Up a High Mountain: Spiritual Abuse and the Transfiguration

Up a High Mountain: Spiritual Abuse and the Transfiguration February 25, 2024

An icon of the Transfiguration, with Jesus, Moses and Elijah on the top and the apostles lying on the ground below
image via Pixabay

 

Jesus took Peter, James, and John

and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves.
And he was transfigured before them,
and his clothes became dazzling white,
such as no fuller on earth could bleach them.
Then Elijah appeared to them along with Moses,
and they were conversing with Jesus.
Then Peter said to Jesus in reply,
“Rabbi, it is good that we are here!
Let us make three tents:
one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
He hardly knew what to say, they were so terrified.
Then a cloud came, casting a shadow over them;
from the cloud came a voice,
“This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.”
Suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone
but Jesus alone with them.

As they were coming down from the mountain,
he charged them not to relate what they had seen to anyone,
except when the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
So they kept the matter to themselves,
questioning what rising from the dead meant.

 

Jesus took Peter, James and John up a high mountain.

Peter was his best friend, the brash fisherman who blurted out silly things. Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law, which caused all that commotion back in town, and now they are traveling together. James and John are the Sons of Thunder, loose cannons like Peter who don’t think before they act. These are the men Jesus chose to accompany Him up the mountain. Why, I couldn’t tell you, but Jesus knows best.

Up the mountain, they saw Jesus transfigured, conversing with Moses who died before entering the Promised Land and with Elijah who was carried to heaven in a chariot. Jesus was perfect, his clothes whiter than dye or bleach could ever get them; the Sons of Thunder were dumbstruck at the sight of Him.

Of course, Peter wasn’t dumbstruck. Peter wanted  to talk. Peter had a plan and He wanted to tell Jesus all about it. There’s one at every mountaintop experience. “Rabbi, it is good that we are here! Let us make three tents: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” But Jesus didn’t have any reply to that.

And then the glory-cloud overshadowed them all, and God the Father’s voice was plainly heard: “This is my beloved Son. Listen to Him.” 

And then the vision was over, and they were alone with Jesus. Jesus gave them the same commandment He gave the leper: don’t tell anyone. But this time, there’s an expiration date: they only have to keep quiet until He rises from the dead.

The disciples didn’t even know what that means. Nobody does. Even after the event happened, it remains a profound mystery.

They went back down the mountain, and things returned to the way they were.

Maybe this is how it’s supposed to be.

I recently got some feedback from someone else who had been in a Charismatic community. He wasn’t unreasonable at all. He messaged me asking if there weren’t good times, if it was really ALL bad. And I thought about that, and admitted that it wasn’t. I definitely had experiences of God in among all the horror. I know that much of what I thought was the Holy Spirit was just mass hysteria and emotional contagion, but I also believe I had genuine experiences of God at Franciscan University and in my family’s attempt at a community and in other places where Charismatics were destroying people. I have friends who had genuine experiences of God at other deeply corrupt and abusive places which claimed to have started from a miracle.

I’ve cried and prayed and wondered about this, and this is how I think it works:

I think that God really is transfigured before us sometimes, and we really do see. Miracles actually happen. Signs and wonders are real. Maybe the Virgin Mary really did appear all those times she’s said to have appeared. Maybe some saints had locutions. Maybe the Holy Spirit really did stir up something at Duquesne or in Kansas City or in Ashbury or wherever. I couldn’t tell you about every single place a miracle was claimed to take place, but such things are real and really from God, because He loves us. But then some fool like Peter wants to put up tents. Somebody isn’t content to let the miracle be what it is; they have to institutionalize the miracle. They have to make the miracle into a movement. You’re not allowed to live your life with Jesus, your whole life has to be the miracle. You have to re-create the signs and wonders again and again and make them the center of your religious practice. To do that, you have to stop living your life and go live in their tents on top of the mountain. Then you get chaos. You get “intentional communities” that turn into cults. You get fallen human beings who claim to be prophets, wreaking havoc. You get all the spiritual abuse, the shunnings, the broken hearts, the unspeakable crimes, the lasting trauma. You get people circling their wagons to protect the abuser so they won’t have to claim that their miracle didn’t happen. But it’s not about the miracle anymore. It’s not about Jesus. It’s about the tents you set up to try and live on the mountain.

You are not supposed to live in a tent on a mountain, you’re supposed to live in Jesus.

You cannot live on that mountain.

Your life is not up there; it’s in Jesus.

That mountain is not your spiritual life. Your spiritual life is following Jesus.

Jesus takes you up the mountain sometimes, and is transfigured before you. You see Him conversing with the Law and the Prophets whom you’ve always tried to follow, whether you can see them or not. The cloud overshadows you. The Father says “listen to Him.” And then Jesus takes you back down the mountain and warns you not to say too much about the transfiguration until He rises from the Dead. And you don’t know what that means, but you ponder it, and talk to others who have also seen Him transfigured, and do whatever He tells you to do. That’s a spiritual life.

At least, that’s what I’ve come to believe is true about the spiritual life.

This is what I’m trying to do, badly, in my own life.

This is how I make sense of my own spiritual journey.

The mountain is good, but you cannot live there.

You have to live with Jesus.

 

 

 

Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross, The Sorrows and Joys of Mary, and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.

 

 

 

 

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