What can we say? Perhaps it's best to close ones eyes and simply be open to the impact and mystery such a dazzling image can deliver from out of the ancient past. Here Matthew does not just use reasoned words of persuasion that Jesus shines brighter than Moses and other past Heroes, but he ventures into an imaginative style and creates a strong mesmerizing image- a dazzling Jesus with the ghosts of Moses and Elijah. The author creates a scene where the disciples have what can be called a numinous experience of Jesus. This is Matthew's effort to put in words what is completely beyond words or reasoned explanation. Numinous refers to the dazzling, fearful , joyful and overwhelming sense of the presence of the 'utterly other' or what has always been called God.
Numinous experience has always been the
foundation of every living religious heritage. But 21st
century persons influenced by science and our trusted use of strong
reasoning skills may leave little way remaining to take the
transfiguration story seriously. It easily becomes a yearly read
story at church which we think must be thoroughly 'made up' with no
real experience behind it. Or we go the other extreme and say. 'It
happened literally just as it says' ( Some might even claim if a
video camera had been there it would have recorded both the images
and the sounds just as we read them. But embarrassingly those taking
it so literally would likely hesitate to report having had or
expecting to ever have such an encounter with the Holy
themselves. Such a claim destructively splits off Biblical times as
if it were a different world than where we live now.And in the process splits our human head from our heart.)
|Transfiguration 1824 CE.|
Yet I remain convinced there are ways by which modern folks can find it comprehensible that there is real life changing human experience, inner if not outer, being spoken of in this story and many others like it. The kind of experience which leads one, without claiming a 'split world' supernaturalism, to ' know' they have been in the presence of that which is beyond our materialized world. I choose to refresh your awareness today that such dazzling numinous experiences have been handed down from all cultures by all kinds of people throughout human history. I offer these for you to mull over, consider their meaning and how you might also be strangely moved by such images. I'll read several of these.
On the face these are reported as if they are literal happenings in the real tangible outer world. Yet they also always include a misty, uncanny, foggy, ghostly atmosphere. And they involve a holy fear as well as an indescribable joy and often invest the observer with a grand inclusive love for others and the whole creation. These examples come from among the highest functioning people of their times. Don't we need such numinous experienced people today?
Moses : Exodus 24: 15-18 Notice Moses' encounter with the Sacred is pictured as something going beyond any straight forward command-obey relationship between human and God for it so convinces Moses of a Sacred reality that he naturally seeks harmony with the source of such a vision. The question of belief becomes moot after such an encounter. One senses this kind of powerful motivation for living in such numinous experiences. Is this not greatly needed in our day?
|Transfiguation 12th Century CE|
Disciples with Jesus. Matthew 17: 1-9 Clearly, Matthew is taking the Moses story as a model and saying that Jesus' connection with God was confirmed by a similar but even brighter event. Even the exalted dead approve. So mesmerizing that the disciples fall down in fear. I have no question that persons present with the human Jesus, as they meditated on their times with him and grieved his death found themselves having dreams and visions of the numinous Holy being fully present in Jesus. Also it is reasonable to ask if the author of this story , as he contemplated his inherited Moses story, found himself drawn into a state of ecstasy and revelation as these word images flowed from him. So the inspired writer has his own numinous experience. Just because something is not in the literal physical world but in a human's inner world takes nothing of the reality and authority from it if one has a broad and solid enough view of reality to begin with.
Falling in Love: The fairly common experience of 'falling in love' should I think be taken as a strong sense of Sacred experience. Charlie Chaplin, like millions of others, writes ' Why are me feet so light? Why are the stars so bright? Why is the sky so blue? ..from the hour I met you?.. The world cannot be wrong if in this world there's you.” Such out of the ordinary ecstatic experience by so many probably says much more about a God of love in our hearts than it does about the beloved partner.
Dante's poetic experiences in Divine Comedy.(13th century)
Other personal reports of ecstatic experience by famous and ordinary people from Marcus Borg's book ' The God We Never Knew”
Dear God of all that is and can be. Grant us an open heart and mind which can at moments catch a strong sense of your glory that was impressed upon those who walked with Jesus. Amen