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.