The Luminous side of life.
Elijah’s chariot of fire & Jesus’s transfiguration. I love these two stories. No matter how we choose to interpret them, they offer us a glimpse into the enchanted nature of our reality.
In one, the Hebrew prophet Elijah is taken up from earth in a fiery chariot. His protégé, Elisha, refuses to leave his side. He follows him around, knowing that Elijah is going to be taken that day. His colleagues, 50 other prophets, are content to stay at a distance and wait. But not Elisha. He wants to see it, he wants to get up close. He wants more. And he gets it.
In the gospel reading, Jesus takes his inner circle of disciples, Peter, James and John, up on a mountain alone by themselves. And in front of their eyes, Jesus is transformed (“transfigured”) into radiant light. Mark’s gospel describes it somewhat mechanically: “his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.” And the ancient personalities Moses and Elijah appear there with him. The three disciples are understandably terrified by what they see, and Peter begins babbling out of fear. Then a voice speaks from a cloud: “This is my son, the Beloved. Listen to him.”
This is an important story for Christians. It shows Jesus as the chosen and beloved son, the one whose teachings we are to follow. Yes. What speaks to me, though, is what this scene suggests about the nature of our life and even life after death. Moses and Elijah appear as recognizable forms to people who’d never seen them. They appear as distinct individuals, themselves. And they are still alive. To me, this indicates that we persist; our souls, personalities, higher selves — whatever term best describes our human essence — remain in tact and identifiable. You will always be you (your true, best self); you will always be known for who you are. And I will always be me. Our unique and eternal individuality is a gift of love to us from the Creator.
But these stories also reflect the “fiery” and “dazzling” side of who we really are. “Luminous beings are we,” to quote Yoda. If only we had eyes to see, hearts to embrace and appreciate. Elijah gets taken up from earth in a fiery chariot — an event described as best as could be understood by ancient minds. Something phenomenal happened. Something out of the ordinary, the supernatural intersecting the natural. Or, perhaps better, not “supernatural” in the sense of some other separate reality breaking into our mundane reality, but really just another aspect of one reality, even if rarely seen and experienced.
And that’s it. These luminous, dazzling aspects of life that are inherent in our reality. Aspects that can be terrifying if you’re not prepared to encounter them. Aspects that most are content to live without. But to those who persist — the Elishas who won’t back down, the Peters, Jameses and Johns who follow closely into the unknown — they get to witness and experience this rarer dynamic of life. The mystical. The divine side.
So this raises the question. Are we going to be like the 50 other prophets, content with what they had, what they knew, who stood to the side and didn’t press in? Or the other 10 disciples who saw Jesus and the other three go up a mountain but didn’t even ask if they could come too? Are we waiting for a special invitation to dip our toes into the radiant spiritual side of reality, or will we stubbornly insist on pursuing it?
“Elijah said to Elisha, ‘Stay here….’ But Elisha said, ‘As surely as the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.’ And so they went…” And Elisha got to see the chariot of fire — and received a double-portion of his teacher’s spirit. And Peter, James, and John got to see the blinding illumination of the divine lingering just below the surface.
There’s a message here. A word of hope and encouragement for the seekers. Keep pressing, keep looking. Keep meditating and praying. Jesus said, “Keep asking, keep seeking, keep knocking. Because those who ask, receive. Those who seek, find. And to those who knock, the door will be opened.” Or, as it says elsewhere in our sacred texts, “God is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him.”
So if you’re hungry for more, don’t settle for seeing only one end of the spectrum of our luminous reality. Pursue until you experience more.