Baltic Pilgrimage–Estonia

Festival Music Grounds, Tallinn

Festival Music Grounds, Tallinn

Before we embarked on our recent Baltic cruise to Tallinn, Estonia, St. Petersburg, Russia, and Helsinki, Finland, we had signed up to attend a retreat at Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky with Merton scholar, Tony Russo. In preparation for the retreat on “Merton’s Search for Wisdom and Wholeness,” Tony has sent out letters explicating the themes of the retreat—pilgrimage. Thus, I decided to approach our cruise as a pilgrimage.

Merton clearly understood pilgrimage as an inner journey. For him it was the journey to the True Self. For more recent spiritual leaders, pilgrimage is the evolutionary journey to higher consciousness. For Merton and Teilhard de Chardin interpreters like Ilio Delio, both are the same. Our journey into out True Self is a journey into higher consciousness—an awareness that we are one with all else, an awareness that Love is the evolutionary force in the cosmos. We re-discover, as the Buddhists would say, our face before we were born where all was one. For monks who, unlike the peripatetic Irish monks, have a vow of stability within a particular monastic community, pilgrimage has to be an inner journey, a journey of the heart, a journey we can all take.

Today is the Feast of St. James, the apostle to Spain. Annually, thousands undertake a long pilgrimage from Southern France across Northern Spain to the Cathedral of St. James in Santiago. For these pilgrims, the arduous trek of 500 miles comes to be an inner journey into True Self. Martin Sheen’s movie, “The Way,” is a dramatic portrayal of one person’s transformation while walking the Camino de Santiago.

My pilgrimage began in Tallinn, Estonia. Estonia along with Lithuania, and Latvia comprise the Balkan states. Shipboard lectures and reading made me aware of the fact that these states have often been political pawns in conflicts between Germany, Russia, and Norway (the home of the Nobel Peace Laureate has been quite warlike in the past!) Estonia was under oppressive rule by the Germans and then the Russians. Many leaders, just like Nelson Mandela in South Africa, were imprisoned in concentration camps by the Germans or gulag prisons by the Soviets. When Gorbachev loosened the reins of Soviet control in hope of stimulating the economy, the freedom-loving Estonians began a series of mass demonstrations where the people gathered to sing the outlawed national songs. Eventually, 300,000 Estonians gather in the Song Festival Grounds.  300,000! At another point, Estonians, Lithuanians, and Latvians formed a 600 kilometer long human chain to express their desire for freedom from oppression. The Singing Revolution, a nonviolent coup, earned the Estonians their precious freedom. I highly recommend the DVD, “The Singing Revolution.” It documents the history of the revolution and is replete with wonderful Estonian choral music.

I stood silently apart from the tour crown at the top of the Song Festival Grounds. I stood in awe of a monument to people who so loved freedom that they pursued bloodless, nonviolent means to achieve their goal. The Singing Revolution depended on a deep sense of national pride and community and, in turn, it built greater community. As we evolve into higher consciousness we know with the heart that community must replace rugged individualism.

BTW, a side bar. Most of the people in Estonia, Russia, and Finland live in apartments. It is only when you get beyond the towns and cities that you see single family dwellings and these are usually weekend summer homes. Our penchant for half acre single family dwellings shapes our society and culture. We may have a more difficult time developing viable communities which nurture a pilgrimage to higher consciousness because we tend to live in our isolated silos.

A bronze statue sits on the hill atop the Festival Grounds. It is Gustav Ernesaks who led the national symphony for 50 years. He set a poem, “My Fatherland I Love,” to music and it became the national anthem of the Singing Revolution”:

My Fatherland is My Love,
to whom I´ve given My Heart.
To You I sing, my greatest happiness,
My flowering Estonia!
Your pain boils in My Heart,
Your Pride and Joy makes me happy,
My Fatherland, My Fatherland!

My Fatherland is My Love,
I shall never leave Him,
even if I must die hundred deaths
because of Him!
Does the foreign envy slander,
You still live in my Heart,
My Fatherland, My Fatherland!

My Fatherland is My Love,
and I want to rest,
to lay down into Your Arms,
My sacred Estonia!
Your Birds will sing Sleep to Me,
flowers will bloom from My Ashes,
My Fatherland, My Fatherland!

The history of the Singing Revolution is powerful testament to the power of music to move the human heart. The heart is where it is at when it comes to knowing higher truth.

It is a lesson in freedom. The Creator respects human and biological freedom. Using music to throw off oppression goes beyond violence and wars. God is the evolutionary Love imploding in the cosmos and making all things new. The Singing Revolution was “one large step for mankind.”


Aleksander Nevski Orthodox Cathedral

We ended our visit to Tallinn with a walking tour of the old medieval town. The Hanseatic architecture has been preserved. Beautiful churches dot the landscape and their tall glistening towers reach high into the sky. Again a soul-lesson learned—preserve what you have. I hate to think that we might have razed the old town long ago to make way for the newest, greatest NFL stadium.

Old Town from above

Old Town from above

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