Scripture: Luke’s story of the Road to Emmaus
It was two years ago this week on All Hallows Eve that a handful of friends and I finally walked into Cathedral Square in Santiago de Compostella, Spain. These were the final steps of the 500-mile journey we had embarked on 5 weeks prior. I can still feel the goosebumps of that moment. There was the joy of the journey completed (500 miles is a long way to walk…); there was also the deep peace that comes with the satisfaction of a lifelong goal accomplished, a milestone achieved and all that was mixed in with a beautiful feeling that I can only describe as the letting go of a part of myself as I (quite literally) transition into the next phase of life.You see, It was no accident that I arrived the day before All Saint’s Day. My pilgrimage was in many ways an intentional time for me to come to terms with the recent death of my Dad the year prior. I had hoped to make part of the journey with my father; I was hopeful that we could have another great adventure, just the two of us, bonding over blood sausage and bocadillios. But fate would intervene as fate so often does. My time of pilgrimage became a time for me to mourn, and to come to terms with the new realities of my life without my loved one in it. Instead of carrying on conversations on life and love and all things in between, I ended up carrying a small bag of his ashes. Like Martin Sheen in the movie, “The Way,” if you’ve seen it. But unlike Martin Sheen’s character in that film, there was nothing spontaneous about my pilgrimage. It had been decades in the making, and two years in the planning, and while Santiago was the physical destination I had been walking towards, All Saint’s Day was the emotional one. All Saints has always been an important day for me—the day we recognize all those loved ones who have impacted our lives who have passed on to the other side. And to be there in the Cathedral of St. James on that festival day, surrounded by my new pilgrim friends young old was one of the most beautiful and moving services I have ever been to.
I am so grateful that I was given the gift of that time to reflect and to wander.
It’s amazing what happens when we can quiet the mind from the day to day distractions that can so easily overwhelm our sense of self and place in the world. When we can actually have some time set apart to catch a glimpse of life beyond normalcy and routine; and live into the bigger questions.
Days pass when I forget the mystery. (says Denise Levertov)
Problems insoluble and problems offering
Their own ignored solutions
Jostle for my attention, they crowd its antechamber
Along with a host of diversions, my courtiers, wearing
Their colored clothes; cap and bells.
Once more the quiet mystery
Is present to me, the throngs clamor
Recedes: the mystery
That there is anything, anything at all,
Let alone cosmos, joy, memory, everything,
Rather than void: and that, O Lord,
Creator, Hallowed One, You still,
Hour by hour sustain it.
The way of St. James allowed an accelerated pathway to the mystery; and the great gift of time to ponder while I wandered was a treasure and a gift to my sense of self and for my spirit. I knew I was searching for something; what I didn’t know was what exactly that was. Like being on a wild goose chase for something; but what, I didn’t know. But I was content to walk into the mystery.
Isn’t it funny how we must give ourselves permission to wander? How we must allow and allot time into our schedules and our lives to break free from the busy monotony and give ourselves the gift of quiet? It is counter intuitive. Because that’s what makes us whole and content. And we know it! We know that we need to give ourselves the time and the space to consider life’s deep and rich questions that deserve to be lived and asked, we know we should give ourselves the space and the freedom to open our hearts and nurture our relationships; but moments of quiet time are the first things we willingly sacrifice; that we set aside as non-essentials; when it is precisely those moments that are the tincture makers; the distilled essence of what makes us the people we seek to be. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Sometime all it takes is a little reminder at the start of the day to be open to the spirit, and to follow wherever it may lead you. On the Camino I would begin most mornings with this prayer by J. Phillip Newell to remind myself to that;
In the gift of this new day, in the gift of this present moment, in the gift of time and eternity intertwined
Let me be thankful. Let me be attentive. Let me be open to what has never happened before.
Before me in the planned shape of this day I look for unexpected surging of new life. Around me in the people whom I know and love I look for unopened gifts of promise. Within me in the familiar sanctuary of my own soul I look for the light of hope and joy.
In Celtic theology, the Holy Spirit is often referred to as the Wild Goose. This puts new meaning on that common phrase, “A wild goose chase.” Perhaps that frantic scrambling to find the car keys in the morning is simply the trickster nature of the Holy Spirit, sent to remind us not to take ourselves too seriously (or to keep better track of our keys). Or perhaps, like Wendell Berry in his poem, “The Wild Geese,” something will occur in the world and in our spirit to break the monotony of common time and give us a glimpse into the heart of God and remind us of the ever-westward march of life towards a final sunset. I like to believe the holy spirit acts that way; offering quiet invitations to pay attention to the world beyond; to focus in on the hoot of an owl or the whistle of the breeze. God sends us little messages of love to lift our eyes from the page and see what a gift this life is, and we would be wise to give a little thanks for these fellow pilgrims with whom we share community. the blessing is in the reminder that the spirit of the living God lives in those places and people who surround us in THIS present moment.
Like those disciples on their way to Emmaus, sometimes we can be so wrapped up in the dramatic elements of our own lives that we neglect to notice the saviors among us. The Road to Santiago offered some such scenarios. The road of life does as well. On the Way to Santiago I would often walk alone, purposefully carving out the time and the space to wrestle with my own misgivings and thoughts, free from the requirement to make conversation with my companions along the way; free from the concern that I would have to explain myself should I suddenly break into song or tears or laughter or dancing.
When I started the road to Santiago I was a party of one; and I thought the solitude was what I wanted. But suddenly like the disciples on the road, I would fall into good company with someone I had never met before; and our pace would fall in line and through the quiet of our footsteps, some tiny revelations would be shared. Small conversations would begin, and in those conversations, we’d speak on what drew us to embark on this wild goose chase; and suddenly we’d begin piecing together stories and clues on where that wild goose may be hiding; we’d share truths of life from our completely different experiences, and we’d discover that our experiences really weren’t so different at all. And the next thing you’d know, the day is done. One would invite the other to come and share a meal; and the conversations would continue. Fellow saints and pilgrims would file in, and the meal would be shared, and the conversations would continue.
Compost from heaven, I do believe, is created in the aftermath of a good dinner party. Throughout my life I have reaped the harvest of beautiful heavens seeds that had been planted in the table scraps and leftovers from hundreds of welcome tables. Fruits of hope, of possibility, of sweet sacred sadness and beautiful and bounteous laughter are all gifts of grace that have been gleaned from those tables. It’s amazing what miracles can be born through the breaking of that bread.
By the time I got to Santiago my party of one expanded to a party of 30. Literally. We made dinner reservations on our last night in Santiago for 30 people. And why not? Sacred hospitality is a biblical mandate. Stretching all the way back to when Abraham unknowingly welcomed God in the form of Three Angels to their table, up through the revelation of Christ in their midst with the apostles on the road to Emmaus.
A welcoming table is one of the most beautiful places to gather; is it any surprise that one of the most essential rituals of the Christian church involves the breaking of the bread; (broken open for you) and the sharing of the cup (poured out for you)? –All done in sacred remembrance, all done so that the spirit of God continues to find sustenance through the gathered community. Truth and grace and God can be revealed when we gather around a table of sacred hospitality and break ourselves open to one another, pour our hearts out for one another in love, and remember the life and sacrifices of those who have come before us.
Today is a day for remembrance. A day that we have set apart, to give thanks for those in our lives whom we have loved and lost; who now reside in our hearts, wherever we are. Though, to be honest, All our Saints are remembered every day; and they are revealed to us in the memories that are evoked when we catch a glimpse of their spirits in the life and love of those around us. They are never far from us; but still, it is good to take the time to share their names in a time set apart for such things. And so I invite you to envision a table, set for a very special meal. And as you consider it, consider who your invited guests will be. Look to see their smiling faces, treasure the gifts of life they have brought, and give thanks, knowing that they will forever be in your life, and there will always be a place for you and for them at the Welcome table.