Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Edge

I got a stern talking to after Mass last evening for riding a snowmobile across a frozen lake.
Fear not: we kept things very safe!

   Second Sunday of Lent   C 

Twice this past week,
I found myself out on the edge of the world—
or so it seemed, anyway.
On Thursday,
I went snowmobiling with friends from Old Forge,
taking us through snow-covered forests
and over solidly-frozen lakes—
seeing sights you just wouldn’t see otherwise.
And then, on Friday, a good bit closer to home,
I went cross-country skiing with another friend
just this side of Paul Smiths,
arriving after a couple of miles at a lean-to
overlooking an icy pond.

Both were experiences of getting away—
withdrawing from the usual hustle and bustle of life,
and instead heading out into the wilderness.
But these experiences were also quite different.
On the snowmobile, life maintains its rather frantic pace.
You’re straddling a loud and powerful machine,
moving at high rates of speed.
You stop to take in the sights, but never for too long—
and not just because it’s cold out there:
there are other places to go and things to see.
Out on the skis, however, time passes quite differently.
The stops are more frequent:
to catch your breath, or to chat with your companion,
or just to take in the beauty of how the afternoon sun
is filtering through the pines and glinting off the snow.

On the snowmobile,
I headed out to the edge of the world
and it seemed like I’d taken
a lot of my usual world along for the ride.
When I reached the world’s edge on my skis, however,
it seemed like I might have already crossed over—
even if only briefly—to the other side…
…and I really wanted to stay.

Jesus leads 
Peter, John, and James 
out into the wilderness—
up to the mountain top—to pray,
and there he is 
transfigured before them.
In Greek and Roman mythology,
transfigurations were 
common enough
as the gods 
manifested themselves 
by taking on earthly forms—
sometimes as animals, 
or even as men.
Jesus’ transfiguration works 
in the opposite direction,
as his humanity 
begins to radiate a glory 
which can only be divine.  
(cf. S. Mueller)

Peter dares to speak up:
It is so good that we are here!
Let us build three tents!
We don’t want 
this wonder to ever end!
Peter has taken 
a whole lot of flack 
over the centuries
for wanting to capture 
and somehow preserve
this mystic experience—
an apparently 
impossible endeavor.

But maybe Peter’s error
is not that he was aiming too high…but too low.  (cf. J. Martens)

You see, we generally work on the assumption
that life’s “peak moments” are necessarily short lived.
Whether we’re out alone in nature,
like Abram counting the stars,
or surrounded by the loving company of family and good friends,
those occasions when all seems right with the world
and the Lord feels oh-so-close to us
are real treasures.
But the wonder and awe they inspire within us
don’t have to be—in fact, shouldn’t be—such rare occurrences.

Do you remember the story of Jacob’s ladder?
Jacob dreamt of a stairway running between heaven and earth,
and upon awaking exclaimed,
“Truly the Lord is here and I did not know it!
How awesome is this place!
It is none other than the house of God
and the gateway to heaven.”  (Gen 28:16-17)
Those words have been carved in stone
over the doors of many churches through the years—
and for good reason:
they should we the words our hearts utter
every time we cross the threshold.

You see, in the mystery of the Incarnation,
God sent his only begotten Son in human flesh
that the Lord of heaven might dwell among us on earth—
not merely in temporary quarters,
but in an enduring, quite permanent way.
And we don’t have to go on extravagant expeditions—
not even as far as skis or snowmobiles can carry us—
in order to find ourselves in God’s glorious presence.
God is here!
In the great Sacrament of the Eucharist,
the Lord lives among us still.
That is truly God’s table, and this is truly God’s house!
In a very real way, the golden door of that tabernacle
is the gate to heaven.

So, why aren’t we awestruck and filled with wonder
every time we gather here?

For one thing, we’re a bit like the fish
who went in search of some water to drink.
We’ve become so accustomed 
to God’s constant dwelling-among-us
that we can pretty much take it for granted.
But the other thing is that we often arrive here
like fast-moving snowmobilers.
When coming to church,
we bring our frantic lives along for the ride.
We can stop in for Mass, but not for too long:
arriving at the last minute,
then leaving for our next event in a rush—
maybe even cutting out a few minutes early.

What a different experience awaits us
if we can only slow down a bit!
Jesus was the Son of God all along
through those years his disciples 
had been following him.
Nothing about Jesus changed 
on that day he was transfigured;
what changed is that his followers eyes were opened
to recognize God right there in their midst.
They needed to climb the mountain—
to step away with him—in order to see.
Mass is meant to be for us a chance to step away—
not just another stop among many along our weekly rounds,
but our ultimate destination.
So, this Lent, resolve to try something different:
Don’t fit Mass in between all the other things you’re doing;
organize everything else around Mass.
Get here a little early, taking time to quiet your mind and heart.
Stay a few minutes afterward,
making the time to offer a prayer of thanksgiving.
Let Mass really be a chance to catch your breath,
and soon enough you’ll find it becomes something
that regularly takes your breath away.

How awesome is this place! 
And how good it is that we are here!
To come here is, indeed, to reach the edge of the world,
for here the Lord is really present.
Let’s make sure, then, that we are really present, too.

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