Travels in Israel: 3rd Advent, Year C, 2012. Finding laughter in Holy places
One of those embarrassing moments took place on the road that travels the steep hill that goes from the Mount of Olives into the Kidron Valley, where the garden of Gethsemane is located. At the entrance to the road, tied to an olive tree, a donkey nibbled contentedly on a patch of grass. The thought briefly passed through my mind that I would like to ride the poor creature down the hill. The thought, mercifully, passed. Later I saw a portly American pastor riding, no bouncing, down the hill. The donkey moved quickly, probably hoping to throw his heavy charge over the side of the hill and get back to nibbling the grass. The poor pastor looked both terrified and bemused. I chuckled to myself and looked away not wishing to embarrass the man. So my warning to you is to resist the temptation of riding the donkey down the hill. If you must, ride the animal up the hill toward the city gates like Jesus, but watch out for the afternoon traffic jam. Better yet, ride a camel.
A day later my dear friend, six feet two inches, 195 pounds and from Barbados, stood to his waist in the Jordan River. Two big white Southern Pentecostal clergy were on either side of him, dunking him the appointed three times backwards into the water. His face glistened in the sun, his white robe covered him, his arms outstretched— he was undoubtedly renewed. I thought, at the time, how much pure trust he had that those two Southern boys wouldn’t drown him.
When the fiery Baptist announces that the “One to come will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire”, maybe what to him was the final judgment was for Jesus an ongoing engagement with life? Jesus turns so many ideas on their heads. Holy Spirit is a dance, a wind that blows over all the creation, the inspiration that comes unexpected and unplanned. It seems to me to participate in the feminine divine, more unconditional, more an opener of opportunities for the good rather than a critic of the bad. “Children need more models than critics”, some wise person said.
At least one contemporary pilgrim could interpret such a baptism as one into a life of lightness and divine laughter. Perhaps the fire he kindles is a white heat that inspires and does not consume, like the burning bush. It is possible that Jesus came to teach us to enjoy being alive and human and to discover laughter in Holy places.