On Friday at 6 a.m., Heather knocked on my door. Another sunny day was unfurling, the apricot dawn turning rich blue at the edges. The trees outside my window shook themselves slightly in the breeze. Two owls that lived in a vacant lot across the road hooted softly. I dressed quickly, pulling on my only white dress that hadn't yet been tinted red with Abadiânia's dust.

Today was a big day, a festival to celebrate Saint Ignatius's birthday. Tradition held that the Saint himself would attend, emanating such a force field of kindness that people would be moved to tears. The Casa buildings were wrapped in yellow bows and strung with rafts of yellow balloons, decorated with white roses and daisies. Flower petals an inch thick covered the stage inside the hall.

By 7 a.m., when I entered with Heather, the place was already packed. "Here," she said, handing me a wad of Kleenex. "Just let yourself cry. Let the grief come out. This is probably the deepest healing you'll have here." I looked at her. "You want to think about releasing your father, like a big balloon you're holding down," she added. "Just let go. Let him soar."

Two hours passed, then Medium João came out and greeted the crowd. Once again, he passed his hand across his face and then he strode forward, speaking in a voice that was about three octaves deeper. It was as though he'd grown even taller as the oration boomed out of his chest. His eyes looked almost black. Even his hair seemed to stand up a little straighter. It was eerie how decisively he changed. This was Saint Ignatius of Loyola, and he blessed the large baskets of bread that had been placed at his feet, and then retired to the Entity's room. Two thousand people would file past him today.

As I stood in line once again with Heather, I hoped that this time I'd feel something special. After all, this was my last chance to ask for the Entity's help. Although I had been moved by my week at the Casa, I'd only heard about other people's miracles. I couldn't say I'd experienced one myself.

He sat in his chair, beside a four-foot-high crystal that glowed with gold and white light. His clothes were simple: a white, short-sleeved dress shirt and white cotton slacks. He looked at me briefly, while Heather poured out a torrent of Portuguese on my behalf. "Always look him in the eye," she'd advised, noting that would allow him to work on me all the more intensely. He reached out and took the photo of my father, examining it before handing it back to Heather, delivering a few quick sentences and then gesturing to the next person in line.

"What did he say?" I whispered.

"He wants you to sit in his Current and represent your father," Heather said. "He said he is taking care of things for you and your family. He is working on you." She led me to a bench beneath a skylight. Rays of sun slanted through the ceiling. I sat down, placed my hands in my lap, and closed my eyes.

Immediately I found myself floating in the lake at my family's summer cottage in Canada. It was a familiar place; since I was about 14, every night I was there my father would accompany me on an early evening swim, driving his boat slowly beside me, making sure I didn't run into trouble or another boat's propeller. In the middle of the lake I would often stop swimming for a moment and tread water as the sun dipped low, turning the water to bronze and washing the clouds with jewel colors. I would see my father, with his golden retriever, Bear, next to him, looking out at the lake, a place he loved more than anywhere else.

It was dreamy and beautiful, and instead of sobbing, as I'd expected, I reveled in moments and conversations I'd had with my father. I felt as though I was literally reliving them. Three hours later, when a round of prayers marked the Entity's exit and the end of the day, it seemed as if no time had passed. When I stood up, I felt shaky and woozy and mellow.

What is it we're hoping for when we ask to be healed? To lose an attitude that's holding us back? To lay down a psychic burden? Is it, simply, the ability to be happy at all times? "To learn to love ourselves," Heather had said earlier in the week, "that's the lifelong work." Whatever was going on in this town, it was in service of that goal. Maybe we couldn't fully understand the process yet, but that didn't make it less real. "It's like this," Zsolt told me. "A hundred years ago if someone showed you an iPhone, you wouldn't have believed it. Everything is always progressing. We know so little and our senses are limited, so limited." If you aren't open to the mystery, in other words, you'll never glimpse it. In Abadiânia that veil between the seen and the unseen is a tissue-thin paper full of rips. It is a place not only where miracles happen, but where no one thinks that is unusual.

Only weeks after I returned from the Casa would I fully realize how powerful my time there had been—how, in fact, the grief weighing me down had simply disappeared, replaced by peace. People would remark that I looked lighter; some claimed the difference was startling. I would hear myself laugh again. And before I left Abadiânia I would have the chance to speak to Medium João privately while he rested after a long afternoon, his face looking tired but content, and he would tell me: "I am the happiest man in the world because I believe in eternal life."

But for now there was this moment, in the Current. As I sat on the hard-backed bench, I was in that blissful place where I now knew my father was. He stood in the boat and I floated beside him in the water. And I felt light and warm, as though suspended in a golden liquid. He was smiling, and as he looked at me I felt an amazing wave of love, so intense that I leaned back against the bench. It was so strong and it came so quickly that for a moment I felt scared. But then I heard his voice, loud and clear, yet gentle: "I'm here," he said, looking directly at me. "I'm with you. And that love is me. I am here. I will always be here."

See the behind the scenes photos from Susan's journey to Brazil

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