Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him.
He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”
They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”
“What things?” he asked. (Luke 24: 13-19)
When Belgian theologian Edward Schillebeeckx was asked if there was one text from the Bible that would name and speak to our cultural moment, his reply was the twenty fourth chapter from the Gospel of Luke 24. This chapter tells the story of disciples processing the crucifixion of Jesus as well as the rumors that He is alive. One of the subtitles in the chapter is “On the road to Emmaus” and this chunk of Scripture seems particularly appropriate as we travel in this season of starting to imagine what’s next. We are on the road; to something not clear. On this road, a depression seems to surface; not ever present but somewhat consistent, emerging like a beach ball pushed underwater. On this road, there seems to be an aimlessness. A lot of what we thought we could trust in, certain rhythms, expectations and even goals are tenuous at best. And in a hopeful turn on the Emmaus Road and in our cultural moment of road, there seems to be a bit of discovery as well as generative questions emerging as we look at and encounter the familiar in new ways.
I am on the road (literally the trail) quite a bit these days. Walking has become one of my primary spiritual disciplines where I am quiet before God, as well as where my physical motion is a part of the Spirit’s guiding, strengthening, encouraging and challenging. After a day of guiding my children in learning and zooming with others, I find that a walk with my earbuds and a phone call is a great way to be present with others. I am reminded of an accidental practice of discipleship at the Stockbridge Boiler Room where I co-led a prayer and discipleship community. My weekly meetings with our interns involved walking through the West Side neighborhood we were serving, praying and processing as we set foundation for our way forward as a non-profit and a ministry.
Something significant has happened in the past three months. Uncertainty is thick in the air. Like the two disciples on the road in Luke, likely a married couple, many are downcast. I see it poignantly as my son John realizes that he can’t celebrate his birthday with his class at school. I see it as another son Ezra hears of sports seasons canceled. I hear it when my daughter Bea shares about a school administrator succumbing to complications of COVID-19 and cancer. Unsurprisingly, a recent poll finds half of Americans saying that the pandemic is harming their mental health.
The disciple couple on the road is processing their downcast moment. Myself, I find an almost research-like interest in every call that I make to hear how others are doing in this moment of downcast. Recently, this blog has become one way of inviting others to process. Looking forward, all roads will lead through and reckon with downcast. At Journey Academy, I see our guides integrating this into their practice of regular video-conferencing. “There are times,” Ms. Sarah says, “that I need to turn from assessing the hero’s progress on a quest and talk about sewing projects; and talk about that the rest of our time. Or other times when I need to help heroes come up with strategies to deal with their stress.” Going forward on our road, these aspects of social-emotional learning and the ability to self-regulate in the face of adverse experiences will be of utmost importance.
The other connection to our moment provided by the couple is the direction of their walk on the road. They are walking away from Jerusalem, the center of Jewish life with the Temple, where God is encountered and regular pilgrimages are made. Even more interesting, they are walking toward Emmaus, which was the center for nothing. This seemingly aimless travel away from a meaningful place resonates with the hours of aimless screen time that many have experienced these past two months. I’ve never been drawn to puzzles before, but now I am looking for something else to occupy me. My daughter Bea says, “You’ve moved into the serious puzzle level now.”
serious puzzle level
It is this aimlessness that a thousand pieces of oddly shaped cardboard on my table is trying to address.
At Journey Academy, I see methods for responding to aimlessness. Many in our community live out our value of being Learner-Driven. Owning our walk down the road as well as identifying our purposes and path of implementation; this intentionality and sense of direction is what we all need as we go forward in this next season. I see parents guiding their heroes and recognizing the power of owning learning. In our current quest focused on the moon, heroes like Ethan and Elias are going above and beyond, researching and bringing facts from their individual inquiries about the moon to the Socratic Discussion.
As we walk toward the fall, I am dreaming about ways that we can deepen our Learner-Driven practices. Currently, I am dreaming and praying about four ways and we will explore this deepening over the summer. Helping heroes set goals and assess progress is one of the keys to operationalizing our value of being learner driven. We are fortunate to have Christi Gilbert as a parent in our Journey Academy community. Christi is an Early Literacy Coach and English Learner Specialist with Kent Intermediate School District. Her experiences with Cognitive Coaching will direct how our guides can coach the heroes. This summer conversation will be foundational for building our capacity to help heroes learn about their ways of learning.
Another way for deepening our learner-driven value is through informing how our heroes engage in their spiritual journeys. This February, co-founder Dana Roefer, shared with heroes her practice of journaling and how the Holy Spirit helps her document the significant moments, make sense of what was happening and find guidance for responding and moving forward. Driven by the desire to learn more about her own hero’s journey, Dana made space for silence and solitude in her life, and God gave her insight for her next steps. Likewise within the Acton Academies network, we see this same kind of quiet contemplation at Sanctuary Academy in Chicago. There, they create a Catholic expression of a space within their school that respects the dignity of the hero’s spiritual quest. Next year, we are dreaming about such contemplative journaling practice focused on Scripture. We believe this will offer heroes a way to listen through Scripture and discern their next steps. To help us, we will be talking with Ada author and prayer minister, Kathleen Trock-Molhoek, founder of Pebbles and Stones to think through the practice of journaling next year.
Another step forward on the road involves our work with quests. Our quests are a primary way that we live out our value of being curiosity-based. At the same time, they can be leveraged to help us strengthen our value of being learner-driven. One way to do this is the consideration of Design Thinking. As heroes practice empathy, brainstorm, construct solutions, solicit feedback, revise and make their work public, the learner driven aspects of certain quests can be deepened. A third summer conversation will involve middle school teacher and classroom design thinking consultant Ian Grell to help our team start to imagine how to weave design thinking principles into our quest development.
Looping back to the Emmaus Road story, we find our fourth way forward as Jesus joins the couple and initiates some discovery with a couple of playful questions. Like Detective Columbo (or like a good writing teacher), He asks, What are you discussing together as you walk along? This invitation to summarize and remember comes as He claims unawareness of the biggest news story that Jerusalem has experienced in a long time. He continues the cluelessness with a query of What things? In the midst of play, He guides them to unpack the details. Discovery is often found as we look at the details.
Walking forward in our historic moment, embracing playful discovery will be essential. The looking for each of us as well as for Journey Academy that we talked about with Eun Sub Cho, director of the Wonder Academy is a part of this discovery. However, Jesus adds a vital complement with His sense of play. In such a challenging moment as ours, play not only keeps one buoyant, it also brings an opportunity to see things anew. Clearly we are not facing a concentration camp in our moment, yet Guido in Life is Beautiful does offer us a way to respond through play. This play doesn’t simply wish things away, but rather helps imagine things differently and provide a way forward. Even now, we are trying to integrate play as we study heroes in our last quest of this year. The playful Dr. Tyrannical (who bears a striking resemblance to a certain Journey Academy Director) will be posing challenges for the emerging heroes, evading detection and eventually getting his comeuppance in the end.
As we look at the road ahead, our final way of proceeding is going to be exploring a way to integrate this kind of playful discovery into our time. At the Acton Academies Gathering in Austin this year, we heard an exciting presentation on play-based learning that we would like to imagine here. This posting from Acton Academy Lake Charles suggests a way forward for implementation. We are already thinking about how to provide materials (like the culvert pictured at top) for heroes to employ in creative play and then leveraging their play as an opportunity to reflect and learn together. We want to embrace the question, how are we going to be playful? In a Kingdom sense, I might even suggest we need to let Jesus mess with us (in a playful way).
To be clear, my intent is not to minimize the sorrow, disruption and anxiety that we have and are experiencing by suggesting we move on. I simply want to say this; the road is ahead of us. We need to move forward. We need to take steps. The poet Anthony Machado writes, “the road is made by walking.” These things, these are the things we need to be thinking and talking about with each other. We pray that you join us on the journey.