On the Hard Road

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We never thought life would be like this, never considered we could lose so much. Death keeps shattering our plans and expectations with loss. Everything is upended. The world feels doomed, and things don’t make sense anymore. What will happen next?

It’s hard to believe he’s gone. We’ve been together so long.

The doctors said there’s not much they can do.

If I lose this job, I don’t know how to keep supporting them.

We can’t go back. We have to find a way here.   

Our words of disbelief and grief today could echo back, nearly unchanged, those spoken two thousand years ago, when two grieving companions talked together on the road to Emmaus. They shared their grief at losing Jesus, their friend, whom they expected would save them, but who was betrayed, killed, and buried. They talked of the body missing, and people supposedly seeing angels.

As these two walk to Emmaus, Jesus comes walking alongside them. They don’t recognize the one they love. The man asks about their conversation, sees and hears their sadness, and then shares about his own suffering, speaking through the language of scripture.

 

 


Our words of disbelief and grief today could echo back, nearly unchanged, those spoken two thousand years ago, when two grieving companions talked together on the road to Emmaus.

 


 

 

Hard as it is to believe, this is resurrection: feeling loss and disorientation, long talks of grief, and receiving a stranger’s compassionate presence. Easter does not come with quick fixes or easy answers. There are times when we do not even see that Jesus is here, alive, with us: Jesus came to Mary as she visited the tomb, and she supposed him to be a gardener; he came to a frightened community gathered behind locked doors; to a group out fishing for whom he provided breakfast; and to these two friends, on the way and linked in sad talk.

This is still true: Jesus comes where we are now, amid difficult emotions, perplexing questions, as we walk and eat. Frederick Buechner wrote: “Jesus is apt to come into the very midst of life at its most real and inescapable moments. … He never approached from on high, but always in the midst, in the midst of people, in the midst of real life and the questions that real life asks.”

One way to see Jesus is to stop and look back. Ignatius of Loyola taught that reflecting and then giving thanks is a key way to pray. I see Jesus more easily by looking back. In the past day or more, for what are you most thankful? Perhaps a kind word or gesture, a fear unmanifested, a beauty glimpsed, a memory recalled. “How did you receive love? When were you most fully alive?” Sometimes it’s only after an experience that we can see what it truly held and meant for us. When the two disciples finally recognized Jesus in Emmaus, they were then able to remember their “hearts burning within” while Jesus spoke to them on the road. Recognition comes later. We have to stop and look back to not miss it.

 

 


Hard as it is to believe, this is resurrection: feeling loss and disorientation, long talks of grief, and receiving a stranger’s compassionate presence. Easter does not come with quick fixes or easy answers.

 


 

 

To see Jesus, we often have to seek company. If you feel blind and weighed down in grief, you are not alone. Many of us feel the same. Like the two companions on the road, speak your grief to compassionate friends and strangers. Pray even when God feels absent. Jesus is present alongside us including when we do not see him.

Pray your pain. If you’re wanting help with words, about half of the psalms are honest examples. Start with Psalm 13 and Psalm 102. Lament is a cry of pain and a cry of trust. It is stark and boldly real about pain and suffering, and it assumes being heard.

Lament is not just for Lent or Holy Week but for life. Even God grieves! In Genesis 6, God “grieved in the heart” at how people behaved. Jesus wept over Jerusalem and at the tomb of his friend Lazarus. From the cross, Jesus cried out with words from Psalm 22, trust and question in tender, wrenching symmetry: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Lament is our ancient prayer and part of being human.

Consider this: How do you know when children are upset? They flail, cry, hit, stomp, and resist. How do children look when at ease, trusting? They slump, lean into us and objects, hug back, and rest.

As a child of God, I find that one way I am praying is like a child: with my body. I hit the air with my fists, then slowly push and pull as with a heavy object. Tensing arms and clenching fists, I curl or twist and stay in that tension offering my constricted self. This is a way of praying, expressing the pain.

Then I let go and relax, leaning against a wall or lying on the floor, letting my whole weight be supported. Taking deep breaths, I trust God holds me fully. I also stand with my arms outstretched and tilted back imagining I am floating in the ocean, or alternately tilted forward as if floating on a cloud. These are ways of expressing and feeling trust.

Music beckons the body to move, to dance, to express sighs too deep for words. Pray with music that prompts such tensing and hitting pain or such floating trust – or find music that invites both. Children of God, pray your confusion and pain, what is hard to bear. Ask for grace to trust and move in such a way that you can feel free to express and receive what is true for you.

 


Children of God, pray your confusion and pain, what is hard to bear.

 


 

Psychiatrist Curt Thompson encourages us to not deny our losses or diminish them by trying to compare our experience with someone else. Your grief is real, and it is yours. Thompson suggests writing down each day at least one thing you have lost or are losing. Then also name a couple things for which you are thankful. In this way, pray both grief and gratitude.

A tree with a large broken limb hanging down inspires both these moods of prayer in me. I let one arm bend, droop, twist, and hang, feeling the weight of what is broken and hurts. I then raise the other arm upward like healthy limbs in gratitude. Like the tree, I experience both realities at the same time and thus pray weight and wonder, grief and gratitude.

Jesus persistently comes to us, with us, alongside us – including when we do not see him. Not in dazzling power, but in the glimmering presence of shared stories, Jesus walks and eats with us. Pray your story wherever you are in its unfolding, perhaps with movements, shaking pain or floating trust. Jesus is with us, grieving with us, listening with love, and gently fanning our soul’s faint embers into flame.

 


Jesus is with us, grieving with us, listening with love, and gently fanning our soul’s faint embers into flame.


 

Questions for Reflection

– When have you met Jesus on the hard road? How did you know it was him?

– How does your body ask to pray? Do you pray with walking, or dancing, or other forms of movement? Will you try a new way of moving your prayer?

– Pray both grief and gratitude. Which one feels more present to you right now?

 


Is it possible this this is easter: the pain, the grief, the confusion, and the loss we know only too well? On the hard road of life, Br. Luke Ditewig promises us, we do and will encounter Jesus, who comes alongside us even when we do not see him. This is resurrection.

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