Living Into Mystery 2-10-13

Living Into Mystery        Transfiguration Sunday

At my old church, Jesus face was in the safe. It’s still in the safe actually. There’s a stained glass window there with a depiction of Jesus.  Thirty years ago or more Jesus face came off of the stained glass.  They put the glass face carefully into the safe in the church. I imagine they thought they would find a way to reattach it sooner than later.

Every week for six years I faced that stained glass window when I got up to preach. Many weeks I would not notice the missing face, but some weeks, when the sun hit the window just right, I would look up and see the light radiating through the clear glass and I would marvel at the unintentional depiction of the transfiguration, this amazing scene in the Bible when Jesus shines on the mountaintop.

Today we read about Moses going up the mountain and meeting with God, receiving the Ten Commandments, accepting God’s direction for the life of his people. When he comes down from the mountain, which he does several times, to tell the people and the other leaders what he has learned, his face shines so brightly that it terrifies them. He has to put a veil over his face to protect them from the brightness of the light.

I imagine it is a stunning and awesome experience to be close to the Source, to be so close to God’s presence that you feel the warmth and see the light reflected in a way that makes you realize that the direct experience of God’s presence would be more overwhelming than staring into the light  of the sun.

About ten years ago, I had the amazing experience of visiting a St. Luke member, Mihye Won, a day or two after she had given birth to her second son, Subin. I walked into the room and I could not believe how radiant she looked. I’ve been a little embarrassed to talk about it all these years, because she looked so beautiful, I did not have any seemly way to talk about it as a man and as her pastor.  Reflecting on this passage this week has finally given me a way to talk about that experience. Her skin shone that day as if she had just encountered the Living God. She was happy and content and a sweet peace enveloped that room with this new baby. I’ll never forget it.

Once the Hebrew people got over their fear, they experienced a similar peace and contentment as they encountered Moses filled with satisfaction and triumph in his experience of the Presence of God.  At first they were scared, and that caused Moses to put a veil over his face. In the end there were almost no words to describe the experience, except through the telling of the story of an amazing light..

Many people who come to church have had an encounter with the Spirit at some time in our lives which is almost beyond words. A mystery touched us that we are just a little embarrassed to talk about. We might be even a little fearful to talk about it, worried that people will think us a little strange or unusual.

For centuries human beings have had strange and unusual experiences of divine presence. Pentecostal churches, youth rites of passage in the wilderness, Zen enlightenment experiences, religious people’s meditation retreats all aim to help people experience a bit of the Light, in a setting where the people won’t get called crazy or extraordinarily odd.

It’s really kind of a shame when we classify so many forms of religious or spiritual experience as out of bounds or crazy. Victor Turner, a famous anthropologist called these kind of experiences encounters with “liminal reality.” Liminal is the line between this world and another world, the line between this reality and a spirit reality. It is an unusual experience, and a wonderful experience.

Australian aborigines describe “dream time” – a time out of time, where they experience a different layer of reality. Native Americans had shamans who helped them experience another reality as well. Christians have at times wanted to tame these other worldly experiences. We like our mystery in manageable doses – like Holy Communion in a tiny cup. God’s primal presence can be raw and scary.

Some people are proud that they live only in what they think is the real world. But their lives are the poorer for it.  Sometimes mystery touches us even when we have not cultivated the experience as some other cultures do. We may have that experience through the deep joy of a loving relationship or being in the peaceful presence of a newborn child. We might have that liminal experience in a scary way, being close to death, either our own or a loved one. We might have that encounter with mystery in prayer, in music, in art, even in church. We can have the experience through ecstatic singing, dancing, playing. We experience the edge through letting go of control and letting the Spirit take over. We get there by taking off the veil which keeps everything in order and in its place.

Trusting the Spirit can be scary and unsettling.  Trusting the Spirit can take us places we are not sure we wanted to go. Trusting the Spirit, living into mystery always helps us to grow and deepen our connection with God. I thank God for all these ways that God breaks in to our reality. I thank God that we get to practice trusting the Spirit together as begin the journey of the cross beginning this week. May we be in touch with the Spirit enough that even we reflect the light of God’s face, that even we reflect the light of God’s goodness, peace and joy.


2173 Shine, Jesus, Shine