Sunday, March 09, 2008



I've been hanging out with the family and friends of

Master Counselor Luiz Mendes do Nascimento

Mestre Conselheíro  Luiz Mendes do Nascimento

on and off for a couple of years and have previously written a few reports of my encounters, experiences and travels with these Santo Daime roots people who have become my spiritual family and my friends as well. The 2006 report is here and 2007 was covered in this blog here.

Before getting into the 2008 chapter of these adventures along the path of Santo Daime, I'd like to share a story from my first encounter with the Luiz Mendes family at the community of Vila Fortaleza in Acre State, Brazil in early 2006.

When I was first introduced to Mad. Rizelda -- the wife of Pad. Luiz and the Madrinha (Godmother) of the family line -- I saw this lovely diminutive woman.

Madrinha Rizelda Brito do Nascimento
Madrinha Rizelda Brito do Nascimento

She held out her hand, smiled and said (my friend Cesar was translating), "OK, we will be watching you." Quite frankly, I was sort of unsettled by that but her vibe was so positive and so friendly that I somehow knew that whatever she meant was going to be quite OK with me.

In the following days and weeks I also did a lot of watching, mostly because without speaking Portuguese that was the best I could do. There was always a lot of work going on but not a lot of talk. And there didn't seem to be any bosses. Sure, there were leaders for different tasks but it seemed more like a team of players than a directed work force. There was a lot of coordination that just came from people paying attention to each other. I was delighted to see this "caboclo" style that seemed to rely more on friendship than on hierarchy. But I didn't quite understand how people came to be in their jobs and know what to do without being "told."

The following year, after my second visit to Fortaleza, I began to travel with the family as they presented spiritual works in the South of Brazil. I had been on a separate visit to Brasilia and later when I reconnected with
Saturnino, the son of Pad. Luiz and the current "commander of works," he told me that he had found the "perfect job" for one of the foreign visitors who had been pretty rebellious about following any of the protocols of ceremony. "Yes," said Saturnino, "he loves to pound the Jagube vine in the making of the Daime. So I told him that it was his job."

Aha! I thought. They watch you to see what you love to do and then tell you that it's your job. From then on little direction is necessary because everyone wants to do what they love to do and usually they get pretty good at it, or at least as good as they can be. And they keep developing as practice makes perfect. What a simple flowing way to handle the problem of authority!

A few weeks later, at the end of a ceremony in a large Daime church in São Paulo, Saturnino was introducing the various members of the comitiva -- the musicians, the family members, the friends and foreigners who were traveling together -- and then he said, "and that's Lou who is the official photographer of the comitiva."

Being the "official photographer" isn't really a status or a position of authority. It just means that I like images and storytelling and now I've got a good work that I love to do. It's important to me to say that there really is nothing "official" about the stories I will offer in this blog.

My stories are not an "unbiased report" but rather the perceptions and interpretations of a friend and fellow traveler who does not even speak Portuguese. Please keep in mind that the path of the Santo Daime is an inner one and as Padrinho Sebastião says in one of his hymns, "My encounter with Jesus, only I can unravel." It is that way for each of us. What I am sharing is a very personal experience and I am taking the license of presenting it exactly the way it seemed to happen for (or to) me.

The Healing Begins

During my previous visit to Acre (June-July 2007) I decided that I would like to make Fortaleza my home and I was delighted when Luzirene (Saturnino's wife) said, "Great, now we will have two vovôs (grandfathers)" and everyone started inventing names for me like vovô lu (Georgete) or luvôzinho (Agusta) while Pad. Luiz and Mad. Rizelda settled on calling me lulu. I really felt as if I had at long last arrived HOME. So it was with great anticipation of a new life that I returned to Vila Fortaleza a few days before Christmas. I had gotten a new pair of black shoes and had ordered a new tailor-made white suit for formal ceremonies. I felt ready (and proud, I guess) to take my place in my new family and community.

But that's not the way it was. This was the first time I had come to Fortaleza without a close companion who was bilingual. Can you imagine coming home to your family and discovering that you couldn't talk with anyone? I had come to build a life of family and connection and I felt more isolated than I had every had ever felt, even as a lonely only child. And then came the spiritual work of Christmas. I got dressed and discovered that my new black shoes were about two sizes too big and when I put on my (mail ordered) new white suit it seemed as if it had been tailored for someone else -- nothing fit right.

Despite looking fairly ridiculous I went trudging through the rain and mud to where the small community was making its Christmas work. I drank the Daime and got hit with I don't know what but it seemed as if I was getting clobbered from every direction. There was not going to be any singing or dancing for me this night, just one of those difficult processes where you sit it out and pray to survive. I felt busted and mortified. How could I ever have been foolish enough to think that I could handle this? At the end of the work Saturnino came over to me to ask how I was doing and I guess I just gave him one of those hopeless and desperate looks. He laughed, snapped his fingers Brazilian style which is a little like a whip or a slap and said (in effect), "Yep, the Daime hits you real hard when you've been away too long." "Oh, great," I thought. I could not imagine a more inauspicious "arrival home."

Without indulging in all the gory details of the cleaning of my mentality let me just say that the next two weeks were not fun for me. The tropical heat, the daily downpours, the insects and my skin's allergic reactions, the camping, the mud, the isolation that I felt, and spiritual works
with strong Daime nearly daily all seemed to push way beyond my limits. There were many days where I found myself thinking, "No more. I will never do this again. I'm gonna leave tomorrow." But when tomorrow came, I never left. I just grabbed my camera and hiked to the next work.

In the most recent hymn received by Pad. Luiz Mendes there is a line that says, "the gift is earned." You bet it is! In the posts that follow I hope to show something of the shine and the joy that is ever-developing in these people who are part of the larger
Family of Juramidam. Everyone, working in their particular place, is in the process of earning the gift and giving it in return. I feel both humble and proud to be among them and to have the great privilege of presenting some glimpses of these friends and our work at Vila Fortaleza and in the world.

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