I’ve had the joy of walking in Ireland from Dublin to Kildare, a pilgrimage of about 120 miles. The second day of our journey we walked almost sixteen miles. Six miles of that was spent walking across White Hill in a blinding rainstorm and a sixty-mile an hour wind. One of our fellow pilgrims suffered from severe blisters and we had to travel at a very slow pace, ensuring that person wouldn’t get left behind.
On the third day we headed to Glendalough, about a seven miles up and down through the Wicklow Mountains. The rain was steady and hard that day, even for the Irish. The day before our map had gotten trashed in the downpour across White Hill. Without a good map, well, at one point we were pretty sure we were lost.
One of the many things I learned on our pilgrimage was, before you think you’re really lost, stop and ask directions. Its one thing to be driving around in a car and be lost and unwilling to ask for directions, it’s quite another to be walking and carrying a forty-pound pack. You don’t want to go a mile out of your way because that means you’ve really gone two miles out of your way because you have to turn around and go back.
While walking lost we came across a couple sitting by the side of the trail having a cup of tea. They both had packs so we figured they were fellow pilgrims. I asked them if they were walking the Wicklow Way.
“Ah,” the man said.
“We are walking the Way as well, but I think we’re lost,” I told him.
“Where are you coming from?” he asked.
“Well you’re going in the wrong direction,” he said.
“Ok,” I said.
He said, “Where’s your map laddy.”
I pulled out our map. It was a useless wad of soaked paper. The lines bled together in an indistinguishable mess.
“That’s not a map laddy,” he reached in his bag, “this is a map.”
He produced a detailed topographical map sealed in zip lock bag. He proceeded to tell us we were walking in the wrong direction, though somehow we had actually made it the correct turnoff point in the trail. Oh, one small point, we had walked about two miles past the turnoff point. On his map he showed us where we should have turned and what we should look for. We thanked him and started to walk back down the road we had just come.
“Laddies, we’ll walk with you a ways, just to make sure.” He said.
He and his partner walked the next two miles with us explaining in detail how to make our way to Glendalough. I have no idea how far we would have walked out of our way if those two people had not helped us.
At the end of the Gospel of Luke we hear the story of two of Jesus’ disciples walking the seven miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Jesus has been crucified and buried. On the third day some of the women disciples went to the tomb and found it empty. These two disciples had left Jerusalem and were on their way to Emmaus.
They were filled with grief. Their beloved rabbi is dead and now his body is gone.
A stranger joins them on their walk. He asks them why they are so sad. Shocked, they ask if he is the only person in Jerusalem who had not heard about the tragic slaying of Jesus.
While waking along side these two disciples the stranger begins to share the scripture of the promised Messiah.
Eventually, the three travelers arrive in Emmaus and the stranger bids them farewell and starts to walk on his way. But the disciples implore to spend the night with them. The stranger relents and joins them for an evening meal.
As the three sit at their table the stranger takes bread, blesses it, breaks the bread and shares it with his friends. The scripture says their opens were opened to see Jesus Christ in the breaking of the bread.
The scripture tells us that immediately they left Emmaus and returned to Jerusalem to witness to their friends what they had heard and seen.
As Episcopalians this is our three-part story. We walk together sharing in the Liturgy of the Word, trying to gain a deeper understanding of the scriptures. We gather around the Liturgy of the Table. We take the bread, bless the bread, break the bread and we share the bread, expecting that Christ will be revealed in the Holy Eucharist. Then we are sent into the world by the Deacon to be witnesses to what we have heard and what we have experienced.
We do not walk this road alone. We cannot hear nor understand the word outside of community. We break the bread in community and communion because that is where Christ is revealed to us. And together we are witnesses to the world of the sacrament of the Word and the Table.
This lifetime pilgrimage of Word, Table and witness is also a lifetime of discernment. Discernment is done in community with the community.
Discernment is the process of hearing the Word as it is revealed in the lives of the community. We listen deeply to our own Emmaus stories. We are vulnerable in sharing these stories because we know that we are safe as we gather around the mystery of the Table. It is in the community of discernment that we can hear what the Spirit is saying.
The process of discernment is the gift we have to offer. We walk along side one another, listening to the word, sharing our stories, praying for the Spirit to point each of us in the right direction. It’s not an easy process. It takes humility, vulnerability and a willingness to listen to what the Spirit is saying.
Discernment communities that are listening to the Spirit will be transformed collectively as well as individually. The community of St. Augustine’s and the Episcopal Campus Ministry at ASU also known as St. Brigid's Community consider one of our gifts to be that of discernment. In less than three years we have had eleven discernment committees. Listening to the Holy Spirit in community forms the community.
It’s not an easy pilgrimage. Answers are sometimes “yes,” or “no,” or “not yet” or “we are uncertain.” Yet, the Spirit continues to provide a safe environment to walk along side one another. We continue to share our Emmaus stories, breaking bread together and witnessing to others what Christ has revealed to us.
I encourage you as you continue the life long process of discernment to ask questions we are often afraid to ask. If we don’t ask the tough questions we may find ourselves walking miles out of the way to discover the path. I encourage you to walk along side one another especially those whom you may not know very well. These are the ones who you may help the most. I encourage you to be vulnerable enough to share your rain-drenched maps with one another. Someone else may have the map you are looking for. I encourage you to walk the pilgrimage of discernment because if you don’t take the risk for sure you’ll never find your way.
Finally, I encourage you to walk side by side, listening to the Word, breaking the bread together and to be witnesses to what you have seen and heard in community.