I have an admission to make. Years ago I got bit by the bug of mysticism—that is, that arm of our faith that assumes that the living Christ is a reality who is not an historic footnote or a far off reality, but a presence as close as our breath. I don’t know exactly when it happened, but I do remember a few experiences when I was staring at something by another name and I could have sworn I was seeing God.
I remember that wonderful scene in the movie Field of Dreams where Ray Kinsella’s long departed father asks his son as he is looking around the baseball field Ray had built in the middle of a cornfield, “Is this heaven?” Ray, puzzled by the question retorted matter-of-factly, “No, this is Iowa,” to which his father, John, again looked around and reiterated, “I could have sworn this was heaven.”
Our text this Sunday from the gospel (Mark 9: 2-9) tells the story of the Transfiguration. If we didn’t know any better we would wonder if this scene was stolen from some wild Hollywood romp through the land of Oz or into the archetypal dream world of Luke Skywalker. It’s crazy good stuff. Jesus and Peter, James and John take a long hike up to a mountain when suddenly Jesus is accompanied by Elijah on one side and Moses on the other side while from a cloud a voice declares that Jesus is “My Son, the Beloved!” They are looking at Jesus and yet they swear they are seeing and hearing God.
The disciples are in awe and terrified and they propose to build a memorial to the site. I know what the disciples must have felt. Those rare times when I thought I was seeing God I had the same reaction, “Let’s build a permanent booth here! Let’s take a picture. Let’s capture the moment.” But as soon as they tried to pin down the experience, the experience left them.
I have just begun to make my way around our presbytery and already I am reminded that God cannot be pinned down. God does not belong to one place or one experience. We live in a diverse presbytery. We have urban churches and rural churches. We have churches where the pages are falling out of the pew Bibles and churches where the Bibles always look brand new. We have churches that can’t imagine a spirituality divorced from politics and churches that “give to God what is God’s and to Caesar what is Caesar’s.”
Yet in the midst of all that diversity God still seems to show up. This past week I was visiting churches in the Klamath Basin and more than once I found myself exclaiming, “This is God’s country.” I know that it is more a reflection of me than of God, but I couldn’t help but to notice that the space, the solitude, the long roads and the relationship with the land reminded me of why those who are city dwellers go on retreat—to be reminded that God shows up in silence, solitude and emptiness just as much as in the busyness and buzz of urban life.
Yet I am also a creature of the city where at our fingertips are hundreds of choices of ethnic foods, independent theaters telling the stories of people across the world in film, stages where social, spiritual and political issues are enacted, and community centers where the diversity of America is put on display. God feels palpable to me in the stimulation of the city and I am tempted to say, “This is God’s city!”
There are many ways to look at the story of the Transfiguration and one of those ways is through the eyes of the Christian mystic, John Kinsella, or Peter, James and John when you look at one thing, but swear that you are seeing God or heaven or the living, breathing presence of Christ.
Remember the mistake is not seeing something that isn’t there as if the sight of God can only be a hallucination. The mistake is trying to build a booth, capture the moment and claim that God can only be experienced in one place and one landscape.
As I drive around the presbytery I haven’t decided yet whether I am following God or God is following me. What I do know is that God just keeps showing up in every region of this marvelous presbytery we call Cascades. Truly, this is God’s country!