Taking My Place At The table. AMLee 6.12.01

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The Emmaus experience is a very ordinary human experience between three people walking along a road, two friends and a stranger. Luke 24: 13-35. The two friends are willing to share their saddest thoughts because the stranger shows that he is interested. Finally they recognise that he is Jesus. This passage tells of a simple experience between three human beings on a journey. An experience which turns out to be greatly blessed.

We are a Jesus people. Jesus is in all of us although we do not always give Him room for expression. For me to be Christian means to be watching out for Him in people, in situations and in creation, all the time. "For indeed, people who are expectant like that are watchful, they look around them to see where he whom they expect is coming from, and they look out for him in whatever comes along, however strange it may be, just in case he should be in it. In this way we should consciously discover our Lord in all things. This requires much diligence, demanding a total effort of our senses and powers of mind; then those who manage this are in a right state: taking God equally in all things, they find God in equal measure in all." ('Talks of Instruction' Meister Eckhart.) (1) The other side of that is to allow Jesus to express Himself through me to others as much as possible.

In other places and at other times I have said and written all I need to express about my perception of how the hierarchical, male Church has excluded me, a lay woman, from full participation in its administrative, decision making, ministerial and worshipping roles. Principally because of God's Grace and also because of the felt pain of exclusion, I have searched and believe I have found my place at the table. It is a very special place and brings me deep peace and contentment. Having found my place doesn't mean that I am content with the lot of the laity, particularly women in the Catholic Church of today. The struggle for justice must go on and I support it.

"but something prevented them from recognising him." 16. When I waste time being angry, disappointed, frustrated, battling with a situation the remedy for which is beyond me, I have no time to see anything but my anger and frustration. I am on a thread mill which is quite self focusing and pretty much all consuming, so much so that Jesus was out of focus for me. I couldn't recognise him clearly. Meister Eckhart says "All turbulence and unrest comes from self-will, whether we know it or not."(2 ) My dis-ease was great. For many years the battle was mine. In hindsight I am aware that my will was overriding God's will, yet I feel that I had to come through those times. They were part of the journey which brought me to the table. The lesson is not fully learned. For weeks I have been driven to write, the urge being very strong in the last few days, yet nothing was flowing. Then it dawned on me, I'm operating out of my own will again and as soon as I opened and responded to God's will, the words flowed.

"Our own hope had been that he would be the one to set Israel free."21 They were caught up in the politics of human society. They had been with Him as He walked the roads, taught, worked miracles and prayed, yet, they could not see, they did not understand. They were looking for a powerful leader who would win human freedom, peace and wealth for them. Can we say that we really seek anything different today? I'm not sure that we do, particularly those of us who live in the first world. We have been studying the Word of God for roughly four thousand years. It cannot be that we don't understand what God is trying to teach us, so it must be that we are unwilling to abide by that teaching with any great enthusiasm.

If I am to take Jesus seriously I would have my house full of people who are homeless. There would be guests at my table for every meal. I would have one change of clothing and the rest I would give away. I would have no spare cash for luxuries for myself. I would pray five times daily as the Muslims do, in fact my very life would be a prayer. "for the more we possess of things the less we possess of Him, and the less love we have of things, the more we have of Him with all that He can do." Meister Eckhart.(3) This is not the way it is with me, so to what extent am I a follower of Christ? Why am I not utterly crippled by the very though of my shortcomings in my effort to be a Christian? The answer is that I, like others, am numbed by the materialism surrounding me. The Church itself is numbed and overtaken by materialism and power.

How would I survive if I was living rough, sleeping in doorways at night, foraging for food during the day, suffering the contempt of many of the well heeled I'd come in contact with? There are many excuses to be made. How could I be all things to all people? True, I cannot, but I can be vigilant and serve those who cross my path. There is no doubt I will be found wanting when I sit the final exam.

"You must be the only person staying in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have been happening there this last few days." 18 Do I know what's going on in Jerusalem today, in Dublin, in Afghanistan? Am I aware of how Jesus is riddled with bullets, starved, tortured and imprisoned, around our world, in so far as He lives in those who suffer like this. He is also bathed and healed, fed, educated and sheltered in so far as He lives in those of us who are so blessed.

When I last invited Him to my house to share at our table, I heard about His loneliness, His lack of adult companionship. He told me about the racial prejudice at His workplace; how He was being exploited and how He tried to protect some of His work mates from the same treatment. He also reprimanded me that evening because when He was in trouble He didn't feel free to approach me for help. He felt I was too "holy" to understand the humanness of His problem. In this, for me, was an opportunity to take stock, to reflect on the image I portray. I was halted in my tracks and rightly so.

"Was it not ordained that the Christ should suffer and so enter into his glory?" 26-27. God created us for Himself and for each other. I believe when I reach the Pearly Gates I will be asked not only about how I have lived but, " who have you brought with you?" The three journeyed together on the road to Emmaus, we too are expected to journey together, in support and companionship. Jesus suffered and because of that suffering we are offered the priceless gift of Eternal Salvation. Do I have a right attitude to suffering in my life? The world I live in tells me that money can buy happiness for me or that a particular perfume will win for me the man of my dreams. When the man on the TV told me, for the umteenth time, that I could win the two million in this weeks lottery, I found myself answering aloud. "No I couldn't, because I never buy a ticket." When you are told something often enough you begin to believe it, ticket or no ticket. My world tells me that suffering has no right to impose itself on me, yet I am surrounded by mindless suffering and unhappiness. I ask, "Why should I expect to escape while others suffer?" The more important question may be "Why, when some people are afflicted by suffering, they can turn it into gift, while others are destroyed by it?"

At the journeys end they invited the stranger to stay with them. "Now while he was with them at table, he took the bread and said the blessing; then he broke it and handed it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognised him; but he had vanished from their sight." 30.-31 Finding my place at the table has been a long and fruitful process. The table is that which the two friends shared with Jesus in the town of Emmaus that night. It is the table I and my family share with one another and with guests in our home. It is the table others share with us in their homes. At this table I sometimes preside and sometimes it is another family member or a guest who presides. We bless and share the food. We share ourselves too in companionship and Jesus is in the midst of us. God is thanked for the continuing miracle of the loaves and fishes. Often we remember to thank the animal for sacrificing its life so the we would be nourished. John Moriarty in his tape "Seeking to Stand Beautifully on the Earth" says that the wild animal willingly allows itself to be caught for our food and should be thanked.

This table is not the Eucharistic table, nor have I abandoned the Eucharistic table. This is the table women preside at on a daily basis and until women are welcomed to the place Jesus offered us at the Eucharistic table this is where I will continue to be spiritually nourished. Hopefully it is the table at which the children of the future will continue to learn of Jesus, through stories, dialogue and prayer.

"Did not our hearts burn within us as he talked to us on the road and explained the scriptures to us?" 32. How often I have had that experience. Not recognising Him except in the sensation which is similar to that of an infant leaping in the womb, or as the two friends on the road described it, a sensation of their hearts burning. It is difficult to describe to someone who hasn't experienced it. Often the experience is so simple and ordinary that it is not recognised for what it is, a spiritual experience. Once I took a group of women away on a spiritual weekend. While sharing stories from our faith journey one woman apologised for the fact that she didn't go to Church regularly but when she did go to a baptism, a wedding or at Christmas she was always moved to tears. She found this embarrassing and didn't understand it. She was weeping as she told her story and some of the others wept with her. They understood. I suggested to her that she might think of it as God putting His arms around her in a warm embrace showing His immense love for her. A spiritual experience.

Many weeks later I received a phone call from one of the other women who was present at that session. She wanted to tell me how, the day before, she was going to the supermarket, and passing the Church she decided to pop in. Mass was about to start and she was greeted at the door by a girl who offered her a raffle ticket. The woman asked "What is this for" "It's mothers day and the priest is going to present a bouquet of flowers to someone." the girl said. "But, this isn't my parish." said the woman. "Well, are you a mother?" "Yes and a grand mother." The woman replied. "OK then, take the ticket, you qualify." Said the girl. After Mass the priest drew a ticket from a box and called out the number. "It was my ticket" the woman told me, " I got out of my seat and with my legs like jelly I wobbled up to the altar on my high heels to receive the most beautiful bouquet of flowers. I could hear clapping and was nearly in a faint as I came back to my place. When I went home I danced around the kitchen , hugging the flowers, tears running down my face in delight. I thought of what you said and I knew that God sent the flowers to let me know He loved me." And so He did.

"they set out that instant and returned to Jerusalem. There they found the eleven assembled together with their companions, who said to them 'Yes, it true. The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon." 33.34

Having shared many meals with Jesus at His table and He at mine, I searched and found a group of His companions, Dominicans. People who also knew him intimately and who were open to sharing His Word with me. People who made a space for me on their spiritual path. I recognise their gifts and they recognise mine. There is no oppression or domination, simply a journey shared in companionship. Their writings express an awareness of the injustices in the world and in the Church and make recommendations about how these might be remedied. Then they make a genuine effort to act accordingly. Their mission to preach, understood in the broad sense of prayer, teaching, mass media, pastoral leadership, study, research and writing offers plenty of scope for me to make my small contribution.

"Lay men and women offer a unique vision of preaching and living the Gospel because of their total insertion into society with all of its secular, economic, and political realities. They are able to live shoulder to shoulder with men and women with whom our religious brothers and sisters will hardly have contact. The friars and sisters need their vision and expertise. In addition, women bring a distinctive vision and sensibility which we can learn from and which is essential to save the soul of an age in risk of losing its soul. Women are the principal educators and nurturers of the children of the world, so their critical formative role needs to be acknowledged and valued more highly. In a world characterised by social and religious fragmentation, women are often models of solidarity in families and society, transcending forces that create division." (4).

My initial contact with Dominicans was a joyful, warm, homecoming kind of experience. I was, however, very cautious. I had come to believe, from my experiences, that there was no place for me. Here I discovered a family of religious which included lay people. I also discovered that they really do pray and study and preach. I asked if I could join them and they welcomed me.

And so, my journey goes on and the stranger is still Jesus.

References: 1, Meister Eckhart. Sermons and Treatises. M.O'C Walshe. Vol . 3. P20 2. Meister Eckhart. Sermons and Treatises. M.O'C Walshe vol. 3 P48 3. Meister Eckhart. Sermons and Treatises. M.O'C Walshe Vol. 3 P54 4. "De Missione Ordinis" a paper from the Dominican General Chapter Bologne, 1998 The quotations from The Road To Emmaus. Luke 24: 13-35. The Jerusalem Bible.

Anne Marie Lee. I'm planning to publish this piece.

-- Anonymous, December 06, 2001


Your meditation to Emmaus was insightful and well put. You express well your being at the table in spite of the obstacles (maybe perhaps because of them)- a journey where you used the difficullties as stepping stones- not stumbling blocks. This image can also be applied to the journey of life. I want to share a few faults with the group re my own efforts to find my own place at the table, and about my own lifes journey so far. The group helped me to see and become aware that the journey for me developed from the darkness of depression, with it's inevitable insecurities and negativities. I have become increasingly conscious that such is my "road map". I used to be angry that such was my lot but that is the root that led me to the place where I now find myself - a place of increasing spiritual awareness, and a yearning to understand myself and others. Finally I am concious of playing the martyr, no such thing (I think negative people get a bad press, it seems their struggle is with an image of life that is alien to them and that they somehow must demolish to justify their own existence), and so there is a greater risk of being excluded, an image you used Ann-Marie, and this is one of the most difficult aspects of journying for me. It is important to realise who issued the invitation to come to the table. Finally as my friend Tony Baggat SJ said "The road to personal freedom is through self acceptance and not forced effort".

-- Anonymous, December 10, 2001

Anne Marie, although your reflections here on Emmaus were written some time ago, I would like to put some questions and make some remarks about it (I wrote them some time ago, put them in a file and have just rediscovered them).

What is the Emmaus experience? Is it "a simple experience between three human beings on a journey"? The third is a mysterious one who joins them and who, in the end, vanishes from their sight. Should we not, rather, say it is an experience of two human beings on a journey, and of the development that occurs as they talk about the things concerning Jesus?

I think your second paragraph very directly expresses this.

"but something prevented them from recognising him": I think this is one of the very facinating things about both the resurrection accounts and about the 'ordinary' presence of Jesus during his ministry. What is it that a) enables us to recognise him (John the Baptist recognised him in a way; Peter recognised him--but soon afterwards saw him in a purely human way as he warned him of the danger of going up to Jerusalem) and b) prevents us recognising him ('he came unto his own, and his own recognised him not')? What is this 'invisibility' of God. Why is it so omni-present? The irony of theorising about the omni-presence of God while his invisibility is everywhere visible! Our notions of 'glory' (as the visibility of God) are escathologically orientated. Things are only just ever emerging, never lying there in total visibility. Is it possibile even to think of a body as totally visible, with nothing held back, nothing veiled, nothing mysterious about it--and if it pretends to be totally visible, is not the person only more totally invisible?

I am struck by how apt your quotations from Meister Eckhart are, and I now see how much and how direct an inspiration he is for you.

'You must be the only person staying in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have been happening there this last few days.' I am very struck by this part of the story: the two diciples know all the 'facts' and they list them off, one after another: who Jesus was, how he died, even the report of the resurrection! They would pass an exam! But the figure who is walking with them, 'said unto them, O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory? And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.' Afterwards 'they said one to another, Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?' They had the facts, but they were 'fools'. Only when their hearts 'burned within' them did they come into understanding.

Now there is a lot more in your piece above and maybe I will get around to writing some more about it, but I just make the above reflections available for the moment. Best wishes.

-- Anonymous, January 07, 2002

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