• Jennifer Ristine

Come down from the mountain: Courage to live in the mystery of God

Updated: Nov 9, 2019

Silence is needed to listen to Jesus. But even in the silence, we do not always understand God’s ways or God’s call to our heart, precisely because it is mystery. Nonetheless, Jesus wants to share his mystery with us. He wants to incorporate us into his mystery. Be brave…live in the mystery!

When I was a young girl my Dad would take me flying in his little plane that seated only two people. I would sum up the experience as exhilarating! My favorite part of the ride was when we would fly directly into a big puffy cloud. From the outside, they look like cotton candy, but upon entry, the cloud obscures the sunlight and the cabin of the plane darkens. A knot of awe bordering on fear would well up in my gut. That is how I imagine the three apostles felt when they were covered with the cloud…and suddenly a voice spoke to them.

“While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and covered them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. A voice came from the cloud, saying, ‘This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.’ When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves and did not tell anyone at that time what they had seen…” (Luke 9: 34-36).

Entering into the mystery through the obscurity of faith

In Sacred Scriptures a cloud is often associated with God’s awesome and mysterious presence. When we enter deeply into prayer, we are sometimes entering a cloud. We listen. Sometimes God speaks through a whisper, a light, an image. Other times he is silent. The cloud is paradoxically dry…We are left seemingly alone, yearning for God. This can be an exhilarating moment! It is precisely in these moments, that we can learn a lesson from the apostles as they went down the mountain with Jesus after the Transfiguration. Let’s see what happened to the apostles.

Jesus said: “Listen carefully to what I am about to tell you: The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men.” But they did not understand what this meant. It was hidden from them, so that they did not grasp it, and they were afraid to ask him about it

(Luke 9: 44-45).

The apostles were so on fire on top of the mountain, but now Jesus throws a “doozy” at them. They don’t know what to make of this revelation. Jesus refers to the circumstances that will lead to his crucifixion, which he is about to embrace. This is beyond their capacities to imagine or fathom. Jesus invites them to enter into the mystery of his mission of redemption.

In our sincere search for Jesus and our desire to grow closer to him, we may come to a point when we feel we have entered that cloud of mystery. The way we used to try and listen to Jesus doesn’t work or make sense anymore. We seem to be getting a different message…or maybe it feels that we are getting NO message at all. Perhaps it is time to detach…detach even from trying to make sense of the mystery of God; detach from the desire to understand, to see, to imagine. It is time to enter the cloud of unknowing.

The experience just described could be indicative of what the contemporary spiritual author and priest, Fr. Thomas Dubay, called, The SNAG STAGE. This can be a common, yet disconcerting experience for those who have already climbed the mountain to meet Jesus. By this I refer to a Christian who has begun a journey of seeking the Lord through a life consistent with gospel values and through the integration of daily prayer in his/her life. There are typically three signs that one has stumbled upon this snag stage.

  1. It seems impossible to pray in the accustomed way, whether it be through an intellectual act of reflection on some spiritual points or by using our imagination to enter into a scene from the gospel.

  2. There is an experience of emptiness of images, concepts and human thought.

  3. Paradoxically, one’s heart is still longing for and seeking the Lord, and simultaneously wanting to give more to God but not sure how.

What is one to do in this moment? Live in the mystery, sustained in hope and nourished in charity. Let’s learn this lesson from the three apostles who also had to come down from the mountain and live in the obscurity of faith.

2. Sustained in hope and nourished in charity

The three apostles who accompanied Jesus to the mount for the transfiguration, were also witnesses of Jesus’ agony in the garden. Jesus invited them to accompany him and be witnesses of his cross and his glory. After Jesus’ ascension, I wonder how often those three apostles returned to memories of their experiences with him, particularly of the transfiguration, Jesus’ agony and the revelation of himself in the breaking of the bread. Perhaps these linked memories sustained them in hope as they faced new challenges: sustaining a new and growing community in the faith, preaching among both pagans and Jews, and setting the record straight about Jesus’ true divinity and true humanity.

The mysteries of God’s saving plan becomes a part of our own memories when we daily enter into the reality of God’s love for us. How can we do this? 1) through prayerful pondering of sacred scriptures and 2) in the immersion of our entire self in the celebration of the Holy Mass. They not only become a part of our memories, but we celebrate God’s saving power present to us NOW.

In moments of darkness, whether in our spiritual life of prayer or due to life’s circumstances, we are sustained and nourished by the memory that God loves us and has saved us; and we are nourished in the present realities of God’s loves for me as he offers me salvation NOW, particularly through a living faith and participation in the Eucharist.

Even so, it may happen that the darkness persists despite recalling God’s goodness and trying to live in faith. These moments require courage to continue living in the mystery that God permits. How often we want to make sense of our life and have all the answers to complexities and problems. Perhaps those are the times in which God places us in the SNAG STAGE. God asks us to “wait & listen”. This is not passivity on our part, nor meant by God to lead us to despair. God is provoking a posture of faith that is willing to live the circumstances with as much love as we can muster up, trusting in God’s unconditional love and fidelity.

The apostles were told to “Listen.” They remained attentive to Jesus, but still did not grasp the message. They too had to wait in the darkness of faith. They had to live in the mystery and were finally able to marvel only after the passing of some time. As this mystery became more firmly rooted in them, it shaped who they were and gave them the impulse to be the witnesses the world needed.

Jesus invites us to live in the mystery, like the apostles. As we walk by faith we listen. It is no wonder that to live in the “obedience of faith” implies a listen and bowing one’s head before mystery (see CCC 144). We listen by opening ourselves up to the Word of God in Sacred Scripture and the Eucharist. Never underestimate the power of these two gifts of God by which he sustains us in hope and nourishes us in love; and through which we experience the call to be his witnesses.

For more reflections on prayer read the Catechism of the Catholic Church

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