Thursday, February 17, 2011

7th Crystal: At the Tomb of Jelaluddin Rumi in Konya, Turkey

        I was ready to return to Konya, but was delayed in getting back across the border from Syria into Turkey by an unlikely rainstorm (the first in the year) followed by snow, making the nearby bigger mountains a range of glistening whiteness. It took a day and night on various buses, taxis, a tram and being walked to my hotel by a young Turkish man who recognized me as a likely "Lover of Mevlana" (Rumi) at 3am, for me to arrive in Konya where I was joining my Mevlevi Sufi turning group on Pilgrimage.

(Photo from Wikipedia)
       On December 17, 1273 at about sunset, the Sufi Master, Jelaluddin Rumi (known lovingly in Turkey as "Mevlana"), died and returned to God (his "Beloved"). People of all religions in Konya, came together to honor the memory of this amazing man. He had told his students to "dance" when he died, rather than to be sad. His son orchestrated a special ceremony to commemorate his father in a ritual named: Sema. For the past 700+ years, a special Sema called "Shebi Arus" (The Wedding Night of the Soul), has been done on the night of his death wherever "Whirling Dervishes" are found throughout the world. Those who are lucky enough, come to Konya to join in this joyous celebration at the spot where he lived, taught, composed his (now famous) poetry, died and was buried.

     It was in Konya on December 17th, 2010, that I deposited our last Crystal in the flowing waters of the fountain and recited the Peace Prayers from twelve of the major World Religions while sitting on the old turning floor within the museum within the sight of Rumi's tomb. A blessing for the world!

       I have been fortunate enough to go to Konya several times over the years as I have gradually learned to "turn"--which is a spiritual practice reflecting some of the mystical wisdom that Rumi exemplified. I have even had the amazing opportunity to "turn" in one of the ancient Semehane's (turning halls) which has been used only by Whirling Dervishes since before America was founded--an especially incredible experience, since Turkish women dervishes are not currently allowed to turn publicly!
      Our group of dervishes, came this year to celebrate Rumi's life from various places throughout the globe. I was especially pleased with the fact that we had kids, young adults and elders from America, Germany, Israel, Palestine, India and South America who have been Christians, Muslims, Jews, Sufis, Buddhists and others who have come together to learn about Loving--as Rumi taught in his time.

      Some of our Pilgrims were initiated for the first time, receiving their "Sikke" (high conical white felt hat) and thus becoming "Semazens" or being awarded their green belt (called an "Alif  Lamet and symbolizing a further stage of learning). We turned together simulating "planets in the universe" while we received energy from our right hands and channeling it into the earth through our hearts. 

  Each night we would gather to make music, turn together, share tea and sweets, and celebrate the life of Rumi and our connections to his life and poetry. The women in the group also learned about the lives and  wisdom of Sufi women in Turkey from our teacher's family members. 

    One of the treats for me in going to Turkey, is to be in the presence of  my friend, Esin Celebi,  the 22nd generation great-granddaughter of Rumi himself--here shown with the new 24th generation granddaughter--at the location of a newly-renovated ancient turning hall and newly-forming University to teach the cultural music, art, dancing, turning, etc. coming out of Turkey and other parts of the world.
    Esin's family has worked with the government and UNESCO to revitalize these ancient traditions. She is also currently a major speaker regarding Rumi (Mevlana), who has now become one of the most widely-read poets throughout the West, as he has been for over 700 years in Turkey and the Middle East.

    Back in Istanbul, I had a last evening  to walk around the old  Sultanamet area with its famous structures of Hagia Sophia (one of the earliest Christian Churches in the world) and the "Blue Mosque" sitting across a park from one another. Truly beautiful!

                                            The Moment

In every instant there's dying and coming back around.
Muhammad said, "This world
is a moment, a pouring that refreshes and renews itself so
rapidly it seems continuous,
as a burning stick taken from the fire looks like a golden
wire when you swirl
it in the air, so we feel duration as a string of sparks."

                                                                             By Jelalluddin Rumi (Translated by Coleman Barks in "The Soul of Rumi"

I died as a mineral and became a plant,
I died as plant and rose to animal,
I died as animal and I was Man.
Why should I fear? When was I less by dying?
Yet once more I shall die as Man, to soar
With angels bless'd; but even from angelhood
I must pass on: all except God doth perish.
When I have sacrificed my angel-soul,
I shall become what no mind e'er conceived.
Oh, let me not exist! for Non-existence
Proclaims in organ tones,
To Him we shall return.

                           (Another Rumi Poem as found on Wikipedia)



Friday, February 4, 2011

6th Crystal: Deir Mar Musa Christian Monastery in Syria

     After Athens, I flew to Turkey where I spent a week with 5 women friends on one of the "Princes' Islands" off the coast of Istanbul where no cars are allowed and most homes are used primarily as summer vacation spots. In this idyllic location, provided by our Turkish member, we walked, talked, played, and supported one of our members who was facing a serious cancer threat.

      Then, I went by bus to Turkey's capitol, Ankara to visit another friend, who lives there teaching the professional tools for working with women who have been victims of sexual violence. We took a walk up a hill in the center city where the biggest Mosque in the country was recently built. From the women's balcony, I saw this beautiful golden ball of lights and crystals, looking  like the "Network of Light" that I hope I am a part of in this world. There I prayed our Peace Prayers. 

      From there, I traveled to Konya to drop most of my luggage and proceeded by overnight bus to the south of Turkey and over the Syrian border. We traveled through the ancient city of Aleppo and further south along the "Silk Route" to a drop-off along the road. 
     I walked the stone steps up the mountain, where in the 3rd century, an Etheopian Prince named "Moses"(Musa), leaving his wealth behind to become a Christian, had come to this mountainous canyon to pray, much as Jesus had done before him. Other Christian Monks hid out here in the caves as well, during times of persecution. Later in the 11th century, a church and monastery was built out of the rocks of mountain and inhabited for hundreds of years, after which it fell into disrepair.

     In the past 30-some years, the church and ancient  monastery were "rediscovered," repaired and  reactivated through the work of an amazing Italian priest, Padre Paolo, who went to the desert to pray (much as Musa had done centuries before) and search for his mission in life. 
     He became proficient in Arabic and took as his mission an interpretation of Christianity which honors Islam as a "sister" religion. To this end, the Catholic "Mass" is said in Arabic and people of all religious persuasions, or none, are welcome to come to Deir Mar Musa to retreat, pray, offer their services and speak of peace together!
    During this visit, I met people from Korea, Iran, Iraq, Norway, Canada, Spain, Ireland, Lebanon, Sweden, Germany, England, Japan, South Africa, and Australia--as well as many local Syrians--Muslims, Aramaic and Syriac Christians. All of us shared a mutual hope for Peace in the Middle East, as well as throughout the world!

During my first visit to Deir Mar 
 Musa in 2003, as part of an "Interfaith Peace Pilgrimage," I totally "fell in love" with it. Most of my group slept in the guest area across a swinging bridge over the dry "wadi"  below, which was being constructed, using stones from old houses being torn down in the valley below. 
     I had the auspicious opportunity to sleep in the cave where, it is thought that Musa himself had lived. There, I celebrated my 59th birthday, waking before dawn to to look out over the ancient "Silk Route" below in the valley, where Bedouin shepherds started their morning breakfast fires before beginning another day of fasting in honor of the Islamic month of Ramadan. As I too, was fasting, I would have a little breakfast before preparing to go across going across for Mass in the church,sitting on rugs on the floor and leaning against frescoes painted by Monks, perhaps in the 13th century!

     During this visit, I was disappointed to discover that "my beloved cave" had been made into a "chapel" to Musa complete with a rug on the floor and a cross against the back wall. So, it was clear that I would not be able to sleep there this time.

     Nevertheless, I was able to go in on the day of my 66th birthday and to say our Peace Prayers and to leave there a candle, some sacred cedar from the Pacific Northwest of the United States, and of course, our 6th Crystal from the World Community of Saint Francis. May our candle shine out from the cave and add light throughout the world!

Prayer before the Cross of San Damiano

Most high and Glorious God,
Bring light to the darkness of my heart.
Grant me right faith, certain hope and perfect charity.
Lord, grant me insight and wisdom,
So I might always discern
Your holy and true Will.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

5th Crystal: In the "Peace Garden" in the Athens Hills

  After leaving the Necromanteion, we traveled  up the mountain to Delphi, where the famous Delphic Oracle gave guidance to rich and poor alike, who came from throughout the Greek world. From the 14th century BC until its height of popularity in the 4th century BC, Delphi, was the most important religious center within the Greek Empire.

  We returned to Athens with a day to explore the ancient ruins in the middle of this modern city. We saw the Acropolis, Theatre of Dionysos, and the Temple of Zeus.
    The Wisdom University class left and I stayed with my friend for the next two weeks in the foothills above the city and overlooking the Saronic Gulf below. 

    For the most part, we lived in her apartment and went about the day-to-day activities of the local Greek residents--shopping in the farmers markets, getting goat cheese and yogurt from the little shop on the corner, having Sunday meals in family's favorite fish restaurant and hanging our wash out on the balcony of the house to dry in the sun.
    One day, we traveled  by bus to the place where my friend's father's family went for summers when it was hot in Athens. It was a lovely coastal village over the mountains. There we explored the place where she was baptized as a baby--which happened to be in a little Greek Orthodox Church of "Ayios Georgios" (St. George).

    We went into this little chapel and my friend lit a candle, and we prayed our Peace Prayers, remembering the people here who defended their coastline from the invaders from the "Fortress of Aigosthena" which was located just above the church. Then we went down into the village and had a nice meal in the only restaurant still open, now that the tourists had left for the season.

  We returned to Athens and resumed our normal schedule of early morning yoga, meditation, and Peace Prayers. It was there in her garden, that I planted our 5th Crystal along with the flower seeds scheduled to come up and bloom this spring.

Baha'i Prayer

Be a breath of life unto the body of humankind,

a dew upon the soil of the human heart,

and a fruit upon the tree of humility.

Friday, January 21, 2011

4th Crystal: In the Necromanteion, near Ammoudia, Greece

    After the Middle East, I flew from Tel Aviv to Athens and met up with my Wisdom University friends in a class called: “Dreams & the Afterlife: An Odyssey to Ancient Greece." They had already visited the sites of the Eleusian and Asclepieion  dream  and healing mysteries.

     After an overnight, I joined the bus on a long ride to the little NW coastal town of Ammoudia, which is situated along the Acheron River (the “River Styx” from Dante’s writings) where it comes out to the sea. We drove to Dodona, where the oldest Hellenic oracle was located. Here using an ancient Oak Tree to listen to the whispering of the leaves and watching the flights of birds in the sky above, people would ask their important questions.
     Then on “All Saint’s Day” (also called “Day of the Dead” in Latin America), we walked up a hill to perform the ancient rituals  at the “Necromanteion,” where for centuries, the Greeks would come to commune with their dead relatives. Much of the site is in ruins, but there is one underground chamber about 20 by 30 ft. with a vaulted ceiling and some pools of water on the uneven stone floor.

Before entering, we enacted the ancient ritual of picking a stone and imbuing it with all the things we wanted to cast away to become a clear channel for the messages from our loved ones. On this pile of stones, I tossed our 4th Crystal.

Then, a black cloth was placed over our heads as we prepared to enter the sacred space in the chamber below. We entered and spent a couple of hours mostly in silence, with some drumming and some chanting to communicate with the dead.

      Since one of my objectives on this journey was a "letting go" of my father, who passed last December, I went into a corner, putting my coat over my head, so that the only thing I could see if I opened my eyes was an image of the ribs of the ceiling reflecting in the pools of water. While I did not experience any direct communication with my Father, it was still a powerful time to reflect on my life. The roof reflections in the water, seemed to me, to look like the inside of Jonah's whale, and I remembered that this same place is thought to be where Plato came up with his famous analogy of “The Cave”– where the prisoners could only see the shadows on the wall, but thought that they were experiencing reality.

Hindu Peace Prayer

Oh God, lead us from the unreal to the Real.
Oh God, lead us from darkness to light.
Oh God, lead us from death to immortality.
Shanti, Shanti, Shanti unto all.