In a brilliant essay in this month's (January 2008) Harper's magazine, my friend Richard Rodriguez wrote an essay from his time in the Holy Land. I've read it several times, and there are various passages that jump out, grab me by the proverbial lapels, and demands me to pay attention for what it says about this fascinatingly mysterious land. Rodriguez writes this of the encounter between John and Jesus, the beginning of Jesus' public pilgrimage, God's literal footstep in our time, our place, our lives:
John the Baptist wrapped himself in camel hide. He wandered the desert and ate the desert--honey and locusts and gray leaves. John preached hellfire and he performed dunking ceremonies in the River Jordan. People came from far and wide to be addressed by the interesting wild man as 'Brood of Vipers.' When watery Jesus approached flaming John and asked for baptism, john recognized Jesus as greater than he. It was as though the desert bowed to the sea. But, in fact, their meeting was an inversion of elements. John said: I baptize only with water. The one who comes after me will baptize with Spirit and fire (Harper's Magazine/January 2008, p. 46).
In the shadow of Epiphany, before the looming reflective period of life called Lent, the intermingling of earthy elements, water and fire, are reflective of the jumble of elements that one feels on pilgrimage...throw in land and wind as well, and, voila! Pilgrimage!