THE VISION AND THE VALLEY
By Hugh Farquhar
The Lectionary Gospel Reading for next Sunday is Mark 9:2-9.
I make a point of teaching my students at Atlantic School of Theology always to consider the context of a passage of Scripture. It’s important to note what happened just before and just after because either may be significant for an authentic understanding of the text. That is the case with this passage. What follows is germane to its interpretation.
So, Jesus took three of his disciples “up a high mountain, apart by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white.” What exactly happened, we can never know. What we do know is that it was a spiritual mountain-top experience for the disciples.
Peter wanted it to last. “Let’s pitch some tents,” he said to the others. “Let’s hang on to this spiritual high. Let’s stay here.”
We can understand that. Who wouldn’t want to freeze those grand moments when we’re “lost in wonder, love, and praise” to quote a traditional hymn. lyric. This is the reason one of the most popular hymns of all time talks about “He walks with me and he talks with me and he tells me I am his own.” We cherish those moments of personal relationship with God.
But we can never stay there. The disciples soon had to go down the mountain and were immediately confronted by a distraught parent, pleading on behalf of his suffering son. The mountaintop experience was inspiring – it was personal and reassuring – but it was no ivory tower where they could linger long and escape the realities of ordinary life and the needs of hurting people.
A fine theologian and teacher, Georgia Harkness, asserts this in a poem entitled “Transfiguration.”
“Transfigured on a mount, the Master stood,
His raiment white and dazzling to the sight.
In radiance divine. It would be good
To stay and dwell forever in that light,
He knew that in the vale below a sick boy lay,
And troubled folk they might bring healing to.”
Being Christian means savouring a personal relationship with God and relishing the joys that faith affords. We have those mountaintop moments when we see into mystery and sense God’s nearness. But that can never be all there is to it. Jesus always takes us down the mountain, to the valley below, and troubled folk we might bring healing to.
We are not invited to stay on the mountain top, agog at God, and shielded from the world’s pain. We are invited to follow Jesus down off the mountain, to be lovers and healers in the valley of the world’s pain and sorrow.
Writes Robert McAfee Brown in his book, Reclaiming the Bible, “The vision and the valley cannot be separated, any more than spirituality and justice can be separated . . . and our struggle now is connecting the wonder of the spiritual experience to the very down-to-earth realities of our daily life.”
As we enter the reflective Season of Lent this week, it would be appropriate for us to be considering where and how we might be making that connection.