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Acts 2:14a, 36–41 | Psalm 116:1–4, 12–19 | 1 Peter 1:17–23 | Luke 24:23–35
I recently told a friend that I had spent the whole day (Monday after Easter, in fact) in my study with the door closed and had done pretty much nothing. Okay, I did write in my journal, watch some of “The Good Place” on Netflix and eat some food: All with a nagging sense of guilt that I should be doing something, well, useful. Or that something was wrong because I just didn’t want to see anyone or talk to anyone. My daughter did peek in and comment when I was sitting on the floor in my bathrobe at 3:00 in the afternoon. More guilt. My friend said reassuringly through text, that it’s good to have “somatic” time. She thought it was pretty funny when I said I had to look that up. Well, duh, it’s from the Greek, soma, for body: Distinguished from the more metaphorical “flesh” (sarx) that we hear Paul talk about in the NT letters, soma is really more the physical “thing” that we are: What is tangible, earthly, mortal; that receives sensations—hearing, seeing, smelling, touching, tasting. In other words, I suppose, then- it’s okay sometimes just to hang out as a soma.
And as I’ve been re-learning, emotional intelligence—which is essential to our overall well-being—starts in our physical selves. Being attuned to our soma and maybe sometimes getting re-acquainted, then, is not so much a waste of time as it is important: Being at least open to the messages that our amygdala is picking up and sending that we—often necessarily ignore—but that are going on in the background. So that we can interpret and moderate with our frontal lobe. In acknowledging our embodiment, we can learn from asking ourselves before we react or even draw quick conclusions: Am I feeling energy in my body? Is it strong positive energy (like happiness) or strong negative (like anger)? Or is it low on energy? Like low positive energy (contentment) or low negative energy (sadness)?
I think these two who are walking and talking on the road to Emmaus in our reading are in a very “somatic” place. Walking, after all, is a way to be in and with your body; and along with being side-by-side, stimulates thinking and social aptitude. (Although lately with social-distancing hiking and walking, you have to be extra loud when you share your thoughts.) The senses of this couple don’t pick up, however, who this person is who joins them. Seeing and hearing—at least—have failed them. We rely heavily on these two senses in particular, to know things; Believe things. “Seeing is Believing.” In other words, we often go too far: move from the physical to the brain, draw a conclusion and then stop using our senses. This feels like control. (And if we’ve lost one a sense or it’s diminished, it’s a real loss (even just needing reading glasses). In John 9 after Jesus heals the man who was blind from birth, he actually says, “I came into this world… so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” In other words, don’t ignore all the stuff that is coming at you. Stop judging. Or concluding. Stay open. Use all your senses. As the two later reflect, “Where not our hearts burning within us?”
I wonder if it was easier for Cleopas and partner to talk and listen—thinking that this person was a stranger. He was a “blank slate” in some ways. They could process the information in a neutral place and express themselves without jumping to conclusions… “What are you discussing while you walk along?” Don’t you wish someone would take that kind of interest? And then there’s this somatic moment—with an awareness of low energy and in the negative quadrant. (Not that these represent “bad” feelings. ALL feelings are part of our human experience.) They “stood still, looking sad.” The stranger on the road asks the questions that seem naive, but that draws out the story and the feelings: This, in itself, is a gift. These things about Jesus and him being handed over to death and this clincher in the middle that is so honest and explains a lot of their sadness, “but we had hoped…” And even there is the story of the empty tomb, but this seems to be no consolation either.
The stranger tries explains how it all fits together—how there really is meaning in what happened. They are “slow of heart to believe”—again, believing being a very physical, bodily experience of trust and commitment. This attempt doesn’t help either. With grief—when a person or hope or even idea is lost—there is shock which in a very physical, somatic sense, makes it hard for our frontal lobe to function. It looks like being forgetful, confused. But they do what anyone would do in those days automatically for another human body: Offer the traveler a meal and bed. (Meno—“stay”, “abide."). And like waking from a dream in this simple act of sharing a meal and the words that have been a part of every Jews life in the passover: The blessing, breaking, giving. In this physical act, the reality finally breaks through. It’s Jesus.
“Were our hearts not burning within us?” Listen to what your body is saying—esp. that which we call our “hearts”—this center of ourselves speaks without words. Invite Jesus (or maybe even the stranger) into your heart and “see” what happens. It matters; reveals God. Enables what we hear in 1 Peter: 1 Peter readings: For us to “love one another deeply from the heart.” Thanks be to God. Amen.
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