Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Petra, Part 1 of 3: The Pilgrimage

Setting out for Petra at 6:30 this morning, the moon greeted me above the As-Siq, the narrow passageway to the ancient city splitting through the rocks that tower 80 meters above.  Just as Falah had told me yesterday (STORY), there were no tourists-- literally none-- that I met on my way in.  Throughout the day as I met the people living and working in Petra, many of whom are Bedouin, they would ask me where I am from.  When I told them I am American, they would quickly reply, "Welcome, American.  Please tell your friends it is safe here."
Peeking through the end of the As-Sig, the immense Treasury stands guard.
With only one day in Petra, when some say that to see it all would take an entire week, my single goal was to visit Ad-Deir, or the Monastery, (85 BC- 110 AD) at the far side of the ancient city.  Walking through Petra, every monument I felt was simply "on the way to the Monastery". 
The Treasury (1st Century BC)
the Theatre (25-125 AD),
Urn Tomb (70AD)
Colonnaded Street (100-200 AD)
The Temenos Gate (125-225 AD)
When I arrived at the foot of the path leading up to the Monastery, several men tried to convince me to ride one of their donkeys (for a price) up the 800 steps carved into the side of the mountain by insisting it would take two and a half hours by foot and only 40 minutes by animal.  Not only did I feel that it was too cruel to ride an animal up such terrain, I also felt that the pain of getting there was an important part of the pilgrimage.

Lives springs forth from the desert floor.
Arriving at the Monastery, I paused before its beauty waiting for something inside of me to happen.  But it did not.  How long had I been anticipating this moment, and yet, nothing?  Approaching the Monastery closer still, I found that I did not wish to remain there and instead followed a voice that said "keep climbing".
Climbing further away from the Monastery, the natural splendor in which it is set was revealed.  It was not the Monastery itself to which I was being called, it was into the heavenly world in which the Monastery is merely a tiny part.

Making a pilgrimage to the Monastery (or any other religious structure) is not about arriving there; it is about not ending one's spiritual journey at something man-made.

My pilgrimage began exactly where I had expected it to end.

To be continued...

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