There’s a story in the bible that takes place just before Jesus enters his final weeks of life. Jesus takes his closest friends up to a mountain to pray. His friends were used to him going off to pray, but this time he invited them to go with him. For some reason, I don’t imagine them being very excited about going off to any prayer meeting. I wouldn’t be! But, I’m sure the opportunity to be alone with him was what really enticed them to go off to pray.
A surprising thing happened on that mountain. Here’s how the scripture describes it:
Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah’—not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!’ When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen (Luke 9:28-36).
Something interesting happened on that mountain. What actually happened is not available to us. Obsessing about what happened or what could have happened or explaining the physics behind what could or couldn’t have happened is a compete waste of time.
What is important is that something happened. This wasn’t an event just made up. What is remembered is usually filtered through hindsight and experience. And there’s nothing wrong with that. There is a relationship between history remembered and history metaphorized. Stories are powerful for the truths and principles they illustrate. The question we really want to ask ourselves is: What does this teach us about God, ourselves, and our faith?
One obvious principle we notice from this passage is that spiritual peaks come and go. We don’t know when they will happen, but they will happen. We can never predict them. We can never create them. We can’t repeat them. They happen when they happen.
Luke chronicles five previous times Jesus goes off to pray. Nothing out of the usual or disruptive (unless you count his friends interrupting him to tell him someone was looking for him) occurred each of those times he prayed. Jesus goes off and prays. That’s it. In fact, the first time Luke records Jesus going off to pray was when he went into the wilderness to pray for forty days. Hardly a peak experience! And that’s the point. Most of Jesus’ life and ministry was long periods of ordinariness with occasional highlight events.
I’ve lived in two states that didn’t have mountains: Massachusetts and Texas. It took me awhile to get used to only having hills for perspective. When I lived in California and Colorado, the mountains provided my sense of direction. I used the mountains as a guide for direction. It was the only way I could determine which way was north, south, east, or west. Hills gave me a limited perspective beyond the horizon, but the mountains also gave me a sense of direction.
God is constantly present in our lives. Our awareness of that presence is mostly a matter of perception and trust, whether we’re in the valley, the flatlands, the hills, or the mountains of life. It’s a matter of paying attention to God speaking to us in and through the ordinary as well as the momentous. Jesus’ friends were weighed down with sleep, I think because praying was so boring. Thankfully, they managed to stay awake. Otherwise, they would have missed the incredible experience they witnessed with Jesus, Moses, Elijah, and God.
This story known to us as the Transfiguration marks the Sunday before Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday kicks off the season of Lent as preparation for Easter. We move through the seasons as we move through life, a continuous cycle of beginnings and endings, new life and death. Ordinary, seemingly mundane until something disrupts us, jolting us awake to pay attention differently to what is going on around us.
Something transfiguring is happening in my grief. I’m still shrouded in the cloud, but I am not alone … and I am listening.