There is a void in your soul,
Waiting to be filled.
You feel it, don't you?
You feel the separation
From the Beloved.
Invite Him to fill you up,
Embrace the fire.
Remind those who tell you otherwise
That Love comes of its own accord,
And the yearning for it
Cannot be learned in any school.

I was originally drawn to Turkey after reading the writings of the poet, mystic and teacher, Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi. In 1981 Turkey and Islam were unknowns to many Americans. Friends and family were worried about my choice of a holiday destination due in part to the movie "Midnight Express." The year before the country had experienced social and political upheaval and the country was still under martial law and curfews. In spite of all of that, I was determined to venture on my own to the central Anatolian town of Konya to pay my respects at the tomb of the writer whose lyric poetry had stirred my heart.

Muhammed Jelaluddin Rumi, also known as Mevlana, was born in 1207 in Balkh, Afghanistan. His mother was a member of the Khwarazm royal family and his father, Baha'u-din, was a renowned scholar and spiritual teacher. The family left Balkh before the invading Mongols reached the city. From an early age, Mevlana exhibited signs of great spiritual advancement. During their travels, the family met with many Sufi masters, including Farid al-Dun Attar, who told Baha'u-din, "The day will come when this child will kindle the fire of divine enthusiasm throughout the world." Finally, after 16 years of traveling, the family permanently settled in Konya, in central Anatolia, where Baha'u-din's fame spread as a great theologian and mystic. Mevlana, now a young man, was also acquiring a reputation as a scholar of the Quran and a dervish. After his father's passing, Mevlana became his successor at the university, which in turn attracted hundreds of students from far and wide.

In 1244, an encounter with a stranger changed Mevlana's life. The wandering mystic, Shems-i Tabriz arrived in Konya. Filled with an almost overwhelming love of God, when Shems and Mevlana met for the first time they recognized the Divine in each other. A deep relationship ensued, as the friends and Lovers of God fell into deep states of God-consciousness. When Shems passed on, Mevlana's grief at the loss of his soul brother found expression through an outpouring of mystical music and lyric poetry.

Mevlana passed from this world on Dec. 17, 1273. He referred to the day of death as the "wedding night" because it is only through dying that the Lover is reunited with God, the Beloved. His funeral procession was attended by members of the major religions who had been touched by his writing and teachings. As he said before he passed on, "When I am gone, do not look for me in the grave, but look for me in the hearts of learned men."

Since my first visit to Konya in 1981, Konya has grown from a small town to a bustling metropolis. There are no more sheep herds wandering the dusty streets. As in many cities in Turkey, modern shopping malls are creeping across the landscape and replacing the open-air market I fondly remember from the early 1980s. To me, however, the real essence of Konya is still to be found at the tombs of Mevlana and Shems. These are what draw me back time after time. Even though the city expands constantly, I can always find my way to Mevlana and Shems. As I draw close to their tombs, I feel a sense of peace and contentment, for it is here that my relationship with Turkey began. Over 700 years after his passing, Mevlana's words reached out to a young woman in Texas, tugging at her heart. And now, older and with a family of my own, I find peace and comfort in Mevlana's words.

Would Mevlana be surprised to know that now, 800 years after his birth, people continue to come from around the world to pay their respects at his tomb in Konya? Perhaps so. Books have been written about him and movies made. And, to me, it is comforting to know that in troubled times like we are experiencing now worldwide, there are many who pause and wonder if there is more to our lives on earth. Mevlana's words reach so many of us and cause us to examine our own lives, our values, our beliefs. May the power of his words always move us.

Come, come, whoever you are,
Wandered, worshipper, lover of leaving.
It doesn't matter.
Ours is not a caravan of despair.
Come, even if you have broken your vow
A thousand times.
Come, yet again, come.

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