Preparations for our trip to Brazil included packing, reading, reflecting and lots and lots of explanations about what we were going to spend the next two weeks researching for our medical anthropology studies. The weekend before we flew to Brasilia, I went home for my grandmother’s birthday and encountered the same question from each of my relatives: “What are you doing in Brazil?” This question, I soon realized, could not be answered in just one sentence. We were planning to research, to experience, to participate, and to challenge our preexisting prejudices. We would visit the Casa de Dom Ignacio, a spiritual hospital where John of God channels the spirits of dead German doctors (among others) to heal the sick. It sounded a little different from a standard doctor’s visit, to say the least. The ideas of Spiritism, mind and body connections, and mediums were foreign to my family, and as I attempted to explain our medical anthropology class I saw the skepticism grow evident in their faces. Oddly, I found that my instinctual reaction to their doubt was to defend a belief system that I did not personally even ascribe to. This was to be my first experience with something that was discussed at length in Abadiania, both inside and outside of the Casa. What do you tell those at home about your experiences with John of God? This question is particularly pertinent for those who are under biomedical care but also seek a spiritual cure for their physical bodies.
The first time that this issue was addressed was when we first set foot on Casa grounds- the night we arrived and headed to a one-hour orientation before the Casa began its “workweek” on Wednesday. Diego, one of the Casa officials, reiterated that though we, or our families and friends might not know what we were doing there, something had been working for the millions of people who had come for treatment in the past thirty years. Something must be real. Later in the week, a biomedical doctor named Dr. Rick suggested that we “be discerning in who you share your experience with and how you share it.” People back home might be skeptical and their negative energies could affect the healing process. Many different Casa visitors suggested that not only was it a common practice, but it was encouraged to be vague about your experiences at the Casa. You don’t know who might be less than convinced of the miracles that purportedly occur.
I found this lack of candor fascinating. It seemed directly at odds with John of God and others at the Casa who seemed to welcome publicity from Oprah, books written by NPR journalists, and videotapes of physical surgeries that aimed to prove that the energy at the Casa was the real deal. They had nothing to hide. I felt a little bit of this dichotomy when I returned home after two weeks at the Casa. I found myself, without consciously realizing it, tailoring my version of my experiences to my audience. While going to the Casa is a personal experience, returning home is (almost always) inevitable. This return will include conversations about where you spent the past week or month or year. I found the advice from Dr. Rick to be astute and applicable: “If someone asks you what you were doing, or if you’re healed, say I am in a process, it is personal, and I’ll tell you about it in a month. You can bet that in a month, they will have forgotten all about whatever it was they wanted to know.” Though this advice was offered for the benefit of those speaking about their experience at the Casa, I found it to be applicable to my journey as a student and to anyone undergoing a process about which others might have well-meaning commentary. I know that I will run into many of these situations in the years ahead, so I was lucky to be able to gain this and other valuable tools on this amazing journey with Problems Without Passports.