Peter’s reaction to Jesus’ Transfiguration reminds me of the story of a young seminarian on summer duty in a parish who walked into the sanctuary of the church and saw Jesus Himself praying at the altar. He alerts the pastor, who alerts the bishop. The bishop tells the pastor that he will have to report this to Pope Francis at the Vatican, and he will call him right back. The phone rings shortly afterward, and the pastor asks what the Pope advised. The bishop replies, “The Pope said — look busy!”
That seems to be Peter’s first impulse at the Transfiguration. The vision is so awesome and powerful an experience that Peter wants to do anything rather than deal with it. He can hardly believe that right here all in one place at the same time he has Jesus, Moses, and Elijah conversing! Rather than embrace the moment and bow low in homage he volunteers to go back down to find materials for tents and to haul them back up to the top of the mountain.
We do this sometimes, don’t we? Our life in the monastery has many blessings, but a distraction-free environment is not one of them. With the intention to spend time in Lectio, we find ourselves being distracted by the impulse to do something useful, anything when we feel the Spirit invading our hearts. Anything from reading more litanies to performing a favor for someone else or cleaning my room. Anything rather than just be and experience that special closeness with God. It’s a weird kind of defense mechanism; we look for ways to avoid that total intimacy with God, even when we think and say that we desire nothing more. From previous experiences we’ve learned that, as CS Lewis writes: “There’s such a thing as getting more than we bargained for!” and that scares us. As Father David put it recently, we need to just Waste time with God.
Peter’s impulse to look for something to do isn’t to say that all work is bad. We are called to do our fair share to support our community and to put our God-given gifts to use. But, at times we substitute busy-ness in our lives to avoid prayer – all the while knowing full well that only through prayer can we be formed in communion with God. We must conquer the temptation to flee in fright when God finds us. There is an old saying that applies here: when the Lord speaks to you, don’t just do something … stand there, or sit there, and follow Benedict’s opening word to his followers: listen.
However we might interpret the impulsiveness of Peter, it is notable that in Matthew’s version of the story (remember he wasn’t there) the voice from heaven actually interrupts Peter, cutting him off in order to pronounce Jesus blessed and then to command the attention of the disciples. Whatever Peter — or we — may have been thinking there is only one thing necessary: to listen to Jesus, the Father’s beloved One.
We can all identify with the apostles because in our mountain-top experiences of joy and consolation we also want to stay. We want them to go on forever. And then in the moments of trial, like the apostles at Jesus’ trial, we want to flee. We tend to forget that our Lord did not promise us a rose garden, but a garden of olives and a crown of thorns. “If anyone will come after me let them pick up their cross daily and follow me.” Having been to the top of the mountain we know that “nothing can separate us from the love of God made visible in Christ Jesus.”
This evening the closing rite will include Carol’s commitment as a resident volunteer. All of us have had mountain top experiences and can testify to their importance in our lives. For Carol, I suspect this may be a mountain-top moment. There is something awe-inspiring about mountains: clean and crisp air and a panoramic view that raises our minds and hearts to God. But all of us know that we have to go back down the mountain, to the valley of our everyday lives. At both places, at the mountain top or in the valley and all those places and times in between, Jesus is there, reaching out to raise us up be our best selves.
At her blessing Carol will be given a copy of our MISSION, VISION, CORPORATE COMMITMENT and CORE VALUES STATEMENT. It seems like a good time to remind ourselves of what we’ve said in these statements, so a copy is here available for you if you’d like one.
When Jesus and the disciples were walking back down the mountain, Jesus charged them not to tell the vision to anyone until he had been raised from the dead. Well, Carol, Jesus has been raised from the dead and ascended to his Father, so you are welcome – and we’d even encourage – to tell the vision to anyone that seems like a suitable candidate to be a volunteer or affiliate with the Benedictine Sisters of Florida.