When I first heard it said that it is God, God’s self who guides us into prayer, it struck a deep chord in my soul. “Yes,” I found myself saying, sure beyond reason that this was true. I had been trying on prayer practices like a person tries on clothing. I had been shopping for the one thing that I could wear that would allow me some flexibility while expressing a bit of who I am. Now I found myself letting go of all that and instead simply listening, listening for my Beloved.
The story of how Jesus went up to the top of a high mountain with Peter, James and John could have been the tale of guys frittering away an afternoon together. Perhaps while everybody was setting up camp, stowing equipment and preparing a meal, they went up the nearest hill to see what was around them. Maybe Jesus loved to find the highest vantage point when he was traveling, simply for the joy of looking out over a distance. Maybe it was just that people tended to leave him alone when he climbed, and so he did it whenever he had a moment. We know he talked to God while he was on hillsides and mountains, but was that the only reason he went?
Moses, who led God’s people out of slavery, and the Prophet, Elijah, both loved mountain tops, too. Some of their best moments with God happened when they were up in the heights, alone. And now they found themselves there once again, but not alone. They were outside of their times and with each other, and talking with Jesus — who was glowing as Moses once had.
Peter, James and John had simply gone with their beloved master at his request. Now they were witnesses to this Showing, to Jesus’ transfiguration and to his talking with God’s ancient holy ones. Somehow they knew these men were Moses and Elijah. Somehow they understood that something profoundly significant was going on, even though they didn’t know quite how to take it in.
All of it was a prayer. It was orchestrated by God, who knew the hearts of all these people. They came to the mountaintop, each for his own reasons, and God had them where God wanted them in order to speak to them. And so God did speak.
God was the creative force behind the entire experience. God spoke to each man present. We know a little of God’s message to the disciples, “This is the Beloved. Listen to him.” God’s word to Jesus is beyond our knowledge. And we don’t know what God’s word to Elijah and Moses was, either, dwelling as they do at God’s very heart.
There is a vast wealth of understanding we can take away from this Transfiguration story, enough that each time we engage with it, we will learn and grow. Today what I am hearing is that whatever I want to do, wherever I want to go, I ought to turn my attention to how God has engineered the experience as an opportunity to be known to me. What is God saying to me in word and in Showing? In this moment, how might I pray?
Image:Transfiguration by Feofan Grek from Spaso-Preobrazhensky Cathedral in Pereslavl-Zalessky (15th c, Tretyakov gallery).jpeg
Laurie Gudim is a writer, religious iconographer and spiritual director living in Fort Collins, Colorado. To learn more about her, go here. And here’s her church home. Come visit when you are in town.