The Road to Emmaus

This Easter, the “Road to Emmaus” story from Luke chapter 24 hit me a little different. It’s the story of two disciples who unknowingly encounter the resurrected Christ. Something about the way my pastor read it, or the translation he used made me hear it in a whole new light.

With those feelings in mind, I decided to write my own “translation” of the verses. It’s a method I’ve used a bit in critical and creative writing in the past. I pretty much take a pre-existing text and change a few words to alter the whole meaning. Here though, I’ve altered much of the “original” (the NIV is an original text, right?) But my hope is not to alter the original narrative’s message, but to change it just enough to make it easier to imagine ourselves in such a scenario.

If you put my version next to the original, you’ll find the most glaring change is that I’ve replaced the physically resurrected Christ with a participatory/relational Holy Spirit – because today we often don’t realize we’re encountering Christ when we commune with others; it’s a reminder that when ‘two or more are gathered’ there is an opportunity to encounter Him.

I think the changes point toward one of the ways we can experience the resurrected Christ today, which promotes personal resurrection in this lifetime. Enjoy!

Luke 24:13-35

(13) Now that same day, two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven or eight miles from Jerusalem. (14) They were in a deep discussion about all the things that had happened in the past week. (15-16) As they got more and more in depth in the conversation, in a sense trying to find God’s purpose in their recent experience, they, without knowing, had created a miniature two-person church. As the Holy Spirit filled them, becoming a companion in their journey together, (17) their primary question became clear: “What are we really talking about here?” As the reality of their situation became more apparent, it stopped them in their tracks. (18) One of them, Cleopas, finally said it aloud. As he did, it was almost as if he were accusing his partner, but deep down he knew it was a rhetorical question, and meant just as much for him as the other: “Are you the only one in Jerusalem that doesn’t understand the gravity of what all this means?” (19) “All what means?” asked the other, a little confused because he was sure they were on the same page just seconds earlier. (19) Before he could continue, they both said, “About Jesus of Nazareth,” in unison. The other proceeded, recounting the events, “He was a prophet for sure. He was powerful in word and deed – before God and ALL the people. (20) But the heads of the religion we grew up with and our government, handed him over to their government knowing they would destroy him. And sure enough, they killed him in the most humiliating and disrespectful way possible.” (21) The other continued, morose, “But we had hoped that He was the One. The One who would return things to the way they were meant to be. The way they were created to be. What’s more, it’s starting to seem like a long time since all this happened – too long for anything miraculous to happen now.” But as the other continued, his voice quickened, more excited but still perplexed, as if in the deepest of thought – sensing their being on the brink of an ‘ah-ha’ moment, (22)”In addition, some of the women told us things that were too good to be true. They went to the gravesite this morning (23) but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels who said He was alive! (24) [As faithful as these women were, we needed to know for ourselves.] Some of our companions investigated. The gravesite was just as the women said, but our friends did not see the angels – or Jesus.”

(25) Suddenly, the the Truth struck them both like a bolt of lightening: “How foolish have we been?!?! So stupid to not see that this is what was in all the scriptures we were raised on?!? Did not the Messiah have to suffer all these things before we would recognize Him as such. Only then would He be glorified?!?” (27) They connected all the dots (jots and tittles), beginning with Moses and sweeping through the whole Old Testament, seeing how it all pointed to Jesus as the Christ.

(28) Lost in conversation, they were seemingly instantly at their physical destination, but the Holy Spirit was pushing them further spiritually. (29) They were not ready, and suppressed the Spirit, saying, “We have almost got this worked out. We essentially understand. We need to stop here.” So Christ met them were they were. (30) As they sat to eat, they gave thanks for their food, remembering what Christ commanded them. The Spirit continued to move amongst them, and it began to dawn on them that everything they had was given to them: their loss, their journey, their food, their community, their communion. (31) Then their eyes were fully opened; God was with them the whole time. In their fellowship,Christ was resurrected. But just as they began to name it, it escaped them. (32) They laughed, asking each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while we talked, as if He were there with us on the road, revealing God’s self to us through the Scriptures?”

(33) They got up and returned at once to their larger community. There, they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together (34) and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” 35 Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Christ was recognized by them when He broke their bread.

Why a Trinity is Essential. Part 2: Feeling, Believing, Knowing.

For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.

Matthew 18:20 (NIV)

In looking at Creation, we developed an understanding that it is meaningless, if not impossible, for any less than three things to exist if anything is to exist at all. To put it another way, there can never be only one single thing, nor two; the bare minimum number of things needed to constitute existence is at least three. From this logic we asserted that a trinity, The Trinity, is essential.

To expound on the idea, we will proceed through three modes of sensing. The point is not so much to create an epistemology, psychology, or cosmology, but a way of making sense of relationships – relationships with others, within ourselves, and to The Trinity. We will examine the line of communication through three “levels” of sensing. First, ‘feeling,’ then we’ll grow an increasingly complex geometry as we build through “believing” and into “knowing.”

Feeling feelings

Touch is the most basic interface between two objects, therefore feeling as a sense is the ground floor of consciousness. In the last post, we imagined two people deprived of all senses except touch. We noted that in order to be conscious of one another, they have to physically touch. Our point was that to be conscious of an other, there must be some kind of connection between the one and the other. We described the interaction that connected the two entities as a line. The form of a line acted analogously to consciousness, and from there, we went on to say that consciousness is an ontological imperative.

We pick up there to now ask: what if only one person gets to have senses, and the other is deprived of all? Where does that then leave consciousness? If one entity is a rock and the other a person, when they touch the person clearly feels the rock, but what about the rock? What if both entities are rocks? Here, we’ll begin to also introduce subject/object relations to help define our levels of consciousness.

In our model, “feeling” does not necessarily concern itself with consciousness as humans experience it. In fact, as we’ll explain below, humans never really experience anything less than (and possibly never more than) belief. Feeling, the product of an act of touch, only deals with physical proximity and physical response as a formal consciousness. The surface is the location of touch, thus the locus of feeling. Therefore, feeling is a completely objective experience. That last statement seems completely counterintuitive, but it’s very intentional in this scheme. A few examples will possibly drive home the point.

Imagine a small rock sitting on top of another rock of similar size. To say the rocks are conscious of each other can only make sense by pointing to the fact that they do not dissolve into each other. (From the human perspective) their consciousness is synonymous with their physical property of being solid; both objects ‘feel’ solid to each other. An obvious, yet important point to make is that we do not know what a rock feels, only what it feels like. Our inability to have any interaction with a rock other than touch, is the core of what I mean by the term feeling.

Okay, that’s still a bit abstract, but hold the idea of the two rocks in your mind as we process this next, human, example. Imagine any of a million movie scenes: two people meet at a bar and are mutually attracted to one another. They share a few drinks and some light conversation, maybe some dancing, all driven by their immediate “feeling” of attraction to each other. Regardless of how the movie ends, if they spend the night together, when the morning dawns there is an awkwardness that comes from the realization of their mutual objectivity. While the characters naturally assume their individual subjectivities, each one’s objectivity is illuminated by the realization that the immediately preceding activities were purely surface driven. Each person’s actions were propelled by his or her feelings. A one night stand, especially a first night stand, is as meaningful as two rocks. (Of course, the romantic ideal necessitates that the fictional characters ultimately do develop a deeper relationship, regain their subjectivities, and the initial surface treatment was just a serendipitous act of fate… but that’s another conversation.)

The point here is that feelings are physical; the apostle Paul would use the word “flesh”. Feelings may be materially factual, but they are meaning-less. They are physical realities we cannot naturally avoid, but feelings only report quanta, not qualia. Rocks are solid – that’s a quantitative fact. But to know what solid means, we must switch to describing quality; for example, something solid is hard.

A quick Biblical example can be seen in what is often used apologetically for the physical resurrection of Jesus. Only a solid physical object, such as a human body which could not pass through stone, would need said stone rolled from the entrance of a sealed tomb in order to egress. A spiritual, non-physical being would not need the stone moved in order to leave…

The fact that feelings are purely physical means that we must keep them in check with higher order consciousness, a cross-referencing that we will call ‘belief’. But one last thing about feeling. Every feeling we are conscious of is the result of thousands of interactions, thus technically ‘beliefs’ in our model. Still, as we will see below, we cannot simply accept any singular feeling (physical sense or emotion) as truth. This is counter to a popular misconception in contemporary culture, which tells us that it is right(eous) to do what feels right. The problem here is that we often mistake what feels right, with what feels good, and often simply what we can feel. To be morally righteous, or even ethically or simply logically “right,” we must discern what we feel through the lens of what we believe.

To illuminate this, we’ll look at phenomena that problematize feeling while propelling us into the higher forms of consciousness.

Believing in Ghosts

Phantom pain is a phenomenon wherein someone who is missing a limb – an arm or leg, foot, or hand, etc. – continues to sense the missing appendage, often in the form of physical pain. We’re not talking about pain at the stump. Holding onto the example of a missing hand, we’re talking about pain in a hand on an arm that ends at the elbow – feeling pain in a hand that doesn’t exist. It’s as if the hand part of the brain is telling it’s carrier, “I hurt,” but the eyes part of the brain is saying “You don’t exist!” This paradox of feeling urges us toward the next level of consciousness: belief.

Contrary to a type of scientism that begets a type of materialism which rejects a metaphysics and claims that the only truth we can ever know is the material world, I believe that we can only know more than the physical world. I think we cannot simply feel any thing in a purely sensual way, nor truly fully know any thing in its entirety. Instead, we spend our days believing, or rejecting, the overwhelming majority of our experience.

In a previous post, I claimed that to break down the physical world would only result in smaller physical matter. By contrast, to arrive at a metaphysics, the material world must be added to itself. For the materialist, the problem with metaphysics is that it overtly indulges in belief structures. In our model, a metaphysics and belief are required for even approaching the knowing of truth.

If feeling can be described as a line, then belief would be a plane. A line is the joining of two points; a plane is the intersection of two lines. The simplest plane can be formed by three points: two points that each form a line with a third, shared point. But to solidify the plane, the first two points must also be joined, forming a third side and defining the area within a triangular plane. Just as two joined points create a one-dimensional infinity, three joined points produce a two-dimensional field (comprising not only infinite points, but also an infinite possibility of lines.)

To make this more concrete, let’s jump back to the example of phantom limb syndrome. The afflicted person feels pain. It is a real feeling. The feeling is a fact. But it is not the truth. If our person also has the sense of sight, she must resolve the inconsistent facts presented by two different feelings – feeling #1 of pain in her hand, and feeling #2 of seeing no hand. Here we see the triangulation between the brain feeling pain in a hand, the eyes seeing no hand, and the spatial location of the hand in question. Amongst this field lies an infinity of possibilities about the hand. Let’s name a few: 1) there is no hand, the person is suffering phantom limb syndrome. 2) There is a hand, the person is suffering a negative visual hallucination. 3) The person is dreaming. 4) The hand is unknowingly wearing an invisibility glove. We could go on, but we have gone far enough to promote our point. Somewhere within the plane of possibilities, the subject must rest on a belief about the hand. In common terms, beliefs are subjective facts are objective – we will hold to this distinction. (To quickly look back at our movie-based example of humans relations, the two individuals must form a relationship that is believed to be meaningful in order to regain their subjectivity.)

At this point, it’s good to remember this is only a model, a simplified analogy. But it gives us a ground for understanding our perception as it relates to knowledge. In the example of the missing hand, in personal relationships, and in all difficult-to-understand realities, we urgently want to move toward the final level of consciousness: knowing.

Nearing Knowing

If a feeling is a line, and a belief is a plane, then knowledge is a space. Even at it’s simplest, conscious knowledge is exponentially more complex than feeling or belief. Geometrically, the simplest space we can create would be a tetrahedron: a four sided polyhedron whose four faces are each a triangle. While, itself being named by only four points, it comprises six lines defined by four intersecting planes. Our sets now include six linear infinities, four planar infinities, and one volumetric infinity. The trick here is that any point, line, or plane perceived within this space is still only a feeling or belief. To possess knowledge, to know the truth, the entirety of the form must be perceived.

But, as an individual, to perceive the entirety of a 3-dimensional form is impossible. Perception happens in the now. The entirety of a line segment may be perceived, as may any complexity of 2-dimensional shape. But at any moment, from any singular perspective, some part of a 3-dimensional shape will be hidden.

“Yes, but one may just move around the object and therefore take in its entirety,” one may object. This is only partially true. Whatever part of the object is obscured must be conceived, not perceived. The conception is derived from past experience or future-looking conjecture. And now we realize that our sense of knowing has slipped right through our hands like vapor.

How? Simply put, but hard to explain, there is no empirical, provable way to confirm the reliability of the past (or future). As unlikely as it seems to common rationality, any moment could be the first moment, with all history preloaded into this moment – similar to how fully-grown fictional characters magically appear in scene one of a movie. The characters have no real history, but their pasts actually unfold as an aspect of the film’s future. The actuality of the past is, well, an act of faith. Likewise, history as a predictor of the future is not guaranteed. I would never bet that the sun won’t rise tomorrow, but even if I did, there’s no guarantee you or I will be here to collect on the wager.

Faith presumes a coherence through time.

Back to our discussion of knowledge: the entirety of a form can only be conceived, not perceived. And to conceive of it is to have faith in its continuity through time. In order to resolve the belief about the phantom hand, a faith in the validity of the hand’s history and its future must be held. In order for the physical relationship of two people to be confirmed, for “the two [to] become one flesh, so they are no longer two but one flesh,” a lifetime of faithfulness must be adhered to.

Here, we run into the most peculiar result, though perhaps maybe it should have been expected. In order to fully experience a 3-dimensional form, we must also experience time. We have backed ourselves into a corner known to Einstein as the space-time continuum. Translated into the discussion at hand, namely how can we know something, to know a thing’s form in its entirety we must experience it through time. More precisely, we must believe it through time; we must feel it in many different yet relatable ways, through time. Ultimately, the longer we experience it, the more solidly it grounds itself as truth. Further, a shared history that is agreed upon by multiple subjects increases the appearance of validity.

In the previous post, we postulated a monad of sorts that necessitated a trinity as the essence of being and existence. We associated that primary, creative necessity with the Triune God known in the Christian Faith as The Trinity. In this post, we postulated a model for conscious (human) being and existence whose particulate structures are meaningless unless combined; once combined, unreliable unless taken as a whole; yet to be taken whole, only conceivable if taken by faith. Finally, for the individual to have knowledge of the Truth, to be right(eous), one must have a mutually subjective relationship with the Trinity; a Faithful Communion must be employed. In a way, it could be said that humans take part in a new creation by being in communion with the Trinity.

It is as if the image of a necessarily Triune God, is necessarily triune itself.