Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Mt. Nebo

Above 1: At Mt. Nebo with some other cyclist chap in an AC Milan teeshirt. He looks very excited. Maybe it's the white shorts?
Above 2: The Promised Land! The plan was to head down to the Dead Sea, and then unlike Moses, head on into Palestine-Israel.

Mount Nebo, according to the story, is the place where God showed Moses the Promised Land. Moses though, unlike myself, was barred from entering said Promised Land, but that's what you get for angering God, I guess.

The mountain itself is really only a bump in the greater mountain range that straddles the eastern edge of the Jordan Valley.

In fact, roller coasting down the road from Madaba (10 km), I nearly missed it. If it wasn't for George, the Jordanian chap I'd chatted to on the road some few kilometres before, yelling and waving frantically at me from the car park - 'Stop, Mr Felix! Stop!', I would have kept going, and missed the view.

Lucky, I guess, that Moses was not a cyclist, like me. History would have been different.

'Kept going' would have taken me (and Moses) around the bend, past the Dead Sea sign and down the very steep incline leading off the front side of the mountain, never to be seen on Mt. Nebo again.

The road down into the Jordan Valley is so steep there's no way I'd be retracing my tread marks back up the hill, and I imagine Moses would have felt the same.

"Moses, get thee back up the hill!" says The Angry Voice.
"You gotta be kidding!" says Moses, casting a gloomy eye, as only cyclists can do, over Highway 7, which slides like a desert asp up the cliff face of this dry, rocky and very steeply inclined, barren land.

Still, it pays to do your research, and it looks like Moses was actually climbing up the hill, God fearing cyclist that he was, viz.: "And Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo..." (Deuteronomy 34:1)

If I had to climb up that hill I'd be having visions too.

What on earth am I talking about?

On the mountain itself there's a few early Christian and Byzantine ruins and a couple of mosaics dating back to the 4th Century. Unfortunately, the main Byzantine church itself is currently under reconstruction, and is off limits to tourists.

See Sacred Destinations:

The main attraction, however, is really the place itself, considering its history, and the view.

Walking along the pathway to the mosaic pavilion I spotted the distinctive brown robes and sandals of a Franciscan monk. The Franciscans are supervising the reconstructions, and act as caretakers to the mountain.

Father Fabian has been resident on the mountain for the last 4 years. He's a small man, perhaps about 65, slightly built and slowly, it seems, going bald.

I liked him on sight.

"So, what team do you barrack for?" he asked, after I'd introduced myself and told him I was from Melbourne.
"What team do I barrack for?" I repeated, a little startled. I was not expecting another Australian, and this most 'Aussie' of questions.

Melbourne is the 'Mecca' of Australian Rules Football, and most other Australian sports for that matter, and 'football' is about as close as we get in Australia to dark feelings of violent jihad. (We live on an island, albeit a big one, and like island people the world over, we tend to go surfing rather than hacking each other to death, when need arises.)

I had to laugh."St. Kilda, Father," I said. "The Saints."
"Oh, that's my team too!" he said. "Can you tell me what happened last year? I missed the match."

So much for deep spiritual discourse...

In 2009, after many years of loss, the Saints had finally made it into the Grand Final, that big 'one day in September' when all the nation stops. Unfortunately, we ran up against Geelong, one of the best teams to ever grace an Australian football field, and we got thrashed.

The pain, like a Promised Land lost, lingers.

After a short, clipped summary of the game, which is indelibly imprinted in the 'emotional trauma' compartment of my brain, I finished with, "You know, Father, the only way we could have won that game was if somebody had of run onto the field and taken Gary Ablett Jnr. out with a baseball bat." (Gary Ablett Jnr. is the Lionel Messi of Australian Rules football. His father, Gary Ablett Senior, was the Diego Maradona.)

Father Fabian lifted his right hand to his chin, rubbing it back and forth, giving due consideration to my weighty words. "Yes, from the sounds of it, I think you're right, Felix," he said, soberly.

Considering the painful subject matter, I felt immediately better, lighter, like I'd gone into the confessional and uprooted my darkest secret, only to be told, 'That's cool, my son, you were right to go out and kill that man!"

Freedom is only a football match away...

I felt at ease around Father Fabian. He had that lightness of being that contemplatives so often embody, and I invariably enjoy their company. In one sense he was 'not there' and was causing no waves, and yet, in another sense, he was 'completely there', and brought me into focus. It left me in less of a hurry to get where I was planning to go. Why move when you've already arrived?

"When thou givest God thy nothingness,
He gives to thee His All."
Hasan Khurqani, Sufi, died 1033.

What on earth is Hasan talking about?

It was time for Mass in the nearby chapel, and as I left, I assured Father Fabian that the Saints would 'win the flag' this year. "I've got a good feeling about 2010, Father!" I said. He laughed.

There are many yawning chasms in life.

The Mass was said by a young priest from L.A., leading a group of Korean Catholics on a Holy Land tour, which explained, to my eyes, the overly bright apparel worn by the small congregation.

Still, one must grasp the form bravely to be able to see the cascading light within; it's just that I'm not really used to loud teeshirts and wrap around sunglasses, together, inside the chapel, all at once.

However, no doubt on a US-Korean blog somewhere in cyberspace there's the other side of the story, viz. 'We had Mass at Mt. Nebo which was elevating, except that it was attended by a scruffy late comer in short pants who exuded strange vibes. I kept my credit cards close...'

During the reading the priest read from Deuteronomy: 'So Moses, the servant of the Lord, died there in the land of Moab... and they buried him opposite Bethpoor, but no man knows the place of his burial to this day.'

Of course, if I was a younger man, I would have leapt from my seat and challenged the conventional view, viz; "No, Father! I know where he's buried! I know! I know!" The congregation is startled.

All eyes turn to look at the heretic.

I go on, brashly brushing heretical fears aside. "According to my book, 'A Search for the Historical Jesus' by Prof. Fida Hassnain, Moses is buried in Kashmir where there is a Moab and a Bethpoor and a tomb that the local Kashmiris say is his...!"

'Knowing you don't know' is probably a better spiritual state than 'thinking you do know', and it's a hell of a lot safer, viz.; '...and they took him to the edge of the mountain top and threw him over.'

Like the mature man I am, I held my peace. It was time to get back on the bike and head down to the Dead Sea.

On the way out of the carpark, an extremely buffed up water bottle seller, who introduced himself as Mohammed, insisted I take a free bottle. "Welcome to Jordan!" he said. "You are a strong man!" He shook my hand. His muscles bulged. He reminded me of Sylvester Stallone.

What can you say?

I thanked him, mounted up, veered onto the right side of the road, and began rolling down the hill.

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