I was beginning to think there wasn’t much left to say as I rode the bus from Istanbul to Cappadocia. Like all effective pilgrimages the destination is rarely the end goal; it only serves as a catalyst for a process. Whether one is on pilgrimage to Jerusalem or Mecca or the Church of St. James, the destination only represents something deeper—like one’s faith or a relationship with the world, God or the Sacred or a ideal state of being. Rumi’s Tomb has been my destination since the beginning, but my inner Rumi began to get revealed somewhere between Thessaloniki and Istanbul. The emphasis on the marriage between body, beauty and virtue in Hellenistic culture struck a chord with me. I knew it was mirroring something I felt deeply, but hadn’t seen validated so clearly.
Sometime in Istanbul I really began to own that and refuse to apologize for that as I wrote, “This is who I am. This is what I do.” As I began to turn my thoughts more and more toward home, however, the reality of how my non-apologetic, spiritual coming out would narrow considerably my chances of making a living in professional ministry sent me into a mild depression.
I thought I could write my way through that in my daily blog, but then I second-guessed myself thinking my readers don’t want to hear me continuing to ruminate about m place in the world. “Can’t this guy just get his act together,” I heard you saying. So then I thought you’d be more interested in hearing about my activities and the foreign places that I am traveling through that many of you, like me until now, have never been exposed to. But, that sounded boring. Do you really want to hear about the carpet sellers who continually dogged me by calling me James Bond and making friendly with me? Could you really be that interested in the 90 minutes I spent drinking an extra hot, no water, chai tea latte while watching people and catching up with Facebook posts and friends? Would a detailed account of tearing my bike down readying it for transport be worth your time?
In the end, given the all-night bus ride and my writer’s block I said nothing. Instead I took a glorious nap in my rock framed bed at Flintstones Cave Hotel. I kid you not. It is really called “Flintstones” and it really is in a rock cave—part of which is the original natural rock chimney and part of which is added rock construction in order to make it a full service hotel. After a good nap and a couple of Ibuprofen to ease my sleepless night induced headache I took my bike for a quick spin around town and up and down the narrow alley streets lined with numerous small hotels and inns built into and from the rock that puts this place on the map.
Actually, I wasn’t even supposed to be in the town of Goreme. In Istanbul I paid for a ticket, including an extra half fare for my bike, to get to the town of Urgup right on the boundary of Goreme National Park. When we arrived in Goreme I was the only one still on the bus when the attendant stepped up to me and said in Turkish, “What are you doing?” “I am going on to Urgup,” I stated. He shook his head and through a series of hand motions indicated that I needed to pick up my bicycle and luggage that was already sitting on the side of the road. With a little negotiation I discovered that I needed to transfer to another bus to Urgup. That stop was 200 meters away and I lugged my bike bag on one shoulder while carrying my 25 pound box of luggage in my arms.
45 minutes later the bus came—a small commuter bus that so full that four or five people were standing in the stairwell. There was room enough for most of my body, but not room enough for my luggage or bike. I didn’t even try to plead my case. I was already aware that something like that could happen and I was prepared to adjust, if necessary. I carried my belongings across the street, spent the next hour putting my bike back together and then searched the town for a bike tour company that I knew existed that could help me plan my next few days and find accommodations for the night.
It was this combination of events (the nap, the cave-like hotels, and the bike tour company) that pulled me through my mild depression and writer’s block. I began to believe again that this thing that I do and know so well (life as pilgrimage) does have a place. I talked with Jon, with Middle Earth Adventures, and we discussed the possibility of a cycling pilgrimage where I provided the spiritual leadership and they handled all the logistics. This got me thinking about pilgrimages I could lead in Oregon that help people explore the “landscape of the soul” given that Oregon has so many different landscapes. I thought about working with the theme of “wilderness” and leading hearty and brave individuals across the Nevada desert- a place I am particularly attracted to. But, I also knew that this was not the answer to putting food on a table that I also no longer have.
I began to form a working image that spoke to one of the early catalysts for this pilgrimage—the clear and unmistakable feeling that one world was dying and another world was being born and emerging. This has been part of my angst and wrestling. Like an auto worker who has lost his job to automation, my vocational identity and livelihood has been dependent on the professional ministry. But, I and the vast majority of ministers in my age group will tell you that we don’t believe the professional ministry will sustain us until retirement. Every year there are fewer full time positions and we have to travel further and further from our homes to find positions. We had better be thinking about Plan B!
But, I had an image that came to mind. I have lived a good portion of my life near orchards and it is common to see orchards where older trees are mixed in with younger saplings. I began to think about professional ministry like these orchards. We know that older trees are producing less and less every year. We also know that we cannot expect the younger saplings to replace those older trees until many years of growth and maturity.
I began to think about my livelihood. I thought back to one of my favorite lines from author Frederick Buechner when he wrote, “The place God where calls us to be is where our deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” I thought about the orchard. I thought about this internal wrestling that has followed me in recent years. And for the first time I think I saw the picture for what it really is. My livelihood and my need to serve to the community may be and likely will be two different things—at least, until those new emerging saplings grow into maturity.
I have a feeling that riding into Konya won’t be the great celebration like one expects after reaching the top of Mt. Everest. It will feel more like relief and one step closer to physical home. If I didn’t want to get home I could have stayed in Istanbul where I had settled in for a few days. I feel like I could do that here in Cappadocia as well. Internally I have been coming home ever since Thessaloniki and arriving at my inner Rumi days before actually arriving at the pilgrimage destination of his Rumi’s Tomb in Konya.
The last two days have taken me just a step closer, another small “aha” in my larger pilgrimage of finding my place in the world. In order to honor “the place that God calls us,” as Buechner says, I may need to divorce my livelihood from my emerging sense of call. A young sapling is peeking through the ground, but I need to give her time to mature and grow before she can produce the fruit to sustain me day to day. To expect more than that will suffocate the sapling before she has a chance to grow up.
Tomorrow I will tour through the region around Goreme including the rock chimneys, some ancient church sites, and some very unique landscape that will be a sensual feast for the eyes and glorious terrain for the bike. Ha! And it will be my birthday too, now that I think about it. Happy 55th birthday to me! One to remember for sure.