Saturday, February 27, 2016

The Watches of the Night

The first day I spent with my mom a little over a week ago turned out to be the best day.  Not what I’d call a good day, but the best I got in those too few days I was able to make the trip down.  (And thank you to Aldersgate for letting me know that was ok and to the staff that had to fill in while I was gone.)  Not terribly responsive, she at least seemed to allow my presence with her.  She let me feed her lunch and sit with her for a while that day.  I asked if she wanted me to read to her, and I think she said yes.  I read anyway, and she seemed to listen, somewhat.  I read through three chapters of The Harvester, by Gene Stratton-Porter.  I grabbed the well worn copy sitting in the table in her room and read that story she once knew by heart.  We slipped into another world, my mother and I, a simpler one, a quieter one, rural Indiana, a century ago, things were simpler, gentler.  I liked it there, I have to confess.  I kept asking the other days if I could read, but she wouldn’t let me.

I kept reading, that first and only time, even though there was too much activity going on outside her room.  I wanted to close the door, but also didn’t want to interrupt the cadence of my voice which seemed to be soothing.  So I kept reading as nurses and aides and curious other residents of the memory care ward wandered in and out of the room across the hall.  I kept reading about a world of love and loss and hope and despair, as two strangers disappeared into that room and closed the door.  I kept reading about a world insulated from the heartache of today, yet full of its own tragedy, as the door across the hall opened and the two strangers wheeled a Gurney with the all too familiar zippered bag discretely covered with a sheet down the hall and out the locked door.  When mom fell asleep and I asked that she be put to bed for a nap, before I left to check on Dad back at the house, I stepped into the room.  It was Winnie, or Miss Winnie as she was there in Tennessee.  I stood in the room now emptied of her presence and prayed for her and her family and for all the other residents who most likely wouldn’t know what happened.

It was daytime, mid afternoon as I prayed in that room, yet it felt like night.  When the questions come and doubts rise up, the night when our failures seem too heavy to bear and our losses like wounds in our soul.  I hadn’t eaten all day worried about mom, but the hunger in my heart was for more than food.

Psalm 63:1-8  O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. 2 So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. 3 Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. 4 So I will bless you as long as I live; I will lift up my hands and call on your name. 5 My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast, and my mouth praises you with joyful lips 6 when I think of you on my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night; 7 for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy. 8 My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.

Psalm 63 carries the superscription “A psalm of David when he was in the wilderness of Judah.”  Given that David spent a lot of time in the wilderness, we can’t really know what time is being referred to.  We don’t know what was going on.  But we do know of a couple of time when David fled to the wilderness of Judah in particular.  The first was when he was young and somehow fell into and out of favor in the palace.  He sang soothing songs to calm King Saul’s moods, but then had to run for his life from that King who wanted him dead.  He was in the wilderness running for his life.  Later, as King, David fled into the wilderness when his son Absalom attempted an insurrection, wanting to be king in his father’s place.  David fled for protection while his generals sorted out this battle.  Then he wept for his son who wanted him dead.  It was not a happy place, the wilderness, not for David, not for kings, not for fathers and sons.

And yet.  Look again.  Yes, there is hunger and there is thirst.  There is a longing for the presence that is as real as the longing for food and water.  In the wilderness, you’d think the first thing on the list would be physical sustenance.  But no, the deeper hunger, the more powerful thirst is for God.  He is fainting for God’s presence,  driven to see not his own safety, not his own revival, but the very face of God.  O God, you are my God, I seek you.

And underneath, this is the amazing part, underneath the need, underneath the hunger and thirst, underneath the wandering in the wilderness, there is this confidence.  A certainty.  I have looked upon in you in the sanctuary.  I have, not I will, or I want to, or please let me, but I have.  You have been my help.  There is a memory here that is sustaining.  That’s what he is doing in the watches of the night.  Not despairing, not doubting and fearing.  Not letting the wilderness swallow him up, the emptiness of the room across the hall echo in his soul.  No, he is remembering.  I will meditate on you in the watches of the night.

How do you meditate?  Isn’t that some Eastern mysticism?  Some foreign practice not a part of our religious tradition?  Doesn’t that involve nonsense words and uncomfortable positions and chanting monotones and smoke?  Lots and lots of smoke?  By no means, as St Paul would say.

I will meditate on you in the watches of the night.  I means finding a memory.  A word, a verse from the Bible.  Or even better a moment.  A moment of joy and hope.  A moment of encounter, of intimacy and healing.  A moment of shared love and closeness.  And holding it like a jewel in your mind.  Looking at it, remembering it from every angle, letting the light of understanding shine through it, sparkling with presence and with comfort.  I will meditate on you in the watches of the night.  I will remember the moments when you felt close.  When we were one, and now in the darkness of this wilderness time, I will let that moment fill me with love and with hope and with joy.  Because that moment defines me more than this moment.  That togetherness, that union, that is where I reside, even though right now I am alone in the dark.  I will meditate on you in the watches of the night.

And suddenly the darkness is not the absence of God, but is the shadow of the healing wings.  Suddenly the darkness is not a place for whispers and for tears, but for singing and for joy.  Not a place of hunger, but of feasting.  My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast.  Because I remember.  I was meditating on a moment, on a word that meant something at one time.  A word that spoke to me.  A word perhaps from another important to me.  A word that survives the wilderness.  

Some of you who know me, who have to listen to me more than you probably want to, are wondering how I am going to take this obviously individual psalm and turn it into something corporate.  That’s our Lenten theme remember, the Beloved Community.  We are meditating on the prayer for the church in Ephesians 3:14-21.  Specifically the phrase in verse 17, “as you are being rooted and grounded in love.”  The “you” there is plural (all y’all), but the I in Psalm 63 is obviously singular.  Isn’t this something I have to do?  This meditating, this remembering, as well as this feasting and this rejoicing?  I am the one who needs to cling to God.  Right?

Right.  But.  But, my experience of God is always plural.  Always.  We are Trinitarian.  We experience God as community, Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer - or Father, Son and Spirit in the traditional language.  God is always plural.  There is always community.  But, even more so, my experience of God is always shaped by the community in which I live.  In which I grew.  I know God because of you.  Because I love you and you love me, I can have an inkling of what it is to be loved by God.  Because of the experiences I have had with you, and those who came before you, I can remember God in the watches of the night.  Part of what I remember is not just God, but the God in you.  The God I know in you.  Your love, your support, your care, your correction, you.  You.

And her.  She is part of my you.  It was not a good day, but it was the best day we had this time.  The other days were more distant, more agitated, more lost.  But this day there was a glimpse.  Fleeting to be sure, but a glimpse.  I was wheeling her by someone in the common room and she reached out and said “How are you doing?” and sounded like my mom again.  Caring for another, loving and welcoming another.  It wasn’t me she was speaking to, but it was her for a moment.  A moment.  We got to her place at the table and I wheeled her around to her tray, put the napkin around her neck and sat beside her with a fork to feed her.  And she looked at me and said “Do I know you?”  

Yes, Mom.  You do.  I’ll remember for you.  I’ll remember us.  And together we will live in the memory of God, and in the watches of the night we will sing for joy.  For what was and what is and what will be.  


Saturday, February 20, 2016

Seeking Faces

“Lookit mama!  Lookit daddy!”  There was a study that came out recently, wish I could remember from where-sorry, that was assessing the effect of engagement with social media on parenting and or child development.  To grossly reduce a whole lot of findings down to the point I’m after here, the study implied that a parent who was engaged with his/her phone or tablet while “watching” a child was not as effective as a parent.  No, duh.  I know, but before you go and complain about research that just proves something anyone with the sense God gave geese could figure out, there is something significant here.  Something we may know but not really see as so significant.  It’s about your face.  

Actually, I’m not sure my kids ever said “lookit.”  “Watch me,” I heard that one a lot.  “Are you watching daddy?  Do you see me?”  If you aren’t looking, if you aren’t seeing, you aren’t engaged.  It’s like you aren’t even there.  Children look at your face.  They look at your face to see if you are present with them.  But they also look at your face to see if what you are saying is true.  If you say happy things to a baby with a scowling face they will cry.  On the other hand, you can say sad and mean things to a baby with a smiling, happy face and the baby will smile and coo right with you.  It’s about your face.

I tell the preachers I teach to pay attention to their face when they preach.  First of all about making eye contact, whether you preach from a full manuscript or no notes at all or something in between, the preacher has to figure out how to be able to look at the congregation when preaching, at least part of the time.  Most of the time?  And then, and this is harder for some folks than you’d think, I tell them to make sure to let their face in on the gospel message.  I don’t care how dynamic the sermon you’ve written is, if you looked bored, the hearers will be bored too.  If you speak of joy with a frown, or contentment with a look of worry, and grace with a countenance of unforgiving judgement, the message isn’t going to get through.

I know, I don’t do it all that well myself.  At least I’m aware of it.  We let all kinds of things show up on our faces, don’t we?  All kinds of subtext, all kinds of unspoken wounds or worries, all kinds of suspicions and doubts, not to mention the weariness of living in such a complicated world, and the overwhelming sense of failure that dogs our every step.  All of that shows up on your face.  It’s hard to hide and we’d just as soon people not look too deeply.  
And guess what?  I’m going to make it worse.  It’s not only your face that you are showing to the world around you.  It is the face of God.

Psalm 27  The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? 2 When evildoers assail me to devour my flesh-- my adversaries and foes-- they shall stumble and fall. 3 Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war rise up against me, yet I will be confident. 4 One thing I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: to live in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire in his temple. 5 For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will set me high on a rock. 6 Now my head is lifted up above my enemies all around me, and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the LORD.
7 Hear, O LORD, when I cry aloud, be gracious to me and answer me! 8 "Come," my heart says, "seek his face!" Your face, LORD, do I seek. 9 Do not hide your face from me. Do not turn your servant away in anger, you who have been my help. Do not cast me off, do not forsake me, O God of my salvation! 10 If my father and mother forsake me, the LORD will take me up. 11 Teach me your way, O LORD, and lead me on a level path because of my enemies. 12 Do not give me up to the will of my adversaries, for false witnesses have risen against me, and they are breathing out violence. 13 I believe that I shall see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. 14 Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!

There is a division in the psalm that has caused some debate in biblical scholarship.  Some argue that this was really two different psalms that somehow got mashed together.  Look at the tone, they say, in the first six verses and then look at the change in the last eight.  It’s like they are two different people, at two different times.  One is celebrating, one is afraid.  One can see God, but the other has lost their glimpse of the face of God.  So, naturally it must be two different people with two different purposes at two different times.  Naturally.  Further evidence that biblical scholars aren’t real people.  Is it really so hard to believe that a moment of confidence gets swept away by doubt?  Is it such a stretch to see that even David - since he is the traditional author of this psalm - could have his certainty shaken by something and send him running back into the arms of the One on whom he pours out his life?  

Well, of course.  We are fickle beings, we humans.  Strong as anything one moment, quivering lumps of humanity the next.  Sometimes within one conversation.  I wonder if this psalm, or something like it came to David on that day when he was dancing before the ark of the covenant when it rolled into Jerusalem.  The back story to that one is pretty amazing itself.  But skip over the struggle to get this symbol of the very presence of God back home to the city dedicated to the worship of God, and jump ahead to those last few steps of the parade.  King David was celebrating the joy of being in God’s presence.  David was worshiping.  Catch that?  David was worshiping.  Not by sitting in a pew and reading some lines and dozing through an explication of some obscure passage of scripture.  No, David was worshiping by stripping down to his tighty whiteys and dancing.  Throwing himself into the experience, tasting the love of God in the sweat that rolled down his face, feeling the touch of God in the clouds of dust kicked up by his dancing feet.  “Now my head is lifted up,” he sang, “I will offer sacrifices with shouts of joy” he yodeled.  “I will sing, and make melody to the Lord!”  So, he did.  With his whole being, he sang, with his feet and his hands, with his body he made melody to the Lord.  David knew how to worship.

But then, he caught a glimpse of his wife, glaring down at him from the palace window.  She didn’t see worship, she saw embarrassment, she saw an unseemly display of royal flesh in front of ... well, God and everybody.  And maybe, just speculating here, maybe when he caught sight of that face, all the joy drained out of him.  All the confidence ran down into the dust at his feet and now he wasn’t sure.  Because he saw that face, of disgust, of disappointment, of disapproval, he lost his grip on worship.

I don’t know that that’s what happened.  But I know the experience.  Of moving from certainty to doubt, of moving from certainty to being lost in the dark.  All because of a face.  A face that throws you off the track.  Could be a stranger’s face, someone passing by who unsettles you.  But more often it is someone you know, and trust and even love.  And that face can knock you down, send you scurrying into the darkness of despair.  That face, which isn’t the face of God, you know that, but yet somehow they have been that before.  They have let God’s light shine on you before and you’ve known God’s pleasure through them.  So it only makes sense that you could sense judgement and disappointment from them too and think it is God.  

But wait, you think, Psalm 27 isn’t about our faces, it is about God’s face.  Right, caught me.  It’s about God’s face and not our faces.  Except ... just how do we seek the face of God?  Come, my heart says, seek his face.  Your face, O Lord, do I seek.  It’s built into us, this desire to seek the face of God.  It comes from within.  We long for the face of approval and the face of acceptance, we long to look into the face that loves us more than we can even imagine.  So, how do we seek that face?

By worshiping.  That’s what David says.  Come to worship.  But not reluctantly or under compulsion.  Come with eyes open seeking the face of God.  Come ready to look and see, ready to hear and understand, come expecting ... expecting, mind you, to encounter the face of God.  You might see that face in an ecstatic experience, a vision or dream.  You might.  But more likely you will see it in the faces of those around you.  Those who love you unconditionally.  Those who want only the best for you.  Those who are waiting for you to see them.  Those for whom you are the face of God.  Yeah, there are those for whom the face of God looks like the face you see in the mirror every morning.  All they hope for is that you’ll pay attention, that you’ll forgive, that you’ll invite, that you’ll love them.  Lookit.  Please, oh please, just lookit.


Saturday, February 13, 2016

Abiding in the Shadow

Happy Valentine’s Day.  Or it will be on Sunday.  And that’s an odd thing, isn’t it?  We have to go to church on the day dedicated to human love, romantic love.  Isn’t it?  I mean, yeah sure we talk about love all the time in church.  But everyone knows that there is love and there is ... love.  Right?  I mean I learned way back in seminary that there are different words for love in Greek, and that we’d better pay attention to which one is being used in order to understand the context.  There is the love called “philos” which means the love of a friend, and the love called “agape” which is the love with which Christ loved us, the love that took him to the cross.  And there is “storge” which is love of a parent for a child, family love, and there is eros which is romantic love, love of a man and a woman.  And it would be helpful if we could keep all these ideas separate in our heads so we don’t get confused when we are asked to love our neighbor as ourselves, or to love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength.  It’s good to keep those things straight.

Except that later biblical scholars have noted that the gospel writers didn’t always keep it straight.  And that it seemed like the words are often used interchangeably.  Huh.  Kinda like English, which is so sloppy it only has the one word.  Love.  Like somehow they all run together.  Like they interweave and that we can’t make the kind of divisions we want to make.  Such as when we say, “Jesus said I have to love you, but He didn’t say I had to like you!”  How do you do that exactly?  How you dislike someone, but love them like Jesus wants us to?  Is that even possible?  Or that other one, I love you but I hate what you do.  Except what if for them what they do is who they are?  A slippery slope, I know, that could send us crashing down into the ridiculous (“I’m a murder, it is what I am, not what I do, you have to accept what I am!”) Which is of course nonsense.  But where is the line?  How do we determine what is worthy of loving, no, sorry, who is worthy of loving and who isn’t?

And what does all this have to do with Lent, for heaven’s sake?  Lent is a somber, reflective, internal season designed to make us feel sorry for our sinfulness.  It is about our journey with Christ, our wandering in the wilderness for these forty days, as he wandered in the wilderness for forty days.  (Although, it is leap year, as was pointed out to me.  Which means there is a free pass hidden away in the season, a day when you don’t have to reflect, don’t have to repent, don’t have to feel bad.  There’s an extra feast day, to go along with all the other Sundays of the season.  A get out of jail free card, a golden ticket to the chocolate factory!)  But what does all this somberness, all this being sorry, all this repenting, all this introspection have to do with loving?  Everything.  Just ... everything.

Psalm 91 You who live in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,  2 will say to the LORD, "My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust." 3 For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence; 4 he will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler. 5 You will not fear the terror of the night, or the arrow that flies by day, 6 or the pestilence that stalks in darkness, or the destruction that wastes at noonday. 7 A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. 8 You will only look with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked. 9 Because you have made the LORD your refuge, the Most High your dwelling place,
 10 no evil shall befall you, no scourge come near your tent. 11 For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. 12 On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone. 13 You will tread on the lion and the adder, the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot. 14 Those who love me, I will deliver; I will protect those who know my name. 15 When they call to me, I will answer them; I will be with them in trouble, I will rescue them and honor them. 16 With long life I will satisfy them, and show them my salvation.

Because we live in love.  That is the secret of our existence.  We are surrounded by a love that is almost indescribable.  We’re wandering in the wilderness, remember?  Our Lenten journey.  Like His.  But remember wilderness for Jesus isn’t the wilderness we think of.  We think of green, of trees so thick you can’t see through, of grass and weeds and undergrowth that catches our feet, making it hard to walk.  We think of dark and secluded, damp and mossy, bugs that carry us off they’re so big.  We think of creeping things and slithering things, things with teeth and claw.  Swamps and rotting vegetation, our wilderness, peopled with creatures of our imagination and film history, is different than His.  His wilderness was desert.  Was rocks and sand, was sun beating down, sapping strength and life, it was dry, parched, sere.  Exposed and vulnerable.  So, Psalm 91 was a blessing.  You who live in the shelter, who abide in the shadow.  It was not hiding, it was relief.  Relief from the blazing sun.  

You who abide in shadow.  Ahh, can you feel it?  The cloud that covers the sun for a moment, and suddenly you can stand straighter, can run a little further, can open your eyes again and see what surrounds you.  Relief.  God’s love is a relief.  Relief from the dry feeling of isolation and abandonment.  Relief from the hearts parched from a lack of love that they can sense or receive.  Residing in the cool shadow of acceptance and security.  Standing up straighter instead of bent over from the weight of emptiness.  My refuge and my fortress; my God in whom I trust.

For what?  Trust God for what?  There is a thread in this psalm that feels ... dangerous.  Angels will bear you up so you won’t dash your foot on a stone?  Treading on lions and snakes?  No scourge will come near your tent?  Dangerous, and conditional: Those who love me I will deliver; I will protect those who know my name.  What about those who don’t know, because they haven’t been told or haven’t been told in a way that makes sense to them?  What about those who don’t know how to love You yet?  Are they, are we just on our own if we find ourselves in that category, temporarily or permanently?  

And if we do know, if we do love as best we can, then what do we get?  A bubble suit?  A tireless guardian angel, pulling us back from busy curbs, protecting us from airborne diseases, shielding us from flying projectiles hurled by accident or intent?  Are we impervious to hurt?  If that is the promise then why do we hurt?  Because You aren’t paying attention or because we didn’t love rightly?  We didn’t know enough?  

We know better.  In our heads anyway.  Sometimes our guts wonder.  We feel abandoned at times.  At other times we feel inadequate, like we disappointed God. But we know better.  We know that God’s love is constant and unconditional.  And Psalm 91 simply says there is nothing that can happen to us to take it away.  The last two verses explain the promises.

“When they call to me, I will answer them; I will be with them in trouble, I will rescue them and honor them.”  Verse fifteen says God promises to answer whenever we call.  We don’t always hear the answer because we’ve moved out of hearing distance, or because we haven’t learned the language of God well enough, or because we’ve set up a hoop for God to jump through and God hates hoops.  But the promise is God will always answer.  

The second promise from this verse is that God will be with us.  “I will be with them in trouble.”  We’d prefer God keep us from trouble, but since a lot of the trouble we’re in is our own fault and God gives us the freedom to wander away, we should celebrate the good news that even our stubbornness, even our bad choices, even our attempting to take God’s place doesn’t keep God from being with us.  

But wait, that verse does say rescue!  “I will rescue them, and honor them.”  So, there you go!  Our get out of jail free card!!  Except, it doesn’t seem to work that way.  God will honor us?  By allowing us to make our own choices and then to live with the consequences.  That’s honoring us.  But we do have that card, in the end.  We are rescued.  Verse sixteen says “with long life I will satisfy them, and show them my salvation.”  What could be longer than eternity?  That’s the promise.  That’s the rescue.  We want something more temporal, usually, but God thinks big picture.  And tries to show it to us.  Invites us to live it now.  Another way of thinking about this protection is to say let’s live like God wants us to and see if our lives aren’t better, more full, more alive.  Let’s love like God encourages us to, and see if we aren’t better lovers all around.  Let’s see.  Happy Valentine’s Day.


Saturday, February 6, 2016

While He Was Praying

“Dear Lord, Help me to relax about insignificant details, beginning tomorrow at 7:41:23 a.m. EST. ... Help me to consider people's feelings, even if most of them are hypersensitive. ... Help me to take responsibility for the consequences of my actions, even though they're usually not my fault. ...  Help me to not try to run everything - but, if you need some help, please feel free to ask me. ...  Help me to be more laid back, and help me to do it exactly right. ... Help me to take things more seriously, especially laughter, parties, and dancing. ...  Give me patience, and I mean right now! ...  Help me not be a perfectionist. (Did I spell that correctly?) ... Help me to finish everything I sta ... Help me to keep my mind on one thing ... oh, look, a bird ... at a time. ... Help me to do only what I can, and trust you for the rest. And would you mind putting that in writing? ... Keep me open to others' ideas, misguided though they may be. ... Help me follow established procedures. Hey, wait ... this is wrong ... Help me slow down andnotrushthroughwhatido. ... Thank you, Lord.  Amen.”

 Admit it, your prayer life isn’t all that it ought to be, is it?  Maybe it isn’t quite the farce outlined above, but it is haphazard, or dependent on mood or circumstance or time.  It’s not so much that we behave as though prayer changes things, it is more that things change prayer.  Right?  Maybe it is because we don’t always know what is supposed to be happening when we pray.  Maybe it is because we were taught the prayers about asking for something to happen and that’s all we know.  I mean, we’ve heard about thanksgiving prayers, and prayers of praise, but maybe we don’t really know what those are.  

It seems like the only measurable prayer is the petition.  Ask for something and if we get it, then we know the prayer was answered.  We know something happened because we prayed.  And if we don’t get it then we can either keep praying, or accept it as a “no” or “not now” kind of response.  And, frankly, there isn’t anything wrong with that.  It is pretty clear, sometimes.  But it seems kind of limiting.  Like it short changes all that prayer can do for us and in us.  The prayer of petition is really only entry level praying.  And Jesus invites us to move deeper, move higher.  At least it seems like Peter, John and James were getting a lesson in prayer on that mountain on the occasion of the Transfiguration.

Luke 9:28-43 Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray.  29 And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 30 Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. 31 They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32 Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33 Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, "Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah"-- not knowing what he said. 34 While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 35 Then from the cloud came a voice that said, "This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!" 36 When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen. 
37 On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. 38 Just then a man from the crowd shouted, "Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child. 39 Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and all at once he shrieks. It convulses him until he foams at the mouth; it mauls him and will scarcely leave him. 40 I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not." 41 Jesus answered, "You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here." 42 While he was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. 43 And all were astounded at the greatness of God. 

While he was praying.  Something was going on for Jesus.  Something more than simply give me this, or help me with that.  There was something profound going on and most of the time we miss it.  Even when it happens to us.

Wait.  You aren’t suggesting that the goal of prayer is to glow, are you?  A glow goal?  That seems just a little bit ... odd.  Not to mention kinda wasteful.  I mean, what’s the point?  Sorry, gotta glow!  Doesn’t seem like a good reason to go to prayer. To go to church.  To climb a mountain.  What was this whole thing all about anyway?

Good question.  One the church has been wrestling with for centuries.  What does the Transfiguration mean?  No one really has a satisfactory answer.  They all seem to come down into two camps.  Well, with the a third camp being the “mystery” camp, or the we don’t/can’t know camp.  I kinda like that one, to be honest.  There are things about Jesus, things about God that our brains are just too ... simple, human, earthly, supply your own word here, to comprehend.  I’m ok with that.  Some aren’t, I know, they want to have answers.  I like knowing that God is bigger than my imagination.

The other two camps divide along the lines of who is this event for?  For whom is this event - sorry grammarians.  Some argue that it is for Jesus.  Only Jesus gets what is going on, the disciples are clueless.  So clueless that even we don’t know what is wrong with Peter’s response.  But Luke tells us it is wrong.  (He did didn’t know what he was saying, that goofy Peter).  So, it has to be about Jesus.  And the visitors came not to talk to the disciples, and how did they know who they were anyway?  Name tags in heaven (Lord, help us)?  They came to talk to Jesus.  It was a private conversation in a private and very personal moment.  They were there to shore up Jesus for the journey ahead.  Peter butting in to share the moment was just rude.

Others say, no, this was not about Jesus.  Or rather it was about Jesus, but it was for the disciples.  That’s why they were dragged along on this wilderness hike.  As usual they almost missed it, dozing off when it came to the prayer time.  As usual they were scared to death by the message that came their way.  But the words from the cloud indicate it was all about the disciples: “This is my Son, my Chosen, listen to him!”  And as usual they messed up by not talking about it when they were supposed to talk about it.  Jesus expects them to be further along in their training, which is why he gets exasperated with them when they can’t perform a simple exorcism.  “How much longer do I have to put up with you!”  OMG.

Well, maybe.  Actually, I think both of those things could be true.  This event could be a moment for Jesus to receive a divine boost to the mission he was about to perform.  And the disciples could have been given a boost that would come back to them later - as did most things that Jesus gave them.  Jesus used the metaphor of planting seeds often, because he knew that the disciples weren’t going to get what he was doing at the time, but later, when it had time to grow in them, they’d remember these moments and these teachings.

But I also think there is something deeper going on here.  Jesus is showing us what prayer is about.  And what it about is being transformed.  Notice Luke says while he was praying, not while they were praying.  That’s why they didn’t get it, they weren’t where he was.  And where he was was in the Presence of God.  And in that Presence, amazing things can happen.  You can become something more, something bright, something that speaks of God at work in you.  

Back up a verse.  The last thing Jesus says before this event was “But truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.” Lk. 9:27 Many folks say either we don’t understand this or Jesus got it wrong.  He thought it was going to happen sooner than it did, this in-breaking of the Kingdom.  Or maybe he was saying, the Kingdom is a lot more visible than we realize.  It was there on the top of the mountain.  It looked like a light show.  But it was really someone in the Presence of God.  

Prayer is less about what we can get from God and more how we move closer.  Closer to God, closer to a constant awareness of that Presence, closer to a life of confidence that all things work together for good for those who love God, who live in that presence. Prayer is less about changing things or circumstances, and more about changing us.  Are you ready for a change?