My husband and I have just returned from a week's tour of Cappadocia in central Turkey, what was once called Anatolia. It was a very different experience for us in a country we have never visited before. We travelled everywhere by coach, and two of our journeys were very long: twelve hours on the road, counting stops for coffee, shopping and lunch, driven by a man perhaps not naturally gifted with charm, but safe and steady, including in some quite challenging conditions of weather and topography. By contrast our guide was a gem. His knowledge was wide and his English very clear, though sometimes unwittingly hilarious (speaking of a questionnaire he said, 'If you haven't got enough room you can write on the backside.') His enthusiasm for his work led him to make room for trips not on the schedule so that the last drop of experience was squeezed out for us in that one short week. The majority of the party were old enough to be his parents; perhaps that accounted for his consideration and helpfulness. He also had an impish sense of humour, and he said he had fun too. We certainly did, even though the trip was very full-on and somewhat tiring with frequent early starts ('On the bus by 7.30!') We were, I think, most fortunate, not only in the usually kindly weather and the excellence of our guide, but in the rest of the party, who seemed good-hearted and good-humoured people, not a difficult or fault-finding one among them.
We visited a number of interesting sites, including the ancient city of Aspendos with its huge and beautifully-restored amphitheatre, near the modern city of Antalya.
We crossed the majestic (and sometimes frighteningly sheer) Taurus Mountains to Konya, familiar to me as Iconium in the Biblical narrative of St Paul's missionary journeys, and there we visited the museum and shrine of Mevlana, more often known in the west as the C13th poet, jurist, theologian and Sufi mystic, Rumi.
Finally arriving at our destination, near the central city of Nevsehir, we explored extraordinary rock formations, cliff-face dwellings and ancient frescoed Christian chapels in valleys with rock-faces striped in sulphur yellow, iron red and copper green.
And I met a local inhabitant...
We also visited a carpet centre, where we saw an ancient treadle-type machine for drawing the threads from silkworm cocoons, women at work on looms not for weaving but for knotting, and of course glorious carpets of many sizes, patterns, colours and materials.
Yes, it was a fascinating trip, with many good memories. But it also gave me much to think about. I remain convinced that Jesus Christ is the ultimate expression of the nature of God, and in him is summed up - however mysteriously - God's purposes for our race. Nevertheless, I could not help but be aware of the devout Muslim pilgrims - all women, as far as I was able to observe - praying in Mevlana's shrine, and the social outworking of the piety of the order of dervishes, for example. Since returning home I have done a little reading and reminded myself of something with which I was already acquainted, but which this trip has brought home: the profound wisdom, knowledge and humanity of Mevlana and others of his kind down the ages. Then I look up at our world and the things that are happening today, and the polarisation of opinion and belief. I have come to no clear insights about all these things, and maybe I never will: perhaps it's all too big. But if anything comes of these churning thoughts, I'll share them here.