Teachers and group facilitators know there are different types of learning styles. Some people need to see something in writing in order to follow what is being presented. These are the folks in church whose head is in their bulletins when the scripture is being read because they need to see the words, not just hear them. Some people need to hear information orally to absorb information. These are the folks you will see looking away from their bulletins during readings at church, preferring to watch and hear the words of the lector or celebrant instead of follow the words on the page. And some people are what are called kinesthetic learners, who need to touch, feel, and do something in order to grasp the concept. These are the folks who experience God more like our two disciples today – walking, talking, listening, and breaking bread.
I have been thinking a lot about walking this week. Next month we will be talking about the Christian tradition of pilgrimage – a moving journey with God. I think one of the primary reasons we walk, why we take pilgrimages, is because we sometimes just need to move in order to see God. If we think back about Christ’s years of ministry, much of his sacred, life-changing moments happened while walking: the woman who grabs the hem of his garment and receives healing while Jesus walks; the blind man Jesus encounters while walking in the city; the grieving mother Jesus meets while walking past the funeral procession. Though Jesus certainly spends time sitting and teaching in homes, in gardens, and on mountains, much of his ministry isspent on the move.
Back in Advent, we had a clergy retreat. The day was filled with all sorts of activities – conversation, silence, prayer, and readings. But perhaps my favorite part of the day was when the facilitator assigned us to another person in the room and told us to go for a walk. One person was to speak about whatever was on their heart and the other was to listen. At the end, when the speaker was done, the listener was invited to reflect back about what they had heard and where they heard God moving in the speaker’s life. What is interesting about taking a walk with someone – either being the listener or the speaker – is that you cannot really make eye contact. Your body is busy watching the path in front of you, avoiding rocks or holes, and navigating turns. Meanwhile, your mind works harder to focus – keeping your body moving while allowing yourself to speak or listen. In some ways, that kind of walk is reminiscent of a confessional. Two people, side-by-side, confessing what is on their heart, without the piercing judgment of eye contact. Somehow the seemingly simple act of taking a walk with someone becomes profoundly intimate and sacred, something I am not convinced happens as well when we are sitting still.
The two disciples may have been having the same kind of conversation on that road to Emmaus. They have a lot on their minds: those last days of Jesus’ life; his arrest, crucifixion, and death; the testimony of the women about his resurrection. Everything in their lives has been upended, and they are confused, sad, and lost. But as they walk, Jesus appears on the road alongside them. Together, the three of them keep moving, sharing hopes, dreams, and fears, while also reflecting where they see God in the midst of this turbulent time. While their bodies are busy with the steps of that dusty road, their minds and hearts are opening up through their conversation. The noise all around them fades, and the clarity of truth breaks through. Though they do not notice the feeling right away, later the disciples remember a distinct feeling of their hearts burning within them.
Most of you know by now or will soon figure out that I am a planner. I like to sit down and think through challenges. I spend energy considering the various possibilities, weighing consequences, and working through solutions. I will do research, talk to people with experience, and try to gauge reactions. In general, being a planner can be a great asset. The challenge for a planner is moving. There comes a moment when you have to move on what you have and make a decision or start the planned action. And although this will come as no surprise to the more spontaneous folks in the room, sometimes, you have to get moving without doing all the planning. Sometimes, you just have to take a walk – get out and start doing, and clarity will come. Sometimes Jesus does not show up until you are on the road.
That is what is interesting about our story today. The two disciples today are overwhelmed and stuck. They do not know what to make of all that has happened and they especially do not know what to make of the women’s testimony. They could have stayed in that room with the other disciples, worrying and talking through the possibilities. Instead, they get up and walk. They walk, talk, confess, listen, and learn. Their hearts burn within them only when they move – only when Christ comes alongside their moving bodies and reveals truth to them, helping them understand the fulfillment of Scripture in all that has happened.
I wonder if Christ is not inviting us to do the same today. A couple of weeks ago, I celebrated my first anniversary here at Hickory Neck. It has been an incredible year of growing, relationship-building, serving, and sharing in fellowship. As I have reflected back, the year has been full of good work, growing discipleship, and energized mission and evangelism. We really have had a very full year. But one of the things I keep remembering, and now our Vestry has begun exploring, is the conversation I had with our Search Committee and Vestry over a year ago. We talked extensively about dreams, many of which had already been articulated. The one that captured my heart was using the blessing of this property to begin some new ministries – ministries that would serve those in need in our community and would reflect the distinct nature of our neighborhood. Knowing that we have an abundance of retirees settling in Williamsburg, and an influx of young families moving in as well, Hickory Neck began to dream about how we might serve both constituencies – with childcare, elder day care, or both simultaneously. The dream was what drew me in, and as colossal as the dream sounded, the dream also sounded inspired and full of the Spirit.
For the last year, we have been sitting, getting to know each other, building trust, and growing in our love of Christ. But now, your Vestry has started taking some walks. Your Vestry has started meeting with leaders, service providers, and member of the larger community. The idea is to walk alongside others, hearing their stories, and listening for the Spirit. We are also sharing our dream, and making sure our vision is in line with what the community needs. We are taking those kinds of walks that lay bare our concerns and fears, but also confess our deepest hopes. Of course, we could avoid these conversations, staying in the upper room with fellow disciples – fellow Hickory Neck-ers. But instead, we are taking a cue from the disciples today, hoping that on our walk, our hearts will burn with a sense of the presence of Jesus.
The disciples and our Vestry are issuing a similar invitation to us today – to move out of the comfort of familiarity, and to start walking the way in the hopes of encountering Jesus. What they have learned is that sometimes, in order to clear our heads, in order to get un-stuck in our current path, in order to go deeper with God and to find Christ in our midst, we need to move. We need to walk, talk, listen, confess, and learn. We need to step out of our places of comfort and familiarity, and start moving. On those walks are where we encounter Christ, where scripture becomes clear, and where our hearts burn with renewed energy, purpose, and meaning. That is work that we are taking on as a community, but also work that we are invited to take on for ourselves. Taking those first steps can be scary, intimidating, and uncomfortable. The good news, is that, like the disciples, we do not go alone. We go with fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. We go with neighbors who long for justice and dignity for all. We go with Christ, who whispers truth and who burns in our hearts. Come, and take a walk with Hickory Neck.