Peak Experiences – Second Sunday of Lent 2020


[Daylight Savings Time began overnight. Did you remember to adjust your various clocks? Of course, most devices set themselves these days.]

This Second Sunday in Lent includes Matthew’s version of the story of the Transfiguration. The Transfiguration holds a significant spiritual lesson for us. We are tempted to hold on to mountaintop experiences, but, like the companions of Jesus in the Gospel, we have to descend from the mountain and return to our ordinary lives.

Think of a literal mountaintop experience. When we stand on the top of a mountain or large hill, we pause and look back at the physical journey we’ve traveled and look ahead to the return to the ground with the energy and exhilaration of the peak experience.

The spiritual journey isn’t so different. I have been privileged to both experience that and to witness it in the countless others I have taken through retreats.

Peter, John and James have a privileged moment with Jesus. They are witnesses to the Transfiguration and to the dialogue Jesus has with Moses and Elijah. While Jesus was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. The disciples knew that something significant took place on the mountaintop.

Peter spoke for them. It is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. How wonderful it would be to stay here in this beautiful moment! However, Jesus has work to accomplish. He was speaking with Moses and Elijah about his movement toward Jerusalem. His encounter on the mountaintop deepens his energy and zeal for the mission.

Our mountaintop experiences may look and feel different than the Transfiguration of Jesus. But that is not to deny their significance. Have you ever had a profound spiritual experience? Have you had a deep sense of God’s presence? Have you been in a difficult situation in life when you have an unexplained moment of peace where you realize God’s reminder to you, Don’t worry! Fear not! I’ll be with you.

Peak experiences don’t have to be profound moments of prayer. They don’t even have to be confined to religious experiences. It’s just a felt sense that all is right with my world and that God hasn’t abandoned me. These moments don’t come along every day and they may not last more than a few minutes.

The grace of those transformative moments has the potential to give us power when we most need it. They lift us out of self-pity or complacency. We cannot stay on the mountaintop, but we can carry within us that memory of the mountaintop.

One of the suggestions that St. Ignatius offers for dealing with consolation in our lives is to prepare ourselves for the ensuing desolation: “Store up a supply of strength as defense against that day.”

We emerge from that moment of peace with the same issues as before. My physical situation hasn’t changed. My financial struggles are still there. I still struggle to relate to problematic people. I haven’t conquered my sinfulness. But, even if just for a moment, I’ve found peace.

As we deepen our Lenten journey, let us be as open as we can be to the reception of God’s grace and the transformative moments that can sneak into our ordinary lives.

Philip Shano, SJ has many years of rich and varied experience working with Ignatian spirituality: teaching, writing and using it in his ministry. He resides in the Jesuit community in Pickering, Ontario.

  • John Montague
    Posted at 06:37h, 08 March Reply

    What you describe has been my experience especially in moments of great difficulty. Thankyou Philip.

  • Joan levy Earle
    Posted at 08:00h, 08 March Reply

    Thank you for reminding us of the transformation that is available to us moment by moment through Lent. This has not been a great season for me personally but today is a new day, and I will make more of an effort today than yesterday. We are humans who need the power of faith in God to survive every difficulty. We simply have to ask.

  • Ray Douziech
    Posted at 10:12h, 08 March Reply

    Thank you, as always, for your creative approach to the scripture readings. It is refreshing to read and reflect on your meditations. As a hiker I have had many mountain top experiences. Thanks for bringing me back to those marvellous moments of transcendence. I agree with St Ignatius we need these to shore up life in the valleys.

  • Peter Bisson SJ
    Posted at 03:29h, 09 March Reply

    Thank you Philip!

  • Belkis
    Posted at 13:37h, 09 March Reply

    It is when we need it the most that certainty of being held by God manifests. I feel that sometimes we do not get there because we fight too much becoming vulnerable and weak.

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