We read this Gospel from Matthew each year before we begin the Season of Lent in the Liturgical calendar. It is considered an important story in the life of Jesus and sets the stage for the weeks ahead as we move through Lent to the heartbreak of Good Friday and then to the joy of Easter. This story takes place near the conclusion of Jesus’ public life as he’s heading to Jerusalem. He understands in some way what is before him and in many ways, it is an experience of a spiritual high before he encounters the sorrow and suffering ahead. It is literally a description of a mountaintop moment which may serve as a metaphor for us, of the times when we feel near to God. We understand however, much like for Jesus and his followers, that such moments don’t often last. However, they do provide a taste of the joy of spiritual connection with our Creator. Like Peter, when we encounter the comfort and consolation of the One who has created us, we want to remain in that place and yet, those moments are fleeting. We can be attentive to such times when they come and reflect on their meaning in our lives. We can draw upon those memories when perhaps our faith is faltering. Let us pray, O Holy One of the mountaintops and of the valleys, we ask that you open our minds and our hearts to your wisdom this day and in the moments that unfold before us. Amen.
In this story of the Transfiguration, the followers of Jesus want to stay up on the mountaintop. Who doesn’t want to savor such experiences of great joy or spiritual oneness? And yet, Jesus, ever the teacher, tells them, no we need to go back down the mountain and return to our friends, to the communities who are still waiting for a word of hope. Perhaps this experience would bring comfort to the followers of Jesus after his death when they needed to draw strength and courage. For us, this experience may remind us that God is present throughout all of creation, that God is everywhere, not just in the high moments, but in all the moments of our Days. It is not just that God is ‘up there’ or ‘in me’ as Rev. Bill Kenneally points out, “it’s that God is everywhere and that indeed, everything is filled with the light of God which they witnessed up on the mountaintop, even when we don’t always see it. We see it in small moments; we call that the foretaste of what is to come.” Many spiritual individuals have described such mystical experiences of being at One with our Creator; many seekers spend their lives attempting to feel this Oneness with God or to have a repeat experience of it once they have realized it. As we move through life, we come to realize that it is the journey that is important and that we will all experience highs and lows emotionally and spiritually.
We’ve spoken before about the ways in which the seasons provide us with glimpses of the Holy. Each season has its own lessons, its own challenges, its own gifts. Each season gives us a lens by which we may be reminded of the way in which God is present in our world and in our lives. The writer Morgan Fite describes her experience of Living in the Season. She explains, “It all started when I heard someone speak on the importance of knowing (and living from) the season you’re in. I would venture to say that there are lessons to be learned and beauty to be found right where you are. In the midst of process.”
Frederick and Mary Ann Brussat, the creators of Spirituality and Practice share some reflections on Spirituality in Winter, writing “There are many moods and meanings to the season of Winter. The weather and the darkness affect our feelings. The rhythm of our lives changes, and we spend more time inside savoring the warmth. We relish the chance to slow down and to have some solitude. The changes in weather provide an opportunity to surround ourselves with comfort and to live in the moment. The Trappist monk Thomas Merton once compared the spiritual life to the search for a path in a field of untrodden snow: “Walk across the snow and there is your path.”
I wonder what lessons each of you has gleaned from winter. What mountaintop moments have you perhaps experienced? Winter teaches us much about patience, about accepting the reality of weather conditions that may delay or prohibit our plans for our own safety. We realize that the weather is simply out of our control and we will need to wait until it improves or the roads improve or it is safe to venture outside. Just a couple of weeks ago, many of us lost power and internet with the heavy snow that fell and brought down many trees in our area. Certainly, that can pose a real hardship in winter, but it also provides an opportunity to pause and be present to the moments, to take a break from the many outside forces and the noise that intrudes on our days and on our peace. In How to Be Happier Day by Day: A Year of Mindful Actions, Alan Epstein writes about the spiritual practice of being grateful for all kinds of weather — even the kind of winter weather that inconveniences us:”Look forward to the approach of strong or unusual weather. Instead of griping when the days turn foul — snow, sleet, freezing rain, or rain with cold temperatures — see them as an exciting adventure, as a time when nature reminds you that she exists, that when it comes to the earth, it is her domain.” He continues by saying, “Even a severe cold spell can be the source of pleasure if you are prepared for it, if you act accordingly and bundle up against the cold and wind. Can you recognize that we all live on a small, spinning orb held on course by the force of gravity among the nearby heavenly bodies, and that its position in the universe is very powerful, but ultimately also very fragile?”
We know that our constantly changing weather, and sadly, our increasingly extreme weather, is out of our immediate control, although we know we have a responsibility to work on climate change. When the weather reminds us to stay put and stay safe, we can take advantage of the found time and discover the peace in the moment. It is an important reminder that practicing radical acceptance is a task for our lives. Maybe the next time you hear a report forecasting strong and unusual weather make it your spiritual practice of the day to see it as an adventure rather than as a possible nightmare. See what a difference this reframing makes in our experience.
There are many unexpected gifts in winter. I think that most of us who grew up in the north can still recall the absolute joy we felt when school was called off due to the snow. A good old fashioned snow day at any age can still bring great joy; it provides us with a ready excuse to just hunker down and spend the day exactly as we wish. The old fashioned snow days can be a bit like a Sabbath…a time of rest and renewal. Who does not feel the need for that every so often? And, if you venture out, a wintry day provides a great opportunity to just be and rediscover the childlike magic of winter. One of the things I’ve really come to enjoy is seeing the birds out in the snow, the scarlet of the cardinals as they venture forth from their hidden nests, other colors that are visible against the snow. And if you have a dog, such joy they experience running around and rolling in the snow. Doesn’t that just bring a big smile to your face?
I’ve spoken in the past about the Danish tradition of Huege. Huege describes the many cozy traditions which we incorporate into our days, the wonderful ways we can care for ourselves and create a living space that allows us to feel comfort and safety, to feel at home in the deepest sense. Huegge includes wood fires and hot chocolate, woolen socks and mittens, cozy throw blankets and soothing colors, candles lit during dinner…all the small joys we weave into our lives and into our homes to bring us comfort. And these remind us that we do need to take care of ourselves, that our Creator wants us to be surrounded by love and light, by comfort and warmth. And, of course, we are reminded that we need to care for those who do not have these very important necessities in their lives. When the temperatures dropped to sub zero levels just two weeks ago, how many of us felt such sorrow that any of our brothers and sisters might be out in such weather?
In Praying Our Goodbyes Joyce Rupp reflects upon frost on our windows…
“One winter morning I awoke to see magnificent lines of frost stretching across my window panes. They seemed to rise with the sunshine and the bitter cold outside. They looked like little miracles that had been formed in the dark of night. I watched them in sheer amazement and marveled that such beautiful forms could be born during such a winter-cold night. Yet, as I pondered them I thought of how life is so like that. We live our long, worn days in the shadows, in what often feels like barren, cold winter, so unaware of the miracles that are being created in our spirits. It takes the sudden daylight, some unexpected surprise of life, to cause our gaze to look upon a simple, stunning growth that has happened quietly inside us. Like frost designs on a winter window, they bring us beyond life’s fragmentation and remind us that we are not nearly as lost as we thought we were, that all the time we thought we were dead inside, beautiful things were being born in us.”
Frost can be a spiritual teacher for us if we just open our hearts and our minds to it. There are plenty of other winter wonders that can spur our imagination and send us on our way rejoicing. Look around you on a cold day and find your spiritual teacher. God is not only found on the mountaintop but walking with us in each moment, including the ones we savor and the ones we find the most challenging. May we be open to the lessons this season provides and look for the gifts of these days.
-“Practicing Spirituality in Winter” Spirituality and Practice.com