My Emmaus Walk; A Return to the Village

On Saturday (5/25) during coffee time Pat inquired as to who in my life has inspired me toward self realization – toward being fully who I am.  Good question, and at first I drew a blank. I really did not know who inspired my life into authentic self-hood. On the other hand, I am aware of what influenced me to become who I became in the external world of school, church, and career.  In this external world, often far removed from my inner life, I was very influenced by my early surroundings – by my parents, church, school, and business.  I am also aware of my mentors in the various roles I took on in my first 50 years or so of life. I have since become aware that these first fifty years were not dedicated to becoming me but rather becoming who others expected me to be. So since then who has most influenced me to become fully me, especially in these past 20 years? Great question to sit with!

Well some of the roots of the recent 20 years do find their origin in my first 50 years. As I go back to my pre-age-fifty years I realize that I certainly spent many hours in the bible, and this influenced me on a deep level that has had a lot to do with who I am today at 70. But for my first fifty years the scriptures seemed to be taken into me in too much of a dogmatic context or framework – dogma either of fundamentalist Christianity or dogma of the conservative Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.

The passages I was most drawn to, for example the grand Mystery that opens John’s Gospel, did not seem to find much of a central place in such rigid formulaic dogma. The dogma seemed too tight a framework for the majesty of God, the majesty of Jesus Christ and the Cosmos. So in the end the Scriptures, while influential for sure, were too often vague and not understood by me. And in this world of Fundamentalism and conservative Lutheranism I could go to no one – no pastor or teacher or other mentor in this environment – who would open up for me the Mystery, Truth and Love of Jesus Christ, God, and the Cosmos beyond the rigid dogmas of the church. I was somehow stuck in the room of dogma with no doorway out. This characterized those first fifty years (though throughout this period I always held a healthy doubt about dogmatic explanations and a rich curiosity about what lay beyond in the Great Mystery I Knew Life to be on some deep level inside. I just did not know who to go to to mentor me through this rich forest.)

And what were those dogmas? The simplified framework is the following: I am a sinner. God is righteous and just. Because of my sin and God’s justice, I deserve temporal and eternal punishment and damnation for my sin. But God is also loving. In his love he sent his only son Jesus Christ into the world. Jesus’ main job was to die for my sins in some violent way so that, my punishment for my sins having been borne by Jesus Christ, I could freely go to heaven when I die – provided of course I believed that Jesus paid the full price for my sins. My life was to be lived out of gratitude to Jesus Christ and gratitude especially for his sacrifice for my sins. I was to do this by obeying the commands to love God and love my neighbor as myself as best I could, and to do this in particular by spreading the good news that all who believed that Jesus died for his or her sins would go to heaven when he or she died, and conversely, that he or she who did not believe this would certainly spend eternity in hell.  Eternity was the end game; life on this planet was simply a holding place experience of some kind. In this framework I was never really sure of the purpose of life on this planet. Nor was I sure that my “faith” in Jesus Christ was strong enough for me to enter heaven. This is the dogma that surrounded me for fifty years.

No I am not throwing the baby out with the bathwater. I actually believe parts of this dogmatic framework, but more at a metaphysical and mystical level. I hold that I really do not understand all that scriptures teach about these dogmas, especially as laid out in Paul’s epistles. To me, Scriptures teach so much that is way beyond this simple but rigid framework.  On some level scriptures are much more concerned with the Mystery that Life is. Apart from this dogmatic framework, Life itself teaches so much more. Other religions and the emerging waves of spirituality teach so much more. Wow!  (See Pathwork Lecture 88 Religion: True and False for an interesting perspective on the role of religion on our planet and in our lives.) These other experiences have so enlivened and awakened me! Praise be to God! These other dimensions have emerged out of me in these past 20 years.

So back to Pat’s question: “Who are my mentors and teachers now? Who are those who inspire me to be fully all that God created me to be and become?” Certainly my bank of helpers – Moira, Sage and Anthony, Ed, Erena, Brian O, and others. Certainly teachers such as Jack Kornfield, Stanislav Grof, Jacob Needleman, and the like. Certainly geniuses like Einstein, Beethoven, Mozart, Robert Oppenheimer, Leonard Bernstein, etc. Certainly my deep spiritual friends such as Pat, Jenny, and others.  I am so grateful for such a rich group of mentors to inspire me onward!

But when Pat posed the question Saturday morning about who were my mentors on my spiritual path these past twenty years, what arose in me was the story of Jesus meeting up with two of his disciples as they walked to Emmaus after Jesus’ death and resurrection as recorded in Luke 24:13-35. (Before continuing, let me express my gratitude to the Lutheran Church and to the many Fundamentalist Christian friends, teachers and pastors through whom I took in the bible so thoroughly that when a situation arises that can be informed by a passage from the Bible, that material seems to be immediately available from my deepest soul where it is imbedded. Thank you Lutheran Church!)

In Luke’s account these two disciples were prevented from recognizing Jesus, but this gospel passage says that Jesus, “explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” Afterwards, when the two disciples realized who it was that had be talking with them, the two disciples said to one another, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”  So in responding to Pat’s question of who inspires me I instantly realized that the Pathwork Guide, the source of the 258 Pathwork Lectures and more, is at the top of the list! What often happens to me when I listen to or read the Pathwork Lectures is that “my heart burns within” as the Pathwork Guide “opens my Life, God, Jesus Christ, and the Cosmos to me”! Could the Pathwork Guide be my Christ within who speaks to me on my own walk to Emmaus? It excites me to consider this. In any case the experience of inner resonance with the Pathwork Lectures is a reality of my life that inspires me daily.

A return to the village

Later on Saturday, I attended the funeral of my dear friend Norb from my days at St. Paul Lutheran Church. Norb had been a life-long faithful member of St. Paul Lutheran Church. Norb was 84 when he died on Wednesday, and his history with St. Paul Lutheran Church included the fact that he had held nearly every office there was. The funeral service was at St. Paul Church, of course, so if I attended the funeral I had to go to this church.

I chose to go to the funeral. I believe this was the first time I had returned to St. Paul church since I left nearly 14 years ago, in September 1999. My wife Jane and I had been very involved members of St. Paul Lutheran Church for 33 years but, coming out of my second 4-year term as president of the congregation in 1999, I, along with Jane, left the church. Two years later Jane and I divorced, each finding our respective spiritual paths and life, Jane with another Lutheran Church and other friends, family, and activities and I with family, Pathwork and Pat.

The experience of attending the funeral on Saturday was surreal for me. I arrived at the funeral service half an hour early and was the first to take my seat. I sat there, taking in this very-familiar space – the unique and spectacular ceiling to floor stain-glass windows at the front, the pristine altar, and the like. After twenty minutes or so, others filed in and filled the pews around me. I found myself uncomfortable as three couples from Jane’s and my 15-year Marriage Encounter Group took their seats in the pew in front of me and alongside of me. They did not recognize me and I did not feel like making contact with them until after the service. Behind me, I found out later as we filed out of the church, sat Jane and my brother Paul and his wife.

An interim pastor, an older man, officiated. The hymns were familiar. The hymn preceding the sermon was the Lutheran Manifesto: A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, written of course by Martin Luther in the 16th Century. When I was a member of St. Paul it was tradition for all to rise whenever this hymn was sung. On Saturday a man sitting two pews ahead of me stood up boldly and immediately as the organ pounded out the familiar introduction. Gradually others stood, but only about half the congregation and not the five rows of Norb’s family who filled the front left rows of the church. I found this situation sad on two counts. First the church was only two-thirds full – indicating to me the waning of this brand of Christianity. This was Norb, a lifelong stellar member of St. Paul, so why was the church not packed out? And second, I was saddened that the congregation was split as to whether or not to stand for A Mighty Fortress. I knew Norb would have been among those standing and that wasn’t happening. I found that I was moved to stand. I wondered why. Part peer pressure but hopefully more out of my loyalty to my friend Norb.

I caught the words of A Mighty Fortress, as if for the first time: A mighty Fortress is our God, A trusty Shield and Weapon … The old evil Foe now means deadly woe … Etc. — the entire hymn is set up as a war between God or Christ and Satan while we Christians stand on the side of God. While I love the familiarity and genius of the music, the words seemed odd to me. But, as with dogma mentioned previously, I held this all loosely. Even the Pathwork Lectures deal with the war between Christ and Lucifer, so I allow that I do not understand the Mystery represented by the words of this masterful hymn.

The sermon was pure Lutheran Law-Gospel in format, beginning with the message that, despite our fond memories of Norb, Norb had been born in sin and deserved temporal and eternal punishment, was saved by baptism and later, at age 14 or so, was confirmed in his faith. Norb had been loyal to the church and Jesus Christ throughout his life. The pastor urged others, if they had drifted from the church, or had never turned to Christ, to accept Christ, as Norb had, as their salvation from the punishment in eternal hell they deserved because of their sins.

This hardline sermon was pretty hard for me to sit through. It was hard not entirely because of the familiar fear it evoked in me for my waywardness from this church but more so because of my sadness regarding this narrow and tight dogmatic message formulated by the pastor at Norb’s funeral – though even here I believe Norb would have been giving his “Amen!” to the pastor’s message, as several did at the end of the sermon. I was perplexed by all this, and, as I said, saddened in a way. Do people really take this message in as the end-all of the mission of Jesus Christ?

When on Monday I discussed this matter with my Pathwork buddy Jenny, who also wrestles with her history coming out of a formal Christian background, she spoke of translating these familiar words from her early Christianity into how she now understands them from a Pathwork perspective. She, too, develops her own meaning to some of these familiar words and dogmas, or, like me, leaves them open to Mystery – beyond our capacity to grasp in our “merely and utterly human” existence.

I was delighted that after the funeral service Jane, my ex-wife, approached me. We had a beautiful exchange on several topics. This felt very healing to me. It was good to spend this time with her rather than try to connect with the other familiar (and not so familiar) faces in the congregation.

In reflection I could see that this experience of returning to St. Paul Church after all of these years was for me like that of a man who had left the remote and isolated village he had grown up in and lived in for the first 50 years of his life, who at age 50 had left the village and gone out into the wide world around him, and for the next 20 years had discovered so much that truly enlivened and awakened him. When he returns he is shocked. It is as if the village he had left had been frozen in time and was even dying. The village of his earlier life would not at all understand or be open to the experiences he had had in the wide world of Spirituality and the Cosmos. What could he do? How could he be in this environment without dying? Perhaps some in the village would be open to hearing his experience, but he was not sure. Such a man would be, as I was, perplexed.

There is an epilogue to this funeral account. Long ago Pat and I adopted nicknames for our selves: Joe and Joy Peabody. “Joe” was for my going from being “special Gary” in the world to being “a common Joe” – one who is “merely and utterly human,” unique, as all are, but nothing special. This growth from “special Gary” to “common Joe” would likely take me the rest of my life, or two or threelifetimes.

So I smiled when I entered the church on Saturday and was greeted by someone who thought he remembered me and said, “Hi Joe.” The interim pastor was standing beside him and said, “I’m new here, but at least I now know your name – welcome, Joe.” I just had to smile. When I shared this experience with Pat at coffee Sunday morning she could only laugh out loud, “That’s the Universe’s sense of humor!” Yes, and in a way it is a message to me. Maybe my transformation from “special Gary” to “common Joe” is becoming more real and true of me than I have thought. Perhaps I am growing, after these twenty or so years away from the church, away from the village, into the common Joe that I am. From here perhaps I can now begin to relate to others from my heart and not my head. I am “on the other side of the river,” and here life is very different from life in the “village” in which I grew up.

Later I was sharing these Emmaus walk and funeral experiences with my Pathwork buddy Jenny. She agreed with Pat that the “Joe” experience was representative of God’s humor. She also agreed strongly with me that this entire funeral experience, and the Emmaus walk insight, were mystical experiences on many levels. May I take these mystical experiences in as the blessings they are, gifts from God, from “The other side.” Perhaps I can bring my curiosity to these mystical experiences of life and integrate them into my being. May it be so!

Shared in love, Gary