As a theology teacher, retreat director, and campus minister I always believed that I had a good understanding on this whole “God” thing. In my head of arrogance and privilege, I thought that when I began the summer I would gain insight into various social service agencies in the Greater Louisville area and learn some neat retreat facilitation tricks from Randy, Alex, Andrew, and Dawn but beyond that, I didn’t expect much. Now that the summer months are officially behind us and my stint as an intern at CrossRoads completed, I realize that I gained so much more. When I began I didn’t know about all the sacred spaces that I would find myself immersed in. I didn’t know the rich stories that would unfold while sharing meals at Casa Latina, the Healing Place, St. Vincent de Paul, Neighborhood House, Active Day, the Abbey of Gethsemani, CrossRoads and in so many other unassuming places. I didn’t know the rich depth of flavor present in those countless stories and how their weaving would marinate into the fabric of my own life.
At CrossRoads, we focus our retreats around the biblical story, The Road to Emmaus as found in Luke’s gospel, for we believe that this story is a true story. A true story that is retold time and time again as we attempt to encounter Jesus in the lives of the people we meet daily. As I attempt to summarize my time at CrossRoads, I will share that same story to reveal the truth that I gained this summer.
Now on that same day a group of people were going to a place called CrossRoads, in a west-end neighborhood of Louisville. They were talking with each other about all of the people, places, and things that they had done. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him.
Jesus asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”
They stood still and were silent. One of them responded, “Oh nothing, we were just spending time with some random people.”
“What people?” Jesus asked.
“Children, teenagers, addicts, individuals experiencing homelessness, people with developmental disabilities, refugees, and immigrants,” they responded. “We had hoped to meet prophets, and have life changing experiences. Yet, we were met with stories about how society and critics had silence them and forced them into neighborhoods outside the margins of the cities, and left with little resources. We had hoped that we were the ones who were going to redeem them. And what is more, it has been months since all this took place and nothing at all has changed.
Jesus said to them, “Oh how foolish you are, and how slow of heart you are to assume that nothing has changed. Was it not necessary to share meals with them? Was it not necessary to play with sticky children? Was it not necessary to befriend an addict? Was it not necessary to pluck thistles and stand in line at open-hand kitchens? So from the beginning, he explained to them all that they had experienced.
As they approached the house to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. But the group urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.
When he was having dinner with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while we were walking along roads? Were we not in his presence all along?”
Immediately, they got up and returned at once to to their homes, towns, jobs, and parishes. There they found their friends and family members and saying, “It is true! Jesus is alive and amongst us in the lives of the poor, the sick, and the marginalized just as he is alive in us.” Then they told all who would listen what had happened, and how Jesus was recognized by them when they broke bread with the countless names they met and will continue to meet.
The life and ministry of Jesus can easily be reduced to a life that opened a space for others to simply be and remained present to them and their needs. When we are meeting others and being present to their needs and not our own, we are meeting people like Jesus. We are meeting others in spirit, beyond our separateness. As I learned to love a sticky child and his endless questioning, as I befriended an addict and our common journey, and as I mused at the painstaking process of plucking thistles, I was graced with the opportunity to meet others in spirit beyond our separateness. I was graced with the opportunity to meet Christ.