I remember still my first meeting with a spiritual director many years ago. I walked into her office with trepidation, not quite knowing what to expect. It was early in our conversation when she asked me how I prayed. As I stumbled around trying to formulate a response, for in all truth my prayer life had been faltering then, she interrupted me and asked if I had ever tried centering prayer. I had not. And so Sister Audrey proceeded to coach me in how to try this on, reminding me that in this manner of prayer it was not about speaking, but listening. It was about receiving. But it required silence. And like so many others who have practiced this form of prayer, I have found this to be so: the discipline of practicing silence so that we can hear the voice of God can be learned. And at times? Once we have encountered God, all we have left is silence in response.
This was surely so for Peter and James and John as they bore witness to the Transfiguration today. Indeed, their final response to these amazing events is simply silence. Not that Peter hasn’t been filling the space with the sound of his own voice just moments before. Still, at the end of the account before us now, once all is said and done, all the disciples have to offer is their silence. There are simply no words of response that would be adequate, no attempt at explanation that would begin to capture what has just played out before their eyes. It is clear that as we follow them down off the mountain now, they are living the truth that all they can do is hold it and themselves in the midst of what they have just seen and heard.
Oh, I do have to say that for all my annoyance with the funeral director at the graveside that day, I do see myself in him. All too often I find myself wanting or needing to explain what is before us. I jump in with words, with analogies, with stories, when finally none of what I have to offer even comes close to adequately offering any real new insights. The story before us now is a wonderful case in point.
So do simply stand still and notice with me:Jesus took with him his closest disciples and together they climbed a mountain. A place where the Holy is often encountered.And that he was praying.That in the midst of his praying he was transformed. That Jesus became light itself.Notice that he was miraculously joined by Elijah and Moses … prominent figures in the faith who had long since died … and that they are in conversation about what is before Jesus now… that he will suffer and die on the outskirts of Jerusalem. We are led to understand then that even though this path might be somewhat unexpected and certainly unsavory, Jesus is, in fact, the fulfillment of all that has gone before.That Peter, as Peter is prone to do, as we all are prone to do… wants to DO something to capture the moment, to make it possible to stay there in this light, in this understanding, in this encounter with God.Notice that at the same time, the disciples experience fear as the cloud descends upon them … for that may be first and finally a deeply sane response to being in the very presence of God.That God’s voice is heard from the cloud — echoing the words Jesus heard at his baptism. Only this time the words are not meant for Jesus alone. They are also meant for Peter and James and John and for all of us for this time God’s voice concludes with the command to listen to Jesus.
It is so that almost as an afterthought, I am reminded that God’s people are all too often silent when we should speak… and yet, do you suppose if our first response were silence, we might be all the more ready to speak when the time comes?
- I have made the case above that ‘silence’ is the only adequate response to the Transfiguration the disciples witnessed. Do you agree? Why or why not?
- Can you think of other parts of Scripture which we are better off experiencing than trying to explain? Which ones?
- What is your experience with silence in the presence of God?