Sunday, February 18, 2007

Going to the Mountain

Last Sunday in Epiphany, 2007
Year C

In the readings today we hear about Moses and Jesus both doing a very similar thing. They both go up to the mountain, they both pray, they both return transformed (in this case, their transformation is marked physically by a glowing face), and they both go from there and act. Their actions are slightly different from one another – Moses goes on to lead his people in a wise and just manner. Jesus goes on to be crucified by the Roman Authorities for being a trouble-maker.

Now, I don’t know about you, but when I read this, I occasionally fall into a pretty common trap. I get this misty-eyed and wistful desire to just chuck this crazy, consumer-driven life and go live on a mountain top in Tibet. But you know, I think this is unhelpful in a number of ways.

One of those ways in which this is an unhelpful thought, is this: If I have managed to distill this text down to one misty-eyed and wistful desire that I’m never going to fulfill, then what I’ve really done is taken a wise text that could provide insight into my life and turned it instead into a Disney World fantasy that is as unhelpful as it is unreal. And so long as I focus on the Disney World fantasy version, I don’t have to worry about any kind of self-examination that this text might be leading me to.

That’s one trap, but there’s another too. Cam hit on it last week as well, when he pointed out that not everyone is called to be a disciple of Jesus. There are people that are called to go live on a mountain top, just as Jesus and Moses were called to go and retreat to a mountain top to pray. And then there are the rest of us, for whom mountains are limited to skiing, hiking, and the occasional postcard from a friend. No, the wisdom of this passage isn’t about encouraging us to sell our belongings and move to the mountains, whether they be the Himalayas, the Alps, or the Rockies. For us, the mountain is a metaphor, and a useful one, too.

And in fact, we’ve got a metaphorical mountain coming up this Wednesday. This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, and it’s the beginning of Lent. It starts this Wednesday, and it ends on Easter Morning, April 8th.

Now, I know that the chocolate industry takes a hit every time Lent comes around, but I deeply suspect that Lent isn’t about giving up chocolate, or caffeine, or deserts. It’s a tradition, to be sure, to give things up for Lent. But it’s also a tradition to think of ourselves as inherently sinful beings, hence our desire to give something up, a symbolic gesture of our desire to be ever-so-slightly less sinful. But you know, neither one of those are traditions are supported by the Gospels, and neither one of those traditions lead to healthy transformation.

So then, if Lent isn’t about giving something up, if Lent isn’t about a symbolic gesture, then it must be something concrete, something real – something that isn’t symbolic, but actual. To understand what that actual thing is, I suggest we revisit Jesus, and Moses.

They went to the mountain. They had an encounter with God. They were transformed. They acted.

Let me say that again:
· They went to the mountain.
· They had an encounter with God.
· They were transformed.
· They acted.

Now, this? This is a four-fold plan I can get behind.

So how do we do it? We know what it looked like for Jesus and Moses, but since we’re neither Jesus nor Moses, how will it look for us?

Well, our mountain is coming up. Lent. And in lieu of giving up chocolate or caffeine, or whatever thing it’s typical for you to give up, I suggest something more in line with what Jesus and Moses did on that mountain: pray.

Praying is the A, Number 1 method of putting yourself in the way of an encounter with God, just like stepping out into oncoming traffic puts you in the way of an encounter with a car. But be warned: this prayer may not be what you suspect.

By this I mean, if you have a method of prayer that works for you, do it. Pray everyday. If you already pray everyday, step it up this Lent: pray twice a day. But if you don’t, if you don’t have a method of prayer that works for you, or if you find your prayers leaving you cold, I suggest you think outside the box and try something new.

Ever tried silent meditation? What about painting? Yes, painting as prayer. Or sculpture. Working with wood, or pen and paper. Pray with a mantra, or a crayon. Pray with movement: a knitting needle, or a snow shovel, or a sponge and soap. Pray with an animal, or a child. Pray with music: whether you listen to someone else or create it yourself, let it fill your senses.

Prayer: it’s not about asking for what you want. It’s about encountering God. And that is step two.

Step three: Allow yourself to be transformed. Listen with all your senses. Have your ears pricked to the wind, your skin sensitive to the brush of a feather, your eyes adjusted to the darkness, your tongue and nose sensitive to the scent within the scent, the taste within the taste. Prayer helps with the listening, and the transformation, which looks different for everyone, comes naturally afterwards.

And after the transformation, comes action. And the action will come, because it naturally follows transformation. And the transformation will come if we allow it, because it naturally follows encounter with God.

What is up to us, is to pray – to set ourselves in the path of an encounter with God. That is where our choice lies. We can do this, or we can not do this.

And so, I encourage you: make this Lent your mountain. Find a way to pray, or experiment with a new way to pray. Allow yourself to be transformed. And when April 8th, Easter Morning comes around, let’s take an inventory and see where we need to act, and what we need to do.


Fran said...

Home run.

And... the best part.... We're going to do this.

Sare said...

Home Run? You think?

Yays. Yays.

We are going to do this.