I came on pilgrimage to the Holy Land to walk in the footsteps of Jesus along the shores of the Sea of Galilee, to pray beneath ancient olive trees in the Garden of Gethsemane, and more fully experience the Holy Spirit in my life. The Gospel of Mark 1:9-11 recounts that “in those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove upon him.”
On the twelfth day of this pilgrimage we crossed over to Bethany beyond the Jordan, to a site five miles north of the Dead Sea, where since the 5th century five Christian churches have affirmed as the site of Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist. Given my disappointing experience of baptism at the age of thirteen, when I first professed my belief, I approached this second baptism without expectations, prepared to accept whatever the Holy Spirit had to offer me.
I changed into shorts and a t-shirt at the riverside changing room and made my way across the muddy shore towards the steps which led down into the flowing river’s muddy depths and bulrushes. The river was warm as I prayed silently and immersed myself neck deep in its waters. At the prompting of the Spirit I slipped quickly into full immersion while reciting the traditional baptismal formula in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
Rising up from the waters it seemed to me as if the heavens opened and the Spirit of God descended upon me like a dove. God seemed well pleased. At the age of 61 I was ready to open myself to divine mystery in a way that I never was at 13. The spirit moved in me and through me. I rose from the river with elation, prepared to continue on with my journey, yet knowing the love of God in my heart. Reason enough to have come here on pilgrimage after all.