When Lawrence of Arabia looked out across the desert at Wadi Rum he murmured that it was “vast, echoing, and god-like.” Those words whispered in the wind as my group ventured out into the empty land of sand and stark sandstone cliffs. The footprints of camels complemented the patterned whirls of the sand. In this place of great beauty, the silence was deep.Wadi Rum is the largest wadi, or valley, in the southern part of Jordan.
It is about an hour’s drive from Aquaba, the port city on the Red Sea. Large sandstone pillars and long narrow canyons appear placed at random on a floor of liquid sand. After a drive through the vastness, our group settled in to watch the sunset and breath in the life of the desert.
In January, I spent a few hours on the brink of the the Judean desert and fell in love with its mystery. I found myself sinking further into that love as I watched the sunset. Millions of stars took over the sky and the Bedouin communities lit up the shadows with their fires. That night, when our group had returned, I reflected upon this attraction that I felt for the land.
A friend of mine serendipitously wrote in his blog:
Lent is associated with the fourth-century Christians who followed Jesus' example and went into the desert for a period of prayer and fasting as a way of getting into closer touch with God. The desert is a place where we encounter the Truth and the Truth encounters us. Desert spirituality means much more than getting out of the noise of the city into the silence of the wilderness. In the desert, life is reduced to the utter simplicity of "What Is." On the desert, there is no name for God other than "I exist." There is no place for diversions, distractions, luxuries, or trivia. When Friends speak of "simplicity," they are recalling this desert experience. (Anthony Manosous)
One thing I love about the desert is that in its appearance there seems to be little that sustains life, but when the gaze is shifted from the vastness to the specific, life seems to be teeming at every corner. Flora roots deeply into the land to drink from ancient aquifers. Fauna leaves multitudes of tiny foot prints across the sand that ripples in the wind. There is movement in the stillness and stillness in the movement.
A phenomenon not unlike that of Quaker worship.
Focus Interview: Nour Moghrabi, Seeds of Peace
Several of my classmates at Earlham College had participated in a program called Seeds of Peace. Seeds of Peace, an organization founded in 1993 “is dedicated to empowering young leaders from regions of conflict with the leadership skills required to advance reconciliation and coexistence.” Seeds of peace works inter-culturally by bringing young leaders from different sides of conflict together during a summer camp program in Main. By living and learning together, participants establish constructive relationships with the other.
The program brought many international students to Earlham College and sparked in them a passion to work towards a better world. I was lucky enough to be able to interview Nour Moghrabi, a young Jordanian woman who has particpated as a “Seed” as a youth.
Nour was introduced to Seeds of Peace in 1996 by her high school, the Jubilee School. The Jubilee School was the first high school in Jordan to organize a Jordanian delegation. With the support of the initiatives of Queen Noor and King Hussain, and in the shadow of the recent peace process with Israel, the Jubliee School found governmental support to organize students from around Amman to attend the Seeds of Peace program.
For Nour, the decision to attend the summer program was an easy one. Her family was supportive and her school organized most of the logistics. However, in her preparation to travel to the U.S. to spend several weeks with Israeli students, a mentor at a press institute where she was working impressed on her the gravity of her impending experience. “How will you feel 15–20 years from now,” he asked, “when people identify you as a Jew lover; as someone who lived with Israelis? You are doing something now that could change your life forever.”
These words helped Nour realize the seriousness of the decision before her. Nonetheless, she attended the Seeds of Peace program in 1996 and participated again in 1998. After high school she attended Ursinus College in the States and returned to Jordan in 2002.
Nour’s decision to return to Jordan was multi-faceted but in general she wanted to live a decent life with a decent job and returning to her homeland afforded her that possibility. However, she keeps her experiences with Seeds of Peace private in most of her professional life; she selectively shares her experiences with trusted confidants. Even Facebook, she remarked, can become complicated. “If one of my Israeli friends wants to be friends with me on Facebook, I have to think carefully about how identifying with that person will affect other parts of my life.”
Nour reflected to me that while she still keeps in touch with Seeds of Peace, her participation has dwindled. Over the years she has come to see that the idealism of the program has few roots in the reality of Middle East politics. Nour continues to value her experiences with Seeds of Peace but with distance. The program helped her develop abilities to see beyond generalizations of the “other,” to argue multiple sides of arguments and to dispel myths. “But, many more people would have to have the experiences I had to make any sort of difference in this society,” Nour countered. “There has just been too many years of the same for me to have much hope in some dramatic transformation into a peaceful Middle East. For now, I’m just trying to live a good life in my own country.”
In my own reflection of Nour’s story, I find myself turning back towards the mystery of the desert. While simply seeds in the desert of Middle Eastern violence, Nour and the other Seeds of Peace participants root deeply into their cultures to survive and to flourish.
While on the macro level, their contributions appear insignificant and overlooked, on the micro level they are using their experiences, now integrated into their lives, to become informed, compassionate, and successful global citizens. Their footprints can be found across the ripples of society; we must find the moments though to stop and look closely.
first published at the blog of