God and 15 Months of Blessed Homelessness

For fifteen months, I have been blessed with "homelessness." Read my thank you letter to the generous hosts who opened their doors, and see the chronology of fifteen months with God on the road. "Come to me, and you will find yourself."

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For days it seems THE NIGHTINGALE has been asleep. With all the beauty, with all the sites and grandeur, he has lost scent of THE DESERT ROSE. He wanders from dawn to dusk, from sunrise to sunset. He wanders with the crowds. He wanders down the usual paths and sees the things he's supposed to see. But within him there's a different voice. 

"Nightingale," the voice says to him. "What is all of this? What game are you trying to play? Stop now and be yourself. Go to the other side. Tell your story there. Speak of your sadness and of your broken heart. It's okay for people to hear your tears well inside, pouring forth from a shattered soul. It's okay to be alone." 

THE NIGHTINGALE listens to the voice and fights the brimming of truth. He sees it inside him, the unnamed pain percolating like little bubbles in the deepest of seas. He hears the music and he hangs on with all his heart. He is a stranger in this land. He does not speak the language, nor does he know the subtler ways. So he holds onto the little stirrings of his heart. He knows that they're everything; that the pain he feels is all he truly has. 

Closing his eyes, THE NIGHTINGALE feels his lips quiver, his heart beating, the roar of a chaotic world outside. There are so many unknown voices, but there is between their chords a slight whisper: THE DESERT ROSE. He knows. He knows she calls to him and he lets out a long and helpless sigh. THE NIGHTINGALE feels her touch as she plays the black and white keys of his heart, but he still knows not what he ought to do.

He sits inside the back of a cafe in the corner of an alleyway. He listens to music. He listens to her piano play and he sees that perhaps there is hope for him. Her voice seeps within and finds his shattered soul. He feels the grip of her fingers around his heart. It squeezes. It revitalizes his being and he hears a bell ring. A dog gazes at him from an open door. Fire burns in his little heart. Another flame has been lit. "Please," THE NIGHTINGALE cries out. "Please let this flame carry me far away. But hold me when there's nothing else for me to hold, when all is lost and I'm alone."

THE DESERT ROSE smiles. "I will hold you," she says. "But first you must surrender. First you must let go."

THE NIGHTINGALE feels his heart come alive. In an instant the flower sends her scent. It comes in the form of two messengers. A wish is answered. A small gift is given. A quiet soul speaks and reminds the bird of an old promise. "May THE DESERT ROSE guide you on the way," the messenger says. "Good luck; goodbye."




Hagia Sophia

Stepping inside Hagia Sophia is stepping inside history. Meaning 'Holy Wisdom' or 'The Wisdom of God,' Hagia Sophia was an Eastern Orthodox cathedral and seat of the Patriarch of Constantinople. In its nearly 1500 years of existence, the building has been burnt down and rebuilt twice. It has also been converted twice, once from Eastern Orthodox to Roman Catholicism; once from Catholicism to Islam, being made a mosque in 1453 . But, today, it has seen one final conversion. Since 1931, Hagia Sophia has served as a museum, one steeped in interreligious history and now available to people of all faiths.

Inside, there is now modern Islamic art along the floors. Above, Qur'anic scripture, the largest ever written, can be seen on massive wooden circles painted black. They add to the overall grandeur of the domed roof and vaulted ceilings with their ornate detail and fading frescos. Above the portal to Mecca still lasts a painting of Mary holding the child Jesus. Beside them is Archangel Michael. On another wall is Christ with Mary and John the Baptist. Christ has his hand raised. It is the Hour of Judgment. People gather around for photos. People whisper. A breeze blows. The Blue Mosque can be seen through an open window, and blue tiles lay hidden in shadows.

Inside Hagia Sophia

Inside Hagia Sophia

Blue tiles inside Hagia Sophia

Blue tiles inside Hagia Sophia

A Prayer Inside the Blue Mosque, Istanbul

I arrive in Istanbul and catch the last ferry to Kadiköy on the Asia side. It's a literary, artistic neighborhood away from the more touristic areas. My room is small. The bed is hard. Noise from the street enters through an old window. People talk and drink at cafes and bars outside. Tobacco smoke is in the air. Cars, taxis, and motorbikes honk, weaving up and down Moda Street.

Early next morning, I make my way back to Eminönö and Sultanahmet to visit the Blue Mosque. I arrive just as the muezzin recites the call to prayer. I take off my boots like the others. Entering through the door, I join on the carpet. At first, I wait near the back and take a few photos. The imam begins worship and everyone streams forward. A moment of choice. What wall will I allow to exist? Where does fear and separation begin in this world of ours? Is it outside or within my heart? The question lingers, and I look around and discern an often forgotten biblical verse, "A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another" (John 13:34).

Why not break barriers? Why not do my humble part to unite? I stand and go forward. I join with the kneeling Islamic congregation. Yes, I am a Christian with a cross beneath my shirt. But I am now kneeling in a row with Muslims. Two men smile at me. The world would be surprised. Sunlight shines through an open window. All is bathed. Gold script from the Qur'an glistens from bookshelves. I keep the Lord in my heart. Is our God more than One? Tell me, will the Lord judge me for this? I watch the men turn their heads from side to side when the prayer comes to an end. We speak to the angels on our shoulders. I want to take a picture. It is worth a million dollars, but I will not sully this moment. There is peace and I feel the Lord is present.

 Muslims praying inside the Blue Mosque

 Muslims praying inside the Blue Mosque

Tourists standing outside the Blue Mosque

Tourists standing outside the Blue Mosque

First Scent of THE DESERT ROSE

Milk and honey flow from the distant mountains. The stream gouges a valley and floods the heart. THE NIGHTINGALE waits calmly in a patient slumber. He is alone and the shadow is long. He catches the first scent of his Love. He lifts his head. He looks up and all around. He has heard, and his tender heart begins to beat faster and faster. THE NIGHTINGALE rises with the moon. He knows that the sweet scent came from somewhere in the desert. Through an open gate, from within, he hears a voice and catches the first scent of THE DESERT ROSE. He whispers to the flower, "O, desert rose, I heard your voice in a dream. I smelt your Ivory petals. But, tell me, where are you now?" THE DESERT ROSE calls back to THE NIGHTINGALE but the bird can no longer hear her voice and sips from his old flower one last time. Burnt on the coals of the seraphim, he sears his little beak! A covenant of the prophetic wish is made. He hovers into the dusk, leaving the old flower behind. He knows there is another world that awaits. Twilight and a crescent moon. Still air! and yet he senses that the zephyr is blowing. He knows that soon the wind will come and carry him away. He will seek the open gate and his True Desire, THE DESERT ROSE that called his name. "Come to me," she said. "Come to me, Nightingale; come; come to Jerusalem; come and be my lover."

The beginning of the journey

The beginning of the journey

The Ocotillo Was No More

I stopped my car somewhere between the Mojave and Colorado Deserts. I crossed the double yellow line and walked toward myself. I saw a tall ocotillo cactus standing alone under a blanket of blue. There, holding Jacob's staff was an old man who stood still staring at its red flowers. They shook anxiously in the wind. He asked me: From where did the wind come, and to where will the wind go? I removed my shoes and I closed my eyes. I could hear nothing but stillness and the sound of silence. It was unknown to me. It lasted for but a moment. I was afraid and I was alone. I was torn and I was tormented, and I lost control of myself and died.

My eyes were opened and the sun was setting and a rainbow shot forth from a tear rolling down my cheek. I saw the flowers turn to roses, and when I rose they danced with me beneath the rising moon. I heard voices stir inside. They all called my name, reminding me of my past, telling me what to do and who to be. My eyes closed again. I could hear the Universe calling: Come to me, my son, and find your peace.

My heart skipped across a pond between two swans and I looked back to the other shore and saw the ocotillo cactus begin to grow. The rose buds burst like lightning into bright, colorful flames, and the flowers whispered secrets to the stars in brilliant yellows and oranges and reds. The flames danced together, their colors blending, their stories becoming one. The petals took flight and sped into darkness. I felt my heart turning cold, tearing within. The flames leapt with my last breath in brilliant blues and faded to turquoise and green. The voices inside me ceased and I opened my eyes.

I was sitting on a mountain. My memory and experience had vanished with the wind. I heard a voice echo an eternity. Jacob told me to not be afraid. I turned toward the other shore and saw the ocotillo cactus was no more. The moon laughed at me pleasantly. I turned and walked away. The night grew before me. Darkness fell and Orion moved to the west in a dream. A fire burned and I was lifted in the talons of a hawk and floated above the world sleeping below.


The Artist Von Paul

This man -- Von Paul -- finished his education after the eighth grade. He told us he had to begin work, so he became a plumber. After many years, he was told that he was too old and too slow. He was fired. One day his granddaughter came home from school with a drawing of a mandala. "You can make these," she told her grandfather. The old man took the child seriously and spent the next four years of his life creating thousands of sacred mandalas, spending ten hours a day, each and every day. One night his girlfriend was drawing over his work. "What are you doing?" he asked her. "This is not you," she replied, staring back at him. He was not angry with her, realizing that she was right. "I loved her," he said. "I had been creating beautiful things because people liked them." She had inspired Von Paul to start something new.

I looked at his work. "But why these drawings?" I asked him. "They are exciting," he replied, flipping a pen in the air. "And they are not planned." Von Paul gifted my friend and I one of his drawings -- one that I had commented on for the jester shapes inside. Before giving us the gift, Von Paul wrote on the back, "To Jess an Hunter Spinning thru the Universe.... Balancing on a ball of Mud.... Trying to find our Way... Never in the same Place Twice.... Von Paul 2014." Von Paul has also been 'saved' 17 times. "A couple years ago, I would go to a different church every Sunday," he said, laughing. "Being saved is fun. It makes everyone happy." And that may have been the best thing I ever heard, and perhaps his being saved is a blessing for all of us, a gentle reminder that everything we encounter is a possibility, that we must look at life in a new way.