There are a lot of things you can learn, being 'on the ground'. On the ground in the Jordan river valley, you learn about the danger of being in a valley, vs the safety of being in the hills. You learn about dust and sand and being thirsty. You learn about history, some sad, much of it heroic, some, just plain human, in the seeking of power, and the 'lenses' we can wear that change our perspective.
Being by the dead sea, one cannot help but be inspired by the story of survival for any who lived in this area. The salt sea creates its own climate, it seems to me. Hot, dry, and the salt makes you notice your need for water. Being below sea level, on the lowest spot on earth, your body is holding more oxygen in your blood, sort of like being in a hyperbaric chamber. There is the possibility of healing, from the sea itself, and there is also the possibility of death from the severe challenges of the atmosphere you are in.
The lake sparkles blue from a distance, and beckons with a promise of refreshment. I didn't notice the lack of green by the water until the expanse of taupe became tiring. Everything is brown, the hills, the lakeshore, even the sky above has a haze to it. Visiting the ruins of Masada, I was impressed by the ruggedness of the site, the sheer hutzpa needed by any who decided to live in this isolated place. Herod must truly have been paranoid to build all the places of refuge that he did. Masada's location and luxury points to his character, if none of his other palaces and fortresses do. The mixture of history, from Herods time to later years when Masada was a place of refuge from Romans by Jewish refugees is tied to a story of heroics and a national morality tale for the state of Israel which both inspires and chills at the same time. The story tells of the decision of 1000 to commit suicide rather than be captured by the Romans. It is a story which speaks to national pride, and inspires patriotism. Whether the story told is actually true is another question. Why would the Romans spend all that time and energy building a ramp, then take a night off, just as they have breached the walls? Listening to the story of Masada leaves one with many questions, and much to mull over.
Qumran, where a desert community sought purity through lives of 'right worship' is another story. Their heritage, given to us through the discovery of the dead sea scrolls less than 100 years ago, is priceless. Religious zeal and trying political times in this challenging landscape are a potent mix. Again, their story is both sad and heroic, a mixture of deep faith and fervent zeal.
Both at Masada and Qumran I wondered about fundamentalism, both religious and political, about leaders who seek to control others, and the teaching of some that God demands sacrifice, even pain, for sanctification.