“When,” I ask students in a class on writing a spiritual autobiography, “were you named by an experience or a person? I mean authentically named. Where you knew that you were being called into who you most deeply are.” After a little reflection, almost everyone can come up with a memory. I imagine that you can, too.
A lot of these memories are about moments with other people: a grandparent who recognizes our essential nature, a teacher who encourages our talent, a friend who touches our heart with a profound observation. Sometimes we are named in the midst of action. Holding the hand of a grieving classmate we wake up to the fact that this profound listening is what we are called to. Looking at a plant under a microscope we all at once realize we want to spend our lives studying living things.
Sometimes, too, we are the ones to name another. We have the profound honor of attesting to their truest nature. When we speak in these moments, the other person might really sit up and take notice. An energy runs through them as they recognize that they are hearing something very important. Our words allow God to stir their souls.
And there are also times when we witness God’s conversation with another person. We don’t speak at all, we just watch. For me this happens most often when I am accompanying someone in spiritual direction. My directee might ask a question, and I might have the good sense to be still and wait. Then God has the opportunity to move in in one of God’s innumerable ways and light an understanding in their heart.
In all these situations, awe is often a component of the experience. Our hearts are opened up, our minds are silenced, and we perceive a reality beyond the ordinary.
In today’s lessons from Second Kings and the Gospel of Mark, this awe of encounter between God and humanity is found in two of the most wonderful stories from our tradition. In the first Elijah ascends to God in the chariot of fire and Elisha watches. In the second Jesus is transfigured on the mountain top and the disciples hear, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” These encounters are electric, and the stories about them transform us.
In part they transform us because these stories are our stories, too. God created us at the foundation of the world to be unique, unreplicable selves. In the awe-full relationship with God, as we live into who we most truly are, we are most alive, most fulfilled, most happy. Let’s remember our personal stories, live into who they show us to be, and share them with the people most important to us. In this way we will transform the world.