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Down to the river to pray

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Almost 2,000 years ago, John the Baptist baptized a man in the Jordan River who would change the world. I got to walk on the hallowed ground where this miracle occurred at Bethany-Beyond-Jordan. It is easy to picture this event, since the area has the same desert look that it had during the time of Jesus.

I basked in the peacefulness and authenticity of the site as I walked from John the Baptist’s cave to Byzantine church ruins to the actual spot where archeologists have determined Jesus was baptized. It felt like I might see John the Baptist in his desert garbs and wild hair around any corner. Even the wild berries he lived on were hanging from bushes all over the site.

A little down river where baptisms often take place, I had the song “As I went down to the river to pray” playing in my head. I stood for a few moments and soaked up the quiet movement of the wind through the river’s reeds. It almost seemed like the plants were quietly whispering long-remembered secrets.

Later that day, I visited another Biblical site at Mount Nebo. The story of Moses looking over the promised land, but being unable to go because of one mistake always seemed unfair to me. It’s not as if his followers’ faith remained solid as a rock throughout their 40 years in the desert. However, when I actually beheld the view from the top of Mount Nebo, the spectacular site of the Dead Sea and surrounding mountains felt more hopeful and inspiring than anything else.

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