Monday morning and I’m back into routine, but today I’m thinking about a place about as far away as possible, in the middle of the Jordanian desert. Most tourists to Jordan visit Wadi Rum for a day, zooming through the wilderness in the back of a jeep, and I’ve done so twice in the last few years. It’s a place made famous not only because the Hollywood movie Lawrence of Arabia was filmed here, but because it is the real place British army officer T E Lawrence spent time during World War I. It’s also in the vicinity of where the Israelites travelled from Sinai to the Promised Land, and perhaps one of the easier places to imagine the kind of landscape they experienced during their wilderness wanderings.
What did I love about Wadi Rum?
Wadi Rum is a place of wide open spaces. The sandy desert is surrounded by majestic rock formations, giving a sense of being cut off from the rest of the world.
It has a breathtaking beauty in its starkness.
The colours of the sand and rocks are incredible in their diversity.
It is easy to imagine the past in a place like this, particularly as reminders of those who came before and their way of life are all around.
It is a place where the locals live simply, with many things not having changed for thousands of years.
What did I learn from Wadi Rum?
The local Bedouins welcome visitors to the area, and share something of the life they and their forebears have enjoyed in this place for centuries.
The key practice of the Bedouins that is demonstrated with simplicity and clarity is hospitality. The welcome of the stranger as a friend, the invitation to share, making what they have available with open hands.
The Bedouin honour code requires even enemies to be provided with food and shelter for three days. In such a harsh place, where survival is on the line, generosity and hospitality are shown in ways not so common in places where we have so much. Too often we think hospitality is about putting a good ‘show’ rather than genuinely inviting people to share what we have as they have need.
The Old Testament was written in this part of the world, and one of its pervasive underlying metaphors is of God as our host. The God who invites His people to eat at His table, to shelter in His dwelling place, to share His home, and to find protection in His blessing. We can miss the power of this picture if we miss the importance of hospitality to the original cultural context.
The people we met in Wadi Rum taught and reminded us of the great gift of hospitality, a gift which is not dependent on appearances, resources or wealth, but on a generous heart and a willingness to invite someone into our lives, treating them not as an alien or stranger, but a friend and neighbour.
They showed me again a picture of the love God has for me as He invites me into His family, and the love He calls me to show to my neighbours, strangers and even enemies.