I had an interesting experience with water - or at least the lack of it - a couple of weeks ago. My husband & I are celebrating auspiciously large birthdays this year; at Christmas, he gave me 2 books: the "Lonely Planet guide to Jordan", and “I Married a Bedouin,” written by a young New Zealand nurse who, in the late 1970’s, was on a gap year travelling, and met and married her Bedouin, who lived in a cave in Petra, Jordan.
I loved reading about Petra – it's been at the top of my bucket list since I first saw a photo of it when I was a teenager. Ecstatically excited to be going at long last, I devoured the books, amazed by Marguerite van Geldermalsen's account of living in Petra, where her children were born - including her son Raami.
And when I read the guide book and noticed "Raami Tours" mentioned, we got in touch - and yes, it's her son, and a little local entreprenurialism. So we decided to do the "trip of a lifetime thing" and booked with Raami to have a local guide for each day of our stay. That decision led to 5 amazing days of things we would never have seen or done if simply following the guidebook!
Our local Petra guide was Ibrahim, who was also born in a cave in Petra, but he doesn’t know when. He is perhaps in his late 20’s, has never been to school, but has learnt to speak English from the tourists. He and I developed quite a bond: he declared at one stage that I was like a mother to him!
On day four, we were scheduled to go for a hike - a couple of hours in the Dana Nature Reserve. Ibrahim had only been there once before; so Nasser came too - and we discovered that Nasser, who speaks no English, is the son and heir apparent to a local Bedouin sheik, someone who is one of the advisors to the King of Jordan. Ibrahim and Nasser took us for what turned into a long 6 hour hike: down through the Dana Nature reserve to Wadi Araba. From +1700m above sea level down into the desert at -50M below sea level.
Down and down we slipped and slithered on the stony path.
After a couple of hours, Ibrahim decided it was time for tea - and he produced a kettle and glasses and black tea from his knapsack, lit a little fire and brewed up - throwing in a handful of herbs he gathered from the wilderness for good measure.
While it brewed, he showed me how to get colour from a little stone to paint my hands as the Bedouin women do.
Then we were off downhill again … as the sun rose higher and hotter and the oleanders bloomed beauty in the rocks.
The wild life was stunning.
But we were getting hot.
Hot. HOT. HOTTER.
Our water bottles ran out after four hours. We'd no idea we would be walking so far - in such heat - with nothing to do except keep walking.
Gradually we began to realise that we were parched. Dry. Thirsty. Miles from anywhere, with no water. And nothing to do except keep walking.
My husband began to overheat. We were panting, longing, deeply desiring, desperate for, water.
And into my mind came those words from the Psalms: As the deer pants for the water ....
Words set to a sweet little tune, which belies the depth of the thirst and the dryness of the desert. We were parched and had a real problem. The words suddenly came to life for me. THAT'S what the deer feels - and that's what the psalmist was describing.
That dryness, that desperateness, for the refreshingness of the Lord.
That longing that only water, only God, can satisfy.
Do we know that deep desperation for the Lord? As the deer pants .... are we panting, longing, dryly desperate for God’s Presence in our lives?
In the desert, on our way down to Wadi Araba, we – at least, Ibrahim and Nasser – stopped some passing goatherds – who were Bedouin too and who shared their cool water from the waterskins they were carrying. But we, thinking there was not too much further and wary of water whose provenance we didn't quite trust, refused it.
And began to wonder: will we ever make it?
Never have we been so glad as when we eventually saw Nasser's car in the distance, his brother driving it, loaded with cold bottles of water. And oh the joy and the pleasure of sitting in the shade of a tree, drinking cold cold water. And knowing there was a ride in the car.
(to Nasser's house for lunch - but that's another story...)
Never will I forget the desperate parched longing for water. The deer panting and likely to die. The psalmist longing, panting, desperate for the Lord in his life.
I need to stop God, to ask for cool water in my spiritual desert.
And don't we each need to do that? To know the refreshment of His spring rains in our parched and weary and battered and bruised lives.
But I now know that I need to pray: God make me want to want you like that.
It's a dangerous prayer.
As the deer longs for streams of water, so I long for you, O God. I thirst for God, the living God.
and in The Message -
A white-tailed deer drinks from the creek; I want to drink God, deep draughts of God. I’m thirsty for God-alive. I wonder, “Will I ever make it— arrive and drink in God’s presence?”
And this too: