Posted in category "Seasons of the Spirit"
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Child, the Beloved; listen to him!” Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them anymore, but only Jesus. As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Human One had risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean.
This indeed, is a terrible marketing strategy: “Don’t tell anyone!” When the telling would most certainly create a major buzz, why keep quiet?
I like the Transfiguration as it is called. It is very well staged: the high mountain, the dazzling clothes, Elijah, Moses and the Voice. Yet Peter, James and John are so pathetically inadequate. It seems like two parallel realities, one otherworldly and the other, so, so pedestrian. Is there another instance in the gospels when the other world appears as it does here? I don’t think so, at least not until the Resurrection. Even then, Jesus’ appearance remains quite ordinary.
If only Jesus had thrown few more transfigurations around, people would have believed in him and his message of a new kingdom much more readily accepted.
He did not. Why not?
I myself, feel so pedestrian, so glued to my daily problems, my work, the repairing of the bathroom, the threat of the recession, my old dog’s arthritis, and my own. There is a dullness and a fatigue which overwhelm me like winter does the park outside. A Transfiguration experience would be most welcome at this point. But how?
The story of the Transfiguration appears also in Matthew and Luke. In all three synoptics it follows jesus’ teaching on discipleship. Mark 8:34: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” About the same thing in Matthew and Luke. I could transpose: “take your daily problems, work, bathroom repairs and arthritis, and follow me.” After all if Peter, James and John had not followed Jesus up that (high) mountain, they would have missed the whole thing. The difference between the ordinary and the transfigured is in following Jesus, being-with Jesus.
(After Jesus’baptism) And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
I find it very helpful when reading a Scripture passage to underline some of the words; those which stir in me some emotion, either negative or positive. Here I underlined ‘wilderness’, ‘Satan’, ‘wild beasts’, ‘good news’. I did not underline ‘Jesus’, ‘repent’, or ‘angels’, not that I do not consider them important but rather they do not evoke at this instant any emotion in me. Perhaps tomorrow they will and of course the same text will evoke very different word-choices and emotions in everyone else.
Once the selection is done, I string together the underlined words:
Wilderness-wild beasts,-Satan-good news.
Then I let the words sit with me all day and find their path into my subconscious. I revisit them later in the day. What comes up then is often surprising, not at all what my conscious mind would have come up with!
This is why it is so important to rely on ourselves when reading, not only on the Sunday homilist!
Lent is here again. We have stumbled upon this ‘catholic’ web site, but does the liturgical year as it is proposed to us by the liturgy and Lent in particular, mean anything to us? Do they help us being a better person? Perhaps a better spiritual person? Or even a happier person?
This website brings us together. Our CCLonline community is virtual all right, but still, it is a real one. What is we could bring together our own spiritual experiences and share them in a way which will benefit all of us? Many of us are isolated and do not have access to a spiritual community of our peers, a spiritual community of lesbians of Catholic heritage.
What helps us grow spiritually? It is easy to know what helps us physically or intellectually. We know what a diet can do for us. We have experienced the renewed energy given by a regular exercise regimen. We value the intellectual effort a challenging book offers to us. But what of our spiritual self? Is it dormant? Alive and well?
To begin the exchange I suggest we share what has –or is- worked for us: a particular activity during the day or the week, a book, a web site, a cd, a meditation. Please send here as comments whatever you would like to contribute. Send also your own thoughts and ideas to build up together this spiritual community.
How difficult it is to pray! Not that I do not want to pray, or that it bores me. No, I just do not think about it.
Once in a while, when the street where I have my office is less noisy than usual, I hear the noon bells for the Angelus ringing at a church two blocks away. The Angelus painting by Millet comes to my mind and I think of the couple, in the fields, who having stopped their work, bow their head and pray the angelus as they hear the village church’s bell ring. Today, can this peasant’s grand-son, perched on his tractor, still hear the bell? Chances are he is listening to his ipod!
When I am overwhelmed by a strong emotion, fear, a loss, an acute problem, or a deep joy, to pray is simple, easy and so normal. But as long as I can keep feelings and life in control and go on as more or less planned, what use do I have for prayer? That other painting of two farmers, the American Gothic is more the mode I live by.
In the Old Testament, suffering and death were seen as consequences of sin, of our separation from God. That was what Job’s friends were telling him.
Today it is only when we are confronted to suffering and death that we think to pray. Then, like Job, we want to believe that our ‘Defender is alive’ and he will save us.
Until then, why would I need a defender or a savior? Why should I pray?
As if prayer was the ultimate tool we need to keep our life and our universe under control. We have plumbers, lawyers, doctors, .. and priests. Everything is undeer control. What is not. we choose to ignore.
I wonder what I would expect and ask from someone who, I would believe, had just risen from the dead. “What happened after you died?” That is the big question isn’t it? What about the tunnel, the light?
In the resurrection stories, the disciples don’t ask anything. They are just so full of grief they don’t even recognize him. Then, they are scared, excited, in fact so full of emotions that they know not what to say.
I read to see if Jesus talked about the great “beyond”. Not a word. One might draw from it that those are just stories imagined by the first christians. If it was indeed the case, I bet they would have given us a beautidul rendition of Paradise. As it was, not a clue.
On the contrary, Jesus’ presence is very much in the “here and now” of the people he appeared to, Marie’s, the Emmaus discipless, the eleven’s.. He becomes at once present to their emotions and, at the same time in the midst of their physical conditions that particular moment. Marie is sad, looking for help through the garden. On the road to Emmaus, the two disciples are depressed, tired and hungry. The eleven are scared, behind locked doors and having dinner. Jesus suddenly is there, with them. He acknowledges their emotions and feelings, and shares in their present moment by eating with them. It is all very low key, very simple and quite anti-climatic.
As for the teaching, Jesus goes back to what they had already received and learned but could not grasp and somehow this time they seem to understand, at last, and from within.
I love those resurrection gospels! And yet I fail to expect Jesus’ risen presence, not as an answer to my lofty prayers but in the here and now of my mundane life, in my emotions, work, relationships, in the present moment.
Not all the disciples had seen Jesus die, his dead body taken down from the cross and put in the tomb nearby. Only the women and the disciple “whom Jesus loved” were mentioned, maybe more were there. They took him, so carefully wrapped him in the burial clothes, one for the head and the long one for the whole body, and laid him in the rock. They saw the stone being rolled to block the entrance. It was so definitive!
After the Passover day, they came back. What were they looking for, a little more time to mourn? But the stone was rolled away from the entrance, the tomb was empty and the burial clothes neatly folded.
This Easter Sunday’s readings don’t give us anything else. Mary Magdalene and the “other disciple whom Jesus loved” were among the first ones at the empty tomb that morning. What did it tell them who were so closed to Jesus?
What does it tell me, two thousand years later?
They had lived closely with Jesus, they knew him alive, but they also saw him dead.
We, on the other hand, have been told of his resurrection.
But the empty tomb invites them as well as us today, to make an ‘incredible’ leap of faith. We, like the disciples, remain in that moment in time when we don’t dare to believe he is really risen. And yet, what if it was true? They didn’t dare to hope and yet they did. Don’t we also?
Later, the disciples will meet the risen Christ, not in a dramatic fashion, but quite the opposite, in very intimate settings: in the garden, Mary Magdalene will recognize Jesus at the way he pronounced her name; the apostles will be huddling together behind closed doors and suddenly he is with them; others will recognize him in the way he breaks the bread. Very low key indeed!
May we dare expect the same? Am I as eager to find him as Mary Magdalene was? Will I know to read the signs of the empty tomb and the folded burial clothes? Will I listen for my name?
What did happen to Jesus’ power from the moment he arrived with his friends in the garden of the Mount of Olives until his death on the cross? We can only guess, imagine perhaps. In the past, there had been at least one incident when people had seized Jesus and taken him away to stone him, and he had just “passed by them” and escaped. Why didn’t he accomplish something of the sort again, at this time?
I am wondering if what happened in the Garden that night, what is called Jesus’ agony, is not also an experience of power but of a very different kind.
It is known that the more someone is spiritually enligtened, -for want of a better expression,- the more he or she is compassionate, which means able to suffer with others, to experience someone else’s emotions of pain and also of joy. The more spiritual one is the more attuned to the presence of evil.
I do believe that Jesus, as a human being had indeed reached the summit of spiritual enlightment, had gone as far as any human being is able to go. Isn’t it his spiritual dimension, as a human being, which allowed him to perform miracles, to change the physical laws of illness and death, as well as to understand people to the core? His capacity for compassion must have been overwhelming to the people who knew him.
During his last hours of solitude and prayer, yes, Jesus was afraid to suffer and to die, afraid also for his friends and family. But his agony went far beyond. Through his own experience and feeling of failure, of fear, of abandonment, of betrayal, the whole human experience poured into him. His spiritual power allowed him to experience the depth of human suffering, the depth of our misery, the depth of our human allegiance to evil. Because of his power, he was able to emphathise in some mysterious way with each one of our own experiences of evil and pain.
At the end, this immense wave, left Christ with the ultimate temptation: despair. Not for himself only, but for us as well: “God has forsaken us, all is lost”. Nothing would ever change. Even if he had healed all the sick of Galilee and Judea, raised all the dead, convinced all he met, there would still be those multitude not reached, already gone, or not yet born. There would still be the whole creation groaning in pain, submitted to death and the weight of evil.
It is at that hour, I do believe, that our redemption was accomplished. There, at Gethsemani when Jesus turned away from despair and praid his prayer in complete darkness: “Thy will be done!”
The cross was the consequence of this letting go, a prayer fully lived all the way to its deadly end.
The Passover Seder, his last, must have been very emotional for Jesus.
Did he foresee what was going to happen in the next hours? Not in a superhuman way, I do not believe he did. However there were enough signs quite easy to read for a perfectly normal intelligence. For one, Judas had done the deed. He would not look Jesus in the eyes. He did not even stay for the whole meal, his discomfort was all too apparent. As for the others, they were scared but confident that Jesus would lead them all out of danger. Only Jesus knew he could not, he would not.
During the evening he had spoken to them for a long time. Had they understood anything? To make it more plain, he washed their feet, as a slave would do. That got their attention! “Do to others as I have just done to you.” One cannot be more clear. It was not a list of “don’ts” that Jesus gave them as his ultimate message, but a demanding “do”. This action was one of those gestures that great religious masters excel in! Buddhist, Sufi, Jewish..
Still it was not enough. If those friends were going to be the only ones carrying on his message; if it was through them that his ministry would continue, he had to go further. He had to give them an even greater sign, a sign which would accomplish what it signifies. He served them his own self, his body and blood, so the union between them and with him would be possible, and complete.
Jesus’ last days in Jerusalem before the Passover must have been extremely busy. With everyone looking to see him, to touch him, from morning to night, Jesus was pressed from everywhere. Teaching in the Temple, he probably did not have time to even eat or sleep. Just when he needed the most to be alone, to think and pray. Maybe was he able to steal few hours away at night, in the Garden when everyone was asleep.
The authorities were looking for a way to kill him without causing a riot. It was obvious. All knew it. But they did not dare, yet. For how long? What was going to happen? What was he supposed to do?
The gospels put the temptations at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, but it makes more sense to think that they were always present to him, under one form or another. Don’t we always have the same temptations? They become more sophisticated as we mature, but even lots of therapy doesn’t change them, really.
What if he could do something to change people’s mind? To make them believe? Time was running out. What could he do that he had not done? Yes, he was teaching in the Temple all day long, but they did not hear. Too many distractions in this city. Too much noise, it was like sowing seed on hard rock!
The temptation to impose himself, just a little bit, for the greater good of the people must have been so strong it even convinced one of his closest friend to go ahead and force his hand. Once his back against the wall, Jesus would do something! If not, all would be lost. That was Judas’ bet.
To find support, strength, comfort even, Jesus turned to his disciples. After all he had shared with them, they would understand his choice. Maybe he could tell them one more time what God’s reign is and how it can come about. He would give them all he had left and then, through them at least all would not be lost.
He was eagerly waiting to eat the Passover with them.
Why did Jesus go up to Jerusalem? His family, his friends warned him not to. They implored him not to. It was clear the religious authorities were trying to silence him. Euphemism for killing! But he went anyway. Jesus was already famous throughout Galilee and Judea, even Samaria. He was curing the sick and raising the dead! Can you imagine? Wouldn’t you try to see someone who raised the dead? Lazarus’ resurrection had been a public event. From a well off family Lazarus had many friends and relatives who all witnessed his death and his resurrection! This was becoming a big media event.
So, many trotted to Jerusalem for Passover, eager to see Jesus and Lazarus. The authorities were getting more and more angry and scared. A bad combination!
If only Jesus had retreated to Galilee, maybe gone back to the desert for a while, things would have time to calm down. Did Jesus want to initiate a show down?
He had decided to go up. After preaching his message throughout the countryside, even to Samaria he saw that now was the time to bring it to a wider audience, the Jews gathered in Jerusalem from all over the world for the holidays. So Jesus went to Jerusalem, sat in the temple and taught.
This was nothing short of a provocation, many thought, even among his friends. With all the tension in the city at the time, the Romans always looking for an opportunity to crucify Jews, the Zealots fomenting rebellion, now was not the time. Maybe when things would settle down a bit. Later would be better. Jesus was really looking for trouble! Didn’t he know that many would suffer the consequences with him, because of him? What about his mother, his family?
Jesus meanwhile, stood calm in the middle of the growing the storm, still a bit euphoric after his acclaimed entrance in the city. He was certain, peaceful. He was doing the right thing. The time had come to be public about who he was and to meet whatever consequences could arise from that. That was for him the right thing to do. He was who he was, doing what he was born to do, and come what may! He had no control over the consequences of being who he was, faithful to what a lifelong intimacy with God in prayer had led his conscience to know to be the one thing to do.
Jesus had drawn his line in the sand.