We have arrived safely in Edinburgh and even had a good night’s sleep (well, most of us did…).Like most pilgrims, we had a few inconveniences and annoyances along the way, although to this point, I can’t say we have suffered. Our plane flights departed and arrived on time and no one’s luggage got lost. We were very tired when we finally made it to Edinburgh. But with several volunteers from the group, we shopped and produced a spaghetti dinner for all on Friday evening. Besides a few adventures in British plumbing (shower that goes from SCALDING to FREEZING in a matter of seconds) we are well. Excited for tonight’s Royal Tatoo at the Edinburgh Castle!
And we’re off! Minneapolis to Amsterdam to Edinburgh.
Framing this travel as a pilgrimage means I’m trying to pay attention to what God is doing in us, through us and around us. I know that one of the things that can shift my attention away from God’s presence is WORRY.
Jesus told us not to worry and, using one of his pointed questions, helps us to remember how useless worry is: “And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?” Great question. But somehow I keep on worrying.
As we start out on our travel, here’s a thought provoking quotation from Sellner’s book , Pilgrimage: “While pilgrimages may result in encounters with the sacred, they can also be painful journeys into the unknown. We may be far from family and friends and all those things that give us a sense of self-worth and identity. This is an experience of being in the wilderness, of being betwixt and between. Pilgrims may be filled with excitement and hope. But they also may be filled with anxiety; they may worry about safety or their ability to adapt to a strange new environment. Pilgrims cross a threshold and enter a new dimension, a liminal, perhaps dangerous, place.”
Truly there is much that could go wrong. There’s the small things like the airlines losing luggage. There are medium worries like ill health. And then there are big worries that seem less likely but potentially life threatening: terrorism.
One thing I have learned as an experienced worrier is that the things I worry about most often don’t come true.
But other things do go wrong….When we were traveling in Turkey, the power went out in our AirBnB and we had to find another place to stay for a few days. I would never have thought to worry about that! But somehow it all worked out.
So as we leave today with 19 students in our care I will keep Jesus’ realistic words in mind: “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” God has a way of helping us through every day. Trust in God and depend on him to show up.
People from all times and places search for answers. We visited temples in Turkey that were places for pilgrimage for pagans — places like the temples of Apollo in Didyma and Artemis in Ephesus.
The temple of Apollo in Didyma is especially impressive. If it had ever been finished, it would have been the largest in the Hellenic world. As it remains, it is a monument to the challenge of raising money for great buildings!
Although it dates back to the 6th century B.C., Alexander the Great reconsecrated it in 334 B.C. Over the following centuries, plans were drawn up, column segments were carved, but the entire temple was never completed. Money was always lacking (sound familiar to those pastors who have led a church through a building campaign?) It’s fascinating to see the columns where they lay for thousands of years, waiting to be put together. But they never were!
But as I said, people from all times and places search for answers to questions political and personal. People would come to this temple with concrete questions for which they wanted answers. They would pay a donation to submit the question to the priest or priestess presiding over the temple. They then would wait, sometimes many days, to receive an answer, an oracle, from the god or goddess. They then would return home with their answer.
This process reminded me of a thought provoking quote by Henri Nouwen: “Our lives as we live them seem like lives that anticipate questions that never will be asked. It seems as if we are getting ourselves ready for the question ‘How much did you earn during your lifetime?’ or ‘How many friends did you make?’ or ‘How much progress did you make in your career?’ or ‘How much influence did you have on people?’ or ‘How many conversions did you make?'” (Seeds of Hope)
Nouwen goes on to talk about the question he believes that Jesus will ask us about our lives, based on Matthew 25.31-46, which is, how did we treat “the least of these”?
Our lives are a search for answers. Pilgrims spent time, money, encountered great danger to find answers. But were they asking the right questions? What are the questions on which our lives should be based today?
We returned home on Wednesday morning and I’ve finally had some leisure to reflect on experiences we had in Turkey, both in southern Turkey at places where the Apostle Paul walked, as well as Istanbul, once the site of many Christian pilgrimages to the church of Hagia Sophia (now, in Turkish, Ayasofya, a “museum).
I had hoped to post more blogs while traveling but the challenge of intermittent internet service as well as our busy schedule didn’t leave me much time for more than one post. I needed some time and space to reflect on what I have experienced. I thought of the two disciples traveling to Emmaus who were met on the road by Jesus. Although they first didn’t recognize him, when they finally came to a place of rest and shared a meal, they could reflect — “Didn’t our hearts burn within us…?”
This quote from a 15th century Dominican friar about his own trips to the Holy Land (quoted in Sellner’s book, Pilgrimage) is very appropriate: “No one should think visiting the holy places to be a light task; there is the intense heat of the sun, the walking from place to place…above all there is the strain which everyone puts on himself striving with all his might to rouse himself with earnest piety and comprehension of what is shown him in the holy places…all of which cannot be done without great fatigue, because to do them fitly a man should be at rest and not walking about.”
I know what this friar meant!
It was probably 100 degrees in Ephesus and the other archeological sites. Istanbul was a bit cooler but humid. We walked a lot, of course, and found few air-conditioned spaces. As soon as we got back to our lodgings, we would take a shower and head out for a family activity related to the wedding celebration. A glorious week or so, but not very conducive to reflection!
I’ll leave you with a few questions to ponder: What if we all took more time to stop and reflect on life? Would daily existence seem more like a pilgrimage? How would we see our own life differently if we paused more often to recognize God’s presence in the common experiences of each day?
After traveling for 27 hours straight, I thought of the Apostle Paul’s troubles in travel (see 2 Corinthians 11.23-28). I reminded myself that international travel is a bit of a marathon but even the stress of long lines at passport control and the weariness of crossing time zones is nothing compared to shipwrecks and robbers!
Unlike Paul and his companions, we had a beautiful hotel with views of the Aegean Sea and comfortable beds at the end of our journey.
Our trip to Ephesus was mind boggling. Ephesus is one of the best preserved archeological sites in Europe. We walked down the same broad streets that Paul and companions walked down, saw terrace houses, one of which was probably the site of the “school” or “hall” of Tyrannus (See Acts 19 for more details), the agora or public meeting place where the riot started, and the theater where the Ephesians gathered during the riot over Paul’s teaching of “the Way.” The houses were full of intricate mosaic floors and beautiful frescoed walls which have been uncovered and partially restored. Probably the library is the most impressive with its towering facade. Interesting to think of Paul perhaps disputing with students of philosophy during the three years (during both his second and third missionary journey) he was in Ephesus.
I am still pondering the immense challenges that the Christian message faced in this first century culture. People in a city like Ephesus had it all — culture, entertainment, decent plumbing(!), beauty, religion, philosophy. Why would they be at all receptive to Paul’s message that the true God of the universe had come in the person of a Jew from an obscure part of the empire? What would open their minds to the heart of the Gospel — that sin was real and that this man, Jesus, had died on the Roman instrument of torture for them? What an unlikely message to bring to a city and culture whose artifacts are still amazingly stunning and impressive 2,000 years later!
What courage Paul and his companions had to continue preaching this message even in the face of riots and persecutions! Paul wrote these words to the church in Corinth: “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Co. 1.22-25).
On a more personal note, we’ve had lots of adventures, both the kind you treasure and the kind you can laugh about later. Our Air BnB lost power for most of 2 days and we shuttled back and forth between two hotels. I had hoped to post more entries and get them up sooner. But such are the serendipities of traveling!
Talk about a “destination wedding!” We’re off to Istanbul — the beautiful city that sits astride the straits of the Bosphorus, controlling navigation into the Black Sea and connecting Asia and Europe. Our son, Will, is having a wedding celebration there. Istanbul was also a place of pilgrimage for thousands of years.
Will, married Irem, a lovely woman from Turkey, about a year ago, here in the USA in a civil service. On August 8 in Istanbul they will have a wedding celebration that will be attended by most of her family, some of ours, and many friends. I am excited to meet Irem’s family and to get to know her native country, Turkey, and Istanbul.
Before the wedding we will visit Ephesus, the city where, traditionally, St. John wrote his gospel of the New Testament. Ephesus also has long been a place of pilgrimage. We’ll then go up to Istanbul which, of course, has a long history first as Byzantium, then Constantinople and since 1453, Istanbul (although the name was only formally adopted in 1930).
Byzantium was founded as a Greek colony on the “European” side of the Bosphorus straits in 657 B.C. Then in 330 A.D., Constantine “refounded” the city as the “New Rome.” After his death it was renamed Constantinople. When the Ottoman Turks conquered it in 1453, they called the city Istanbul.
The major place of Christian pilgrimage in Constantinople was the Cathedral of Holy Wisdom, or in Greek, Hagia Sophia. It too has a complicated history that spans millennia — it was built in its current form in 537 A.D. and was not only a place of holy relics and pilgrimage but of controversy and conquerors. After the Ottoman conquest, the building became a mosque. In 1935 the Turkish government declared it to officially be a museum.
This trip will be my “preparation pilgrimage” — travel to historical sites that have been hallowed for hundreds of years by association with saints and relics. But mainly this trip will be a joyous celebration of two families uniting. I hope to experience some of the delight and will, no doubt, experience some of the frustrations that travel to a very different culture brings. We journey with Jesus, whose appearance at a wedding in Cana hallows this one too!
“Walking the labyrinth” became all the rage a few decades ago. A labyrinth is a circular pattern that looks like a maze but has one important difference. In a labyrinth there is one single path to the center, unlike a maze which is a puzzle with many paths and directions. The labyrinth has one path, one direction, and takes one to the center — although not directly. And therein lies the adventure and even fun. Continue reading Labyrinths and Pilgrimages