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Posts Tagged ‘pilgrimage site’

Pilgrimage Statistics

Cumulative Days Riding:  164                         Cumulative Days Blogging: 149

Today’s Mileage: 4                                              Total Trip Mileage: 1107

Happy Easter to everyone!  As I type this the afternoon temp has made it to 80 degrees!  I was afraid that we might go from Winter right into Summer, I hope my prediction does not prove to be true. 

I spent part of the morning in my first Methodist Easter service.  I joined Susan at the church where she serves as the choir director.  It was a beautiful service and gave me some ideas for a future blog topic on the importance of “transformation” as represented by the resurrection of Christ.  I will save that for sometime in the coming week.  In the mean time we have been lingering around Jacksonville Florida and there are two churches I want us to visit as pilgrimage sites.

An Historical Church!

I have labeled the first church a Historical Worship Site pilgrimage.  Its history highlights what some would call part of our dark past, a past that included institutionalized racism and segregation.  The church in question is the Bethel Baptist Institutional Church.  In 1838 the first Baptist church was established in Jacksonville.  There were six charter members, the pastor and his wife, the deacon and his wife and two slaves known as Bacchus and Peggy. The first racially mixed meetings were held in the Government Block House until a building could be constructed.  The Legislative Council of the territory of Florida incorporated the Bethel Church in 1841.  In 1861 the congregation moved into a new building, however a short time later the Union army captured Jacksonville and turned the church into a military hospital during the Civil War. The church was left in a “deplorable condition” when it was vacated by army troops at the end of the war.

With the end of the war an effort was made to separate the Colored and White members but an agreement could not be reached over possession of the property.  The two sides went to court and the decision was made in favor of the Colored members because they represented the majority of members.  However, a short time after the court decision the Colored members sold the property to their White brethren and purchased other property. 

We Cater to White Trade Only!

In 1868 they erected a one room wooden building where they worshiped for the next 27 years.  Their White brethren went on to establish the First Baptist Church I downtown Jacksonville.  In 1895, Bethel constructed the first Institutional Church building erected in the South by a Colored congregation out of red brick and Georgia marble. As the “Church History” section of their webpage notes: It was erected by Colored mechanics under the direction of Colored contractors.  The fruits of their efforts were short lived as the building burned in the devastating 1901 fire that destroyed much of the city.  In 1904 the current sanctuary was completed.  Since 1966 the church has experienced continued growth and has significantly expanded their physical presence in the city while retaining its historical main sanctuary building. Its webpage lists some 32 different ministries!

Church front!

The second church we are going to visit today represents what I call an Architectural Worship Site Pilgrimage.  It is the Riverside Baptist Church of Jacksonville.  In 1908 a tent meeting was held by the Home Mission of the Southern Baptist Convention with the goal of establishing a church.  In 1913 the growing church built a small wooden structure for services.  Like much of the Florida coast in the 1920s Jacksonville was experiencing a construction boom which fueled tremendous growth in the church.  At this time the decision was made to build a new and impressive church.  What happened next set the Riverside church apart from all other churches in the area.

Baptism of Christ!

World-famous American architect, Addison Mizner was busy building structures up and down the coast of Florida.  He had never designed a church building, but had made a promise to his mother before her death that he would design one in her honor.  He was offered the opportunity to design the new church with a “free license in designing the church.” He donated his effort in memory of his mother by refused any monetary compensation for his services.

The building he designed is a master piece incorporating three major design types: Romanesque, Byzantine and Spanish.  Many of the design ideas, building materials and furnishing were directly influenced by his tours of European castles and cathedrals.  The shape of the church is that of a Greek Cross, with a Spanish red tile roof and plaster work which was done in a way to give the impression of aged limestone blocks.

The Adoration of the Shepherds!

The church building has large cypress doors, three Romanesque windows and a large carved bas-relief of the baptism of Christ above the doors.  The interior is spacious with a Gothic style spacious ceiling.  Numerous paintings in the Fifteenth Century Italian Renaissance style adorn the ceiling and front of the balcony.  The caps of the various columns are made of cast stone to give them the appearance of being had carved.  Large rose stained glass windows illuminate the northern and southern transepts. Wrought iron grills, commonly used in Spanish churches, enclose the choir and bapistry. 

To add a local connection to the effort Mizner included a painting by the local artist Lee Adam who was a member of the church at the time of the commission.  This work entitled: Adoration of the Shepherds, used the artist’s wife as the model for the Virgin Mary. In 1973 the Office of Archeology and Historic Preservation of the National Park Service listed Riverside Baptist Church on the National Register of Historical Places.

He has Risen!

I believe that both of these churches speak to a process of transformation.  In the first case we have a group of people over come prejudice and natural disasters to rise up and become a powerful presence in their community.  In the second case we have congregation who trusted in the creative process of a master architect, who transformed a small sliver of the New World into a sacred memorial to the artistic forces that shaped the European religious experience of their ancestors.

I hoped you enjoyed that visit to these two special sites and that everyone celebrating Easter had a wonderful and joyous holiday!

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Consecutive Days Riding:  158                          Consecutive Days Blogging: 142

 Today’s Mileage: 3                                              Total Trip Mileage: 1072

A frontier Greek!

As I ride the bike this morning I am thinking about the pilgrimage site we will visit today: St. Photios National Greek Shrine and Orthodox Chapel.  I’m assuming that many of my readers had the same reaction that I did when I first came across this site on the sunny shores of eastern Florida: How did a Greek Orthodox Shrine find its way to Florida?  I had become familiar with the Spanish history of this area, something we will explore more fully tomorrow.  The Greek presence was a surprise.  Studying the history of the St. Augustine area I found my answers and I discovered a story the likes of which have long inspired people with the message of hope, persistence and tenacity of the human spiritual.  St. Augustine represents the longest continuously occupied city in North America with the oldest port.  There were other settlements up and down the Florida coast, both French and Spanish, however this was the one that “stuck it out.”  The site has gone through numerous changes of flags and ownership.  I have alluded in an earlier posting to a sad example of religious strife and killing, I will reserve that discussion for the days to come for it portrays what some people would call the “ugly” side of religious thought and dogma. Back to the question of the Greeks!

It is clear that by the 1700s North America had stoked the fire and dreams of freedom and land ownership in many poor, impoverished and subjugated peoples around the world, particularly in Europe. Not only were the major European powers sprinkling the continent with their settlements but entrepreneurs were exploiting the wilderness for their potential riches. 

Andrew Turnbull

One such individual was Andrew Turnbull, a Scottish physician who in 1766 undertook to create a settlement called New Smyrna 75 miles on the coast south of St. Augustine.  By this time the city had changed hands was now under a British flag. He collected some 1400 people from Greece, Italy and the island of Minorca who agreed to sign on as indentured servants.  They would raise sugarcane, indigo and cotton for 7-8 years to earn a plot of acreage of their own.  However, the settlement was greeted from its inception with hardship including disease and starvation.  According to several reports matters were made worse by Dr. Turnbull harsh leadership.  After 10 years little success had been achieve and the settlers felt more like slaves than servants. 

Avero House

The settlement was eventually abandoned with the residents walking the shoreline all the way to St. Augustine.  At the city gates the 300 survivors of the settlement asked the British governor for protection.  The governor repealed their indentured status and granted them sanctuary within the city. They inhabited the Avero House a location that the Greek community has come to call their “Plymouth Rock.”  These new citizens prospered as shop owners and citizens.  Their offspring became the founders of some of the most venerated families of present day St. Augustine.  Significant among that groups were the first “colony” of Greeks in the New World.  Their presence in the history of the city answers our question about the existence of the Greek Orthodox shrine.

The shrine and chapel of Saint Photios are a testament the importance, although often overlooked, role that Greeks played in the developing drama of North America as laborers and business owners in city large and small.  The chapel is filled with icons (religious paintings) created in the traditional Byzantine style which expresses visually the theology of the Greek Orthodox Church.  One of the ceiling domes is adorned with a painting “the Hospitality of Abraham.”  The central dome hold the image of “Christ the Pantocrator (the all-embracing), and the third dome depicts the Archangel Michael. 

Central Dome

One of the wall frescos depicts St. Photios (the Patriarch of Constantinople) teaching his young nephews, later known as St. Cyril and St. Methodios, before he sent them off as missionaries who are  credited with spreading Christianity to the Slavic peoples.

This story of the colony of New Smyrna is one that is repeated innumerable times across North America as waves of people followed the promises of the new world and struggled to establish a foothold in America.  I came to recognize this as a youth on the windswept plains of the Dakotas.  There was Tabor, with its quaint Czechoslovakian homes, Ukrainian Orthodox churches standing alone on the prairie servicing far flung farmhouses and any number of small farming communities with German Catholics and Norwegian Lutherans clustered about their church.

A Guardian Angel

Some foots holds worked out and survived harsh climates, native attacks, cycles of starvation and poor planning.  Others like New Smyrna failed, but the people moved on to established settlements.  Some expeditions (like Jamestown) not only failed but disappeared leaving an abandoned site and no trace of the inhabitants.  Stories of these immigrants fill our history books with their tragedy, mysteries and success at overcoming adversity in the pursuit of prosperity, freedom, and the promise of land.

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Pilgrimage Statistics 

Consecutive Days Riding: 149                                      Days Blogged: 133 

New Mileage: 5                                                     Total Trip Mileage: 1036

Great Live Oak1

As I ride the bike this morning I have to chuckle to myself.  For the last several days we’ve been heading up the east coast of Florida and I have been covering a variety of topics.  I had a topic in mind this morning and then my intuition told me to check our journey map.  I quickly realized that given the distance we had travelled since our visit to Daytona Beach we had arrived at the next pilgrimage site.  As such my other topic will wait and today we visit a Washington Oaks Botanical Gardens

I didn’t find this park on some listing of Florida Religious Sites. Rather, I saw it on the map as I investigated possible routes up the coast.  And with it I found a fascinating history.  It is the story of a beautiful beach location cherished by a nature lover who saved it from development to be shared by all of us.

Koi Pond

The gardens are located on one of the North East Florida barrier islands.  To the west of it is the inter-coastal waterway, to the east is the Atlantic Ocean.  The site had started as a plantation after the European settlement of the area.  It changed hands several times with one of the owners being a surveyor named George Washington, a relative of President George Washington.  It was purchased in 1936 by Louise Polis Clark the wife of industrialist Owen Clark.  She purchased it as a winter retirement home and planted extensive gardens and a citrus grove.  Upon her death in the 1962 she deeded the land and gardens over to the state with the understandings that the gardens would be maintained for everyone’s enjoyment.  The site is home to numerous large moss covered live oak trees, the gardens, a koi-pond, and natural artisan springs.

 The Atlantic coastline is not a pristine ribbon of sand like we saw at Daytona Beach.  The beach here includes stacks of shaped and eroded stone.  But not just any stone, this material is Coquina.  It is a consolidated sedimentary rock made up largely of the remnants of sea creatures (coral and shells) and is classified as a type of limestone.  The material has been used to build buildings and pave roads along Florida’s east coast.  It can be easily “mined” and carried away.  However, while easy to remove, it is too unstable to use immediately.  It must be allowed to dry out for several years so that it can harden before us as building material.  Coquina was a popular building material for early forts.  Because of its softness, cannon balls would sink into it rather than shatter and explode. The photos of these beach stones remind me of Taoist Stones, weathered by water and wind giving them a fluid and putty like appearance.

Coquina on the beach

I’m glad that I checked the map today.  I would have hated to have missed this chance to visit these gardens with you.   Sites like this are testimonials to the effects that nature can have on all of us.   People’s desire for nature tranquility leads them to create beautiful personal gardens and then out of a sense of joy they donate the gardens so that we all might cherish them.  We saw this mindset in the US government’s set aside of land for our national parks, we see it today when individuals and organizations buying  up pristine land, jungles and rainforests to conserve them for future generations.  I am thankful for their efforts and thankful for their gifts.

I hope you will join me tomorrow when we will talk about religious relics and auspicious signs.  In the mean time check your morning toast, your pancake and your breakfast pastries for they may bear a spiritual revelation!

Beautiful Giant!

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Consecutive Days Riding:  122                                              Days Blogged: 104

New Mileage: 6                                                                 Total Trip Mileage: 875

I spoke yesterday about pilgrimages and about how they may represent trips to a specific places or journeys seeking  answers to a question or a particular experience.  Today we’re going to visit what I call a unique inspirational pilgrimage site.  It’s not a site that carries any spiritual or religious significance.  It is a site that leads us to ponder important questions about  life choices and the meaning/purpose that we find in life. 

We have traveled today to the city of Kissimmee Florida, south of Orlando.  In the center of town stands a monument that has been described as: “quasi-folk art offering in an area known mostly for its parasitic tourist attractions”.  The history of the site began in 1942, after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  A local citizen, Dr. Charles Bressler-Pettis wanted to create a physical symbol of American unity in these dark days of World War II.”  He wrote letters to every state governor, or at least the lower forty eight, and to President Franklin Roosevelt.  He asked them to send rocks representative of their state.  He was reported to have received a wide assortment ranging from blocks of granite, chunks of quartz, boulders, fossils and pieces of old buildings.  By 1943 he had constructed a 50 foot tall “pseudo-pyramid of tarnished colored concrete slabs.”  Each slab had a rock embedded in it and was inscribed with the donor’s name and location. At the top of this structure, he had a concrete sculptured model of the earth topped with a bald eagle holding an American flag.  Throughout the year, local tourist officials added walkways that included stones from the two new states and from some 21 countries.  The monument was described as “the biggest tourist attraction in pre-Disney Florida”.  

The Monument!

How is it that this quaint monument deserves recognition as a pilgrimage site?  I believe it speaks to the basic human need to find meaning and purpose in one’s life.  For Dr. Pettis and perhaps for those assisting him, it gives them a purpose and a sense of doing something to help lift the nation’s spirits.  The existential psychotherapist Victor Frankl believed that being “human beings” meant that we all deal with certain Ultimate Concerns.  One of these is the issue of meaninglessness.  He argues that life has no inherent meaning, that it has meaning only because we choose to embrace goals, beliefs, actions and journeys that give it meaning.  He states that one way in which we find meaning is to look for ways in which we can feel and label ourselves as “special”.

I tell my students that I feel special being the father of my two sons, I feel special being their teacher, I feel special for the art I create and for the blog I write.  Notice that I said I feel special being/doing these things, not that I do them perfectly or that I am the best at any of them.  When I see sites like the monument of states, I see an individual who wanted to do something for a greater cause, something to bring together the community and the nation. This desire and source of meaning fueled his actions and gave him purpose.  I’m sure it helped him rise above the day-to-day struggles; it helped him meet challenges, when news from the war front was disheartening.   In my search for pilgrimage sites I’ve come across several locations that fit this category.  Some people would call them oddities, unworthy of our attention or a waste of time.

A view from below the monument

One of these sites, the Coral Castle near Miami, involves a location filled with odd and unique sculptures made by a Latvian immigrant in seclusion, as he suffered through a “broken heart.”  He spent a life time carving these sculptures, some people believed he worked with supernatural powers.  He is long dead now but people visit his sculpture garden to this day. The other site, Solomon’s Castle east of Tampa, is a castle constructed out odds and ends and filled with unique artwork of the living artist.  The structure is both studio and gallery. He built a ship on dry land next to his castle which now serves as a restaurant.

Not only do these undertakings give purpose to these individual’s lives but they could also act as an inspiration for all of us. They raise the question: Where do you find significance in  life.  What makes you feel special?  You don’t have to build the imposing rock and stone monument?  Many people choose a project in their community such as helping a Museum, or donating free time to help mentor children in a boys and girls clubs.

The existentialists believe we must have meaning in our lives if we do not we will experience a sense of despair.  However, the thing that gives our life meaning is purely our choice!  It can be something as small as making supper at home each day for the family. Or it can be something that calls us to reach outside of ourselves toward higher goals and social causes.  

Mounment slabs!

One of my friends asked me why I blog by asking: Do you think your thoughts are so important that everyone needs to hear them?  The answer is no, but it does give my life meaning.   I release my words into the blogosphere, they may turn a few heads, they may garnish a few smiles or nods of agreement, and occasionally they generate a comment or two. But the meaning for me comes not in other people’s responses; it comes from the efforts to uncover questions, find answers and express them clearly.   Within my daily journey I find my meaning in small joys, like a friendly smile, the smell of coffee in the morning, and the satisfaction of posting another day’s blog.

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Pilgrimage Statistics 

Consecutive Days Riding:  117                                              Days Blogged: 101

New Mileage: 10                                                               Total Trip Mileage: 853

As I climb on the bike this morning I am pondering the fact that it’s been almost 4 months since we started the stationarypilgrim’s journey.  In fact we have now passed the 100th blog threshold.  I believe this is a good time to share with my readers a few of my insights, especially with respect to choosing and finding a pilgrimage sites and retreats.

Solitary Contemplation!

 So far we have  visited 14 specific sites across Florida.  We are nearing the Orlando area and will visit four more sites before we head for the East Coast and then turn north toward St. Augustine. In addition to the specific sites we have visited, I have also been busy uncovering potential sites further down the road within Florida and beyond.  The list of sites (over 100 and growing daily) can be found on my webpage (go to the Pilgrimage Sites tab at the top of this page and follow the link). It includes entries from nearby states  as far away  as California and in New York.

Boston Sufi House - Retreat Site

As often happens on such journeys,  you start off with a sense of where you’re heading and what you’re doing but the process of the journey combined with the unexpected sites and scene on your path to help you clarify and refine your goals.  I knew that a Spiritual Retreat is often defined as any kind of solitude experience where you remove yourself from the usual environment in order to immerse yourself in either in a particular subject matter or a particular experience.  Retreats may be as simple as sitting quietly in a secluded portion of your yard, or as complex as a weeklong trip to a monastery where no speaking is allowed.  Spiritual retreats are often times for reflection prayer, meditation, and rest.  They  allow time for “taking stock” of one’s life and/or  a re-commitment to connecting with the spiritual aspects of life. They may be undertaken alone, as a couple or as part of a larger group.

On my journey to uncover pilgrimage and retreat sites I have found that most retreat centers offer settings that promote solitude and reflection.  In my classification of Retreat Sites I place them along a continuum with respect to the use of nature (a natural setting) to promote this solitude. 

Charleston's Gateway Garden Walk - Garden Retreat Site

On one end are Simple Retreat Sites that include little or no contact with nature, these may be residential settings where solitude is provide behind the closed door to your room, or sitting silently in a chapel.  As you might expect these sites are often found in larger cities where natural surrounds are limited by development.

Further along the continuum are Garden Retreat Sites, where nature makes an appearance in the form of an enclosed garden space (such as a Zen garden) or a flower garden like you may find surrounding churches.  These sites usually provide shaded benches, fountains and/or paved walkways and are often found in cities and more populated areas.

Charleston's Middleton Place - Nature Tranquility Site

Next on my classification continuum are Nature Tranquility Retreat Sites.  These sites typically include large grassy and wooded areas for walking, praying and meditating. They often include water features in the form of beaches, lakes, rivers or streams.  They may offer more extensive gardens, including grottos, shrines, labyrinths, and statues.   These Nature Tranquility Sites may feature distinctly Spiritual/Religious connections, such as monasteries, convents, church camps.  However, other sites may be represented by secular local or state parks.  While it is not my intention to list all state and local parks, I do include a number of these sites, especially if the natural features of the site, like undeveloped beach front, old growth forests are a prominent feature.

The Grand Canyon - Nature Site

My classification continuum ends with what I call Nature Sites.  These are composed primarily of National Parks which present us with  stunning and awe inspiring experiences of the vastness, the beauty, the diversity of nature.   They do more than offer us a moment a tranquility or an escape from our daily struggles, they very often hold our attention captive and offer us an opportunity to transcend the mundane and approach the spiritual plane.

Those of us blessed to receive Nature Mystical experiences may describe these Nature Sites as “our cathedrals.”  Other people may visit these sites and praise the divine for the beauty of “God’s creation,” either way these are very special sites.  Most of us are not lucky enough to live within commuting distance of these locations so they most often represent “special retreat trips” or vacations.  For some people they may represent the destination of a personal pilgrimage.

                              Retreat Site Classification Continuum

Retreat Site — Garden Retreat Site — Nature Tranquility Site  — Nature Site

What is the difference between a Retreat Site and a Pilgrimage Site?  While we most often undertake a retreat to “get away” and enjoy some solitude, a pilgrimage journey is often directed toward a location/place which has some special significance.  It may offer the pilgrim significant historical insights into their faith or culture.  It may present the pilgrim with an example of spiritual diversity.  It may lead the pilgrim to answer a specific question or present them with a new realm of possibilities. They may marvel at man’s artistic achievements or ponder the mysteries of a weeping icon or healing springs.

 How do I make sense of and classify the dizzying array of Pilgrimage Sites?  That will be the topic of my next blog.  Have a wonderful weekend!

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Consecutive Days Riding: 42                              Consecutive Days Blogging: 43

Today’s Mileage:  5                                           Total Trip Mileage: 355

I have to admit the title of today’s Blog is probably a little over the top.  It was meant to grab your attention.  It comes from a factoid listed on the Big Cypress National Preserve website concerning  the feeding of wild animals. This is a problem as they become dependent on the food often leading to death along the roadways or to being “put down” as a nuisance.

Cypress Sunrise

Today we visit our eighth Pilgrimage Site The Big Cypress National  Preserve.  Some of you might ask: what does a nature preserve have to do with a Spiritual Pilgrimage?  As I’ve mentioned before, many people see nature as the handiwork of the Divine while others find within the mystery and beauty of nature the conditions for mystical experiences.

Trees through the Haze

This site visit highlights the impact that humans can have on the natural world.  Whether it’s the lack of giant Cypress trees due to timbering in the early 1900s, or the Burmese Python invasion due to people’s release of unwanted pets, man has clearly had an impact.  Whether you believe we are just one component of a giant interconnected web of life, or believe that we are the stewards of this planet at the divine’s request,  we need to ask ourselves: what are doing to our natural world?  How are we changing things, what are we leaving for the future?

Big Cypress Perserve

I am delighted to be visiting another site of natural beauty!  I would like to thank again the Panramio photo service, a component of  Google Earth.  This service provides tourists an opportunity to download many beautiful photos.  Without this service,  our journey would be significantly less colorful and interesting! 

As I view the scenes along the raised walkways leading  through the swamps, the trees and hanging moss,  I experience a sense of discovery,  reminding me  of a poem I  wrote on a nature walk several years ago.     

No Expectations

You should learn

     The cycle of the forest

       Some people would say.

Know when to expect

     The mushrooms

        The migrating birds

          The mating turtles

            The spring flowers.

Each with their own

   Timed curtain call.

I could study books,

    Talk with naturalists,

       Keep notes and a journal.

But I won’t… I’d rather be surprised!

Like a holiday

    That sneaks up on you.

       With the sudden appearance

          Of colorful ornaments

             And festive trappings.

The best gifts

    Are those

       We don’t expect!

_ _ _ _

Sunset at Big Cypress

I hope you enjoyed the poem, please click on the Pilgrimage Site tab at the top of this page to visit the Big Cypress National Preserve.  For more information visit www.nps.gov/bicy/

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Consecutive Days Riding: 38                              Consecutive Days Blogging: 39

Today’s Mileage:  8                                           Total Trip Mileage: 329

stage7      As I ride the bike this morning a number of topics swirl about in my mind.  I have enjoyed our week in the Miami area. Next time I visit the area in person I’ll make a personal pilgrimage to the Holocaust site as I was struck by the images which still haunt me with their poignancy.  I am looking forward to hitting the “open road” as we head west I hope to see more gorgeous nature scenes.

     I’ve been investigating pilgrimage sites down the road.  We will swing south for a day’s ride before heading west across the northern part of the Everglades and into Big Cypress National Preserve.  Then it’s on to Naples, where we’ll visit a controversial religious site:  a religious city which some people view as the epitome of American freedom, while others view it as a sign of growing intolerance and the fragmentation of our nation’s religious fabric.  As we head up the coast toward Fort Myers we will visit two sites: an ancient Native American site and a place which is a failed tribute to the human desire to create “Paradise in the Wilderness.”

     One of my viewers asked the question, concerning yesterday’s postings, if meditating was so profound then why did I stop after seven years?  There are probably several potential postings embedded within this question.  Let me just give a brief answer for now.

      Any good habit such as exercise or diet can fall prey to changing circumstances.  In addition, there is always the danger that we can become so complacent about the positive efforts that we forget the source of these effects.  My life took on many challenges as I married, entered graduate school, moved about the country.  My meditative practice suffered as I took on the roles of Professor, therapist, and father!  However, the ability and knowledge is there, and at particularly stressful times I return to it to steady my nerves and calm my mind.  Why have I not fully reimmersed myself in the meditative practice? In a way I have, but in a different way!

     In general there are two forms of meditation.  Concentration meditation, the form recognized by most people, where the mediator sits quietly and turns inward using a mantra (sound) as a meditative device.  The goal is to quiet your mind to the point of “no thoughts.”  Transcendental Meditation is one such technique.  The second form of meditation is called Mindful Meditation, and is practiced by several branches of Buddhism.  It involves focusing on and being mindful of whatever one is doing at the moment.  Mindfulness of walking, breathing, studying a flower, the breeze on one’s skin can all be part of a walk through a garden.  It is found to promote deeper insights into how our minds work to “create” the world around us and how to control our attention and focus. 

     As my artistic interests grew over the last twenty years, especially my poetry, I found myself naturally and effortlessly using this technique.  I would state that I still meditate but in a different form.

     Here is a poem and one of my drawings, both are products of a mindful walk:

exbeauty

Beauty by StationaryPilgrim

Nature’s to Blame

Checked my watch

     It happened again!

Half an hour pasted,

     I barely moved.

Oh well!

          I’ll blame the flowers,

               Their beauty impeded my progress:

          And the bird call,

               The humming insects,

               The inviting cool shadows,

               And the still air.

          Don’t forget the fragrances,

               There were way too many.

If I missed something important

     Please accept my apology.

****

sunset and bike by oojeff

If I had a real bike and was really there!

     Enjoy your day and be mindful of your journey!

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Consecutive Days Riding: 36                               Consecutive Days Blogging: 37

Today’s Mileage:  5                                           Total Trip Mileage: 316

 stage6

     As I ride my bike and we approach our next Pilgrimage Site, I want to speak about mysticism.  Several viewers have asked me to define it and to describe types of mystical experiences.  To answer these questions in the depth they deserve it would take more time and space than one Blog posting can offer.  As such today I will be presenting only a cursory review.

cindy47452

Blazing Sky!

     Mysticism can be defined as: the pursuit of an understanding or relationship with the ultimate reality we call the divine, through direct experience, intuition and insight.  This relationship may include a desire to enter into a communion with, identification with, or achieve a conscious awareness of this ultimate reality, divinity, spiritual truth, or God. A mystical experience may be minor and uplifting, like a walk through a beautiful garden, or it may be profound, intense and a life changing event, such as a near death experience!

daodejing1     Mysticism usually focuses on practices that are intended to nurture this direct experience or awareness.  All of the major wisdom traditions either place mystical experiences at the core of their practices, primarily within the eastern traditions, or have mystical branches within their traditions, such as Kabbalah within Judaism, Sufism within Islam, Christian mystics within Christianity. The mystical branches of these Monotheist traditions are often treated skeptically by the more orthodox branches of the faith due to the emphasis the mystic person places on their direct experience and living realization over doctrine. In contrast to orthodox branches which often look only to the sacred scriptures for revelation and direction.

      Mystics believe these experiences of divine consciousness, enlightenment and union with God that are made possible via the mystical paths, are available to everyone who is willing to follow the practice. No one is denied or excluded from the practices or the experiences that result. While some mystic traditions may exclude the validity of other traditions, most tend to be more accepting than the non-mystical versions of their faiths. In general, mystics are more inclusionary and pluralistic.

 

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Alchemist's Star

   How are these mystical experiences classified? In general they can first be divided into dualistic, which maintains a distinction between the individual and the divine, often called Theist Mysticism, and non-dualistic, where the distinction is blurred or no distinction exists.

     These non-dualistic experiences can be further divided into those where there is a mystical consciousness of the unity of all reality superimposed upon a person’s perceptions of the world (i.e. when I, as a young boy, stood transfixed in the face of a gigantic thunderstorm as it and all of reality “passed through me” and became one).  This can be called Nature Mysticism and may be experienced in any moment of intense passion, creativity, or connectedness with other people and natural objects.  If the experience involves a “going inward” and the “falling away” of one’s identity to the point of “divine nothingness”, or bliss, this can be called Monist Mysticism.

  julian-holycard1   You might ask: is a person limited to just one form of mystical experience?  The answer is No!  I myself have experienced both Nature and Monist mystical experiences.  I have never experienced the divine as a deity or a spiritual presence.  My partner has experienced all three.

      Depending upon the religious tradition you are trying to conform to, these experiences may be embraced or looked upon with suspicion.  I believe no single type or combination is the true or desirable experience.  You cannot command mystical experiences to occur. However, you can maintain practices which increase their likelihood of occurrence.  You can pray, chant, dance, meditate, do yoga, or take nature walks to name only a few. A deep level of despair may visit a mystic who has lost this connection with the divine i.e. the Theist to whom God fails to speak, the Nature mystic who feels nothing at the feet of natural beauty, or the Monist who cannot penetrate  layers of ego and desire that block the way to the sacred core. It has been said that “Behind every addiction lies a search for the divine.”  False paths to the divine do exist but that’s a topic for another posting.

     Most people I know who have mystical experiences view them as profound gifts.  As with any special gift, one shouldn’t hoard it, but share it with others.  It may be shared when it inspires caring, loving behavior towards others, as inspiration for a poem or piece of artwork or the topic of a discussion.  There are many paths, many experiences that will take the seeking pilgrim to the mountain top, to a knowledge of and relationship with the divine.  Which path is “your path?”  There is no more important question in life!

     For more information the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy at www.plato.stanford.edu  contains a good academic discussion of the topic under mysticism.   In addition, a wonderful movie is available called A Still Small Voice, narrated by Bill Kurtis (of recent “I found the internet” fame) which includes presentations by people who have experienced all three forms of mysticism.

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Consecutive Days Riding: 34                               Consecutive Days Blogging: 35

Today’s Mileage:  5                                           Total Trip Mileage: 304

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Holidays and Holy Days on November 12:

Birth of Baha’u’llah –  Baha’i celebration of the birth of their founder and teacher

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      As I ride the bike today I am thinking about the nature of pilgrimage sites.   I’ll let you decide whether you believe today’s site warrants inclusion on the list of Pilgrimage Sites as we are visiting an interesting place in North Miami Beach which is now a beautiful and popular place for weddings and receptions. I found a travel review which stated: “The story behind this place is more interesting than going there.”   While I have labeled it as a “Christian” site, it might be better to think of it as a Marriage Remembrance Site!  I believe this site; The Spanish Monastery has importance and significance.  

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View of the courtyard.

   First, I think it reiterates that for some pilgrimages it’s not the site that has significance, but the journey required to arrive at the site.  Like the Miley Cyrus song stated: “It’s the climb.”  I remind myself of this when I find the flower garden bare or the creek dry after a long walk. I have written a number of poems and viewed beautiful images I would not have seen if I hadn’t taken that walk/journey.

     Second, the story of how this Spanish Monastery which predates Columbus’ arrival in the New World found its way to the shores of a “distant land” is fascinating!  It might be seen as a story of a “rescue” of a decaying work of architectural art, a grand but misguided business endeavor, or the appropriation of the relics of another time and place for our use in the present. 

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Christ in the Garden.

  I believe our American culture and to a degree historically Western culture has a tendency to buy treasures, or claim sites that produce a readymade “history.”  Is it our impatience to wait for our own relics and sites to develop? Or do we have a sense of entitlement towards the treasures of old, or any site that we discover, whether or not it might already have special significance to others?  I am reminded of the early Christian colonists declaring they were “God’s chosen” and the New World their “promised land”.  Of course that meant that the native inhabitants were, at best, potential converts, or at worst “Canaanites” who warrant only removal and destruction.

     An additional issue this visit raises for me has to do with discovering the “true meaning” of a site or a journey. If you Google wedding reception sites in the Miami area, you will find this historic monastery listed.  Is that a “good use” of the space, or an affront to the building’s “true meaning?”  It was built for a sacred purpose, consecrated with sacred rituals, and inhabited for centuries by dedicated spiritual seekers.  How does the current use enhance or undermine this history? Does it matter? 

     When I first investigated this site I found videos about it on YouTube.  The first I viewed showed a young lady quietly lighting votive candles at the entrance to the sanctuary.  The second video showed a boisterous, youthful wedding party dancing wildly to the Village People anthem YMCA!

     Please click on the tab at the top of this page entitled: Pilgrimage Sites to visit the Spanish Monastery.  Have a wonderful day!

The information on holy days and sacred holidays comes from http://www.interfaithcalendar.org.

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Consecutive Days Riding: 26                               Consecutive Days Blogging: 27

Today’s Mileage: 6                                              Total Trip Mileage: 250

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     As I ride the bike today I smile and laugh at myself.  In my posting entitled It’s the Climb! (Oct.25) I mentioned we’re all faced with the challenge of finding balance between looking up so you can see where you are going and looking down so that you don’t trip over things.  I intended on just riding today, letting the wheel spin and my thoughts wander.  Then I looked up and realized we are only a day away from our first Miami area pilgrimage site!

     Tomorrow we’ll stop at a strikingly beautiful spiritual compound situated between Homestead and South Miami Florida, the Wat Buddharangsi, a Buddhist monastery complete with orange robed monks and a golden Buddha.  Be sure to wear clean socks, as shoe removal is required.

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     Over the weekend I indulged myself in “working” on picking up and burning fallen branches.  I saw it as an indulgence because I enjoy any excuse to walk in the woods and build a fire.  The psychologist Carl Jung would say that fire activates some primal archetype embedded within all of us.  You do not need to study anthropology or history to recognize the importance of fire in human sacred rites.  Enter many religious sites today and you will find fire in the form of flickering votive candles, or dancing incense offerings.  I wrote the following poem as I worked,sat and watched, the fire.

 Ageless Pilgrimage

I set the spirits free

Flames dance and leap skyward

Glowing embers join the surge

Dead leaves in overhanging branches

Wave and twist on unseen currents

Tumble and fall like offerings

With a crackle and pop

Thick branches turn to bright coals

With incense streamers

I have no doubt

That human history

Began around a fire

On a Fall evening

With a chill enveloping

The landscape

There is something comforting

Something captivating

About flames

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      As we prepare to visit various pilgrimage sites, I thought I would share the words of Taoist sage Deng Ming-Dao from his book of daily meditations entitled 365 Tao.  He writes on the topic of Shrine and includes good advice to consider before entering a sacred site.

 “It is good to have holy places in the world, and it is good for us to go on pilgrimages.  Ultimately, it is not the place that is important; it is what you feel that is lasting.  To visit a place is minor; to change within yourself is greater. When people visit a holy place, some say that the spirits of that place speak to them. Others remember the exotic pageantry.  When it comes to sacred sites, it’s better to be a pilgrim than a tourist.  Go with a humble attitude, and let your heart be moved by what you experience.  Then you will receive the true treasure of the shrine.” (p.170)

sunset over allapattah by barbara livieri

Nature's flickering candle.

Have a wonderful day!  I hope to see you tomorrow as we visit the path of the Golden One.

A special thanks to the photographers associated with Panramio for the beautiful scenes from along the roadside. The information on holy days and sacred holidays comes from http://www.interfaithcalendar.org.

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