Peter, James and John had a heckuva mountain-top experience at the time of Transfiguration. They were treated to a vision of Jesus in his heavenly glory; they got to see legendary Elijah and Moses and they even heard the voice of God the Father. Peter was so overwhelmed that he suggested they erect shelters for Jesus, Elijah and Moses. Clearly, he didn’t want the experience to end.
On Sunday afternoon, I had an idea how Peter felt.
I’d spent the previous three days at Entheos – a Christian retreat centre near Bragg Creek. Entheos is a beautiful, tranquil refuge from human ‘progress.’ It’s described by many as sacred and holy, and I second that emotion – but I think it’s only holier than other places because it’s allowed to be holy. I think maybe all of creation is holy by default, but our presence in, and impact on, most places kind of squashes the holiness out of them. At Entheos, the noise and clutter of human existence hasn’t been allowed to drown out the indigenous holiness, so it is a sacred place to many – including me.
Entheos is the site for many Christian retreat programs, but the one I attended there last weekend is called Cursillo. A worldwide, multi-denominational movement, Cursillo started in Spain in the mid-20th Century (hence the Spanish name). The Anglican Diocese of Calgary has an active Cursillo community (http://www.cursillo.ab.ca/), and that’s the organization that hosted this weekend’s retreat at Entheos.
Thanks to Cursillo, I spent three solid days praying, eating, laughing, singing, talking, listening and crying with a few dozen brothers from around southern Alberta. We ranged in age from 31 to 70, and represented a broad range socially, economically, ethnically and vocationally. But none of those differences mattered much, because of the one thing we all held in common: a love for Christ. (If that sounds at all appealing to you, please contact me; I’ll be glad to give you more information and potentially act as your sponsor. There’s a women’s Cursillo this weekend too, for what that’s worth…)
The spirit of God was active at Entheos that weekend – you could feel it if you tried – but you really didn’t need to meditate and turn on your godliness Geiger counter to sense the Spirit at work that day. You could see Jesus with your own eyes, in the smiles and the hugs and the jokes and the laughter; the service of the kitchen team and the ministry of the spiritual team.
It was so much fun, and so enriching. I really didn’t want it to end. I felt changed, but I knew my environment back home was still the same. And while I was looking forward to seeing my wife and kids again, I wasn’t looking forward to the return to the pedantic and mundane world of laundry, spreadsheets, traffic and board rooms.
Spiritual director Stephen Hambidge (who is, coincidentally, my pastor at Holy Trinity Anglican Church) picked up on this vibe among many of us, and pointed out why mountain-top experiences are so profound: they’re tiny glimpses of the Kingdom of Heaven.
But the Kingdom is a spiritual place, and while we humans are spiritual beings, we’re also physical beings during our earthly lives. And during the period when we have physical form, we can’t ignore the physical world. We’re not meant to.
So what good are mountain-top experiences? If we can’t stay there, are they just a tease? Probably not. A glimpse to remind us what we’re working toward? Perhaps partially. But mostly, I think it’s more likely that mountain-top experiences are designed to change us, so we can go out and change the world.
Somehow, that knowledge doesn’t make it any easier to be back in ‘reality,’ though.
But remember what Jesus said about the Kingdom of Heaven: it’s at hand (in some instances He says it’s come near). He didn’t say it’s available after you die, but that it’s available starting now. Therefore, maybe we don’t need to leave the Kingdom on the mountain-top.
“Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” – Matthew 17:20
If a little genuine faith can move a whole mountain, maybe we can take the mountain-top with us.
Hmm. Is that comforting, or challenging? Probably both.
Peace be with you.
Photo Source: Unknown. I neglected to take note of the source when I first grabbed this photo anonymously and without permission, and couldn’t find it during an exhaustive Google search yesterday. My apologies, Mr. Photographer.