I had a friend share the observation the other day that my first pilgrimage in 2011 spoke a great deal about spirituality, whereas my recent Rome to Rumi pilgrimage focused more on the soul. I hadn’t thought about precisely in those terms, but realized that she was right. I had experienced a shift in the years between my 4,000 mile Western U.S. pilgrimage and the shorter pilgrimage through Italy, Greece and Turkey of this past fall.
I thought about that a little. What had happened? I am deeply engrossed in the rewrite and editing of my book Dying to Live that shares the journey of that first pilgrimage. I reflect in the beginning of the book on the fact that I chose a profession (or did the profession choose me?) that is having to rethink itself. In the Northwest, a growing segment of the population thinks of themselves as being “spiritual but not religious”. In fact, even if you ask many church-goers you will hear them identity more in spiritual terms than in religious terms.
My ten-week pilgrimage in 2011 was partly about coming to terms with what it meant to be a religious leader in a time when religious devotion was giving way to spiritual exploration. A lot of that pilgrimage focused on what I was hearing about the dissolving away of our present religious forms. I didn’t have a clear picture of what was emerging, but it was obvious that it had something to do with spirituality even if the term didn’t have any one clear definition.
I left on September 3 this year for Italy for the beginning of my Rome to Rumi pilgrimage. Strangely enough, this pilgrimage mirrored in some ways the 2011 pilgrimage. I chose the Rome to Rumi theme and route to once again wrestle with, reflect upon and write about this movement away from institutional forms of religion in favor of more direct experience of the Sacred, as seen in the Sufi mysticism of Mevlana Rumi. Once again I was flirting with the issue of religion and spirituality.
But, my friend was right. My language had changed. I had gone from numerous references to the growing interest in spirituality in 2011 to an exploration of the soul in 2014. I haven’t completely put my finger on what the transition was, but I think I am close.
I think the two pilgrimages represent my own evolution in this tremendous transition that many of us, if not all of us, are experiencing. There is an unmistakable transformation taking place where the seams of our religious institutions are splitting in favor of something that is loosely defined as spirituality. I see it. Others see it. We all feel it. And I am experiencing it both as a person dedicated to my own spiritual journey and as a person ordained to professional ministry.
But, spirituality is a general catch-all term for just about anything that has to do with the sacred world, but doesn’t look too much like religion. My exploration of Sufi mysticism and the Soul is where my spirituality begins to take form. One might say that spirituality is to the Soul as music is to rock and roll. Spirituality and music are general categories. The Soul and rock and roll are the specific ways we live out and celebrate those areas of our lives.
I had gone from exploring the shift from religion to spirituality in my last pilgrimage to exploring the shift from religion to one particular form of spirituality in my second pilgrimage. The last pilgrimage was more about what we were moving away from. This pilgrimage was more about what we, and me in particular, are moving toward. That it, mystical forms of religion.
Still, this pilgrimage had a surprise for me. I thought I was going to Konya, Turkey (site of Rumi’s Tomb) to highlight the language of mysticism and the soul for my readers and followers. In the end, however, the pilgrimage became about the yearnings and the disappointments of my own soul. I had flown over to Europe under the mistaken assumption that I could use this pilgrimage to invite others to take a journey that I thought I had already completed psychologically and spiritually years before. As it turned out I may have had the language, but I had not yet completed the work.
My work in the end was finally to commit to something that I had been talking about for years. I had been dating my soul on and off for quite some time. This pilgrimage was about finally standing at the altar and saying, “I do.”