Crossing over Jordan
Crossing Over Jordan
December 10, 2017
”And Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan River, to be baptized by John.” The Jordan River. When I first visited Israel and saw it, I was disappointed. It’s not much of a river, it’s more like a big creek. But the Jordan River is big in the Bible. The very name evokes deep and long memories, memories that offer us a perspective on Advent.
The river Jordan, which fed the green valley that Lot chose for himself.
The river Jordan, which the Hebrew children crossed from their wandering into the Promised Land.
The river Jordan, where Naaman the leper washed and was healed.
The river Jordan, where Jesus was baptized.
The river Jordan, that river that flows from that ancient land into the heart of those who believe and flows into some of our most beloved hymns:
”When I tread the verge of Jordan,
Bid my anxious fears subside.”
”I looked over Jordan and what did I see
Com’in for the carry me home
A band of angels comin’ after me.
Com’ in for the carry me home.
The river Jordan marks a boundary, a crossing point between two regions of existence–
–between wandering and home
–between sickness and health
–between promise and fulfillment.
–between life and death
When we enter the chilly waters of the Jordan and cross to the other side, we don’t know whether we will make it or not. For we are leaving behind a world that is known for a world that is unknown.
When the Hebrew children crossed into the Promised Land, they didn’t know what was out there in the future. Moses had died. A new leader, Joshua, had come onto the scene. The only thing that had going for them was the words of the One who had led them thus far: “No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not fail you or forsake you.” (Joshua 1:5-6)
The Jordan River is a place of transition, a place that Jungian psychologists call “liminal,” a threshold when we cross from one place in life to another.
My friend, Jungian therapist Murray Stein has written a book about the inevitable transitions that occur in mid-life. When we leave the first half of life and enter the second half of life we enter a period of psychological upheaval and turmoil. All the things we work for and prize in the first half of life–power, possessions, positions, and accomplishments–no longer have the same meaning as they did before. Jung was fond of saying that the program for life’s morning is not adequate for life’s afternoon. In mid-life our psyches cry out for meaning, for depth, for freedom. Murray Stein calls mid-life crisis a time of psychological “liminality,”: liminal being the Latin word for crossing a threshold.
When we are drifting in an unfamiliar territory, as we are in any situation of liminality, new questions press in upon us that we have never asked before. Those new questions always emerge from deeply within us, and they always have something to do with the ultimate meaning of our lives.
Mid-life is only one occasion in life of liminality, of transition, of crossing from one side of Jordan’s banks to the others. When we leave home for college, or leave mom and dad to take the first job, we cross the Jordan. When we marry, when we have our first child, we cross the Jordan. When we move from one city to the other, when we take a new job, when we retire, we cross the Jordan.
One of the riskiest periods for men is the first two years after retirement. There is a higher incidence of mortality in these two years than any other period in a man’s life. As men, our identity is so intertwined in our work, we can’t let go without letting go of something so fundamental that it nearly kills us.
To approach the bank of the Jordan is scary. If we plunge beneath the waters, what will happen to us? Will we make it safely to the other side? And once we get there, what will happen to us?
For those of us who have lived in Chicago, the death of Cardinal Joseph Bernadin was a deeply moving experience. He was a man of rare grace, and exemplified all the characteristics of the beatitudes: gentleness, meekness, humility, purity, and mercy.
”For so may years I’ve tried to help people learn how to live,” Bernadin said in the summer before his death in 1996 as he announced he was dying of cancer,” “Now, perhaps I can teach them how to die.”
I want to read to you just a few excerpts from his memoir, A Gift of Peace, edited just a week before his death.
”A feeling of helplessness came over me in the doctor’s office. I now realize that when I asked my doctor for the test results, I had to let go of everything. Again, God was teaching me just how little control we really have and how important it is to trust in him.”
”One of the things I have noticed about illness is that it draws you inside yourself. When we are ill, we tend to focus on our own pain and suffering. We may feel sorry for ourselves or become depressed. But by focusing on Jesus’s message–that through suffering we empty ourselves and are filled with God’s grace and love–we can begin to think of other people and their needs; we become eager to walk with them in their trials. My decision to discuss my cancer openly and honestly has sent a message that when we are ill, we need not close in on ourselves, or remove ourselves from others. Instead, it is during these times when we need people the most.
”It is the first day of November, and fall is giving way to winter. Soon the trees will lose the vibrant colors of their leaves and snow will cover the ground. The earth will shut down, and people will race to and from their destinations bundled up for warmth. Chicago winters are harsh. It is a time of dying. But we know that spring will soon come with all its new life and wonder. It is quite clear that I will not be alive then. But I will soon experience new life in a different way. Although I do not know what to expect in the afterlife, I do know that just as God has called me to serve him to the best of my ability thoughout my life on earth, he is now calling me home.”
When we come to the banks of the Jordan, we could never muster the courage to enter the water, except for the fact that we hear those words, “As I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not fail you nor forsake you.”
When we come to the Jordan, we know that generations have passed across safely. When we come to the Jordan, we know that its waters have been made sacred because our Lord was baptized there. When we come to the Jordan, and plunge beneath those waters so chilly and cold, we know that we will rise to new life.