Monday, December 15, 2008

My "first" Nashville Emmaus gathering

Quick background: at the end of October of A.D. 1993 I was a "Pilgrim" on Walk to Emmaus (men's) #327, in Kerrville, Texas. It was an unforgettable experience of spiritual renewal. After moving to Tennessee in the middle of the next year I sought in vain to find an Emmaus Reunion Group to join in Clarksville, and I occasionally attended monthly gatherings of the Emmaus community in the Nashville area. But after I lost my job in Nashville my attendance at the gatherings ceased. Then while I was living in San Antonio for six and a half years I got re-involved -- very involved -- in Emmaus and then involved in its equivalent for inmates, Kairos Prison Ministry. Monthly I'd looked forward to the community gatherings, and weekly to the small group (Reunion) meetings.

I'm very desirous of continuing to participate in both Emmaus and in Kairos here in Nashville. Therefore, I was very eager to attend the monthly Nashville Emmaus gathering this past Saturday evening. I retrieved my lanyard (given on the third day of my pilgrim Walk), name tag (from Team service on Walk #1327) and the "purple book", the pocket-size booklet with a purple cover (but always covered over with an "agape-jacket cover") that each Pilgrim and Team member receives, from Team service on Walk #1005. And I tied on the Cursillo necktie that I had purchased at last April's 25th anniversary celebration of Emmaus in Southwest Texas. The necktie has many colors, and in white a cross silhouette and the words de colores, a Cursillo/Emmaus/Kairos slogan that in Spanish means "of colors" or "colorfully". I was to receive several compliments on it both at the Saturday meeting and at Sunday morning worship. Normally I wouldn't wear the Cursillo tie to church, but being at such a personally significant gathering the evening before prompted me to retain it for church.

A "bonus" of this month's gathering is that it was held at The Upper Room. More background: "The Upper Room" is a devotional periodical published in Nashville by the United Methodist Church. It's used worldwide by Christians of diverse denominational backgrounds (or no denomination), and among its language translations is the Spanish verison, El Aposento Alto. Yours truly has benefitted from the U.R. and E.A.A. for several years now. The devotional's staff is housed in a building by the same name on Grand Ave. in the Methodist administrative and publishing complex near Vanderbilt University. It was central to the creation of a variety of the Cursillo de Cristiandad renewal movement that omitted the distinctively Catholic elements and thus would be more ecumenical. Indeed, the first non-Catholic Cursillo community was originally called "The Upper Room Cursillo". Shortly the name became the "Walk to Emmaus".

So-o-o-o, having an Emmaus gathering at The Upper Room and using the chapel there for the worship portion of the meeting is highly significant! It's sort of like going back to your roots, you know.

First, we had supper downstairs in a species of fellowship hall. Each table held "de colores" bookmarks and a tiny Christmas tree centerpiece. Over to one side was a full-size Christmas tree decorated in purple and gold ornaments - thus this tree's dominant colors were those of my fraternity (Lambda Chi Alpha): purple, green and gold. And there was plenty of food. Plenty, just like at Texas monthly Emmaus gatherings! There was some addressing the entire group, but only a little, and no introduction of newcomers such as folk who might have just completed their "pilgrim Walk". That was unlike Texas Emmaus! However, there was plenty of intimate conversations around the various tables. My guess is we were about a hundred present.

Then we adjourned to go upstairs to the Upper Room Chapel. The chancel of this chapel features a full-size wood relief reproduction of Leonardo da Vinci's famous fresco painting of "The Last Supper". Even the chancel's ceiling and walls imitate those in Leonardo's painting, and the "communion table" is an exact replica of the table around which are gathered Jesus and the Twelve. Other than that distinctive chancel area, the chapel is a typical place for Christian worship, complete with pulpit and stained glass windows. And like any good Methodist house of worship it also features an altar railing.

I was a bit surprised that the worship leader did not call for us to get out our "purple books". Among other contents these have an order of worship for Emmaus events. Instead we used an order of worship out of the Methodist hymnal. Oh, well, the Emmaus worship is derived from a Methodist worship order, just not the one that we used Saturday. So we didn't have the profession of faith that I like so much.

"We are not alone. We believe in God who has created and is creating. . . in life, in death, in life beyond death God is with us. We are not alone. Thanks be to God."

Neither did we have a time for sharing prayer concerns and praises. And I truly missed that element! This definitely wasn't a monthly Emmaus gathering in Texas!

But oh, well! We still had a good "Fourth-Day Talk" (equivalent of a sermon) by a woman whose pilgrim Walk was this past Spring and who had then undergone cancer treatment. Hers was a very heartening testimony to trust in God and how truly "we are not alone!" And while we went forward for the Lord's Supper distribution, an Emmaus sister played a sweet medley of songs of praise on the chapel's piano - she'd also accompanied us on congregational songs. After receiving by intinction (removing a piece from the breadloaf and dipping it in the cup) each worshiper had a choice of returning to one's seat, kneeling at the altar railing or going up into the chancel to kneel at that remarkable reproduction of the table in "The Last Supper". I chose the latter. From where I knelt at the table's left end the carving of the Lord's face appeared to wear a slight smile, a benevolent visage.

Now, all during the supper and the worship I'd had my eyes on a middle-aged man, short and somewhat chubby, like me, with a pleasant face. I kept thinking I knew him - but then I'd dismiss it as that he probably resembled somebody I'd known in Emmaus or Kairos back in Texas. But it "happened" that I'd chosen to wear the cap I received as a volunteer for the Operation Stand Down event of this past October. When I returned to the dining hall to put on that cap and my overcoat, the gentleman approached me and began speaking about OSDN. It was then that I realized that he was Bill Burleigh, the Executive Director, whom I had met two months ago at the event!

Wow! Small world, I suppose! Bill and I had a brief but hearty conversation mostly about OSDN (and some about Emmaus) before I left to catch the bus home. And this was yet another bonus/blessing of my attending ths Emmaus gathering on Saturday night. Oh, and let's not forget that it being Saturday night I had my radio with me so that on the bus ride to the gathering I could listen to the Opry warm-up show and and on the way home to the Grand Ole Opry show. And it being so close to Christmas there was plenty of the flavor of this most-special holiday on the airwaves coming from the Ryman Auditorium. For about the past decade the Opry has been returning during the winter months to its former and most-famous home, the Ryman.

Yes, dear reader, this past Saturday evening was a blessed and memorable evening! In many ways!

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