I count four. Peter witnessed four different mystical experiences while engaged in Jesus’ ministry. 1. Jesus’ baptism where he heard a voice and saw a dove, 2. his reception of the Holy Spirit during the post-resurrection appearance period, 3. his vision of the blanket of animals that signalled a message of inclusion, and 4. the mountaintop experience of Jesus’ transfiguration we read about today.
Many people would say they have never had even one mystical experience, let alone four. I wonder if these experiences were more common in Jesus’ time—which our current scientific era has shamed into obscurity—or if Peter’s experience was simply heightened by his proximity to Jesus.
There is a growing interest in mysticism and the spiritual experience that seems to be replacing the church’s former emphasis on rational belief. As Karl Rahner said, “The Christian of the future will be a mystic or not at all.” There might be lots of debate and concern about this but the shifting perspective is undeniable. We have flipped “believe, behave, belong” to “belong, behave, believe,” which puts personal experience over moral behaviour and rational adherence. (Harvey Cox, 2009)
But what if it is not in someone’s gifting to have a mystical experience? Could this new emphasis exclude and disenfranchise? What will act as the guiding authority to all this individual experience?
Some theologians, like Philip Sheldrake, believe there are at least four spiritual typologies, and that mystics are only one type. Carl McColman and others think that far more people than we realize have otherworld experiences. As advances are made in brain scan and neurotransmitter studies, we might even discover that there is a neurological basis to the mystical experience that predetermines capacity. This would make perfect sense, since we have always understood that God uses physical matter for Divine purposes.
Whatever the future, it is undeniable that Peter’s spiritual experiences shaped and formed him, and ultimately transformed his spiritual journey as a follower of Jesus.
The most compelling message for me from Luke’s telling of the Transfiguration is the line: “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” The disciples’ response was silence.
As we move into Lent, a season of spiritual preparation, let’s take some time to enter into that silence and simply be…lost in love.
Luke 9:28-36 Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 30Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. 31They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.32Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” —not knowing what he said. 34While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 35Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” 36When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.
2 Corinthians 3:12 – 4:2 Since, then, we have such a hope, we act with great boldness, 13not like Moses, who put a veil over his face to keep the people of Israel from gazing at the end of the glory that was being set aside. 14But their minds were hardened. Indeed, to this very day, when they hear the reading of the old covenant, that same veil is still there, since only in Christ is it set aside. 15Indeed, to this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds; 16but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit. 4Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart. 2We have renounced the shameful things that one hides; we refuse to practice cunning or to falsify God’s word; but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God.
Psalm 99 The Lord is king; let the peoples tremble! He sits enthroned upon the cherubim; let the earth quake! 2The Lord is great in Zion; he is exalted over all the peoples. 3Let them praise your great and awesome name. Holy is he! 4Mighty King, lover of justice, you have established equity; you have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob. 5Extol the Lord our God; worship at his footstool. Holy is he! 6Moses and Aaron were among his priests, Samuel also was among those who called on his name. They cried to the Lord, and he answered them. 7He spoke to them in the pillar of cloud; they kept his decrees, and the statutes that he gave them. 8 O Lord our God, you answered them; you were a forgiving God to them, but an avenger of their wrongdoings. 9Extol the Lord our God, and worship at his holy mountain; for the Lord our God is holy.
Exodus 34:29-35 Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. 30When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face was shining, and they were afraid to come near him. 31But Moses called to them; and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses spoke with them. 32Afterward all the Israelites came near, and he gave them in commandment all that the Lord had spoken with him on Mount Sinai. 33When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face; 34but whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him, he would take the veil off, until he came out; and when he came out, and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, 35the Israelites would see the face of Moses, that the skin of his face was shining; and Moses would put the veil on his face again, until he went in to speak with him.