Experiencing the Transfiguration Ourselves
Every year, the Feast Day of Jesus’ Transfiguration takes place on 6th August and so every now and then it occurs on a Sunday, like this year. This means that we take a break from the rhythm of Jesus’ – and our – sequential journey through the Gospel of Matthew to focus in on this mysterious event which took place in front of Jesus’ closest friends.
I remember travelling to Galilee, in the Holy Land, almost ten years ago on a seminary pilgrimage and taking the trip up Mount Tabor – the site where Peter, James and John encountered Jesus in all his Divinity. At that time, I hadn’t yet encountered Jesus in a powerful way, having been content that my practice of the faith was fulfilled in the ways I had been taught growing up. At the top of Mt Tabor, we celebrated Mass in the Church of the Transfiguration, which was terrific. The thing I remember most of all, however, was listening to other people on our pilgrimage describe their powerful experiences of encounter as we journeyed down the mountain. At the time, I felt like I had missed out on something important. I was curious to learn more about what they were experiencing, but I didn’t know where to go next.
Peter’s reaction to Jesus’ Transfiguration gives us an important clue about how we might both recognise and react to the times of pure gift when Jesus reveals himself to and for us. His reaction was one of desire to stay in the moment. “’Lord’, he said, ‘it is wonderful for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three tents here, one of you, one of Moses and one of Elijah’” (Mt 17:4). While Jesus’ Transfiguration was Peter, James and John’s own experience – given to them as pure gift by God – we are offered similar powerful experiences in our own spiritual journeys; even if we don’t yet recognise them.
My own experiences of pure gift (we use the word encounter), have been given most often while I am outside walking in prayer – most often in the morning. Other parishioners I have spoken with and listened to have described their encounters with Jesus happening after receiving the Eucharist (tears of joy and/or a holy sense of one’s smallness); others have experienced the power of the Holy Spirit (different words to describe this experience of encounter), in a rushing wind, or an aura around another person. Still, others have described to me their experience of a light being shone on a particular area of life that God is inviting transformation, or even experiencing a powerful feeling or physical reaction as someone else has prayed with them for their intentions. Friends, my point is that there is no one way that people encounter Jesus, but that Jesus is revealed to us in a variety of deeply intimate and personal ways. How do we know when it happens? The most natural reaction in the world is the desire to stay in that moment of pure gift.
In the years since my curiosity-arousing experience on Mt Tabor, I’ve learnt that while Jesus desires nothing more than to be known and intimately loved by every person in the world, he doesn’t impose himself upon us; instead, and more than anything, he respects our freedom to say yes to what he offers. Over the last ten years, I’ve become more adept at recognising the times when God reaches out in moments of pure gift. Through these personal experiences of encounter, or God-moments, my desire for a deeper, more intimate relationship with Jesus has increased to the point of overflowing desire to share what I have received with others. Indeed, faith-related experiences, rather than being something private, are given to us by God for the purpose of building us up, and sharing with, strengthening, and building up the faith of others.
Loving and gracious God,
please reveal yourself to (insert yourself and the names of those whom you love).
Reveal yourself to us in powerful ways –
that we may know when this happens,
and that our faith may grow to the point
of overflowing desire to share it with others
and so accompany them to encounter you. Amen.