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Petra, Jordan

Petra, Jordan

Petra, Jordan, is a World Heritage Site. In 2007, it was elected one of the modern Seven Wonders of the World. To see it, to experience it, is to understand exactly why both of these designations have been made. This remarkable place exists in a desert place with no natural water. After a hike of a mile and a half on sand and the remains of an ancient and uneven Roman road down a siq (narrow canyon), a massive and indescribable edifice looms out of the shadows and through a crack in the steep rock walls. There, before the hiker, is “The Treasury,” the famous façade depicted in virtually every representation of Petra.[1]

Carved directly out of the stone one hundred and eight one feet high and ninety feet across, this wonder of human ingenuity stands as a bold testimony to a civilization forged in the face of dramatic hardship and scarce resources. Once thought by locals to have held the riches of Egyptian pharaohs, it came to be known by its current name through mistaken hope and legend. In actuality, it held nothing but bones—and even those only temporarily, just long enough for the flesh to rot and the bones to be exposed.

Walk through the elaborate porch and façade today, and one sees only coffin-shaped holes in the stone floor of a large room. This was a temporary burial chamber for important people. Perhaps there was wealth that accompanied the dead to the body’s place of rest, but nothing more. So these true marvels of monolithic architecture, this testament to artistic creativity on a grand scale – is empty.

So it is with envy. Hopes for wealth and discontented desires for more than what we have can so easily distort what we should be more focused on. Paul saw this in the folks of Philippi, too. Some were people disoriented by unrealistic desires, perspectives perhaps much like these impressive facades of Petra—pretty on the outside but vastly lacking on the inside. So, today, with the Apostle Paul, learn to say: I have learned to be content with whatever I have.

Quote for the Week:

“We mostly spend our lives conjugating three verbs: to want, to have, and to do. Craving, clutching and fussing … we are kept in perpetual unrest.”

—Evelyn Underhill

[1] I used a photo I took of this view for the cover of my 2011 book, Subversive Words, because it illustrated exactly what I wanted people to understand from reading my book on the Bible—previously narrow interpretations and assumptions should be opened up into broader, more exciting, and revealing understandings.