With the pilgrimage to Rumi’s Tomb and the sacred city of Konya, Turkey nearing, I am reflecting more on how my spirituality has shifted toward the world of mysticism–that is, for the experience of the Sacred over simple belief in God. Here is an excerpt from my upcoming book Dying to Live: A Preacher’s Pilgrimage to Reclaim His Soul that gives a window into my evolving spiritual life. It was from my 4,000 mile cycling pilgrimage through the Western United States in 2011:
“The highlight of the afternoon was standing on the overlook for Lower Yellowstone Falls. I nearly wept at the stark beauty and raw power of this water as gravity forced it over the rocks and sent it crashing down hundreds of feet below. I had the strange experience of wanting to lean into the experience of the Falls as if it wasn’t good enough to just observe it from a distance. I wanted to actually feel its power and soulful, violent movement. Of course, I knew that I could not do that as just a few feet more toward the edge would have sent me pummeling toward the bottom like the accelerating water. I would have gotten the experience, but not lived to tell the tale.
I remember the first time I had this experience. It was when we were living in Racine, Wisconsin (remember, the one place I am not visiting!). Our house was just one mile to the west of Lake Michigan. I often took walks over to the lake and along its rocky beaches. When it wasn’t too cold (and it often was!), I would head over to the edge of the lake in the winter. The waves were often four, five and six feet high and would come crashing in against the rocks and the ice that had formed.
I remember this strange yearning and deep longing to jump in and allow my body to be carried by the crashing waves. I wanted to experience what the waves were experiencing. At the time my thoughts unnerved me just a little. Did I have a death wish? Was my yearning about wanting to die?
I know now that that wasn’t the case.
Years later I discovered the world of the mystics and was reminded of Dan Fogelberg’s music where I recognized this language of longing—a longing to be one with the ocean and mountains, to live into the deep intimacy of family, friends and lovers, and to practice the enjoyment of work, dance and good food.
I have had that same feeling many times since then and know now that it is not a death wish, but simply a longing for union and communion in its deepest form. I suppose someday death will also stop by my home and I can only hope that I will embrace that experience with as much acceptance and passion as I have for life itself. But, there is no need to hurry the clock.
I meditated on the falls before me and felt gratitude for its sublime beauty, power and creative violence and greedily yearned for more, much more.
I wanted more. I wanted it all.”