Emmaus Changed Us

DSC_0186It was not that the day had been poor until we arrived in Abu Ghosh, one of the three possible sites for the Biblical story of Emmaus.

We had: travelled far to the south and explored Beer Sheva and been humbled by the realization that a city existed there 2000 years before Abraham; gained insight into the great nations of Canaan, Philistine, Midian and others (who are always the bad guys in the Biblical stories); learned that the valleys of the Shfela were the natural highways of the time and so natural battlegrounds for any conquering nation passing through; stood on the hilltop overlooking the battle between David and Goliath and identified the hills upon which the Israelites and Philistine camped; seen the probable well of Abraham and gained insight into the efforts at peacemaking the story contains; and had falafel and shwarma in a side street of Beer Sheva.

We weren’t asking for anything more when we pulled up outside the St. Mary of the Resurrection Abbey. The historical details were provided. We learned the marks of Crusader built churches and that this one had been standing since 1143 AD.

When we first entered through the massive wood doors the temptation was to revert to tourist mode. People pulled out their iPhones to capture images of the frescoes on the walls. We looked at the pamphlets and leaned against the pillars.

And then we started to sing Holy, Holy, Holy. The acoustics of the chambers made the music resonate so that it seemed as if the words were being reciprocated. Then we felt compelled to offer more music. So we sang another. Then when that might have been enough Leenane sang a hauntingly beautiful piece in Latin, “O Sacred Bread.” Twenty years the music had laid dormant in her until this moment. The shutter sound effect on the iPhones went silent. People began to sit down and if arthritic limbs had allowed it kneeling felt appropriate. And then another started, “You are holy; you are whole.” And then another Latin chant.

The metaphor is woefully inadequate but it felt like souls were slipping into a hot bath, soothed, warmed, held. It was a non-choreographed, holy moment.

As we made our way to the bus, we said quietly, “Good, really good.” “Awesome!” “We can go home now I’ve got what I came for.”

Some who were raised Catholic knelt to “address the altar”, perhaps for the first time in decades.

I suppose that the chemistry of the moment was partly the place, the hearing of the Emmaus story told and not read before we entered and the yearning of hearts. Certainly music proved the catalyst.

Clearly there is no recipe for such times. For holy moments are also encountered around kitchen tables, in sweat lodges, a walk along the road and a simple meal shared.

When they happen perhaps the best we can mumble is “Thanks” and “Wow!”

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