Archive for January 2012
One of the exciting things about travel is posing for those long anticipated “bucket list” photographs. You know, the one’s you had in mind from the time you first imagined the trip. This tour was full with such “Kodachrome” moments and Jerusalem Day Two was no exception.
The Old City from the Mount of Olives is, of course, a classic image. Typically the shot is taken with a baking hot sun reflecting from the white buildings and the golden dome on the Temple Mount shimmering.
This day was cold, wet and breezy – but the city shimmered anyway. So we got out of the bus, wrapped our jackets tight (it was the last time they’d be dry until we returned to the hotel) and took in the amazing panorama. It’s easy to see the outline of the temple renovations Herod completed in 19 BC. So we wiped the rain from our lenses and tried to capture both the view and the emotions before making our way down to the Garden of Gethsemane.
GARDEN: In Gethsemane a collection of gnarled ancient olive trees, some dating back to the time of Christ, reside in a walled garden adjacent to The Church of All Nations, also known as The Basilica of The Agony. The trees stand as silent sentinel to Christ’s deliberate choice to love me beyond reason and beyond even hope. When I reached through the fence and touched the bark I imagined I sensed a lingering resonance, an echo of the imprint of the physical presence of Jesus. Or maybe it wasn’t my imagination at all.
They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.” Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 14:32-36)
Inside the basilica we found ourselves in a place of haunting beauty. The church is ornate in design, with elaborate paint and tile work. But it doesn’t feature the gaudy bangles and hanging decorations so often found in the region. In consequence I found myself – naturally and gratefully – in a contemplative frame of mind.
I needed much more than the scant half hour or so to thoroughly engage the meaning and the emotional impact of Gethsemane, and so I left the church reluctantly, bound for our next destination but still, spiritually, in The Garden with Jesus.
And I wondered to myself as I boarded the bus, “Would we crucify Him today?”
And the answer was a hesitant but honest, “YES.” And I’m sure that the most pointed resistance to Christ’s challenging message would begin in the church that bears his name.
We saw a lot more that day, but this morning I can’t break myself away:
- I can’t break myself away from the Mount of Olives.
- I can’t disengage from the memory of those ancient trees.
- I can’t wrap my mind around the dishonor we do to the Spirit of Christ whenever we try to use the name of Jesus to advance our own, more cynical, agendas.
- I can’t believe anyone would dare to manipulate this Jesus to advance their brand of politics.
“Enough!” Jesus said. “The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!” (Mark 14:41-42)
And we betray Jesus still….
This is what the LORD says: “I will return to Zion and dwell in Jerusalem. Then Jerusalem will be called the Faithful City, and the mountain of the LORD Almighty will be called the Holy Mountain.” – Zechariah 8:3
Our group arrived in Jerusalem at just the right time. We followed Moses from Egypt, through Sinai and to the Promised Land; then we walked with Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem. The thrust of the biblical narrative brings everything to a head in Jerusalem.
After Jerusalem, the New Testament suggests, the rest of the story is pretty much up to us. But we have to be willing to go to Jerusalem first. It was imperative for Jesus; it was pivotal for us.
We were tired, no surprise. So Rebekah and I were beyond grateful that our room for the next three nights turned out to be a significant upgrade. We got off the elevator, rolled our luggage to the appropriate room number, and then were a little confused to find the words “The Brown Suite” by the elegant entrance.
Rebekah went in first. This is our actual dialogue:
- Rebekah: “Derek… I think there’s been a mix-up.”
- Me: “Is there something wrong with our room?”
- Rebekah: “The opposite. Come take a look. They gave us a suite by mistake!”
So I followed her in and checked the place out. Sure enough, we had a luxurious suite with a sitting room, an office area and a palatial bath. There was a box of chocolates on the desk and a presentation gift basket of “Dead Sea Minerals” products.
- Rebekah: “What if someone finds out they goofed and they kick us out? We have to keep this quiet.”
- Me: “Quick, let’s eat the chocolates!”
The next day a beautiful arrangement of flowers showed up. Later, when I tried to pay for Internet access I was rebuffed with, “Room 542? Let me see… No charge at all, sir.” Talk about a serendipity. All I’ve got to say is – along with the business class ride on Egypt Air – it’s a good thing Rebekah and I don’t buy into the whole slippery slope of “God’s favor” theology. This would have pretty much launched us over the edge!
WESTERN WALL: Just one “Old City” story for today. Tomorrow we’ll visit Bethlehem and talk about Palestine.
Some of you may remember my trip to Assisi in November. It’s one of those “Thin Places” (Check out “A Thin Place Named Assisi”). I lit a candle in Assisi for my brother, Geoff, and brought back a carving of St. Francis for him. Well, as I walked down to the “Wailing Wall” I thought about the gravitas the place holds as a place of prayer, and my brother came to mind.
The Western Wall is an especially holy place for the Jewish community because it’s a part of the structure – stone upon stone – from the Temple before Jerusalem was destroyed in AD 70. This is as close to the ancient “Holy of Holies” as 21st Century Judaism can come.
Holy, Holy, Holy: So I approached the Western Wall with reverence, and I did the following three things:
- I wrote a simple prayer on behalf of my brother, rolled it up, and located it carefully in the wall.
- I borrowed a yamaka - יאַרמלקע - and prayed for Geoff with my hand on the wall, over the prayer.
- I placed my own hat over the yamaka and “borrowed” the yamaka permanently, so that I could give it to my brother along with the story.
Just like Assisi, this was a powerful moment. There is something special about these direct, physical connections to the eternal. Like the woman in the crowd who touched the hem of the garment Jesus was wearing, I too have been connected to grace.
It is the story of faith; it is the story of hope; it is the Greatest Story Ever Told.
Peace… Promise… and healing – DEREK
PS: You can visit my facebook page (friend me) to see a set of photographs to go with this story…
From Nazareth we travelled to the ancient site of Megiddo. Megiddo is in the valley of Har Meggido, or (Anglicized) “Armageddon,” the site of several historical battles.
The dig has revealed 29 layers, representing 29 civilizations, and the site is a textbook example for the state of the art of archeology. People lived at Megiddo from approximately 7000 BC to 586 BC. It has remained uninhabited since the time of the Jewish exile to Babylon.
Our next destination was Mount Carmel, site of the famous “dueling prophets” story where Elijah taunted, defeated and destroyed the prophets of Baal.
It rained, the wind blew, the sun came out, the temperature dropped, and then it rained some more. The mountain makes for a spectacular setting, and it is easy to imagine the theatrical tone of the pivotal confrontation. I have always liked Elijah for his honesty, his hesitancy, and eventually his great courage. God was so patient with him, even when he felt sorry for himself and did his best to avoid taking God at his word.
DEREK channeling PAUL: Finally, and with the wind blowing hard off the Mediterranean Sea, we spent the afternoon at Caesarea Maritima, stopping briefly at the Roman aqueduct before spending an hour or so clambering around the amphitheater, the circus, and the ruins of the amazing palace the Roman governor occupied, right on the shore.
Back in Egypt, when Dr. Tuttle was assigning meditations to his students, he asked me to share something with the group when we came to Caesarea. It was here that Paul offered his defense of the Gospel to Governor Festus and King Agrippa.
Standing in the ancient amphitheater to speak, with the deep blue of the Mediterranean behind me and the towering clouds billowing, the scene struck me as surreal. I could feel the gravitational pull of history, the insistency of Paul’s commitment to the Gospel, and my own constant search for the right words at the right time tugging at my spirit.
THIS IS WHAT I SAID: ”Before reading the scripture from Acts 26, I’m going to offer a little background from the great drama that plays out over the preceding chapters:
- Paul’s message hits too close to home in Jerusalem. The religious authorities decide to clamp down.
- The Romans don’t want to see a citizen lynched, so they take Paul into protective custody, right here in Caesarea.
- Governor Felix is pressured by the Jews but eventually passes the buck to the new guy, Festus.
- Festus wants to make a good impression with Herod Agrippa. So the two of them get together and ask Paul to explain himself before passing him further up the food chain via an E.O. (the group we were traveling with) “eastern Med.” cruise to Rome.
- Paul gives Agrippa and anyone else listening his best “15-minutes of Jesus…”
- Festus tells Paul he’s crazy, but Agrippa is intrigued and challenged; “Almost persuaded” according to one translation.
Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to become a Christian?” Agrippa said. ”Short time or long,” Paul shot back, “I pray God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what i am, except for these chains…” (Acts 26:28-29)
“So yesterday, just before last light, I walked on the shore of the Sea of Galilee to think about this passage and to skim some stones. And here’s what I’m thinking – as a writer, as a journalist, and as a passionate follower of the Way of Jesus.
“We meet people like Festus and Agrippa every day. We work alongside them, worship together, live in the same house, share the highway, stand in line at the store, volunteer with the P.T.A…. And I’m wondering what kind of story my life tells them?
“Does my life tell a story of love and clarity and light? How persuasive is the narrative? Do the twists and turns of the plot-line support – or call into question – the foundational premise of the Good News? Does my life story articulate with eloquence how startlingly wonderful it is to know and to love Jesus?
“I thought about all of this, down by the Sea of Galilee, and I came to the conclusion that what Jesus wants is this: Jesus wants us to tell the truth about the love of God… simply by being.
“To tell the truth about the Gospel of Love, simply by being.
“Paul stood here – in this place – at the crossroads of history, and what he said was supported by the authority of a life lived as if everything Jesus promises is true. And it reminds me of something Paul wrote – later – to his friends in Philippi:
Shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the Word of Life. That way I can boast on the Day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing.
“I have this image of Paul, standing right here, holding out the Word of Life to Agrippa, and to Festus, and to anyone else listening. And here we are, January 11, 2012. Is the world we live in persuaded at all that what we’re holding out to them is the real thing?
“So yesterday – just before the last of the light slipped behind the hills – I walked out on the shore of the Sea of Galilee to think about this scripture and to skim some stones on the water… and I wondered how far the ripples might travel…?”
I’ve got to tell you, speaking right there, in that setting and in the shadow of Paul, now that was something to remember - DEREK
If you read this blog on a regular basis (not just these travel features) then you know that I tend to write about what’s going on in the here and now. This is, after all, my “Life-Charged Life: a journal of living like we mean it.”
So I really can’t skip the fact that I had my first ever root-canal yesterday. Long story short I woke up December 30 with the most excruciating tooth-ache I’ve ever experienced in my life. It was a Friday morning, and by the time I realized I needed help there was no way to see a dentist until Tuesday morning (it was New Year’s weekend). So, Saturday morning, I went to the Walk-In clinic.
- “We’re not a dentist’s office,” they said. “See your dentist Tuesday.”
- “I’ll be in Egypt by Tuesday,” I said.
So I talked them into a course of antibiotics and some big pain pills and headed off to the Holy Lands with a throbbing abscess under my lower-left molar. Ouch.
PAIN: Our trip was, as I’ve been saying continually, amazing. But the first week, and certainly until the anti-biotic got the infection under control, involved a huge amount of pain. But the fact of it, rather than spoiling the adventure, essentially heightened my awareness of the humanity we encountered.
I became pointedly aware of the absence of routine care in many of the places we visited. And I couldn’t help but note the ubiquity of day-to-day suffering, and the unremitting challenge of being human in a world struggling to get just a toe-hold on a quality of life I take for granted.
Leaving The Galilee: And so back to the Great Adventure narrative. Our first stop when we left the Sea of Galilee was a walk in “The Valley of the Doves.” The footpath we hiked was the ancient pathway from Nazareth to Capernaum and beyond.
I like to joke that we “Walked where Jesus walked but didn’t sleep where he slept…” But it’s no joke at all to realize that you are literally retracing the exact path the Lord must have followed countless times. I closed my eyes tight, listened to my footfall, and tried to imagine Christ’s companionship on an all-day hike up to Nazareth.
Nazareth: We didn’t spend any time in the city itself, but instead made our way to “The Precipice” on the edge of the town. That’s where the picture that opens this post was taken. Look closely and you can see the rock I’m perched on. Beyond is the valley. The drop is precipitous. I wondered what it might have felt like to be dragged and hustled to that point by an angry mob; your life held in the balance because you dared to talk about the truth in your own home-town.
He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read… “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”… “Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown.” … All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.
As I stood there, overlooking the fertile plain, a jolt of pain shot from my jaw through my entire body. It may have been the cold wind working on the abscess and it may have been an urgent jab from the Holy Spirit. I couldn’t help but think about the solid humanity of Jesus and about how he voluntarily placed himself, bodily, between me and the consequences of my rebellion against Love.
Jesus was doubtless roughed up on his way to this precipice. But he allowed himself to be treated thus. Jesus loved each member of that mob and he loved with the same passion and pain that he feels for me. And he always refused to anesthetize himself against the consequences of such love.
Jesus refused to anesthetize himself against the consequences of love.
EPIPHANY: Wow. That thought is a real epiphany. It must be time to stop writing and pray:
Jesus refused to anesthetize himself against the consequences of Love.
Thank you, Jesus, for loving with such a love. Thank you for refusing to do anything to lessen the impact of that love. Thank you for living.. and loving… and dying for me. Amen
Galilee Day Two made me realize just how small Israel is. A short drive north and we found ourselves looking into Lebanon and then Syria. Jesus, of course, walked this area, and 85% of his ministry occurred within the radius of a day or two’s manageable hike.
That is a mind-boggling observation. Especially for those of us who like to trot around the globe.
Jesus – son of an itinerant carpenter and an unexpectedly pregnant teenager, born into a poor refugee family and living in a nation bent double under the oppressive rule of an occupying empire, a man who led an uneventful life until the age of 30, never wandered more than a couple of days walk from his base in The Galilee, and died without writing a single paragraph or holding any public office – shone so brightly that he had more impact on the course of human history than any king, empire, political leader or philosopher before or since.
And today, more than two thousand years since his short series of acts on a parochial stage, the name of Jesus holds more power and authority and brings more light and life to this world, more hope and promise, than it is possible to begin to articulate.
Yet all he did was to walk this obscure and dusty place, talk to handfuls of people at a time, and reference the esoteric and earthy peculiarities of a very specific cultural milieu in a teaching style designed to be understood by the common people of The Galilee.
Critical Connection: This is why, I believe, the opportunity we enjoyed to engage the physical environment and to learn more about the day-to-day life of First Century Israel, has been an unprecedented step toward understanding, interpretation and deeper spiritual insight. Too often we try to complicate the Gospel, weave systematic theologies and assign layer after layer of complex doctrinal mumbo-jumbo… when what we should really be doing is thinking about the uncluttered words of a humble teacher who got dirt under his fingernails when he told farmers that the Kingdom of God was like a grain of seed in their field.
And so we walked on the paths Jesus used, we stood in the synagogue where he taught, we visited the places he trudged as he visited people where they were. And we stood in front of the very “Gates of Hell” he referenced when Peter made his “Messianic declaration.”
“But what about you?” Jesus asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”
Short story, then I have an early morning meeting I can’t miss:
Pagan superstitions in the north of Israel, still in place at the time of Jesus, required that babies were thrown from a cliff into the rocks below to test the mood of the gods. If blood flowed, the sacrifice was accepted. If not, then another baby was offered until the gods were satisfied.
We visited this sad place. It was known as the “Gates of Hell.” It was there that Jesus asked Peter “Who do you say that I am?” Then, when Jesus said he’d build his church… and that the Gates of Hell would not prevail against it, Jesus was telling those with ears to hear that his way was the new and living way, and that such horrors as The Gates of Hell had no place and no power and no future.
It’s a message – and a truth – that we need to shout loudly and insistently in a world that has not yet seen the end of such horror. We have a story to tell and a responsibility to share the Good News. That is why he came; that is why he still comes - DEREK
OVERWHELM: A smart blogger would acknowledge the impossibility of doing justice to our first day in The Galilee, and simply limit the posting to one representative story. Such an approach has merit. But I’ve got to tell you I’m struggling against the notion of leaving anything out at all.
Rebekah and I woke up that morning to realize our room directly overlooked Lake Galilee. Not a bad start to the day. Then we made our way into Tiberius for an excursion on the water. The experience was both wonderful and problematic. I’ll try to explain.
The tourist boats come equipped with sound systems and loaded with “religious” CDs. Our ride drifted in from the Lake with a full load of nuns and we could hear classical chants roll across the water at full volume as they approached the dock. My guess is the boat operators try to get a read on the clientele and then select the music accordingly.
We were hardly a hundred feet from the pier when our music started. At first it was a novelty and most folk joined in the praise songs. But they must have had us pegged at the cheesier end of the faith spectrum because they cranked up the volume and it was one country-themed gospel tune after another.
But this was Galilee! We were on the sea where Jesus and the disciples spent time together. And I’m 100% convinced Andrew, Peter, James and John et al were able to hear the birds sing and the fish jump and the wind rustle the surface of the water.
So, I confess… I’m the one who whispered “Could we please lose the soundtrack?” to the guide and salvaged 30-minutes of blessed peace as we floated where Jesus walked.
JESUS BOAT and more: We made landfall at the Yigal Allon museum, where the celebrated “Jesus Boat” exhibit is housed. After a fascinating hour at the museum we visited the site of the Sermon on the Mount and then the traditional location of the Feeding of the 5,000, before enjoying a walk around ancient Capernaum. Later we continued around the Lake to Gerasene, the place where the “demoniac” was healed and the herd of pigs ran off the cliff and into the sea.
For lunch we ate “Peter Fish” on the lakeside and continued our circumnavigation with a baptismal event in the River Jordan. Several of the group wanted to renew their baptismal vows and fairly froze to death in the process. It was a meaningful end to the day, and we returned to our hotel with the echo of the footsteps of Jesus still ringing in our souls.
SERENITY: But the most telling exhibit of the day was serenity. It rained; we rushed; we ran where Jesus walked… but somehow – and I believe this was nothing less than a divine presence – we all experienced the serenity of The Galilee and our souls were fed.
If there is a next time in Israel, Rebekah and I would like to park ourselves in a lakeside hotel for a week and literally walk around the Sea of Galilee. There is so much to drink in, to inhale, to – as Jesus would say – “Rest in.” Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (Matthew 11:29)
I really like the way Eugene Peterson parses the passage in The Message:
Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly. Matt 11:28-30 -The Message.
Come to The Galilee. Rest in Jesus. It is impossible to spend any time here without catching a hint of the presence of God. And then, once you realize what’s beginning to creep in at the edges of your consciousness, to take a deep breath and to breathe in the Spirit of Life.
Come to The Galilee - DEREK
For Moses, the road to The Promised Land took forty years. We got there a little sooner, thanks to a bus driver named Mohamed who managed to make our tour bus handle more like a sports coupe.
We did, in fact, follow the footsteps of the children of Israel. This was no haphazard visiting of sites, but an entire tour designed to follow the trajectory of the scriptures. So we wandered the wilderness after leaving Egypt, entered the Promised Land around Jericho, and then made our way from Galilee to Jerusalem. We completed the tour with communion at The Garden Tomb.
From Jordan we left Petra before light, driving “Mohamed style” through the desert, and when we walked up to the summit of Mount Nebo the morning haze still hampered visibility. But we saw enough to get a sense of what Moses experienced when God took him there to take a final look at “The Promised Land.”
Then Moses climbed Mount Nebo from the plains of Moab to the top of Pisgah, across from Jericho. There the LORD showed him the whole land—from Gilead to Dan, all of Naphtali, the territory of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Mediterranean Sea, the Negev and the whole region from the Valley of Jericho, the City of Palms, as far as Zoar. Then the LORD said to him, “This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it.” – Deuteronomy 34
PROMISE: We could see Jericho, the hills around Jerusalem, the Dead Sea to the south, the River Jordan and the broad valley leading toward Galilee.
Jose gave the devotion, and he shared the heart-wrenching story of his 12-year-old daughter Michelle, who has been completely dependent since an infection attacked her brain six years ago. Yet her life, and the effect she still has on the faith and the love of so many people, can only be described as a powerful ministry.
Jose’s devotion wasn’t a hope-filled story so much as it was a story charged with Promise. Because sometimes, when the future we hope for fails to materialize in the ways we have planned and dreamed, then the way God uses us – and our lives and our potentiality – is better understood in terms of Promise.
God showed the Promised Land to Moses. But Moses didn’t get to go in. Not even after 40-years of faithful, world-shaping leadership. Yet it was still The Promised Land, and it was still a promise for Moses. God’s promises own a dimension of truth that is so much deeper and more complete than what we can see, moment by moment, right in front of our eyes.
BORDER: The crossing into Israel took three hours. It was lengthy, complex, and more thorough than I could possibly describe. We were met by Avi, our guide, and we immediately headed for the fortress of Masada at the southwestern end of the Dead Sea.
Masada was the last stand of the Jewish rebellion that led to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Diaspora. The fortress finally fell in 72 AD. At that time, our guide said, the Romans completely dismantled both the nation and the religion. There were, quite simply, no Jews remaining in Israel. The dispersion was thorough and complete. The nation was, essentially, obliterated.
Immediately, and this is something that cropped up for me again and again during our week in Israel, I was taken by the single-mindedness and the resolve of modern-day Israel. Our guide’s words were supported by an intense sense of “We can do this…” pretty much everywhere we turned. Desert? “No problem, let’s irrigate”. Impossible? “No such word, let’s improvise.” Overwhelming odds? “Not on your life, we can make this happen…!”
THEME: And so this became the theme – so far as I was concerned – for my thinking during our time in this amazing country. You see I’ve been beating the same drum for some time now. It’s the “Live like you mean it” idea, along with the companion phrase, “Because God most certainly does.”
God most certainly meant it when God created Israel. Now I’m not suggesting that God is any justification for the way Israel continues to treat the Palestinian people. But I am suggesting that the national character of this small country is compelling, and that there is something very inspirational about the spirit of this place.
I’m just scratching the surface of this discussion today. We have so much to learn and such a short amount of time. Please join me tomorrow when we wake up in The Galilee.
Peace – and I mean that in every possible way - DEREK
There is a moment as the visitor walks toward the lost city of Petra for the first time – approaching through the narrow, wind-sculptured gorge that guards the entrance – when you first catch a glimpse of The Treasury. Suddenly it’s there; massive, imposing; and it literally takes your breath away.
Petra is an ancient, noble place, hewn from the rock in the desert east and north of Aqaba (Jordan), and immortalized long before Indiana Jones made The Treasury an archeological icon. Today, fifteen-hundred years since it was last abandoned after one more catastrophic tangle with geology, just 15% of the site has been excavated.
For Rebekah and me, Petra represents an open invitation to explore, and to learn, and to wonder what other treasures of antiquity await. This was the day that has made Rebekah determined to return and participate in an archeological dig. This was the day that forced my understanding of time to shift. This was the day that made me realize that taking 569 photographs is not a stretch, and it’s only a problem when you try to sort them down and still end up with over 500 “keepers.”
Less Rush: Overall, out Great Adventure was a tour filled with instructions like:
- “Ten minutes here then we’re moving on.”
- “The bus is pulling out in 23 minutes so you have ample time to do all your shopping.”
- “I know we’ve covered a lot this morning, but we’re giving you a full 40-minutes to find a restaurant, and relax over lunch. So we’ll meet back at the statue in, check, 39 – no 38 – minutes. Enjoy!”
- “Let’s move it, people. Try to keep up!”
So it was a real treat to hike into Petra in the early morning, spend a couple of hours with our guide, and have nothing else on the agenda until dinner in the hotel at 6:30 that evening. And Petra is that kind of a site, completely invitational with more to see at every turn, narrow and grand at first and then spreading out as the valley opens up to the remains of an ancient, sprawling, city.
Some of us, more adventurous, took on the hike to “The Monastery,” high in the mountain behind the city. The experience felt like climbing the side of the Grand Canyon. However, far from feeling spent from the Sinai expedition the previous day, I found myself springing from rock to rock like I was still twenty years old. The cool, clear air was invigorating. I found myself running ahead to catch groups of friends, tracking back to rejoin others, or taking lateral trips off the path to find the perfect angle for a photograph (check out the extensive “PETRA” album I’ll post on facebook today).
Halfway up I missed a step, fell very hard, and lay still for a few moments while I caught my breath and assessed the damage (just scrapes and bruises, it turned out). A pack donkey, on his way down from a Bedouin settlement, appeared, stole my apple, and clomped his way directly over me without missing a step! Nice.
At the top, a good 1,500 feet or more above the town, I found another massive chamber carved out of the rock. Phenomenal? Yes. But this time the journey was more significant that the destination. So I left ahead of the group and made my way slowly down through the canyons, meditatively, simply absorbing the bombardment of beauty, completely understanding how contemplatives adopt the monastic lifestyle and invest their time in the quiet spiritual life.
I found Rebekah combing through a breathtaking series of excavations the other side of the valley, and we spent the afternoon exploring. Oh. My. Goodness! We wanted to stay a week, at the very least, and comb our way through every crevice.
Petra is not only a “World Heritage Site,” but was also selected as one of the “New Seven Wonders of the World.” Hmm, if I made my own list I’ve got a feeling more than half would come from this Great Adventure.
So What? OK, I can’t post all the great pictures, and I can’t make this post any longer (I could, but you don’t want me to!). So let’s jump to the so what part of today’s entry.
There’s this great quote I found at Mt. St. Helen’s in the USA. “Civilization exists at the consent of geology.” Petra is a prime example. The city was the capital of the entire Arabian world until it was finally abandoned after yet another catastrophic earthquake. Civilizations are temporary. Even great empires rise and fall. Life that is rooted in rock and built into the face of a mountain can suddenly be uprooted by a simple tremor in the Earth’s crust….
Gravitas: Hanging out in a place like that you get a sense of time, eternity, the weight of eons. But also, breathing the fresh air and taking in the wonder of creation, we encountered the tremendous peace and assurance that comes from an active relationship with the Creator of all, who neither wavers like the earth nor fades like time.
This was not a “Bible site” so to speak (other than the tie-in with Herod’s infidelities, John the Baptist’s criticism and Salome’s request for his head on a platter…), but the day served as an important archeological and spiritual marker in our journey.
Next up for this blog? We’ll be traveling to Mount Nebo, where God showed Moses The Promised Land. What God has shown us so far has proven to be more remarkable than I can articulate – but I’ll give it a try - DEREK
The LORD said to Moses… ”Be ready in the morning, and then come up on Mount Sinai. Present yourself to me there on top of the mountain.”- Exodus 34
“GREAT-JOURNEYS” – Day 4: The morning I crawled out of bed for our Sinai adventure it was still night. “Wake-up” was scheduled for 1:00 AM, so I was somewhat bummed when our hosts banged on my door at 12:50. Regardless, I dressed and made my 1:30 coffee pot appointment with time to spare.
By the time we gathered in the parking area and hiked up to St. Catherine’s Monastery it was after two o’clock and time to meet the group of Bedouin herders who would be our guides up Mount Sinai.
One at a time, we paired off with the Bedouin. People disappeared into the black night and merged with the vague shapes of camels. My Bedouin led me to a huge specimen and then, the moment I started to straddle the animal, vanished into the night. The camel immediately lurched up and I grabbed hold of the saddle “handle” to steady myself.
Without a moment’s hesitation, my camel ran past everyone, hopped a couple of dunes, found a narrow path and started the accent. Evidently he knew the way from the front and was simply doing his job.
Magic and Mystery: The next two and a half hours were magical beyond imagination. The night was cold – around 35-degrees – and crystal clear; the stars shone with a brightness I’ve never seen before; and then, just ten minutes into the expedition, a three-quarter moon appeared from behind a mountain and provided enough illumination to see every detail of the path, every precipitous drop, every deep valley, and the range of towering peaks that surrounded us.
In the silence, mostly alone, and from an elevation ten-feet above the path, I could literally feel the mountains speak. I knew instinctively why Moses climbed into this place for his private audiences with the Creator. I could feel God’s spirit beckon me to the summit because there were truths to be shared, worlds to behold, and mysteries to be absorbed.
On to the peak: Around 4:30, the camels stopped at a Bedouin tent offering hot tea. From there to the summit we climbed on foot. Once the group assembled we continued our accent, a thin line of pilgrims snaking our way toward the heavens. We arrived around 30 minutes before dawn and waited for a new day to break over the rugged terrain.
Eventually, and with the temperatures well below freezing, the first golden droplets of light morphed into a river of life and poured over the horizon in unbounded glory. God swept into my consciousness with the dawn and I felt as though the very hand of Creation was reaching out to me through the new day. And I thought of the hymn – “Mine is the sunlight, mine is the morning; born of the one light Eden saw play. Praise with elation, praise every morning; God’s recreation of the new day.” (Eleanor Farjeon)
Decent into the Day: It was hard to break ourselves away from the amazing views (check out the complete gallery of pictures “Mount Sinai” on my facebook page). However, not only did we have a long walk down, but my theology of light demands reentry into the world.
The journey down the mountain – all on foot – was spectacular. The harsh beauty of the rugged landscape now accentuated by the pure light of the early morning sun. We enjoyed breathtaking views at absolutely every turn. The path is unthinkably steep and the drop-offs perilously close, but the grandeur still invited us to venture toward the edges.
The effect was like being clobbered by a 12-foot wave at the beach… only here it was being hit full-on with a wall of beauty and being washed over by a waterfall of overwhelming natural theology. Wow!
Monastery: By the time we reached St. Catherine’s Monastery again we had logged around 18 miles. But I was still all energy. I was still all motivation to keep exploring, keep engaging this amazing world, keep inviting the Creator to be a vital element of every detail, keep jumping to the top of the next rock and capturing the latest view.
And it was energy I would need soon enough. Because the very next day we would be hiking into the lost city of Petra, in Jordan….
When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the LORD. - Exodus 34
The invitation to live life without reservation is built into the substance of the beginning of each new day. Never forget the imperative to let life loose! Always live like you mean it… because God most certainly does. And, wouldn’t it be cool if – every day – people could tell that we’ve been on the mountain with the Lord, simply because of the way we are…? DEREK