Thursday, September 2, 2010

Faith, Hope and Tomatoes

The following article was initially written for Earth Ministry; Earth Letter Autumn 2010

Faith, Hope and Tomatoes

by Jessie Dye, Earth Ministry, fellow traveler to Turkey
and a great team member

It the end, it was the tomatoes that revealed the mysteries to me. Full, ripe, and exquisite, they were served at the beginning of every meal, even breakfast. Every single tomato had the flavor of a full-summer Iowa fruit, just pulled from the vine. The tomatoes of Turkey put me into a state of ecstasy three times a day, which began to annoy my fellow travelers. But Turkish tomatoes were so consistently excellent and so unlike the long-distance trucked tomatoes of the I-5 corridor back home that I could not contain my bliss. What an amazing, local fresh food, thriving in Anatolia and yet indigenous to the Americas. Like so much in Turkey, tomatoes exemplify a joyful integration of the global human experience.

The land mass of Anatolia, called Asia Minor by the Romans and known as Turkey today, is the vibrant crossroads of great movements in history.

Grain was first cultivated on the highlands of eastern Anatolia, between the headwaters of the Tigris and

Mosque and Turkish flag in Izmir
rivers. The earliest city on earth is believed to be in Western Anatolia. Ephesus served as the Roman capitol of Asia and early Christianity established itself there. When Constantine’s mother, St. Monica, convinced her son to go to battle under the sign of the cross, Constantinople (now Istanbul) became the capitol of the Byzantine Empire and the first Christian state.

Later, the Ottoman Turks conquered a huge swath of the world, from North Africa to Central Asia. The sultans grew wealthy by taking a cut from every jewel and spice-laden ship passing through the Strait of Bosporus between Asia and Europe at the terminus of the Silk Road. Turkey today is a fully-functioning democracy with modern infrastructure and an economy that weathered the recent recession better than most of Europe; it holds the most ancient and most modern of human ideals with grace.

The great aspects of spiritual tradition are everywhere evident in Anatolia. The Goddess, under the name of Cybil among many others, was worshipped on the Eastern shores of the Mediterranean. She morphed into Dianna whose fabulous temple on the Aegean Sea was named a wonder of the ancient world. The home of Mary, Mother of Jesus is on a shady hillside nearby, about five miles from present day Izmir. The feminine face of the Divine shows Herself in temples and ancient sites throughout the great open-air museum that is modern-day Turkey.

Woman have had equal rights in Turkey almost as long as in America. Contemporary Turkish woman balance their faith, families and their careers as well as woman anywhere – better, if you consider the food.

Now almost completely Islamic, Turkey has a long history of tolerance and respect for diversity. The Ottomans gave sanctuary to the Jews when they were expelled from Spain in 1492 and welcomed refugees from Hitler during the Holocaust. Ladino and Yiddish are still spoken in neighborhoods of Istanbul.

The Sufi mystic Jelaluddin Rumi, who believed that all paths lead to the Divine, established a mosque and is buried in the holy city of Konya. This tolerant and loving Islamic tradition of Sufism is that which defines Turkish Islam. And is it that very tradition that brought me to Turkey and allowed me to revel in these fabulous tomatoes.

For Rumi’s great teacher, friend, and spiritual partner, the Dervish Shams, left Konya and met a card shark and vagabond in distant Damascus, a young man named Francis from the

Jessie and her traveling companions at the mosque of the
great Sufi poet and Iman, Jelaluddin Rumi in Konya

Italian town of Assisi. Francis cheated at cards with the Imam, and yet was deeply touched and ultimately influenced by the ecstatic and mystical Sufi love of
God and creation that he learned from Shams. Francis returned to Italy after being fully immersed in Sufi teaching, and began the mystic tradition within Christianity, that which expresses ecstatic love for God and all of God’s creatures. Francis is, for obvious reasons, the Patron Saint of Christian environmentalism. I work for St. Francis, indirectly.

Meanwhile, back in Turkey at the end of the 20th Century, a remarkable Islamic Sufi teacher was articulating a strikingly similar vision of love of humanity and Creation in a modern context. Imam Fethuallah Gulen defies categorization, as do all great spiritual teachers. Gulen preaches that to understand the Holy Koran, a Muslim must use the heart as much as the intellect. In the tradition of the Sufis, Gulen shares the belief that God, humanity, and the natural world are interconnected. As a result, a believer will love and respect humanity as well as Earth’s natural ecosystems.

The generous followers of Imam Gulen invite faith and civic leaders from around the world to visit Turkey, learn their history, share their civic engagement projects, and of course eat their tomatoes. I was privileged to be part of a cultural awareness mission this past June as a guest of the Seattle-based Acacia Foundation.

Gulen’s preaching has inspired a whole generation of Turks who promote education as the way forward in a globalized world. Learning is the key for modern Muslims to be at home on a wildly diverse planet while holding true to the values of a loving and peaceful faith. Gulen’s Islam sees no conflict between science and religion, believing that the incredible complexity of Earth’s ecosystems and the physics of the universe all reveal the mind of God.

Gulen stands for nothing if not tolerance and dialogue among people of all faiths, open to the truth of the Other with a loving heart. In the way of the Sufis, he teaches to the whole of the human psyche, the intellect, the heart, and the spirit. The mystery of Turkey is in its glorious and peaceful integration of ancient and modern, science and faith, mind and heart, East and West: all of these amazing elements splendidly fused and revealed in the streets of Istanbul and the cuisine of Anatolia.

Gulen-inspired educators who have established dozens of schools across Turkey, and over one hundred in the poorest countries of Africa and Eastern Europe. They are absolutely committed to education as the way out of poverty, despair, and prejudice. Especially important in the largely Muslim countries of the former Soviet Union, Gulen’s school provide hope, the strongest an antidote to the toxic messengers of jihad. Their civic engagement projects do not intervene in political struggles but offer food and assistance in disasters of all kinds, natural and human-caused.

Christian mysticism has love of Creation at its heart; this is the spiritual center of the faith-based environmental movement. It is also the theological tradition of Earth Ministry in a clear line extending back to St. Francis of Assisi. Take one step further, to Rumi and Shams, the Imam and Dervish of Konya, to find the source of
Jessie’s hosts in Turkey were the Acacia Foundation in Seattle
and BAKIAD in Istanbul. Here, Jessie receives a gift from
Ahmet Dastan as a gesture of intercultural friendship.

inspiration of Fethulla Gulen. We who work for Creation care in 21st century America share common spiritual ancestors with Gulen’s followers in present day Turkey. It is my hope that they will become our strong partners in our common responsibility to protect God’s good Earth.

The secret the tomatoes revealed to me is that the union of ancient indigenous food from the West, grown locally and organically in the East and served with love and friendship between people of diverse cultures, brings nothing but joy. Our differences, when integrated with respect and appreciation, shower blessings upon us all. Just eat a Turkish tomato and you’ll know.

1 comment:

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