“Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves.” Wow, can you imagine being one of these disciples, one of the lucky ones to see Jesus transfigured before your eyes, overshadowed by divine glory? Dazzling to all who beheld him, Jesus’ mystical identity was revealed on that mountain, in public view. For that brief moment, the disciples witnessed the dynamic, radiant energy of God from the core of what is really real, shining forth from Jesus.
Naturally they are overwhelmed and speechless and want to hold onto this mystical revelation. However, their path leads right back to the plains and valleys: to healing an epileptic child and journeying toward the violence and betrayal of Jerusalem. The world returns, with all its hectic circus. But something changed; the disciples feel strengthened and ready to deal with the world’s aches and pains, because of their time on the mountaintop with Jesus.
There is much to ponder here. First of all, the mountain. While most “theophanies” (divine revelations) in the Hebrew Scriptures take place on a mountain, its broader symbolism is in the fact that often it seems that we — we in all time and place — need to remove ourselves from the daily grind of life in order to increase our predisposition to “see God.”
Like Jesus and the disciples, we too need to go away sometimes to be alone with God, as on a retreat. In that sacred place, that “thin” place where heaven and earth touch so tangibly, the disciples see Jesus transfigured, with clothes dazzling white. This divine encounter changed not just Jesus, but the disciples too. I’m sure we can sympathize with Peter when he suggests building tents in order to sustain the experience of glory, where God seems so near. But the gifts of vision and insight that the Transfiguration imparts come not as a goods in themselves, but rather come with the power to strengthen the disciples, and us, for the trials that still lie ahead.
What is really revealed on that mountain? Jesus, the perfection of humanity clothed in divinity. In his life and teaching, dying and rising, Jesus opened the way for us all to claim our fullest human potential, to become fully alive in God. The way Jesus died on the cross showed us how not to let sin have defining power nor have the last word about who and whose we are, and how to grow into God’s image and likeness which resides in each person from the beginning of creation. Jesus, the embodiment of God, opened a path into radiant fullness of life. St. Ireneaus said, “The glory of God is a human being fully alive.” Each of us has the potential to become fully alive, radiating God’s glory in our own corner of creation. Our sinfulness need not be the obstacle we often make it to be. Jesus overcame the bondage of sin and death by infusing God’s unconditional love and mercy into every corner where the evil one hides, even in our feeble spirits.
Seeing the world from God’s glorious point of view is possible for us all. The ordinariness of our lives has the capacity to be transfigured into the extraordinary splendour of God’s glory. Saints and sages, writers and poets regularly remind us of this. Gerald Manley Hopkins wrote, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.” Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote, “Earth’s crammed with heaven; and every common bush afire with God; but only he who sees, takes off his shoes. The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.” Alice Walker in The colour Purple wrote in Celie’s voice, “I think it pisses God off if you walk by the colour purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it. People think pleasing God is all God cares about. But any fool living in the world can see it always trying to please us back.”
Julian of Norwich wrote of seeing all of God’s care for creation in the tiny hazelnut resting in her hand. Etty Hillesum, a young Dutch woman, wrote from the brutality of Auschwitz, “The misery here is quite terrible and yet, late at night when the day has slunk away into the depths behind me, I often walk with a spring in my step along the barbed wire; time and again it soars straight from my heart — I can’t help it, that’s just the way it is, like some elementary force — the feeling that life is glorious and magnificent.” The Trappist monk Thomas Merton describes his “transfiguration” moment at a St. Louis street corner as follows: “I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all these people . . . I saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. To me they seemed to be walking around shining like the sun.” Finally, a dear prairie friend wrote on his Facebook page just the other day, “I stood and looked out the window this morning as the sun crept in. The sparkling snow and dark tree shadows were amazing; one of the great benefits of fresh, clean snow and cold weather.”
These saints and sages, writers and poets remind us that it is not a question of needing to see otherworldly, supernatural things. Rather, it is a matter of seeing the same ordinary things with new eyes. We do not need to hear a different voice, but rather need to hear the same ordinary voice with different ears. The world is truly charged with God’s glory, and it truly does sadden God if we live even one day without noticing, without letting divine glory penetrate our perception of reality and buoy our drooping spirits.
Transfiguring moments are waiting to be seen, felt, touched and heard every day. When such a divine encounter envelops us, filling us with awe, as it did the disciples with Jesus, we open ourselves to its transformative power in us once we come down from the mountaintop. When this happens life acquires a depth of meaning and richness in purpose unrivalled by anything else. When this happens, life’s struggles and challenges, instead of burdening and disintegrating us, can become charged with deeper vision and greater intentionality, allowing us to bear them more gently and courageously. It is as if God is still saying to us through Jesus: “This is my beloved Son, listen; you are my beloved creation, my beloved people — do not fear and let us love you.”
Ternier-Gommers, wife, mother and grandmother, is a retreat leader and spiritual director, freelance writer and author of two books. She has worked in diocesan and parish ministry, in ecumenical dialogues and ministry, and co-ordinates an ecumenical network of women in ministry. Visit her website at www.prairie-encounters.ca and her blog at https://graceatsixty.wordpress.com