One of the gifts of living with a toddler is the opportunity to contemplate bubbles. Bubbles in the bathtub, bubbles in the backyard. I’d forgotten all about bubbles. Blowing bubbles is amazing. Especially if you let the amazement of a toddler rub off on you. This billowing liquid orb you breathe into being, that unfurls and lifts and floats in the air,translucent in the sun, shimmering with eddies of rainbows. Time suspends… Space transfigures … Then Pop! It’s so amazing, these wondrous bubble-beings, that a kid can’t contain themselves … it’s so exciting they just have to run up and grab ’em and pop ’em. And really, we adults aren’t all that different than kids. We may be less open to wonder in general, I’m sorry to say (and it doesn’t need to be that way). But whenever wonder does happen we’re just as prone to popping it. With wonder, with any kind of beautiful – impossibly beautiful – experience, the impulse is to grab it to death.
We all have that friend, and maybe it’s us, who, you know, when you’re up in the mountains in the clear air and clean light and you all look up at a mountain summit vaulting into the sky and everyone falls silent, beholding the full glory of God’s creation … Time suspends … Space transfigures … We all have that friend who’s gotta open their mouth and say something kinda stupid. “Well, this sure beats the heck out of Nebraska.” We’re having this holy moment and someone’s gotta pop the bubble. But of course, what is there to say that doesn’t sound stupid in the face of the glory of God’s creation? There isn’t anything to say really, beyond the breathless silence of awe … But sometimes we just can’t contain the impulse to jab out our finger and pop the moment. This, I think, is because the Sacred, when it rises over us, can be an awesome, awe-full, terrible, terrifying thing. And part of ourselves, as puny little humans, just can’t handle it. We gotta pop the bubble and go back to something being safe and comfortable. Because we know at some level that when we allow the Holy One to reveal even a glimmer of the glory of the Lord, we will have to die and be reborn. But it isn’t always fear that can pop the bubble. It’s often a kind of genuine desire, like the kid who is just so excited about a bubble that they have to grab it. This desire to grab and hold and have what is Holy.
“Jesus took Peter, James and John and led them up a high mountain. His appearance changed from the inside out, right before their eyes. His clothes shimmered, glistening white, whiter than any bleach could make them. Elijah, along with Moses, came into view, in deep conversation with Jesus.” … Time suspends … Space transfigures … And then Peter, oh Peter, he’s the guy that’s gotta open his mouth: “This sure is something, huh? Let’s make sure we remember this. Let’s build three memorials – one for Jesus, one for Moses, one for Elijah.” Now, these memorials are like scratching into a rock, “Jesus was here.” Or maybe it’s the biblical version of snapping a selfie with a celebrity. OMG! Jesus, Elijah, and Moses!? My Instagram followers are going to freak out! But let’s not be too harsh on dear Peter. The Gospel tells us that Peter “blurted this out without thinking, stunned as they all were by what they were seeing.” He was stunned. Maybe it’s just that he couldn’t stand to be stunned, to be breathless and silent before this in-breaking glory. But it’s more than that. We see here in Peter his desire, that endears Peters to me, this desire to hold on to this holy moment. To make it linger. To build a memorial for this astonishing moment of mystery when these great, ancient, holy souls all abide together on the mountain top, overflowing with the light of Heaven. But when Peter reaches to grab the light, the cloud descends. And, you know what? That’s fine. It’s fine, this human desire to grab and have and hold what is Holy. To memorialize it. We can sit and witness and abide the holy in silence. We can. But the real hard thing about being human is that we gotta come down from the mountaintop. We want to have and hold that holy moment with us. We’ve all had holy moments. I’m convinced of it – everyone. You don’t have to be some kind of spiritual athlete. We may not always remember them or recognize them for what they are, it may have been years ago, it may have popped pretty quickly, but we all have experienced some little or big holy moment. The challenge about being human is that we don’t live on the mountaintops. After the mountaintop, we go back into the valley where people live and down into the muddy gorge. We plant seeds there. We blow bubbles. But valley is also the valley of the shadow of death. Here is pain. “Coming down the mountain,” the Gospel tells us, “Jesus swore them to secrecy.” “Don’t tell a soul what you saw,” he told them. He’s asking them to honor that mountaintop moment as a holy moment that they don’t know the full meaning of. It’s best to just ponder these things in the heart. But then Jesus tells them: “After the Child of Humanity rises from the dead, you’re free to talk.” They puzzled over that, wondering what on earth “rising from the dead” meant. Meanwhile they were asking, “Why do the religious scholars say that Elijah has to come first?” Jesus replied, “Elijah does come first and get everything ready for the coming of the Child of Humanity. They treated this Elijah like dirt, much like they will treat the Child of Humanity, who will, according to scripture, suffer terribly and be kicked around contemptibly.” Jesus is telling his disciples that he is going to suffer, now that they’re doming down from the mountain. After the mountaintop, the valley and the muddy gorge. Christ’s journey is about bringing the light of the mountaintop down into all the blessed furrows and folds of real human life here-below. Discipleship means letting Christ lead us up to the mountaintop, doing our best to witness a bit of the glory there, a little of the overflowing light of heaven, before the moment pops. And discipleship then means letting Christ lead us back down the mountain. Discipleship means living here-below by the light we have found.