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!

Kaleo - I Walk on Water

Hillsong Worship - Transfiguration

Transfigure Us, O Lord

Christ Walking on Water - Julius von Klever
Christ Walking on Water – Julius von Klever
The Transfiguration - Giovanni Bellini
The Transfiguration – Giovanni Bellini

The Transfiguration

So from the ground we felt that virtue branch
Through all our veins till we were whole, our wrists
As fresh and pure as water from a well,
Our hands made new to handle holy things,
The source of all our seeing rinsed and cleansed
Till earth and light and water entering there
Gave back to us the clear unfallen world.
We would have thrown our clothes away for lightness,
But that even they, though sour and travel stained,
Seemed, like our flesh, made of immortal substance,
And the soiled flax and wool lay light upon us
Like friendly wonders, flower and flock entwined
As in a morning field. Was it a vision?
Or did we see that day the unseeable
One glory of the everlasting world
Perpetually at work, though never seen
Since Eden locked the gate that’s everywhere
And nowhere? Was the change in us alone,
And the enormous earth still left forlorn,
An exile or a prisoner? Yet the world
We saw that day made this unreal, for all
Was in its place. The painted animals
Assembled there in gentle congregations,
Or sought apart their leafy oratories,
Or walked in peace, the wild and tame together,
As if, also for them, the day had come.
The shepherds’ hovels shone, for underneath
The soot we saw the stone clean at the heart
As on the starting-day. The refuse heaps
Were grained with that fine dust that made the world;
For he had said, ‘To the pure all things are pure.’
And when we went into the town, he with us,
The lurkers under doorways, murderers,
With rags tied round their feet for silence, came
Out of themselves to us and were with us,
And those who hide within the labyrinth
Of their own loneliness and greatness came,
And those entangled in their own devices,
The silent and the garrulous liars, all
Stepped out of their dungeons and were free.
Reality or vision, this we have seen.
If it had lasted but another moment
It might have held for ever! But the world
Rolled back into its place, and we are here,
And all that radiant kingdom lies forlorn,
As if it had never stirred; no human voice
Is heard among its meadows, but it speaks
To itself alone, alone it flowers and shines
And blossoms for itself while time runs on.

But he will come again, it’s said, though not
Unwanted and unsummoned; for all things,
Beasts of the field, and woods, and rocks, and seas,
And all mankind from end to end of the earth
Will call him with one voice. In our own time,
Some say, or at a time when time is ripe.
Then he will come, Christ the uncrucified,
Christ the discrucified, his death undone,
His agony unmade, his cross dismantled—
Glad to be so—and the tormented wood
Will cure its hurt and grow into a tree
In a green springing corner of young Eden,
And Judas damned take his long journey backward
From darkness into light and be a child
Beside his mother’s knee, and the betrayal
Be quite undone and never more be done.

— Edwin Muir

The Whisper

“Then the Lord said, ‘Go outside and stand on the mountain before the Lord; the Lord will be passing by.’ A strong and heavy wind was rending the mountains and crushing rocks before the Lord—but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake—but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake there was fire—but the Lord was not in the fire. After the fire there was a tiny whispering sound. When he heard this, Elijah hid his face in his cloak and went and stood at the entrance of the cave. A voice said to him, ‘Elijah, why are you here?’” (I Kings 19:11-13)

That’s why it is important to be loud.
In order to avoid the questions, keep
the conscience muted, stay within the crowd.
Make sure you are exhausted before sleep.
Play music when you’re by yourself,
and talk more than you listen. Talk much more.
Leave prayer like dust, collecting on the shelf.
Don’t meditate. Don’t contemplate. Don’t bore.
Think only of how much there is to do.
Don’t gaze too long at nature; it’s a trap.
Clouds are redundant. Skies are often blue.
Why study them? You’ll be labeled a sap.
Do not sit still for long, or what you fear—
it will come. When you’re still, it will appear.

It will come. When you’re still, it will appear.
That is because its hush is always there.
And it will ask you, Why? Why are you here?
Why were you born?
It’s like a kind of dare
that you will want to answer. Wish for fire—
for wind or for an earthquake—anything
to keep the whisper out. Lean on desire.
Don’t sleep alone. Don’t eat alone. Don’t bring
attention to the silence. Block it out.
Don’t answer it. That’s when it starts, you know.
Question that you felt the whisper. Doubt.
Why are you here? Don’t worry. Let it go.
The whisper is the source of change, the knife.
You must avoid it. Just like death. Or life.

—Annabelle Moseley
from A Ship to Hold the World and The Marionette’s Ascent

One thought on “The Mountain, The Whisper, and the Water

  1. Life on earth is always a pilgrimage. We can not be sure where our journey always takes us. Jesus showed us how to suffer and be obedient. Peter taught us how to reach out and ask for God’s help. Elijah, Moses and Peter are present during the Transfiguration to again confirm the true identity of Christ and His authorship. Christ meets with them on the mountain in sheer radiance and glory.The Transfiguration is about the glorification of Christ’s body and his humanness. It is meant to strengthen His disciples faith and to prepare for Jesus’s suffering ahead. May grace and peace be granted to us through God’s great abundance of love. Christ’s glory and his power are the foundation of man’s hope to be redeemed. [2 St. Peter] Your grandmother is walking on the water because she does not doubt her God. I wish her the very best in her recovery.

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