Which river did they pick, I wonder? The thought occurred today, as we celebrate a seminal moment in the life of the early church – the feast of the conversion of St. Paul.
We heard the broad outline of the story in the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles. In this telling – from the 22nd chapter of Acts – a holy man named Ananias encourages Paul to seize the moment, right there in Damascus:
Now, why delay?
Get up and have yourself baptized and your sins washed away,
calling upon [Jesus’] name.
That little tidbit made me wonder: Does the Jordan (the river in which Jesus himself was baptized) run anywhere near Damascus?
It turns out, the answer is “no.” But Paul and his companions wouldn’t have had to go far to find a suitable stream. According to a site called Life In The Holyland,
The beauty and fertility of the surroundings of Damascus are chiefly due to the abundance of water, this greatest of blessings in a sandy and rocky desert, and fit symbol of life and regeneration. Naaman of old very naturally thought the rivers of Damascus, Abana (or Amana) and Pharpar, far better than all the waters of Israel (2 Kings v. 12).
So which river was it, the Abana or the Pharpar?
This detail doesn’t really matter, I suppose. But I bet St. Paul could tell you. I bet he’d remember the precise spot where he entered into new life, in Christ, that day.
An ordinary stream becomes an extraordinary blessing.
That’s part of how the sacraments work in our lives, don’t you think? God chooses the regular, everyday stuff we encounter – water…bread…wine – to reveal God’s presence in the world. Right there, beside us. So subtle that we might actually miss it if we don’t slow down and pay attention.
Which river, then?
It starts to count a bit more I guess…when we, like Paul, decide it’s time to wade in.
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy & Merciful One.