The Emmaus road is an old favourite of mine. Its a powerful and dramatic story of surprise and transformation – the transformation of resurrection. It informs the church’s understanding of the eucharist – the elements of giving thanks, breaking, giving are fundamental to our eucharistic liturgy. But its more than that, and perhaps for me this is because discerning God in the elements of real lived experience is both a challenge to me, and an important part of my vocation. I have long known a burning in my heart to support people in discerning God in life. I do workshops and teaching sessions on this more often than most other subjects within ‘spirituality’.
Two really important aspects seemed to emerge as I was producing this. Firstly, in the first phase of stilling and becoming aware of God, it was the way in which our desire for God is the key to guiding us into God. The Spanish mystics – Ignatius of Loyola, Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross all point to this in their works. For me, I remember so well, when my first spiritual director helped me see that my frustration and annoyance at my inability to maintain any sort of serious prayer life, revealed something underneath – that I had a desire to pray. Delighting in this, newly recognised, yet long known presence within my soul opened up a rich journey. I still need to return to the reassuring presence of the desire for God within when I find myself (not infrequently) dismayed at the quality of my prayer life.
The other recognition that the helps in our discerning, is also about desire for God, but comes from the reflection of the disciples after Jesus has vanished. ‘Didn’t our hearts burn within us’. Here is another key – recognising when our hearts are burning – what it is that is arousing this fire within. Often we only notice the burning afterwards, looking back with eyes that can see the flames within a past experience. The Ignatian practice of the Examen of Consciousness otherwise known as the Review of the Day provides a practice for being disciples, regularly checking for our Emmaus Road experiences. What made your heart burn today? We let these things happen, so often without any recognition that they might be moments of grace, offered to quench a thirsty soul in the midst of life. Growing in our ability to stop, recognise and drink from the well of grace helps us to develop eyes to see and ears to hear God, Christ, Spirit in the moments of our daily experiences. As Gerard Hughes puts it in ‘God where are you? “every bush is burning, if only we had the eyes to see.”