In the not-so-distant past, there was excessive Christian conjecture about the absolute necessity of having a once-and-for-all experience of being “reborn.” That kind of discourse always soured me. Even though I had been through a life-altering spiritual awakening and did, at times, feel that ethereal sense of being made new, I never considered this a “done deal,” as the kids say. My experiences of rebirth were always exceedingly brief as I took three steps forward and two back on the spiritual highway; and the deep yearning for new life seemed never-ending.
Once, during my early spiritual evolution, I met a wise woman who delightedly discussed this topic at length with me. Besides dispelling my trepidation that I was somehow “doing it wrong,” she emphasized the importance of ritual when trying to embrace the deep mysteries of life. She invited me to try something new, that is, to embody a prayer, rather than simply using words. She explained that every year, on the Feast of the Assumption of Mary (August 15) she went to the beach so that she could float in the salty ocean which she called “the amniotic fluid of Mary’s womb,” in order to feel ritually reborn. I remember being gob-smacked by this revelation. Although her statement did seem rather weird to me then, I intuitively knew she had spoken some deep truth. When we parted, I could not stop thinking about her suggestion and decided that the only reasonable response was to enter into the ritual and test its veracity for myself.
Without any specific direction, (I was no longer in touch with this fleeting mentor), I simply went to the beach alone on that first August 15th long ago. As I transfixed my gaze at the water, I thought about the connection between the resurrection and the assumption, and my great longing for the permanent body-mind-spirit rebirth promised to all of us. I asked Mary for guidance and visualized her beckoning me into the water. Slowly wading in, allowing the waves to rhythmically hit me, I felt pulled into something deeper. Soon my body was floating weightlessly around in the brine and I did indeed begin to feel like a baby again, held in the timeless womb of Mary. When I emerged from the sea, grounded in the sand, I felt a great release of tension, and like after the birthing process, felt serenely aglow with new life.
I have repeated a version of this ritual every year since, sometimes alone and sometimes in the company of others, but the power of the experience always fills me wonder. On Monday morning (August 15th) about a dozen friends gathered at Doheny State Beach to share this beautiful ritual with me. We listened to music, pondered some readings, and then with intentional, contemplative silence, strolled to the water’s edge and entered into “the amniotic fluid of Mary’s womb.” Surfers were perched on their boards, kids of all ages were playing tag with the waves, and lovers strolled the beach hand-in-hand as we silently pondered, prayed, waded into the depths, and spread rose petals on the water.
Surrounded with overflowing grace, the healing water of the ocean worked its alchemy once more. All were buoyed up by beautiful simplicity and moored onto a metaphoric divine quay. Reborn by water and Spirit, we then returned to the ordinariness of life with the lightness of a child making sandcastles on the shore.