9. The Emmaus Road

The Emmaus Road is one of dejection and despondency. The heart of each traveller is numbed beyond fear, beyond pain.

The Emmaus Road is a road from, not towards. There is no towards on the Emmaus Road. It is a journy of flight, devoid of expectation. It is a road of blighted hopes and seemingly broken promises. The heart is numb and the mind is shattered into fragments of a future now stolen. Post-mortem talks are ambivalent: comforting yet comfortless. The weight of the disaster presses, depleting the juices of joy and fondness from the spirit.

It is a road of incredulity, where not quite believing is the chance for new faith in the changed reality. Can he really be dead? Can it really be over? Is this what it all comes down to?

The stranger makes his own question. This is a story of questions. They walk; they talk. He draws out their ignorance, their wrong reading of the signs. They have, it seems, “had the experience but missed the meaning”.*

Who is this stranger on the road who asks the questions and confronts them with contrary answers? Shift your perception, you dolts! You are looking at all this the wrong way.

They walk, they talk. Time to eat. They invite to a meal the stranger who fascinates and infuriates them. Doesn’t seem to have much sympathy for them. Seems though, assured of assurances they need themselves. He stays.

They sit at table. Their guest becomes the host, takes up the bread, says the blessing, breaks the loaf. They “catch the look of some dead master…both intimate and unidentifiable.” *

And just when their reality seems righted…he’s gone, elusive as a slippery fish, silver in the sea, escaping the nets of their tidy and housekeeping minds. He’s off and away. back to the road. He’s not very domesticated.

In this new absence they find a sharp peace. In his vanishing they recognise the power of his presence on the road. In their memory of his words on the road, they know a fire, a fire of love and comfort and challenge, and the impulse to take to the road again in search of strangers and graces.

It is a road of faith, the Emmaus Road, where not quite seeing is a condition of travel, where not quite having is proof of possession, and eating together is a experience to be savoured.

*The quotations are adapted from T.S.Eliot’s Four Quartets.

First published in Madonna magazine.

Mary Wickham rsm