Sunday, February 18, 2007

It will be different when you get down off the mountain...

Transfiguration 2007
(The Last Sunday of Epiphany)

Exodus 34:29-35, Psalm 99, 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2, Luke 9:28-36 (37-43a)

Yesterday at the cathedral I overheard some retreat leaders practicing the
traditional sendoff for the end of the weekend, a warning:

It will be different when you get down off the mountain. It will be different
when you get home and this peak experience becomes a memory. How will you carry
it with you?

On the Sunday of Labor Day weekend in 1977, three men from an office in San
Francisco set out to climb Mount Darwin, on the crest of the High Sierra. We
came close. We climbed the peak just south of it, a mountain 12,125 feet high
that went unnamed in Starr's guidebook: we called it Three Musketeers Peak.

We musketeers had toiled all day to climb that mountain. We hugged boulders,
climbed talus slopes. Just short of the top, which proved to be one last too-big
boulder, we paused. An eagle alighted on a rock just above my head.

Jim said, look. I turned, and the eagle exploded into motion. Three images
burned into my brain (well, four, if you count Jim): the eagle at rest, the
eagle all pinfeathers and wings bursting into the air wheeling at once, and the
bird soaring in the air suddenly far above the ground.

We began to trudge back down the mountain. Then, listen: a flute. Looking up to
the left, to the side ridge sloping eastward away from the summit and the crest,
we saw a hippie (this was 1977) strolling along below the ridge top, in shorts
and boots, playing a flute and enjoying the summery day.

Doggone it! This was our mountain! And don't you realize this is supposed to be

Well, it was a fine summery day after all, just before the fall. So you couldn't
really blame the guy. You could just - enjoy him.

We clambered on down and found our way to camp alongside Hungry Packer Lake.

You cannot stay on the peak forever. It gets cold up there. Imagine it now,
today, in the middle of February. Maybe with Alpine expedition gear you could
stay up there for a few hours; with Sherpas to re-supply you, maybe for a few
days. But no, you cannot live up there for long.

No point in building three booths, Peter. We have to come down off the mountain.
Go back to work. Up betimes and to the office. Or, in Jesus' case, back to
healing, and on to Jerusalem, where the real hard cold mountain climb awaits.
Jesus warns the disciples, the son of man will be put in the hands of sinners,
but they don't get it. They do follow him, but they just don't get it. Not yet.

Perhaps that is why they said nothing at the time about what they saw on the
mountain. There is Jesus, on the mountain, transfigured - with two other figures
shining just as bright, whom they somehow know to be his kin in prophet-hood.
They recognize Moses and Elijah, each of whom made his own way out of the
familiar human condition into God's own country.

Jesus is to follow them there: he is preparing to make, to accomplish, his own
departure. And yet, he is greater than these: "This is my Son, my Chosen one,"
the voice from within the cloud proclaims: "Listen to his voice."

As Herbert O'Driscoll has pointed out, Andrew must have seen something in his
brother's face when Peter came down from that mountain. That is often how we
perceive the holy: God's light reflected in another's face.

Paul reminds us we see now the glory of the Lord reflected as in a mirror - and
that we, in turn, are changed into that same likeness, the living icons of the
glory of God.

It may be that we are not the ones on the mountaintop - like Andrew, brother of
Peter, we may see the light shining in another's face.

* * * * *

Where do you experience the presence, and the glory, of God?

Where do you find the mountain? Where do you hear the voice?

Do you see the shining face of Our Lord in a moment of conversion, a sacramental

Do you recognize him in an unexpected moment, person, or event?

Have you seen the glory of God reflected in another's face, in familiar,
ordinary people, and even, unexpectedly, in ordinary things?

Has someone surprised you with kindness, kindness shown to another that you
could not yourself have shown such kindness?

Have you seen his grace reflected in forgiveness, in a moment of reconciliation-
and found yourself changed?

The encounter with God really changes you!

In this coming season, this Lent, seek the Lord where he wills to be found:

-- Seek Christ in others, in sacraments, in ordinary days and ordinary ways.

(Perhaps my Lenten discipline this year will be as simple as the ordinary acts
of ordinary days - but with a difference... a difference in how I approach these
ordinary acts: to see in them an opportunity to see God reflected.)

-- Seek Christ in mountains, too. If we look at you funny, don't be surprised.

John Leech+
Saint James of Jerusalem, Yuba City
February 18, 2007.

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