Our Sacred Stories ~ Discipleship and Discovery
A number of years ago a couple of my friends embarked on a hike. This was not your everyday stroll. They set out on a trek that covered some 600km from southern France, over the Pyrenees, to Santiago de Compostela on the north western corner of Spain. They walked along a route that had been traveled by Christian pilgrims for more than 1000 years.
Over the course of several weeks, like the thousands of pilgrims before them, they saw places, met people and had experiences that they would never have had without this journey. Along the way, one of my friends wrote a continuous blog. Writing this blog was a way of sharing the journey with others. What became evident over the days was a movement of focus from the landscapes and people they encounter to what was happening within themselves. It was more than a simple hike, it was a pilgrimage, filled with insights and spiritual growth in many ways.
Those disciples who met and began to follow Jesus gradually discovered that this was not just meeting a person who was quite remarkable. They had met a master and teacher who would change their lives. Following him would effect change in their lives. This was no ordinary teacher or master, but one who would call for life-changes and would, in the end call them to share in his mission.
Matthew’s Gospel points out the discovery the disciples had in the experience of what we call the transfiguration (Matt.17:1-9). Jesus took Peter, James and John and “led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them,…” In the scriptures, mountains were often places of a close experience of God with us. In the Old Testament, the mountain of Sinai was where Moses experienced the presence of God (Exod.24:12-18). Through that experience at Sinai, Israel began to discover they were to be one people treasured by God.
The experience of the disciples was akin to what Moses experienced at Sinai during the Exodus. It was a moment discovery for the disciples. So great was the experience for Peter that he wanted to stay there. This was not possible. The wonder passed, while they came down from the mountain to continue and ultimately accept the mission of sharing Good News.
The story of the transfiguration may seem like the story of Jesus’s connection with God who as a loving parent speaks from the bright cloud over shadowing them: “This is my Son, the Beloved;… Listen to Him.” With this, the disciples who had wanted to build a shrine there, and keep the moment, were now filled with awe and fear, covering their faces. “But Jesus came up and touched them…. ‘Stand up’, he said, ‘do not be afraid’”. A touch of compassion in a moment of fear. Perhaps the transfiguration is more about the growing faith of the disciples than about Jesus the “Beloved Son”. It is a story of transformation for the disciples.
Our own relationship with Jesus the Christ, is much like the disciples on that high mountain. This is the aim of spirituality and for disciples, it is the key to our relationship of faith with Jesus. Spiritual writers such as Ron Rolheiser, Joan Chittister and Richard Rohr express this key to a transforming discipleship. The spirituality they present is one that is marked by balance. It is founded on compassion and on openness. It is marked by prayer as a conversation with God in the midst of action in and for our world. Spirituality has us standing in awe of a God who loves us deeply like a parent and calls us to express the same for one another. The Spirit brings us out of the clouds and into action for humanity.