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.”
We are isolated. Yet our 4-year-old has created an entire “invisible world” where she gets to go places and do the things she misses right now. Recently, she commented that when she goes to the invisible world two of her closest friends get to live with her in the same house and see her all the time. There is no doubt that playing with them in real life would be better than playing with them in the invisible world. She is doing everything she can to capture things that bring her joy.
In today’s Gospel the Apostles are terrified and amazed as Jesus appears before them alongside Moses and Elijah. In awe, they try desperately to contain the experience before them. They had been experiencing hardships and rejection along the way, and Jesus had begun warning them of his impending death. They are encouraged by this glimpse into Jesus’ glory. Like Abraham in the Old Testament readings, they are reassured that God continues to be with them. When everything we treasure is stripped away, God’s mercy will still provide. God will take care of us tomorrow, just as he has taken care of us for generations. Finally, some good news for poor Peter and the others!
Our human instinct is often to latch onto these positive memories. We commemorate it on a cave wall, in a tapestry, or in our oral tradition. As a teenager I would have scrapbooked the moment. Now, I spend time and money taking, storing, and occasionally printing photos. The painting, the antique, the photo and video evidence. The memory itself does not live in these things, they are merely tools to help trigger our interior response to the initial connection.
I open the drawer to my grandmother’s old desk, rifle through the newspapers my grandfather printed on an old moveable-type printing press, or sit on the sofa that used to be in their den. Each of these objects reminds me of them, but nothing brings back their smell, their touch, the feeling of being with them. I would give anything to sit in the basement in my grandfather’s workshop with him one more time…to make pancakes on the griddle of my grandmother’s 100-year-old gas stove… to visit the giraffes at the San Francisco Zoo with them.
On my last trip to their nearly-empty house just before it was sold, I was struck by the feeling that as much as I loved that house they were no longer there. Their memory is more present in time spent with my family, both those who knew and loved them and those who have only heard the stories of what they were like. I imagine the Apostles wanting to capture their time with Jesus, Elijah and Moses in this same way, as if the tent would keep the memories safe.
I suspect that if they did build a shrine for this sacred mystery, it would feel as empty as my grandparent’s vacant house. The miracle of the Transfiguration would remain, but there would be no way of containing it in physical time and space. Like the love my grandparents infused in my family, this gift was meant to be shared through the very being of those who encountered it.
Has God created such a sacred space for love to dwell within me?