Conversation: a new spiritual discipline

Did not our hearts burn within us while we talked along the road.-Luke 24:32

When the John Muir Trail Facebook group claimed it as the “hardest pass” hundreds of people thumbs-upped it.

“The sadistic pass of hate.”
“You will swear off hiking, curse John Muir, and wish you were dead!”  

At Tyndale Creek we talked with Girl and her husband Scout.  They were heading south and we were heading north.  They were just finishing and we were just starting.  

“The day after tomorrow, you will hit Glen Pass,” Scout said.  “I sat down at one point and cried.  Seriously. I didn't think I would make it over the top; that pass broke me down until I was nothing but a shell of a man.”

This warning about Glen Pass was in the books, blogs, and online discussion groups.    As we got closer to it everyone talked about it almost like it was the troll of the JMT, exacting a tax on those who traversed it through countless false summits. 

Summitergy and adrenaline are free and weightless forms of energy.  The natural occurring chemicals kick in at the first sight of a pass and give you just the right dosage to get over the top.  The pace picks up, the smile bounces and you start singing.  Glen Pass did this anticlimactic thingy to your psyche over the course of the seven to nine false-summits, where your adrenaline would backflow drowning your spirit.  

We woke up earlier than usual that morning.  We got mentally prepared for the slog.  Something unexpected happened.  Because we were mentally prepared we slowed to a conversational pace preempting other hikers with questions and small talk up the steep.  Others started doing the same.   Our pace and conversation became contagious, we laughed and high-fived people, the hill became this buzz of conversation and energy.  (That never happened again, the rest of the trip).   I kept notes of the people I met that day. 

  • Swiss Army who had hiked the Pacific Crest and JMT before gave Jed his trailname:  “Road Runner.”  
  • "Lefty" the service dog with a limp. 
  • “Manhattan,” a young couple from Manhattan, who compared the mountains to the Manhattan skyline.
  • "Golden Years" an elderly couple with a bag of crushed Doritos and secrets to the hidden hot springs they found 20 years earlier.  
  • "Power to the People" an entourage doing a two-day wilderness trek, who raised their arms and voices in unison to us, “Power to the JMT People.”  
  • "Stars and Stripes" two guys carrying a flag on a 4 ft. pole for veterans as their motivation.
  • "Orange Duck" a lady who’s sunglasses fell and broke and Julie grabbed them, taped them up with Orange Duck tape and her group christened her as “Orange Duck.”

I didn't realize it at the time but when we finally crested the real Glen Pass we had talked our way to the top and had lost track of time and difficulty.  The conversations grounded us in the moment, breathing enjoyment into our lungs.  It became our easiest pass, not because it was easy, but because we talked our way to the top.   It also was the first day that I believed we would complete the JMT

 Luke uses a strong word (syzētein) to describe the Emmaus road discussion.  It means emotional dialogue and is often translated as debate and argument.   

My friend Erika, a Jewish community organizer for synagogues from New York to Berkeley, recently over coffee, shared where her spiritual formation in New York as Jewish child came from.   "My father and rabbi would say, 'God is in the debate and arguing, where the passions rise, the push back and hash out happens, where the fire and fervor rages within.'  We valued spiritual and theological debate as sacred spaces."   

I remembered the spiritual argument I got into with someone when I was nineteen, and getting crying-mad and stomping off and as I did hearing for the first time the Lord distinctly speak and correct me with a, "Shut up.  And just give me your all!"    That one moment changed the kind of person I was to become.

Over the years I have engaged the full gamut of spiritual disciplines—sometimes victoriously, many times not. There is one spiritual activity, rarely lifted to the status of a spiritual discipline, that I am coming to see as indispensable to awakening to the presence of Resurrection.

Conversation.  Argument.  and Debate.

Our Emmaus Road travelers disclose to us how Jesus uses something as humble and natural as a conversation to guide them into the path of mystery and spiritual awakening.  Jesus intentionally and tactically locates the fire of resurrection life in their hearts through his questions, commentary, hermeneutics and confrontations.   

To fully appreciate the rhetorical effect of conversation as a spiritual discipline I offer a literal translation of the setting of the Emmaus Road conversation: 

“and it happened, in their conversing and debating, that Jesus himself, drawing near, began to walk with them.”  

The deeper point that Luke makes is HAVE CONVERSATIONS, TONS OF THEM, KEEP TALKING AND TALKING.  Talk about disappointments and what you had hoped Jesus' life would mean for you, talk about Scriptures and how and what they point to in the Christ, for in talking about it, resurrection presence draws near and comes alive in you.  You won't recognize it at first and that's ok, just keep the conversation alive, and eventually your eyes will be opened.  

Identifying Your Cleopas

Luke leaves one disciple named and one unnamed.  He leaves room for you to imagine yourself as the unnamed. Cleopas and you. 

  • What conversations have you had where your heart was on fire?   Where decisions were made that altered the course of your life?
  • Who is your Cleopas?  Who do you debate and argue, converse about spiritual matters with?   
  • Send them a text and let them know:  thank you for being that person in my life that I can passionately talk about life and spiritual matters and walk away with a fire in my heart.
  • Find a Cleopas that you can talk and share with as you walk through the badlands, there is a reason Jesus always sent out disciples two-by-two, and why Paul is always with either a Barnabas or a Silas.  Jesus is in the thick of "two or three" gathered together in his name.

Cleopas conversation starters.

  • What is happening? (esp with spiritual implications) (v.14)
  • What disturbance is in your city, community, and family? (v.18)
  • What have you been disappointed by?  What had you hoped would be redeemed? (v.21)
  • What mysteries and inexplicable events seem to be connected with all of this? (v.22,23)

UPNEXT:  Chreia of Action (the four gestures)