The psalms are often thought of as the Bible’s book of prayers, giving word—in an unparalleled way—to the vast array of religious sentiment that colors our journey of faith. This past Thursday reminded me of this as I found myself struggling to lead prayer before communal reflection on the readings for this Sunday; I was trying to find words to express that we were all gathered as seekers of God, and needed His help on the journey. After stumbling through the opening prayer, it was soon my turn to read the psalm for this Sunday (Psalm 27), and the perfect words lay before me: “Of you my heart speaks; you my glance seeks. / Your presence, O LORD, I seek. / Hide not your face from me.” If you are reading this reflection, then like me, you are a seeker—something deep within your heart longs for God in a way you simply can’t describe, and your whole life is given to answering its beckoning: “Seek his face!”
The beauty of our Christian faith is that we can embark on this journey of seeking God with great confidence, for Jesus promises us: “Seek, and you shall find” (Matthew 7:7). And indeed, Jesus should know, for it is after all in seeing his face that we see the face of God (cf. John 14:9)! And isn’t this precisely the experience of the disciples in today’s Gospel? Jesus ceases the miracle of veiling his glory (“they saw his glory”) such that his very face is changed (“his face changed in appearance”)—the disciples glimpse more clearly, if only for a moment, the face of God they seek. And what is their response? To set up a tent for the night. But can we really blame Peter for wanting to stay in the moment when he sees Moses and Elijah preparing to leave Jesus? Certainly all of us want to stay on the mountaintops, where it is so clear that God is with us.
Yet in wanting to set up tents himself, Peter has missed the point—in Jesus (with or without the dazzling display) God has already set up his tent among us. That is, after all, what the original Greek text of the prologue to John’s Gospel means: “And the Word became flesh / and made his dwelling among us,” that is, “pitched his tent among us” (John 1:14). Go where we may, though we may have no clear signs that God is with us, he is right at our side—in fact, dwelling right within us (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:19)! And so, when Jesus calls us to leave the mountaintop, we ought not to imagine that he is abandoning us, asking us to go on without him; that he has merely charged our “spiritual batteries” so that we’ll be able to endure the journey to Jerusalem on our own. Rather, he is asking us to believe that, even when our eyes do not see him, he is nearer to our hearts than we are to ourselves.