Between Mountain and Vale
Readings: Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14; Psalm 97:1-2, 5-6, 9; 2 Peter 1:16-19; Mark 9:2-10
Quite clearly the action for today’s feast takes place in two symbolic places: the majestic throne room of the Ancient One and the Mount of Transfiguration. Both throne and mountain invite reflection today. Together, they point to the reality spoken of in the response to the psalm: the Lord is king, the Most High over all the earth. Reflecting upon these places, we may perhaps be reminded of our own personal and communal mountain-top experiences – times when we were graced with a felt sense of God’s majesty and power. Recalling such experiences, we easily identify with Peter’s desire to make three tents and remain on the mountain-top. But we also know that such peak-experiences usually don’t last for very long – at least not long enough. All too soon the quickened heart-beat slows and the warm glow fades. As we return wistfully to the sometimes tiresome and always tiring reality of everyday existence we are perhaps left to wonder if the experience really took place or whether it was simply a dream, an exercise in wishful thinking.
There is, however, another important place in today’s readings upon which we need to reflect. Unlike the throne-room and the mountain, one is not usually drawn to remain here. But this place is no less important. It is the road down the mountain. This is the place of connection, of mediation. What does this road connect? It connects the mountain with the valley: the mountain of peak-experience and the valley of the mundane, of tears, of suffering, and of death.
When our attention is focused on this place, we are made to remember the wider context of both the first reading and the gospel. We are reminded that when Daniel has his vision of God’s majesty, he is actually living an exile’s life. We recall that in the gospels, the transfiguration is situated within the context of Jesus’ attempts to teach his disciples that the Son of Man has to suffer…
It is when our attention is focused on the road that we begin to see the deeper significance of both throne and mountain. We begin to see that our experiences of both these places are meant to help us remember and recognize God’s majestic presence in the ordinary and even difficult events of life. We are led to see what the writer of the gospel of John, for example, came to see: that God’s glory is made manifest when Jesus is lifted up on the cross, drawing all people to himself. It is here that we learn what the apostles in today’s gospel have yet to learn: what rising from the dead means.
Here on the road between mountain and vale, we are invited to cling onto the conviction that, whatever we may encounter on the way, God continues to reign. Even as, in the difficult days ahead, we may be tempted to doubt our peak-experiences, we are invited to place our faith firmly in the reality spoken of by Peter in the second reading when he declares: we did not follow cleverly devised myths… but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. Indeed, we will do well to be attentive to it, as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in (our) hearts.
And when we follow Christ on this road, he teaches us to see God’s face and hear God’s voice not just on the mountain-top, but also in the valley. Indeed that’s what the road is for. The mountain is for the valley. In the valley is concealed the mountain. And the road connects them both.
What is the Lord teaching us on the road today?