“With our eyes open to the Divine Light,
and with our wondering ears,
listen to the advice of the Divine Voice
that speaks to us every day…”
Upon making this statement, found in the Prologue of the Rule (RB), Saint Benedict gently and persuasively leads the reader to a crucial conclusion: If we are to “see” and “follow” Christ there are certain clear expectations that must be met. Reading this text within its context, we are prone to move swiftly on to the “answers” Benedict provides. And yet the text itself suggests that we take a passing yet important detour. This detour, driving us to the very heart of Benedict’s words, is found in St. Matthew 17:1–9; St. Mark 9:2–10; St. Luke 9:28–36 and 2 Peter 1:16–19.
Each of these cited references refer to the Transfiguration of our Lord, and are central to Benedict’s considerations and our calling. Urging us to have our ears and our eyes open, the author persuades us to pursue perfection. He encourages us to pursue the holiness “without which no [person] shall see the Lord.” He urges us to live the transfigured life. He urges us, within the biblical texts referenced, to WAKE UP, SHUT UP, GET UP, and PUT UP.
WAKE UP. Our texts tell us that Peter, James and John were asleep during a significant part of the Transfiguration. Luke 9: 28 suggests that this journey “up…the mountain” was for the purpose of prayer. However, instead of rising to the occasion, the three Apostles fell asleep. They were, our text says, “heavy with sleep.” As Moses and Elijah began to depart from their conversation with Jesus, the Apostles finally began to wake up — They became “fully awake.”
SHUT UP. In keeping with his pronounced personality, as Moses and Elijah are leaving, Peter begins to speak. His words unintentionally communicate the core of “man-made,” instead of God-ordained, religion. “Master,” Peter says, “Let us build.” Obviously the Father is not entirely pleased with Peter’s plan because, just after this, the “Divine Voice” says “listen to [Jesus].” In other words, God says stop talking and start listening.
GET UP. Soon thereafter the Apostles and Jesus descend from this mountain-top experience (through which the Apostles largely slept) back into the real world below. Their silence was further enforced by Jesus who told his disciples to “tell no one” until after his salvific death and justifying resurrection (Matthew 17: 9). In short, the Apostles needed to get up and continue to shut up.
PUT UP. Finally, before the applications which will be drawn from these important set of texts, the disciples are firmly planted back in the real world where there are real needs — needs that they were not entirely able to address (Matthew 17:14–21). Although they had some small experience of the Transfiguration, although they tasted a bit of both the “Divine Light” and “Divine Voice” (RB), they had to come down from the proverbial “mountain” and live a real life among hurting people. They had to, in short, put up as well as shut up. They had to live life — not pontificate upon the wonderful “experience” they each were afforded by God’s grace.
How do these Transfiguration principles apply to us? First we must WAKE UP. We must open our eyes. Human beings, apart from Christ, live in a perpetual sleep. We are soul somnambulists. All too often we pass through life half-asleep. But God has FAR MORE for us. God in Christ by the Holy Spirit wants to bring us up the “mountain,” enliven us in prayer, and help us to both see and hear the Vision and Voice that God has for us. He wants us, with Christ, to live the transfigured life. To do this we must first choose to wake up.
As well, and embedded within both the Bible and the RB, we are to SHUT UP long enough to hear and heed what God has to say to us. Silence is not simply a monastic priority, it is the well-advised practice of EVERY committed Christian. All too frequently we seek to “build” (as did Peter) “tabernacles” to God without hearing God’s direction. We want to “do” for God without knowing what it means to “be” in God. This is the heart of dangerous religion. While God DOES call us to do things (the Great Commandment and Great Commission immediately come to mind), He wants our actions to be rooted in our relationship with him. We need to SHUT UP for long enough in order to hear (and later, heed) God.
This of course means there will come a time when we must GET UP and go. The disciples could have sat about, after the Transfiguration, discussing all of the theological fine-points of their experience. They could have called the other disciples up to them and held a weekend retreat about “Transfigured Living.” They could, as well, have just sat back and soaked in the Transfiguration experience. “Wasn’t that,” they might rhetorically ask, “a PHENOMENAL experience?!” However, in fact, the Apostles got up and again followed Jesus back down the mountain. What Christ had to communicate was communicated as they walked to work. Many Christians need to learn this. Some Christians are like Mary of Bethany who is simply content to sit and listen. Some Christians are like Martha of Bethany who wants to get up and get going. What we need to learn is that there is a pronounced place for both sitting (listening) and serving (living) within transfigured living. Perfection in and by Christ requires both being passive and being active. The balance of timing is important.
Finally, and also important, transfigured living requires us to PUT UP with life as it is. Jesus never intended us to live on the mountain top. The “valley” is the place where real life is lived. It is easy (apparently not for the sleeping disciples) to live a vibrant life on top of the “mountain” of intense religious experience. It is not so easy – but entirely necessary – to descend from the “mountain” and encounter real people with real needs in a real world where we are (without Christ) really helpless (Matthew 17: 16 – 18).
But this is exactly what we must do. Holiness requires hands-on work. Perfection requires being planted in the real world. Sanctification requires getting our hearts cleaned (by Christ) and our hands “dirty” through Spirit-guided and Spirit-grounded work in the real world. Transfiguration is TOUGH! So, by God’s grace and mercy, we must WAKE UP, SHUT UP, GET UP and PUT UP. The RB and our Redeemer Christ requires these transfiguring disciplines.
The Very Rev. Dr. Donald P. Richmond, a widely-published author, is Priest-Oblate with the Reformed Episcopal Church and the Order of Saint Benedict, and is connected to St. Andrew’s Abbey in Valyermo, California.