Sunday, December 13, 2015

postcard from #myJordanJourney: #3, at the Jordan

Now the people were filled with expectation, 
and all were asking in their hearts 
whether John might be the Christ.
John answered them all, saying, 
“I am baptizing you with water,
but one mightier than I is coming.
I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals.
He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
His winnowing fan is in his hand to clear his threshing floor
and to gather the wheat into his barn, 
but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Exhorting them in many other ways, 
he preached good news to the people.

~Gospel of Luke, Chapter 3, verses 15 - 18

Listening to the readings on this third Sunday of Advent made my mind wander back to my recent press trip to Jordan and, specifically, to our visit to the very site where John the Baptist baptized Jesus on the River Jordan.

When our group of Catholic Bloggers and Journalists first arrived at Bethany Beyond the Jordan, I was surprised when our first stop was a secluded area with wooden walkways – an active excavation site – where the remains of a 2nd century church have been found adjacent to hermit caves.

As our guide, preservationist Rustom Mkhjian, explained, finding the remains of the chapel serves as confirmation for archeologists that these are, indeed, the caves where John the Baptist and his followers lived and carried out his mission. That is why an early Christian community developed there.

Visiting the caves made even more sense when I saw how close the cave dwellings are to the Jordan River.  

 Our guide, Rustom Mkhjian, explains the site's history

No, Pope Francis was not with us -- this photo from his visit to Jordan
Our guide Rustom Mkhjian was also Pope Francis' guide!  

A personal visit by each of our last three Popes validates Bethany Beyond the Jordan as the place where John baptized Jesus—as much as the archaeological excavations that have taken place on this east bank over the past two decades. 

Although the Jordan River serves as the border between the countries of Israel and Jordan, the Jordan here is maybe 20 feet wide—truly more a creek than a river!

But for me, it is precisely the river’s dimensions—as well as the preservation of its natural habitat, that made Bethany Beyond the Jordan a solemn site, genuinely mystical.

That afternoon, sitting on the banks of the Jordan River by myself during our group’s free time, it was not difficult to imagine Jesus meeting John there…  As I prayed and listened to the stillness, the most consistent sound I heard was that of the breeze blowing through the reeds.

With my feet dangling into the water, my heart felt giggly with joy… which made me sing out loud for almost an hour!

I took a short video that I’d like to share with you here. No, it’s not of me singing:

"Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him."

~ Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 3, verse 13

Like a sculptor eagerly awaiting the beautiful image that wants to be birthed from the plain slab of stone, all of us have a one-of-a-kind spirit created by God that is waiting to burst out. God created this unique spirit inside each of us for a reason. God needs us to live out who we are in the world in which we live. He needs me to be me, fully me, truly me––for my family, my neighbors, my work mates, my parish community, my city, my state. There are no coincidences, so everything about who I am––even my past, my experiences, my family––was given to me for a reason. And I have been placed within this reality for a reason, too.
Living with the heart of a pilgrim requires that I allow my spirit to be birthed into my world. And it demands that I trust the map that God has created for the pilgrimage of my life.  My pilgrimage is not random or generic or communal, but personal and specific. I was birthed into this moment by a Creator whose vision for the world not only includes but requires me. I am an explicit part of his plan!

[all photos and video © Maria Ruiz Scaperlanda -- 
except the Pope photos, courtesy of Jordan Tourism Board]