Have you ever been in a time and a place where everything seemed to be just perfect? Perhaps for just a few moments, on a beach at sunset or, perhaps, for a few years, a time when family life was full of peace and joy? It might have been the perfect job or the perfect vacation, the perfect parish or the perfect home. Whatever it was, I would wager my bank account (insubstantial as it may be) that it eventually came to an end. Sometimes we expect these times to be fleeting. (We all know that we must return to work after a vacation.) Sometimes the endings are sudden and filled with grief. (We could never have foreseen that the change of manager at work would wreak havoc on our joyous, peaceful workplace.)
However, when we return to ordinary life from these “perfect” times, we do not return unchanged. If our moments were serene and rejuvenating, we re-enter life with newfound energy. If our moments were sudden and unexpected, we bring the vision of what is possible to our new, less-than-perfect situation. In all cases, two things seem inevitable. Firstly, these times are temporary; they eventually come to an end. Secondly, our experience of “perfect times” calls us to something new – even missionary.
And this is exactly what happened a couple of millennia ago when Peter, James and John headed up for a mountain hike with their friend Jesus. They probably hadn’t thought that they would also be meeting up with Moses and Elijah and hearing the very voice of God speaking to them as well. It was a perfect moment. Unimaginably perfect. Heavenly, in fact. A time they wished would go on forever. Which is why Peter, missing the point as usual, proposed a heavenly housing project. (I so dearly love Peter. He makes me feel sainthood is possible even for me!)
“No,” Peter, “we aren’t staying. This moment of holiness, this moment of transfiguration is intended to be fleeting. You have been given a gift but you are not meant to dwell here. Instead, you will return to the lowlands, with a knowledge that will transfigure you. And with a knowledge that will be shared (even if not immediately), so that it will transfigure all those you meet.”
I wonder how our world might change, if, when we have those perfect experiences of peace and serenity, we regard them as a calling to bring that experience back to daily life. I wonder what would happen if we traded mourning for motivation when we experience the loss of something truly beautiful in our lives. At the ending of a joyful and co-operative workplace, of a loving, peaceful family life, of an inclusive and engaging parish community, could we bring the memory of that time, the lessons learned from that experience to our new, less-than-ideal situation? Could we transform that into something beautiful, too? Is that what it means to see the beauty of Christ, transfigured before us and then to have to leave the mountaintop? I wonder…
Christine Way Skinner is a lay minister and author. She received a Bachelor of Arts in Theology degree from St. Francis Xavier University and a Master of Divinity from Harvard Divinity School. She is currently working on a Doctorate in Theology at St. Michael’s College in Toronto. Christine loves trying to find inclusive, compelling and creative ways to pass on the church’s 2000 year old traditions. She enjoys exploring the arts, gardening and engaging conversations. Christine’s numerous publications can be found and purchased here.