Feast of the Transfiguration
Gone are the days when a superior or a bishop or a senator could say: This is the way it is, so just consent to what I want. Now, there would be a storm of protest demanding to know the reasons and offering alternative possibilities. There is a demand for explanations and transparency. Under the table or behind the scenes secret deals are objects of severe scrutiny and investigation. This extends to all sorts of knowledge not universally available. Even scientists are questioned about the biases they bring to their experiments. The mysterious and esoteric are confined to subjective preferences, tolerated as long as they don’t intrude on the public square. It is better to discount what Jung called sacrosanct unintelligibility.
The liturgy and Scriptures, however seem to persist in maintaining a world of mystery, darkness, the inaccessible and unexplainable. A world in which some are set apart. These things are revealed to little ones, but not the wise and learned. Jesus speaks in parables so that they will NOT understand. The intention seems to be to hide, not to reveal. Speak to us plainly. Is Jung is right? Are we in the land of mystification, not communication?
But even in our daily mundane world, we have not totally banished sacred spaces and times for secrets. There are some things we need to share, but sense that we need receptive and sympathetic ears. Come apart with me. There is a communication possible in therapy sessions, confessions, or support groups that just can’t happen in normal situations. I’m telling you this in confidence. The word confidential denotes a mutual trust that is shared between speaker and listener. We trust together. The one who listens must broaden the tents of understanding and can be changed in the process. The words need a soft landing in sympathy, resonance, non-judgmentalism, the poverty of not having an answer. If the revelation is misunderstood, used against the speaker, or just discounted, the sense of betrayal and isolation can go very deep. We all carry secrets that veil parts of our being. For some of us, the pain of concealment can be a heavy burden. The mystery of our own being only gradually becomes known and can be a surprise to us as well as to others. We usually need to be led into this mystery.
Jesus took Peter, James, and John and led them up a high mountain by themselves. They were not tourists on a sight-seeing excursion. The mountain is the proverbial place for encountering God. Moses and Elijah had conversed with God on the mountain which was a threshold, a limen, between the divine and the human. They were transformed and rededicated to a new mission to their people. The mountain is the scene of solitude and this converse with God that we call prayer. It strips one of all pretense and artifice and turns the face to gaze at the face of God in wonder and awe. Prayer and praise reflect the face of God’s glory. The initiative was taken by Jesus, but the revelation and theophany were for the disciples’ sake. They were invited into a sharing of the intimacy and union Jesus enjoyed with his Father. It was a knowledge that would slowly transform their understanding of Jesus and of the future they now shared with him. They, too, would be changed even though the reality exceeded their comprehension. A bright cloud cast a shadow over them…. They fell prostrate, very much afraid.
Jesus revealed himself as the everlasting and final bridging of the division between the human and the divine. He showed himself to be the full possibility of humanity, the meeting of heaven and earth, of the old and new dispensations of God’s mercy and loving kindness. In revealing himself, he revealed the new capacities of his disciples. This was indeed a liminal experience into which they were led and initiated. The darkness of mystery requires a new level of trust and surrender which reveals the building of substantial tents as a distraction. As St. Irenaeus said: The glory of God is the human fully alive. And the glory of the human is the vision of God. The vision of God now reveals itself in the face of the human and creation. In liturgy, prayer, and life we are invited to behold the face of God.
The world is charged with the grandeur of God. It will flame out, like shining from shook foil. (Gerard Manley Hopkins, The Grandeur of God.)