Today’s reading should make us feel right at home. The traditional site of the transfiguration of Jesus is Mt. Tabor, the mountain rising out of the plains in northern Palestine. Portlander, Plympton Kelly is thought to have given our Mt. Tabor its name, after the one in Palestine. Perhaps his view from the summit lifted him to heights of transfiguration at its summit. Perhaps the angle of the sun catching the fall yellow leaves caused them to glow as from an inner light. Glory at the summit! If you know the real story, I would love to hear it!
So, our geographical location shares a name with the place of transfiguration in the life of Jesus.
Further, spiritual people I have met over the years of Taborspace have told me that Mt. Tabor is in an energy vortex. And Mt. Tabor Presbyterian Church is built right in line with that flow of energy. So I looked up “energy vortex” on the internet and found some interesting material. What most intrigued me was people’s experience of an energy vortex. One site said: “(Vortexes) are highly conducive to spiritual activities like prayer, meditation, and healing. Many vortexes are reported to bring feelings of peace, harmony, balance, and tranquility, while others are believed to promote personal reflection, deep insight, and a clear mind. Others still act as powerful centers of physical or emotional rejuvenation….. One thing common to almost all energy vortexes is their ability to make visitors feel more connected to themselves and to something greater, whether that be God or the Universe itself.” [https://www.bemytravelmuse.com/energy-vortexes-around-the-world/]
As a church, a sacred space, these are the kinds of things we hope and pray that people will experience here. And I have seen many people innocently walking through the sanctuary to get to the bathroom who are brought up short to see the soaring wood ceilings, the low light from the stained glass and glowing candles. They open their eyes wide, upward, they take in their breath, and pause, for a holy timeless moment. I see it and believe that this is a place where people feel more connected to the divine presence in the world.
Okay, tell me I am wandering in the borders of “woo-woo.” You may be right. But the story of the transfiguration leads me to these places. What happened to Jesus, or what the disciples saw in Jesus on that day is a bit of “woo-woo.” That doesn’t mean it isn’t true. I believe it is true. It is simply beyond what the logical mind can understand. But we shouldn’t be too surprised about that. God is, by definition, beyond our knowledge. We can only see the divine in glimpses, or from the back, because divinity is so much beyond our human capacity. I wonder if one can be a follower of Jesus, one who is filled with the Spirit of Jesus, without being on the outskirts of “woo-woo.” The truth is that we can’t explain God. We can’t explain how we know Jesus’ voice when we hear it. We can’t write a formula for the energy of Spirit pulsing through us to produce light.
The transfiguration was a moment in liminal space. A liminal space in time is the space between what was and what is next. It is a place of transition. The word comes from the Latin word for “threshold.”
The moment of transfiguration was a threshold for Jesus and for the disciples. This is the turning point when Jesus leaves his public teaching and healing ministry and sets his face to go to Jerusalem, teaching his disciples along the way about his death. For the church Transfiguration Sunday is the threshold from Epiphany, the grand divine display of the Jesus as the light of the world, to Lent, the days of knowing we are losing something we don’t want to lose. Lent is the time when we set aside the normal, marked by ashes, and walk a little bit differently for seven weeks. That bit of “different” is our disciplined reminder to pay attention, to notice the thresholds on our journey, to get glimpses of what God is doing in our lives now. Sometimes, it is openness to seeing what is dying in us, so that what is new has room to come in. This is the discipline of giving up something for Lent – that we let something of ourselves go in order to be more open to what is coming into the world.
In his meditation on Liminal Space, Richard Rohr comments that “we often remain trapped in what we call normalcy–‘the way things are.’ Life then revolves around problem-solving, fixing, explaining, and taking sides with winners and losers. To get out of this unending cycle, we have to allow ourselves to be drawn into sacred space, into liminality. All transformation takes place here. We have to allow ourselves to be drawn out of “business as usual” and remain patiently on the “threshold” (limen, in Latin) where we are betwixt and between the familiar and the completely unknown.” [“Liminal Space,” Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation, July 7, 2016″]
Times of distress, exertion, or deprivation, break down our normal perceptions of reality. These are liminal spaces where we may hear the voice of God more clearly.
One way I began to wonder about the transfiguration of Jesus this week was along these lines. The disciples made this thousand-foot climb, and may not have taken 2 liters of water per person, or may have forgotten their trail mix. They were exhausted. They had no energy to keep up their boundaries. Their senses were allowed to wander. And for some reason, this was the moment when they were able to see Jesus for who he really was.
If you want to stretch a little, notice that the story is introduced withe the words, “after six days.” Why this number? Most often in scripture, numbers are there for a reason. First, what happened six days before this? It was the day Peter declared that Jesus was the Messiah, then moments later criticizes Jesus’ teaching that he will be arrested, tortured and killed. Peter’s declaration of Jesus as the Messiah was not a liminal moment. He did not let his ordinary expectations fall to the ground, in order to see what was ahead. Instead he clung to the teachings of his lifetime that the Messiah would be a great and powerful, victorious king who would return the kingdom to the Jews. Death was not part of this story line.
The disciples, especially Peter (James and John, too) needed a liminal moment. So Jesus took them on an “extreme” excursion. They trudged up this mountain, and were so exhausted or out of their element, that they could not fight it, and the reality of who Jesus was broke through for them. “This is my Beloved. Listen to him!” It seems like this was particularly for Peter, who had not listened to Jesus begin to talk about death. Listen to him, the voice insisted. Don’t reject the teaching about suffering and death. It is part of the journey. Listen deeply. This is good, though it is not obvious. Death is not about not being beloved. It never is.
After six days in the cloud on the mountain, Moses heard the voice of God speak. After six days comes the sabbath, a day set aside to be with God.
And on the sixth day God created human beings, the image of God. I think there is a deliberate parallel here. One way to see the transfiguration is that the liminal moment opened their eyes to see the image of God in Jesus. Jesus was so much more than a carpenter, or a rabbi, or a friend. Jesus was light and glory. Yes, Jesus was uniquely composed of glory, yet so much of the time that was hidden behind his flesh and blood appearance. Appearances are not what they seem.
The reality we live is that we, too, are much more than appearances. We usually live tented lives, so that our light is hidden, so that the light of the image of God is hidden to us, until the curtain of normalcy disintegrates and we see.
Transfiguration Sunday may just be as much about us, in our shared humanity with Jesus, as it is about Jesus alone. Perhaps is it a day to celebrate that we, too, are beloved. Perhaps it is a day to be reminded that God sees us as we are, through the eyes of love, created to be glory and light. It is the space where we are seen as we are.
In our human lives, we judge people as fast as we meet them. Tattoos mean this, gray hair means that. Living in a street tent means this. Shopping at Tiffany’s means that. We put people in boxes which help us sort and manage our reality. But what if under that shopper is the light of God? What if under that tent of dirt is glory? What if tattoos and gray hair are just window dressing for the beloved of God? Would we flop down on the ground and say, “Woe is me for I have beheld the divine?”
At the moment of Transfiguration, the disciples saw Jesus as he really was underneath the tent of his skin – his incarnation. What do we see when we see each other, or the creation, as we really are underneath our incarnation? In light of transfiguration, we see that we are all light. We are all the image of God. We are seen as we really are. When we begin with the assumption that all are beloved, it changes the journey.
Someone I talked to this week talked about her experience of driving in traffic. That is her test for how she is doing that day. She recently learned a perspective-changing device. Now when a driver cuts her off, or drives by too fast in a ridiculously tricked out car, she asks, “I wonder what makes them happy?” That car! Getting home on time to pick up the kids! “I wonder what makes them happy,” allows her to see the other person as human, a person just like herself with dreams and sorrows, frustrations and joys. And it frees her from the judgment which causes her to suffer.
Today is the last Sunday of Epiphany. The moment of the most glorious and obvious revelation of the light. The namers of Mt. Tabor tied us to this story. We are people who gather to be seen as we really are.
As we enter Lent this year, may this story accompany us. May the assurance that God sees us as we truly are – beloved – may this glory accompany us through Lent. As you consider what discipline you take on for Lent, remember that it is a liminal space. What will help you to open to the threshold to the divine presence in your life? What will open you? Even if it makes you a little uncomfortable? You have three more days before Ash Wednesday. Come and mark the moment of beginning, the moment of turning your face to Jerusalem with Jesus, seeing glory under and through his suffering. Seeing glory under and through your own life journey.
You are seen as you really are – beloved and glorious!