Being faithful to the Story matters.
Monday, April 26, 2010
(some reflections from a quiet afternoon)
Life is complicated. Anyone who tells you otherwise is not giving you the whole story.
On the one hand, there are moments when, like Peter, James and John on the Mount of Transfiguration with Jesus, we become fully awake and glimpse of bit of the reality that there is a larger story going on than simply our own seemingly individual one. In the 9th chapter of his gospel, Luke tells us that Jesus had invited these three disciples to go with Him up onto a mountain to spend some time in prayer (Luke 9:28 ff). The disciples are initially described as somewhat sleepy, that state in which we are present and perhaps even active, but not fully aware or engaged. But whatever their state of mind may have been, Luke says that as they prayed, things changed. In a moment of insight and clarity, they literally saw things in a light they never had before. It was an experience they did not want to let go of, as is evidenced by Peter's suggestion that they somehow find a way to capture and prolong what they were experiencing.
While we probably don't know all that took place there, at least part of what they saw was Jesus talking with Moses and Elijah about what was He was about to go through in Jerusalem, and perhaps how this would bring into focus and fulfill all that Moses and Elijah (the law and the prophets) had been about. In the glory of that moment the great stories that Moses and Elijah represented were seen in conversation with, and intertwined with, each other as a part of the one huge amazing story that was about to reach a climax. Even if the disciples did not understand all of the details, this must have been one of those moments when you sense you have at least glimpsed enough to sense that all the important pieces in life have fallen into place. No wonder that Peter wanted to preserve and cling to that moment as long as possible! Everything was now as it should be.
The glory of the experience, however, does not cooperate with Peter's desire. While he is still speaking, they are enveloped in a cloud, and as the vision fades God's voice speaks, "This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to Him." As the heightened experience fades, they find that they are simply left with Jesus.
The story however, does not end here. The next day, as they return from their time on the mountain they are met by a large crowd, concerned and frustrated because, in contrast to the one on the mountain, the story they had been glimpsing for the past day or so was not one of glory in which all the pieces had fallen into place. A very different story was playing out in the valley. This was not one of pieces coming together in wholeness, but one of a boy and his family being torn apart by destructive forces - in the midst of which, the disciples had been unable to bring relief. Everything was not as it should be, and even those who most wanted to help seemed powerless in the face of it.
While it is not clear to me exactly who or what Jesus is addressing when He expresses His exasperation over the persistence of the destructiveness that was at work in the boy's life ("O unbelieving and perverse generation . . . how long shall I stay with you and put up with you?" vs.41), what is perhaps the most significant is the last phrase ("bring your son here").
The boy is brought to Jesus, the evil is rebuked in His presence, and the boy is given back to his father. While the story is clear about what God's ultimate desire is for the boy (as is evidenced by Jesus' healing him), it also leaves us with the troubling realization that those who follow Jesus are not always as successful as they and others hope they will be. Even though you could argue that some form of healing can always take place, not all aspects of what is broken always gets fixed the way we wish it would.
When we look at these too scenes together, what surfaces for me is the realization that, for myself, and most people I know, life is lived mostly on the road between the mountain and the valley.
On the one hand, there are moments, often in the context of those times when we have intentionally withdrawn for a while for worship, reflection and prayer, in which things come into focus for us with rich and rewarding ways. Whether or not God shows up in the glorious and unexpected ways as He did on the mount of transfiguration, these are times when we are intentional about paying attention to God's reminder that we simply need to focus on listening to Jesus. These are not times in which we try to manufacture "mountain top experiences," but ones in which we focus on where the real glory is found - in simply being with, and being attentive to, Jesus. These are the moments when we allow our stories to be in conversation with the larger Story of which they are a part - and to ensure that the conversation continues when we are not on the mountain.
But still, there is the other end of he road . . . those places where the stories we encounter or find ourselves caught up in are not so renewing. Stories where other more destructive forces are also at work. And even though we should and do oppose them in the name of Jesus, as was the case with the disciples, we don't always get the results that we desire.
What we see as we read these two scenes together, is the reality of what life looks like in a world where the Kingdom that Jesus spoke of has both already arrived, and yet has not yet been fully realized. We live in that space in between - what theologians refer to as "the already and the not yet" - a place where things can be both glorious and exasperating.
Yet, despite the way that destructive forces and impulses continue to cling, we are invited to continue to live out the Story told on the mountain, knowing that it is our story, and everyone else's story as well. What matters the most is not the light show on the mountain when all is crystal clear, or the low moments in the valley when we feel so ineffective and powerless (and all we can do is simply point people to Jesus whatever the outcome might be), but our willingness to listen carefully and responsively not so much to the voice from the crowd, but to the voice from the cloud.
"This is my Son, Whom I have chosen; listen to Him."
Being faithful to the Story matters.