Tumbling in the Sand
“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.” – Luke 9:33
Isn’t it interesting how quick we are to try to hold on to things? To make things permanent? This whole amazing experience of the divine had barely started (it seemed) and was about to end (Elijah and Moses had turned to go), but Peter didn’t want it to go like that, didn’t want the experience to end so quickly. And so Peter calls out to keep it all just like this—to build something permanent so they could stick around forever. Because, well, it really was good for them to be there.
It is unclear what Moses, Elijah, and Jesus thought about Peter’s plan. But, it appears they weren’t that interested and the whole experience gets lost in clouds of frightening mystery and God has a few words about the disciple’s desire to take control of the situation. Then there is nothing but Jesus and they are headed back down the mountain.
We, like Peter, want to hold on to things. It’s not a foreign idea—what he called out. It’s not a surprise that we (the Church) went back and built a church building on the mount of transfiguration later. We, as people, build shrines all over every site that we ever experience God in. We expect to be able to have the same experience of God and faith and hope and comfort in the places that we have experienced those things before. We expect that what we’ve built, what we’ve striven to preserve will somehow hold God there.
It’s very natural. And we do it, we try to hang on to things, because … because … we don’t want change? No, not really. Actually, mostly we are okay with change. We recognize that change can be good. No, I’ve heard said that we hang on to things because we are afraid of loss. We are afraid of losing what we most love, what we most care for.
That certainly makes sense in Peter’s situation. Who would want to lose the experience of God drawn near? Who would want to lose this “mountain top” feeling? All of us have experienced something like this: not the details, necessarily, but something like this wonder, something like this awe. None of us really wanted to let the moment go, because it was awesome in the moment, but also because we kind of doubted we could ever experience something so wonderful again…
But, here’s the thing: Hanging on to things destroys them. Everything from someone we love to money to our experience of God is corrupted, made broken, worn out by our clinging, our desire to control, our need to make permanent. It’s kind of like trying to hold water in a closed fist. The thing we try to keep just slips through our fingers. Instead, the only way to “keep” these things is to let go of them. The only way to love someone is to let them be free enough to love you (or not love you) back. The only way that money brings any sort of joy is when it is used, not horded. The only way we experience God is in moments caught unexpectedly, when we don’t expect God to come in a particular way. The only way we hold water is with open hands.
And, remarkably, when we let go, what we find when the clouds clear is that standing with us in the dust … is Jesus.
Featured image: Transfiguration by Linda McCray, MFA. Acrylic and sand from Jerusalem on floating wood panel See this painting and more of Linda’s work (which she also does for liturgical space) on her page at: http://montanadesignsunlimited.com/