Caravaggio, Supper at Emmaus, 1601, held at National Gallery, London
Earlier this year I met weekly for a month or so with a wise person for spiritual accompaniment. Here, I experienced a space where I could reflect on my walk of faith and found that the account of the disciples’ journey to Emmaus (Luke 24) – and Caravaggio’s ‘Supper at Emmaus’ – read me anew.
I was in retreat from family church life, reeling and in search of a bigger faith perspective. The two disciples were also in retreat: from the chaos, confusion and disappointment which followed Jesus’s death in the city of Jerusalem. As I spent time with God on Arthur’s Seat* during my retreat, I started to understand how the methodical unfolding of fields beneath sky, the warmth of blood in muscle, and the easy flow of conversation that accompanies walking were perfect conditions to prepare the two disciples’ hearts to see.
I think it is significant that Jesus joins the disciples halfway along the road, once their doubts and questions about the meaning of Jesus’s death had fully ripened. He then opened the scriptures up to them, clearing the approaches for an emotional and spiritual revelation. In the same way, mid-way on my faith journey I find myself full of doubts, working hard to establish new substance to my long-held convictions.
The disciples’ hard-won ‘aha’ moment comes at the end of the day’s journey. Jesus reveals himself through the powerful visual drama of the first communion: and every- thing clicks into place. I strongly identify with Caravaggio’s picture – my own conversion experience was one of sudden, absolute and ecstatic clarity. However now, nearly twenty years on, I find I identify equally with the inn keeper – who stares quizzically, but doesn’t yet see. I have come to realise there’s no final revelation in this life – rather, the slow growth of compassion towards the people, and parts of me, still in shadow.
Finally, this story reminds me that powerful encounters with the living God are not confined to home church services on a Sunday. Jesus reveals himself to this pair in unfamiliar and low-key circumstances. The table at the inn has momentarily become an altar; and the wayfarers are just stopping by for the night. I find in the picture an invitation to journey, to leave the familiar behind. Like the bowl of fruit which teeters over the side of the table, I feel compelled to reach out towards a reality which just eludes me.
Tom Ingrey-Counter (2013)
*a local hill
This article is copied, with permission, from the website of the Coracle Trust.