There’s a weekly conversation that happens online, on Twitter in fact (if you can believe it), which those who take part in call #SlateSpeak. It happens on Thursday nights at 8pm Central Time, lasts exactly an hour, and those who participate regularly often profess that it has become an expression of the church that brings them life. It takes the shape of questions cast out into the ether and responded to by people around the world in the form of testimonies 140-characters long.
This past week the convener of the conversation asked, “Where do you find hope?” I was laying in bed as I read the question, my foot propped up on a couple of pillows as I nursed my broken toe. Perhaps because I’ve found walking to be so frustrating this past week, I was quick to reply, “When feeling hopeless, I start by asking how long it’s been since I went for a walk. My thoughts change when my body is moving. #SlateSpeak.”
It’s true. Some of my most profound self-discoveries have taken place on long walks. I was on such a walk with my dad at the age of 14 when I first said out loud that I felt a call to be a pastor. It was on another such walk, alone at midnight walking the streets of San Jose, Costa Rica when I first came out to myself. There has always been something about walking, about the sensation of movement in my body, that moves my thoughts as well. When I am feeling lonely or hopeless, a walk is almost guaranteed to remind me that I am not alone, that I have a future with hope. That God is with me.
The walk to Emmaus is the story of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearance to a couple of disciples who were feeling hopeless about their future. Coming alongside them as they walked, Jesus asks, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” The story says “they stood still, looking sad.”
“Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place in these days?” Cleopas answers. The way the question is written suggests some tone in the voice. It’s the kind of question that barely hides a statement. We hear this kind of question all the time these days: “Did you hear what happened last week?” or “Can you believe what’s happening now?” or simply, “What’s next?”
Jesus models some good active listening skills. Rather than jump right into a lecture, Jesus makes room for the source of the pair’s frustration and pain to be expressed. They summarize all that has happened — the prophetic ministry of Jesus betrayed by the Temple authorities and handed over to the Roman occupiers, “but we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.”
Then, a disruptive post-script to the story, an ending that upset the usual heartbreak of state executions. “Moreover … [some women] told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.”
Have you taken this walk? Does your spirit know the road that runs between loss and hope? Is there a place in your body that remembers what it feels like when the rhythm of your feet keeps disturbing the pat answers that keep your expectations modest, your sights set low? What part of your life, what part of our world, needs you to go on such a walk?
Our sister Callie Mabry went for one of those walks yesterday out in Washington, D.C. with at least two hundred thousand others at the People’s Climate March because, despite all evidence to the contrary, she has hope that the earth’s climate can be resurrected from the cross on which we’ve hung it.
Can’t you just hear the conversations that went on as those hundreds of thousands marched, praying with their feet? “You know they say we’ve already passed the tipping point. Even if we somehow, miraculously, could change course on our consumption of fossil fuels, the damage is done. We’re already dead. We just haven’t found out yet.” Then, “but I’ve heard that some are saying the tide is turning. People around the world are demanding change. There’s a new consensus emerging. We can do this!”
There’s another one of these walks coming up in just a few weeks right here, close to home. People are gathering for a long walk to the state capital in Springfield to take on the state budget crisis that has been going on for over two years now, and has left a trail of broken lives and broken promises along the side of the road. “You know we can’t get anything done in this state with the Governor and the legislature locked into their power struggle. No one cares about the people getting hurt the worst by this travesty of a government.” Then, “but I’ve heard that people haven’t given up hope. People across the state are demanding change. The conversation is changing. I think we can do this!”
Walking alongside them, listening to their loud despair and their faint hope, Jesus begins to remind them of the long story of God’s activity among and for the people. He starts with the prophets and works his way forward from there. By the time they get where they’re going, the pair of disciples is feeling nourished and encouraged by his words. They invite their fellow traveler to break bread with them, and as they do so they realize Jesus has been with them all along. As their eyes are opened, they exclaim, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, opening the scriptures to us?”
I’m not embarrassed to say that this happens to me all the time. No matter how sad the state of the world, or my life, I return to the scriptures week after week looking for some clue to how I will preach among you and I find the words my own soul needs to hear. This week my heart burned within me when I heard Peter say in his own Pentecost sermon, “For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls […] Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” It is the message that leads directly to baptism, the sign of repentance for our participation in this unjust world, and renewal by the gift of the Holy Spirit so that we might live fully into the renunciations we shouted (or where shouted over us) at the font:
Do you renounce the devil and all the forces that deny God?
I renounce them!
Do you renounce the powers of this world that rebel against God?
I renounce them!
Do you renounce the ways of sin that draw you from God?
I renounce them!
Those are the cries that make possible all the other cries, and chants, and songs we sing as we make our own journey to Emmaus, as we pray with our feet, as we march, as we travel the long highway that runs between loss and hope. As we take that trip together we find the truth in the disciples’ words, “The Lord has risen indeed!”
This all happened on the road. So, what walk do you need to take, and where will you find hope?