There was one more aspect of the ride from Igoumenitsa to Ioannina that I didn’t share with you yesterday. As I crested the first summit to my right was small walk in altar space. There were pictures and icons, candles and oils and a place to insert an offering, if one chose. I spent just a few minutes in there to thank the gods for the severity of the climb, the beauty around me and in me, and my ability to reach the top.
As the day progressed, though, I began reciting the words to one of my favorite songs from the now deceased singer/songwriter, Dan Fogelberg. In his song Netherlands, he sings, “Off in the netherlands I heard a sound like the beating of heavenly wings; and deep in my brain I can hear a refrain of my soul as she rises and sings; anthems to glory and anthems to love and hymns filled with earthly delight; like the songs that the darkness composes to worship the light.”
That is the language and the experience of a mystic. I don’t know that anyone has ever labeled Fogelberg as a mystic—partly because we have forgotten the language in recent centuries and partly because it is usually reserved for the religiously devout. But, Fogelberg’s music reveals a mysticism that is just as profound and Teresa of Avila who finds an intimate union with God and St. Francis of Assisi who considers the animals his brothers.
I was struck by the apparent coincidence (or maybe not) that at the top of the mountain an altar was erected (I think it’s Greek Orthodox) and Fogelberg’s lyrics of that point where the human and the divine meet both found expression. And I think both were pointing the same experience—that there is a hidden reality just underneath the surface of what we see and feel, if we just dig a little and peel away the curtain.
I write this on Monday morning after a day of rest in Ioannina. My legs still feel heavy, but experience tells me that once I start turning the pedals over the muscles will loosen up, my body will get lubricated, and my heart will open up a little more. Good thing too! Eventually (probably tomorrow) I will arrive in Meteora the site of the monasteries built high on the cliffs. In the way are three mountains and one of them boasts of a 3600 foot climb, 1500 feet more than the climb that rewarded me with an altar and Fogelberg lyrics. But, I am learning to take it as it comes and I may crest that summit today and limp into Meteora deliriously spent or I may camp halfway up the mountain and spread the delicious pain over two days. The good news is Antonio from Spain is just a day behind me and on the same route to Thessalonika. We might join up in Meteora if he gets his legs back under him from that same climb from Saturday.
See you on the other side.