Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Learning From The Way To Emmaus

By FATHER JAMES S. BEHRENS, OCSO, Commentary | Published July 5, 2012

According to the Gospel account, Emmaus is a seven-mile walk from Jerusalem. One gets the impression that the two disciples were in no hurry. They seemed unconcerned about time and distance. A lot happened during those miles. I have heard that the number seven symbolized fullness, a kind of perfection. But they were apparently not aware of the significance of what was unfolding when Jesus approached and joined them. The wonder of all that happened would be revealed to them in the evening meal, in the breaking of bread.

A walk of seven miles is almost unheard of in our day and age. We have cars and other means of rapid transit. It seems that we take it for granted that we in fact rush from one place to another, the quicker the better. A car these days offers many comforts to ease the miles and settle us into the pleasure of the ride—things like stereos, cell phones, a GPS, comfortable seats—accessories that tune out the world that is passing outside the car windows.

It is very hard to free ourselves from the rush of our days and the speed and comfort we make use of to ease the miles we travel. We all have schedules and appointments—all of which multiply exponentially given the opportunities we have to meet all the demands that we either create for ourselves or are imposed by others.

The last parish I served in was in an urban setting. A lot of things were in walking distance. The hospital, the local stores, a few restaurants, a Chinese take-out and a newspaper store, the funeral home and a cleaners were all in walking distance. So I walked to all these places and most of the time met a lot of people on the way. I remember many of them and wrote about a good number of them. There was Matt who owned the grocery and a lady who used to read paperbacks while sitting in a lawn chair in front of her apartment building. There were kids who played pick up touch football in a parking lot up the street. There were always kids hanging out in front of the Chinese place, leaning against the window and talking about life and chance and girls, with the plastic Buddha looking on from the window. And there was a man who owned a small restaurant on the corner of Grove and Walnut streets who saw a handicapped boy struggling to make it across the street. The man stopped whatever he was doing and went and helped the boy across the street. These little scenes were the stuff of everyday life, and I would have missed all of them had I taken a car to where I needed or wanted to go. But because I walked, I saw really nice events through the slow lens of leisure, a lens made sharp and clear by the lack of rush, speed and the distractions of radio and traffic.

I never saw Jesus when I walked. But there were times I did share bread, or lo mein, or a slice of pizza and some soda. And those times were good. And maybe they were more revelatory than I realized.

When the evening of life comes, as it will come to us all, one of the things we may learn is that Jesus was with us all through our journeys.

But we do not know how to see him or hear him, in part because we move so fast and have little time to ponder the revelatory signs in our midst. But I suppose that is okay, that in the big scheme of things, that is the way it is supposed to be.

But I know one thing. It isn’t a bad thing to take the road slowly and patiently. Speed and worry make us miss so much that is right near us, asking us to stay a while and take a look. There is a lot to learn by going slow and taking it easy. There are inviting scenes all along the way, things that are hard to catch again once they recede and vanish in our rearview mirrors.