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Wednesday 29 June |
The Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul
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Journey to Jordan: the deacon in the desert

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The Deacon's Bench

Deacon Greg Kandra - published on 04/17/15

Yesterday, we found ourselves in a vast sandy wasteland called Wadi Rum, also known as “The Valley of the Moon.”

Here’s how Wikipedia describes it:

Wadi Rum has been inhabited by many human cultures since prehistoric times, with many cultures–including the Nabateans–leaving their mark in the form of rock paintings, graffiti, and temples. In the West, Wadi Rum may be best known for its connection with British officer T. E. Lawrence, who passed through several times during the Arab Revolt of 1917–18. In the 1980s one of the rock formations in Wadi Rum was named “The Seven Pillars of Wisdom” after Lawrence’s book penned in the aftermath of the war, though the ‘Seven Pillars’ referred to in the book have no connection with Rum. Wadi Rum is home to the Zalabia Bedouin who, working with climbers and trekkers, have made a success of developing eco-adventure tourism, now their main source of income. The area is now one of Jordan’s important tourist destinations, and attracts an increasing number of foreign tourists, particularly trekkers and climbers, but also for camel and horse safari or simply day-trippers from Aqaba or Petra. Popular activities in the desert environment include camping under the stars, riding Arab horses, hiking and rock-climbing among the massive rock formations.

The hardy bloggers and writers in my little group aren’t quite that adventurous. We settled on a jeep ride.

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A few intrepid souls also opted for a camel ride.

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The rest of us stayed with the jeeps—actually small pickup trucks with comfortable seats. The cruise around this particular neighborhood was nothing short of spectacular. I’ve always dreamed of visiting the Grand Canyon. Now I don’t have to. This looked like the American southwest on steroids.

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I should mention here that one of the more endearing residents we met during our visit was a baby camel. A couple people ooh-ed and ah-ed and tried to pet it. The mother grunted, squawked and threw nasty looks at anyone who came near.

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After our excursion, which I guess lasted about 90 minutes, we headed to the base camp, Captain’s Desert Camp.

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This is something altogether different: a kind of desert hotel for tourist campers, with individual tents set up for sleeping and a massive dining hall, also a tent, for meals. This is where we had lunch—another amazing meal of traditional Jordanian fare, including fresh pita, grilled chicken and lamb, and assorted salads.

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The desert is an overwhelming place; you can understand why people from the dawn of time have fled here to pray. But it is also a place that inspires both deep humility and profound wonder. There is beauty and majesty here to rival any cathedral.

Jordan is blessed with many places like this—its sheer scope can leave you breathless.

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We got a sense of that today, when we visited Herod’s hilltop castle, where John the Baptist was executed.

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The remnants of the castle are considered a Christian place of pilgrimage. But that doesn’t mean they’re easy to get to.

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Once you reach the top, you are given a stunning view of the surrounding countryside, including the Dead Sea. It’s easy to understand what attracted Herod to this spot. But the site is also a place for remembrance: the scene of one of the most famous martyrdom’s in history.

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To see and experience all this is humbling. And it serves as a reminder of all those who gave so much because of their faith. We are a church built on the graves of martyrs. And it’s sobering to realize, I think, that this martyrdom goes on, even today, not far from where we stood.

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