Monday, March 3, 2014

What It Takes to See the Glory (Reflections on the Transfiguration, part 2)

There is a fascinating detail in Luke’s version of the Transfiguration not in Mark and Matthew’s account that I think is very instructive. Luke says, “Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake (or “when they were fully awake,” NRSV footnote), they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him” (9:32). When they were fully awake, they saw his glory. Luke wants his readers to be fully awake, to be alert and attentive, to be open, receptive, and tuned in, because one never knows when and where one might encounter God’s glory. If God’s glory is everywhere, then we may encounter that glory anywhere.

Remember the story of Jacob at Bethel. After his dream and encounter with the Divine, Jacob says, “Surely the Lord is in this place – I did not know it.” Then he says, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, this is the gate of heaven.” Well, that could be said of any ordinary place where we go about carrying out our daily routines and fulfilling our everyday responsibilities.

Because God’s glory is everywhere, it is important for us to learn how to be attentive and fully awake to God in the present moment. A spiritual master once said to his apprentice, “When you walk, walk; when you eat, eat.” The disciple replied, “Doesn’t everyone do that.” The teacher said, “No, many people when they walk are only interested in getting to the place where they are going. They do not experience the walking. And many people when they eat, are more involved in making plans about what they will do after they eat, and they do not experience the eating.”

A teacher was known to have lived an unusually rich life; he always seemed to be full of life and vitality and was very compassionate and took an interest in anyone who approached him. After his death someone asked his friend, “What was most important to him.” His friend replied, “Whatever he was doing at the time.”

One way we can learn to be awake to the present moment is by practicing grateful living. Brother David Steindl-Rast has observed we can be grateful for the past, but we can only be grateful in the present. We can be grateful that we have a future, but we experience that gratitude in the present. By practicing gratitude, by learning to be thankful, we learn to live in the present.

If one divides the letters differently, the phrase “No where” becomes “Now here.” If we could learn to look at life differently, the ordinary and mundane may become the very “gate of heaven.” We might think we are “no where,” not realizing that God is right now here—with us—where we are. 

So the important question is: Can we be fully awake to the Divine Presence present in the present moment—when we are eating or walking, washing dishes, planting a tree, reading a book, cutting the grass, or taking the kids to a soccer game? Luke says, “when they were fully awake, they saw his glory.” To stay awake is the challenge isn’t it?


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