Greetings, SBT Readers!
In recent walks along the Chicago River, I have noticed that the ice formations have mostly melted or else linger in fragments at the water's edge. The river itself now flows, untrammeled. sparkling in sunshine, and illumined by city lights after dusk.
Each time I walk across the bridges, I stop midway to admire the moving waters, so very different than the frozen riverscape of barely a week ago. Now, the river is alive, seemingly with new purpose and energy. I think of the mighty wind, sweeping over the water in the opening line of Genesis. Something "new" is happening -- the river has been set free and spring draws near...
My thoughts then turn to Lent and the opportunity it offers each of us to "thaw," to let go of our frozen selves and be transformed into spiritual beings. And the question arises: What icy parts of ourselves are blocking God's access to our hearts?
Then comes another question: What will it take for us to melt into God's embrace?
Jesus took Peter, James, and John and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white,
such as no fuller on earth could bleach them. Then Elijah appeared to them along with Moses, and they were conversing with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here! Let us make three tents: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He hardly knew what to say, they were so terrified. Then a cloud came, casting a shadow over them; from the cloud came a voice, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.”
Mk 9: 2-10
Two Sundays ago, we heard the words of Divine affirmation that drove Jesus into the desert: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Mk 1:11)." In this Sunday's gospel, the heavenly voice addresses not Jesus, but his disciples: “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him" (Mk 9:10).
The message is succinct but utterly clear: Because Jesus is the beloved Son, the disciples must listen to his teachings. These celestial words resound not in a private epiphany moment but in the context of a Theophany: Jesus is transfigured before Peter, James, and John and then keeps company with Moses and Elijah. The event, as narrated by Mark, reveals Jesus' divine glory; sandwiched between the first and second predictions of the Passion, the Transfiguration affirms Jesus' journey to the Cross and the glory that lies beyond it.
The call to "listen" is at the heart of both Gospel passages. It is because he listens with his whole being, that Jesus heads for the solitude of the desert. There, undisturbed by the noise of the crowds or by everyday responsibilities, he can focus on the meaning of the revelation he received at his baptism. In contrast, it seems that the disciples hear with their ears but are incapable of absorbing meaning. They leave the mountain, questioning what it means to rise from the dead; in a later verse, Mark tells us that they are afraid to question Jesus (9:32).
Epiphany moments are rare and Theophanies even more so, but God communicates with us constantly, if only we have ears to hear. Sadly, the pace of modern life and the tendency to multi-task make listening difficult. Distracted by all our involvements, we miss some of the ways that God typically tries to get our attention -- through the symbolic language of dreams, intuitive hunches, and emotional responses, as well as through synchronistic events, chance encounters, and even direct messages. Yes, God uses symbols and words to reach out to us, but it usually takes quiet and solitude to decipher their meaning. Listening to God in the midst of a huge crowd or in a noisy environment can be challenging, but if we take time to "withdraw" even for a few minutes each day, we will become more receptive to Divine communications. Lent, of course, is the perfect time to develop our conversational skills, to bring our whole selves to prayer so that we are not merely talking "at" God, but listening with our hearts. In this time of social isolation, after all the Zoom meetings, FaceTime, WhatsApp calls, and Netflix extravaganzas, can we enter into the holy silence that beckons us?