NOTE: Written in Houston during a short layover. Sent from Rome 24 hours later after I had wifi connections again.
I was concerned that I might arrive in the fair state of Texas saying, “Houston, I think we have a problem.” It took five calls in the month before my flight to get a consistent answer regarding my bike bag and luggage. Upon my arrival at the PDX airport it all went smoothly despite some patient work by the ticket agent to determine that my United Airlines flight was actually an agreement with Turkish Airlines to get me to Houston where Turkish airlines would take over the responsibility for my flight and baggage.
I am here in the Houston airport with just a short window of opportunity before settling in for a 14 hour flight over the Atlantic Ocean and into Turkey. After a lengthy layover I’ll arrive in Rome at about midnight. I spent most of the flight talking with my seat mate, Hamoud, a young man from Abu Dhabi going to school in Portland. What a wonderful conversation we had about American and Mideast culture, religion, growing up and family life. He was just younger than the age of my own children and I appreciated his genuine respect for my age just as much as I enjoyed the freshness of his youth.
As I took some time to reflect on this moment when I am finally embarking on the pilgrimage, my mind turned to why I was even doing this. I have learned in recent years to follow the intuitive nudges from my soul even when I don’t fully know why. II won’t have time to fully explore this today, but the thoughts came easily as I jotted down notes. I was reminded of the title of a David Gray song, “This Disappearing World”. Every time I hear that song I feel a rich sadness in my soul. Something deep inside of me tells me that we are all participating in a kind of world that is dissolving away. I don’t have all the scientific and historical evidence to prove this. I just feel it deeply. It feels true to me.
It is that feeling of grief that prompted this “Rome to Rumi” pilgrimage. I had originally been planning a pilgrimage focused more exclusively on the mystical arms of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Somewhere in that planning the Rome to Rumi route surfaced and I knew immediately that it mirrored the inner soul work that I was hoping to explore. I know that within this journey are aspects of my own unfolding spiritual journey. And I am confident that my experience is shared by many others.
So soon I’ll be embarking on a Rome to Rumi adventure. Within the eastern movement of this journey is the story of starting with my own origins in the Church. What better place to start than Rome, the head of the institutional church in the western Christian tradition. Over the course of my ministry, I have followed the emptying of the pews in Europe and the decline of religious affiliation in America. I can’t help but wonder how long this world of beautiful cathedrals, billions of dollars in property, and an ancient hierarchical order will be able to weather the dramatic changes in our culture. Secularism and individual spirituality are on the increase in the West while institutional forms of religion seem to be dying, at least in its current incarnation.
While I can feel the grief of this great passing I also find myself almost titillated by other forms of religious expression that feel very hopeful to me. My heart and soul are attracted to the world of Rumi and Sufi mysticism. It is highly doubtful that I will become a Sufi. That is not the purpose of this. My attraction is to the experiential forms of Sufi practice (whirling dervishes) and the purity of Rumi’s poetry and writing. I am not interested in trading one form of religion for another, but to explore the mystical roots of religion—those experiences of the Sacred that are so transformational and profound that whole movements and religions blossom from them.
I don’t want to join the religion of Jesus. I don’t want to become a follower of Rumi. I want to experience the ecstatic oneness and deep communion that both Jesus and Rumi felt with the divine. I want to feel what Jesus felt when he said, “I and the Father are one.”
Why am I doing this? Because something deep inside of me tells me that there is a world that is dying while another world is being born. I want to go find out what this is all about. And why should this be surprising? I am pastor. I have spent a lifetime walking with people as they gracefully die and celebrating with communities in that precious moment of birth. I can’t help but to be there when one world slips away and another emerges. That is what I do. This is who I am.
I hear the call to prepare to board. I will get a taste of Turkey tonight—at least from the airport. I am glad you are along for the journey.