In today’s Gospel passage, Peter, James, and John are in for a real treat. Jesus invites just the three of them to accompany Him to a mountaintop. Once they arrive, Jesus is “transfigured” before them, robes, white and brilliant, in place of His dusty traveling clothes. But that’s not all: Elijah and Moses appear also brilliantly garbed and Jesus begins talking with them.
At this point, Peter, never lacking something to say, suggests that they erect tents (called tabernacles in some translations). “Rabbi, it is good that we are here! Let us make three tents: one for You, one for Elijah, and one for Moses.” The climax comes when the mountaintop is engulfed by a cloud and out of the cloud comes a voice: “This is my beloved Son. Listen to Him.” Wow!
In the Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius suggests a particular form of prayer that utilizes our imagination as a method for moving into a Bible story and attempting to experience it through the senses. This Gospel passage begs to be prayed this way:
Here is how such a prayer might proceed: Settling into a prayer mode, after having read the passage, we ask questions like: Looking at the detail of the scene, what can we see? How does it feel up there? Hot? Windy? Dusty? What do we hear? When the cloud comes and then the voice speaks from it, what is going on?
As we replay the scene in our imagination, what place do we take? What’s our view? That of Peter, James, or John? An additional apostle? Jesus Himself? Something or someone else? As the scene continues to play out, eventually we come down from the mountain. How do we feel? Relieved? Disappointed? Any new insights? Any surprises? How are we moved to pray as we end the experience?
Most of us have had “mountaintop” experiences. For some of us, a recent one was the recent Inauguration Day, its many activities and festivities. For others, a “perfect” vacation that unfolded even better than what was planned, refreshing and fun. Maybe a family celebration, full of love and positive reconnection with all involved.
Like Peter, James, and John, we may have been reluctant to come down and re-enter the reality of everyday, full of its opportunities, inevitable challenges, and hard work. We might, therefore, ask of what use are such experiences if they cannot last?
The prayer experience from above may have given some answers to this. Let me suggest just a few more: Recalling the event may bring us encouragement when we sorely need it, a healthy dose of gratitude when there appears nothing else to be thankful for in the day, or the motivation to plan for future such experiences. Any of these and more can be avenues for again touching the Divine in ourselves or the memory of others. It seems that may be reason enough!
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