During a particularly broken period of my life, I did not think that God had left me, but I felt very hopeless. In that state, I tried to focus on God alone, pushing others away. A week in a monastery was booked – the only place I believed I would find God.
The chill of the chapel and its silence caused me to either shiver or sleep, neither way seemed an effective way of talking to God. Mistakes were being made by the minute – thinking that God was only in the monastery and that I needed to do all the talking. (A problem that continues to dog me!) I felt more angry and frustrated than ever.
The next day, another guest showed up in the visitors quarters, a lovely woman, whose face I can’t quite remember. She was 50? 60? 40? Honestly, I can’t recall; it is all so fuzzy. We ate our meal in relative silence, but as we prepared after-dinner tea, she asked what brought me to the monastery.
Did I let her know! A massive flow of words and tears followed. Everything from my return to the church a few years earlier, my mother’s death, my search for God in the monastery, and my possible vocation to said monastery. How I went on for hour or more! Her presence, her compassion, her listening heart remain in my memory while all else has faded.
For the next day or two, she and I spent a lot of time talking. OK, I talked a lot, but she listened well, and when she did talk, I felt my heart burning within me.
Sound familiar? We have all been on that road, the road to Emmaus. That particular path is a path where, like in today’s Gospel, we find ourselves when hope is lost. We have one expectation of God, such as Cleopas and friend, and that expectation appears not to have been met. Jesus promised us so much, but all we ended up with was a crucified king, just about the worst scandal ever in Roman times. Add to that an empty tomb and some talk of talk of a living Jesus. It seems as if these disciples said, “Major fail! We are out of here.”
Such thoughts did not figure into my own journey, however I was not seeing God as I expected to in life, so I went to the monastery. And dang! God seemed even more elusive there. Cleopas seemed annoyed with Jesus when he asks if he is the only person unaware of recent happenings. The woman did not have to put up with that from me, but she got a torrent of words, a flood of them that might have put someone else off.
In the Gospel, Jesus does snap back a bit, which I love! The woman did not, as I recall do that to me. Jesus then goes on to talk to Cleopas and friend as they have never been talked to before. They did not want the conversation to stop, it seems their hope was being restored. They did not want this stranger to leave, as we know, so a meal ensued when they got to Emmaus. And we know what happened there, Jesus was revealed in the breaking of the bread. We meet Christ in the breaking of the bread at mass, but we are nourished to go find Christ in others because of this meeting.
This woman, with whom I first dined in silence, opened my heart with a question. In what followed, I experienced being listened to in a new way. When she did talk, she spoke with such understanding and compassion. Over the few days, she encouraged me to seek God in many places – and too see the face of Christ in everyone. While clear that Eucharist was essential, and monastery time was important, she said that they could not stand alone. Her words pushed me to consider living with the integrity of a full life in Christ. At the time, I had no real clue, but illumination was beginning. And yes, my heart was indeed burning.
Like the two men pestering Jesus to stay, I pestered her for an address and phone number, both of which she seemed reluctant to give, but ultimately she handed me a little piece of paper as she departed. A few months later, I wrote a letter a thank you note for the gift of her presence. A few days later it was returned as undeliverable. The phone number? Out of service. Whoever she was, her particular presence, so oddly foggy now, was to be for a healing moment of revelation and not meant to go beyond.
What do we do on the road today? At various times, we all set out frustrated, disappointed, or hopeless. We are annoyed with those who speak of Jesus in ways that we can’t believe, we snap at those who seem to be unaware of what everyone should know. And Jesus, perhaps seeming snappish in return, then goes on to give us every good thing without holding back.
On the road, it seems that the thing that keeps us from Christ is our own self. Want to walking today? You never know who we might meet.