We have just heard the Gospel account for Sunday proclaimed. The story of the Transfiguration. We can see transformation or transfiguration often if we are aware and open our eyes to see.
Recently, I was at Lake Placid sitting by the large window watching the dawn break forth from the darkness to the light, observing the beauty of creation coming clearer minute by minute. Here at the Monastery, one can see the bright red dawn being transformed into the new day. Or one can observe a picture being painted beginning with a few abstract lines and being transformed into a beautiful painting. Or living and watching each season be transformed into a new landscape. Or experiencing the hardness of heart within in a person and seeing it transformed into a softer, gentler, and loving heart. These are only a few of the miracles of transfiguration that surround us.
Before the transfiguration of Jesus, there was the climb up the mountain. Mount Tabor is steep, rugged, and hard to climb. Speaking of mountains, I’ve climbed three mountains in the past, the Andes foothills in Chile, the Andes in Bolivia, and Vesuvius in Italy. Each one had its own challenge of sand, strong winds, and rugged rocks so it could have been easy to slip and lose one’s balance. It also required determination and endurance. It is like life which also has its daily challenges as we aspire to follow Jesus and to better ourselves.
In Scripture, a mountain refers to being closer to God, experiencing the presence of God, or seeking a very special relationship with God. In the Gospel narratives Luke is the only one that speaks of “on the next day” when they came down from the mountain. So the transfiguration probably took place at night and would have appeared much more glorious than during the daytime.
Luke also is the only Gospel writer that states that Jesus went up the mountain for the purpose of praying. We hear that Jesus went up the mountain to pray in other parts of Scripture, too. But why did Jesus take his three closest disciples Peter, James, and John with him? Maybe it was for support just as they were with him in the Garden of Olives, maybe it was to prepare them for his suffering in Jerusalem, or to prepare them for his death and resurrection. We can only speculate, but they do seem so sleepy just as they were in the Garden of Olives. This also makes it appear like it was night time.
Moses and Elijah are in conversation with Jesus. Both of these men were prophets. Moses was the great leader and liberator who had experienced God on the mountain. Elijah was a celebrated prophet, a miracle worker who also experienced God on the mountain. Jesus, too, was a prophet, a miracle worker, a liberator of the Israelites and of all of us. Jesus did not identify with the kings and priests of his time who maintained its establishments and developed its institutions; rather, Jesus was with the prophets and the little ones warning Israel about not abandoning the covenant. We hear Jesus calling us today to be faithful to our covenant, too.
Peter immediately wanted to stay in this place where it was dazzling, peaceful, and beautiful, but that is not the reality of life. Then they hear the powerful words from the voice of God, “Listen, be not afraid.” St. Benedict speaks that word “listen” to us in the opening sentence of the Rule. This is a word we need to repeat daily and practice, for deep listening is not easy. Also, genuine transformation begins with deep listening to God at work in our lives and entering into radical turnaround in ways large and small. We also can not let fear control us or conquer us. We hear the words “Be not afraid” multiple times in Scripture.
After this awesome happening, they journey back down the mountain where they again experience the sick, the crippled, the poor, and the marginalized. They went back to the reality of daily living, and yet they must have kept this experience of Jesus in their hearts just as we retain special times of experiencing Jesus in our lives.
Lent is our journey to transfiguration. Daily we climb a rugged, steep mountain trying to stay close to Jesus so as not to lose our way, lose our balance, or even fall. Every day has its struggles—physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. We have our moments of experiencing Jesus on the mountain and caring for and ministering to God’s people. By listening, reflecting daily in our prayer, and keeping these thoughts daily in our hearts, we are gifted with strength, courage, wisdom, and grace to continue our journey.
The desert monastics tell this story: A seeker on a prayer rug saw cripples, beggars, and the beaten passing by. The seeker cried out in deep prayer, “Great God, if you are a great God, how is it that a loving creator can see such things and do nothing about them?” Out of the silence, the voice of God came back, “I did do something about them. I made you.”
So transformation/transfiguration is for each one of us—for the sake of other souls and for the sake of our own soul. These weeks of Lent can be compared to climbing the mountain to experience the transfigured Jesus at Easter and to trust and believe that God is with us on every step of the journey.
—Sister Theresa Spinler 2011