Thursday, December 30, 2010

Snorkeling in the Presence of God

I have always been someone who seems to meet God most easily in nature, witnessing his splendid creativity. I've praised Him while seeing the Grand Canyon, snow-capped mountains, lightning storms, and gorgeous flowers.

But I never anticipated what it would be like to go snorkeling for the first time. I have to say that it was one of the most wonderful days of my life, and definitely a spiritual experience.

We live in Jordan, so traveling to Aqaba was an easy thing to do. With my in-laws visiting, we'd decided to spend 3 nights in a hotel just outside of Aqaba, only a couple kilometers from the Saudi border. I'd heard that the coral reefs in the Gulf of Aqaba were beautiful and I couldn't wait to try snorkeling.

Even though it was mid-December, the water was very comfortable and I was grateful to not need a wet-suit. All I rented was a mask, snorkel and a pair of water-shoes. The reef was only meters from the shore, and for much of the time, in shallow water. The coral themselves were not colorful, but the fish and other creatures were amazing. I would see a few kinds of beautiful fish, thinking I'd seen what the reef had, and then I'd discover many more, in completely different colors and designs. Even after snorkeling for a couple hours, and not going more than 200 meters along the length of the shore, I still encountered new fish right up to the minutes before I got out. Highlights were the blue sailfin tang, cornetfish, lionfish, bannerfish and butterfly fish. And being in the midst of a school of fish, even so near the sea's surface, was just an amazing feeling.

Not only were the fish more varied and intricately colored and patterned than I'd expected, the moment of putting my head underwater also brought more peace and quiet than I'd thought possible. Above the surface were wind, waves, noise, and other people. Below, I felt alone and tranquil, as in a perfect sanctuary. As a quiet observer, I received just a small glimpse of God's abundant and passionate creativity. I could not help but worship.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Bakery

We’ve passed our 3-month anniversary and are definitely in a bit of a routine now. One of our routines is making weekly trips to one of two local bakeries to buy 5 stacks of pita bread (about 20 pitas per stack), and then putting it all in the freezer at home. Most mornings, our breakfast involves taking out a pita or two per person, dipping them in olive oil, and then dipping them in za’atar, a popular Jordanian herb blend of oregano, sesame seeds, sumac, etc. All of us love it, except for Naomi! We often eat pita bread again at lunch, with peanut butter and jam. And if I make pita-pizzas, it’s possible to have had pita bread at all three meals!
The bakery is a wonderful place, filled with mouth-watering aromas. It’s difficult to pass by the trays of goodies (though many of them are unfamiliar to us) and it’s rare for the kids to not beg me to buy a cake or some doughnuts. The best part of the bakery is seeing the cooks at work. When we first went there, it was at the very end of Ramadan, and pancakes were a traditional food for that time of year. We saw a conveyor belt making hundreds of pancakes.
The next time we went, that was all gone, which surprised us since we didn’t know that pancakes were associated with Ramadan. But since then we’ve seen huge tortilla-type breads being formed by hand and then cooked briefly on an upside-down wok-looking device, similar to a gigantic crepe-maker. How amazing to see blobs of dough turn into larger and larger circles in the adept hands of a baker!
By far, the most popular item in the bakery is pita bread. I learned recently that the Jordanian government subsidizes pita, which is why I can buy a stack of them for just 0.25 JD (slightly more than a quarter). I love getting good-tasting, fresh bread for such rock-bottom prices! The kids do miss my homemade bread-machine bread, as that was our norm in Oxford. But I haven’t gotten around to making bread from scratch yet here. There are better uses of my time!