Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Public acts of faith comforting, welcome

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I was at Patricia Beach, reading a paperback, when I realized the people making a spot next to us were doing something interesting.

Ever the nosy person, I decided to give my book a break, and peer at them from behind my sunnies.

There were about eight or so aboriginal people, most of them women. They weren't dressed in beach gear, but in regular street clothes, with the exception of one young woman in a tank top and shorts and lots of gold jewelry.

The elder of the group, an old man with close-cropped grey hair, wore a button-up shirt and dark pants, and an old ball cap and glasses. He reminded me of my great-grandpa a little; all he needed was a snuff box to pull out of his pocket and peck at.

The older woman with long hair turning white at the temples was wearing a traditional-looking outfit of long skirt and shirt.

Maybe they were going to get married, all Ojibway-style, where the bride jumps in the water to cleanse herself before the wedding. Maybe the girl in shorts was the bride, I wondered to myself.

But the woman in shorts just stayed sitting on a blanket. Instead, the elder man, woman, a younger man with glasses and a young woman seemed to be consulting each other at the water's edge.

Soon the group broke into couples, and then I realized that a different ceremony was in order.

One younger guy with glasses seemed to be the preacher; he wore a simple button-up shirt and pants. He and the woman did what appeared to be a practice run of a Christian baptism, where they dip a person backwards into a pool of water.

I whispered to my friend next to me, "Hey, I think they're going to do a baptism or something."

You don't see this every day at the beach.

I've never seen a baptism done in person before, but I've seen it a few times on TV. Back when I was a baby everyone in our community was baptized by a Catholic priest, Father Paradis, who would only come to town every so often to do it.

My mom had me baptized to make my great-grandpa happy, which it did, but we were never much for church-going except for the standard holidays.

Soon the priest and his helper waded far out into the water until they were waist-deep. They motioned, and the older woman and what seemed like her sister made their way out towards them.

The beach crowd was a very liberal group; there was no open staring or any mumbles of approval or disapproval. Maybe they were all doing what I was doing -- politely gawking, while still sunning themselves.

The baptism folks didn't seem embarrassed to be holding their ceremony in front of a beach full of half-naked people either.

My traditional friend seemed a little paranoid, though. He was shirtless and hoped they didn't notice his many sundance-piercing scars, as well as the current marks on his back that were still healing.

I thought maybe we should leave if he was worried, but as long as everyone was getting along there was more than enough beach for everyone.

When the two women reached the preacher it was the older woman who turned towards the shore and took her spot between the preacher and his helper.

The preacher called out his prayer towards the shore for the woman's family. His words carried on the water and rang out loud and clear. I even heard her name before she was dipped into the water and washed clean of her sins.

A relative used a camera to record the event from the safety of the beach, and when the older woman came back to shore, she got a big hug from her.

I felt like congratulating her, too, but thought it was probably not proper. After all, I was a silent observer, not an invited guest. All the same, it was a beautiful ceremony to watch.

It's nice to see acts of faith, in whatever form they take. If it makes you happy, that's really all that matters.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 27, 2012 A11

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