Friday, May 15, 2009

I traveled the banks of the River of Jordan

Israel on the other side of the Jordan River

Traveling to Jordan on Bethany is the sort of experience where one doesn't really know what to expect. One one hand, it's nothing short of staggering to visit the place where, nearly 2000 years ago, John the Baptist ministered, giving his sermons, and where he baptised Jesus, along with many others. Pope John Paul II visited back in 2000 and Pope Benedict celebrated Mass there just last week during his Middle East visit.

Yet this place so steeped in significance is also a tourist destination with its own website (that they humorously made us aware of by spelling it out in a large mosaic next to the river: Add to this that though it is not supposed to be a military border zone after an agreement in 1994 between Jordan and Israel, well, people can only come in or out past the machine guns by paying to be packed into little buses. This was the closest we would come to Israel; one can look across the river where the Israeli flag is flying. It was all a bit surreal.

I made us miss the first bus from the visitor's center by lingering too long in the souk while trying to find a souvenir for Colleen that didn't say Jerusalem or Bethlehem on it...if it had an Israeli city on it I was worried customs would take it away when we got to the UAE. Not to mention that we weren't in those places!

Cracked earth and the River Jordan

The UAE does not recognise Israel; one had better not have an Israeli stamp in one's passport and try to enter the UAE at this time. Some people have 2 passports, others get an insert that can be removed as is necessary to not offend whatever country you're coming into or out of. A sort of don't-ask-don't-tell policy.

Back at the souk, I gave up on getting something but got my own sermon from Mike when the bus we were going to be on filled up before I got back, a sermon which was not well received.

Bethy at the Baptism site

Nearly an hour later, the bus we did catch emptied us out past the guard station and we walked through a forest of tamarisk (salt cedar) trees paths to the green waters where it is thought Jesus was baptised, then beyond to a small but beautiful and lavish golden domed church and then down to the River Jordan itself. Our tour was conducted in English, mostly directed towards a Christian sensibility, and then again in Arabic, describing Jesus as a Muslim Prophet. The two groups walked along together, hearing what they wanted to hear and taking in the sights.

There the river is green and muddy and bordered by high reeds, bringing to mind baby Moses in his basket on the Nile. A particularly devote father jumped right on in and baptised his young son who managed to look both scared and pious. Bethy and Thomas were being mobbed by Jordanian girls out on a day trip, Thomas carried away until he yelled for backup and Bethy asked to pose for photo after photo.

A Jordanian soldier who couldn't have even been 20 years old, machine gun slung casually over his shoulder, looked on unconcernedly as the group milled around, looking across to Israel where another area of worship is being built, taking photographs whenever the flag with the star of David unfurled enough in the breeze.

Can you find Thomas in the gaggle of girls?
(hint: he's wearing a pale green hat)

The beautiful Stream of John the Baptist as it flows down to join the River Jordan

At the river, thinking about the act of being baptised, being blessed and spiritually reborn through the element of water, I realised something. It's taken me nearly a year of being hot in a desert land to understand how valuable water really is, how spiritual it must have been to the Baptismal candidates to be completely immersed in water in a land where water is scarce, people who grew up knowing first hand that water is the difference between life and death.

For me, anyway, that's what I took away from Bethany on Jordan.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

We have been following your family escapades, for a while now!

The writings are great, Natalie you really have a talent for it.

I especially enjoyed your R&R in the mid east, the experience and the exposure you are giving to your family will treasured and never be forgotten.

The summer is finally here after a long winter. Hopefully it won’t be over next week. !!!

Barry & Karen Keane