not everyone realizes that this pivotal time has been prophesied by many throughout time. This Brazilian community not only realizes it; it is actively preparing for future global hardships by creating a place where people can gather when other places on the globe become unstable and unlivable.
8. Prayer is essential. One spiritual law which has been in place since the beginning of time on Earth is free will. Therefore, in order for God and His helpers to intercede on our behalf, it is essential that we ask for help. This beautiful Brazilian community–and especially the monastic order–are often called to pray for many consecutive hours and often through the night. Sometimes there is a marathon of prayer with a relay team so that there is continually one group or another praying. It is believed that these prayers have helped to prevent wars from breaking out, the Pacific Ocean and its inhabitants from dying (due to Fukishima’s radiation), and some natural catastrophes from occurring.
9. We are not alone in the Universe. Everyone there understands that Earth is a very small part of an enormous universe and that there are universes upon universes. There is a recognition that there are beings much greater, wiser, and more loving than Earth’s humanity, and that many of them are actively involved in assisting us at this time on the planet. But it is also understood that we work together as a team. Human beings do work on the physical plane, and these other beings do work on the spiritual plane. These concepts are not hard to fathom or embrace for Brazilians.
Suffice it to say, this was not a run-of-the-mill experience.
If I had to summarize the lessons I’ve learned, it would be this: Turn away from the material world. Turn within. Focus on your soul’s needs. Give honor to God. Love one another.
There are many people in the United States who don’t resonate with the materialistic culture found here. For us, living in such a superficial world can sometimes be, if not exactly painful, certainly lonely. The assumption in this country is that wealth, fame, and physical attractiveness are the ideals for which individuals should strive. As for our country, military might and political strength are valued over simple human compassion. For those who hold a different vision of this planet and country, living in a material world can be rather soul-crushing. And that is why, when I left Brazil, I left a piece of my heart there. My soul felt the beauty of the work and the people.
My heartfelt prayer is that the United States returns to the values that we were founded upon over 200 years ago. In the meantime, I am so happy to know that a place like this exists in the world, and that there are many satellite communities in many other countries, including here in the U.S. in Mt. Shasta, Oklahoma, and Miami.
May peace be with you. May the spiritual take precedence over the material. May this world become the sacred place it is meant to be.