Listeners stood in wonderment, if not for the prophetic words of the orator then definitely by his ability to speak with a strength unknown in the harshness of the sun-scorched desert. Even on the banks of the Jordan River, no amount of water could suppress the cavernous cracks splitting Bedouin lips.
Like a net, the limbs of the cedars hanging over the Jordan have captured and preserved the ministerial proclamations of John the Baptist to this day. In the current stillness of the bank, I can almost hear the camel-hair-clad messenger delivering the prophecy of Isaiah to the sons of Abraham.
I wonder if, as John preached his sermons and baptized his recipients, the crowd struggled to hear his voice over the sand-sweeping wind of the desert and the frantic objections of hardened Pharisees that filled the air like the desperate pleadings of souvenir salesmen pitching the latest product from a far-away factory.
Cries of “I made this with my own two hands!” or “Where do you come from?” or “Do you want to ride a donkey taxi?” are carried away by the wind as the voice of the Baptist cuts straight to heaven:
In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord;
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all flesh shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
So said John William Burgon in admiration of the ancient city of Petra, an archeological site carved out of the red-sandstone canyons in the southern part of Jordan. The city impresses both the artistic eye and the architectural mind.
A red-rock canyon leads to the Treasury. For 1200-meters, the path passes through an etherial natural colonnade. The rock-cut obelisks catch even the softest voices and reverberate them off the walls and into the sky – along with the spirits of the ancient deceased in the tombs at their base. But silent reverence for the natural temple is interrupted by the clattering hooves of a donkey approaching around the bend. The clacking noise gains strength with every echo, flooding the canyon with a heavier and heavier resounding before escaping beyond the rim and into the surrounding desert.
Petra constantly has me craning my neck upward to the sky. Looking up the sandstone walls, up at the carven structures, up at the clear blue sky and the desert sun; mainly to appreciate the grandiosity of ancient Man’s sculptural prowess, also to avert my gaze from the soda cans, plastic bags, and tourist pamphlets that litter the path I tread.