The Walk: Baby Steps on the Path

Walk 1.3
For the audio version, click here.

It was early. The sun was just peeking over the hills, kissing the cold, blue, morning sky. Light had been filtering through the windows for an hour however. The room was alive with activity; drawers opening and closing, pockets checked, wallet and keys found and placed on the counter near the door. Two piles sat on the couch, sentinels observing the pageantry in silent vigil. They waited, neither doubting their place, neither concerned with being left. The right was a stack of clothing, three days’ worth to be exact. The other was a mixture of freeze dried food, toiletries, books, and other day to day accessories.

As Max begin to pack his rucksack, he remembered an old George Harrison tune and began singing,

“But oh Lord we pay the price with the
Spin of a wheel – with the roll of the dice
Ah yeah you pay your fare
And if you don’t know where you’re going
Any road will take you there”
[1]

He sang the refrain over and over at the top of his lungs, laughing at his silliness and yet wondering about the truth behind the statement. There was a sense at the moment that Max knew exactly where he was going but then, not so much. He was heading into mountains of North Georgia, Springer Mountain actually, the end or beginning of the line for the Appalachian Trail depending on the direction you took. It was early May, so beginning for him. Potentially, it was the beginning of a lot of things actually. David Maxwell King had graduated from seminary with two very viable options this coming fall: take a church position as an education/discipleship director or begin the long, arduous march toward his Ph.D. and a life in academia. Both were great opportunities but the truth was, they demanded a choice, a diverging of roads for him that he would have to walk one way or the other. The question was never far from his thoughts and yet today, as he packed for the trail, for the next few months he could ponder, sort, figure, whatever was necessary to decide.

The ride from Marietta to Amicalola State Park was everything he expected: traffic from his apartment near the square downtown until just north of Dawsonville. No surprise. Northwest Atlanta had traffic twenty-four seven three sixty-five and it had only gotten worse as he had grown older. People all traveling together and apart, right next to one another but miles apart. The thought occurred to him, not for the first time that the people traveling together on the freeway, while still around one another, were not really aware of one another.

It reminded him of something a seminary professor, Dr. Simon Ames, once said to his class, “Presence is not being present. It is awareness, a connection to those around you.” It was Max’s first year at seminary and Ames was talking about the Emmaus Road story where Jesus was walking with two of his disciples but they had no idea that it was him. Max remembered having to write a paper on the subject, how he had tried to dissect all the Greek words and phrases, looked at a form critical view, spent hours in the library, and felt more confused than ever. Finally, he turned to his professor for help.

Ames listened as Max detailed the process and research, politely nodding to his student, and noting when Max was going in a good direction. Finally, Max was finished and Dr. Ames sat back in his chair with a slight smile.

“Max,” he began, “the problem isn’t the research. Your research methods are always solid and your approach is typical of a good academic.” Ames took a deep breath, “Your problem is you are missing the point.”

“I don’t get it sir,” as a confused expression settled on Max’s face. “I’m all over the point.”

Ames chuckled, “Over, under, around, but not on the point. Why do we have the Emmaus tale in Luke? What does it point to?”

Max started listing the salient ideas: Christ is known by revelation, the gospel is summarized, the Old Testament witnesses of Jesus, Christ is revealed in the communion meal, we understand Jesus by remembrance, the disciples act as witnesses to what they have seen and heard.[2] On and on, Max laid out theological point after theological point, and all the while Dr. Ames patiently, mentally sorting the mounting piles of information. After a substantial list, Max looked up into the patient stare of the professor, eyes staring back at him just over the lenses of his glasses.

“Missed it, didn’t I?”

“Not entirely,” said Ames. “You’re just looking at it as an academic exercise, a puzzle to piece together, a problem to solve.” Ames removed his glasses and set them on his desk. “Max, at its heart what is a gospel?”

“It’s a life story, a tribute to the person it’s written about.”

“Good, and what makes up the bigger story?”

“Smaller stories, parables.”

“Right,” Ames said smiling. “So, what is Emmaus?”

Max paused, mouth slightly open in that universal facial expression that signifies someone wrestling with an idea on the tip of their tongue. The wrestling ended abruptly and Max planted an open palm on his forehead. “It’s a story, a story used to make a point.”

“Point being?”

“Communion, connection with God cannot be limited by death, or our own lack of understanding. Communion is God with us, traveling with us, walking with us, being with us.”

“Now were getting somewhere.” Dr. Ames nodded, picked up his glasses and slid them back in front of his eyes. “You have to remember, always remember, that the world Jesus lived in, the world of the New Testament, was a world that lived and died on its narratives the stories that they told one another generation after generation. The tradition of story means that every story has a point buried beneath the words, but not necessarily in the words themselves.”

“Reading between the lines?” Max asked hopefully.

“Reading between the lines. All the theology and doctrine in the world won’t help you understand God or people unless you realize that both are engaged best in relationship, in conversation.”

“In communion,” Max added.

“In communion.”

Max stirred the ashes beneath the logs in the fire looking for any coals that may have been buried beneath them. Once again, Max thought of the story, the simple truth buried beneath the doctrine and dogma, the complexity of bad church politics and drive that people had to protect their man-made rules and structures seemingly at all costs. He thought again of that conversation with Dr. Ames and the need to get beneath the stuff that hid the story and get to the real meat of it, get to the heart of it. As a younger student, Max had brought certain preconceived notions of how to ‘do right by the Bible’, but after that first year and several conversations with Dr. Ames and others like him, Max began to see things differently.

Like the Emmaus Story for example. Max began to see that the story was not so much about making grand theological points for the future twenty-first century church. The story was something much simpler. It is a story of two men who are despondent about having lost their rabbi, their teacher, their spiritual leader.  It is a story that speaks to the hope of death not being death, of life being greater than its end. It is a story about Jesus continuing to be with the disciples even beyond the cross and the tomb. It is about communion, quite literally, ‘a mutual participation’, our mutual participation with God in this life through the life and example of Jesus.

Max stood, grabbed another piece of firewood, and stoked the fire. He thought about his own Emmaus moments, those moments when he found himself in the presence of God in a way that drew him into a true connection with the divine. In those moments, Max could see and understand the real point, the real reason for the gospel – connection, or better said, communion. It was like in the story itself,

“After he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he disappeared from their sight. They said to each other, “Weren’t our hearts on fire when he spoke to us along the road and when he explained the scriptures for us?”[3]

The fire, Max thought, the sense that the presence of God could be intertwined with our presence so that we could know in a real, spiritual way that God was there. It was there with the disciples as Jesus walked with them, it was in walking with Jesus on the path that they saw him for what who he was and in much the same way, it was how Max saw him as well.

It would be an early morning tomorrow. Everything was ready, backpack sorted, keys ready to leave with the park ranger for a friend to pick them up. Max settled himself against a tree and picked up his copy of Let Your Life Speak, a book by Parker Palmer he picked up for a spiritual disciplines class. As he thumbed through the first chapter, Max ran across a quote,

Before you tell your life what you intended to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you. Before you tell your life what truths and values you have decided to live up to, let your life tell you what truth you embody, what values you represent.[4]

Max thought about how one of his professors changed the word life to God and reread it,

Before you tell God what you intended to do with him, listen for what he intends to do with you. Before you tell God what truths and values you have decided to live up to, let God tell you what truth you embody, what values you represent.

That is communion, Max thought, that’s what the walk is all about.


References

Craddock, Fred. Luke: Interpretation – A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching. Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1990.

Harrison, George. “Any Road.” Brainwashed. Comp. George Harrison. 1. 1988.

Palmer, Parker. Let Your Life Speak. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons, 2000.


[1] (Harrison 1988)

[2] (Craddock 1990, 284-287)

[3] Luke 24:30-32

[4] (Palmer 2000, 3)

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