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High on a mountaintop in an isolated region North of Salalah lies the tomb of Job, a Prophet in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The tomb itself is housed in a small building with a distinctive dome next to a mosque. These two are perched on the edge of the mountainside with breathtaking views down into lush green valleys which lie beneath this mountain range.
I am journeying to this tomb, a journey which will take three hours by car but which also take me through a time long gone on a mystical trip through three of the great monotheistic religions.
On climbing the mountain road to my destination I take a turning to the right which brings me onto a small twisting lane leading onto the foothills of the Mountains of Qara, at the bottom of which flows a natural spring. Coming to the end of the road I am faced with lush green fields on which graze goats, camels and cattle. I get out of my car to breathe in the invigorating air and take some photographs. My attention is drawn to a herd of goats behind which follows an elderly goat herder, dressed in a sarong, tee shirt and a turban, carrying an old British Lee Enfield rifle. I greet him in Arabic whereupon we engage in a conversation.
"Where are you from?" he asks.
"From Ireland," I reply.
"Where are you going?"
"To see the tomb of the prophet Job."
"You are a Muslim."
"No I am a Christian but Job is also a prophet in our religion."
"Ah yes, the Bible, I know the book, it is a good book; we all have the same God."
I am struck by the ease and flow of his conversation, his serenity, and the sense of his peace and harmony that he finds in his surroundings and his work. His desire to converse on things that are spiritually significant, but more than that his obvious inability to divorce his spiritual side from his working life; they are integrated, one, indivisible. There can be no division between them, for did not God create everything, himself, the land, his goats and the pastures from which they feed? So how can there be any division? Not at any time am I intimidated by his rifle, in fact as our conversation continues it disappears into my subconscious and our discourse flows as smoothly as the waters from the mountain streams.
"What do you do?" he asks.
"I work with the air force," I reply.
His face breaks into a grin. "I am a mere goat herder," he replies and then brings down his rifle, stands to mock attention and gives me a salute with a great smile. We both laugh together having participated in a moment of shared communion. We bid each other farewell, wishing upon one another the blessings of God, and he follows his herd onto fresh pastures while I myself continue onto my own fresh pastures.
I drive my car back up the lane to the junction and turn right. The road meanders steeply high into the mountains. There is no traffic at all; strangely enough I do not expect any, for I feel that this is to be a solitary pilgrimage at the end of which I am to learn something of great value that will sustain and nurture me for the rest of my life.
The appointed time arrives when I come to the Tomb of the Prophet Job. I pull into the car park where I find myself to be the lone visitor. There are no other pilgrims, there were never meant to be.
I get out of my car and feel the stillness and quiet surround me. It is midday, there is no breeze, I feel the heat of the sun burning my face. To my left I can smell the pungent, heady odour of burning frankincense. I see in the distance a cloud of smoke hanging suspended just above the line of lush trees that settle beneath the clear brilliant blue skies borne on the winds from the African Continent. I know intuitively that this is where the Tomb of Job lies. I walk along a path strewn with magnificent bougainvillea in full bloom with blossoms of pink white and orange. I smell the sweet nectar of the Jasmine tree and other exotic perfumes from trees, plants and shrubs that border this twisting pathway whose rock has been smoothed by the passing of time and by the armies of pilgrims who walked this path before me: Kings, Queens, and other pilgrims from the Classical age that is shrouded in the mists of legends from a time long lost. This shrine visited by so many over such great periods of times is al
so my destination and I am fated to leave my footprints along with the ghosts who have trodden this path since the dawn of time. This place is a mystic site and has always been.
As I turn the final bend on the pathway I am confronted by a white edifice, almost square, the size of a normal house, with a green dome covering the whole roof area. Inside the edifice is the Tomb of Job. There are signs outside, in both English and Arabic, asking men to remove their shoes before entering. This I do and then enter the shrine. It is a large room painted white, in the middle of which is the tomb or sarcophagus; no stone or granite is visible for the entire tomb is covered in a green fabric into which prayers in Arabic are woven. There is great serenity to be found here and a profound sense of being somewhere special. The Frankincense is strong and sweet inducing me into an almost trance like state through which I am transcended into another realm where my primeval senses take over my superficial conscious self of the twenty first century.
On leaving the shrine the custodian takes me into the courtyard. This courtyard is an area of scrubland that contains three walls that look as old as time itself, indeed I am to discover that is exactly what they are. The custodian tells me that one of these walls was built to face Jerusalem and that it is from this wall that Job knelt and prayed in the direction of that ancient mystic city. The very city that shares three religions and one God... That being the case why is it that the three religions seem unable to share the one city?
From here I am taken to a small area off the pathway where what looks like a metal trapdoor in the ground lies. The Custodian lifts the trapdoor and as my eyes get accustomed to the dark I can make out a footprint in the rock. I look at the custodian inquisitively and he smiles knowingly at me.
"Yes," he says, "This is the footprint of the Prophet Job." For me it is like The Holy Grail. It is only then that it becomes clear to me why I have made this journey. I feel as though the custodian himself knew beforehand of my arrival. I now see him in a different light; he appears ethereal, not of this world. His enigmatic smile continues and there is a shimmering quality to his whole physical being.
"Put your fingers around the outline of the footprint, feel it, rest your palm on the flat of the foot and its heel." I gaze at him, startled; for I feel to do something like this would be tantamount to sacrilege, desecration. The ethereal messenger reads my thoughts and says, "You must do this thing; it is why you have come to this place."
I lower my hand into this holy place, rest my fingers in the place where the prints of the toes were and lay the palm of my hand flat along the length of the foot. I do this carefully, slowly and with a sense of ceremony that embraces my whole being. I feel a sudden surge well up inside me and a strange sensation overcomes me that this footprint and my inner self are forever connected. It is at this exact moment that I realize why I have come and what is to be revealed. It is connected to footprints yet in a figurative way. It is about the life we lead but more importantly the legacy we leave behind after we have departed from this life. Everything we do has a consequence and leaves behind it an effect, whether great or small, and this will leave a residue, a footprint, and this footprint will affect all those around us while we live and those who follow us when we "shed this mortal coil."
We leave behind our footprints and unlike footprints in the sand these footprints cannot be washed away by the winds of time. Like the footprint of Job, they are forever with us. Those we have loved and lost, in our souls we carry their footprints. They have not gone from us, how can they when we carry their mark inside our very beings? Like mountain streams they have run their course and have entered the Great Mother Ocean of The Universe. Yet like the dried up river beds they have left their mark for all to see, some more universally evident than others like Moses, Jesus, Mohammed, yet still their mark remains within us. Our purpose in life is to leave good, unselfish and meaningful footprints in the souls of others, for them to follow, to comfort them when we depart and when our river has also run its course and entered the Great Mother Ocean of The Universe.
I remove my hand from the Footprint of Job, I look around for the custodian but I know he will not be there; his task has been completed. I stand up and begin to walk away from the tomb yet I know in my heart and soul I shall never be able to really walk away, for my soul will always bear the mark of Job.
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