A Meditation on the Transfiguration

As I returned home once, several years ago, from a particularly uplifting retreat, my arms full of  dirty laundry, it seemed to me that my face must be shining at least a little bit like Moses emerging from one of his face-to-face conversations with God. I was back among the people I love and share my days with. While I had rested in kairos time, immersed in the healing and nourishing presence of Christ and His people, my family had walked faithfully through the chronos of their own weekend. Reflecting on the integration of my “mountaintop experience” into this context, I wrote this fanciful meditation on Luke’s account of the Transfiguration, in particular Luke 9:36b. I am imagining that at some point after his experience with Jesus on the mountain Peter went home to his family, full of wonder and an increased awareness of who Jesus was, and what that meant to him.

The first thing Peter saw as he entered the house was his wife’s face. Her welcoming smile was just a little thin, her eyes shadowed with the weariness of late afternoon. The homey bustle of dinner preparation was punctuated by the birdlike chatter of an elderly neighbor who sat beside the half-laid table, and the sobbing of a small child from behind the closed door of the inner room. Ruth gave her husband a kiss on his weathered cheek, quietly making excuse for the unexpected presence of the old woman.

“It’s always mealtime she comes to call, but she’s lonely, God knows, her children gone and no one to care for but herself. Did you ever know anyone say so many words and take so few breaths in between? Her poor husband, God rest his soul, it’s no wonder he was such a quiet man, with no chance to slip in a word day or night.” And she was off to draw a golden loaf of bread from the oven.

Peter’s mother-in-law came in then with a pitcher of water from the well. An excellent woman in many ways, she had her days. From the way she slammed the door shut with an impatient foot Peter could see that this was one of them. Ruth sighed. The weeping, she told him, was his firstborn and namesake, who had been relegated to the bedroom after having chased his little sister and broken a plate that had belonged to her mother, and to her mother before her.

Peter crossed the room and went into the inner chamber. Behind him, his wife watched the door close, an eyebrow raised in perplexity at his silence. Little Peter looked up, a small version of his burly father, always quick to action and even quicker to regret the unfortunate consequences. Tears coursed in muddy rivulets down the round cheeks. His eyes widened in alarm at first, but seeing a smile on his father’s face he ran to bury his face in the rough tunic. Awkwardly patting the small head with its dark crown of curls for a few moments, Peter advised his son on the wisdom of approaching his mother with willing hands and a penitent face. Then he sent him out, with a gentle slap on the backside, to wash up.

Ruth’s mother hardly knew what to think when her son-in-law stretched out his arms and took the heavy dish she was carrying, stooping down to kiss her softly on the cheek. He set the dish on the embroidered tablecloth and then turned to the neighbor woman. She stopped the flow of her words in mid-sentence and looked up at this broad-shouldered fisherman timidly, perhaps even a little fearfully. Peter took one frail, withered hand between his strong ones.

“It would be a blessing to us, Mother, if you would join our family for the evening meal. I hope you weren’t planning to leave us just yet?” And Ruth was almost sure that her husband winked at her as he said this.

The candles were lit in the growing dusk. The youngest child clambered into her father’s lap as he held out his arms to say the blessing. She rested her head against the strong chest. His long beard tickled her cheek, and she could smell the wild, sweet scent of the mountaintop as Peter began to pray, feasting his eyes on the much-loved community gathered around him.

“The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make His face to shine upon you. The Lord lift up the light of His countenance upon you and grant you His peace.”

Even as I wrote these words I could sense the distractions and irritations and sadness of this world pressing in on me, clamoring for my attention. But I continue to remind myself that the blessings of our mountaintop encounters with the living God, however rare and wonderful, are real, and they cannot be taken from us.

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