We re-entered reality, emerging from the pitch-black structure soaked in our own sweat, and covered ourselves in dirt. The cool breeze flowing through the red-dirt valley felt nice on our scorched skin. We recovered in the breeze and dirt for fifteen minutes before entering the primordial atmosphere of the sweat for our third round. Round three, we knew what to expect.
But no, we did not. We added more stones from the fire before returning, increasing the temperature inside the mud and wood dome by another ten degrees. This round would be a different beast, a new challenge to conquer. We would conquer it together. And so we went for five rounds, until the purification ritual was over, all of us exhausted from the crowded heat and steam.
Within the walls of that dark space, which was small and simultaneously infinite, quiet but loud with the hissing boiling water and chanting, comfortable yet hard, we shared stories and sang songs. We listened, we spoke, we sang, we prayed, and we were silent. This was our shared experience in the Navajo sweat lodge.
"We listened, we spoke, we sang, we prayed, and we were silent. "
The sweat lodge punctuated our experience at Mr. Kabatoni’s ranch in the Navajo nation. It was the culminating event in a weeklong interfaith service-learning trip with students from Hillel and the Wesley Foundation, a United Methodist organization. During the trip we mucked stalls, shaved logs to build a Navajo Female Hogan, a traditional Navajo dwelling, built a sweat lodge, ate Navajo food, learned about Navajo culture, and learned about each others religious traditions. It was a busy week; we woke up around 6:00am everyday and went to bed around 11:00pm. The days were filled with activities: lectures about the Navajo language, tribal system, moccasin and basket weaving and history, followed by a few hours of service, and ended with a reflection period.
Saying goodbye to our new friends at the airport on the return trip was a sad moment. We wouldn’t be able to share the entire day together anymore. But not to worry, we will all grab dinner sometime soon and reminisce on our shared experiences in the Navajo nation.
Class of 2017
The Brody Jewish Center, Hillel at the University of Virginia, is the focal point in a renaissance of Jewish life for the 1,000 Jewish students on Grounds.