In the story about the Transfiguration, Jesus and his friends climb to a mountaintop where he finds a couple other well known persons, prophets as it were, who welcome him. They start chatting about various prophetic things, like who God is, how the air is different up there, and why the Nazarenes keep losing at baseball.
His clothes, at a special moment, become startlingly white, whiter than even my recently dry-cleaned chef’s jacket, and Peter gets the idea to build a sukkah because of this remarkably Holy Event. The voice of God, and in other books of the gospel a dove, announce that Jesus is the Son of God, the beloved, the anointed one. A sukkah is kind of a special tent that keeps you safe when your regular abode has proven to be unreliable.
This is my son, the beloved, listen to him the gospel reports that God says. Two weeks ago, we read at the beginning of his ministry, “repent and believe in the Gospel.” And we’ll read again a few times.
At some point, Christians will have to explain why we should repent and why we should believe, and why does this faith stuff matter? Does it provide any kind of visible difference? We presume it does: when we talk of faith, we are not simply making intellectual assertion about our belief, but are also talking about trust, confidence, and inspiration.
One assumption is that faith, or our trust, changes people. It is this faith helps us be open to our own transformation as well. We see a couple glimpses of what this looks like. The building of the sukkah, for example, is a way of building trust, a place of security. Jesus may not have needed it, but as a part of the parable it tells us something about the shape of Peter’s faith. He needed some security to experience the danger of holiness.
The ability to be transformed, or to be open to transformation, arises often when one feels emotionally safe. I wonder if this is what Peter was trying to do in suggesting building a little tent.
At the top of the mountain, furthermore, Jesus can see the grand view. Not just the crisis before him, not his immediate needs, but the long term plan. Now certainly it’s hard to consider the long term plan when you are worried about living or in survival mode. But at the top of the mountain is where Jesus is, and he can see the path that got him there, that he is part of the world, and part of a larger universe.
Jesus had seen the struggle of people who were in pain, and then he could see how it all fit together. He climbed, he did the work; he remembered the prophets who came before; and he had a vista to see.
Now the obvious challenges we face are physical, but the more painful ones are spiritual. The feeling of invisibility, of being ignored, of being discarded or expendable can lead individuals into addiction, depression, or rage.
A psychologist tells a story of Bill, who had no pleasant memories of childhood. He’d grown up in foster care. He didn’t even know what his mother looked like. One family regularly beat him. But he said, the physical pain wasn’t as difficult as the feeling that nobody was responsible for him. That nobody cared for him.
Bill was a generous, kind and loving person, so the psychologist asked him, how did he learn to be patient and kind? It turns out that for two decades he’d been in a remarkably healthy and loving marriage. He chose a partner with whom he could have emotional safety. It was obvious to the psychologist he was very proud of his wife and took joy in who she was, as she did in him.
Often men find their wive’s success to be threatening rather than reassuring. Instead, he had a real home in a partner who could provide him the healing he needed through offering a complete sort of love that allowed him to feel safe. Later he modeled his wife’s unselfish love through caring for his sick, biological parents.
This love can’t be commanded. We can’t just demand it from our partners. It’s not an intellectual project, or one that can be forced or demanded but it can be modeled. We can design a space to make it thrive. We can remove obstacles. And we begin by letting God love us
Where we are.
He lost his wife, however and he entered into a depression. But
In a decade he met a priest who took spiritual healing seriously, and who had after a laying on of hands had reduced Bill’s back pain.
Spiritual healing begins with empathy. Ritual healing, the liturgies, are expressions of a shared responsibility for pain, permission to express emotion, and a reverence of life. A circle of caring persons will lower blood pressure, relax pain, and even postpone death. This is the biology of love. It’s where the link between our experience of the natural and the supernatural become linked. Bill became inspired by healing and soon this became a part of his own ministry.
He believed, even though he had never before been religious, that through the faith of Christ we can physically channel and transform this love. It lives in people like Mandela, King, and Gandhi, and has potential in each one of us.
Bill had primary loving relationships that allowed him to endure and transform his pain. That is what we seek in our personal life, our public life, and ideally in our collective life as human beings. The faith we have, the love we receive, visibly changes us, in part because it gives us the confidence to be genuinely inspired by caring; it helps us foster stronger communities through trust, while giving us enough humility to recognize there are mysteries we don’t understand. It helps us build charity, courage, and humility.
I hope that as the pandemic subsides, we’ll be able to take the ways we’ve tried to stay connected virtually and see how both our physical and digital can enhance each other. This is, perhaps, our trek up the mountain, and perhaps once we’ve reached that moment of transformation we will also experience that inspiration that was bestowed upon Jesus, that we too are beloved, and in us He is well pleased.