I went down to the river to…

By Curtis Ramsey-Lucas

I went down to the river to take pictures. To capture some part of the experience to take home with me. To prove I had come to the Jordan River; that this experience had really happened.

I did not go down to the river to pray.

I was alone with my camera. Early morning. The air was cool and still. The sun was not yet on the water.

Apart from a few birds and some insects, it was mostly quiet, and still.

The water moved gently past the reeds lining the opposite bank of the river. It curled and eddied around the railing that extended into the middle of the river for those entering the water to hold as they descended the steps. It was as if the railing posts were themselves being baptized, but continuously, imperceptibly being worn smooth and away by the water as it washed past.

I removed my shoes and socks. I dipped my hand in at first, like a child testing the water. I stepped in. It was warmer than I had anticipated. I took pictures.

I wondered how close I was to the place where Jesus was actually baptized. Can anyone say? Does it really even matter?

John baptized Jesus somewhere along this stretch of the Jordan and here I was knee deep in it. That was enough for me.

In the distance, a rooster crowed with what seemed an unintended rhythm, all exertion then quiet for a few moments, then beginning again.

I thought of Peter and of Jesus telling him, “the cock will not crow three times this day, until three times you deny that you know me.”

The rooster crowed again. The sun fell on the water on the opposite bank. The rooster crowed once more.

I thought of myself and of how I have denied Jesus in my own life. Those moments when I have failed to give an account for the faith that is in me. Times I have turned away from someone in need though I had the means to help. Not always paying attention to those closest to me. Acting out of anger. Doubting God’s steadfast love and heart for justice. The ways I have been unfaithful to the call and claim of Christ.

I put the camera down. I closed my eyes. I stood still. The water curled and eddied around my ankles imperceptibly wearing me smooth and away as it washed past. I began to pray.

Curtis Ramsey-Lucas, editor of The Christian Citizen, a publication of American Baptist Home Mission Societies, participated in an ecumenical study tour of Jordan’s holy sites.