The Jordan River and the Wilderness

Ross Fairweather

Friday, July 9, 2015

Today was all about the Jordan River, baptism and wilderness.

Breakfast was at 7 followed by a small group discussions in which we shared our thoughts on the meaning of baptism and wilderness.

We were back on the bus at 9, and drove 25 minutes east to the Jordan Valley, which meant going through the West Bank checkpoint again. The change of scenery was very dramatic as we left Jerusalem and almost immediately entered the barren topography of the Jordan River Valley as it rapidly descends to the lowest level on earth, some 400 meters below sea level.

There was another checkpoint before entering the baptismal site. We departed the cool air-conditioned bus and made our way down two sets of steps to arrive at the 15’ wide Jordan River which had dirty-brown water. (It was not what I’ve been envisioning all these years, but fortunately we’d been forewarned.) Fr. Mike, the Chaplin, led us in readings and song at the site to prepare us for our reaffirmation of our baptismal vows. We were all prepared with attire appropriate for the baptismal event. I was the first one to go down the six steps to the river; the fifth step was green with algae, so I did not proceed past the sixth one. Fr. Mike used the Jordan River water to renew my baptismal vows as I stood in ankle-deep water. Tears started running down my face as I returned up the steps to let others enter the water. Some pilgrims were braver than me, like Clark McSparren who went all the way into the water. A few others totally immersed themselves by lying down backwards and going all the way under the water. It was also a wonderful opportunity for couples to do this act together.  Fr. Rob and Rev. Lauren blessed each other and prayed together. Later, I overheard Kathi and Jim Sabino saying a dove flew over their heads after they were baptized.

The sign for the Baptismal Site.

The sign for the Baptismal Site.

A chapel at the Baptismal Site.

A chapel at the Baptismal Site.

The group during the reaffirmation of our baptismal vows.

The group during the reaffirmation of our baptismal vows.

The Baptismal Site.

The Baptismal Site.

The steps leading into the Jordan at the Baptismal Site.

The steps leading into the Jordan at the Baptismal Site.

I didn’t want to leave, but it was unbearably hot. We walked up to the landing area and left shortly thereafter for a drive to Jericho. We stopped along the way to see the sycamore fig tree from the story of Zacchaeus from the Gospel of Luke, the perfect setting for our pilgrimage group photo. Did I mention that Course Leader Rodney calls us the Holy Seven and others have called us the Lancaster Seven?

The sycamore fig tree in Jericho.

The sycamore fig tree in Jericho.

The Lancaster Seven at the sycamore fig tree...only three are left in the area.

The Lancaster Seven at the sycamore fig tree of Zacchaeus…only three are left in the area.

Unknown flowers hanging from a tree in Jericho...there is a massive spring in Jericho which has allowed the area to be green and fertile, and to support life in the middle of the desert.

Unknown flowers hanging from a tree in Jericho…there is a massive spring in Jericho which has allowed the area to be green and fertile, and to support life in the middle of the desert.

There is not much going on in Jericho, given that it was the hottest part of the day and the middle of Ramadan. It doesn’t have much tourist traffic and the economic conditions of today have taken a toll on this area. But it’s important in Biblical history as the place where Jesus had dinner at the home of the wealthy tax collector Zacchaeus and convinced him to give some of his money to those who had nothing.

We had lunch at the Al-Rawdah Park Restaurant, where the food served was almost identical to prior days’ luncheons. But today there was no coffee with cardamom; just as well because we ate outside on a covered patio in the heat of midday. A mosque was visible on a hillside in the distance and their loud-speaker system was piping the chanted prayers during the entire meal.

The mosque from the restaurant.

The mosque from the restaurant.

After lunch we went to a gift shop that specialized in hand-blown glass. The proprietor was very helpful and gave us lemonade while others shopped.

From there the bus took us to the Judean Wilderness … to a spot called Wadi Qelt (wadi translates to river bed or valley). Along the way we spotted St. George’s Orthodox Monastery. This 6th century cliff-hanging complex is still inhabited by a few monks.

My idea of wilderness is something like remote areas of Alaska or northern Canada. But this place is totally different. It is a place of austere beauty and an almost deafening silence, with parched-brown hillsides that resemble moguls at ski resorts, John the Baptist had begun his ministry here, and it was the place Jesus was driven by the Spirit to wrestle with Satan and prepare for his ministry. But, after having been there, I cannot imagine how he spent 40 days there!

A tent for the beduins who were selling camel bone necklaces and different scarves.

A tent for the bedouins who were selling camel bone necklaces and different scarves.

A panoramic view of the Judean Wilderness outside Jericho.

A panoramic view of the Judean Wilderness outside Jericho.

The Judean Wilderness.

The Judean Wilderness…

...More Judean Wilderness...

…More Judean Wilderness…below is a video of the Judean Wilderness…notice the silence.

It is Ramadan and it’s Friday, traffic is known to be horrendous. Hence, we arrived back at the College at 3 pm.  We went to a cooking demo with Kathi Sabino and Jim Stewart where Chef Joseph showed us how to make all the dishes for the evening meal: chicken thighs stuffed with barley, yellow rice with assorted spices, parsley salad with tomatoes, freshly cut vegetables baked with seasonings and olive oil, homemade humus and an Egyptian cake (made with semolina, flour, sugar, eggs, coconut and yogurt) topped with syrup (sugar and water). Ninety minutes later we ate all those delicious foods. What a treat.

I plan to go to bed early, because tomorrow (Saturday) we leave at 7:30 am for a 3-day/2-night retreat to the Sea of Galilee, an area considered to be a resort. Bye for now!!

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