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Too Much for Words

Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord

First Reading: Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14

As I watched:

Thrones were set up
and the Ancient One took his throne.
His clothing was bright as snow,
and the hair on his head as white as wool;
his throne was flames of fire,
with wheels of burning fire.
A surging stream of fire
flowed out from where he sat;
Thousands upon thousands were ministering to him,
and myriads upon myriads attended him.
The court was convened and the books were opened.

As the visions during the night continued, I saw:

One like a Son of man coming,
on the clouds of heaven;
When he reached the Ancient One
and was presented before him,
The one like a Son of man received dominion, glory, and kingship;
all peoples, nations, and languages serve him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion
that shall not be taken away,
his kingship shall not be destroyed.

Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 97:1-2, 5-6, 9

R. (1a and 9a) The Lord is king, the Most High over all the earth.
The LORD is king; let the earth rejoice;
let the many islands be glad.
Clouds and darkness are round about him,
justice and judgment are the foundation of his throne.
R. The Lord is king, the Most High over all the earth.
The mountains melt like wax before the LORD,
before the LORD of all the earth.
The heavens proclaim his justice,
and all peoples see his glory.
R. The Lord is king, the Most High over all the earth.
Because you, O LORD, are the Most High over all the earth,
exalted far above all gods.
R. The Lord is king, the Most High over all the earth.

Second Reading: 2 Peter 1:16-19

Beloved:
We did not follow cleverly devised myths
when we made known to you
the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ,
but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty.
For he received honor and glory from God the Father
when that unique declaration came to him from the majestic glory,
“This is my Son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven
while we were with him on the holy mountain.
Moreover, we possess the prophetic message that is altogether reliable.
You will do well to be attentive to it,
as to a lamp shining in a dark place,
until day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.

Gospel: Luke 9:28B-36

Jesus took Peter, John, and James
and went up a mountain to pray.
While he was praying his face changed in appearance
and his clothing became dazzling white.
And behold, two men were conversing with him, Moses and Elijah,
who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus
that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem.
Peter and his companions had been overcome by sleep,
but becoming fully awake,
they saw his glory and the two men standing with him.
As they were about to part from him, Peter said to Jesus,
“Master, it is good that we are here;
let us make three tents,
one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
But he did not know what he was saying.
While he was still speaking,
a cloud came and cast a shadow over them,
and they became frightened when they entered the cloud.
Then from the cloud came a voice that said,
“This is my chosen Son; listen to him.”
After the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone.
They fell silent and did not at that time
tell anyone what they had seen.

NAB

aug 6

“It’s empowering to have a big vocabulary,” I tell my high school students. “If you know enough words, you can communicate any feeling you have.” Sometimes I tell them about the diary I started keeping in sixth grade, a scrawled record of my young dreams and fears. When I was eighteen, there came a moment when I suddenly realized that it was no longer a struggle for me to articulate my complicated teenage feelings. My ability to express myself in writing had reached the point where I could name, and thus more fully understand, nearly every feeling I experienced. It was a big moment.

But as much as I believe in the power of words, of course certain experiences defy language. The love I have for my kids,  deep moments of communion in prayer—every now and then, something happens that is simply too big to be captured in words.

I wonder if that’s what Saints Peter, John, and James felt when they witnessed the transfiguration. The Gospel says that they told no one at that time, but it’s not clear why. I suspect that at least part of their silence must have been the sheer impossibility of putting an experience like this into words. And I must admit that as a reader, I’ve always had a hard time imagining what this scene was like. The Gospel account is vaguely unsatisfying, as if there is something missing without the visual and spiritual immediacy of experiencing it oneself.

This story is helpful at clarifying something else, though. As much as I believe in the power of words, the truth is that words can only approach the light and life that is the core of our God. They can draw us toward it and help us recognize it, but God remains something that we can’t pin down, something that we can’t articulate neatly between the covers of a diary or in a blog post. That’s true of many spiritual experiences, in fact.

Perhaps there is a maturity in simply accepting that God is not something we can ever fully grasp. Maybe we are most free when we accept that reality, and don’t attempt to pin it down. In the end, maybe what’s empowering is not capturing an experience in words, but simply resting in the mystery of the moments that leave us speechless.

Question to ponder: When have you encountered an experience too big for words? How did it make you feel?

Ginny Kubitz Moyer is a mother, high school English teacher, and BBC period drama junkie. She is the author of Taste and See: Experiencing the Goodness of God with Our Five Senses and  Mary and Me: Catholic Women Reflect on the Mother of God. Ginny lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband, two boys, and about thirty thousand Legos.  You can find out more about her here

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