Tag Archives: Jordan

Today would be a good day to be in Petra

Petra makes it on to plenty of lists of places you ‘must see before you die’ and ‘wonders of the world.’ It has appeared in numerous movies and books. It certainly is a beautiful and impressive place. It is somewhere I could easily revisit as I’m sure there is much more to explore. It is an impressive looking place! But as I reflect on it today, I’m also realising that the time I’ve spent there hasn’t really left me with much of a lasting impression of what it means or who it represents.

treasury

What did I love about Petra?

Petra was unknown to the western world until the early 1800s and its not hard to see why. Looking out over the rugged landscape, it is difficult for those of us unused to this kind of region to imagine such a city is to be found hidden in there.

terrain

Petra is sometimes called “The Rose City” due to the colour of the rocks. They are absolutely stunning, whether from far away or close up.

rock-detail

The entrance to the site is through a 1.2km long siq, or narrow gorge. Along it runs the remains of an ancient aqueduct, as well as some carvings such as this worn image of a camel caravan.

camel-sculpture

There is a moment all travellers experience of seeing the impressive Treasury building suddenly come in to view through the narrow chasm of the siq that has a “wow” factor like few other places in the world.

treasury-from-siq

The treasury building (Al-Khazneh) is Petra’s most recognisable image and standing in front of it certainly provokes awe. Interestingly, however, it is basically a façade. There is nothing inside but an empty, uncarved room. My understanding is that rather than a storehouse for treasure as the name suggests, it was a mausoleum, a place to honour the dead.

treasury-close-up

The theatre in Petra is at first glance similar to many Roman theatres I’ve seen elsewhere … until you realise that while they were built using rocks, this was carved out of the existing rocks. I love the idea that like Michelangelo who could see a stunning statue of David in a lump on rock, the Nabateans who built this place could imagine and then create this from the natural material already there.

theatre

What did I learn from Petra?

Each time I have been to Petra I have seen new things – both because I have walked into new corners of the site, and because new parts of the site have been uncovered by archaeologists.

ruins

Amongst the guides I’ve had, there is some debate about whether some of the rock hewn dwellings were houses or tombs, places for the living or for the dead. Either way, the time and skill displayed by these people (without modern tools!) is impressive.

tombs-3

Petra was home to the Nabateans and it remains their primary legacy. Unlike the Romans, whose structures and artefacts are found all over the place, it is really the only thing they are remembered for. For me, however, it seems a somewhat confusing legacy – raising more questions than answers about who they were and what they valued and why they did what they did.

tombs

So like many ancient sites, Petra reminds me that what we leave behind in this world, impressive as it may be, can never capture the complexity of who we are and how we live. That is found only in our relationships and our impact on other people, which cannot be seen in our structures or possessions or bank accounts …

sunsetAs the sun sets over Petra above, as the sun sets at the end of each day, its worth asking the question of how we are investing ourselves in the things that will truly last. Am I working on things that merely look impressive or investing in that which has greater substance and ongoing influence? Because one day the sun will set on my life, and I’m not sure I’d want people to look at what is left behind and think “Looks great, but what does it mean?”

Today would be a good day to be on Mount Nebo

Time for a Monday morning travel post. One of the reasons I love to travel is because I love history. I love hearing the stories of people who have come before, people whose lives and cultures and experiences were in many ways so different from mine today, and yet people who were seeking to engage in life and faith just like I am. I find it inspiring to reflect on whose footsteps I am following in, and what I might learn from their experiences. For me, travel and history are also strongly linked to faith, as I seek to learn from those who have sought to engage with God’s word and God’s world in their own time and place.

Today I’d love to return for a quick visit to a small mountain in Jordan, a mountain which isn’t really all that impressive to look at or from in many ways, but because of who has been there before me, has taken my breath away each time I’ve visited nonetheless.

Memorial sign

What did I love about Mt Nebo?

Mount Nebo is famous because it is the place in the Bible where Moses is taken by God just before he dies, where he looks out over the promised land to the west and beholds something of all the good things that God has in store for his people. (Deut 34:1-4) It surely would have been bittersweet for him, knowing he was not going with them, and yet I’ve found it a place that has a strong sense of hope.

View 2

Apparently on a very clear day you can see Jerusalem: it’s only  40 km away. Today, that short journey can still take quite a few hours, as it requires crossing the land border between Jordan and Israel, which can take quite some time. (Our study group from 2012 could tell you a tale about that!) But to stand so close to so many places from so many Bible stories, looking out at them laid out before you like a map is a reminder of the reality of historical experiences that lies behind the text.

Distances sign

Geographically, the hills and valleys, deserts, rivers and seas of Israel are all before you, waiting to be discovered, evoking all the historical events that have taken place there.

View

The first time I visited was a cloudy, grey day, and the view was very limited. But just as we were looking out towards the Dead Sea, the sun broke through the clouds in a few places. Suddenly spots on the horizon lit up and we felt like we had just a momentary glimpse of the excitement that Moses must have felt in this place.

Sun on sea

 What did I learn from Mt Nebo?

A church from around the 4th century has been excavated on the mountain, showing something of the way followers of Jesus in times past chose to remember and celebrate on this spot. It makes me wonder what they felt here, what they learned here, how God met them here too.

Church

The floor contains a number of well preserved ancient mosaics, testament to their desire to pass on truth and beauty in their own way.

Mosaic

This sculpture on Mt Nebo, combining the images of serpent and cross, portrays the words of Jesus to Nicodemus in John 3:14-15: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” It is a reminder that all the promises connected to the land come together in the person and work of Jesus Christ. That this history finds fulfilment in Him. It is also a reminder to me that people have met Him here in this place, where I too was able to meet with Him … but that I can meet with Him in faith any time, any where.

Snake on pole

 

Learning hospitality from Bedouins … or Today would be a good day to be in Wadi Rum

rocks

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.

landscape

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.

open space

It has a breathtaking beauty in its starkness.

sand hill

The colours of the sand and rocks are incredible in their diversity.

sand colour

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.

Ancient writing carved into rock caves
Ancient writing carved into rock caves

It is a place where the locals live simply, with many things not having changed for thousands of years.

shepherd

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.

Vehicles ancient and modern
Vehicles ancient and modern

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.

tent in desert

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.

rocky desert

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.

bedouin tent

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.

bedouin girl in tent

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.