Sunday, February 3, 2008

RCL - Epiphany Last A - 03 Feb 2008

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Bernard Jean Delcourt, OHC
RCL - Epiphany Last A – Sunday 03 February

Exodus 24:12-18
2 Peter 1:16-21
Matthew 17:1-9

Episcopal Chapel of the Transfiguration, in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
c Shaun Santa Cruz

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts help us to co-create your Kingdom of Peace, O Lord.

*****

First, let me say a word on altered states of consciousness. “Altered states consciousness” or “altered states of awareness” are phrases used in anthropology and psychology to describe temporary conditions in which we experience reality in a very different way from what is usual or normative in our respective societies.

Our contemporary Western societies frown on such states. And we are socialized to repress the experience we gain in such experiences. The most commonly accepted altered state of consciousness amongst us is dreaming. As a Western society we accept altered states of consciousness to the extent that their content remains purely private and personal.

Most human societies recognize learning value to altered states of consciousness and accept that thought-leaders have something to share about the nature of reality in telling the story of their altered states of consciousness.

I have had the grace to have a couple of waking state mystical experiences, another phrase to describe one type of altered state of consciousness. They changed my life by the intensity and importance of what they taught me.

But if a video camera had been trying to record it, it would have captured nothing but the normalcy of the subway ride and subway station where it happened. Does it mean it didn’t happen? God speaks, even today, and God is not restricted in how we are spoken to.

*****

Moses gives us a great demonstration of contemplative leadership in today’s Exodus reading. He is obedient to God; he listens to what God tells him and he has no greater purpose than to fulfill God’s request.

God’s request is to come up on the mountain, wait and receive the tablets of the law. So Moses delegates his exercise of power to Aaron and Hur. He entrusts them to run a caretaker government until he returns. And he does this in front of 70 representatives of Israel. The mandate is not to undertake great projects -- such as a change of religion, for example -- but to arbitrate any dispute that may be brought to them. And Moses takes along his trusted assistant Joshua.

Moses knows that this endeavor to go meet with God on the mountain will take time and all his dedication; he frees himself up to attend to God only.

*****

Moses goes on the mountain. The Presence of God manifests itself in a bright shining cloud. Moses and God meet. Moses attends to the Presence of God for six days; apparently, simply waiting on God. On the seventh day, Moses is invited in and steps into the cloud, deeper into the Presence of God. To the people of Israel below it looks as if he entered a devouring fire and disappeared into it.

*****

As a monk who yearns to be ever more awake and present to the Presence of God, Moses struck me as a wonderful model as I read and prayed this text.

Free yourself up from the busy-ness, get the help you need, show up, make yourself available, sit there, don’t just do something.

And then, be ready to wait. Discerning God’s call is not your thing, if you are into instant gratification and multi-tasking.

*****

Jesus too wanted to show up for God. At this stage of his ministry, as described by Matthew, he knew his face was turned on Jerusalem. And he knew this was a perilous direction in oh so many ways.

It was perilous for him personally (he risked suffering violence, insults, torture and death). It was perilous to turn on Jerusalem for his disciples (they might be drawn into his own martyrdom, they might scatter into insignificance and oblivion, or they might misconstrue his way as the restoration of a self-governing Israel).

It was perilous for the people of Israel (if they came to believe that a political and militaristic messiah was at hand, they might rise in rebellion against the Roman occupier. And be bloodily quashed once more, as Caiaphas, the high priest worried about).

*****

On the seventh day after Peter confessed that Jesus is the son of the Living God, Jesus takes his three closest friends Peter, James and John, and escapes the madding crowds up a mountain.

He did this whenever prayer and rest took priority on the pressures of his ministry, whenever he needed a sabbath. Jesus must have needed to attend to God more fully. He may have wanted to discern if he was doing God’s will by turning toward Jerusalem.

And there, up the mountain, the group’s prayers open up new understandings for all of them, if only fleetingly for the disciples.

*****

The Transfiguration unfolds in several highly symbolic steps.

The four friends hike up a mountain to seek quiet and solitude. Mountains to them are places of greater proximity with God, as in the days of Moses.

While in prayer, Jesus’appearance changes under their eyes. He glows like the sun. He becomes light; that is, the source of wisdom and life.

Then, Elijah and Moses pay a visit and enter into conversation with Jesus as if they had only met last week. These two men of the Hebrew Scriptures represent many things to the disciples.

Moses is the messenger of the Law, the deliverer of Israel and its leader in an exodus to the Promised Land. Elijah represents the Prophets and is widely believed to be connected with the arrival of the Messiah. Both Moses and Elijah are men of God, who have themselves countenanced God. Like meets like; Jesus too is familiar with God.

At this, my beloved Peter -- impetuous, always well-intentioned and ready for action -- Peter can’t help himself and gushes out his joy and his desire to preserve the glory of this moment.

But God does not even let Peter finish his sentence and burns this moment into the disciples’ hearts and ours forever. The manifestation of the Presence of God itself engulfs them all. The Presence that engulfed Moses on Mount Sinai is with them. And God’s voice booms: “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”

A greater than Moses and Elijah is here. There is no need to expend ourselves in pump and celebration of glories past. There is only one need and that is to see the Light, hear the Word, and follow the Way that is Jesus.

Jesus and his friends went up the mountain to pray for discernment. They each got answers. As many answers to prayers, they are not explicit but they are hard to escape.

Yes, Jesus must proceed to Jerusalem to complete the Exodus from the domination of sin. Yes, Jesus is the son of God, the glory of God. This answer of who Jesus really is will only come to roost with the disciples after Jesus’ resurrection. Such is the nature of discernment. It grows organically, until it is ripe for harvest.

As they all return from their altered state of consciousness, from their common mystical experience, the disciples find Jesus’ reassuring everyday presence. But all four have been transformed by the experience.

On their way down, Jesus uses his authority to preclude the disciples from spreading the story until after his resurrection. This is the first step of his non-violent passion. He refuses to use his ultimate honor status in Hebrew society at all. It would risk igniting a violent rebellion against the empire of Rome. God’s kingdom of peace does not compete with worldly empires; it surpasses them all.

And so, Jesus and his disciples return to the plain. They return to the people and return to their ministries. Jesus unassumingly continues to lead them in the greatest adventure of mankind -- the liberation from sin and death -- all the while, teaching, healing and loving.

The Transfiguration is not about transcendence if it is not also about immanence. Our God is here and now, deeply involved in creation and humanity, touching our shoulder to reassure us along the way.

And just the same, our God is beyond the beyond. God is both immanent and transcendent. It is no wonder that altered states of consciousness are privileged avenues for us to apprehend such wonders more deeply.

*****

Let us pray.

All in all, Moses was on the mountain in your Presence for 40 days and 40 nights, O God. That’s the duration of Lent which we will soon enter. Will we show up for You and listen, this Lent? Will we make space in our lives to be there for You; and to wait on You? Soon enough, we’ll all find out. May you inspire us to imitate Moses and do a bit of preparation ahead of time. May you strengthen our resolve as you did your Son’s on the day of His Transfiguration, that we may no longer dither and stray, but follow Him, the Way, the Word and the Life.

Amen.

1 comment:

Fred said...

(Patrick Jarvis posting through Fr. Fred Myers blog at St. Paul's in the Desert Episcopal, Palm Springs)

Thank you, Br. Bernard.....a couple of thoughts on where you reached me.....Late in your sermon here, when you write "will we make space in our lives and wait on you?" for me, the essential connection comes to life:

When we give up something for Lent, we create some real estate, so to speak, on the crowded Monopoly board of our lives to make space for relationship with God in a special and different way. This "Free Parking" space needs to be created out of that which already exists, a niche carved out of what is already there, so to speak. This is why we must give up something we would miss....it is then space we will notice, and value. This breathes life and anticipation into Lent for me; thank you.

Regarding altered states of consciousness, I was once in a coma for about 25 days. You'd be surprised how much one can learn from a coma if you are willing to not try to force your own translation onto everything you "see" during this time, but truly let go and let God,not only during the down time, but for many months afterward. For me, the coma was not just a "gray period"....in fact, anything but.

If one is patient and truly docile under the shadow of the Almighty here, these mysterious symbols, images and "dreams" that many who awaken from comas speak of (or pointedly do not, but indicate that they possess memory of) settle over the months into a deeper resonance of context and truth between what one knows about God and the world one lives in (and this was, in my experience, a true life-changer).

I concur that the nature of these experiences is content-private; in fact, I feel that there was a holy and sacred element involved that I am not meant to share. This all took place amidst a lot of less-than-perfect circumstances, conditions and people, myself included. When in doubt, go with grace. It was very difficult to see amidst the worst of times that there was going to emerge something deep and wide and indescribable and divinely inspiring. Still, it did, and this is the Grace of God.

If we look closely at Peter's speech in Acts 2:17, paraphrased here (In the last days....your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams) what this does indicate is that God foresees an INcrease, not a DEcrease, of what Br. Bernard aptly refers to as "altered states consciousness" as time moves on.

Like you, Br. Bernard, it changed my life, directing me closer and more intimately with Christ and God the Father. These, I believe, might be the true marks of a grace-inspired altered awareness experience, whether it happens on a crowded subway car or in the extreme quiet of a hospital room:

The ultimate result is a new level of humility (as Christ displayed following the Transfiguration, as one cannot help but be imbued with humility when faced down by realities of the Living God), a lasting deeper link to the eternal mysteries and qualities of the God we serve, and finally, a purpose and a meaning that will probably only becomes clear over our entire walk of life, but
one that becomes more resolute and determined thanks to this brief glimpse of a reality greater than ours.

Thank you for opening up on a subject so rarely discussed; nowhere does my soul get the quiet stimulative (and regular) workout that I find here at the OHC Lectionary blog.....and congratulations to you, Br. Bernard, on about a year, I believe, of having this blog up and running (so well).

Patrick Jarvis
Palm Springs, Ca
patrickjarvis@earthlink.net