We went to a Reza last night.
What’s a Reza? It’s an old, old Brazilian tradition. I discovered that this particular one has been going on for over fifty years.
Rezar means “to pray,” so I guess you could translate it as a “prayer circle.” But if you’re from the US you probably haven’t ever seen a prayer circle like this.
Now that I know what one is, I’m kinda miffed that I’ve been missing out for the past 5 years.
To tell this story right, I need to backtrack. Waaaay back.
I learned Spanish in Ecuador when I was 17, I fell in love with my host family, and a corner of my heart was reserved forevermore. From 18-23 I kept trying to find my way back home, leading to many cringeworthy incidents as this timid white girl tried to creep her way into Latin culture.
And then I made friends with a Spaniard guy who invited me to a house party, and my life changed forever. The party was at a Guatemalan’s house; she was a local DJ. The thing about Maine, you see, is that there aren’t many Latinx around and it’s a hard, lonely, snowy place to be sometimes. All these Latinx folks–from nations that normally wouldn’t associate in larger cities–banded together and made a family. There were Guatemalans rubbing elbows with Cubans and Peruvians and Colombians and Hondurans and El Salvadorans, and everyone looked forward to the torta española that the Spaniards would bring. And there were always a few white folks like me who got folded into the party as long as they spoke Spanish or at least loved to dance. For almost a decade, I learned to dance merengue and salsa and bachata and punta and samba and forro at these house parties from the experts themselves. More importantly, they let me join their family. There were birthday parties and funerals and Thanksgiving dinners and weddings and babies born and kids graduated.
At some point the Guatemalan DJ met and married a Brazilian, he brought more Brazilians, one of those Brazilians started dating another Spaniard, and at his birthday party the two people who would become Mr. and Mrs. Crônicas finally met.
Just before I met Mr. Crônicas, a friend who is big into metaphysics suggested writing down a description of my ideal mate as a way of manifesting him into my life. I was more than a little skeptical but it had been such a recent series of train wrecks I figured it couldn’t hurt. I wrote on a piece of paper: Kind, Compassionate, Intelligent, Feminist, Affectionate, Patient, Generous, Playful, Hard-working. Three days later I looked at the list again and added: “Loves to dance,” and stashed the list away in my desk. You gotta be specific about what you ask for.
I forgot about the list. I met Mr. Crônicas. Two years later, when cleaning to move to Brazil I found the list. It was amazing how he fits the description. Except that he can’t dance worth a damn, god bless him. Those three days mattered, I guess. I married him anyhow because I had learned what’s important.
Most Brazilians I know don’t dance. Yeah, yeah, I know what most Americans think. Sure, if you’re from Rio, you know samba, or from the Northeast maybe you know frevo. Here in Minas Gerais everyone loves forro (pronounced “FO-HOE”), but few dance it.
About a year ago Mr. Crônicas took us to a birthday party at the farm of the guy who owns the local beer distributor. And lo and behold, there was a dance floor and people dancing forro. It was just like I remembered it–-people trading partners, learning new dance steps from friends, babies on hips, and that one drunk guy whose exhuberant dance moves provided sideline comedy as he moves unsuccessfully from one dance partner to the next. My heart gave a gentle sigh of relief. These people speak my language.
A few weeks ago, the same guy handed us an invite with a picture of two old people and a rosary. “We want to get people together for a prayer circle again this year,” he said, “You know, like old times.”
I kept my head down, and not being particularly religious I kinda hoped that Mr. Crônicas was going to feel too tired on a weeknight to go. No such luck. You gotta represent as a family for such things or there’s uncomfortable questions, so I was roped in. Le-sigh.
It started as expected. There was a HUGE altar to St. Peter. Some of the church ladies did readings and lead songs. They talked about how St. Peter was an ordinary man, a fisherman. That we should remember that those are the people that Jesus chose.
They prayed a full rosary of Our Father’s and Hail Mary’s (sidenote: I know my Our Father in Spanish, and the Hail Mary in Portuguese. I can do neither of them in English to save my soul. I’m going to Latinx heaven apparently.).
They opened up the floor for people to make statements. I groaned inwardly. Brazilians LOVE public statements. The one tall guy in glasses who talks at every public event talked endlessly again, and I still couldn’t follow his train of thought. This had the potential to be a loooong night, I thought.
Another woman spoke and I perked up. She talked about her aunt’s tradition and how they had walked through rain and mud every year on the farms to come to this prayer circle and how proud she was to continue the tradition. How they had been doing it for fifty years without fail.
Sweet, really. All the kids were continuing their parents’ tradition, even though they were gone.
The man who invited us talked about how he had to continue the tradition after his mother and father passed away because nobody hangs out with their neighbors anymore, and that’s why they did it in the first place.
Ok, you got me. It’s cool after all.
And then it was done. The guy who had been playing mood music for the praying started playing around on the piano, and started singing a song. He added in a base beat.
People started dancing forro.
Appetizers of chunks of meat came around on small plates with toothpicks. This is cattle country, after all.
Bottles of beer and soda got passed around to all the tables, and kept coming. And coming.
Weighty plates of food came out.
“They do this every year?” I asked.
“Yes.” Mr. Crônicas said.
“And this is what a Reza always is? It isn’t just somebody’s birthday party?”
“No. They’re always like this.”
Well, damn. Color me a fool.
And let me be the first to say: I like how you all pray.
Dancing just like at home–people trading partners, learning new dance steps from friends, and babies on hips