Growing Grace Podcast: Mountaintop Moments

Transcript:

What if you could step outside your door and find a space for connection with yourself and God – a time apart to renew your soul and your spirit. This podcast invites listeners to get out of their heads and out into nature by engaging in contemplative prayer practices and meditative activities that support spiritual formation and emotional well being.  Welcome to Growing Grace.  I am your host Cameron Kempson, spiritual director, homesteader, and contemplative. 

Tonight our topic is Transfiguration – Oxford English Dictionary defines transfiguration as a complete change of form or appearance into a more beautiful or spiritual state. 

This week in my Disicplines book by The Upper Room, the scriptures and meditations have been leading up to the transfiguration of Jesus. Each day, I’ve been studying the noted scriptures on mountaintop moments from the Bible and how these have transformed people’s lives through law, prophecy and mystery.  The final reading comes from Matthew 17:1-9.  I am using  the version, The Voice.

17 Six days later, Jesus went up to the top of a high mountain with Peter, James, and John. There, something spectacular happened: Jesus’ face began to glow and gleam and shine like the morning sun. His clothes gleamed too—bright white, like sunlight mirroring off a snowfall. He was, in a word, transfigured. Suddenly there at the top of the mountain were Moses and Elijah, those icons of the faith, beloved of God. And they talked to Jesus.

Peter: Lord, how amazing that we are here to see these heroes of our faith, these men through whom God spoke. Should I quickly build some shelter, three small tabernacles, for You, for Moses, and for Elijah?

As Peter spoke, a bright cloud enveloped all of them.

Voice from the Cloud: This is My beloved Son. With Him I am well pleased. Listen to Him.

This voice from heaven terrified the three disciples, and they fell prostrate on the ground. But Jesus—who was, by this time, used to His disciples being plagued by fear—touched them.

Jesus: Get up. Don’t be afraid.

And when the disciples got up, they saw they were alone with their Lord.

The four men hiked back down the mountain, and Jesus told His disciples to stay silent.

Jesus: Don’t tell anyone what happened here, not until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.

This is the word of God for the people of the world.  Thanks be to God.

So there I was yesterday, sitting on my couch preparing for my time of centering prayer, and all I could think about was: Man, I could really use a mountaintop moment about now.  As I settled into the time of quiet, the Spirit flooded my heart with images.  Clearly, I’d not sat quietly with God in awhile because it was as if we were playing catch up for lost time.  AS the chime rang on my phone to indicate the end of my contemplation, I knew what I had to do.  I needed to put all my plans for the day on hold and retreat into the mountains to “just be” with the Creator.

I envisioned myself taking one of my favorite rides up on the Blue Ridge Parkway then stopping at the overlook where you can see almost all the way around you.  Bundled up, I would sit on the cold ground with my face to the sun.  I would close my eyes and feel the light warm my being as the Spirit and I communed about life. The wind would whisper mysteries into my ears and fill my heart with inspiration.  What a day it would be.

Then I remembered. . .the recent ice and snow had closed the Parkway.

I began searching desperately for an alternative.  A place where I could be with God near or on a mountain without having to spend most of the day in the car.  I’ll admit, the search became a burden and distraction, and finally, I heard the voice saying, “Just go.”

So I did.

I ended up driving up 276 through Pisgah National Forest and stopped at the entry to the Cradle of Forestry.  I loaded up my pack with my camera, tea, scarf and hat and set out on the trail.  Not two minutes later, however, I stopped. I realized I was hiking intently toward my goal of the mountaintop moment.  As if where I ended up would be the only place I could meet God on this journey.

I stopped.  I let go of the expectation.  I got out of my head.  I breathed.  Then I began connecting each sense to creation.

With the cooler temps, snow still settled into nooks and crannies of old stumps and fallen branches.  I noticed that shady spots were covered with ice crystals which sparkled as shafts of light danced across them.  I closed my eyes and listened to the birds twittering with excitement as they swooped from tree to tree.  I bent down and tasted the snow, feeling it melt slowly on my tongue then run down my throat.   Even in the tail end of winter, the forest smelled new with life.

 It was truly peace on earth.

From that point on, I considered myself on a “presence” walk.  The goal of the day was not to get to one moment, it was to experience all the moments along the way.  Wait, let me reframe that.  There was no goal.  My intention was to be present and commune with God through creation.

I extended my time by exploring new paths, and my load began to lighten.  The stress, the chores, the expectations—none of those things mattered out in the woods. I surrendered it all in order to renew and reset. 

My time out on the trail reminded me of who I am and who I am called to be.  Of my connection with the Spirit and the necessity of nature – or being outside – to the relationship with my maker. I had shed the worldly distractions and concerns and recentered my being.  What a beautiful and unexpected day it had been.

As I approached the car, I stopped for a moment in the sunlight.  I lifted my face to the sky and felt the bright sun warming my skin.  My whole body seemed to embrace the light, and I let it wrap its arms around me.  I just sat there awash in golden luminescence, appreciating my spiritual presence in the place of things.

(slow down)

I was experiencing transfiguration or that complete change of form or appearance into a more beautiful or spiritual state.  I didn’t want to hurry it or limit it or analyze it.  I just wanted to be in it, awash in the grace and the mystery.

Let us pray:

Holy Creator,

Sometimes, we come to you seeking those mountaintop moments,

Desiring a message so big that it will change us

Or bring us closer to you

We forget that you are also the God of the everyday-

The One who prays with us through delicate birdsong

The One who teaches us through aging trees

The One who quiets us with falling snow.

The One who baptizes us in mountain streams.

May we find you in the ordinary because there too we can be transformed

By your grace, your light and your mystery.  Amen

Practice:  Presence Walk

Let’s move onto our prayer practice for this week.  In the meditation for today, I referenced my hike as a presence walk.  You may have engaged in walking prayers or taking a prayer walk, but I’ve experienced that sometimes, we participate in those without becoming fully present to the Spirit. 

I’ve started taking presence walks as a way to get back to the basics.  To surrender distractions or concerns of heart, mind and spirit, and focus on my five senses. To connect with God solely through what is around me that I can feel, touch, smell, taste and hear.  Another way to think about it could be experiencing sensory mindfulness.

There is nothing you need for a presence walk except a willingness to move from head center and heart center into your sensory center.  That can be hard for us as we have become multitaskers in a world that moves at a rapid pace.  Relying on your five senses will take intention as well as a slowing down of mind, body and spirit.

Here are a few suggestions that may support you as you engage in this practice:

  • When you arrive at your location, begin by taking some deep breaths.  As you do, envision the thoughts in your mind slowing down then “dropping” them into your heart. 
  • Your thoughts and feelings are now resting in your heart center.  As you continue to breathe, slow those thoughts down even more, breathing in and out slowly as you feel your chest/heart rise and fall.
  • Eventually, move your awareness out to your extremities of your sensory system—touch, sight, taste, sound, and smell.  Don’t try to take in all your senses at once.  Engage each sense one at a time by interacting with the setting around you.
  • As you begin your presence walk, you don’t need to focus on a certain pace.  The focus is being present to the things around you.  Where might you find divinity in nature?
  • As you interact through your senses, how do you experience God’s presence through creation?  Is there a particular sense you find yourself relying on?  Have you found a particular object, landscape, or location that invites a spiritual connection between you and God?
  • Maybe this walk isn’t about a spiritual connection but rather about a worldly disconnection—a time of letting go or surrender or slowing down so you can re-center your body, mind and spirit.  How does the presence walk provide opportunity?  How has your awareness of what is around you impacted how your body feels?  Your mind feels?  Your spirit feels?
  • As you end your walk, come to closure by stopping somewhere that feels peaceful and close your eyes.  Feel the presence of the Spirit surrounding you—it may be through light or wind, water or birdsong.  Invite that presence into your being and into your spirit.  Breath it in.  Envision the mystery transforming you spiritually, emotionally, and physically.
  • Before you leave, spend a moment in quiet prayer.

To close today, I’d like to read a couple of poems that have recently found me.   

Being Watchful by Wendell Berry

As soon as I felt a necessity to learn about the non-human world,
I wished to learn about it in a hurry.
And then I began to learn perhaps
the most important lesson that nature had to reach me:
that I could not learn about her in a hurry.
The most important learning, that of experience,
can be neither summoned nor sought out.
The most worthy knowledge
cannot be acquired by what is known as study —
though that is necessary, and has its use.
It comes in its own good time
and in its own way to the man who will go where it lives,
and wait, and be ready,
and watch.

Hurry is beside the point, useless, an obstruction.
The thing is to be attentively present.
To sit and wait is as important as to move.
Patience is as valuable as industry.
What is to be known is always there.

When it reveals itself to you, or when you come upon it,
it is by chance.

The only condition is your being there and being
watchful.

Stand Still by David Wagoner

Stand still.
The trees before you and the bushes beside you are not lost.
Wherever you are is a place called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you,
If you leave it you may come back again saying Here.

No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.

May peace and grace be with you on the journey as you step outside your front door and seek connection with God.

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