12:30 am…goodnight.

3:45 am… alarm bells ring.

Wash face. Load car.  Fill Starbucks travel mug from Singapore with Starbucks Via Ready Brew coffee.

4:30 am in the rental car and on the way down the road.

 

Blinking away the sleep and sipping on the deep, dark coffee, I hesitate at turning on the radio.  I pull out of Jerusalem and head down the Descent of Adumin.  Rolling my windows down, the dry desert air from the wilderness flows through the car.  With no one else in sight, the silence of this desert wilderness seeps into my consciousness and…I am still.  Gravity continues to pull the vehicle downhill as I pass the Inn of the Good Samaritan.  Descending below sea level the first hints of gray begin to fade the stars over the Transjordan hills just twenty miles ahead.  Passing Jericho on my left, I take a right on Road 90.  The air continues to warm as hints of sulfur let me know that I near the Dead Sea.

Every few minutes twin pinpricks of light followed closely by  a car comes my way, but for the most part this southerly adventure is taken mostly alone.  Qumran slides by up the hill on my right.  Ein Gedi comes and goes.  Masada soars above the cliffs on the right.  The cutoff for Arad comes soon after.  Following the valley and the lay of the ground, I continue straight south.  Deep in the Negev, the stillness continues.  Friends from home will cross the border from Jordan later in the morning.  I will meet them near the Red Sea and begin a three-day whirlwind tour of the Land of Israel.  After picking them up, we would drive back north all the way up to Galilee where we camped for two nights.  So many sites and not a few adventures were had, but those are stories for a different day.

 

The sun finally surmounts the horizon across the Jordan Rift Valley to my left.  A single ray arches through the dusty air and burns into the hillside outside my passenger window.  Inching higher, the sun causes my car’s shadow to grow and shrink as the hills move closer and then further away.  Though I have seen this landscape a dozen times, it is with a different perspective that I view the sand and scrub brush.  Always before I have come with friends, students, or family.  These desert scenes were only caught as a group…and what group of people, even when it is only two, ever allows for silence and stillness?  As my mind wanders across the limestone formations, a panoply of biblical images and world changing events comes to mind.

 

Following the seasons and their flocks, the Patriarchs moved in and out of these areas.  The great Lawgiver led a nascent nation to water through these wastes.  Elijah sought God somewhere in this vastness.  So did Paul.  The Christ fasted for forty days.  His cousin, the Baptist, was beheaded just across this salty lake.  Far up the hillside I cannot see it, but I know there sits a castle left behind when the Crusaders fled this place.

 

They have all come and gone…and are mostly forgotten.  This land still remains…and I zip through it at 120 km/hr on my way to the Red Sea.  I live in Jerusalem—a holy city, a modern city, a busy city, a noisy city overflowing with people from every nation and language.  Though it is not always thought of as such, it is a center of humanity.  Wars and peace have been found and lost here.  Far from those holy places, I revel in the silence of the desert and the vastness of this space.  My heart climbs with the sun.  No sublime thoughts come my way, but a joy is rekindled.  How often we forget to escape the noise of everyday life to rest in peace.  The monastics of many faiths have often made retreat to these deserts.  Though that is not my intention, I can see the beauty in such a life.

An Arabian poet penned these words and with these I leave you this night.

 

How many a desert plain, wind-swept,

like the surface of a shield,

empty, impenetrable,

have I cut through on foot,

joining the near end to the far,

then looking out from a summit,

crouching sometimes,

then standing, while mountain goats, flint-yellow,

graze around me,

meandering like maidens

draped in flowing shawls.

~Shanfara

 

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