Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Road to Emmaus

Yesterday, Ash Wednesday, marked the beginning of this 2013 Lenten season.  As usual, I wrote and revised, fussed and fretted over my Lenten Rule, not making up my mind what to do until the last thing the night before.  Finally, with lots of help from my spiritual director, I decided to focus on learning to take better care of myself.  I am working such long hours at my day job, and studying nights and weekends for seminary, that by the time I get home I am too tired to do anything but eat and waste time.  So the rule begins with exercise, eating healthfully, getting enough sleep, and no computer games.  Of course it also includes the basics:  increased prayer, fasting, and quiet time.

This Lent will be a new experience for me because I have just discovered something wonderful that I suppose everyone else already knows.  Happens to me all the time -- I'm not so special as I might like to think!  Here's what happened:  Ever since I was a child, I have had the fantasy or the wish that there was someone watching over me or going with me who could truly understand what I was thinking and how I felt.  I know, this sounds obvious to you, but I had no idea. I grew up in a family of people who were unable to talk or listen to one another.  When I was in junior high, my girlfriends and I used to stay overnight at one another's houses, and since it was always a Saturday night, not a school night, we were allowed to stay up late and watch "Nightmare Theatre."  In those days TV went off the air at midnight during the week.  They used to play the national anthem and show a picture of the flag waving before the station went onto its test pattern until six in the morning.  But Saturday nights at midnight they showed old horror movies, like "The Invisible Man," "Frankenstein," or the one about the crazy magician who murdered people by burning them to ashes in a furnace.  So at slumber parties we ate popcorn and homemade fudge and drank Cokes and watched horror films.  One in particular had mad scientists in the basement of an old stone mansion doing brain dissections.  They had just discovered how language works, and were on the verge of being able to decode verbal information from the brain tissue (or something like that!).  Anyway, one of the mad scientists had a terminal disease, so they had an agreement that just before he died he was going to say the alphabet, so they could be sure they had the code right.  After he died, they dissected his brain, and sure enough, they were able to follow the alphabet for a few letters, until his thinking pattern changed, and they couldn't follow the alphabet any more.  Well, finally they broke the code and figured out that he was saying the Lord's Prayer, and the movie ended with the mad scientists agreeing that in all finality, communication with God is the only thing that matters.  We girls thought that ending was most satisfactory -- very spiritual and uplifting.

Being impressionable, imaginative, and sentimental girls, we thought it would be a great thing if someone really could read our minds and truly understand what we thought and how we felt, and would take us seriously.  Our seventh-grade science teacher was presenting a unit on how the brain works, so we thought maybe he could do that.  For awhile we all had a terrible crush on him, but sadly, he turned out to be disappointingly lacking in that kind of insight.

After a series of ultimately successful psychotherapies, I learned to talk and listen, but still harbored the wish that maybe someone could understand me and would think I was interesting and good.  I often sensed that someone was there.  Being an adult and a psychologist, however, I understood that was just a fantasy, a defense against mankind's ultimate existential loneliness.
Lelio Orsi (1511 - 1587)  Camino de Emaus

A couple of weeks ago I was receiving Holy Communion and thinking about Jesus being before me and behind me and to my right and left, above and beneath me, with me and within me, and in my heart.  I told him I loved him.  It is a wonderful thing to tell him that and to know that he knows it.  "Lord, Thou knowest."  He really does know.  Suddenly I had an experience like kind of a double exposure.  He was with me, but we were taking Communion together, tasting and taking in the body and blood of Christ.  It was the most companionable and joyful of experiences.  I told him, "Mmmm... you are delicious," and he said he knew it.  We both thought that was awfully funny and fun.  He was laughing and the wine was splashing and bubbling through me like the water of everlasting life.  That was when I realized that he is the One who has been walking with me all the time!  All my life!  I can't believe I didn't know.  What!!  All the time?  So!  That's who has been there, all the time!  Just like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, I didn't recognize who I was with until we ate together and my eyes were opened.

Now we are on the road of Lent, walking toward the Crucifixion.  I want to shout at Jesus, "Don't go there!  You will get hurt!  Just don't do it!"  Of course I know he is going to do it as he always does, because God wants him to and he trusts God completely and loves us so much that he walks straight down that path.  Do you think it helps him to know that we are trying to go with him, so that he won't be so alone?  Sometimes we don't do such a good job, but still he knows we love him.  I do think that it might be so.  

[Please share with us your responses, questions, and comments.  Click on (number of) comments just below. If you don't know who to say you are, just say "anonymous" but it would be nice if you signed and said where you are from.]


  1. Hi Carolyn,

    I only hope that I, too, will experience Jesus in such a personal way. For now, I will content myself with a sense that God has multiple purposes for me and I think I have sensed the Holy Spirit in my life. I definitely believe that humor is an important part of our spiritual journey.

    Dave Z.

  2. David, dear David, ever since I have known you, which has been a loooong time, you have been closer to Jesus than you know. You have become much like him, so do not experience him the same way. I think you might be like the older son in the Prodigal Son story, to whom God says, "Don't you know? Everything I have is yours already." And yes, humor is a huge part of our spiritual journey, though I also think everyone experiences the journey differently, and of course, experiences humor differently too. Jesus must have a fabulous sense of humor. After all, he hung out with fishermen and carpenters and people like that. Now he has to hang out with psychologists and meteorologists, and people like THAT.

  3. Hi Carolyn,

    I just stumbled across your blog post the day before I go for my 'selection conference' for ordained ministry in the Church of England. If it goes well I'll will start 3 years of training in Oxford with my wife come September.

    As part of the assessment I am giving a presentation and leading a discussion on Participation in the Eucharist, as understood through the Road to Emmaus. The walking, talking, sharing, exploring, teaching, consoling, bread breaking, experiencing of Christ risen and the jubilant departure to share the good news.

    I know it might not feel that way every Sunday, but I think its the best template we have. And of course, in this time you recount, you felt one aspect of it very clearly in deed.

    Thanks for your blog. It really helps.


  4. Jonny, I am praying for you every day for the next week. Please let me know of the selection committee's decision, though I feel sure it will go well. The ordination process is harrowing, even brutal at times, especially the spiritual formation part, but also is the most wonderful experience ever. I'm glad we are walking the path together. c

  5. That was an interesting blog, and the ending made it wonderful. I'm glad you had that experience. I'll tell you of mine sometime. It was great to get to talk with you on our trip to Larned and back, and I hope that we will meet again sometime.
    Love in Christ,