Saturday, February 09, 2019

Of rocks and rivers #pilgrimage8

From Jerusalem to Galillee.
I had expected this to be the highlight of the pilgrimage, depending less on the competing claims of rival sites, their shape and identity almost overwhelmed by the passage of time, more on the unchanging landscapes that would have been familiar to that little group that had gathered around  the man from Nazareth two millennia past.
The utter hostility of the wilderness at Wadi Qelt took me straight into those Godly Play stories I'd told so often.
"The wilderness is a dangerous place. People can die there. You do not go into the wilderness unless you have to."
What was he thinking of, that man going down from Jerusalem to Jericho? He was clearly asking for trouble. Small wonder that trouble arrived, and that priest and Levitt alike felt powerless to help him. This was not the landscape for human kindness, though it has made an impact on my heart and mind which will, I suspect, last a lifetime. It was, too, a landscape that seemed to include a familiar friend, - the smaller sibling of the lump of rock from which our font at the Cathedral was carved. Seeing it in situ here, it seemed quite incredible that anyone had ever thought of taking something from this grim landscape, transporting it over thousands of miles to become the place of new beginnings, where the journey of faith starts at baptism. On this day of all days, it had special resonance.

Via Jericho, we travelled on to the Jordan, a river with "more history than water"...travelling on a road through residual minefields to the possible site of Christ's baptism. It was utterly extraordinary to arrive there as the western Church celebrated the Baptism of Christ, and this serendipity more than compensated for the muddy waters, the soldiers whom we could see on guard on the Jordanian bank, thee sheer ordinariness of the place. Of course, rivers change all the time; this was absolutely not the water into which Christ stepped, though the reed- lined banks were probably not much changed. It seemed, though, more a matter of good manners than personal engagement to renew our own baptismal bows, to have Christ's cross traced on hands or forehead...until one of our group went into the water, scooping it up and pouring it over his head, as I'd seen pilgrims do in India's sacred rivers.

Suddenly it was all real. That act of personal commitment in a place surrounded by threats both hidden and visible had no glamour, and none of the sense of seep mystery that had engaged us at the holy places in Jerusalem. This was immediate, as startling as cold water in the face. We are called to be faithful in spite of weariness, disengagement, even fear. We don't need, though, to do anything...simply to be in that place where we are ready to hear our Father's voice, and then to press on with the journey.

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