My frustration over being able to connect consistently has exposed something important: this pilgrimage was never really about my own personal discovery. Of course, there will be plenty of that. At some level I knew this, but never said it out loud. If I can’t communicate what is going on in my head, heart and soul, there is no need to do this pilgrimage.
In my earlier post, “Rumi and Ecclesiastes,” I offered that about the time I began doing hospice work, my orientation toward life and the sacred world shifted. In many ways hospice was the transformational event, not the poetry of Rumi. I am not riding to Konya to discover a new world, essentially. I am riding to capture an unfolding story.
I chose this pilgrimage because I felt that it contained the elements that allowed me to reflect and write about the shift that I had already experienced and that I believe much of our culture is also experiencing. As a pastor in a traditional congregation I have always had to strike an uneasy balance. There are those who are just itching to explore the broader world of spirituality and the mystic traditions; there are also those for whom the possibility that their pastor is flirting with other traditions shakes up the foundation of their faith. This pilgrimage was partly an opportunity to share what’s really been going on in my head without the need to censor.
I also believe that the structure of this pilgrimage contains the elements that mirror the transformation taking place in the West (being Europe and America). As a student of religion it appears that what we are going through is not all that new. We very well may be returning to the mystical expressions of our traditions. The attraction in the last two decades to figures such as Hildegaard of Bingen, Teresa of Avila, Walt Whitman, Rumi, and St. Francis of Assisi tell us that we seem to have a resurgent interest in mystical forms of religion or what we today would call “spirituality.” Much of our language has also shifted from “believing in God” to “experiencing God (or the term I like is, “the Sacred”).” Mysticism is the language of direct experience.
If I can’t communicate with you, I will lose the momentum and impetus for this pilgrimage. I don’t personally need this pilgrimage. What I need is to act as a catalyst to get this conversation started. The “Rome to Rumi” shifting has been taking place inside most of us for years. It’s time to start talking about it, owning it, and celebrating it with each other. My need is not for the pilgrimage itself; it’s for the pilgrimage and the conversation about it to launch us into a new conversation about the obvious shifts that are taking place. As I have said before something is dying; something new is emerging and being born.
With that said, today was a good day on the technology front. What the first computer store in Terracina couldn’t fix, this one did this morning. My blog site is functioning again (although it has several little bugs). Plus I was able to activate a hotspot on my phone which means that even if I am camping I can still sit on a rock, download my pictures, write a blog, and send it under the light of the stars if I want. If this holds, I’ll really be onto something!
Then I spent the evening on the San Giovanni Rotondo grounds that are dedicated to Saint Padre Pio. I still don’t have a good picture of his life. Most everything is written in Italian here (go figure!). I have discovered that he patterned his life after St. Francis who he considered to be his spiritual father. I did buy a little booklet that gives a history of his life (in English). But, what will stick with me forever is the modern Upper Church of St. Pio of Pietralcina that was only consecrated in 2004 with 30,000 pilgrims on hand to celebrate it.
For nearly an hour I walked, I sat, I stood in different places in the sanctuary. This is not a Catholic Church like I have ever seen. The sense of hierarchy has been replaced by an architectural design that lends itself to community, inclusivity and participation. The place where the priest and others (I imagine) speak is fully one-third of the way into the semi-circular pews so that much of the congregation is actually to the side and even somewhat behind the speaker. The pillars leave one feeling like you are inside the ribcage of God, almost womb-like. What most impressed me however was the energy they were able to create around the death and resurrection of Jesus. Most of the building speaks resurrection—it is open, bright, colorful and with lines that expand out to the heavens.
It reminded me to some degree of designs of mega-churches. However, one thing that mega-churches often do is that they dismiss the place of suffering. It is often “feel good religion” and architecture. In the midst of this marvelously open and bright sanctuary, the bleeding, crucified Jesus is placed front and center. Most Catholic churches do this, but the energy of the crucified Jesus overwhelms the place at times (in my Protestant estimation!). What this new sanctuary does is just reminds the worshiper that resurrection doesn’t come without sacrifice, suffering and death. Resurrection is not “sugar and spice and everything nice” theology.
I sat there and thought, “I could preach in a place like this.” It is a masterpiece of sacred space architecture. I am SO glad I rode up that profanity-producing hill to get here!
Today I start making my way down the east coast of Italy. I have another Monastery Stay set for Thursday/Friday in Ostuni. Tonight I hope to halve that distance.