I do not think about religion as often, now. In fact, there are days when it barely crosses my mind. There was a time when Christianity was my physical and mental environment. Posters in my room, a job in the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life, a congregant in a progressive church; they all pointed to a Christ-centered existence.
I woke up this morning, however, with Jesus barely on the circumference of my comfort zone. Not even the rosary on my mirror reminded me that this was his last day alive. The picture of “Jesus Laughing,” recently relocated to right above the kitchen sink, barely caught my eye. Today, I thought about politics, justice, equality, and love without biblical reference. I danced, sung, rejoiced and cried within the confines of worldly reality. And when I did finally think about God, over Chinese food and Facebook, I felt the sinking of my spirit into the pit of my stomach, with no possibility of Resurrection.
There were two disciples who walked down the Road to Emmaus, a city near Jerusalem with little scientific or geographical evidence. An Oberlin pastor once identified Emmaus as that which allows us to escape and keeps us from Christ. It’s somewhere we go in order to forget, mope and feel sorry for ourselves. Personally, I always assumed it was a bar, like the saloons you see in Westerns: men drinking straight whiskey, pretty girls flirting with a purpose, and a mask of fun over a general habitat of despair.
I can picture myself in this story. I prefer to identify with Esther or Ruth, or quote the beautiful Psalms or the scriptures of Isaiah. But I am no longer in a place where I can pull spiritual guidance out of the intricate woodwork of an altar. I am simply on a road, to Emmaus, which is either the name of a bar, or maybe, a church.
Unlike the story suggests, I am alone on the Road. Sort of. I keep myself company for conversation, judgment and venting. I am my own shoulder to cry on, my own partner in crime, my own mentor and friend. Perhaps this is why one of the disciples remains unnamed in the story. Cleopas the named Disciple was actually crazy over the death of Jesus and he was talking to himself. When the stranger arrived, Cleopas used his depression as a blinder so as not to know the person’s true identity.
The person’s identity is what really sells this story. The tale suddenly becomes not about the disciples’ trip to Emmaus, but about the stranger. By the end, Emmaus is a distant memory, as if they asked themselves, “Where were we going anyway? Oh, what does it matter now? Now that He has returned.”
I agree with the Oberlin pastor to a point. I do think Emmaus represents a means to an end, a coping mechanism of sorts. I do not see it, though, as completely negative. Sometimes coping leads to healing, a road directed to a positive place of change. Jesus finds us on the road, regardless of where it leads. The road might dead-end at paradise or hell, or fork off into multiple directions. When I get there, I might be happy or end up sadder and gloomier than when I left. The point is not to disregard Emmaus completely, though the story seems to say we should. I want to keep walking the road, and figure out what is Emmaus, I would just rather make the journey with Jesus. I want him to find me and accompany me there.
I am preparing another 10-week journey built out of curiosity and Wikipedia searches. Earlier this week, I considered calling the whole thing off. I was frustrated that this had become more focused on the “re” in “research,” rather than the “search.” I thought this journey would bring Christ back into my life, but in reality, I have drifted further away.
I base my decision to visit ten more churches on the hope that Jesus doesn’t need an Emmaus to find me again. He doesn’t need Maundy Thursday or Easter. He doesn’t need a sanctuary or a choir or a priest. He will find me on the road somewhere, sometime and we can complete the last stretch of the trip together. Because somewhere in my heart and mind, I know that Jesus is not a destination, but a partner. He is not a house, but a family member. I just have to remove my blinders and let him find me again.