We were all sorry to leave behind the Pilgerhaus at Tabgha – such a peaceful, restorative place. Several kind Franciscan nuns from the Philippines staff the gift shop, and they bid us farewell with prayers this morning. We traveled along the Jordan River to the site believed to be the likely place for Jesus’ baptism by John. Renewing our Baptismal promises while standing in the murky water of the Jordan was a powerful experience for our group. This spot on the Jordan is about 15 feet wide, with the country of Jordan just a few feet away from us. Pilgrims were coming down the the steps to the river on the opposite bank. Several groups were singing. As we sang “Shall We Gather at the River,” some other folks came and joined in.
After drying off, we rode to the ancient city of Jericho, where we had a chance to purchase hand blown Hebron glass and Medjool dates (some treats will accompany us home). Lunch in a garden restaurant was lovely; the day was warm and dry (in February, all of you in Seattle!). Then we went to Qumran, to see the site of the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls. We’ll see the replicas of the scrolls later at the Israeli Museum of Antiquities, so for now, we could see the caves from a distance and get a sense of the desert conditions in which the community lived which created and stored scrolls of the books of the Old Testament as well as of their own community’s life (and rather extreme religious practices).
For the rest of the afternoon, most of the group swam (or tried to swim) in the Dead Sea. Cynthia and I, along with others, waded or merely enjoyed the breezes. Our guide Tony told us how to enjoy the mud of the Dead Sea, how it would make us 40 years younger. Who knew that this pilgrimage would also be a spa adventure! Then, on the road to Bethlehem, we stopped to ride camels. One camel was well-behaved but another thought that he might take George back to the Dead Sea.
Now, we’ve gone through the wall to the Casa Nova hotel on Manger Square in Bethelem. No birdsong surrounding us in this city. Now we hear the Muslim call to prayer and traffic out our windows.