February 29, 2012
Second Sunday of Lent [March 4, 2012]
This little piece of information may never have been explored on the History Channel, but perhaps you may have noticed in your reading or travels overseas that many churches are built on hills or high in the mountains. Think of the Byzantine monastery on Mount Athos or Monte Cassino in Italy, the church at Engelberg in Germany and it’s name’s sake, Mount Angel in Oregon. There are lots more, of course.
I have to tell you that the church where I worshiped as a child, St. Henry was built on a slight rise or knoll on the flat lands of North Dakota. My early relatives said that they built it there so that the Lutherans could see it better.
Some of those ancient churches or monasteries were built up high for protection or even the view; but perhaps there is also anthropological-theological reason behind it. It seems that religiously inclined people have always had the sense that one can better communicate with God “on high” or that the human sense of reverence is stronger in high places. The feeling that God is “up” in God’s heaven has always been a human assumption for as far back in history as we can determine. In short, it seems more effective for religious people to communicate with God from the heights. A sense of transformation or transfiguration of the spirit can occur there.
This little anecdote may have nothing to do with the Gospel we read today, but in a time when I was young and foolish, Father Jim Schultz and I spent many summers climbing mountains, I mean high mountains like the Matterhorn and Mt. Blanc in Europe, volcanoes in Mexico and peaks in western United States.
I can vouch for the fact that there is a sense of overwhelming awe or transcendence, even a sense of smallness when you look down on the plains from 15,000 feet. Whenever we would reach a summit, Schultz would always dig out a small bottle of wine from his backpack, and we would salute the mountain with the German phrase: “Berg heil.” “Praise to the peak.” Then Jim would always say: “ You know, you can’t get this down town.” He was obviously correct. The sense of the sacred was more acute and direct from up high than it might be standing on a street corner down town.
Well, obviously, the gospel today describes a mountain top experience, an experience of overwhelming, sacred awe both for Jesus and the apostles. We don’t know from the gospel whether they ascended that mountain precisely to experience God, but obviously, something strange, something sacred happened while they were on that peak. Jesus was transformed or transfigured; he seemed God-like to the apostles to the point where they wanted to build three worship places in his honor so that they could remember the experience. It was as though they saw something in Jesus that they had never noticed before something transcendent. It is all described in terms of the mystery: the cloud, light and of Jesus relationship with Moses and the prophets, the great leader and prophet who would be called to take their place.
So, what does all that mean for us, how does it fit into the sacred time of Lent? My own sense is that we are called to celebrate this season in such a way that we can truthfully say that we are trying to transform our inward spirit, trying become that person God is calling us to be. To use the mountain metaphor from the gospel we might say that especially during Lent we are invited to a higher place to experience a sense of personal transcendence, transformation or transfiguration
Obviously, we each are called to do this in our own way but the important thing is that we do not simply end up doing trivial things like giving up chocolate or desserts and then imagine that we have changed interiorly. That does nothing more than to trivialize the sacred.
If nothing more, perhaps our hope in Lent might be that, like the apostles we would experience Christ, the Sacred One in a deeper manner when these days are over, a way that would carry us to Easter and beyond all our days.
Posted by Cindy Lentine on February 29, 2012 02:00 PM.