Touching the Transcendent

TransfigurationToday we celebrate the second Sunday in Lent, and we read a familiar text, Luke’s version of the Transfiguration.

Jesus brings James and John to Mt. Tabor and there is transfigured before their eyes, his face being changed and his clothing as well. In addition, Moses and Elijah join him.

It is a difficult story for me, difficult because transcendent experiences are well within the realm of all of us human beings. Thus I am astounded at how obtuse the apostles remain through the balance of the gospels after this point.

In other words, was the event not earth shattering? After all, they see Jesus physically changed, they see dead men appearing with Jesus and he speaks to them, and then to top it all off, they hear what can only be the voice of God speaking to them!

What else do they need to know that they should from this moment forward do everything as the Master suggests and be sure that he is in fact the Lord?

Of course one may say the same of many other instances that they witnessed. Jesus brings the dead back to life, he walks on water, calms the seas, orders the nets to be lowered one more time. These are all transcendent moments in time, yet the apostles remain clueless again and again, or at least soon forget.

It is interesting to me that major events occur on mountains or near the sea. The Hebrew Scriptures tell a similar story. God gets people’s attention ofttimes on mountains as with Abraham or water as with Noah and Moses. Jesus, as I mentioned goes up on Mt. Tabor, and teaches from boats, walks on water, calms storms, and orders a grand catch of fish. Add in the events that occur in deserts, Jesus’ fasting, the wandering of the people for 40 years, and we can see that landscape plays a huge part in helping us to recognize the mysterious and other worldliness of faith.

It got me to thinking about how we are today, we humans.

Do we not still seek out these places?

And even the non-believer finds something magnificent happening to her spirit when confronted with vistas of mountains, or the expanse of desert or sea. We go to these places to “find ourselves”, to “unwind”, to “reconnect”, to get back to basics.” We have a hundred phrases for why we seek out such venues.

We know what happens when we visit or move to areas like this. We find peace and we find an ability to concentrate on the truly meaningful in life and not the superficial. There is nothing superficial about a mountain, ocean, or desert. They are raw and powerful. They sport unspeakable beauty but also much danger. We are awed. We are transformed.

We are  aware on some level that we are in the presence of something bigger than ourselves. We bow in our minds before such power. We acknowledge our limits as mere humans. We change within. We become something better than we were.

Now the non-believer may not put labels on these feelings of course, but I find it hard to see them as anything other than some innate, inborn recognition of our connectedness with the realms of the unseen. We can sense the majesty and holiness of such places because at least at the subconscious level we recognize them as the places where God and human meet.

No doubt Peter, James and John felt these same things and in a more powerful way, for most of us touch it in the beauty and power before us alone, and hear no voice from heaven placing an imprimatur upon one among us.

That is what I have never understood on a gut level. I’ve come to realize that it may have been more for literary device than actuality that these things occurred. Either the events themselves were not so amazing as depicted, or the apostles were not quite so lacking in true understanding. Probably it’s a little of both.

We may not all live near to mountains, deserts or oceans, yet the transcendent is always available to us. Think for a moment of the beauty of a newborn, the iridescence of the peacock, the perfection of the rose. Are not these moments in time when we stop in awe? When we catch our breaths, sigh in quiet joy, choke on words to describe, feel the moisture of sudden tears, we can be sure that we are in that moment where God and creature are meeting.

During this journey of Lent, we should look for these moments, for God is seeking us, and is all around us, offering us love and that connection we so crave. Stop, look and listen, and you will surely find it everywhere, much as did Peter, John and James did.

Let it transform you. Let it fill you. Let it become you.




1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Tim
    Feb 24, 2013 @ 14:01:05

    Do we not still seek out these places?

    Sherry, your question stopped me dead in my tracks. Of course, we do! And the soul’s longing for beauty and transcendence is in itself transcendent It surpasses religious culture and nominal theologies. It the call of God to the inward spirit that says, “Come spend time with Me.”

    Especially during Lent–but always–we should be eager to honor that invitation every chance we get.

    Thank you for such an enlightening reminder. It warms my heart and revives my mind!

    Many blessings,


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