In his account of the Transfiguration, St. Luke describes our kindred spirits: the hapless early disciples. They follow Jesus with baffled hearts. Peter, James, and John see, but they don’t get it, even when they become “fully awake.” But neither do we, most times. In Luke’s telling, Jesus doesn’t warn his friends to keep what they’ve seen secret. They just fall silent.
They say nothing. But seriously, would we do any better? Would we get Jesus?
I read once that the initial builders of Notre Dame de Paris knew they would not live to see their work completed. What enviable faith! Centuries later, a college student abroad feeling worldly and agnostic, I visited Notre Dame. I’d happened upon a Sunday afternoon organ recital. I knelt, transfixed by the cathedral’s ancient incensed majesty. My senses overtaken by the presence of God, by sight and sound so immense and soaring, I found myself crying. I didn’t grasp it that day, but I suspect God knew I needed to be awestruck.
Maybe we confused and tepid believers occasionally need Jesus to take us up the mountain. Maybe we need a sign from above, a dazzling face on someone we thought we knew, a commanding voice from a shining cloud that envelops us.
An incarnate faith lives between intimacy and awe. Between the “earthly things” that worry St. Paul and the sky full of countless stars over Abram’s head, we balance as close friends with a God who amazes us.