Jordan is one of the three poorest countries in the world in terms of water sources. Brown is the prevailing color of the landscape, in more shades than Crayola ever imagined.
Yet traveling throughout this nation is a beautiful experience. It is sparse at times; it can even look foreboding. Only a few kilometers from the Jordan River, for example, the sun beats down upon you, flies buzz ceaselessly in pursuit of your last nerve, and you would give your kingdom for a cold glass of water.
The Jordan River, of course, is where Jesus was baptized by John, on the east bank in Bethany Beyond the Jordan. Today pilgrims flock to this landmark and, in doing so, learn that the site of the actual rite is now dry. Though the river still flows, its course has changed and it looks more like a creek than a major aquatic artery.
But the visit is far from disappointing. What it might lack in liquid, it makes up for in dirt and reeds and thistle and brush and a physical reminder of what “wilderness” means now and must have meant in Jesus’ time.
For John and those he baptized, getting to the river had to have been a chore. Merely walking along the dirt path was challenge enough for me and my fellow travelers! (And we were in sturdy shoes, with the promise of an air-conditioned bus in our future. )
The strength of their faith was all John’s contemporaries had to keep them going. Imagine his surprise when Jesus joined those, literally, unwashed masses!
The word “surprise” might be the word that best describes my first three days in Jordan.
For example, even though the baptism site didn’t move me emotionally as I had expected, it did move me to think of the harsh lifestyle John faced, scrounging for honey and locusts and crouching in caves to pray, rest and stay somewhat out of the elements.
When we left Bethany Beyond the Jordan, we drove to Madaba through the Plains of Moab. Beautiful in their austerity, the plains rolled along seemingly without end. The expansiveness of it all was mesmerizing as I shot photo after photo through the window.
Had I been on foot (or aboard a donkey or camel), on the other hand, the unbroken landscape before me would have felt daunting — if not utterly terrifying!
How did our fathers in faith do it?
I guess they just kept moving and praying. They trusted in God’s faithfulness and providence and, as they traveled, they were open to surprise.
I will remain open to surprise as this week in Jordan continues. And I hope we’ll all remain open to surprise in our hearts as our journey of faith continues.