The story in the Bible of the transfiguration of Jesus has always perplexed me. Peter goes up this mountain with Jesus, all of a sudden there’s a bright light and Jesus is joined by Elijah and Moses. This is apparently a really big deal and in the midst of the scene Peter offers to build 3 shelters on the mountain as a shrine to what happened there. Jesus scolds Peter for suggesting this and they descend the mountain. I’ve heard a few explanations, but I’ve never really understood why Jesus was less than pleased with Peter’s suggestion.
Recently I was reading a book, The Blue Parakeet, by Scot McKnight. Scot makes a reference to what happens when we turn particular moments into monuments and the transfiguration story hit me in a new way.
When we take moments (like Jesus being transfigured on the mountain) and try to turn them into monuments (like building shelters) we miss it. I’m not sure exactly what “it” is, but the concept of moments and monuments resonates with something inside of me.
I also recently saw the movie The Hours. At one point Meryl Streep’s character is talking to her daughter about a particular moment of pure happiness she experienced many years ago. In that moment she had thought, “this is the beginning of happiness,” and that life would unfold in a similar progression from there. Looking back though she realizes that it was not the beginning of happiness, it simply WAS happiness. And as her life unfolded since then, it felt unresolved, empty, maybe even menial.
I think in that moment of happiness, Meryl Streep’s character went into “monument-mode.” She started picturing and dreaming about what life would be like as more and more of those happy moments happened. She started trying to build a monument of happiness rather than experiencing the moment of it. And she ended up stuck.
I think Jesus knew what would happen to Peter if he tried to build a monument. He knew Peter would end up stuck and ultimately missing “it.” And maybe the “it,” in the words of Scot McKnight, is this:
“God is on the move; and God will always be on the move. Those who walk with God and listen to God are also on the move. Anyone who stops and wants to turn a particular moment into a monument will soon be wondering where God has gone” (33).
Maybe I am missing “it.” Missing God, missing beauty, truth, goodness, even happiness, because, like Peter, instead of experiencing moments, I am stuck trying to build monuments.
What if today, you tried to experience just moments?