In our well-known account of the Transfiguration, Peter simply says, “Lord, it is good for us to be here.” Of course, he could mean Mount Tabor all in and of itself. It has an amazing 360-degree view of the Jezreel Valley, the mountains of Samaria, Mount Carmel, the Golan Heights, Mt Gilead, Mt Horeb, the whole of Galilee, all as far as the eye can see. On a clear day it is where heaven and earth meet. There atop a mountain, the place where man has gone to meet God, where human and divine touch, the meeting place of the temporal and the eternal. Matthew, Mark and Luke describe the miraculous event of the Transfiguration, as does 2 Peter 1. We celebrate the event that was the revelation of Jesus’s divine nature, exalting him above the Law/Moses and all the prophets/Elijah, foreshadowing his death, and prefiguring his Resurrection. Maybe Peter understood what was unfolding or maybe he was flummoxed and all he could come up with was “…it is good for us to be here.” I am not sure I would have understood what I was seeing much less think of something to say.
I have been atop many a mountain – some of the Colorado 14ers, peaks topping 14,000 feet. Wind River Peak in Wyoming, Kilimanjaro, Mt. Kenya – and it was good to be there. Amazing views, comradery of my friends, a sense of accomplishment. And it was amazing to see the place where the earth touched the sky – and a place to think about how small we are in the universe of things, even right here on our own planet. As a Christian believer, of course my thoughts turned to God, His creative presence and works, and it is something to fall asleep under the canopy of stars in prayer. It was good to be there.
But it was not a place or experience like the Apostles atop Mt. Tabor. It was not a single moment in time when God spoke to me, I was overcome in visions of our Savior, spoke in tongues, was slain in the Spirit, or any other event that would be a measure of the depth of my faith – my own personal transforming mountain top experience.
Growing up I was surrounded by Baptists, Pentecostals, and Evangelical folk – people who testified in church, at the grocery store, in the barber shop, and more, with words such as “God laid on my heart…” “God convicted me…” “The Spirit told me…” They had visions and dreams in which Jesus revealed himself to them in spectacular ways they can’t describe or deny. They didn’t have to squint and strain to discern God’s presence in the hushed tones of the Catholic Mass in the Consecrated Host the priest held up for all to see. “Behold the Lamb of God.”
I felt I was a bottom dweller on the hierarchy of holiness. I was forever condemned to live there wanting my own mountain top experience. Wanting, as St Timothy says in the 2nd reading, to be called to holiness through the appearance of Jesus – or at least his voice, a dream, …anything. I wanted Mt. Tabor. Why Peter and not me?
In time I learned, I am called to a different mountain top. Not Mt. Tabor, but more like Mt Horeb. Horeb where the prophet Elijah discovered God was not in the mighty wind, nor the earthquake, nor the display of fire and might, but in the still small voice at the mouth of the cave in which Elijah stood. It was not doubt, good to be there.
There where the divine, eternal voice reaches the human heart, eyes, ears and senses. Far from the mountain top, but in the still small voice of God among the ordinary, the mundane, the mostly unnoticed. What the Christian writer Kathleen Norris calls the quotidian mystery. The mystery of God revealed in the everyday. The place where the divine is present in the unspectacular. Not the mountain top where things are glorious and amazing, and your day is completely different than every other day. Not the mountain top for which you have photo albums of the day. But the bottom lands of same stuff, different day for which there are no photographic records of note. Nothing worthy of Instagram.
Peter wanted to stay on the mountain top, but God said “No,” covered them in a fog and simply said “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” They then rose up and headed back down into the valley, back to the ordinary. Back to the place where Jesus’ words would be lived out.
It is good to be here. Yeah? It is indeed good to have those moments. It is good to set aside times and places for quiet and prayer. And if Jesus reveals Himself, make good of the gift of that moment. But the moment will pass, and we all return to the way of the valley, the way of the everyday, our own way of the cross – right to the place we find ourselves. The place where it is also good to be.
The place we face the real challenge of the Christian life: to hear the still small voice in the rhythms and routines of the everyday. In the loving touch of a friend. In the human voices that say, “Don’t be afraid.” In the unspectacular business of discipleship, prayer, service, and solitude. In the unending challenge to love my neighbor as myself.
We can’t predict how God will speak, and in what guise Jesus might appear. But we can trust in this: whether on the brightest mountain, or in the darkest valley, Jesus abides. Even as he blazes with holy light, his hand remains warm and solid on our shoulders. Even when we’re at our rope’s end, He whispers, “Do not be afraid.” And we are to rise up and follow.
Listen in the ordinary. Keep listening. It is good for us to be here. Amen