The Valley of the Shadow (Walking The Judaean Desert)

‘Alone’ in the Judaean Desert, Year 29, The Dead Sea, Being Chased by Armed Israeli Soldiers, Tea with a Bedouin and Finding Wadi Qelt…

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”

And so I came to this place… brought here by the hidden powers… that ever moving Breath of Life, like a wind, almost entirely unseen, but whose evidence can always be sensed by the deeper mind of the soul… I heard it, beating all around, whispering through the tips of trees, laughing from the tops of the canyon, bleeding sweet light down onto the floor of a great and wide valleycasting all shadows aside, yet, as a vastitude of memory, holding firm to the footsteps of those many wanderers who came before.

For ages upon ages this place has been called the ‘Valley of Shadows’ and yet, when I came, by no chance, the Light penetrated all places and I felt no shadow at all… only a trembling memory.

November-December 2019…

I have been fortunate enough to spend a couple of months in the Holy Land, living in Jerusalem chiefly, slap-bang in the middle of that legendary Old City. My longest stint in the city happened at the end of last year… one of many stops on a pilgrimage I took around the Eastern Mediterranean. Like all the best journeys… this one was totally unplanned, and started in Venice, Italy. And, like all the very best journeys, this one changed in nature quite significantly as the days marched on… as the Spirit took over.

In all honesty, I took myself off to Italy on a one-way ticket at the end of Spring in pursuit of usual ‘aesthete’ treasures – good food and wine, friendship, laughter, mornings running barefoot across terracotta rooftops, evenings dancing in fountains… usual sort of thing… yet the Great Will, often, has a better idea of what we need or what treasure we are really searching for… a deeper understanding of the yearnings of the heart.

And so, by a string of perfectly-and-accidently-syncronised events, I ended up back in Jerusalem, living in the same quarters, right in the heart of the various interlinking religious districts, after a two-year hiatus… back in the Palace of Earth.

Upon the 1st Century Tomb of Jehoshaphat with the City of David in the background

Jerusalem… my favourite city in the world? Perhaps… although as time goes on I grow less and less fond of cities, even the very old and beautiful ones, favouring more and more the natural world… our sacred heart in Creation, and my sweet refuge, as the energy of our world shifts into greater and greater spiritual disparity…

As usual I don’t do things in the usual way, following rather the pangs of soul, going with whatever moves me ~ and so my latest journeys in the Holy Land will naturally be shared in anything but chronological order. I don’t think real time works in that way anyway. I had already been wandering a while before I came to the Judaean Desert… the first time I came to celebrate a significant day of mine…

Year 29 ! Boom ! How lovely that one felt… I left Jerusalem and jumped on an Israeli bus, hoping I could work out where to get off… I remembered there was a junction somewhere or other which stopped in an expanse of the desert by the sea, untouched by developers or mass tourism… if I could just get off there, I knew I’d find a way to hitch-hike back to the city later, or at the worst sleep under the blanket of stars somewhere… God would decide those details.

You should never really plan too far ahead with these kinds of whims. I hadn’t even thought about whether or not I had come down to the Dead Sea to bathe… or to find something, take photos, enjoy the sun, write, or something else even… those sorts of details don’t matter in the long run, so they shouldn’t matter in the short.

I began walking around, moving deeper into the desert, away from the Dead Sea area where people usually go. I was nowhere… desolate, and alive. That perfect no man’s land where you feel timeless but insignificant; the protagonist in a great tale all of your own. Like a grain of sand… one of billions, trillions, caught just as it falls across the palm of a hand. Suddenly I hear cries and crunching of earth beneath boot. Two armed Israeli soldiers, both female, are running towards me with their arms in the air, one of them barking into a walkie-talkie… Oops! Seems I really was in no-man’s land after all! Or perhaps a mine-field or some disputed area… dear James… well I didn’t panic at least! Really and truly. I quickly stuck my camera in my bag and walked toward them, hands in the air and a big and slow SORRY on my lips. They seemed fine… but keen to tell me I couldn’t go that way. I promised them I’d head down to the Dead Sea and after a few stern looks they seemed placated and let me go on my way.

So there we go… ever been pursued through the desert by armed guards??
And yes, when I say armed… I mean both had massive machine guns hanging around their necks… yep… that happened.

So I walked back down toward the Dead Sea, almost forgetting about the episode instantly, and sat under a tree which seemed to beckon me, feeling the wind, which held a special kind of movement that day, blowing softly and cooly across my face… calm. Peace. A true peace. The one that defies description. There was a freedom there, the very freedom I often pursue… I had made it to the right place, I knew, because somehow the desert around seemed happy I was there, sitting beneath that tree. On my birthday too. And that I had chosen that place to remember and mark this one (it’s become a bit of a tradition of mine, to be somewhere significant to mark each year. It helps me to recall my years and their many lessons…)

Indeed… it was a very beautiful sight… yellow-white sand and rocks, mighty and stark, crowning mellow waters of silver and blue. The pink mountains of Jordan standing proud across the metallic sea. And I wasn’t the only visitor that day…

Sitting happily under my tree, suddenly I see a young lady approaching, coming up from the healing waters below. She stopped, struck up a bit of conversation and before I knew it we were sitting together beneath the tree. I didn’t know her story, nor she mine. “Why are you here?” she asked.

I felt that movement within me, that wrestle between logic and soul. She was obviously Israeli… maybe she was devout Jew for all I knew. It didn’t seem that way, but… my mind was saying, as it often does, “don’t say anything that could offend her, you never know how she might react…” and yet, there was that other voice, as usual, calmer and deeper, saying, “speak from your heart…”

“I am here…” I began, “because this is the Holy Land…” and I looked into her eyes.

Something immediately shifted in the air around us, as if something dropped, was lifted or expanded somehow. I looked around to find some physical explanation for what I had just felt.

“I felt it too,” she said, looking around also, and then back into my eyes. “Something in the air changed around us.”

These things, my friends, will make sense to some and not to others…

***

A Calling to the Valley of Shadow

I do believe places call you, or, at least, you are brought to a particular place, for very particular reasons, which often are revealed to you long after the event… like most things in life.

It had been some weeks since my last movement in the Judaean Desert. I had just come back from a trip to the north of the country, hitch-hiking to the Sea of Galilee (which I will detail in a later story…). On the way we had briefly passed through the Judaean Wilderness and I heard, again, that whisper in my heart as we passed through a certain area of desert. It’s funny, sometimes when travelling in new places I do a bit of research, create little dream plans of where I’d like to go, make notes and scribbles and even draw pictures, jotting down certain details I need to remember. Other times, I do no research at all and just let the wind blow me around like a seed, into whatever earth or people I am destined to collide with… the rest of the plans write themselves. I think with all things there are seasons: seasons for planning, seasons for watching, seasons for listening and seasons for speaking. Sometimes I begin to speak or share something I am feeling when I get a loud knock on the doorway of my heart ~ “not yet… not yet…” and so I am silenced and meditate again, my prayers once more flowing inwards.

This ‘meeting’ was a bit of a mixture…

Back in Jerusalem, at the Crusader-age dwelling I was living in, I searched google maps for a bit until I found what I thought was the area I had seen on my journey North… the one that kept whispering to me as I passed.

I got on another bus at the central station, one heading roughly in that direction, and tried to explain to the bus driver where it was I wanted to stop. “I don’t stop there” he kept repeating, shooing me away to serve the next person. After a bit of back-and-forthing, debating with various drivers and salesman, I was on a bus and told I could got off some miles down the road from that ‘place’… (still didn’t even know what that place was yet, with its incessant whisperings...)

Next thing the ancient walls of the fabled city are whizzing by once again. We stop after 10 or so minutes and then suddenly a couple of familiar faces get on. Haha! Another ‘coincidence’ … so many in my life these days that honestly if things don’t synchronise in that ‘deep way’ I start to panic now and wonder what God is trying to say… you see, only 10 minutes before I got a message from these two asking for directions to that Dead Sea spot I had been to those weeks before (yes, the one where I was chased). I had messaged them back but they were still confused… next minute they are sat next to me on the bus, just as surprised as I am, as I give them clear directions and put their minds at rest. “Why are you even on this bus?” they asked, still bemused… “I don’t know,” should have been my reply, but instead I think I rambled on for a bit about the Judaean Desert and my debate with all the bus drivers… We made some jokes about how next time they were lost I’d probably just turn up again like a geenie…

three amigos !

Hope they made it! I never saw them again after that…

So next I’m dropped off by the side of the road in the middle of nowhere… I mean literally there was a camel and a guy selling watermelons to… well… nobody… the rest was just a great expanse of desert that looked totally uninhabited, which no-one seemed to have any interest in exploring, at least to my eyes. After walking down the highway a way, I got a lift with a Palestinian who kept calling me ‘crazy’ because I was calmly but defiantly refusing to give him any more money other than the 10 shekels we’d already agreed on (I am admittedly quite stubborn in these situations). He eventually dropped me off by the side of the highway after I saw a road-sign and realised that this was ‘the place’ (I will note at this point that the Palestinian driver did call me crazy a few more times before driving off and leaving me. Hope it made him feel better about the deal).

After only a few minutes walking down a track I was seemingly deep in the desert again, a few farm houses scattered throughout undulating hills of yellowish sandy rock. Still with no idea where I was headed or what I might find, I kept on, imagining all the pilgrims, travellers and tradesmen over the millennia who had walked these lands in pursuit of an oasis, food and shelter from the heat.

Upon seeing some interesting looking ruins I began climbing a hill, when… suddenly I found it ! What I had been looking for ~ that place. I didn’t know its name at this point or its significance. But, truly, deeply, at the summit of the hill, I had found the Judaean Desert of storybooks…

After less than half hour alone, drinking in this striking vista, an old car pulls up and out steps a Bedouin. Naturally I walk over and start up conversation. Immediately he offered me to sit and share tea with him (classic Bedouin custom I’d learnt about before in the Negev) and explained to me a bit about the area. Before long we were travelling together down into the valley below, toward the oasis to take a dip.

Perhaps it’s strange, but afterwards I would learn that Wadi Qelt translates as ‘Valley of Shadow’ and is not only thought to be the setting for King David’s famous 23rd Psalm (see top), but is also the setting for one of Jesus Christ’s most famous parables… the Good Samaritan. Wadi Qelt, a long narrow (at its base) gorge-like valley full of caves, very easy to get lost, where in ancient times bandits would hide and ambush passing travellers and shepherds. It was so named the Valley of Shadow for this reason, but also because, apart from around midday, the base of the valley is always shrouded in shadow due to the steepness of the surrounding ravine.

None of this of course occurred to me thorough-out all this, but just think of the legacy of this place! My mind is still blown… I once wrote “The essence of a pilgrimage is to move, yet, at some point along the way, you realise you do not move at all ~ the pilgrimage moves you.” How true… how true!

At the bottom of the gorge, I met an Orthodox Jew who was convinced I was Jewish. I told him that my Great Grandmother was in fact Jewish, escaping Germany during the War… my family have always said I get my nose and curly hair and ‘darker’ looks from that side of the family (when you consider my other four brothers were born blonde!). I am thankful for her blood. These looks have helped me to blend in to many places, and always whenever I travel people don’t know where I am from… which is a blessing really. Shaking my hand the Orthodox Jew said to me, “Visit the holy places. You will really feel something in this land. Just ask God and He will reveal the truth to you…” I smiled and nodded. There we were, a Palestinian Bedouin, an Orthodox Israeli Jew and an Orthodox Christian all standing in the Valley of the Shadow. The exchange was brief, but, as usual, I think I am the one who took the most from it… could any moment in time be more wonderfully odd?

This is why I am here… I have worked it out by now. It might seem obvious to some but, trust me, God doesn’t always lift the veil until the right moment… I am here for all people. I don’t mean I am something special or great; in fact, as I always say, I am just a novice, a beginner; I choose always to live a simple existence for my time here. I don’t have material wealth or status… yet, somehow or other, I manage to connect with all kinds of people in the world, throughout my journeys. And I take no credit for it! I am brought to these moments in time… all I have to do is follow the whispers of the soul. I walk, and the Spirit makes a pathway.

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”

Think about it…

Also, consider this ~ in the aformentioned parable it is not the priest nor the Levite who helps the man attacked by the robbers, it is the Samaritan, whom Jesus says, “be like…” Given the historical and social significance of the promised Jewish Messiah saying “be like the Samaritan” I would say this is a profound bit of scripture. One that is loved by so many, and now, given this chance coming to the setting of said parable, will be forever one that stays close to my heart… unto the ages of ages and memory eternal.

Maybe this bit of Scripture is speaking to you too today ~ whether you are a Jew, Muslim, a Christian, or someone who identifies as non-religious, spiritual, or doesn’t identify with labels at all… one thing is certain, our world could do with a few more Good Samaritans in these times, and the times ahead…

Peace be with you.
Jx


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91 Comments

  1. What a wonderful and beautiful post! I agree on your comment that the world is losing spirituality. I grew up in the country and now live in the suburbs. As a child, nature was a huge part of my life. A neighbor recently had 8 trees removed from our street because they were not growing properly. I mean the trees were tall but had not spread out quite right due to having a few years of drought. I debated with him as he petitioned to have the trees removed that this act was wasteful and to give the trees time since we just had a wet winter. I lost the debate. The trees were removed and this act blew my mind! Many humans are not in unity with nature at all anymore and its so sad 🙁

    Your images are stunning! Hearing the guide play the instrument made me tear up a little. I have always dreamed of traveling here but do not feel safe. Hopefully one day I can make this journey. Look forward to reading more of your heartwarming posts!

    1. How dreadful! I get a punch in the stomach every time I see a tree that’s been felled… another life wasted… (so often the case). Humanity is so so blind… we are dangerously heart-hearted !! What, I wonder, will it take to wake the world up??

      And thank you… I pray you can. This land is one of contrast and contradiction… its soil is deep, its roots are strong, as is the spirit of all the peoples who lay claim to it. It is worth, if only once, to feel the heartbeat of this land in person… if the opportunity arrises. It is undoubtedly life-altering…

      Peace be upon you.

  2. What an ethereal style you have!
    It feels like I’m reading something from one of my favorite fantasy authors. You make reality sound magical – which is true though so few of us realize that.

    1. A beautiful compliment! Thank you… and absolutely right. Reality is the ‘fantasy’ we all seek in the heart; what we ‘think’ we see is the real illusion…

  3. Superb post james.i like the way you are writing and keep doing this.You are my first inspiration in writing a unique style….thanks for your writings. It improves my work a lot in many ways…

    1. I am deeply and truly honoured by this. May your own writing and truth flourish in the Light… Your writing is from your heart, which makes it simply perfect. Thank you…

      1. James i have started a new blogging page as you know because you are following me. Please like,share and comment your opinions if you like my content james. I have learned many things from your writing james.Thank you so much for following my page james!!!!!

        1. Please do give opinions and suggestions after reading reading my recent posts.Your valuable suggestions will be helpful for my improvement James!!!

        2. Hello my friend, I have been trying to like and comment but my browser has an issue and often won’t log me in on other people’s site, which is why I never ‘like’ peoples’ posts… although I did just manage to write a comment on your most recent post… I believe… As I have said your writing is from the heart, there is no room for error there. My only real suggestion is to break up writing more with smaller paragraphs, quotes (which you already do so well), bold fonts for important bits of writing, and, mostly…. more pictures to sweeten the eye. Please feel free to use any of my pictures if you like (just credit this page if you do…) Keep writing !

        3. Yes I am honoured by your opinions sir. I will take all your inputs and implement in my future writings. Thanks for your suggestions and compliments James. Sorry James,I didn’t knew you were suffering from technical issues…thanks again James!!!!

  4. This is so fascinating. I went to Israel in 2017, but I was only there for a week. I only saw the regular tourist places. Living there, and getting to scope out all these places off the beaten path looks wonderful. Those caves in the rock remind me of David hiding from Saul. Love this.

    1. So glad you at least got to go ! The couple of months I spent there were truly priceless life learning and experience. But, of course, the land has so many secrets and whispers… if God wills I will walk there again… and yes I’d love to explore the caves of the area more. I have heard there are caves all over the desert there… I wonder if any are still inhabited by Bedouin or hermits…

      1. Yes I have to after reading about it. When it got to the ‘yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow..’ It all made sense – brilliant and so inclusive.

  5. I live in Jerusalem and grew up in the Judean desert. It was interesting to read your unique perspective about an area that I know and take for granted and sometimes forget how special it is.

    1. So glad!! You know I am sure we could both explore that city alone for an entire lifetime, and still make new discoveries each day… My your time there be blessed my friend. Thank you for sharing your perspective…

  6. Honored to have you following my blog. Will return the gesture and definitely visit your upcoming posts. So mesmerized by the photography you share and the idea of a wandering journey. The Lord Bless and Keep You!

    1. Thank you deeply ! I am was honoured to walk this ancient land… and yes, I imagine most people would! Still not entirely sure why I am so calm in these situations…

  7. James, I truly enjoy what you share with us readers in the entire universe. I love reading your posts for the One reason, that I feel I am part of your incredible spiritual journey, and that unites us all , because we are all on a journey, some might not be aware of it, but that’s okay. We are all connected. Have a great inspiring week.

    1. I love this comment, and I love you, friend 🙂 I love what you post and write, your simple and beautiful perspective on the world, Creation and the positive light you shine. Thank you… it is my honour to share what happens to me, what is revealed to me, and if it inspires or helps others on their own spiritual journey then… I am honoured again. I echo what you wrote ~ we are all connected. If we can make that connect pure love, then all souls would be released from torment. I am learning more about love. Unconditional pure love. Love of the One… it can change all things and set a light in all muddied places.

      <3

      1. Thank you so much James, for your kind reply. Yes we agree that we are all connected and the more Love we spread, the more it will effect other’s and the universe. I am glad to know that you enjoy my posts as well. Have a great week, my spiritual friend.

  8. A beautiful post, James <3 I was especially struck by the following experience: "Something immediately shifted in the air around us, as if something dropped, was lifted or expanded somehow. I looked around to find some physical explanation for what I had just felt." I can very much appreciate your mystical experience, made possible when our hearts and minds are in sync with the timeless Universal Mind.

    1. Thank you Rosaliene ! That was a very special moment… I’ve experience such a shift a handful of times, yet that was unique in the fact that it wasn’t me who first mentioned it…

      God bless you sister! Jx

  9. Good post!

    I, too, find myself seeking more and more the natural world as civilization shifts into greater and greater spiritual disparity. And yet, the people themselves who make up cities are also part of Creation. I struggle with this.

    Haha, NOOOoooo, I’ve never been chased across the desert by soldiers with machine guns!:-)

    1. hahaha well it was a first for me let me tell you!

      I love what your wrote, your response, it echoes my feeling of course… especially what you said about all people being a part of Creation… good is in all places I suppose, as is ‘bad’, dark, evil, negative… whatever we call it. The true Light is within… we’ve been told it over and over. Now is the time to make it a deeper and far-reaching reality…

  10. What a great adventure and experience James! The land is beautiful and I can imagine the energy there was quite powerful.

    I continue my journey as well and although it is in towns, homes, motels, (other than my daily walks), I, too, surrender to where Source is leading me. I continue to do my daily and sometimes more than that, sessions with my spiritual work partner and the huge team we are working with but I realize that on another level, I am led to these various towns to do other work with the people and land where I’m at presently. I draw upon the energy of place, and the trees and flowers, to support this work and help bring forth the new timeline.

    Blessings to you on your journey. Thanks for all the beauty, connections and kindness you share!

    love, katelon

    1. Awww my dear Katelon, thank YOU child of Light. I can totally feel and relate to what you are saying, and I know that you too see through the heart… May your work always be blessed !

      There is so much dark energy in the world now. The spiritual battle has started… but, we all, whether consciously or not, have our Divine Free Will and with it, a choice… of whom we serve.

      Your comments always lift me.
      Love always your brother. Jx

      1. We are succeeding in our work James! It won’t be long now. The light has tipped the scales for awhile now, so it is shining/exposing the darkness of the belly of the beast. Soon we will have a new timeline of Oneness and Abundance for all! Love, katelon

        1. May it be ! ! May our prayers rise to the Uncreated beyond where no shadow takes root. Just Love + Light, falling to earth in divine showers of healing… My heart sees this day. There is some mud to clear first… <3

        2. Nah..
          I’ve been working to clear it away for millions and millions of years, and daily for over 5 1/2 years. The dark may look like they have power but that is only bullies attempting to appear strong.

  11. I really enjoy reading your pieces! Your style and way with words makes me smile. This quote in particular really resonated with me, as I’ve found quite a few occurrences like this in my own life, “I do believe places call you, or, at least, you are brought to a particular place, for very particular reasons, which often are revealed to you long after the event… like most things in life.” The universe works in strange and mysterious ways. Happy and safe travels to you 🙂

    1. Thank you my dear. The Uncreated Light has a Will over the Created Universe. This is what I see ! Awesome that quote resonated with your energy. I appreciate that too! These kinds of comments help me to understand the meaning of my own writings more… God bless you Sophie, precious soul <3

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