Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Jordanian Shade

We first wrote the following post in 2006, and repost it every summer with a few changes when the temperatures soar.

It has been a fairly mild summer here in Jordan, without the usual weeks at a time of temperatures in the mid to upper 90s, with occasional forays into the 100s. A lot of people have commented about and noticed this. The past few weeks, though--just as summer is supposed to be ending--summer has instead finally arrived. It is hot, dry and dusty, and many people--if they can--avoid the mid-day heat and simply stay inside. However, because the humidity is not always very high, if you are outside, it is possible to get a decent respite from the heat by walking or resting under the shade of a building, a tree--really, whatever you can find. Yes, it is hot, but finding that elusive shade really can make a big difference in your level of comfort.

Of course many of the stories in the Bible are set in a climate like this, and in my mind the Jordanian heat brings those passages to life. In Genesis, for example, one story has Abraham sitting in his tent "in the heat of the day." When three men come to visit him, he tells them to rest under a tree. These are small details, but because of our time in Jordan I can imagine the afternoon heat experienced by Abraham, as well as the good shade from the heat that the tent and the tree would provide. Also, there is the story of Jonah, who after preaching to the people of Nineveh--a city in what is now northern Iraq, not all that far from us here--left and built himself a little shelter outside the city. It was apparently quite hot, so God raised up a bush to provide shade for Jonah, and to "save him from his discomfort." The next day, though, God caused the bush to die, and Jonah lost his shade. As a result, he became so hot and frustrated that he grew "faint and asked that he might die." Jonah was so hot that he lost his will to live.

Now, I've never been so hot that I wished I were dead, but again, because of our time in Jordan I can imagine how Jonah felt. I think I've felt like that while riding on a windowless bus in the Jordan Valley, the temperature outside of over 100 degrees causing those of us inside to bake, my khaki pants--not shorts, because men must dress modestly too--clinging to the sweat on my legs. I think I've felt like that while walking near the Jordan River, the hot breeze beating down on us like we had just opened a hot oven and all the mighty power of the sun seemingly focused on the straight, naked, part in my hair on the top of my head. I know I've felt like that while trudging Amman for a taxi in the midday summer heat: the streets choked with cars and traffic barely moving, exhaust fumes combining with dust to choke away what's left of the "fresh" air there, a backpack and long pants--modesty, again--serving to cover my body in a sweaty film of claustrophobia, and every taxi maddeningly occupied. Through these--and other--experiences, I can imagine why Jonah was so upset that he lost his shade.

So, as I said, shade can make a big difference, and it is this shade--a shade that can save you from devastating heat--that is good to think about when looking at the imagery used in other parts of the Bible. For instance, Psalm 121 calls God "your shade at your right hand," and Isaiah 25 calls God "a shade from the heat." When I read this, I remember how the other day--when I was outside walking in the heat of the day--I moved immediately into the shadow of a building as soon as I noticed it, how I sought the shade from the heat it would give me. Shade works, and I suppose it is my quick jump into this shade in the heat of a summer day that the various biblical writers had in mind when they referred to God as shade. Like the building, like Jonah's bush, like Abraham's tent, God makes the heat we experience more bearable.

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