My Emmaus Experience (long post follows)

So, I've been thinking about how best to approach a discussion of my Emmaus weekend. I'll state from the beginning that I came home Saturday night after what I can only describe as one of the most bizarre experiences of my life. I'm putting the cart in front of the horse, so we'll start from the beginning.

I knew from my earlier attempt at Emmaus that Thursday night involved a "Meet and Greet," the director reading from a notebook, and then some sort of movie. That's where I bailed before, electing to get some sleep, and then dealing with my "morning" sickness, so my frame of reference was gone. I'd also done some research online to find out more about what to expect. I'd heard a lot of "oh it's like Christmas morning, you won't want to have the surprise ruined" but that's not how I choose to go into a weekend. I had a general idea of what to expect, what would happen each day, although I knew that different groups go about things in different ways.

Thursday after the icebreaker game and reading from the notebook by the lay person in charge of the walk, we watched a movie that looks like it was made in the early 1970's. It was a fictionalized depiction of the Last Supper, complete with "what might possibly have been" dialogue between disciples, as well as some big discussion between Phillip and some woman they presume he left behind to follow Christ. The whole thing was just absurd. I understand trying to make the sacrifices the disciples made more real, but between the age of the movie, the acting, and the whole made-up "what if" concept... it just lost me. The Last Supper has plenty of significance on its own, if that's the path they wanted to take.

So, we go to our rooms in silence, which is really not the best time for that. You have to meet your roommates, get settled in for the night, figure out bathroom routines and what-not, and you're supposed to do all that in silence? Fortunately for me I had a very nice roomie, and we were able to be quiet (if not silent) and sort out ourselves before trying to sleep. I say try, because it was very late when we got to our rooms, and we were told a bell would wake us up in the morning, after which we would have half an hour to get ready for the day before chapel.

The bells? Yes, because you're not supposed to wear or consult your watch as a pilgrim on the walk. The premise I kept hearing was being on God's time. When I pointed out that the schedule was, in fact, created by a person, and that were we truly on God's time we would probably not feel rushed in going through discussions, having fellowship with other pilgrims during meals, and related things, I never really got a good answer. There is so little time to process what you're experiencing during an Emmaus weekend, as you're very quickly moved from one topic to another, and that would be one of my biggest issues. There is so much packed into the weekend and so little time to process it, by the time you get home you're mentally and physically exhausted.

So, back to the schedule. Friday morning they divide you into your table groups. I have to admit, this was one of those things I sort of got a kick out of - when we walked in, I saw "Martha" as one of the table names and thought "you know, God, I know you have a sense of humor, and I'm pretty sure that's where I need to be." Lo and behold, I was seated at Martha's table. Once we got settled in, the talks began. Each speaker went through the exact same drill - they told a personal story, introduced themselves, told us when they went on their walk, and started reading their talk.

I will interject just a moment here - I understand that public speaking makes many people nervous, however I have a real problem with entire weekends that are scripted and read from a book. It takes something away for me when I realize that person is not speaking, but simply reading from a page. That's my persona hang-up I know, but it bothers me in any setting, not just something like Emmaus.

After each talk, we had a short period of group discussion, and had to come up with a summary statement and an "artistic impression" of the talk. Honestly, that's where they lost me. I am certainly not artistic, nor am I fond of skits. Don't even bother asking me to sing, unless you're planning on scaring off something. We were able to get away with making some posters, but there were skits involved. I'm 32 years old - why on earth am I performing in a skit? I had really hoped that stopped when I left my youth group behind.

There were also periods between each discussion where we had songs. And not just a song or two, but song after song after song. Sometimes people swayed and locked arms around each other. I would personally prefer to not do that, and found myself holding up this out of the way corner, because trust me, no one wants me singing, and I am weird about people I don't know touching me. I will hug you if I know you, but people I don't know? Please, hands to yourself. Thank you.

The meals were okay - certainly nothing to write home about, although there was lots of discussion among those who'd been before about how great it was. All the snacks available were candy, or chips, or snack mix. There was one small basket of sugar-free candy, and there was water, but no unsweetened tea, not a whole lot of fruit or granola (although they had those Nature Valley granola bunch things, but they're basically covered in binder and sweet stuff.) There were lots of desserts at meals, but again not a lot if you're sugar-restricted (and I know there were others there who needed to be eating lower-sugar or more diabetic-friendly foods.) Plus, they don't let you fix your own plate. I realize it's supposed to be taking care of all your physical needs or whatever, but seriously. Again, I am 32 years old and not at all bothered by putting food on my own plate.

Friday night we had to go to chapel twice. Went back to the table group room for a bit, and then went to chapel again. It felt forced and excessive to me, especially considering how late they were keeping us up. People were very visible tired most of the weekend, and yet the late nights continued. It seems if you're wanting to help people grow in their relationship with God, you would want them well-rested and comfortable physically so they can focus on the mental and spiritual truths you're presenting them.

Saturday I was exhausted. I wound up skipping part of the afternoon so I could try and get some sleep. Saturday night we had this very strange dinner. When we went in, they wanted us to put these headdress things on, and there was a very formal setting. Apparently it's supposed to be a bridal supper (the whole idea of Christ as the bridegroom of the church and what not) and it was supposed to be this spiritually moving experience. I really didn't get a lot out of it, except sneaking an extra roll because the food wasn't good.

We go back to the table room, to wrap up the day. We went outside to see a double rainbow that had formed at the camp - that part was quite cool. The sky turned green, and it was starting to threaten rain. I poked my head out the door just to see what was going on (my HAM radio operator grandpa would have been so proud) and got quite literally snapped at by one of the assistant "spiritual leaders" and told to close the door and get inside. The weather wasn't that severe, and when I pointed out I was just looking at the sky, she told me it didn't matter, and to get inside. Again, sorry but I'm an adult, and if I would like to look out the door, I will look out the door, thank you.

So, they start singing, and they want us to hold hands, walk across the parking lot and sing. I managed to get myself in the back of the line, and some woman kept putting her hand on my shoulder. I kept trying to shrug her off, because I'm clearly not holding hands or singing, and she keeps on. I almost turned around and asked her to get her hands off me, please. So we go back in the room where we eat, and there are all these people, holding those little white battery-operated candles, singing too. It was just bizarre. We had to wind our way through this crowd (and by the way do you all know how much I hate crowds and how far out of my way I'll go to avoid one?) while they're singing and we're supposed to be holding hands.

We get to the front of the room and have to climb on risers and sing. They sing to us, we sing to them (well, everyone else did) and then they just leave without saying a word. Creep-tastic, right? It's sponsors of the pilgrims, but you can't talk to them and they can't talk to you, and they just leave when this singing thing is over. You're supposed to be very moved spiritually by all this, apparently. Then they want you to stay in the room and pray and the gist is that if you're not okay with Jesus, now is the time.

Another interjection here - everything I read about Emmaus states that the walk is not for spiritually immature individuals, those going through difficult life circumstances, and that it's meant to encourage leadership within the church. This was one of several moments I felt went counter to that idea. Not that the spiritually mature can't have their moments, but even in my darkest moments of frustration and hurt, I know I'm saved. I know that I'm okay with Jesus, and he understands the nature of the human mind, and work out whatever issue is weighing on me.

I tried to catch my sponsor. I tried looking at her and giving her "that look" so she would know to stay. Couldn't catch her. So, I just went back to my room, pulled out my cell phone and called her. Having my cell phone was also against the rules, but with John gone to Mississippi to get B, my waiting on the doctor's office to call with my glucose test results, and my personal aversion to being somewhere without my own way of getting in touch with my family, I was not at all guilty in keeping mine.

I did have to explain to what felt like umpteen people why I was leaving. "Candlelight" creeped me out. It was trying to force an emotional reaction out of people who were physically exhausted. It was one of those manufactured experiences that tries to make you feel something and act on that emotion rather than the truth of the matter. That is not at all what I am about, nor is it how the God I serve treats people. Yes, emotional experiences can draw you closer to him, but it's the real emotional experiences, not the ones created by people trying to get something out of you.

Technically I finished the weekend and am what they consider "Fourth Day." I've not yet been to a reunion group because we did have B with us, and spending time with her was way more important than figuring out what the Fourth Day thing is about. I might go at some point, but I'm curious how I'd be received since I didn't stay the whole weekend. I'm a little worried about the reception at church since I stated to everyone who asked "it may be right for someone else, but it's not right for me." Seems everyone else who goes has this deep spiritual thing, and for someone who already feels on the outside, it may just shove me even farther outside, but that's more the peril of being the new person in a small-town church who is clearly not involved with the "in" group.

I mentioned to one of the assistant leaders who asked me about why I wanted to leave that there were three main issues that bothered me, and they're all indicators of cult-like behavior. First, they isolate you from your family and friends (pilgrims aren't "allowed" to drive themselves to Emmaus weekends.) They take away your form of communication, and disorient you by taking away watches and putting you on their schedule for everything. Finally there is the "orientation" and telling you to not make up your mind about the weekend at any point during the weekend, not even on Sunday when it's over, if you've not decided you had this great experience. What I kept hearing was "don't anticipate" - but at what point does a sane adult realize that something is just not quite right about that? I realize they will argue it's a church-based program, it's "not a cult" and that it's based on walking more closely with Christ, so it can't possibly be bad.

Call me cynical, jaded, and pessimistic if you want. I think I'm a reasonably realistic, practical person. Yes, I have my emotional moments, but the older I get, the easier those are to deal with. I've spent quite a bit of time learning when I'm basing a decision solely on the emotion of the moment and when something is truly one of those "God-things" that wouldn't be different if I were feeling exactly the opposite thing.

I liked the ladies in my table group. I enjoyed talking about the lectures and applying them. Were it just discussions and lectures, without all the extra stuff, I would have been okay, even with the pace. But throwing in all the pseudo-emotional stuff did me in. Maybe I'm too logical or rational. Maybe I just don't like being thrown in with strangers like that. Since I was the only one having that feeling, or the only one expressing that feeling, maybe it's my brain that's not working right, or not working in a "fitting in" sort of way.

Overall, I don't think I'd really recommend this to someone else. I certainly would not let my daughter be talked into one of the Chrysalis flights. There are plenty of other ways to learn about God, make new friends, and even worship without the negative things I experienced. I'd suggest anyone thinking about going ask questions of the group they plan to participate in this with, and not stop asking questions until you get the answers you need.