When I was in college at Saint Bonaventure University, I was very involved in campus ministry. In that rural area of Western New York State, we were fortunate to have access to a mountain retreat not far from campus established by the Franciscan friar community. Named Mt. Irenaeus, after the great father of the church St. Irenaeus of Lyons, and a Franciscan Friar who took his name, the place was and remains not only a place of great natural beauty and retreat, – including a beautiful wood-framed chapel, home, and several hermitages – but a vibrant welcoming community consisting of Franciscan brothers, priests, and lay people, as well as an extended local and national community.
It was a blessing to be part of this ministry during my time as a college student, and I return to “the Mountain” (as we call it) – often – to both see the Franciscans and others who live in community there, and to make a retreat.
Though I have to admit, I’ve never had a mountaintop retreat like the one Peter, James and John got in today’s Gospel reading!
Today the church celebrates the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord. We recall the revelation of Jesus as the Christ at the top of Mount Tabor, where his closest disciples have the experience of Christ’s glory – that is as beautiful, as it is unexpected. It comes at a time when Jesus begins to prepare them for the challenges and suffering that await him – and them. So it is during this time that Jesus is calling his disciples to embrace a new aspect of their journey with him. Like the vision of the Ancient One recounted in the first reading, the Transfiguration comes during a period of crisis. Ancient Israel’s was coming to understand the divine promise that even as the rulers of the world vie for passing power, God is ultimately the one who reigns. The disciples are learning that lesson as well in today’s Gospel.
There are times we can feel overwhelmed in our lives by challenges, circumstances, or just the noise of it all. Today’s readings remind us that we – like the disciples – need to step aside from it for a time. If we let ourselves take some time to get away and pray or to silence the noise in our lives, even if only for a few hours – even for a few minutes! – while we may not have a vision of Jesus in his glory in front of us, we nevertheless experience the power of God’s transfiguring power in our own lives. The quiet can open us up to God’s voice in our own hearts, reminding us we are loved, that our lives matter, and that God holds the world – and our lives – together. That contemplative quiet is part of the beauty of God which I and others experience when we go on retreat to Mt. Irenaeus, for example.
During these summer days, maybe you are feeling the gentle nudge of God to begin this practice for a few minutes each day, or to step away from your normal routine. Even if you can’t go to a mountain or far away, make some time to visit a local park, or carve out a phone free / computer free day or part of a day. This can be hard at first; many of us are not accustomed to dealing with silence or with the thoughts that come up when we try to be silent. But allowing yourself to experience those thoughts, and that little bit of uneasiness – It can help begin a new spiritual practice.
The Gospel says that the Transfiguration of Christ had a profound impact on those three disciples, even if they didn’t fully realize it right away – or know what to do with it! Similarly, we might think taking this down time in our lives isn’t having any impact, until we discover that we are more centered during our workday. If we get angry easily, we may find we are more tolerant. If we are going through a difficult moment, we may find it just a bit easier to persevere. The joys in our lives might be savored a bit more. That is God’s power transfiguring our hearts and spirits, and reminding us, just as God spoke out of the cloud naming Jesus as Beloved, that we too are beloved of God.
The God who loves us and wants us to share in that love at the mountaintops of our lives also calls us to live out that love in the valleys we experience. The celebration of the Eucharist, especially each Sunday, can also be a common spiritual mountaintop moment of transfiguration for all of us, as we hear God’s Word spoken and participate in Christ’s love for us in his body broken and blood poured out. And we go forth, knowing that if we embrace our true identity as God’s beloved children, each day is part of God’s grace transforming and transfiguring us together to reflect the divine glory.
May God give you peace!