Thoughts of Spirituality from Istanbul

Stepping into the Hagia Sofia. Note the huge gold mosaic of the Virgin Mary holding baby Jesus in the dome at the front and the two huge Islamic "billboards" to either side. Crazy experience.

Stepping into the Hagia Sofia. Note the huge gold mosaic of the Virgin Mary holding baby Jesus in the dome at the front and the two huge Islamic "billboards" to either side. Crazy experience.

Hagia Sofia was built as an Eastern Orthodox cathedral, later converted to a Catholic cathedral under the Roman Empire, and finally converted to a mosque when the Ottomans conquered Constantinople. It has been secular since 1935, serving as a museum in modern day Istanbul. Upon entrance I was struck by some stark contrasts in the imagery.

Additions were made but neither the art or imagery were removed or covered during the final transformation from Roman Catholic cathedral to mosque. The beautiful juxtaposition of enormous gold mosaics of the Virgin Mary and Jesus next to large Islamic banners speaks to a greater truth about the worldly manifestations of spirituality.

A spiritual journey should be focused inward. While we can offer one another strength and guidance, no one can be shown their spiritual path toward their own greatest good.

Walking among the grand and varied religious imagery, many questions come to mind:

  • What are the reasons for one religious group to not only preserve the structure but the imagery and writings of a theology is has been quite at odds with for much of history?
  • Is it an acknowledgement that there are many paths to a higher place (perhaps the same place) and all choices should be respected?
  • Is it out of respect for the beliefs and hard work of their fellow man?
  • Respect for beautiful art and architecture, regardless the intended meaning?
  • It is simply laziness? It requires significantly less work to integrate into an existing space rather than to purge, rebuild, and redecorate.

All scenarios seem unlikely given the typical practices of both theologies at the time.

I have felt for some time that organized religions offer a wonderful opportunity to bring a spiritual practice to so many who might not otherwise develop one. However, they ultimately fall short of delivering what they intend to. Organized religions offer guidance, teaching, spirituality, (and indoctrination) based largely on the experiences of others (and others living in a much different, ancient world). Spirituality should be a personal journey based in one's own experiences and beliefs. I have found vastly more personal development and clear visions of where my life's path should lead through my personal mindfulness practice than from a lifetime of traditional Christian upbringing.

I do not hold a harsh view of those who find that a traditional religious experience works. I feel that we could hold ourselves to a higher standard though. Organized religion is convenient and easy. Come here, say this, sing that, believe what you are told and all will be right. You can ponder and question and but ultimately, just believe. We should encourage individual journeys and understand and value self-reliance and self-discovery.

Turn your gaze inward and develop a strong relationship with your highest self. Let your path be your own. You are capable of so much good. Learn what that is and make it happen.

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I understand that this is highly personal and emotional topic for most. I do not mean to be inflammatory only to spark consideration and conversation. Please comment and join the discussion if you feel comfortable. I would love to know and discuss everyone's personal spiritual beliefs. Thanks for reading.

- Justin

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