When I was growing up on the farm I learnt early that various farmers had daily practices that they did regardless of what was happening around them. I also understood that while these practices were not the practice of every farmer they each did something similar.
When I was with my Uncle Wally I learnt that after lunch was siesta time. We would lay down on the ground or the back verandah of the house and put our feet up higher than our head and go to sleep. It must have been a funny site with a man 6 foot tall surrounded by boys under 10 stretched out with their feet up on the log, hats over the eyes, arms crossed on the chest asleep, or at least pretending to be.
My uncles Alec and Alex didn’t rest, they boiled the billy and had a cuppa and you just sat, didn’t talk and sipped your tea with your hat cutting the sun out of your eyes. This happened at least 3 times a day and, if there were machine or stock problems, you did it more often as you worked out the problem.
Peoples meditative practices are different but they are their own and they speak to the circumstances and experiences of life they shared with others. Jesus had a a spiritual practice that had little to do with the temple worship or liturgy, yet it was the vital rhythm of his life and he shared it with his disciples, his students. They were used to this practice which is mentioned and alluded to again and again in the Gospels – Jesus went aside to pray and he sent his disciples away to do the same. In these moments Jesus clarified his identity, his purpose and his intentions.
These weren’t moments of lightness and happiness, a mindfulness deigned for the 21st century cult of the individual, but moments of great and disturbing challenge. His time in the desert after his baptism was not a time of beer and skittles, he was forced to confront his basic nature and find ways to seek wholeness through obedience to his inner urge for justice, compassion and respect for all, his commitment to the evolution of all creation to fullness.
Here on the mountain with his three chosen students it happens again. They go away at a critical time in his self-awareness and the developing trajectory of his life’s journey into confrontation with the power elites in his world. Together they share a deep spiritual experience. While the transformation, or as Thomas More a student of Merton’s calls it, metamorphosis, is experienced physically by Jesus, it is shared with the disciples who were there.
This is important. We often decry the disciples for their seeming inability to get what is happening, yet the truth is they were deeply spiritual men whose spirituality aligns in moments like these with that of Jesus. It is also important because we are capable of and do experience such events for ourselves. The story of Merton shared in the pew bulletin is but one of a thousand such experiences ordinary people share with those on the mountain.
In the story of Jesus this experience is the turning point in his challenge to the political and spiritual systems ruling the lives of everyday people. Jesus has become aware that if he continues to challenge those in power he will face a confrontation he cannot win. He will die. Commentators suggest this is where Jesus turns his face toward Jerusalem fully aware of what the consequences will be but he has decided he will not have his life taken from him, but that he will proactively take charge of his destiny.
We may read this passage and the story of Jesus as the programmed death of God’s son for the redemption of sin, an inevitable train wreck we already know about before the opening credits of the movie roll. Yet I suspect Jesus would have come and died even if there had been no apparent fall in the Garden of Eden. Why? Because Jesus is the complete expression of the Creator being called God and if creation is to reach its fullness it must do so through the actions of Christ, and by a surging towards wholeness in Christ.
The Transfiguration is that moment when Jesus realises he has, if he is to succeed and bring about redemption for the world, to go to Jerusalem and run the risk of dying a harrowing death. If he is to live a life of integrity he now must come down from the mountain and move into the most critical stage of his life. It is one thing to decry the violence in the world, it is another thing to challenge violence through making it your own.
It is easy in our world to go on social media, turn up at street rallies and sign petitions and believe we are in fact challenging the system and its codified violence. Are we really doing anything at all to stop the violence around us? Have we actually felt what it is like to experience the violence of the system and to have no choice but to die, little by little, because of it? Often our words and our presence is safe, heard and seen only by people who share our passions but not by those who experience the implications of the issues we say we stand against.
Jesus could have been just like that. He could have travelled the country all his life shouting at the system and been able to justify such an action. Yet he chose not to. His integrity ensured that he was prepared to die for those affected by the system, by the evil which rules by dint of the rampant ego self in the corridors of power.
He did what he said. He showed us what integrity looked like and said here is your means of redemption. Come down from that moment of high spiritual awareness and engage at the depth of humanities pain, it is here you will find yourself and find that you are capable of living and dying with integrity.
Coming down from the mountain Jesus reminds the disciples of the rule of the road, what happens on the mountain stays on the mountain. Those who have had similar experiences often find it counterproductive to tell others. They simply don’t get it. They weren’t there. Secondly, experiences as deep as this can be misunderstood and cause problems. They’re mad, they’re dangerous, and they’re deluded. Jesus could afford none of these responses by others, even the other disciples.
Some one once said, if you have to tell people you are a Christian, you’re doing it wrong. Jesus doesn’t talk about his moment of truth, he acts and brings about redemption through integrity.
For us, the task is the same. We are responsible for our actions and to ensure our words and actions bring about redemption for ourselves and others. Living with integrity will transform us and the world. When we take our relationships, our commercial practices and our engagement of society seriously they become a means of redeeming the world in which we live.
That’s what Jesus did and it seems good enough for me.