August 6: Feast of the Transfiguration

“The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen…I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the blessed sacrament” Brother Lawrence 

My tile backsplash holds this quote on an index card. As I chop potatoes, knead dough, or prepare leftovers for the microwave, if I think to look up from my task, the index card catches my eye. 

Really? I think almost every time. I’m not sure I can speak as confidently as Brother Lawrence did. “The noise and clatter of my kitchen” sounds sacred when I imagine him saying it, but the din and disorder of my own home feels unconsecrated. With raucous children and a rambunctious puppy, racing in loops around the house, squealing in laughter and terror, teasing, taunting, provoking, encouraging — I think my house would be the exception to Brother Lawrence’s declaration. Compared to the quiet hush of the sanctuary and the contemplative posture of those who wait to receive the bread and the wine, my kitchen seems exactly the place that might obscure God’s presence — or, at least, my ability to grasp it, to dwell in it. 

So I understand — I know what Peter longs for on Mount Tabor. When he sees his beloved Jesus transfigured before him — the Jesus he has been arguing with over a future of suffering and death — when he recognizes the presence of Moses and Elijah as well, and when he and James and John are caught up in that divine glory, their faces shining with the same brilliance — how could Peter not know in his bones the singularity of the moment? How could he not grasp at it, terrified that it would end and he would descend the mountain? How could he not see it as a way out, a way not only of holding onto the present glory but also of avoiding the future suffering? 

Mountaintop Moments

We know these mountain moments when we experience them, and the difference between the mountain and the valley can often feel unbearable. How we long for the simplicity and beauty of those moments, when all the cares and concerns fade away, when we experience the presence and glory of God in ways we thought impossible. “It is good that we are here,” we say with Peter. “I will make three tents…” Stay, we say. Let us stay here with you, Lord. Let us hold onto this glory, leaving behind all the mundane tasks and responsibilities, all the pressing and demanding crowds. Let us forget about the suffering and death you’ve been harping on about. 

What Peter fails to grasp — and don’t we, as well? — is that the glory he has been drawn into, his own shining face, depends on that very suffering and death that terrifies, perhaps even repulses, him. On that mountain, the future presses in on the present, a taste of the glory that not only has been Jesus’ all along, but is also the future of all whom he brings to himself. And yet, the only way to bring them to himself is through the cross. 

Peter’s desperation to stay also misses the core of Jesus’ identity. What Peter sees on Mount Tabor is not an alternate reality; it is an unveiled reality. It was always true that Jesus is divine, the beloved Son of the Father. It was always true that through him God is really and truly present with his people. And it was always true that through Jesus we are drawn into the divine life ourselves, filled with the same glory that radiated from those who stood with Peter on Mount Tabor. These things will not cease to be when he descends the mountain. They will not vanish like some unattainable dream. When Peter descends, Jesus will come with him. And although his glory will be veiled, it will be none the less real. God will be none the less present — yes, even through the suffering and death Jesus has predicted. 

Glory in the Mundane

How easy it is for me to forget this. I long for the moments of glorious communion, the moments of stillness and solitude through which the radiance of God’s beauty pierce through the mundane minutes of my day. I long for an escape from the clamour and cries of neediness, from the persistence of chores that need to be attended to, again, from the disorder and disarray towards which everything in my home gravitates. 

I’m longing, of course, like Peter, to sidestep the cross. While some of my longing is motivated out of a desire for the tangible presence of God, the greater portion is selfishly motivated: I shrink from the self-sacrifice that lies before me. I want to bask in glory, without the suffering that it requires. I want to grasp the radiance for myself, forgetting that if I stay on the mountain, I deny the very self-giving nature of that glory. For I do not only descend to the cross; I also descend to the crowds. While Peter, James, and John were forbidden to tell anyone what they had seen, that moratorium has lifted, and we must bear witness. 

Like Peter, I too easily forget that leaving the mountain does not mean leaving behind the presence of God. He is present, as Brother Lawrence said, as much in my kitchen as in the bread and the wine. Not because of what my kitchen is — but because of who he is. 

And, too, he is present in the people who need me, in the home that I care for, and in the ordinary or chaotic moments of every day. He is here, though we may now see through a glass darkly. The more we give careful attention to his presence here, we train our eyes for the future vision of God. More than that, even — that future breaks into the present, in all its beauty and glory. 

Featured image: The Transfiguration of Christ, Peter Paul Rubens, 1605.