I could feel it all day. My legs were pumping hard. I was pushing toward something. Kavala was 170 kilometers (105 miles) away, a two day trip at this point. Yet, halfway there I came through a nice village with lodging and restaurants right on the sea and I just wasn’t able to stop. I was holding out a slightly delusional hope that I might be able to keep those pedals moving all the way to Kavala. At 110 kilometers my legs were starting to complain and the sun was heading down. I decided it was time to stop at the first place where I could find a hotel or decent campsite.
I am here in Ofrinio about 50 kilometers from Kavala in what is clearly a favorite destination during the summer. The beachfront bars and restaurants are strung along the coast for nearly two kilometers. Every hundred meters a lifeguard stand is propped up in the sand. Makeshift shacks are scattered abut where beach-goers can quickly grab a beer or snacks. But, right now the little resort town looks more like the fairgrounds the day after the fair closes. With the exception of workers stacking chairs, tables and umbrellas and a few summer stragglers like me, it looks a little twister ripped through here. They are clearly closing up shop for the winter. This is the third place in the last four where I have been either the only guest or one of only two or three.
The drive in my legs though was the result, I believe, of three forces that have met. I remember this feeling three years ago when, on my last pilgrimage, I made the turn west in Colorado after cycling east and south for four weeks. That little directional turn made me feel like I was going home and I could feel my energy shift even though I still had over 2,000 miles and six weeks to go. The departure from Thessaloniki offered that same feeling. For some reason it marked a threshold from leaving home to going home.
Of course, I can feel the growing excitement and nervousness about entering a whole new world a culture. It feels like what I would anticipate feeling just before taking off in a hang glider for the first time—excited and shaking in my boots terrified. That’s maybe a bit strong, but you get the point.
But, there is one more thing. I really had breakthrough in Thessaloniki. This city that has a history of many religions and gods shook something loose that I been wrestling with for years. In my post “Bread Crumbs, Bread Crumbs…” I included in my last paragraph the request, “Don’t ask me if I believe in God.” That was really important for me to say.
If I had been the pastor in a church and said that all hell would break loose and I would never even be able to address the deeper implications. My time would be spent cleaning up the mess from the bombs that would explode. This is a process that I am all too familiar with. I made one attempt this last year when I wrote a letter to the editor that included the self-identifier, “I am an agnostic, Christian mystic biker-guy.” It was months before we really negotiated our way through that, but my ministry never really fully recovered after that.
Yet, I have felt compelled to try to change the conversation and my post two days ago finally put me in the position I wanted to be. I have felt in our American culture that there are only two options with regard to God: you either believe in God or you don’t! It is very narrow and tight box.
After Thessaloniki I felt like I had the language I was looking for. I had to find a way out of this either/or thinking that assumed as soon as I had any questions at all about God that it meant I didn’t believe. But, it’s the wrong question for me. For me, it’s not about believing or not believing. What is most accurate and true for me is that I trust in the power of the gods and our religious narratives to mirror the deeper spiritual realities alive in all of us and world. I trust in our myths to reflect the ancient and eternal archetypes that seem to get played out in every person and culture. Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is within you.” I believe that the gods we have fashioned and the icons we have created have the power to uncover and expose that heavenly realm and bliss within us.
This is why I am attracted to the world of the mystics. Mystics, by definition, believe that the way to God or to the divine is through the ordinary, material world in which we live. The sacred is right under our feet if we allow ourselves to feel and see it. God is as close as our next breath and the hand of our neighbor reaching out to us.
Yesterday, after twenty kilometers of climbing out of Thessaloniki I stood at the top of the mountain and looked out over the expansive plain of Greece. A large long lake was my companion to the north for most of the morning. The sea was my companion to the south in the afternoon. I imagine that I will likely be riding on mostly flat or slightly rolling hills now until I reach Tekirdag, Turkey where I plan to take a ferry into Istanbul. If all goes as planned I will be crossing the border into Turkey on Monday or Tuesday.