Our early morning paid off this time! We awoke to calm and beautiful weather. We were taxied to our waiting balloon, and all 23 of us were fitted into one big basket. It was broken into four compartments for 6 people each—one had to choose company carefully as those compartments were tight enough to get each group quite familiar with each other.
Cappadocia is described as one of the premier ballooning sites in the world—certainly it didn’t disappoint any of us. The scenery is wild from on the ground; seeing it from the sky is an even more special way to witness this place’s beauty. Honestly, I don’t know which adjective to choose in describing the ride. If you’ve ever ballooned before, then you know what a wonderful experience it is—peaceful and smooth, soothing and calm. It’s a beautiful ride anywhere—Shannon and I once had flew over little old Regina, and it was great—but new and unusual places become even better from a floating basket a thousand metres up.
After an hour-plus in the sky, we returned to our hotel for a quick breakfast before boarding the bus. Destination: Lystra.
We’d been told that the ride would be 3 hours or more, so most of the group had come ready to nap after our two early mornings. I fought through my Thessalonians reading for the day and then tackled a chapter or two in my Paul novel, but I was heavy-eyed the whole way.
Lystra—there’s nothing to see there. That’s not exactly true—there’s a tel to see there. What’s a tel? It’s the kind of hill that’s seen all over the middle east. It’s the sight of any ancient community that’s been built and destroyed and re-built and redestroyed over and over upon the same plot of land. To the modern mind, it makes little sense, but this was common in the ancient world. The locations of towns and cities were carefully chosen in relation to water sources or geographical factors or whatever—then those sites were used over and over again. If a city were destroyed by war or disaster, it would be rebuilt upon itself with the second version being a bit higher up than the first. Do that a number of times and add a couple thousand years, and a tel is born. Lystra’s tel has hardly been excavated at all. So to the untrained eye, our bus stopped this afternoon on a back road, while we climbed a grassy, overgrown hill. We were actually revisiting Lystra, where Paul visited at least twice in the book of Acts.
While atop the tel, Charles and Rob shared some about Paul’s early missionary days as well as a few of the ideas that are floated around about what Paul did between his conversion on the Damascus road and his first missionary journey.
Side note: As I type this (9:45 PM), the day’s final prayer call is sounding from the minarets in town. Today was Friday, the Muslim day of prayer. I think the call sounding now is marking the end of that designated time.
Second side note: A recurring theme at some of the Muslim sites that we’ve visited has been an exploration into the similarities between Islam and the traditions and practices of the Eastern (Orthodox) churches. While most of us view there being a very thick line between Islam and Christianity, Charles has repeatedly pointed out that there are a tonne of historic connections between some of Islam’s tenets and the Eastern expressions of Christianity. Don’t misunderstand me: He’s not saying they’re the same in their beliefs—obviously that’s not so. But take something like marked prayer times during the day. We typically view that as Muslim. Charles would say that they took it from the early Christians, who likely took it from the Jews. Take monastic approaches to faith. Islam has some of this (I’ll speak about one in a moment), but these ways of life were birthed in the Eastern churches (in Syria, Egypt, and Cappadocia). Even more accurately, one would likely go back to Judaism and characters like the Essenes and some of the prophets who show us the earliest demonstrations of “desert spirituality”. Charles’ point? Some of what makes Islam intriguing to Westerners who are disillusioned with Christianity actually originated… wait for it… in Christianity! Building on that, it’s not a stretch to say that much of what passes for Western Christianity is lacking. It’s a diluted version of faith that highlights the holding of some doctrines in one’s head instead of the passionate giving of oneself to the pursuit of God above all else. That’s nothing new to most of us; just a new frame for such thoughts.
Back to Lystra. Paul was stoned there. In fact, the people were so certain that they’d killed him that they dragged his body outside the town. The tel of Lystra today is not that big. Within a couple hundred metres of where we sat this morning, Paul the apostle was almost murdered two thousand years ago. That made me shake my head as we sat and visited together. Barnabas was there too, and prior to the stoning, it was he who was mistaken for Zeus while Paul was thought to be Hermes. They fought off the crowds and their desires to sacrifice bulls to them… right where we sat today. Also under that soil today were the remains of a house where Timothy grew up. He went on to become perhaps Paul’s most significant disciple. He was the half-Jewish boy who wouldn’t likely have been give much of a shot within the Jewish community because half-Jewish isn’t Jewish enough. Yet Paul saw in him a force for Christ’s Kingdom, just waiting to be shaped and encouraged and released. And it happened at Lystra.
That’s a crazy tel to sit upon for an hour!
Another hour or so on the bus brought us to Konya for lunch before a visit to a museum. It was the memorial site of a Sufi holy man (Mevlama Rumi) from the 1200’s. He was viewed as something of a “rabbi” or “master” after whom some Muslims followed. If you heard most of his teachings (expressed often is his famous poetry) in English today, you’d likely be drawn to him too. He emphasized humility and love and the pursuit of a pure heart. He was tolerant of those different from him but intense about seeking God. Many of his words sound just like words out of the Christian monastic movements I’m familiar with. We saw artifacts from his time, along with his tomb and the tombs of some of his finest disciples.
The very unique thing that this movement was known for was a nickname that they received: The Whirling Dervishes. As a kid, I recall hearing that phrase—I never knew it had a story behind it. Indeed it does.
Though we failed to really find out the details of how this practice developed, the disciples of Mevlama became known for a unique expression of worship—a twirling, trance-like dance. It is a spinning motion with hands spread out and head tilted sideways, and it was utilized as a physical expression and act towards union with God. In a sense, it was an act of worship associated with a state of ecstasy with God. You might say it was Islam’s equivalent to Christianity’s Shaker movement.
Strange? Yeah, by most of my standards. Interesting? Sure, by most of my standards too.
By the time we finished at Mevlama’s shrine, the Archeological Museum was already closing, so we checked into our hotel by 5 PM. I enjoyed a pre-supper walk with one of the pastor couples (Dave & Kathy) from Calgary), a delicious meal, and then a post-supper mall exploration with one of the students from Ambrose (Erin also from Calgary) before getting a bit of internet time before bed.
Tomorrow morning, we’re to visit the Archeological Museum briefly before leaving town. Konya (formerly Iconium) was visited by Paul in the book of Acts, but Charles tells us that there are no significant sites to be seen within the city here biblically-speaking. Tomorrow we’ll head out, continuing to follow much of Paul’s first missionary journey in reverse.
For now, I’m feeling ready for a shower and tooth-brushing. All the best from Konya to those I love at home. More from me tomorrow…