Friday, November 15, 2013

Peace flows in the Jordan River

Looks deceive in the Holy Land

Pilgrims gather on both sides of the Jordan River Nov. 15.
(Photo: Agnieszka Krawczynski / The B.C. Catholic)
Today, our tour guide Ben David Tzion voiced something that had been on my mind since I’d first laid eyes on Israel’s landscape.

“For us, every bush is a forest, every stream is a river, and every hill is a mountain,” he said.

That made a lot of sense. We’d scoped out the Mounts by the names of Olives, Nebo, and Moriah, but their height was nothing compared to Grouse, Whistler, and peaks I’m familiar with back home.

Now, we were on our way to see the Jordan River, and Ben David warned us it might be a disappointment. The muddy stream, about six metres wide, was surrounded by pesky flies and took a long drive in the desert to reach. Flowing directly on the border between Israel and Jordan, it was watched from either bank by groups of soldiers.

But it was also the destination of various pilgrim groups, come to immerse themselves in the same waters John baptized Jesus in. While no one could prove this was the exact spot, or even near it, the faithful on both sides of the border still entered the water and left it feeling some spiritual renewal.

A Catholic priest blessed his group near the water, pausing at each gesture for a photo. A Jordanian, trying to climb out of the river, fell back in for a second dose of holy water.

The seemingly insignificant stream was made precious because of its history. Because the Holy Trinity revealed itself at a unique event in this river, multitudes of people would flock to it despite its lowly appearance.

Many other holy sites in Israel are like this. The Via Dolorosa is a pathway tradition claims Jesus took on the way to the cross, but few stations are easy to find.

And what of the soldiers? Standing dressed in full gear with weapons I've seen in movies slung over their shoulders, they chatted with pilgrims, posed for photos, and joked between each other. Their presence here emanated ease and security, not anxiety.

There is peace at the river.
English-speaking pilgrims chat with an Israeli soldier on the river bank.
(Photo: Agnieszka Krawczynski / The B.C. Catholic)

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