The day began with early breakfast at the hotel in Petra, then onto the bus for the four-hour ride north to Madaba, an early center of Christian faith in Jordan. As entertainment for the group and to shorten an otherwise very long journey by bus, Sulimon, our guide, offered a rolling demonstration of wearing Jordanian headdresses for men and women. Kathy Michael and I served as models. The travelers were amused; I think we looked quite striking.
Madaba is best known for its mosaics, both ancient and modern. Of the former we saw the famous Madaba Map church, St. George, a Greek Orthodox church built in the 19th century over a mosaic map dating from the 6th century. It’s the oldest existing map of the Holy Land, and is at once beautiful as a work of art and informative as a cartographic interpretation of that part of the world in the 6th century.
Lunch followed, and it was the best meal we’ve had thus far, in the opinion of many. Wonderful fresh salad, hummus, baba ganoush , mushrooms, chicken, French fries, and warm pita. Delicious – and the restaurant itself was fun! The staff brought out a chocolate cake and turned on some raucous Happy Birthday music for Diana Barber, who celebrated her birthday today!
Madaba is known as the mosaic capital of the world, so, naturally, we next went to a mosaic workshop and store. We learned about the techniques used in making mosaics, watched artists at work, and then browsed an enormous room packed with mosaics of every imaginable kind. It was a bit overwhelming, but some of our group managed to fight through that sensation and purchase a few items.
A few minutes later we were off the see Mt. Nebo, the mountaintop from which Moses could sees the Land of Promise, after wandering in the desert for 40 years. It’s a bit odd that the church on the site of the mountaintop where Moses saw the Land he would not get to enter, interprets the story solely through the lens of Christianity. It is, after all, central to the identity of the Jews. At Mt. Nebo the Israelites ceased their wandering and turned toward their future across the Jordan River.
Our group gathered outside the church where we could see many miles down toward the Jordan. Kathy led us in Prayer and song. She interpreted the text from the Psalms, we sang some more and closed with one more song. As we sang and prayed, people walking by shot us curious looks. I was hoping some of them would join in; alas, they did not. During the quiet moments in the service we could hear a flock of sheep passing by below us, on the hillside, with tiny bells tinkling as they moved by.
The church next to which we worshipped is simple. Uncomplicated. Unadorned. It does not want to distract from the stunning, original, ancient mosaics in the floor. We were struck by the sacred beauty of that space.
From there it was a short ride down to the border to cross over into Israel. It was fairly smooth sailing (well, ok so all the artificial knees in our group set off the security system), and we were soon on our way up to Jerusalem, 30 minutes away. Our hotel is in East Jerusalem, and is not quite as nice as what we’ve had thus far, but it’s Palestinian-owned, and we wanted to help that part of the local economy.
A real treat for us after dinner was to be joined by Rebecca Hornstein, daughter of Rabbi Marcia Zimmerman and MN Rep. Frank Hornstein. She’s a rabbinical student living in Jerusalem for the next six months. She and Madeline spoke to our group about finding their way into graduate school and heading toward the same vocation as their parents. It has been a challenging journey for them both. They also spoke to the “spiritual but not religious” phenomenon. Both see many of their peers as longing for community, and for the ancient traditions of their respective religious movements. They described a revival of sorts of religious practice that is authentic, justice-seeking, and linked to tradition.
Off to bed; tomorrow a group of us is heading out at 6 am for a walk through the Old City to watch the sun rise over the Mt. of Olives.