Sunday, October 12 Istanbul—Bosphorus River Day
(written Monday morning)
I had almost forgotten what normal felt like! Yesterday, as I was walking with my host couple, Pelin and Citin (pronounced “Chittin”), down a cobblestoned street I became aware of how good I felt. I hadn’t touched the bike for more than two days. I enjoyed a wonderful and casual tour of Old Town the day before with Burcu. I spent a casual morning strolling, sitting, watching, and snacking along the Bosphorus River. And a slight shake in my body was dissolving away (the result of my nerves firing constantly from the over-stimulation of sights, sounds, smells, uncertainties, weeks on the bike, and by American standards, crazy driving.)
I can feel myself coming home. I am enjoying slowing the pace down here in Istanbul. Yesterday I bought a new long sleeve shirt just because I got tired of being in public in my ratty turtleneck that is fine for camping, but not for dining out. I have four nights in the same place, the same bed, and with the same set of restaurants and stores around me. It feels really good that I don’t have to wake up to a new set of circumstances each morning. I want to enjoy this enough to hold onto this feeling, but not so much that I refuse to budge and not move forward. I don’t plan to stay put and start a Presbyterian Church here!
This was the second day that I had hosts from connections that I have back in Oregon. Once again (like Burcu) my hosts treated me to another part of Istanbul and pointed out many places that I might visit in my remaining time here. They picked me up in front of my hostel and drove back to their part of the city in the area known as Ortica. I was really glad that Citin was driving. I knew well enough to trust him, but still found that my eyes widened a few times at the maneuvers that he and other drivers pulled to get where they wanted to go.
They pulled into the parking area for their home and walked by it as their dog peered out from behind a fence hoping that they were returning. We wound our way through a number of little shops, restaurants and cafes through narrow alleys intended for pedestrians only as we made our way down to the river. Pelin and Citin had reserved a place for us on a Bosphorus river boat cruise. The one hour cruise took us up the north side of the river as far as the Black Sea and then made a U-turn hugging the south side of the river for the return trip.
From the vantage point of the river it was easy to see the blend of the ancient with the modern all along the shore. Fortress towers still stood high above the river as historical reminders of the Ottoman conquest of the area six hundred years prior. Modern trendy coffee shops were built right into the walls of old castles that had at one time housed sultans. Twentieth century luxurious homes lined the waterfront mixed in with the occasional fifteenth century home.
The water and the air felt great and refreshing. I remember this feeling from my pilgrimage in 2011 when I crossed from the East Bay to San Francisco in a ferry. After riding for eight weeks propelling myself by my own power, it was almost a dizzying feeling to just sit and let something else transport me from one place to another. I had a little of that yesterday as I just sat in the chair on the boat, watched as the scenery greeted me at the pace of the boat, and took the occasional picture. Pelin, Citin, and I managed our conversation pretty successfully. Pelin can still drudge up some English from three years she spent in England twenty years ago. Citin had about five times as much English as I did Turkish which means he had ten words to my two! Not only did we manage, but it was fun using all three of us and the occasional Google search to express what we really wanted to say.
Today, I will make the arrangements for the rest of my trip. From the beginning of this I have set Konya as my destination as Rumi’s Tomb is located there. But, I have also known that it was never about just getting there. It was about how this process of going from “Rome to Rumi” mirrors an evolution in my spirituality and in the spiritual identity of much of the culture that I am associated with in the American Northwest.
In that light I could feel myself potentially drifting off the spiritual path that I had intended as I worked through the final route to Konya. After riding into Istanbul and being advised of the challenges of riding the 100 kilometers out of it again, I knew that it was not going to serve me well to try to cycle my way through it again. I was planning a ferry ride to Bandirma on the northwest coast of Turkey where I would then head pretty much in a straight line to Konya from there.
But, something wasn’t feeling right. The seven to eight days that it would take was feeling like it was just an area to cross on my way to my destination. Plus, when I have shared with Turkish people that I was going to Konya I often got a furrowed look back, as if to say, “Why would you go there?” When I shared that I was on a Mevlana (Rumi) pilgrimage, they understood. Then I would say that I was also planning a quick bus trip to Cappadocia and their eyes would light up and they would say, “Oh, you’ll just love Cappadocia and you just have to see the old underground Christian cities.” It was clear that the water was flowing another direction.
I still have a few details to work out, but if all falls into place I will take a late bus to Cappadocia tomorrow night (it’s an all-night ride by bus. Ugh!), spend three to four days touring through that region, and then cycle the final 150 kilometers to Konya to seal this pilgrimage properly with a visit to Rumi’s Tomb and first row seat at a Whirling Dervishes ceremony.
Finally, the last two days have given me a chance to reflect on this pilgrimage and what it means for me when I return home. I finally feel like I am in a really good place in terms of the presence I can offer in the community and my voice in the unfolding narrative of our culture with regard to religion and spirituality. While being a pastor has given me an avenue for many of my skills and passions, I have felt that it was never quite broad enough to allow me to really let my wings expand. I am sure you can see why. Some of what I have written in these weeks would not be welcome in most churches and I have alternated between keeping a lid on my most authentic self and sharing it more honestly at the risk of offense.
I feel a sense of relief that this pilgrimage has allowed me to show my real face. This is who I am. This is what I think about. This is what brings me great joy and satisfaction. I am deeply passionate about leading communities through a process of transformation and change. I know how to do that. I have a dogged determination to help our churches understand the new religious and spiritual context in which they find themselves. I will do almost anything to help others discover what makes their soul sing, what deepens and softens their heart, and what awakens the passion within them.
I don’t know what that will mean for a job. But, it no longer matters to me now. I can work in a bike shop or mentor juvenile delinquents or clean houses, if I need to. I know who I am. I know what I do. I know what gifts I bring to the community. I will offer them and then trust, trust, trust…