Discovering what we don’t know – Mark 9:2-9 The Transfiguration

Just one of the carpets of Snowdrops in the churchyard at St. Mary's (on a dull day, sorry). Our snowdrops were one of my illustrations for my children's talk on The Transfiguration (see below).
Just one of the carpets of Snowdrops in the churchyard at St. Mary’s (on a dull day, sorry). Our snowdrops were one of my illustrations for my children’s talk on The Transfiguration (see below).

There are probably very few of us that haven’t had one of those moments when we see something amazing, and promptly say something that sounds, well, rather stupid, at least to the ears of others, even if it makes perfect sense to us.

My husband and I well remember an occasion when we welcomed a friend’s sister-in-law at Gatwick, on her first ever trip outside Zimbabwe. It was December 21st, and there were flurries of snow. Comfort, that’s her name, was incredibly excited. Excited to be in England, and excited to see snow, something she had only heard of previously, as existing in the mountains. After the excited chatter of the journey to our home, and having got her bags inside, we made her stand outside, and catch some snowflakes in her hand. “Its’ soooo coooold” she squealed, immediately shaking them from her hand. “Well of course” we said, “It’s snow; frozen water!” We tried to catch some flakes to show her the minute and amazing detail of a snowflake, but all she could repeat was “Its’ soooo cold!”

Peter, it couldn’t have been anyone else really, could it – Peter makes a similar sort of comment in our Gospel reading this morning, when he, together with James and John, is witness to something truly awe-inspiring, far more awe-inspiring than a mere snowflake. To us, with the advantage of hindsight because of course we know [sarcastic voice] so much more now than Peter did then, to us, Peter’s comments about the booths seems daft. Yet, he was simply trying to ground what he was seeing in a context he could understand, and perhaps capture the moment for posterity: if these transcendent beings, wrapped in a cloud of God’s presence, and arguably the two greatest prophets of his faith with the man that seemed to be surpassing them, where coming to commune together, they would need protection from the elements! Or else, a physical marker as to the place of their encounter, a monument to the moment.

So, we think we know so much more now than Peter did then, don’t we?!

WE KNOW that a few seconds later, Peter got possibly the biggest put down of his life, direct from God! “Hey,” says God. “This is my Son all lit up in glory here. Yes really, just like you guessed at a few days ago, but seem to have forgotten. Now if you really want to understand what you guessed at then, and are witnessing now, shut up and listen. To him.”

WE KNOW that the reason why Peter, James and John (among others), really still don’t get who Jesus is, and why he promptly swears them to secrecy, is that the ultimate breakthrough moment for the Kingdom of God to which this vision is hinting, won’t happen until Christ has died, and rises to new life, a fully transfigured life, the start of God’s new Kingdom in which Peter and the others’ will play a crucial role.

WE KNOW that some things in the Bible, simply can’t be neatly explained, because they are ‘of God’. We might not have had a vision of the Divine ourselves, but we know that others through history have had profound revelations of the nature of God, and we have learnt to trust their witness, their wisdom and the spiritual truths God has revealed to us through those encounters. For example, Julian of Norwich famously found a revelation of God’s overwhelming love and concern for all his creation, in a tiny hazel nut, such as we might find in the churchyard, if the squirrels didn’t get them first!

So if we know all these things, what then, like Peter, are we missing? I can’t see a cloud signifying God’s presence amongst us this morning! There’s no back-lit, ultra-violet induced, light show worthy of a camera-phone snapshot that I can see!  Where are the Old Testament prophets or medieval mystics in our company to point us to the divinity of Jesus, and the breaking in of God’s Kingdom in our own time?!

If we can’t see or always make sense of the significance of Jesus for our own lives, or the world at large, then firstly, I think it’s important to realise, we’re not alone. We know Peter’s been there before us, and to be honest, even if we’ve had moments of revelation that have helped our faith in Jesus before, it’s a tough ask to hold on to that faith once the moments past, as Peter would become all too aware, come cock crow on Good Friday.

But as we prepare to enter a Lenten search for a revelation of Christ’s divinity, or the presence of God’s Kingdom in world torn apart by suffering, there are, I think, two main approaches that we can take; at least two that I’m going to be contemplating this Lent.

The first is to look at the details. Peter and the others took in the detail the appearance of Jesus, Elijah and Moses, the cloud, even when it comes, God’s command. It’s a bit like a scientist looking through myriad super-computer telescope images for signs of the birth of a new star or universe, we need to look at the detailed picture presented by scripture of how Jesus was revealed as more than the ultimate in Old Testament prophets, both God and man, suffering servant and glorified Son, crucified scapegoat for religious zealots and risen Lord. What our specific focus is might vary hugely, and depend on what we’ve learnt in the past, or what we are struggling with in our personal faith journey, but looking at the detail carefully is key.

The second approach to searching for a Lenten revelation, is to simply stop looking. To stop. To stop and focus either on something else entirely, or nothing at all. When the three disciples climbed that mountain with Jesus there was nothing to suggest they were expecting what happened next. It was just a quiet moment with their teacher, and the dramatic scenery. There’s a lovely expression I encountered a few years ago which I really like, especially when I’ve had a rare opportunity to experience it – it’s the ability to “free-wheel with God”. To sit, or stand, and stare – not so much at something in particular but simply taking in the view, in a mind-emptying, spiritually calming, guilt free environment, where God can step in and fill the space in a way that only he knows we need. It might be that it needs a moment of free-flow creativity to help it happen, the gardening, a tapestry, a long walk; or it may be that a piece of writing, artwork or music might flow from it. It might be that just stopping, completely, is the key with no expectation of input or output.

The important thing, whether we’re looking at the detail of our faith in Christ, or simply stopping to experience God revealed in our own life and experiences, is to recognise what we’re seeing when we’re encountering it, and treasure it as something to come back to and reflect on again and again in the light of our future experiences. Because patently, that’s what James, John and indeed Peter did, else we wouldn’t have been drawn up short by their mountain top experiences this morning!

My children’s talk on the same reading focused on the idea of seeing the wonderful awesomeness of God in the detail of what we see, using the illustrations of salt and snowdrops. The brief outline is here: 2015-02-15 Mark 9v2-9 The Transfiguration – Kids talk

The Faith and the Fear – a reflection from discernment

Ready? Preparing to take aim (My first ever go at archery - in a friends vicarage garden August 2005)

It is the first of at least two reflections that cover some of the thoughts and emotions I went through during the final stages of discernment of my calling to ordination (a process that my fellow parishioners at St Peter’s Yateley were unaware of). I’m not sure how useful they are to anyone else, but they might give an insight into the mixture of thoughts and emotions that people going through the process may have to contend with. 

Last Sunday (19th Feb – Seventh of Ordinary Time) was the last before Lent and the reading about the Transfiguration  was the focus of the All Age Service I attended at St Peter’s.

We were posed a question about what thing/s in our lives had caused us both tremendous excitement, but also fear. My face obviously betrayed my instant reaction because it was commented on by the preacher! Thankfully I was not pressed to reveal what it was that had come to mind, as that would have required a lie in the circumstances!

What my face betrayed was not the flippant answer ‘marriage’ that would have been my ‘cover story’, but of course my offering myself for selection to the priesthood. With 5 weeks to go before the selection conference (BAP) I am full of both a tremendous excitement and fear. 

Taking aim! (The husband having a go - it's OK the church beyond the hedge isn't in any danger!)

The fears revolve around being ‘found out’; shown for what I am in a negative way that highlights my weaknesses, and found to be wanting in my faithfulness to the gospel. These may well show up at BAP in a way that has not been revealed to my advisers up until now – despite my best efforts!

If this has been posted on my blog, these fears have (once again – they’re hardly new, or likely to go away) proved un-necessary. The Church of England must believe I am called to the priesthood, warts and all.

And that of course, is where the tremendous excitement lies. If I did not believe, with others who endorse the idea, that I am indeed called by God to be ordained as a priest, then believe me I would not be in these final stages of preparation to exhibit that belief to those with the authority to decide my future one way or the other.

The Transfiguration (Mark 9:2-9) is a passage that (among other things) shows the confusion and fear, as well as the excitement and awe, that the disciples felt when God revealed before their eyes the true glory and position of his Son, Jesus Christ.

Today, responding to this tremendous call on my life that God has revealed and confirmed to me already in so many ways, I stand in awe at God’s grace and love that he should wish to use me in this way. I know that my unworthyness to fulfil the task I understand to be before me, will only be overcome by that grace and the strength (emotional, spiritual and physical) that God wants to give me, if I listen to Jesus words as the disciples were commanded in Mark 9:7.

Shoot! (A proper longbowman with arrow in flight - Stokesay Castle moat - Aug 2005)

At the end of that All Age service someone shared a picture that had been given by one of the members of the youth housegroup earlier in the week. It was of an arrow being sighted on its target (hence the illustrations to this blog-post): only if the archer keeps the line of sight fixed firmly on target will the arrow fly true and hit its mark. As she explained I thought: only if I keep my eyes truly focused on Jesus, his example and words, will I be able to be faithful in my obedience to this calling to ordination.

[Having been recommended for training as a priest, and reflected a little further with friends, it seems that this tension between certainty as to one’s calling, and a sense of inadequacy as to the ability to fulfil it, is what you learn to hold in balance during what is called ‘formation’ as an ordinand and through curacy. All thanks to God’s grace and guidance! You’re welcome to remind me of this in the future!]