It was less than a week ago that I completed my Rome to Rumi pilgrimage. As I neared Konya an image began forming in my mind that seemed to reflect the nature of this mystical search for God/the Source of Life/Soul. I almost shared it in the days when I was off my bike and just getting to know the city of Konya better. But it felt like it needed a little more ripening before I plucked it from the branches of my busy mind.
I was thinking about the few concerns that have been expressed by some acquaintances about my continual “searching” as if there was a hope that I would find what I was seeking and finally settle down. As I thought about this I was struck by the irony that if a person decides to return to school for a further degree, it is often lauded as ambitious. Yet, there is something about these types of pilgrimages (like the trips to India in the 60’s) that are seen simply as trying to “find oneself.”
Three years ago I was faced with the decision of whether it was time to return to school for another graduate degree as I accepted the reality of the erosion of professional ministry. I was 52 years old at the time. After weeks of discussion and reflection with my therapist I came to a decision. To pursue the degree I wanted (a PhD in mythological studies) would require nearly seven years of my life and tens of thousands of dollars. Financially, it did not make sense. But, more than that, we decided that I would benefit as much from my own endeavors to understand the soul of our cultures as I would from a formal degree program.
As I neared Konya this image began to form for me that mirrored this mystical path that seems to have captivated me. It’s an image that is actually very familiar to Sunday morning Christians. Many communion liturgies lift up the words attributed Jesus as he informs his disciples, “I am the vine. You are the branches. Cut off from me you can do nothing.” I actually was thinking of the image of a tree, but this Biblical image will work just fine.
It was this image of the vine that revealed why I feel so strongly that this path that I have chosen is not mere navel-gazing. The mystical path is one of seeking, feeling, and living out of the deep connection that exists between all of us. If, as the metaphor suggests, we are the branches, Jesus is the vine, and God might be the roots, then God is not some foreign entity to try to understand, but literally part of us as we are part of God . I don’t need to get a PhD in world religions to understand the spirit that connects all of us; I only need to look deeply within myself to see the image of the One who is reflected in all of us.
The branch contains the same DNA as the vine and the roots. In fact, there really is no difference between the root, the vine and the branch. We only establish definitions for the sake of naming and organizing our world.
As I concluded my pilgrimage this was the growing awareness that swept over me. This apparent navel-gazing does not separate me from the people around me, but rather gives me a deeper appreciation and awareness of the forces that shape all of us. My grief may have its own particular form, but becoming an intimate partner with my grief allows me to recognize and connect with the particular expression of your grief. I follow my particular passions not at the expense of others, but in order to connect the deepest part of me with the deepest part of you.
Jesus says, “I am the vine. You are the branches.” Interesting. I wonder just where the vine ends and the branch begins. I wonder if we all are closer to God than we think. I wonder if the Source of life is not to be found in faraway places, but right here in the deepest parts of our souls.