We are eight weeks into the New Year and the liturgical season of Epiphany is coming to an end. It began with a bright star in the sky leading the magi to Jesus and the epiphany of who this tiny little guy was, and then we hear stories of healing and hope during Jesus’ ministry. Epiphany ends with the transfiguration, another revelation about Jesus. Hear now the transfiguration story from the Gospel of Mark, the 9th chapter.
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and 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 one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!’ Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.
Peter, James and John follow Jesus up a mountain, apart, by themselves. We often see this when Jesus wants to get a little R & R or some think time or to be in prayer. But this time was clearly different than the other times. No sooner had they reached the top than something really very unusual happened.
Transfiguration by Susan TiltJesus transfigured; his appearance changed right before their very eyes with dazzling white clothes, whiter than and white possible. And with Jesus were the prophets Elijah and Moses from of old. Peter tries to engage Jesus in conversation, Jesus didn’t answer. Peter just didn’t know what to do, how to act, what to say, he and the others were very afraid. We would be unnerved too, perhaps even rendered speechless, if such a vision happened to us.
They had never had this sort of out of the ordinary experience before where God so boldly broke open the heavens. Some scholars equate this to the revelation of the commandments to Moses on Mount Sinai. God cared enough to come into the lives of the people who remained at the base of the mountain, this band of folks in the desert thirsting for direction, and God gives them a way to live decently and ethically in the middle of a monotheistic world. They are not forgotten they are redeemed through Torah.
God spoke also to Peter, James and John. God breaks into the world of human existence and reveals to them what had been hidden from them, or what they failed to understand about Jesus. Jesus is God’s beloved son and that we must listen to him if we are to find a way to live.
When this is revealed God is, in essence, saying, Jesus will also give us commands on how to live, and then he will take up the way of the cross, he will be crucified and will be resurrected. He is the messianic promise coming to fruition for the Gentiles and indeed for anyone who chooses to listen. Jesus’ transfiguration leads to our transformation and the ways in which we can look at life. If we so choose. If we have learned anything from on top of that mountain.
I think for many of us who have been to the mountain top and have seen or experienced something beyond our wildest imagination, like our friend Peter, we just don’t know what to say. Reasoned thought takes a vacation and speech goes on hiatus. We just know that we have been dazzled by the diving light and things are different. We’ve had a ‘God moment’, a ‘Come to Jesus’ moment.
But it comes to an end and the light dims. Coming down the mountain is rough terrain. Then you realized that life is not lived in the highlands but is really carefully played out in the wadi.
It is here in the valley that the babies cry, the bills pile up, the dishes remain dirty in the sink, the homeless sleep in cardboard boxes under I 95 and the aged are forgotten. It is here that we feel we are in dead end jobs, or stuck in a game of boredom that takes up way to much of your waking day. We know these all too well because it is here where our tents are pitched most of the time. God doesn’t appear to us in spectacular ways; in fact God is not in sight at all.
When we are in the valley we are not void of light, we need not suffocate from the lack of spiritual air. We have access to that light of Christ within us that is the gift of the dazzling white of the transfiguration. The key is to live into your faith, that is to live mindfully in the knowledge of God’s mercy and love amidst the disappointments and quotidian moments of our days. To live mindfully is to each moment open the gift of Christ revealed.
Just because we cannot feel that ‘Rocky Mountain High’ does not mean that we must stop from trying. Trying is essential, it is what our faith is all about and we do that by living each moment intentionally so that we can remember the light that dazzled from before and the peace and assurance that was revealed to us.
To live mindfully is to live with the transfiguration idea and message in your heart with the light guiding you step by step. It is awareness of all that you are doing and for what and who’s purpose. It is purposefully engaging each moment. It is noticing the crocus’ pop their yellow and purple heads out; it is hearing an elementary age child sound out a word and the seeing the joy of victory on the face. It is taking note of the seemingly small moments.
Intentional living grants us freedom and in that freedom we can discover joy.
I leave you with a story about Greg who lived a very ordinary life. Those of us looking from the outside in would call his life uneventful. His 35 years at a banking firm in Manhattan were steady and successful and he transitioned to retirement pretty effortlessly. He did well.
Of course there were disappointments in his life, he divorced once and the loss of one of his children was a critical juncture. It would be for any of us. Yet, he appeared to be a calm and peaceful, joy filled man. When asked, ‘What gives?’, ‘What helps you to see the proverbial glass half filled?’, he said, ‘Each morning before I get out of bed I pray simply, ‘I surrender. Meet me at every step and open my eyes.’ Greg understood how to negotiate life when the mountain top experiences were few and far between. Greg knew that life, incredible, abundant life, God filled, Christ centered life was really lived in the valley. And so he did.