"So," I said. "So," he said.
The first time I really saw the night sky in all its astonishing glory was on a perfectly clear night in the middle of nowhere in Australia. I was with five of my film students, there on a documentary project, and we had been driving through the night to our next destination. There were no other cars on the road for miles and miles. The students were all in various states of dozing and napping, exhausted after a long day of filming. Looking out the window of the car, I suddenly realized that we were in the presence of something really extraordinary. I slowed down, pulled over and stopped the car on the lonely, treeless road. No one woke up, but I got out and stood beside the car, looking up and instantly was…how can I describe this? Enraptured. Spellbound. Mesmerized. And I suddenly felt my heart beating so fast that I thought it was going to blow out of my body. I was ecstatic, euphoric, on a cosmic high. There were billions and billions of stars up there, and for the first time I thought I could see them all, a huge pathway of a gazillion milky stars stretching 180 out of the blackness of the earth all around me. I have always been drawn to the night sky and the immensity of the cosmos of the Creator, but this…this was the first time that I felt I was a part of that spectacular creation.
I don’t know how long I was out there, my neck craning upward. Maybe 10 minutes, maybe an hour. There was no time. But then I heard a door open, and without looking away from the sky, felt a presence next to me. I heard him breathing, but we said nothing, and I just knew that his eyes were filled with stars as well. After a good long time in silence, I turned my eyes to him. “So.” I said. He looked over at me with the biggest smile. “So…” he said. There is nothing more to say when you have witnessed a profound manifestation of glory. We woke up the rest of the students to share it with them, and they were as speechless and awestruck as were we.
Several years later my companion that night beneath the stars met with me to tell me some wonderful news. “I’m met this incredible girl, and I’m getting married!”, he said. What? I said. I know, he said. “I can’t believe it either.” And he started gushing like a broken water hose, telling me all about her, how wonderful she was, how amazing she could be, how fantastically lucky was he. And as he spoke, I saw his eyes go all starry, and told him so. I know, he said, and he got quiet all of a sudden. And then he said, “I feel like that night in Australia, when we stood beneath the most awesome sky I have ever seen. Remember how speechless we both were?” he asked. Yes, I smiled.
And for some reason I thought of that wonderful moment in Genesis when God takes Abram outside and tells him to look at the sky and count the stars and promises that if Abram puts his faith in the Lord, he will have that many descendants in his family: billions and billions, gazillions. And then to prove his commitment, God enters into the familiar contract of the Israelites. The contract, in those days, involved the slaying of sacrificial animals, splitting them in half, and then both parties to the contract walked between the halves of the animals. In the contract between God and Abram, Abram kills the animals and splits them, and then promptly falls asleep. As he wakes from his sleep, he sees a great ball of fire erupt between the animals. It is the Lord promising to be true to Abram and his descendants for better or for worse, for richer or poorer, in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, until death do them part.
I looked into the eyes of my former student, and saw the fire for his true love in them. I remembered well the feeling he was experiencing.
One day in college I met someone who was a lot like the girl he described. She was pretty much what you saw, transparent, and what you saw was pretty great and greatly pretty. She smiled all the time and made everyone else smile, but more importantly, she made everyone feel like they were loved. I don’t think there was a single person who didn’t like her, probably because there was no one she didn’t love. Hard as that is to believe—and believe me, I tried hard to find a false note in her, but always failed---it was really true. And underneath it all was a really pure faith. She believed--man, did she believe, without being showy about it—she knew that God was with her all the time. I didn’t have much faith at all at that time, but I really wanted what she had. I knew, somehow, that it was the origin of that smile, the origin of that extraordinary love.
Of course I fell in love with her, and of course I wasn’t the one for her. It was a pretty painful realization, when it came. But unlike other rejections, I never stopped loving her because I couldn’t, because it was impossible. She was too beautiful, every layer. And I was more grateful than I can ever express, because she brought me to the mountaintop, pulling off her own transfiguration trick.
Up there on that mountain with James and Peter and John, Jesus suddenly lit up from within like a gazillion stars. He got plugged in up there, or maybe better put, he plugged himself in up there on the mountaintop, and he just glowed, dazzling James and Peter and John. They got so excited they gushed like a broken water hose, and didn’t know what to do with themselves. It totally transformed them, his transfiguration, and though they didn’t understand it all that well, he gave them a peek at the source and the potential of his power, and they were never the same again. And later on, Peter and James and John plugged themselves in at the same source, and they glowed from within too, lighting the way for others to see the truth that lies beneath everything and everyone.
Jesus was the continuation of the promise made to Abram and his descendants, but with Him the commitment was even greater: for better or worse, in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health----and here’s the most unbelievable part--- until always and forever, the sting of death banished once for all. You understand, don’t you, that we Christians believe the unbelievable, right? We believe that God loves us so much that we will rise again from our deaths, we believe that we have been promised the glory of the cosmos that shines out all around us. That’s what those bumbling disciples got to see up on transfiguration mountain---a glorious promise of life forever and ever in Love.
We are invited to be transfigured, to be lit, fired up and flamed out. We are invited, this Lent, to let go of everything that keeps us from our own transfiguration—all our fears and insecurities, but also our envies and our egos, our lusts and our laziness, our gluttony and our gratifications. To climb the mountain we have to shed the weight of our fears, our resentments and angers, the self-loathing and the elaborate costumes we wear to make ourselves what we are really not. At the mountaintop, the truth of who we are, and the joy of it, awaits us. And not just us. When we plug in, our light will fall upon those who live in the darkness at the base of the mountain. And that light will draw them in, with us, deeper into the fire of the God who loves us all.
Shall we turn our eyes to the stars that represent the immense glory of God and share the light in our eyes with those who only see darkness and death? Shall we become bearers of the resurrected love which we have received from the sacrifice of our brother, teacher and Lord? Shall we make this Lent a time of great hope and great joy? Shall we?