In the sermon before I left on sabbatical I quoted from Phil Cousineau’s book The Art of Pilgrimage regarding “5 Excellent Practices of Pilgrimages”. Given that Jan and I have just spent time on five Greek Islands, I thought it would be good to review the five practices against the five islands including Rhodes, Kos, Santorini, Mykonos and Delos.
Practice one: Practice the arts of attention and listening – while I hope to practice these everywhere, the islands of Rhodes and Delos came to the forefront when considering this practice. It was on Rhodes, the first island we visited that I found myself paying such close attention. It was all new to me…the sights of the beaches, the castle, the Old Town within the Wall, the sounds of many languages spoken, the church bells ringing. We stayed a week on this island – enjoying the hosts of our small hotel, letting ourselves sink into the Greek culture, taking many walks, a long bus trip to Lindos, absorbing the history of the land and people. After the whirlwind tour of Turkey, paying attention in Rhodes helped us slow down and take in what was around us.
Practice two: Practice renewing yourself every day – and this happened on the next island we visited, Kos. It is a smaller island and though there were many things to see and do, we chose not to try and squeeze the whole island into a couple of days nor to rent a car or scooter. Instead, we chose to walk everywhere and remember that we would not see everything so let’s focus on what is before us. We visited many ancient ruins, took naps and ate Greek frozen yogurt, as well as read and reflected on all we saw and experienced.
Practice three: Practice meandering toward the center of every place – this could not have been more true than visiting the island of Delos. It lies in the center of the Cyclades and is the most sacred island. The ferry ride out to this island was extremely rough and the northeast wind blew constantly. And it was a powerful experience to stand near the ancient temples and places of worship, to imagine the lives of the people who flourished in such a harsh and dry climate. We spent some time in the section named Sanctuaries of the Foreign Gods. It seems that worship was a most important part of their lives. Standing in this place reminded me of Cappadocia in Turkey and again, the emphasis on and need to worship – hence churches and chapels carved into the earth, some high in a cliff and others, deep in underground cities. Going to the center of these places took me inward and I am still reflecting on what it means to go deeper.
Practice four: Practice the art of reading sacred texts – I am now well into my third (or fourth) book and it is wonderful to take the time (and have the time) to read so much. And again, the island of Rhodes comes up for it was here that I finished the book Paul Was Not a Christian: The Original Message of a Misunderstood Apostle by Pamela Eisenbaum. While it isn’t exactly a sacred text, it has been enlightening and provocative for me. It has been an interesting journey, reading this book as it has helped me see Paul in a much different light than I had been taught and it has helped with some understanding of the message he preached. I have more questions and thinking to do from this text and from Paul and I am energized by this work.
Practice five: Practice gratitude and praise – singing. The island of Santorini – with its light, its beauty – indeed made my heart and spirit sing. Awed by the beauty of the natural world, the kindness of strangers and helpful people who made traveling easier – what gifts have been ours in these last two weeks or so.
Finally, while in the book Cousineau does not say this is a practice “Pass by that which you do not love” – but he repeats it often in the book and I found myself thinking of this statement the most when on the island of Mykonos. It too is a lovely island and I was able to pass by some places, forgo some experiences because I would not love them and instead, retain my energy and focus for those things and experiences which I did and do love.
Monday, Oct. 1st we move on to Athens for a time; I continue to remember you all in my prayers and hope that your fall is inspiring.
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