A Bewildering Meeting In An Ancient City
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A Bewildering Meeting In An Ancient CityMy Divine Appointment In Ephesus
It’s September of 2012 and I’m meeting with 350 people who have agreed to come with me on a cruise of the Mediterranean Sea, on board Celebrity Cruises’ fabulous 17-story flagship, Equinox. I announce to the group that I’ve arranged to give five two-hour lectures while at sea, traveling between Rome, Santorini, Istanbul, Athens, Mykonos, and Naples. In addition, I plan to give a one-hour lecture at the site of the House of the Virgin Mary, in Ephesus, Turkey. You can watch my lectures and see a tour of this amazing voyage in the Modern Wisdom From The Ancient World 7 DVD set. The topic for this particularly special lecture will be, “In the Wake of Our Spiritual Ancestors,” which is also the theme of this odyssey.
During the previous two weeks, I’ve spent time preparing for the special date of September 30, 2012. This is when we’ll gather at the stone house that is believed to be the one where the mother of Jesus was taken by St. John after the Crucifixion, and where she lived until her ascension. This home is now both a Catholic and a Muslim shrine, located on Mount Koressos in the vicinity of Ephesus, Turkey. My lecture will be given just outside the ancient stone house where hundreds, if not thousands, of people will be walking by. A film crew is to record this event, as they’ve been doing for all of the lectures and visits to these historical Mediterranean locations.
Rumi - The Most Popular Poet in America
I have been thinking about the spiritual saint who lived not far from this site in Turkey: Mawlana Jalal al-Din Rumi. Persian mystical poet and Sufi saint, Rumi writes about the pure love we can achieve, beyond ego, in the soul’s divine longing and ecstasy of union with God. The date of my lecture in Ephesus, Turkey, would be the 805th anniversary of Rumi’s birth. His life actually overlapped with St. Francis of Assisi by approximately 19 years (Rumi was born in 1207 and was 19 years of age when Francesco passed in 1226). Although he lived during the 13th century, in 2007 Rumi was called “the most popular poet in America.”
I have been reading and quoting Rumi for almost 30 years now. He has become a very significant figure in my life, on a par with so many of the spiritual teachers whom I have written about. In fact, I’ve been almost obsessed with the life of this man considered to be a saint in both the Muslim and Christian worlds—his importance is considered to transcend national and ethnic borders.
A Holy Love Alliance
In the early 1980s, shortly after the revolution in Iran, I received a letter from a woman named Mariam who lived in Tehran. She had read in her native Farsi a recently published edition of Your Erroneous Zones, and she brought the works of Rumi into my awareness. She has since been in continuous communication with me, through letters from her home in Iran. Mariam had polio as a child and was unable to stand or walk from the age of two until six. Then, in a dream, a Divine spiritual female apparition beckoned her to rise and walk and she did so, first in the dream, and then in her physical awakened state as well.
Over three decades, Mariam sends me the poetry of Rumi. Her letters, gifts, and occasional phone calls over the decades all speak to a kind of holy love alliance between us that transcends the cultural and global divide that separates us. Her most fervent wish is that we could one day meet in person, although that has always appeared to be an impossibility because she is forbidden by the laws of her land to obtain a visa to visit North America.
On the morning of September 28, 2012, our group is getting ready for a tour of the enchanting ancient city of Istanbul. I am about to board my bus when a woman wearing a head covering steps in front of me with a handwritten sign that says: YOU’LL SEE IT WHEN YOU BELIEVE IT. She asks, “Do you know who I am?”
I discover that it is Mariam. We are both overwhelmed with joy. It turns out that she was able to get a visa to come to Turkey and has waited all night to meet me at this crowded port teeming with thousands of visitors. Mariam spends the entire day with me and my daughter Serena, and we share a tearful good-bye at the end of our visit to the incredible Blue Mosque.
Teachings of Divine Love
I return to the ship and continue my preparations for my lecture at the House of the Virgin Mary in Ephesus. I have been totally immersed in the works of Rumi and his spiritual master, Shams of Tabriz, and I pick out the poems and stories I wish to include at my presentation. I feel the presence of both Rumi and Shams, and of Mariam after seeing her for the very first time following so many years of communication, especially related to the teachings of these two spiritual ecumenical giants. These teachings go way beyond religion; they represent the very essence of Divine love, which is where I see myself now. A student and a teacher of a kind of love that never changes—never varies. It is the same love that is directed at all of humanity from God.
I arrive via this magnificent cruise ship—a literal floating city—at Ephesus, and again board a bus. Our group will spend a full day in this ancient city, which conceals the remains of a Neolithic settlement dating back to 6,000 B.C. It also contains the largest collection of Roman ruins east of the Mediterranean Sea. It is a fascinating place to see and to recall that only an estimated 15 percent has been excavated.
As I walk to my bus, once again I see Mariam. She has changed her plans to fly back to Tehran and has taken a flight, a train, and a bus to join up with me for this visit to Ephesus. She wants to attend my lecture on Rumi and Shams, since much of it was garnered from material she’s sent to me for almost 30 years. I think about the time, trouble, and expense that Mariam has gone through and I look at her and see the pure joy that she feels at finally fulfilling her lifelong dream to meet with me in person.
To have Mariam, who had first introduced me to Rumi almost 30 years earlier, show up so completely unexpectedly and stand beside me while I spoke and recited Rumi’s poetry in Ephesus was truly a Divine appointment for us both.