Easter Sunday, April 24, was an exciting day for me, as Easters usually are. A big group showed up for the worship service at First Presbyterian in West Seneca, we had a family dinner together at JP’s in Hamburg, and later I was taken to see the Sabres play Philadelphia for the quarter final championship. I had an excellent seat in the box office of my son-in-law’s company. A win would seal the Sabres’ move to the next level of playoffs. The atmosphere was electric, people hoping for a game four win. Twice during the game the Sabres led by two goals, but the Flyers tied it again in the third period and went on to win the game in overtime. The once screaming, partying, wild, almost delirious crowd left in silence, shocked and hushed by the disappointing loss.
So the story of Luke’s gospel of the Emmaus walk may typify. A couple men were walking slowly along in discouragement toward a town called Emmaus, discussing wild talk about the man Jesus, who recently had been killed and now supposedly had been sighted. They had hopes pinned on the man’s ministry. They strongly suspected Jesus was “the man” to win back Israel for the Lord Stanley Cup this time! Bye-bye Romans! But they lost so quickly. Evil once again triumphed; those hated “Flyers” did it again. Now crazy talk circulated that we really did win! Stories circulated saying Jesus’ had actually risen from the dead, wild talk about his coming back to life again. Some women had first discovered it and stories were going around about his making various appearances. With angels, no less! Excitement was back in the air; could this really be? Was this at long last a reversal of those earlier cries of “No Goal” and “Wide Right”?
We’ve all had those experiences. Churches have them all the time. No one needs to tell Presbyterians in West Seneca about it. Pastors have arrived showing great promise of hope and excitement, then “boom,” they are gone. You even had the “head of Presbytery”, the Clerk for a few years, who now has even moved higher up. Presently you have this old recently retired man who gives “dazzling talks” and sings weird songs written by a man who never mentions Jesus or God! At first you felt excitement and hope but now he’s even claiming the Bible isn’t really a historical book at all! It’s just a makeover of old pagan myths and allegories to fit ancient Jewish traditions! Dear God, maybe it’s time for a walk! Some have already started.
Perhaps it really is a time to walk, a prayer walk. In the East they are very popular as forms of prayer and meditation. All classes of people take them. One of the men here is named “Cleopas,” meaning “son of a well-known father.” We don’t have a name for the other. They were heading toward a town whose name means “warm springs,” a place which would feel pretty good right about now. Then suddenly, as they are strolling along chatting and reviewing, a man seems to appear out of nowhere to ask them questions. “What’s happening? What’s going on? Why are you so discouraged? Did I miss something?”
The two men can’t believe this sudden companion hasn’t heard; they explain how a man came giving such hope for freedom and independence again who was loved by all, but then killed in such an ignominious death on a cross, and buried in a borrowed tomb. What’s worse, some women have started a rumor about his returning to life, even appearing to them and others. It’s so weird, upsetting and puzzling. Then the guest walker begins to talk with them, explaining how this was the real hope written about in old texts of their own traditions. When they arrive at Emmaus, they invite the man to come eat with them, and lo and behold, when bread is broken, they discovered this guest with them was Jesus! Then “whish!” The man suddenly leaves, vanishing into thin air. Ah, such symbolism here.
This rich story illustrates the important aspect of the “mother” gift within everybody. It is the aspect within each of us which simply needs to quit doing, shouting, running, and working, and just be. It is illustrated in Psalm 131, the Divine mother’s lap we can crawl up on and curl ourselves in and be comforted. It is giving up big ideas and constant thinking and planning and just being again. It is the primordial trail of our existence, the “nothingness” from which we emerged from Spirit into body. It is called the feminine side of our brain or ego, the intuitive, feeling, listening side of consciousness.
We all have this gift but women are usually more natural at using it. Some have it more than others and it’s even evident in all men, with some just more comfortable in using it than others. It’s the aspect in the Jesus story when he looked out over troubled Jerusalem and wishes he were a big mother hen which could gather all the troubled chicks in under her wings and comfort them.
In Eastern religions it is more pronounced and accepted. They teach the masculine and feminine side of spirituality. Symbols are used as the Lingam for the male giving mode and the Lotus for the female receiving mode. One is the listener, receiving the Word while the other is the doer, the giver of sharing and building with the Word. Both are very important on this plane of existence in bodies. If they get out of balance sadness and a sense of off-centeredness occurs. It’s the idea that “thought always precedes form” as even scientists now observe. We all need this balance individually and even as a nation to step back now and then, re-opening our minds to ideas and insights given from this “other side.”
We may have had this experience last week with the news of the death of Osama bin Laden. A sense of deep relief came over our nation as a goal was attained. But now we stop to ponder anew; where do we go from here? Indeed, worldwide there is the aspect of stopping to listen and responding anew with different directions. After years sitting in submission and quietude, people are seeing the potential for taking to the streets asking for freedom with democratic governments.
The ancient Swastika symbol once was a sign of this dual nature, the feminine and masculine sides, or the mother and father. Tragically distorted by the German Nazi party, the symbol goes back thousands of years. It was part of ancient India’s culture representing the cross, our dual natures of heaven and earth, and the direction of the cross angles symbolize the time to rest and listen or the time to get up and act. Sometimes they turn toward the right but others turn toward the left, symbolizing both hemispheres of the human grain.
Yes, taking a walk to Emmaus, toward those “warm springs” of the heart, are important for us all. As the two men observed, “Didn’t our hearts burn within us?” In that place, on that walk, new insights and new visitations come often. In rest and even on beds of sickness, important visions and dreams are often received. As my father lie sick nearing his physical death, he had often had powerful dreams people such as people like him sometime receive. He told me of seeing his sister Ruthie who had died just a couple years ago, calling him to come to her on the “other side.” He cried as he shared these with me, and I had a sense they were “real.”
In Emmaus walks people often feel and see Jesus and just when they feel they recognize and “get him,” he disappears down the road elsewhere. We are left pondering but changed forever. Actions are altered and goals reaffirmed or modified.
It is the deepest meaning of prayer. In our western Christian form of prayer, we have been taught it is primarily a “begging” to the Source outside of ourselves. However in our own traditional scriptures, the most common word for “prayer” means “self observation” or “self judgment.” Prayer isn’t trying to change the outside world as much as observing the changes of inner transformation within ourselves.
Today, on “Mother’s Day,” remind yourselves of the importance of taking times to walk slowing toward the “warm springs” of your soul. Jesus, symbol of the Christ Mind within, just might appear. And all your worries, hopes, fears, successes and failures, will begin to fade in the Light of his glorious appearance. And you will walk on anew, with a smile of hope, a spring in your step, and deep joy in your heart.
Reflections shared with 1st Presbyterian Church of West Seneca, 2085 Union Road, on May 8, 2011, Mother’s Day.