One of my favorite authors, Richard Rohr, writes in one of his books, “We only see what we are looking for, we only hear what we are listening for.” He is referring to our tendency to get so locked into our own perspective, so accustomed to our own way of thinking, our so focused on what we expect that we miss anything that falls outside that.

Take any number of political or social issues that people have intense feelings about. The more intense our feelings or convictions, the less likely it is we will be able to see or hear any other perspective. We close our eyes and ears to any perspective other than our own, and consequently we miss any new insight or truth that may be in that other perspective. We’re not looking for it, so we don’t see it.

But this same thing happens spiritually. When we get the diagnosis we have been dreading, when we get the call that something has happened to one of our kids, when for any number of reasons, life seems to fall apart. We lose our ability to see clearly, to hear fully, to remember what is most important.

There’s a great story in the Gospel of Luke (24: 13-32) about that very thing happening to two people after things had fallen apart.

Our two travelers are making the seven miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus. They were walking west, into the sunset. Great symbolism, Luke.

journeyWhenever a story in the Bible involves a journey, there is more going on than the act of walking. A journey always represents an unfolding process. It includes feeling lost and finding your way, then getting lost again. Many biblical journeys involved long stretches without landmarks. A journey is often about the process of the mind and the spirit having time to get to the same place.

All the epic journeys in the Bible involved far more than getting from one place to another. It’s almost always a clarifying process.

These two travelers are engaged in a journey of significance, though, as in most journeys, they don’t know it. We do know that they are broken. They have witnessed the death of Jesus, and they feel lost even though they know the road well. Everyone who has lived very long can identify with this situation.

They were living through the Saturday and Sunday after Jesus’ crucifixion. Today we think of those as days of waiting, because we know what is written in the New Testament about that Sunday morning. We celebrated it two weeks ago.

But the disciples and these two travelers had no such perspective. They had nothing to wait for. As far as they were concerned, the show was over. No sequel. The person they had followed for three years, the person on whom they had pinned their hopes for their future was dead. Just dead. They had seen it with their own eyes. Nothing was going to change that.

If we are to truly understand Holy Week and the experience of these people, we have to embrace the absolute despair of that Saturday. If we are busy whispering, “Yeah, but Easter is right around the corner,” we fail to grasp how monumental it was for these two.

This is where we find these two travelers, and where we find ourselves at times. What happens to us in those times when life goes from simply stressful to unmanageable or desperate?

When someone is looking over my shoulder or yelling at me, I can’t think. Big decisions with unknown consequences can immobilize me. Intense grief or a traumatic event can freeze us in our tracks or prompt us into meaningless frantic action. In fact, any surprising or significant change can suddenly strand us in the middle of life’s busy intersection.

When it feels like things are falling apart, we forget what we know. Our focus narrows to the immediate problem. We want to escape or fix it but we know it is out of our control. And we can’t think clearly. What once was simple suddenly seems complicated, even impossible. Our confidence is out the window. There is no future beyond the immediate disaster.

All of that is normal.

But then the story tells of another traveler who joins them, who does not seem caught up in the despair of these two. He asks some simple questions, and then he begins to give them information. He reminds them of Jewish history and Jewish scripture that predicted much of what they had just experienced. What a weird thing.

Here’s my best way of describing this:  In my therapy work with college students, I have sat with many who were immobilized by trauma, stunned with a sudden loss, paralyzed by a major decision, or simply unable to move under the pressures of life.

Each semester, I led a grief group for college students who had experienced the loss of a family member of close friend within the year. These were bright young people who were trying to cope with a significant loss and maintain a demanding academic load. Often they described this narrowing process, “I can’t concentrate, I can’t remember things, I can’t focus. And if I get still I get overwhelmed.”

We tried to accomplish three things in their journey that semester. First, each person had the chance to talk about their loss and their despair. For many it was the only time they talked about it, because no one else wants to hear about that.

They also got to listen to the stories of the others in the group. And finally, they got information about the journey through grief. With what they said and what they heard, and what they learned, most found relief in discovering that they were not going crazy, but what they were feeling, thinking, and experiencing were normal reactions to an overwhelming situation.

With time and this kind of attention, I watched many of their lives slowly begin to expand once again. They still felt the loss, but they began to remember and rediscover their lives beyond their loss.

Back to our Bible story for a final piece of the process. When the three of them came to their destination, it was the end of the day, and the necessities of life were still there. It was dinner time and they were tired and hungry.

As we have all discovered in the last two weeks, no matter how meaningful Easter might have been, we still must go back to our daily lives of cooking, paying bills, doing homework, dealing with annoying colleagues and bosses who don’t appreciate our efforts, the oil that still has to be changed every 6000 miles.

Daily life continues no matter the traumas that hit us. These two travelers fully expected to finish their day and embark on what was shaping up to be a dismal Monday morning.

In this story, it was not an open tomb or a rousing Easter hymn that opened their eyes. It was sitting down to dinner. At that moment they were able to see beyond their desperation. They were able to hear the words that had not made sense along the way.

The crucifixion was not the end, but neither was the resurrection. For all those who followed Jesus, and for all of us who follow Jesus, life continues. To quote another favorite author, “We think the point is to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”

The good news is that this is not one of those “See, everything turned out just fine” kind of stories. This is far better. While we are on the journey, in the midst of despair, feeling lost, and all the rest, we have a presence. In this story, Jesus was the perfect embodiment of God’s spirit. Jesus does for these two precisely what he said the God’s spirit within us would do.

He showed up. He walked with them. He provided needed information. He provided perspective. He was a calm presence in the midst of chaos. He was the “I am here” when we are sure we are alone. He reminds us “There’s more” when we are sure there’s not. And all this happens as we keep our eyes and ears open and we go about our daily lives.