It has been a whirlwind of days. Most of the group has been exhausted by the pace and the length of days. With the onslaught of information, experiences, emotional connection and learning curve, we fall into bed at night exhasted (many around 8:30 or 9:00pm) only to be jolted awake by a wake up phone call. This morning that came at 6:15 am.
Jordan was an eyeopener. The scenery, the welcoming of the people (they all greet you with 'welcome, welcome!) and the sites we visited were tantalizing introductions to a place many of us would want to revisit.
In Petra, our accomodation was a hotel built in a renovated stone village. Initially it was a bit tricky for some to find their rooms, but all settled into comfort and the beauty of the place. We visited Petra, a world heritage site, Little Petra, and a Crusader castle, Madaba and Mt. Nebo, before heading into Amman. As we drove from the Gulf of Aqaba north, we followed an ancient route for caravans, through the hills, known as the Kings Highway. The views were spectacular, over the stark barrenness of desert and hills, and we passed Bedouin camps, small farms (very dry, rocky sites the Bedouin raise crops on, marked by stones) and drove through smaller towns.
Why is it significant to have visited these sites, on what is particulary a 'pilgrimage' to 'holy lands?' We ask this question, and as I think about the sites seen in Jordan what I am struck by is the panoramic nature of it all: scenery, landscape, history, human story, and the layers of meaning which merge between landscape, politics, religion, peoples. The story of Petra begins with the Nabateans, but continues with Romans, Byzantine and even modern Bedouin history, and places of worship have been used by all types of religions and styles of worship. Our story as human beings is linked by our common nature, of flesh and blood, as well as spirit. Our story as people of faith is tied together in our shared reverence for our creator, respect for creation, and an awareness that we are not the centre of the universe, but God is. As I entered Petra, in hot sun and through the long Siq, surrounded by cliff face and carvings which have existed for millennia, I found myself transported in time, into another time, culture, and surrounded by the challenges which faced those living in the desert, facing challenges simply for survival most of us can only imagine. Yet imagine, I did, and what came through was the connection we have as humans, in these fragile bodies, life hanging on each heartbeat, each intake and exhale of breath, no matter the time we live in or the challenges we face. The glory of Petra is found in what remains of carved rock face, evidence of a people who cherished life, respected death, reverenced their creator, and found joy, beauty and meaning in living.
Standing in Petra I imagined watching camel trains, loaded with spices and silks arriving. I could hear the boots of the Roman army marching on the roman roadway, and I could see small children running around the marketplace, while grown ups went about their commerce, and daily chores as the centuries passed by. I imagined Moses arriving, with the people of the Exodus, seeking shelter and receiving what was necessary for survival in their journey. Centuries later I saw Magi, enroute from their homes while following a star, seeking sustenance and counsel for the road ahead. And I saw a young family fleeing their homeland, enroute to Egypt, and safety from a King.
It is one thing to read about history, another to breath in the hot, dry, dusty air, to see and smell the camels and donkeys, to hear many languages and accents spoken in a marketplace, to taste food and feel the dust between my toes. This is an immersion which results in my own being taking in the very nature of the place, something which changes my makeup, right down to a cellular level. Some of the shifts taking place (we keep saying "Shift happens") are obvious. Some are more hidden, deeper, and will take time to emerge.
In the midst of it all is a deep gratitude for being able to experience these places, this history, this moment in time that is my life, and to share it with these fellow travellers.