I wrote this poem almost four years ago from a very personal and raw place and later connected it to a short project I was doing on the character Cleopas from the gospel of Luke. Here is some background:
Three days after the crucifixion, two of Jesus' disciples were walking to the village Emmaus. They were deep in conversation, going over all the things that had happened. In the middle of their talk and questions, Jesus came up and walked along with them. But they were not able to recognize who he was.
He asked, “What’s this you’re discussing so intently as you walk along?”
They just stood there, long-faced, like they had lost their best friend. Then one of them, his name was Cleopas, said, “Are you the only one in Jerusalem who hasn’t heard what’s happened during the last few days?”
He said, “What has happened?”
They said, “The things that happened to Jesus the Nazarene. He was a man of God, a prophet, ... and we had our hopes up that he was the One, the One about to deliver Israel. And it is now the third day since he was crucified." (Selections from Luke 24:13-24, MSG)
During a time of deep depression, I found in Cleopas a kind of patron saint. When his leader, Jesus, was nailed to a cross, so were all his hopes, dreams, and expectations of the Messiah delivering his people and bringing the Kingdom of God to earth. Cleopas represents both the inward and outward manifestations of depression in his interactions with the recently-resurrected Jesus.
Inwardly, his depression causes him to be blinded to see God at work in his own circumstances. He cannot even recognize Jesus as resurrected because he had never expected things to turn out the way they did.
Outwardly, he lashes out at this stranger. "Are you the only one in the whole city who hasn't heard?" In this, if you listen closely, I believe we hear Cleopas speaking from frustration and disappointment, not good-will towards his new and ignorant walking companion. Haven't we all, at one time or another, accused God of not knowing what's really going on?
The truth is many times pessimism and depression* are rooted in disappointed expectations. And expectations are just projections of our own desires with little regard for the bigger picture. Even if we're doing good and noble things, we can grasp and clench our fists to our expectations of how things should be - like Cleopas.
When I was depressed, I was totally blind to the ways God was at work, I was lashing out in frustration, and I had resigned myself to the fact that things could not get better. Fortunately, for me as well as for Cleopas (just keep reading the story), Jesus does not give up, but eventually makes himself known and reinterprets all of the things that have happened, showing their purpose and intention. That is where the hopeful turn at the end of this poem comes from, and that is what makes all the difference.
*I am not trying to brush off clinical depression as a serious mental or physical condition, nor am I diagnosing or dismissing it. This is just an observation from my own experience.
Painting credit: Christian Ayers