Friday, May 10, 2013

Istanbul Again - Part Three

It’s all about energy, they say.

Now we’ve left Cihangir, with its strenuous slopes, settled into another elegant Collage Hotel practically next door to the Pera Palace, where Agatha Christie wrote Murder on the Orient Express.  I felt good in that other hotel in Cihangir.  I like the couple who seem to be the real managers of the hotel, Zayna and her husband, the drummer.  They seem to half live at the hotel.  Zayna says I look just like one of her best friends.  We could be sisters, she says.  She and her husband are spiritually open, like I fancy myself to be, rising to the challenges of the moment, such as climbing the steepest hill known to humankind, as often as necessary in a day.  I didn’t feel lazy in that hotel. 

Last evening, as we returned, exhausted, from our day, ready to drop into bed, we ran into Zayna and her husband.  Each of them was carrying a pair of drum sticks.  He was off to play a set in a club on the Istiklal.  I really would have accompanied them to the club if I hadn’t been so tired.  It would have been nice to hear Turkish musicians, and to chat. 

But we have a few minutes this morning.  They were at the club until very late, they tell me, and overslept.  He doesn’t get many chances to play drums because it is so loud and his playing disturbs the neighbors.  He doesn’t have one of those electronic drum sets you can adjust the volume with.  So, he has hardly played in six months.  Last night was a treat.  This couple takes things as they come.

As we wait for the taxi to take us to the next hotel, I notice some books sitting on Zayna's desk.  One of them is Siddhartha, by the German author, Herman Hesse.  Another is a book by Osho, formerly known as Baghwan. 

There is some spark of energy or form of spiritual flow between Zayna and me.  She's the kind of person I could be friends with.  Almost as soon as we arrived at our hotel, Zayna told me she liked my energy.  “You have positive energy,” she said.  I smiled, thanked her, and told her I try to stay connected to God.  I'm not really aware of having positive energy currents, but I really do try and stay connected to God as much as possible, even when life seems to be going all wrong.  It’s nice to think that I emit something positive.  And I have heard similar comments from people from time to time.  I think about what Zayna said, trying to let it sink in.  This is a high compliment.  I am awed to think that someone can find positive energy in me, who is so full of her problem.  To me, my problem is like having a hill in the middle of my living room.  This hill has the texture of a sponge - sometimes.  Sometimes I can walk on the hill and it squishes down.  Sometimes it even seems to deflate, like a balloon, seemingly flat again.  But then it rises up again and fills with sand, and it is such an effort to walk around or over the hill in that room.  When maneuvering around this room takes so much energy, how can I emit something so positive?  It is a mystery to me.  Is that the mystery of Christ in me?  Does Zayna recognize the Spirit of Christ in me?  I'm so glad that the Bible recognizes suffering to be an inescapable part of life.  It's certainly my experience.  I suffer from my own stubborn resistance to inner change.  I suffer from the hill in my living room. 

As I think about Zayna and the energy she sees in me, a culturally Christian thought pops into my head.  Oh, so she’s into that kind of stuff.  

But what is that kind of stuff?  That is the tantalizing question, the one that has been bugging me ever since I was a little girl, hearing sermons about Jesus being the only way to God.  Because, truth be told, it is people like Zayna and her husband who I feel the most drawn to, and not the most orthodox, letter-of-the-Bible believing Christians.  It is people who want to be connected to this loving God all day, no matter what their religion is.  It is people who are willing to climb steep hills if they need to. 

I ask Zayna if she is a Muslim.  “Yes, I am,” she answers.  She amends her statement.  “I believe in God.”  She's a believer.  Just like me.  But is it the same belief?  Is her energy source the same as mine? 

“In Islam, can you practice these things?” I ask, glancing at her esoteric books.

“Oh, yes,” she said.  “All this is part of the one God.”

Her husband adds, “In the end all the religions are the same.  You try and do good, be honest, don’t cheat anyone, you know, love one another.”  He tells me about the friend who looks like me.

“She has positive energy, just like you.”  He does not tell me that she is a Christian.  Where does her energy come from? 

This is the crux of the problem, as I see it, between Bible-believing Christians and the rest of the spiritually sensitive people who do not share faith in Jesus.  Followers of Jesus who use the Bible as their authority cannot get around Jesus's statement in John 14:6, "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.  No one can come to the Father except through me."  What is this power of Jesus, and is it true that Jesus is the only way to God?
I talk about the sufi evening we experienced, watching the men twirl as musicians upstairs played instruments and sang.  “We’re all turning around in circles, one with the universe,” I say, sounding like a real New Age guru.  Am I betraying my Christian belief?  I don't feel that I am, but what about the exclusivity of Jesus?  Outside on the stoop my Christian pastor husband is half-listening.  He is open-minded and can accept my thought-statements, some of which sound pretty unorthodox to other Christians.  What would some of his colleagues think about what I'm saying?  This is my problem with much of Christian ideology.  I have to translate the Apostle’s Creed when I say it so I can include people like Zayna and her husband.  How does Jesus view spiritually sensitive people who are not Christians? 

Zayna's husband tells me that he has a Turkish friend in Canada who became a sufi – a woman.  "She's a reiki master," he says.  This is interesting, but also troubling to me.  It looks to me as though the Muslims are undergoing a similar revolution to the Christians, slowly letting women into their institutions.  And what about this reiki business?  I have a friend who is a reiki master.  Not trusting her energy source, I have never allowed her to lay hands on me.  Once someone who does reiki gave me a neck/head massage and at one point, I felt a strange sort of energy in my head and asked him to stop.  I asked if he had been practicing reiki on me.  He had.

“I used to have a problem with reiki,” I said, “until I talked to my aunt."  Actually, I still do.  I have a few burning questions about this healing practice.  But I said, "My aunt is over 80 years old and a very conservative Christian.  She let someone practice something they call ‘healing touch’ on my uncle, and it was helpful.  It seems that they call reiki ‘healing touch’ in America.  If you say reiki it sounds Japanese and Buddhist, and they reject it.  If you say ‘healing touch’ it sounds acceptable.” 

(I later check this out on the web.  Reike and "healing touch," also known as "therapeutic touch" are similar, but not exactly the same.)

Zayna's husband laughs.  “It’s just the same energy Jesus used,” he says.  That is exactly the point.  Was Jesus’s energy unique, or was it the same?  Or is what happened on the cross another issue altogether?

I still believe that Jesus died to give new life to all people, including Zayna and her drummer husband.  I accept Jesus's statement about his being the exclusive way to God.  But I have my own take on this.  Here's what it is.  I have never found any person or spiritual path more compelling, more challenging or more truthful than the one Jesus offers to us.  I believe in and welcome Jesus's compassion, his mercy, his grace, his unconditional love and unlimited power that he offers me.  I have accepted this and experienced some of the power of his way.  When I give in completely to Jesus, it is amazing what happens to me.  I have no problem with Jesus at all.  In fact, I have come to love him and what he represents, from the bottom of my heart to the very edges of my being and beyond.  

But what about all those non-Christians who also look to a Higher Power, as they understand it, as their source?  I'm using the wording used in twelve-step groups like AA and Alanon.  I know Christians who dismiss any other energy that does not claim to come from Jesus Christ.  Some even call it demonic energy.  I cannot accept this as truth.  Who are these people, to call something based on love demonic?  Is this not arrogance?  Even Jesus said, "By their fruits you shall know them."  I agree with Zayna's husband, whose aim is to live in love, goodness, honesty and fairness.  That is a good way to go.  

This Easter I had an interesting insight while reading the Bible.  After rising from the dead, Jesus appeared to all his loved ones, but no one recognized him.   They couldn't recognize him from his appearance!  It was the words he said, his message, that convinced them.  That and the scars from the crucifixion, which remained as trophies.  There are many people today, wonderful people, who love the very things Jesus loves.  But they don't call themselves Christians.  They don't recognize Christ.  But perhaps they are following him anyway, since they recognize and cherish the very things Jesus stands for.  Often, it is these qualities that are missing in many Christians.  The lack of Christ-likeness is what turns many people off to Christianity.  But are they turned off to Jesus?  Or have they simply failed to recognize him?  To me, if you love all the things that Jesus loved – honesty, loving God and your neighbor, you are following in Jesus’s footsteps.

As to this energy source and reiki, I don't know.  I don't know if Jesus's energy and that of reiki and "healing touch" are the same.  The good thing for me is, I don't have to know the answer to this question.  It may remain unanswered as long as I live.  But I have access to the Spirit of Jesus at any time.  What a beautiful thing to be told that I have positive energy.  I will give Jesus and his Spirit the credit for this.  I believe the secret to Jesus's energy source is his willingness to go all the way to death for humanity.  He did it, and he did it for all of humanity, in fact, for all of creation, and God honored that by giving Jesus unique power.  I don't think I've discovered very much of this power, but I want to stay connected to Jesus and grow in this energy.  I am forever indebted to him for the energy I do have from him.

I know many Christians who don't seem to be on any particular conscious life journey.  They don't shine - in fact, they look pretty dull to me.  They're just ordinary guys, like any person you'd meet anywhere with no particular faith.  They have obvious issues with their lives.  Maybe they're overweight, or loudmouths, or sloppy, or overbearing, undisciplined, or unreliable.  Whatever it is, they don't talk about what I call the deeper things.  I have no idea what being a follower of Christ means to them.  How does Jesus fit into their lives?  I haven't a clue.  They don't seem to want to explore this.  Are they on my journey?  I don't know.  We seem to have nothing to talk about.
I know other Christians who are radiantly beautiful, who are filled with faith, but who are nevertheless blatantly intolerant of those on non-Christian paths.  These people with their dogmatic hyperbole have annoyed and troubled me a great deal.  I have rejected them in the past because of their intolerance.  Something is happening to me, though.  I am learning to live in my own reality, the one that is revealed to me.  I'm not sure that my ideas about non-Christian spiritually-minded people are correct, but they fit my thinking and personality.  So I can lay my annoyance with Christian intolerance aside and dive into the river of peace that Jesus offers.  I think, the more I do this, the more positive my demeanor.  The more I simply live in Christ, the more Christ-like I become.  The less I worry and judge, the happier and more positive I will be.  

In the novel I am currently reading, The Forty Rules of Love, by Elik Shafak, Shams of Tabriz talks about the different levels of understanding the Koran.  There is a literal, superficial way of understanding it, and there is a deeper way, as if one were swimming through the deep currents.  It is as though it was in the deep currents where all religions merge.  Thinking about this, I find myself pushed up to the top of choppy waters, struggling to keep afloat.  Better not to worry about the others and just go as deeply into my own current as I can.

My main lesson in life seems to be, as Jesus said to Peter, "Don't worry about the others.  Follow me."  I always end up in choppy waters when I worry about others.  And worrying seems to be one of my biggest stumbling blocks, the hill in my living room.     
Right now I dearly I wish I could sit over tea for a few hours and discuss these thoughts with Zayna and her husband.  I've found fellow travelers.  But I’m over at the other end of the Istiklal in my posh hotel.   I wish I could gather my energy one of these days and walk over there and see if they’re on duty.  I wouldn't even mind the uphill climb back.  I'd like that more than any sightseeing.

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