On Mount Tabor God’s light burst forth from the body of Jesus, and he was transfigured. The three apostles were overcome with the beauty and brilliance of it. It was not a surface thing, but something inside shining through. In short: God was in Jesus.
We too have the splendor of divinity in us because we are made in the image of God. There-fore, we too can have moments of transfiguration.
A poor man living in a Dublin hostel for the homeless told the following story. One day he was walking along a street in Dublin. At a certain point he found himself outside a church. Before he realized it, he was inside. He couldn’t recall whether or not he said any prayers. But his soul was flooded with light. His depression lifted, and a great peace descended on him. He felt that he belonged on this earth after all. He felt close to God and loved by God.
The experience seemed to last for a while, yet he had a feeling it may have lasted only a few minutes. But he said he’d gladly give the whole of his life for those few moments. What made the experience so wonderful was the realization that he had done absolutely nothing to deserve it. It was a pure gift from God to him. For one short moment he tasted glory.
However, when it was over he found himself out in the streets once more, going along aimlessly as before. The effects of the experience faded. Though he went back to that church many times afterwards he was never able to recapture that moment.
That homeless man wanted to hold onto that experience. He wanted to go backwards instead of forwards. He could have used the experience to illuminate the darkness in his life, and to go forward more hopefully and courageously.
Peter made the same mistake. He wanted to stay on the mountain top. He wanted to hug and hold onto the blessedness of the experience. He did not want to go back down to the everyday and common things again, but to remain forever in the enchanted land. But Jesus summoned him to go back down the mountain and to face the future. That experience was not meant to provide an escape from the struggle that lay ahead, but to help him face it. The hour of light was meant to help him face the hour of darkness.
Yet it’s clear that something of the wonder of that day remained with Peter and illuminated his life, because many years later he wrote: “We were eye-witnesses of his glory on the mountain … A voice came to him saying, ‘This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased’.”
We too can experience rare moments of light and joy. We get glimpses of the promised land towards which we are traveling in faith. In his love for us, God allows us to taste on earth the joys of the world to come. But these moments of transfiguration are given to us to strengthen us for our everyday tasks, and to enable us to face the cross which in some shape or form comes to everyone. The moment of glory does not exist for its own sake. It exists to clothe the common things with a radiance they never had before.
Prayer and religion are not escapism. They are meant to help us face life with all its difficulties and challenges, to embrace the high and low moments of life, the hilltop and the pit.