by Sister Theresa Spinler
This Sunday we hear in the Gospel of Mark the story of the Transfiguration. Mark tends to write straight forward, leaving out details that the other Gospel writers include. Interestingly, John does not mention the Transfiguration at all, although he was one of the apostles chosen to be with Jesus on the mountain.
What would it have been like to be present at the Transfiguration? Certainly, it was an unexpected happening. They were caught unprepared. What would we do? What would we say? Would we be frightened? Would we be curious? Would we be speechless? It would surely have remained imprinted in our minds and hearts.
In truth, we do experience transfigurations daily, if we have eyes to see them, but certainly not to that degree. One of my favorite times of the day is early morning, sitting and observing the new dawn come forth. Each day brings a new view of creation, as light creeps up into the darkness. I observe how the wind transforms and sculpts snow, ice, and sand into picturesque beauty. I stand in darkness and watch the aurora borealis, or marvel at the new life of plants sprouting forth in springtime. These are all transfigurations.
As we listen to the Gospel story, Jesus chooses three apostles to go with him up Mount Tabor. Now Mount Tabor is a steep mountain, rough and difficult to climb, and it takes a good amount of determination and endurance. Mountains are often mentioned in Scripture and usually involve being closer to God, experiencing the presence of God, or seeking a relationship with God. The apostles probably felt an excitement to have been chosen to be with Jesus alone.
When they reach the top, they had to be tired. Mark does not mention this, but the other Gospels do. The apostles lie down to rest and begin to fall sleep, when suddenly a bright light shone, and Jesus is changed. There are two people with Him: Moses and Elijah. How do they know who they are? Moses was a prophet known for leading the people out of oppression. Elijah also was a prophet and was called by King Ahab ‘the troublemaker of Israel’. Jesus also is a prophet and is considered a troublemaker by the scribes and pharisees. Jesus chooses to appear with these two rather than with royalty such as King David. And finally, Moses and Elijah both had encountered God on a mountain.
Peter wants to stay in this place, where it was dazzling, peaceful, and beautiful — but that is not the reality of life. They hear the powerful word from the voice of God, “Listen to Him and be not afraid.” St. Benedict uses that word ‘listen’ in the opening of the Rule. This is a word we need to repeat daily and to practice, for deep listening is not easy. Genuine transformation begins with deep listening: to others and to God at work in our lives. It leads to radical turnaround in ways large and small. We cannot let fear control us. We must speak and live our truth. We hear the words “be not afraid” many times in Scripture.
After this powerful experience, they leave this place of peace and come back down the mountain, back to real life – the sick and crippled people and the noisy, dirty marketplace. They return to the reality of living, but they keep this experience in their hearts and discuss it among themselves. They all must have seen something different, for none of us see the same thing, even we observe the same event.
Lent is our journey to transfiguration, to transformation. We desire to ascend the mountain to have a closer relationship with God, but it can be difficult and steep. We can lose our way, stumble, lose our balance, and even fall. Every day we face struggles, whether physically, spiritually, or emotionally. At times we do experience Jesus on the mountain, but we cannot stay there. We must return to the reality of living as every-day people, coping with daily ups and downs. Through our daily prayer, deep listening, and reflection, God gives us strength, courage, wisdom, and grace to continue our journey.
A desert monastic tells this story: a seeker sat on a prayer rug and saw cripples, beggars, and the beaten passing by. The seeker cried out in deep prayer, “Great God, if you are a great God, how can a loving creator see such things and do nothing about them?” Out of the long silence, the voice of God came back, “I did do something about them. I made you.” And that is each one of us.
So, transfiguration and transformation are for each of us. During these weeks of Lent we climb our own mountains to experience Jesus. With deep listening and fearless hearts, we learn to trust and believe that God is with us every step of the journey. May our lives be transformed with new hope and illuminated by new light.