I still have vivid memories of climbing Mount Kenya many years ago – 1987, I think it was. I was on a short break from work in Juba, South Sudan, and flew out to Nairobi with an Irish friend.
We stayed at the Naro Moru River Lodge and set off up the mountain with a guide and a small group. After a very cold but short night on the mountain we set off before the sun rose for the final ascent. A couple of hours through snow and shale and we were at the summit. It was glorious. Cloudless, and beautifully clear so you could see for miles.
I had a new roll of film just loaded (this was before digital photography!) so I was well set to capture the moment on my new Pentax P30 camera. The colours were fresh and bright in the early morning sun as it glinted off the snow adorned peaks.
Once we got to the bottom, I couldn’t wait to finish the roll of film. Checking to see how many frames I had left, I found I had all of them left. I mustn’t have loaded the film properly and discovered that I had taken precisely no photos at all! I had captured nothing at all of those glorious moments.
I thought of this experience when I read the account of the transfiguration on the Sunday before Lent began. Peter, James and John accompany Jesus up a high mountain. Something amazing happens at the top. Jesus’ face and clothes shine like the sun. As the bible relates, he is ‘transfigured’ and he is seen talking to those great characters from the Old Testament, Moses and Elijah.
Peter, as usual, is the disciple who speaks up and he says to Jesus – “Let’s build some shelters – for you and Moses and Elijah”. Peter wanted to capture the moment, perhaps to prolong Elijah and Moses’ stay. Or perhaps as Luke’s gospel tells us “he didn’t know what he was saying”! But all too soon, this glorious experience was over. How Peter would have liked to have some photographs for posterity, to share that brilliant glimpse of divinity with others!
However, I don’t suppose Peter’s pictures would have come out either. Or if they did they wouldn’t capture the extraordinary but fleeting nature of what he saw.
My own experiences of what I might call the glory of God have been fleeting. Occasionally he’s been stunningly present. A mountain top experience such as on Mount Kenya. Or, very differently, in someone’s home, usually just after we’ve shared a quiet Holy Communion. Or in the dirt and pain of a refugee camp in Uganda or Sudan, or the squalor of the Jungle Camp in Calais. Suddenly something divine, glorious, shines through the ordinary assuring you that God is there. Then it’s gone. I had a lecturer who used to call it God’s game of hide and seek. Now you see me, now you don’t. Occasional glimpses in a lifetime of trusting he is there.
I do think we can nurture this sense of God, and become more open to perceiving the glory of God in the human and in the ordinary. For Peter and his friends it was time apart with Jesus. We, too, can go up the mountains and down into the dark valleys of daily life aware of, and responsive to, the Jesus who is always with us. We can learn to be open to God, and to perceive reality, like a poet does, more deeply. In taking time to reflect on our day, looking back, we can sometime see what we couldn’t at the time – God at work. We can miss the moment but still profit from it.
I wish you many moments of insight, of perceiving the glory of God, as you prepare to celebrate the wonderful events of Easter. Even if you don’t get the photographs, or capture the moment at the time, do tell the stories, and we shall all be encouraged.
With much love