When I was a girl, I longed to experience what Emily Starr, the heroine of L.M. Montgomery’s Emily trilogy, called “the flash:”
It had always seemed to Emily, ever since she could remember, that she was very, very near to a world of wonderful beauty. Between it and herself hung only a thin curtain; she could never draw the curtain aside—but sometimes, just for a moment, a wind fluttered it and then it was as if she caught a glimpse of the enchanting realm beyond—only a glimpse—and heard a note of unearthly music….And always when the flash came to her Emily felt that life was a wonderful, mysterious thing of persistent beauty.
As a young teen, I wanted to experience that glimpse of the transcendent, to be thrilled with the momentary parting of the veil between heaven and earth.
What I have since realized is that I do have these glimpses of the glory beyond. The parting of the veil fills me with awe and delights my soul, but it also opens in me a yearning, a deep and almost painful desire to enter more deeply into the mystery that lies at the heart of existence and to live in those moments that shimmer with a radiance that is beyond what I usually see or know.
Perhaps this is why the story of the Transfiguration is one of my favorites in all of Scripture. In my church tradition, we celebrate the Transfiguration of Jesus on the Sunday before Ash Wednesday (as in, the day after tomorrow). Lucky me: it’s also the Gospel passage for the second Sunday in Lent, which means I get to read and live with this story twice in two weeks. What I love most about this story is that it gives the disciples (and us) a glimpse behind Emily’s veil, of what is really, truly real.
When Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up on Mount Tabor to pray, I can’t imagine the disciples are expecting to glimpse the mystery of Incarnation. How many times had these disciples prayed with Jesus in the months or years they followed him? Dozens? Hundreds? And never before had the appearance of his face changed and his clothes become dazzling white. Never before had Moses and Elijah appeared with him in glory.
And yet: this is how and who he truly is—the second Person of the Trinity, who transcends time and space, who exists from the beginning in glory.
In Luke’s version of the story, the disciples are half-asleep as Jesus prays through the night. I love this little detail, too, because isn’t that how it feels sometimes as you go through your day—or your life? Like you’re only partly present and the rest of you is somewhere else? Asleep, maybe, or daydreaming or figuring out how you’re going to fit it all in (whatever “it” is).
Only when the disciples fully awaken do they see Jesus in his glory, a glory that is his from before time, but which has been veiled from their sight until this moment when they finally see him as he truly is. Jesus hasn’t changed, not really, but the disciples’ vision of him has. For the first time, they see truly.
Lent begins next Wednesday (February 13). How appropriate that we read this story the Sunday before the season begins. For Lent invites us to strip away the things that keep us half-asleep as we live our lives—the busyness, crammed schedules, and rushing that often blind us to what’s right in front of us. Instead, Lent invites us to wake up, to slow down, to pay attention, to see, like Emily and the disciples, the enchanted realm beyond the veil.
And when we do, we glimpse the glory of God made manifest among us. We wake to mystery and wonder and the ache of joy.
So: this Lent, how are you going to make space to wake up and see?
—this post is adapted from my book