It’s been twenty-nine years since I was in the Holy Land. My memories have become like a photograph album full of moments in time, frozen in stasis, many frayed at the edges or fading. There are a few that stand out and still have the power to make me shiver. I do not believe (I hope) that I will never forget standing at the Wall of the Temple praying, laying hands on stones that seemed to come alive beneath my palms, breathe with the prayers of millennia, the prayers of so many spiritual ancestors, the prayers even of Jesus …
I had a bit of a moment yesterday, considering the journey to Jordan. You see, nearly three decades later, I am travelling to see things from the other side of the river. By the kind invitation of the Jordan Tourism Board and Royal Jordanian airlines, a group of twenty-eight religious media types, and even the occasional blogger like myself, will visit “the Other Holy Land,” as the tagline goes. The other Episcopalians in the group and myself have met online. We have talked about our itinerary, whom we will meet, what we will see. I am intrigued to see the scene of the Legion, the deliverance of the Gerasene demoniac and the stampeded of swine. I am in awe of the fact that I will see Petra, which I have wondered about since I learned as a child of the “seven wonders of the world.”
We have talked about our visit to the site of John the Baptist’s ministry in the Bethany Beyond the Jordan; the site (perhaps) of Jesus’ baptism. That’s what gave me pause yesterday. We plan to renew our baptismal covenant in the waters that flow through the pages of my Bible. One of my Episcopal colleagues, Fr Tim Schenck (of Lent Madness fame), is bringing the wherewithal to celebrate the Eucharist.
When I last looked out across these waters, I was a student of Theology in a church and a system that had yet to admit that a woman may become a priest. (A woman is the Chaplain of my old college, which for some of us is something of a miracle.)
I have packed the stole that was handed down to me, and made by the hand of, my own dear friend and ordination preacher, Nancy Wittig, one of the Philadelphia Eleven, groundbreakers for women’s ordination in this church. It may seem superfluous, but since when did we decide to become ordinary?
When I last looked out across these waters, it was from the other side of geography, and history, and years, and tears, so many births, deaths, moments and memories.
There was a currency, a current that ran through the stones of that other holy city, that turned my bones to water, baptized me from within, that ran through me to ground, to the very source of my being, that confirmed me in faith and wonder.
I do not expect the same to happen in the River; I dare not place such a challenge before God, whose currents run swift and deep, sometimes dangerous, often unseen. But I do challenge myself, to remember. To remember my faith, my call, my God who creates such wonder; such wonder; washed in the waters of baptism; set loose in the wilderness