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broadening and deepening prayer
United Reformed Church Spirituality articles:

The Emmaus Road prayer community

Richard Church
4 September 2019

This expression of a prayer community has emerged in North Western Synod as a means of pursuing a disciplined life of prayer cradled and encouraged by a supportive community. Five people form the core group of the community whilst some twelve others are also compan­ions of the community.

Emmaus by Janet Brooks Gerloff

Our name arose from a shared reflection on the familiar account in Luke 24:13–35 of disheartened disciples meeting with the risen Christ on the road. We were led through the text to our identifying four distinct “movements” of prayer which we have subsequently enshrined in all our meetings. These can be summarised as: “stop, look, listen, and walk”.

These four movements can be found throughout the biblical story as people are stopped in their tracks, and then, through careful attentiveness, using eyes and ears, discover something new from God which causes them to set out again but often in a different direction.

Perhaps it would be helpful to explain these movements in a little more detail. In the Emmaus story, after the initial encounter with the unknown figure on the road, we are told they stood still. The practice of stilling ourselves is an indispensable aspect of prayer. Sometimes we are tempted to import our latent activism into our prayers, instead of simply relinquishing the moment to God. These followers looked down, their faces downcast. Although not a constant, prayer often begins when we have nowhere else to go, when we have come to the end of ourselves.

Once we are still then we hope for the grace of attentiveness which flows through contemplation and a deep listening. Looking for and with God has not played a big part in the reformed tradition. Yet some of us have found it helpful to visualise the scene, to identify with one or other of the biblical characters. We are told that Mary, the mother of Jesus, treasured all these things in her heart. (Luke 2.51). So this inner looking at the events of our lives in the light of scripture, helps us to be attentive to God’s redemptive purposes.

Listening is a more familiar discipline. We are people of the Word. In amidst the many voices vying for attention, we are listening for the one voice of God speaking through the scriptures. As Peterson puts it in a provocative piece titled Turning eyes into ears:

“The intent in reading Scripture among people of faith, is to extend the range of our listening to the God who reveals himself in word to become acquainted with the ways in which he has spoken in at various time and places, along with the ways in which people respond when he speaks… We are what happens when the word is spoken”.

Working the Angles, Eugene H.Peterson (Eerdmans 1987)

In our reading of Luke 24 it is as they listened to how the ancient prophecies pointed to the living Christ that they became people of burning hearts.

Walking refers to the return journey along the road just traveled by the same friends who had trudged out of Jerusalem, but this time with the fruits of their shared walk. Our prayer community informs mission. We listen, look and wait in order to discover a new direction for our lives. Thus we can encourage one another by sharing where our walking has got to and where we have failed.

Our intention was to commit ourselves to meeting once a year in a weekend retreat, three or four times a year in area groups and praying for one another once a week, usually a Friday, by name. In this way we hope to fulfil our intention to encourage and support one another and to be enriched in our communion with the Lord. We are reviewing our community at the moment in the light of Walking the Way.

One of our number has penned this prayer.

Risen Lord Jesus,
Surprise me with your presence on my Emmaus Road.
I allow myself to STOP and find space for your companionship.
I LOOK and see your risen presence in the world.
I LISTEN for your word burning in my heart
As I WALK your transforming way. AMEN

Further details about how the Emmaus Road Prayer Community are available from Rev John Piper, email: john.piper30@ntlworld.com, or phone 0161 3392207.

Written by Richard Church while Moderator of Northern Synod