Building Tents and Mountaintop Experiences

“Master, it is good that we are here; let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” (Lk. 9:33).

 

In Luke’s account of the Transfiguration, Peter was described as not knowing what he was saying when he had suggested to make three tents for Our Lord, Moses, and Elijah.  Commentaries say that Peter was moved by impulsive zeal.  In the Scriptures when tents are mentioned it is usually related to building tabernacles.  In his exposition of the passage, St. Ambrose commented, “Although he did not know what he said, he promised an observance that does not heap up the fruits of piety in indiscreet carelessness but untimely zeal.  His ignorance came from his condition, but his promise from his devotion.  The human condition is corruptible in this.  This mortal body is not capable of making a tabernacle for God.”  So, perhaps Peter was impulsive but at the core of his heart he wanted to stay with the Lord and be with Him.

 

Imagine the scene of the Transfiguration.  Put yourself in the scene.  (This will be exceptionally awesome if you’ve been to the actual mountain!)  There you are with Jesus, Peter, James, and John on the mountain praying, and hopefully not falling asleep.  Suddenly you see Jesus in “dazzling white” and you see Moses and Elijah at His sides.  How do you feel?  Confused?  Shocked?  Dumbfounded?  Amazed?  Once you start to realize exactly who’s there you begin to feel this great feeling in your heart – “Wow this is awesome.  I’m with Jesus, the Messiah, the Beloved Son of the Father, and with Moses and Elijah!  I would love to converse with them and ask them questions and listen to them.  I would love to spend more time here.” So perhaps building tents would be appropriate.

 

I’d like to view these tents from a different perspective.  Oftentimes we build tents for protection, safety and comfort.  When we go camping we build tents.  Tents can symbolize a “desire to stay for a while.”  However, when we begin to build tents in our hearts whenever we feel a certain level of comfort, it could hinder us from growing.  Take for instance, Peter felt like he was on the top of the world seeing Jesus transfigured and being in the presence of Moses and Elijah.  He wanted to stay.  He wanted to spend more time with them.  He wanted to remain in this state of bliss and joy.  But, as Christians we do not only share in the joys of Christ, but also the sorrows.  Our Lord had given Peter a “mountaintop experience” and he didn’t want to leave – he felt safe, content, and happy.  Similarly, in our lives there will be times when the Lord will allow us to have these mountaintop experiences, whether it be a very good prayer time, a powerful retreat, or an unimaginable encounter.  However, I do not think Our Lord wants us to build tents and keep those good experiences to ourselves.  On the mountain Peter encountered and experienced Our Lord’s glory and was able to believe because he saw it, but Jesus may have challenged him then, while holding onto that mountaintop experience, to walk by faith.  “On the next day, when they came down from the mountain, a large crowd met him” (Lk. 9:37).  We must come down from the mountain and we must share what we have seen and experienced with the crowd that longs to meet God.

 

These tents could also be attachments we have formed that hinder us from loving God whole-heartedly, whether they be taking comfort in our pride or seeking the approval of others, or even being content to stay where we are with our prayer life.  To be a Christian disciple means to be detached from this world and all that it offers for it can only be temporary.  St. Paul tells us in his letter to the Philippians that our citizenship belongs in heaven.  This world cannot give us what will quench the thirst in our hearts because it does not offer living water.  Rather we must use the graces that are given to us during those mountaintop experiences to propel us to move forward, living fruitful Christian lives, proclaiming the Truth to all peoples.

 

Our Lord is very good to us, giving us these mountaintop moments, and afterwards encouraging us then to walk by faith.  During those mountaintop moments, we experience the nearness of God and the deep consolations He offers, and we must use them to walk by faith, share this gift with others, and invite them along the journey.  As I mentioned before and is said in Scriptures, in rejoicing in the joys of Christ we must also accept the sorrows.  Just as Jesus brought Peter, James, and John to the mountain where He was transfigured, He too brought them to the Garden of Gethsemane when He prayed and suffered.  When times get rough, we must think back to those mountaintop experiences and allow them to motivate us to keep going.  When suffering comes, we can choose to be joyful because of those mountaintop experiences and because of the hope that we have in the Resurrection.  Those mountaintop experiences can be both attachments that lead us to only want to walk by sight as well as sources of motivation to walk by faith.

 

Our Lord will bring us to high mountains where He will give us comfort and consolation, but when we reach those gardens of sorrow, will we build tents of comfort and hiding, or will we break down walls of destruction and separation and build bridges of reconciliation and pave paths to communion?  Let us ask God to give us the grace to use those mountaintop experiences to walk by faith.