Last Wednesday in our Lenten Prayer
Group I used a brief poem by a Polish writer, Adam Zagajewski, to begin the session.
The poem, entitled, “A Flame,” has stayed with me all week and seems appropriate both for our long winter
season and for our Transfiguration Gospel today. Zagajewski wrote:
“God, give us a long winter
and quiet music, and patient mouths,
and a little pride – before
our age ends.
Give us astonishment
And a flame, high, bright.”
I find in this poem two contrasting
moods. The first is almost despair, a giving in to the weariness of winter, the
weariness of life, and wanting to be comforted by some quiet music and good food. And hopefully, at the end, dying with a “little pride.” Then, in sharp contrast, the poet wakes up and shoutss, “Give us astonishment/ and a flame, high,
I wonder if Jesus took Peter,
James, and John, up the mountain to wake them up. There is nothing like a mountain
climb to stir the blood. Had they become weary of following Jesus around, weary
of constant ministry, weary of conflicts, weary of rejection and lack of response? Had
they lost their zeal and enthusiasm, their initial fire?
I say this because this mountain
experience is all about light and fire and flame.
Jesus is transfigured before
them with a light that glows all through his being and outwards in unbelievable brightness.
Notice whom Jesus is conversing with: Moses and Elijah, two very experienced
mountain climbers, -- Moses who had climbed Mt. Sinai, and Elijah, Mt. Horeb.
And both were men of great fire and action. Somehow that burning bush
in the desert got inside Moses as he courageously led his people through the desert from slavery to freedom. Elijah was filled with so much passion that he could call down fire to destroy the prophets and gods of
Baal, and then depart this world in a flaming chariot.
No wonder Peter wanted to hold
and tame all that fire and light under three tents. Both Mark and Luke mention
how the disciples were overcome by fear. In Matthew, they simply fall asleep. How could they? Perhaps, the weariness
of winter was so much upon them that they could not endure such great light.
But they did wake up in time to
hear God say to them, “This is my beloved son. Listen to Him.” What did God want them to hear? What
word did Jesus speak to them? We don’t know, but the next time Jesus is
with these same three men, is in the Garden of Gethsemane, and He pleads with them, “Stay awake!” But, once again they fell asleep. Was Jesus’ message
on Mt. Tabor
the same, “Stay awake!”?
In January, Nancy and I gave a
weekend retreat to 20 deacons and their wives in Willimantic Ct. One of the deacons shared with us his life story.
As a young man he had entered the seminary but it didn’t work out. So,
he went on to college. Then, he entered religious life, but, again it didn’t
work out. Realizing, he was meant to be married and raise family, he did
so. Then, he decided to get a doctorate in education, and, afterwards, became a professor at one of our New
England colleges. On a vacation to Cayman Island, he became interested in their
education system, and so, over the next 9 years, he took time to help re-organize it.
Then, he felt called to become a deacon and, after four years of study, he became one.
Now, at 77 he is retired, and has begun writing and publishing poetry. Wow! When I commented on his energy and enthusiasm,
he replied, “It is like climbing a hill. I climb up one hill and when I
get to the top and look out at the scenery, I see that there is another hill further on and I know that I must climb it. And then there is another and another and another.”
Meanwhile, I have been asking
myself for some time now: “Ken, where has your energy gone? Your passion? Your fire?” I had been feeling myself
ready to settle into a more sedate winter of quiet music, a patient mouth, and, oh yes, maintaining a little pride along the
way. I was accepting that I was now on the downward slope of life. And, here
is this deacon, two years older than me, filled with light and fire and wanting to keep climbing. His words kindled a new fire in me. I am determined to climb
Jesus, as we know, had two more
mountains to climb, --The Mount of Olives and Calvary. I think that he glimpsed them from the top of Mt. Tabor.
He saw and felt the glory that lay ahead. But, He also saw his suffering
and death within that glory. Suffering and glory go together. Was this experience on Mt. Tabor to energize himself and his disciples to climb those next mountains? Why else would Moses and Elijah be talking with Him? Why else
would the Father affirm His son and plead for listening?
So, where are we? Are we asleep in a winter of weariness or alive with inner light and fire?
May we at least stay awake and listen. What might Jesus want to say to
us as we accompany Him during Lent to those next mountains ? And, if He asks us, will we be willing to climb with Him and
help Him along the way?