“Are you okay?” the nun asked me with a concerned look in her eyes. There I was sitting silently on a wooden stool, naked and cold under the robe the nun gave me, my lips quivering and tears running down my cheeks as I waited for my turn to be dipped in the famous miraculous water of Lourdes.
It was more overwhelming than I had ever expected. Actually to be honest I did not know about this ritual in the first place (thanks to my lack of research prior to the trip). Furthermore, I did not expect the ritual to be so…emotional. My heart (and my head) was flooded with thoughts and emotions: gratitude, sadness, ‘am I really in Lourdes right now?’ , ‘what am I supposed to pray before they dip my body in the water?’, ‘why is God so good after the messy stuff that has happened these recent years’, ‘what is a sinner like me doing here in one of the most cherished destinations by Catholics all over the world?’, and on and on.
Don’t get me wrong, I felt very fortunate to be there in the most surprising and delightful way ever. But who knew a fortunate moment like that would be such a reflective moment. I can’t really claim to be a religious person. Sometimes I hardly pray, let alone read the bible. I don’t participate in church activities other than attending Mass every week (and there were times I did not go to mass for lame reasons). It was overwhelming to actually realize the blessings and unconditional love, despite the countless times I have failed God (which reminds me about a quote I love dearly: I can’t brag about my love for God for I fail him daily, but I can brag about His love for me because it never fails). It was all too much to bear, and before I knew it my eyes became watery. It was kind of embarrassing to cry in front of all the other ladies who were also waiting to be bathed since we were all seated in a tiny chamber, the same place we took off our clothes but I couldn’t stand it. Thank God it was a silent cry, not the sobbing type. But it was still noticeable, thus triggering concern from the nuns who were close to me.
After calming my self down and giving a quick nod to the Nuns that were starting to get concerned from the look on their faces. They kept asking me if I was okay. Explaining to them why wasn’t exactly what I had in mind so I just gave them a forced smile. When it was finally my turn I stood up, the curtains were opened and I took a few steps down toward the tub. It was a tiny marble tub, kind of like a little rectangle shaped pool enough for an average height adult body to fully submerge from head to toe. There were 2 nuns assisting on my left and on my right, holding me to stay on my feet and guided me in to the water. The water was bloody cold. Like super icy cold. I was pretty much chanting ‘This is so cold‘ in my mind. The senior nun, said a prayer, and I responded. I quickly prayed the Hail Mary but then my mind went blank and I just imagined Mother Mary, and mentioned a quick prayer for my brother regarding his uni admissions. I forgot all my intentions about my parents, my family/friends, or my future, my career, and finding Mr. Right (allow me to shamelessly admit that this was one of my intentions on the pilgrimage). All the things that I was supposed to pray for before the dip just vanished as I was just trying to wrap my mind around this overwhelming moment. And then whoosh, I was dipped about neck deep in the water. It was icy cold, but it was so fresh. After a few seconds, the young nuns on my side gently pulled me out and guided me out of the water. I gave the senior nun a sincere smile and thank you. She gave me a warm wish on my way out.
Earlier before the ritual, I felt silly for not preparing very well for I did not bring a towel. But then I was told, I wouldn’t need one. The water will dry instantly, in a matter of seconds. It was true. The distance from the tub to my wooden stool where my clothes were kept was just a few footsteps. When I started to put my clothes back on, my body was dry. The nuns who were concerned about me earlier made sure if I was okay. I finally had the courage to look them in the eye and thankfully gave them an eager nod saying yes and thank you. It was all so bizarre, and yet so invigorating, both to the body and the soul. Afterwards I felt a sense of peace and amazement.
The ritual was strange and unique. To start with, it was a bit startling to be instructed to strip naked in a chamber with around 5 other pilgrims, with a nun holding a robe around my body to cover me as I took off all my clothes, undergarments and accessories. Once I was naked and awkwardly signaling the nun, the robe was swiftly wrapped around my body, kind of like a baby wrapped in a bundle. Being guided, and being immersed in such cold water just made the experience feel very vulnerable. I think that’s what made it feel so overwhelming. Not only were our bodies naked in the process, but it also felt like admitting and showing all our sins, dark secrets, and flaws. All those dark spots that were neatly hidden in the dusty corners of our minds and souls felt as if they were exposed. I guess that was what made it such a moving experience. The bathing ritual was a moment of vulnerability – both physical and psychological. No wonder this ritual is linked to the Sacrament of Confession. It’s too bad that I did not make the time to go to Confession during my trip, but the bathing ritual alone left such a deep impression. I do hope to return and bring my parents there someday. Ave Maria, our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us. Amen.