Henry cancelled our scheduled lunch last Saturday so I just tagged along Mamu and her friends (Ate Mhady, Ate Vicky and Ate Encar and yes, they all call each other Ate), who I fondly call “the Berks”. They were going to the Divine Marcy Shrine in Marilao, Bulacan for a desert. What’s a desert? It’s a prayer with nature and according to Mamu “a time of retreat dedicated to God in silence, solitude and penance”. She told me that I’m most welcome to join them on the condition that I join the desert and bring my own bible, which I did. I also brought along my Haruki Murakami, just in case.
We left the house at 6 o'clock in the morning, without breakfast because Mamu said that fasting is a requisite for a desert. When I told her that I was really hungry, she begrudgingly agreed to let me have a slice of bread. I told myself that I’ll just get coffee along the way, coffee is liquid after all, not a violation of Mamu’s fast. My eyes lit up as soon as I saw the Starbuck’s logo at NLEX, but our driver Ate Encar looked like she had no intentions of stopping and she did not. I just looked at the green mermaid longingly as it became smaller and smaller until it was just a tiny dot.
We were about five minutes away from the Divine Mercy Shrine when a jeepney at the opposite side of the road zoomed out of nowhere (we were in a blind curve). The driver was trying to overtake another jeepney, I think they were having some kind of argument. The particular street where all this was happening is very narrow and the jeepney was literally inches away from us. Seeing the jeepney speeding towards us, everyone was in shock, no one was able to speak. I was just staring at the oncoming vehicle bracing myself for a head-on collision. Thanks to the expert maneuvering of Ate Encar, we avoided the jeepney at the same time avoided colliding into a nearby wall.
After a minute or two we found our voices, we couldn’t believe that we escaped that near collision unscathed. Ate Encar said that she was so shocked she felt like she was not the one driving at all. In fact, she missed the turn to going to the Divine Mercy Shrine and for about a minute or two she was driving aimlessly trying to absorb what happened. All of Mamu’s berks agreed that it was a miracle.
When we arrived at the Divine Mercy Shrine, the “berks” scouted for an ideal place for the desert. We went to the Rosary Hill, but since it rained the previous night everything was wet and muddy plus a crowd was slowly gathering around the shrine. They just decided to do the desert in a place of their own choosing. Everybody agreed to meet up in front of the Adoration Chapel at 10 o’clock, it was just seven-thirty. Looks like it was going to be a long desert.
I walked around, taking pictures here and there until I found a silent little nook at the basement of the church. I prayed and concentrated, trying really hard to be one with nature. I opened my bible, read a few pages but it was just random passages that I simply cannot relate to. I tried again, but still I’m not one with nature. I told myself maybe my connection with God was just choppy that day that’s why I had a hard time connecting. After about an hour of trying, I finally gave up and pulled out my copy of the Wind Up Bird Chronicle.
I was enjoying Murakami when I noticed that more people were now invading my private reading nook. I looked around a noticed that some were in front of the images deep I prayer, some were wiping the images with their towels, others were just plain noisy. I also saw people gathering in a well outside the grotto with them empty water gallon containers which they were trying to fill up with water from a faucet of the well. I remember thinking “what are these people up to?” I went back to my book but the noise was just plain distracting even with an MP3 plugged to my ear.
Deciding it was time to end my time of contemplation I walked around the shrine taking pictures here and there, I looked at my watch and it was 9:30. I was in the souvenir shop when I smelled fried garlic. My stomach was rumbling as if to say, a slice of bread is not breakfast. I followed the aroma and it led me here…
I entered the food court and zeroed in on the food. I saw bowls of lugaw, quail egg kwek-kwek, suman, tokwa’t baboy and an assortment of sweets (pastillas, yema and polvoron). Should I eat without telling Mamu and her berks or should I wait for them? The lugaw was calling me. But in the end I decided to wait for Mamu and the others.
I found Mamu and Ate Mhady in front of the Adoration Chapel. I told them about the food, the food and the food. But they didn’t seem to hear me. Finally when our little group was back together, I told them again about the food. Again, my ramblings seem to fall on deaf ears. They were really serious with their fast.
There was a mass scheduled at 10:30 so we proceeded to the chapel. I asked Mamu why we had to be there early, she told me that the church will be packed and we might not be able to get seats because we will be attending a healing mass which usually lasts for an hour and a half to two hours. As soon as we found a seat I told her that I’m going to the food court.
It was a self-service food court/cafeteria so I grabbed a tray and ordered a bowl of lugaw with a sprinkling of fried garlic and spring onions, a platter of quail egg kwek-kwek, suman, pastillas and a Coke in can. I was standing in front of the cashier when she announced that my total bill is sixty five pesos (65.00). I looked at her and at my fully loaded tray thinking that there must be some mistake. So I asked again “magkano?” and she replied with a little irritation “65 po lahat”.
As soon as I found an empty table I looked at the bill and saw that the most expensive thing on my tray was the Coke in can at thirty pesos!
The steaming hot lugaw was surprisingly tasty for its price. It needed a bit of calamansi, unfortunately they don’t have this, for 8 pesos a bowl, I can’t complain. The quail eggs are bit oily and cold but I like quail eggs and again for the price, there’s really nothing to complain about. I was surprised with the suman, it was cooked perfectly with coconut meat and latik, soft and not too sweet, an honest to goodness treat at ten pesos! The pastillas tasted like chalk, but you can’t win ‘em all.
True enough the mass lasted for about an hour and a half. But I was full so I didn’t mind.
I was surprised after the final blessing when almost everyone trooped to the altar. I turned to Mamu, she told me that this was the healing part of the mass or the anointing of the sick. In a sarcastic tone, I told her “are they all about to die?” She patiently explained, as if I am a five year old, that healing meant physical, spiritual and emotional. I joined the line to complete my Divine Mercy experience. Seeing the priests putting oil on everyone’s forehead, I somehow feared that it would be some rancid smelling coconut oil but it turned to be a floral scented oil.
Mamu and her berks went to the canteen after the mass, this made me think that I suffered from low EQ. They were also pleasantly surprised with the prices.
Before leaving the Divine Mercy Shrine they all pulled out plastic containers and fill it up with water from the faucets around the wells. They told me that it comes from a miraculous spring and it has healing powers. Again, to complete the experience I helped fill up their containers.
On the way home, the conversation turned to our near accident, it was their (Mamu and her berks) theory that maybe the reason why we were saved was because the Lord knew we were going to the Divine Mercy Shrine, have a desert and pray to Him. Silently I was thinking, adrenaline rush or miracle? I guess it really is a question of faith.