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