View from the choir

I am a Catholic layperson and Secular Franciscan with a sense of humor. After years in the back pew watching, I have moved into the choir. It's nice to see faces instead of the backs of heads. But I still maintain God has a sense of humor - and that we are created in God's image.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Transfiguration

After six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no fuller on earth could bleach them.

Then Elijah appeared to them along with Moses, and they were conversing with Jesus.

Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, "Rabbi, it is good that we are here! Let us make three tents: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah."

He hardly knew what to say, they were so terrified.

Then a cloud came, casting a shadow over them; then from the cloud came a voice, "This is my beloved Son. Listen to him."

Suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone but Jesus alone with them.

As they were coming down from the mountain, he charged them not to relate what they had seen to anyone, except when the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what rising from the dead meant. (Mark 9: 2-10, NAB)


Imagine the moment.

Peter, James, and John knew Jesus was someone special – the Messiah. But the messiah they likely imagined was someone who would free Israel from the Roman yoke, a warrior, or a king who would rally the people.

Then they go up that mountain, and witness something they could never have imagined.

Jesus, glorified, his clothes becoming “dazzling white,” standing with Moses and Elijah, the representatives of the law and prophecy.

Peter, ever practical, in his awe suggests that he erect three tents (or booths, or, in the King James version, tabernacles) for each of these holy beings, the tents suggesting the dwelling of God with his people (Ex 25: 1-10, Ez37:27, 43:7)

What else went through the minds of Peter, James and John?

We get a clue from 2 Peter 1:16-19.

We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty.

For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that unique declaration came to him from the majestic glory, "This is my Son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased."

We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven while we were with him on the holy mountain.

Moreover, we possess the prophetic message that is altogether reliable. You will do well to be attentive to it, as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.


This is no fantasy, Peter declares. This was real. We saw it. We heard a voice from the heavens declaring that Jesus is His Son. And in the same way, our prophetic message "is altogether reliable."

Now imagine if we had such an encounter. How could we then doubt Christ and his message? How could we fail to act on behalf of the Kingdom?

If only we could have been there with them back then.

But Jesus did not exist just then. Jesus is God, eternal, beyond time. Jesus was and is and will be, all at the same time. So Jesus is here with us now.

Still, encountering Him in all his glory seems beyond us.

Or is it?

Psychotherapist G. Scott Sparrow has written a book called I Am With You Always: True Encounters of Encounters with Jesus.

In the book he recounts stories of people's encounters with Christ since the crucifixion, beginning with people like Mary Magdalene, the disciples fishing at the Sea of Galilee, the two followers on the road to Emmaus, St. Paul, and others in the early days of the church, up until contemporary encounters. Along the way he recounts stories of encounters by such people as St. Francis of Assisi, Captain John Newton (who went on to write "Amazing Grace"), Baptist pastor A. J. Gordon, and many lesser known people.

For many of these people, the encounter was transformational. It helped them to discover a direction for life, to find healing, to experience a change in understanding, and so much more.

Many of those encounters involve "light", with Jesus appearing in the midst of the light, or manifesting himself as light – much as happened on that mountain 2000 years ago.

My own life was transformed by such an encounter.

Many years ago while I was a college student, I was involved with prayer groups.
One night, I went for a walk to think and pray. As I walked across the campus, I suddenly felt as if I was breathing in mint. A light seemed to fill me and surround me. The light seemed to flow through me. As I looked around, I realized that that same light in me was flowing through the trees around me.

In that moment, I realized that I existed only because that light, that it sustained me, just as it sustained all creation.

I knew in my heart that that light was God, revealed to me for one brief moment.

I felt loved.

Now I don’t mean to imply some sort of pantheism. A tree is not filled with God's presence in the same way as a man. But the tree exists only by the will and power of God.

And as such, I, as a son of Adam, am called to respect and protect all of creation. Use it, yes, but use it carefully and with gratitude.

That moment transformed my life. Oh, I have failed many times since. I have sinned. I have been caught up in the false values and teachings of the world. But no matter what I do and how far I stray, the memory of that moment keeps surfacing and I realize what is real, and that what is real reaches into me and sustains me.

It is "a lamp shining in a dark place, until day dawns and the morning star rises in (our) hearts," and we would "do well to be attentive to it."

This does not mean that all people have such moments. Some people come to belief and are strong in the faith without the need of such encounters – and blessed are they.

As Jesus says after dispelling Thomas’ doubts, "Blessed are they who have not seen and have believed." (John 20:29)

And however we encounter Christ – with inexplicable experiences, through others, through Scriptures, may we find the wisdom to act, as Peter thought to do on the mountain when he wanted to erect tents.

For if we are willing, God will ultimately give us the direction we need to do what needs to be done.

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