Humble blessings

For the twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost in Year C (Proper 25): the Pharisee and the tax collector are praying at the Temple. One is so self-satisfied that he is blinded by his own glory; he outshines God. One is so self-abased that he has almost lost sight of himself; yet Jesus still sees him.

Be humble, yet let your heart be light,
for God has already lifted the lowly;
the Lord has received the repentant sinner.
God sustains the poor in spirit
and blesses the unrecognized by name.

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Is it safe?

Before travelling to Jordan last week, three of my four near-death experiences had happened in the Holy Lands. Almost thirty years ago, I spent five weeks on a kibbutz in northern Galilee, where I nearly dehydrated, nearly drowned, and once accidentally wandered into the no-man’s land between the Israeli and Lebanese borders. Oops.


Sunset at Mount Nebo, where Moses surveyed the Promised Land before he died.

If you’re going to die (and I’d say there’s a fair chance that each of us will at least once in our lives), there are worse places to do it than on holy ground. Jesus died in Jerusalem; Moses on Mount Nebo; John the Baptist lost his head at Herod’s fortress palace in the hills; Elijah, ever the fiery prophet, skipped the formalities and went straight to heaven

Last week in the Holy Land of Jordan, my fellow pilgrims and I came up with various unfulfilled obituaries for ourselves: killed by a stampede of donkeys in Petra; falling asleep in the Dead Sea and floating into oblivion (or a border patrol boat); falling from the back of a flatbed truck sand-duning through the desert; careening off a cliff in a big bus on the narrow mountain roads to Mukawir …


Donkey acting innocent in Petra

When concerned individuals asked me before I set off whether I would be safe in Jordan, these were not the scenarios they had in mind. I assured them that the situation in this country remains very good, which proved true on the ground. Security is certainly not taken for granted; hotels employ scanners and metal detectors, and screening at the airport is thorough, as it should be. But the atmosphere is not one of fear, but of a determined and firm welcome. And at every destination, there is a Tourism Police kiosk, waiting to offer travellers advice and assistance.

One of our fellow pilgrims, Kerry Connelly, wrote as Jerseygirl, JESUS of her meeting with a Royal Jordanian airlines employee who was harrassed on the streets of New York for calling home, speaking Arabic on her cell phone. She didn’t even dare wear her hijab.

So define safe.

Mukawir bus.JPG

Big bus on small mountain road, with driver

The people of Jordan we met know that their practice of peaceful living is at odds with the world around them. They believe, oddly enough, that the best solution would be for others to adopt the habit of living together peacefully as brothers and sisters, rather than for them to become more suspicious and isolated from one another. Their passion for a way of life that promotes hospitality over self-involvement and peace over power is one worth protecting, and promoting.

As for me, despite flights of fancy and our unwritten obituaries, the only morsel of fear I tasted on this new journey to the Holy Land happened in the capital city of Amman, at rush hour on a Sunday afternoon (which equates to Monday in a major city in America). Crossing the crowded street, even ten feet away from the traffic police, felt like an exercise in faith. But the overwhelming ethos here is of welcome; I trusted that the Jordanians around me would not run over their guest, and my faith was rewarded with safe passage to the other side.

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On returning from a pilgrimage 

Between my hands, wheat and water;
bread, flat and pale. In its grain
I read the story of hands
breaking bread beside a river;
light lifts the surface of the water;
between fragments, for a moment,
I can see the God

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Remembering our baptism

Standing in the River Jordan, my stole trailed its fringe in the slow, brown water, soaking up history, capillary blessings.14711211_10205662118712664_4416248752664396310_o

Seven of us waded into the water together, on wooden steps made to lower us gently down. We renewed our baptismal vows in the river where John baptized Jesus, and the heavens opened, the Spirit descending, the voice of God speaking from a cloudless sky.

I chose the stole because it connected me back to the blessing of my own ordination; it was made and worn by a friend, a trailblazer, who had preached for me that night. I wore it to remember that I did not come here alone, nor of my own making, nor under my own flag.

dsc05232Was it a coincidence that my fellow presbyter, Fr Tim, who celebrated our Eucharist, also had chosen the stole of one who had blazed a trail for him, for social justice, embodying for him the promises of the covenant?

The will to remember, to connect, to reach beyond our small group of pilgrims was, it seems, a vital response to the call of the river in that sacred place.

As we walked back to the bus, our feet quickly drying in the deep Jordanian heat, some talked about the holiness of water itself, blessed by the Spirit of God at the beginning of creation, cycling through its stages of existence ever since.

The watebaptism1r in which we blessed ourselves that day both was and was not the same water that Jesus received from John; breaking the surface to see once more the Spirit brooding over the waters, descending like a dove. The prayers and promises which we spoke, the bread which we broke, in kind, both was and was not the same Sacrament that Jesus celebrated.

The air of sanctity which we borrowed from that place, its history and its vocation, breathed beyond ourselves, beyond our stoles and those who let us wear them, beyond our imaginations.

As we all embraced on the slippery steps, laughing with the sheer sacredness of it all, we knew ourselves, our own small space in God’s canvas of creation, well blessed and beloved.


The Episcopal pilgrims of the Jordan Tourism Board Religious Media & Bloggers tour of #HolyJordan: Rosalind Hughes, Hannah Wilder, Heidi Schott, Tim Schenck, Neva Rae Fox, Joe Thoma, Lynette Wilson


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The Lost City of Petra


In Petra, beyond fhe red sands and wild dogs
beyond the edifice, extravagant ruins
tombs and treasures of the dead
beyond the colonnaded avenues

beyond the steps worn smooth
choreographed by Bedouin and pilgrim feet
donkeys and tourists, each
selling their wares in their own way

beyond the end of the world
there was silence

broken only by goats
running down the precipitous mountainside



This visit to #HolyJordan was sponsored by the Jordan Tourism Board and Royal Jordanian Airlines


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Persistent blessings

If you are following Track 2, you may be interested in the experience of Jacob, who wrestled a blessing from God:

May your prayers be heard without harm, 

   and the intercession of your heart received with gentleness.

Otherwise, from the parable of the persistent widow and her struggle for justice:

May justice be your prayer, and mercy its answer.

And the blessing of the almighty God, Judge and Advocate be with you, now and always.

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On pilgrimage

This gallery contains 20 photos.

This is a place of revelation. Continue reading

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