Tuesday, August 06, 2013

The Valley of Transfiguration

According to the liturgical calendar, today is the Feast of the Transfiguration. If you aren't familiar with that story, it is the Gospel account of Jesus taking Peter, James, and John up to a mountain where he was transfigured before their eyes. "His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light." Moses and Elijah appeared with him, and spoke to him. The three men who were with Jesus were understandably terrified by what they saw. Peter offered to build three shelters, one for each of the three men who were glowing in the dark. In the end, Moses and Elijah disappeared and Jesus descended the mountain with the three men after making them promise not to tell anyone what they had seen until after his death.

I've read that story many times before. I've tried to imagine what it must have been like to stand there and see Jesus in that glorious light. He who named himself "the way, the truth, and the life" showed himself to also be the light of the world. What an honor. What a fright. What a revelation. I can understand Peter's desire to pitch a tent and stay there a while.

Often on my life journey, I have heard sermons and talks about "mountaintop experiences." During my childhood, I went to Sunshine Acres, a Christian camp located in the Catskill Mountains in New York. Even though I didn't like going to camp - spiders, dust bunnies, and mosquitoes kept me anxious almost all the time - I loved chapel services, buying candy at "The Dugout," campfires, and swimming. Every summer (yes, my parents sent me there every summer for years!) on the final night of camp, there would be some variation on the "mountaintop experience" talk. We were told that we needed to get ready to go back down the mountain into real, regular life. Jesus would be with us every step of the way. And we could always stay in touch with each other and our counselors.

When I got older, I worked there for three summers - as a junior counselor, then a counselor, and finally as the camp laundress. (Yes, I later subjected myself to the spiders, mosquitoes, and dust bunnies! It was better than staying in the sweltering heat of Brooklyn, New York.) I gave a version of that talk myself at the end of every session: "Listen, girls, I know it's tough to go home after such a great time here. But you will be fine. You will continue to learn from all that has happened up here. Christ will go with you and before you on the way. And I will pray for you too." I would make sure to send each of the girls a postcard two or three days before the end of the session so that it would be waiting for them when they got home. I wanted them to have physical proof that I was thinking about them and praying for them as they made their way back down the mountain from the joy of camp into the valley of life in New York City and out on Long Island.

Mountaintop moments, transfiguration moments are wonderful, aren't they?

But here's the thing. There are also valleys of transfiguration. There are moments when it feels like Christ asks us, asks me to descend into a valley with him, and in those valleys, he becomes light in the darkness and I am comforted by Christ's presence through prayer, through the love of family and friends, and through letters and postcards sent from others to light my way. I am grateful for those times when Christ's light of love, mercy, grace, and peace disperses the darkness.

Sometimes, though, it feels more like Christ is seated with me in the darkness and silence without lighting the way out of the valley. Sometimes fear overwhelms me. Sometimes doubts arise. Sometimes I curse the darkness and scream out, "Why me? Why me?" Sometimes I feel motivated to do what Peter suggested - built a shelter in the dark and just stay there. It feels like the darkness was going to persist, so we may as well set up camp and get ready for a long-term stay in the valley.

I certainly had moments like that during my kanswer treatments. Chemo sucked. I felt like I had been knocked onto the train tracks by a cross-town bus and then run over by the oncoming express train. My husband and chidren sat with me, talked to me, rubbed my head and my legs, and told me they loved me. Family and friends dropped by with flowers, hats, balloons, invitations to lunch, hot meals and cake, and gifts. My mailbox was filled to overflowing at times with cards and gifts. Christ was close by, I knew that, but there were many days when I still felt all alone, deep in the darkest place on earth on the night of the new moon. Utter and outer darkness. I felt certain that I would never emerge from the dungeon of sickness into health again.

Little by little, transfiguration began to happen.
Chemo ended. Surgery happened. Healing continued.
Laughter bubbled more regularly.
My hair started to grow.
The light of life shone through the darkness of illness.
My spirits rose.
And I began to emerge from the valley.

Today I received the final phone call from Camillia, the Aetna case manager, who has walked with me through my kanswer treatment. I'm doing well enough for her to sign off and set me free to continue the healing journey on my own. What a gift she has been to me over the past nine months. I will miss her. I wish her nothing but the very best in her life and work.

Today I spent four hours in prayer and planning for homeschooling my son through his junior year in high school. It is quite sobering to think that two years from now, my baby boy will be heading off to college and my nest will be blissfully empty. It is also sobering and gratifying to think that I am ready to get back into this work of being a homeschooling mother after emerging from the valley of the shadow of death.

Today I also spent some time caressing the scars on my chest. I rubbed the hysterectomy scars on my abdomen. And I played with the continuously amazing baby-soft hair growing on my head. No matter how great I feel these days, no matter how strong, no matter how "normal," these scars and this short hair will serve as yet another daily reminder of the road I have traversed since last October 31st.

The valley of shadows, of fears, and of endless questions.
The valley of transfiguraton, reconfiguration, and transformation.

My favorite part in the Gospel account of the transfiguration happens after Peter makes the suggestion to pitch three tents: "While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!" When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. "Get up," he said. "Don't be afraid." When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.

I can relate to their terror. When I heard my bad news, the news about me entering into the canyon of kanswer, I fell on my face terrified. I did that every day between October 31st and ... I still do that sometimes, in all honesty. Sure enough, Christ has been faithful to remind me: "Get up, Gail. Don't be afraid. I'm right here with you. I will sit next to you during chemo. I will stand at your bedside during surgery. I will strengthen you for physical therapy. I will sit vigil while you sleep and walk before you every step of the way out of the darkness into the light of all that is yet to come." And every single time that I wipe my tears and look up, after the light fades and friends head home, when the phone is silent and the mailbox is empty, I see no one except Jesus.

Thanks be to God.

1 comment:

Lock Family said...

I have been to the mount of transfiguration and looked across the valley. Really beautiful. Just like you ready to explore your new life!