The Mountain, The Whisper, and the Water
Last Sunday was the feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord, one of the Luminous Mysteries, when Jesus (accompanied by Peter, James, and John) goes to a mountain to pray. There, Jesus speaks with Moses and Elijah (two famous in the Old Testament for communicating with God high on a mountain top) and becomes transfigured, shining with resplendent light. For today’s post, I have featured some beautiful art on the subject of the Transfiguration. But today’s readings on this nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time feature the theme of the mountain once again and culminate, instead of on a peak high above the earth, amidst storm-tossed waves.
Today’s first reading reminds of last week’s mountain of Transfiguration, because it features Elijah waiting for the Lord to pass by on Mount Horeb. The Lord is not in the wind or the fire, but in “a tiny whispering sound.” It is that whisper which makes Elijah hide his face at the entrance of the cave.
Today’s Gospel from MT 14:22-33 states “After he had fed the people, Jesus made the disciples get into a boat and precede him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. After doing so, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray.” In the mean time the boat is being tossed about and “during the fourth watch of the night,” Jesus “came toward them walking on the sea.” Peter is able to get out of the boat and walk on the storm-tossed waves to meet Jesus, until “he saw how strong the wind was” and “became frightened” and begins to sink, crying out to be saved, until Jesus catches him by the hand and says, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
I am struck by the amazing lesson tying last Sunday’s reading to this Sunday’s readings. Last week showed Peter getting a front row seat to Christ’s glory that is to come, forbidden even to speak of it until after Christ is risen. Peter has witnessed Christ’s divinity firsthand. Perhaps it is this fact that gives Peter the strength and audacity of faith to place his feet on the waves as though they were rock. Yet, even as he accomplishes the wondrous act of walking on water, his fear of the wind gets the better of him, and he sinks. How often does this happen to us? We are strong in our faith, we are nourished by Christ, but then we find ourselves in the middle of the storm, and fear almost drowns us. Peter has taught us how to handle that feeling, though. “Lord, save me!” Peter shouts. That is all we need do. But wouldn’t it be better if we didn’t have to sink … if we could walk across our storm with confidence?
“We are suspicious of grace. We are afraid of the very lavishness of the gift,” said Madeleine L’Engle. We can forget God’s grace even when we have witnessed its most resplendent power on our life’s mountains. But it’s always there, even in the storm. When things are at their darkest, when we can’t hear God’s voice, let us listen so we might receive the sound of the sacred whisper. For whether we walk across angry waves all the way to Christ’s arms or grab for his hand just before we sink under the sea, the gift is equally lavish.
I dedicate this post to my grandmother, whose surgery last week on the Feast of the Transfiguration made the few of us blessed to be at her side right before she entered the operating room feel as though we were on the mountain, witnessing a transforming light of assuring grace for this woman of great faith, who led us in prayer in her most frightened hour. Now at 100 years old, she is in a rehab facility, facing pain and fear with beauty and grace; even in her brokenness, remembering Christ. She is teaching all her children how to follow her, taking trembling steps each day across this stormy but sure path. Her painstaking steps are transfiguring her whole family. May we keep our eyes fixed ahead!