Walking for Spiritual, Mental, and Physical Health

All four gospels have different stories surrounding the resurrection of Jesus, but they agree on a few overarching paradigms, for example, that resurrection is not just about ghostly apparitions, it’s not about resuscitating the dead body which then merely resumes its former life, and most important for me this year, Easter is all about movement. Easter is all about movement. Resurrection somehow moves the cells as well as the soul and identity of Jesus, and it moves the cells, souls and identities of his followers as well. The Easter earthquake still has power, even this morning, to get us out of our comfort zones and call us to the open road, spiritually, ethically, and sometimes physically.

I love to walk outdoors in nature. I’ve spent a lot of hours walking and running on treadmills at the gym, mostly in winter when outdoor walking isn’t an attractive option. When I’ve had dogs, I enjoyed walking with them—sometimes being walked by them. When I lived in an apartment behind Foster Park, I walked or bladed every morning in the cool light of sunrise for my morning constitutional, as I called it. This two mile walk took me along the river, through some wooded areas, and around a golf course. I loved it. I would spend the time observing nature all around me, and work on sermons or chapters for my book or whatever my current project was.  I often used the time for prayer and personal centering, taking in God’s energy of love and expressing my deep gratitude for this gift of life. There is power in walking, and that’s why virtually all monasteries the world over have a covered cloister walk so that the monks or nuns can pray as they circle the inner courtyard. There is an old Latin proverb I learned at the Community of Our Lady, where I first embraced my vocation as a Benedictine: solvitur ambulando, or in English, “it will be solved in the walking.”

A walk and a meal can transforvesour life, and that’s what happens in the encounter of Jesus with two of his earliest followers. Trudging down the road, two depressed and confused followers are joined by a third man. Their world has been turned upside down by the events of the past week: celebration, conflict, violence, and death, and now the possibility that their martyred spiritual leader has come back to life. It turns out that resurrection is just as profoundly unsettling as crucifixion.  It doesn’t fit into anyone’s rational world view, including the theology of resurrection of first century Jewish people. They could imagine a resurrection of everyone at the end of human history, but not the resurrection of one solitary man.

But, they walk the seven miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus, first sharing their common grief, and then entering into a conversation with their unexpected companion, who unfolds the story of salvation through resurrection to them. Somehow, they can’t recognize their companion as the teacher and healer Jesus. Perhaps, it’s a gentle gift of God who is allowing them to gradually get used to a new way of seeing reality. Maybe it’s the essence of resurrection itself that both reveals and conceals Jesus’ identity.

Confused and grief stricken, the two travelers nonetheless reach out to the stranger. They invite him to supper, and it is only through the breaking of the bread that they come to know the identity of the Risen Jesus. Hospitality leads to epiphany: an encounter with the Risen Jesus, who is known in the simple Eucharistic acts of praying and eating.

Movement and meal lead to revelation, and then Jesus is gone, vanishing from their sight, but leaving them changed in some profound ways: their hearts are warmed, their spirits restored, their bodies are energized. They are so charged with resurrection power that they walk the seven miles back to Jerusalem to share their good news that Jesus is risen and on the road.

After breaking the bread, Jesus vanishes from their sight, and this tells us something profound about resurrection: clearly Jesus needs to be on the move as well. God is not static, like some plastic statue or childish image we carry in our heads. God won’t be imprisoned by yesterday’s revelations or by the Church’s Scriptures, creeds, statements of faith, policies or traditions. God is always on the move, doing new things and sharing new insights with other pilgrims on the journey.

Historically speaking, scholars have no idea where Emmaus is located: there is no other reference to the place other than this Gospel story. Some possibilities have surfaced over the years, but there is no consensus among historians or archeologists.  That, too, is potentially important because maybe there is no such place.  In other words, Emmaus is nowhere because….Emmaus is everywhere.  Wherever we are on the road and at every mealtime, Jesus comes to us, filled with energy and possibility, and the powerful joy of resurrection. We too can have new life, and we too can be born agai– right now, at any place, at any time. The message seems clear: keep moving, chart new adventures, extend more hospitality, make Jesus reveal himself in all of our living so that, in the end, everyone will finally come to see and accept that’s it’s been Jesus walking alongside us on the road all along.


About frmichelrcc

I have a degree in religious studies from the University of Wisconsin, did graduate work in theology at St. Norbert College, De Pere, Wisconsin, and also at St. Paul's University in Ottawa. I have been a Benedictine since I first professed as an oblate in 1982, making final profession in 2009. I have worked as vocations director in a large diocese in the mid-west and am a spiritual director in the Benedictine tradition. I have 3 sons, one of whom is now in God's loving embrace in eternity, and 2 grandsons, Bradley and Jacob.
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