August 7, 2014

Feast of the Transfiguration

Rule of Benedict reflection
M. Rebecca
Aug 6:  Vs 23-24: “Let us, however, ask the Lord with the prophet, and say to him: ‘Lord who will dwell in your tent?  Who will find rest on your holy mountain?  After this question, brothers, let us listen to the Lord answering, showing us the road to his tent.”

            Earlier when we commented on these verses we distinguished b/w ‘dwelling in the tent’ and resting on the mountain’:  The ‘tent’ was seen as our temporary dwelling since we are pilgrims on earth and the ‘mountain’ as our permanent, eternal dwelling in heaven.  So when the Lord says he will show us the road to His tent…it seems a mistake.  Shouldn’t it be to His mountain?  That is the road we desire; the road that leads to eternal life! 
            But let’s stick to our original interpretation and recall how our Early Church Fathers also referred to this temporal tent as ‘contemplation’ – the ‘tent of meeting’, of encountering God in this earthly life.  With that understanding, St Benedict is saying the Lord will show us the way to contemplation, to encounter God in this earthly life, not just in heaven but in this life, in this tent.  Jesus’ whole life can show us this way of encountering and dwelling with God.  However, the most profound contemplative or mystical experience mentioned in Scripture is the feast we celebrate today, the Transfiguration. 
            St Mark opens with “Jesus led them up on a high mountain by themselves.”   In a sermon by Anastasius who was a 7th century hermit as well as abbot of St Catherine’s Monastery on Mt Sinai, he comments:  Jesus goes before us to show us the way, both up the mountain and into heaven…let us share in this radiance; let Him renew our spiritual nature and transform us into his own likeness…raising us to heights as yet undreamed of.  He continues: Let us run with confidence and joy to enter the cloud like Moses and Elijah, like James and John.  Let us detach ourselves from creatures and turn to our Creator…let us deny ourselves so our mind and heart can rise to God. 
            So this is the road Jesus shows us.  It is demanding work that takes desire, determination, and discipline.  In Mark’s account, I think it is significant that in the verses prior to this ascent, Jesus tells the apostles “if you wish to come after me, deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me.”   As Anastasius said, it is only when we let go of things and creatures, even our self (!), that we can ascend to our Creator.  So we understand better why the Lord is showing us his tent, to this contemplation on earth…so that we too may receive the grace of transfiguration and transformation. 
            My favorite line in the Transfiguration event is the last line:  “When they had lifted their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus alone.”  This is a wonderful definition of contemplation – not only in the moment of prayer but in its lingering fruits.  As we pick up our tent to move along the way, we begin to see “Jesus alone”.  Everything begins to reveal Jesus Christ.  We begin to realize we cannot judge a day as bad, or prayer, or a person because Jesus is there in all things and events and people.  This is when mysticism begins.  Not when we see dazzling garments, lights, and clouds, but when all we see is “Jesus alone”.  We will be told in a few verses later of the Rule that this seeing is done with the heart!
            In the OT there is another ascent up a mountain to encounter God, Moses on Sinai.  What surprises me in the Exodus story of Moses’ ascent up the mountain that the people don’t want to go up with him.  They are afraid and they tell Moses, you go and tell us what God said…and “they stood afar off”.  They said they were afraid if God spoke to them they would die.  This brings us back to the verses right before the Transfiguration story in Mark’s gospel:  “Whoever desires to save his life will lose it.  But whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”  They did not follow the way to his holy mountain because they were afraid to die!......They were afraid to deny themselves and take up their cross…so they stood afar off!

So here is a question for reflection today:  Is there anything keeping me from following the road Jesus shows us?  Is there something I am afraid to die to?  Is there something that I need to die to?  Is there something that I desire to die to?...for Jesus alone.  Let us listen with the ear of our hearts because He desires to show us the way!

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