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‘Prepare ye the way of the Lord’ – that is what art does. Phyllis Novak

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Hartmann, Manfred - VM - Susan Phillips

Manfred Hartmann: Emmaus

Narratives Illuminate

by Susan S. Phillips

Words and images shape the way we experience and think, beliefs and practices form us as individuals and communities, and narratives illuminate truths about human life. Stories help us to know who we are and what we’re to do. The word narrative derives from ancient words for knowledge, and narratives teach us about what’s real, what’s possible and what makes sense. Stories shed light on our way.

At the end of Luke’s Gospel (24:13-35) we read about two people who meet the resurrected Jesus on the road to Emmaus. They’re grieving the persecution destroying their community, most significantly the execution of their teacher and friend, unrecognized as the person speaking to them while they walk along. Some New Testament scholars claim these people are Cleopas (appearing with a similar name in John 19:25) and his wife, Mary, Jesus’ aunt who had stood at the foot of the cross witnessing the death of her nephew, the one she believed to be God’s Son. Days later, having observed the Jewish Sabbath with their family in Jerusalem, the couple fled the city.

On the seven-mile walk to Emmaus, Jesus approached them. We can imagine that this is the same person Paul calls “the complete,” coming to them from the far side of a completed human life. Without fanfare or “ta-dah!” triumphalism, he arrived unobtrusively so they weren’t frightened into silence or flight. He expressed interest in them: “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” (Luke 24:17). His question brought them to a standstill. In their stopping, their deeper feelings arose.

What we then read are the words of traumatized people. Hopes and fears mingle. Confusion reigns. They had hoped Jesus was the Messiah, but he was killed. Angels at the empty tomb told some women that Jesus had risen from the dead, but no one had seen him. Yes…but.

The stories they were telling themselves about Jesus’ death affected what they could see and comprehend as he stood before them. After drawing out their story, Jesus told them the narrative of his life, foretold in Scripture and lived in their lifetime. Yet they still did not recognize Jesus.

Jesus talked with them as they walked the road with him, and their own story grew as new experience informed understanding. Eventually, after arriving at their home in Emmaus, they recognized Jesus at the table in the breaking of the bread. In that moment light was shed on their past experiences in Jerusalem, and they remembered that their hearts had burned within them as Jesus spoke with them on the road.

With their sudden recognition, Jesus disappeared. Without his accompaniment and seemingly without fear, they then hurried back to their community in Jerusalem with joyful news. History was not rewritten (they still were bereft), but it was illuminated by the ongoing story of grace.

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Manfred Hartmann: Emmaus, acrylic on canvas, 130 x 90 cm.

Manfred Hartmann was born in 1948 in Vechta-Langförden, Germany. He studied theology and art history in Bonn and Tübingen. Besides his work as pastoral worker in various Catholic churches he also worked as an artist. He won awards at the Art Trienale in Cologne and the EXPO in Le Cellier, France. Since 1990 he has had exhibitions inside and outside Germany. His works can be found in public buildings, churches and private collections. He has made a series of works for the Cathedral in Cologne. Since 2000 he has focused more and more on religious-Christian motifs.

Susan S. Phillips is Executive Director and Professor of Sociology and Christianity at New College Berkeley, Berkeley, California, USA. She is a sociologist and trained spiritual director. Phillips is the author of several books, including Candlelight: Illuminating the Art of Spiritual Direction (2008) and The Cultivated Life: From Ceaseless Striving to Receiving Joy (2015). In addition to lecturing internationally and leading retreats for churches and organizations, Phillips also teaches at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada and Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, USA. She also recently co-edited, along with Soo Inn Tan, Serving God’s Community:  Studies in Honor of W. Ward Gasque (2014).

This meditation is taken from Susan S. Phillips: The Cultivated Life. From Ceaseless Striving to Receiving Joy (2015).

ArtWay Visual Meditation August 30, 2015