What madness makes people give up their lives for their faith?
Maybe it’s because of the Jordan River.
That’s the best I’ve got right now, anyway. Having just spent two days in Amman, in the company of people whose lives have been uprooted and decimated because of their unwillingness to surrender their faith (and realizing that by comparison I should have a one-way ticket straight to hell), I can’t stop thinking about it: Why do these fine, normal people—people who have regular jobs, cars, cable, and favorite sports teams, just like me—choose, when pushed, to give it all up for their faith?
What would you do? I hope and pray I would do the right thing, but I’m a sinner; who knows?
I had never seen the Jordan River, and to be honest I didn’t think seeing the spot where Jesus was baptized would really affect me, but it did. As we walked along the path that led to Christ’s baptimal site, tears started to well up in my eyes.
Being a dude I had to fight with every fiber of my being to keep it together, lest the press-and-blogger corps in my company should think me a big softy.
It was overwhelming. Not happy, not sad, simply more than I could easily process: Jesus Christ, man-and-God had stood right there, where I was looking; John and he had an odd conversation, and then John baptized him. And then the sky opened up, and God the Father spoke and the Holy Spirit appeared.
Right there, where I was standing. It was real. And I could feel it.
Suddenly, everything about the beginning of Jesus’ ministry on earth clicked, and I mean clicked, like a photo frame coming into focus. Suddenly I could see where John had come through the desert, because I had been traveling it myself. For the very first time in my life, my faith had become tangible. Not only could I see the places and walk on the same dirt that Jesus trod (the very same dirt), but I could feel God’s presence in a way that I never have before.
Holy Land. It was like the dusty air I was breathing was filled with the Holy Spirit.
As we journalists collected ourselves and headed off to lunch, it dawned on me. I suddenly knew why the Christian refugees that we had met in Amman had done as they did. They had known their faith with this kind of dust-and-intimacy. They had experienced what I had just experienced in a way that cuts through to what is real, and forever, and away from what is ultimately just a distraction from that reality: jobs, cars, sports teams.
Coming to Jordan, especially the experience of standing at the pool where Jesus was baptized and becoming acquainted with that sense of holy reality, I begin—only begin—to understand why people are willing to die, willing to be displaced, for Christ’s sake. Except through the Mass, we Americans and Europeans do not have this daily interface with the Divine. We don’t get to experience this surrounding reality, and our faith is maybe the weaker for it.
It becomes real, in an entirely different way, when you walk the same desert roads that Jesus had with Peter and the disciples; it becomes real when you put your feet into the water of the Jordan and realize who was there before you; it becomes real when someone puts a gun to your head and tells you to renounce your faith.
Don’t misunderstand, it’s not that we can’t or don’t experience this reality in other ways—the witness of the saints tells us we can—but this experience is different. It is singular. It has changed me forever.
This might sound strange, but the refugees I met were a gift to me. I’ve read about their plights and followed from afar, but I never really got it. Now, I know.
They are a visible sign of God’s Love for us and their love for God … you don’t ever walk away from who you love. They are living proof of faith and love is reality and relationship.
We might need the refugees more than they need us, I think. They need material aid, and to be returned to their home, and if we do nothing else we need to pray like saints for God to come to their aid; we need to speak truth to power, that those in charge cannot ignore their plight.
Mother Teresa talked about material poverty, but she said spiritual poverty was even worse. We in the comfortable West have the things that these refugees “need,” but they have the one thing, the only thing that really matters: a loving relationship with Jesus Christ—so complete and so powerful that they are willing to sacrifice everything to be faithful to him. We all need that richness and that comfort.
I write this from the banks of the Jordan, humbled and changed. If it’s not because of the Jordan, then it’s because of what happened in the Jordan; either way, everything is different.
If you can get to Jordan, you should. Actually, if you can’t get to the Jordan, find a way—you’ll be changed forever.