ON PILGRIMAGE

In generosity and helping others be like a river

In compassion and grace be like the sun

In concealing other’s faults be like the night

In anger and fury be like dead

In modesty and humility be like earth

In tolerance be like a sea

Either exist as you are be as you look

Rumi

I love places of pilgrimage and religious fervour. From the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, Mother Theresa’s tomb in Calcutta to hiking 14kms up a Himalayan mountain to the holy Hindu town of Kedarnath, these are experiences that fascinate and resonate with me. Up until now most of the religious sites I have visited have been of significance to the Hindu, Buddhist or Christian religions. Aside from time in Malaysia, Indonesia and a couple of trips to Dubai I have spent little time in Muslim countries but would like to learn more.

Turkey is officially secular, yet it has a fascinating religious history, of both the Christian and Muslim faiths, and is very welcoming to foreigners wanting to visit religious sites, the most famous being the iconic Blue Mosque and Haga Sofia in Istanbul.

 When I read about the city Konya as being considered the epicentre of Islam in Turkey – Turkey’s equivalent to the “bible belt”, my interest was piqued. When I then read it was home to the tomb of the famous 13th century Sufi mystic and poet Rumi, I knew I had to make a visit. Fortunately it proved to be an easy stopping point between the cave cities of Cappadocia and the Mediterranean.

Rumi, or Mevlana, as he is known in Turkey, advocated tolerance of all religions and his philosophies and poetry expressed his yearning to be reunited with the Divine, as though they were lovers separated. The Mevlevi Sufi order was founded after his death (which is referred to as his wedding night) and is famous for the ritualistic dance called sama performed by “whirling dervishes”. Rumi believed that music was a vehicle for helping the spiritual aspirant destroy the ego and connect with the divine. Dervishes wanting to join Rumi’s order needed to serve in a hospice for the poor for 1001 days followed by 1001 days in solitary retreat.

 

We stayed in a hotel right across the Mevlana mausoleum and museum. The tomb was beautiful and the museum was full of interesting artefacts from the religious order. I also enjoyed exploring the shops in the surrounding streets, full of mini whirling dervish statues, prayer beads and mats and other pilgrimage souvenirs. I was pleased to stumble across a shop selling “neys” the sufi flute and passed some time drinking cay, listening to it being played – and trying it out myself! It was very difficult and I can play the regular flute! Unfortunately we missed seeing a performance of the whirling dervishes, which was a pity as apparently Konya is the only place now where a truly authentic sama is still performed.

 

Our visit to Cappadocia also proved to be a pilgrimage of sorts. I knew the area was famous for the incredible landscape and rock formations known as “fairy chimneys” but I didn’t realise until going there that it was actually a site of early Christianity. The Cappadocians are named in the Bible as one group hearing the Gospel account from Galileans in their own language on the day of Pentecost shortly after the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Early Christians took refuge from the Romans in underground cities and cave houses built into the unusually shaped rocks that dot the dramatic landscape of Cappadocia.

 

On a walk through a beautiful green valley we found a tiny cave church, with room for only six people and featuring a rudimentary cross, painted on the wall. It was incredible to imagine the early Christians meeting here, determined to live and share the teachings of Jesus, even if that meant going “underground”. I contemplated what it must have been like then to be hearing and experiencing Christ’s message, unfettered by the centuries of violence, injustices and dogma that now plague the perception of the “Church”. What a time in history – amazing!

(The two above photos are the entrance ways to the cave church – not only did you have to hide in a cave if you wanted to be Christian… you also had to rock climb!) 

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