Calm Amid the Craziness

Jack’s guest blog from Istanbul –

Istanbul is a city of 22 million people, and most of them seemed to be in the Spice Market and Topkapi Palace the same days we were. On day  three amid jostling crowds, avoiding shopkeepers accosting in six languages, dodging buses and taxis as they honked insults while dueling for supremacy on the narrow Old City streets, we booked tickets to see the Whirling Dervishes.

Not knowing quite what to expect, we arrived at what appeared to be a sophisticated ‘theater in the round,’ complete with colored lights and set in an old mosque. My heart sank as I got the feeling that we were in for a typical ‘folklorique’ experience. When the four musicians appeared, dressed in identical costumes and playing tambur, whistle, psaltery and various drums, my first impression seemed correct, but as the music started I realized that this sounded like the real thing–a strange alternating major and minor key piece based on an oddly exotic scale.

Gradually the music set a mood. Then the dervishes appeared and the audience—until then restless and clearly waiting for something to happen—settled in as, without leaving our seats, we were moved to another place. A feeling not unlike the gathered silence of a Quaker Meeting enveloped the space as these five men in high hats and white garments inclined their heads, raised their hands (left palm down, right palm up) and took turns to lead the others in their ancient stately whirling dance of Sufi worship.

Seemingly oblivious to the 200 or so observers in the circle of tiered seats around them, they whirled, white coats billowing, with eyes half closed, whispering the words of prayer. It was elegant, dignified, reverent.

When it was all over we wandered back to our hotel through jostling crowds, city traffic and accosting stall keepers. But we couldn’t get the image of the dervishes out of our thoughts. A sense of calm suffused the night.

Cynically, Wendy and I joked that these men got up this morning and went to their jobs as taxi drivers, stall keepers, and tourist boat operators–but so what if they did? Calm is calm, worship is worship, and moments of honesty about loving God in a busy life are worth clinging to.

dervishes

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4 Comments

Filed under folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, small town USA, Uncategorized

4 responses to “Calm Amid the Craziness

  1. Anne

    How awesome and exciting ,I am so happy for you both getting to enjoy everything around you . Love and miss you both.

  2. Fascinating!
    “The God Who Only Knows Four Words – Every child has known God, not the God of names, not the God of don’ts, not the God whoever does anything weird, but the God who only knows four words and keeps repeating them, saying, “Come dance with Me.” Come Dance.”
    From a well-worn copy of The Gift-Poems by Hafiz, the great Sufi Master.

    • Oh, that is beautiful! I quoted Hafiz in my book because I’d just discovered his writings. We’re going to see if there’s an illustrated book of him here, today at the calligraphy museum. Turkish/Persian/and/or Arabic scripts are so beautiful.

  3. Sally Wiggins

    I’m sure I’ll never witness it in person, but your post made it very real to me. A new experience viewed through your eyes.
    .

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