So what exactly happened on the mountain? The blinding light, the Cloud of Unknowing, the overwhelming fear, a voice saying this is my Beloved – listen to him. Whatever else might be said, the disciples came face to face with the profound mystery of God in Jesus Christ.
Jesus is always more than meets the eye. In the Transfiguration, something more is let out of the Divine bag. Jesus was offering them a glimpse of divine intimacy that terrified the disciples, causing Peter to start babbling about building housing for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. It must have been a spectacular sight though, seeing Jesus radiating like the sun in divine spender and sitting back in a sacred gaze to contemplate the divine presence in front of your face.
Cistercian Monk Thomas Merton had an extraordinary moment of transfiguration. Writing in his diary he said;
“In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness…As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.”
We too have mountain-top moments of “transfiguration” in our lives. There are times when looking into the face of somebody who loves us so deeply that words fail, that their face takes on more than meets the eye. There are encounters with nature’s displays; eagles swooping, roses in full bloom, babies being born, exquisite sunsets, the night’s sky glistening with stars beyond number. Intimate and powerful moments that are difficult to comprehend. They can only be received and believed and lived and gazed upon. Moments that just take our breath away. But it’s not quite so easy to recognize the divine presence on Fourth and Walnut in Louisville or on Bryant and Broadway in north Minneapolis.
The story of the Transfiguration can be overwhelming and astounding in so many ways but it might be easy for us to miss that it’s about the holiness that is right in front of us. It seems that Jesus is trying to get the boys to look in the mirror and to see what they so far have failed to see, and thus not understood. Despite all the healings, the miracles, the teachings, and even the voice of God calling Jesus his Beloved, they still are missing the divine right in front of their face; the Holy in the Ordinary.
And wouldn’t you think that if you or I were witness to Jesus’ transfiguration the way the disciples did, that it would be a life-changing event that would forever transform our vision and understanding of Jesus’ presence in and around us? Maybe not. It wasn’t long after this that Peter would deny he even knew Jesus and the rest of the disciples would run away in fear. Perhaps Jesus instructed them not to say anything to anyone because he knew they did not get it, they did not get him. They did not understand that this extraordinary experience of the divine is the same holiness found in the ordinary. They couldn’t see their own reflection in the divinity of Christ. Clearly, the Transfiguration didn’t fix that for them.
Our five senses are wonderful gifts from God but we often make the mistake of thinking that reality is nothing more than what our senses perceive it to be. So God gives us occasional mountaintop experiences, glimpses into realities that our senses can’t normally detect. When we take the time to recognize God’s presence in everyone and everything around us, we really can encounter God, who can transform our lives.
St. Clare of Assisi tells us, without a mirror, it is impossible to see ourselves. But if we look at ourselves through the mirror of Christ, we begin to see a radically different self than the one we thought we were. To witness our own transfiguration and to hear ourselves be called, Beloved is a powerful and life-changing thing.