March 4, 2007


This is my chosen Son; LISTEN to him. – Luke 9: 35

The cloud that envelops them reminds us of the cloud that confronted Moses on Mt. Sinai . A cloud obscures vision, & from this fact an entire school of spirituality has developed known as the Via Negativa ( Negative Way ). The basic idea is that God is only known by what He is NOT, not by what He IS. That is to say, it is impossible to know God by human reason alone. In short, whenever we try to contemplate the Divine, there is always going to be an element of invincible ignorance.

It is characteristic of Eastern Christian spirituality, but there is at least one example of it in the Latin west, a book entitled The Cloud of Unknowing by an anonymous author in 14th century England . It is a humbling reminder that we are dealing with Mystery.

The disciples see, but they see blurred. Such an experience is familiar in spiritual perception. Something is seen, but they also realize that there is more to the story. This in-between space opens the door for mistakes, & Peter is about to make a doozy! The voice, when it comes, is not addressed to Jesus directly, but to the disciples, & it doesn’t mince words. Jesus is not to be housed & worshiped, He is to be heard. The strong imperative shatters the cloud & reveals Jesus alone – without Moses or Elijah.

Superficial silence – not talking – is only the beginning of listening. Profound silence – an empty, receptive mind – is the goal of listening. We have to learn to respect what at first we cannot view. Whenever we follow someone more enlightened than ourselves, we must be open to what they say. This does not mean we are gullible or mindlessly obedient, but it does mean we temporarily suspend our assumptions to work with words that may be, initially, strange to us.

We must not immediately argue with everything we cannot accommodate to our present world view. Many of our Lord’s sayings seem to deny common sense & so we ignore them. In so doing, we overlook the possibility they are invitations to a deeper level of wisdom. To understand this wisdom & integrate it into our lives, we may have to let go of some of our favorite certainties, remembering that whatever we discover, it is merely preparation for action on earth once we leave the mountain.

We can’t stay on the mountaintop. We must return to the valley to do the work the Father has sent us to do, but we return as changed people. We return to struggle with the mystery of life, confident that we are accompanied by God’s beloved Son, His Chosen One. We have seen His glory, we have listened to Him, we have learned from Him, & we are no longer afraid.

The valley is not always a place of beauty & loveliness. It involves family squabbles & political & economic & social problems, tensions, anxieties & moral dilemmas. Our Lord invites us to partake of the mystery of the Cross, but not without a vision of Who He is, however tentative that may be in the beginning. AMEN!