Our highs and lows have a way of becoming windows into the divine. At baptisms—and other joyful times—we are reminded poignantly that we belong to God and we bear holy responsibilities to welcome into a vital Christian community a real, live human being. At times of tragedy and shock, we find ourselves asking tough questions about where God is in the bruised shadows of life’s valleys.
Often, the highs and lows become moments when we realize that we are especially close to God. Sometimes in the throes of struggle we discover a purpose or calling that casts radiant light over the rest of our lives. These highs and lows forever change us—and, ideally, they sweeten our acquaintance to the God who has been called “a rock and a refuge.” Sometimes it is the scars that best remind us of how sacred the journey is.
TJ found this quote recently. “Unless you make what is right left, and what is left right, what is above into what is below, and what is behind into what is in front, you will not learn to know the Kingdom [of God].” The sages remind us that only when we step beyond our comfort zone and consider things that others overlook—things like mustard seeds—do we begin to see God’s kingdom. Jesus thusly tried to tune our vision by telling topsy-turvy parables. He described a kingdom where the last are first and the least are greatest. Question your assumptions. Acknowledge your limits. He knew that it is precisely when we are swept high or cast low that our vision often locks into near-perfect focus. “Unless you make what is right left . . . you will not learn to know the Kingdom.”
The story of Jesus’ transfiguration (Luke 9, Matt 17, Mark 9) is one of my favorites. Jesus and three tired disciples trudge up an unnamed mountain to pray (according to Luke’s account). There, Jesus’ face changes and his clothes gleam lightening white. Moses and Elijah appear out of high mountain air and talk with him about his departure (exodus) from Jerusalem; this is code for what will happen on and through the cross: death, resurrection, ascension. Peter, James, and John want the moment to last forever and suggest erecting tents so they all can remain on that mountain. The scene intensifies as a cloud overcomes them out of which God utters, “This is my son, my chosen (beloved); listen to him.”
Mountains have long been understood as thin places where heaven and earth meet; such is the case in this scene (as well as in our own mountaintop experiences). Upon seeing Jesus with Old Testament all-stars like Moses and Elijah, any doubt the disciples harbor about Jesus’ stature evaporates. Jesus is the real deal. God orders the disciples to listen to his son. And even though they want to linger in the moment, Jesus insists they return to the valley—where people desperately await God’s healing touch, and where the rest of the Gospel story must unfold. They will necessarily end up in Jerusalem where the work of the cross will be accomplished. After his resurrection, Jesus will send them to other mountaintops, other valleys. It is the hands of those very disciples Jesus will use to spread his healing love abroad, turning the world upside down.
We modern disciples are called, likewise, to listen, to obey, to rejoice, to follow. So, we trek up mountains, plunge into valleys, confident that, just when the night becomes darkest and most terrifying, God is near. God’s power—never diminished—still shines. Take heart, St. Giles. Hallelujah!
 p. 207, Vol IX, The New Interpreter’s Bible.
 from the apocryphal writing Acts of Peter, p 131, Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals, Clairborne, Wilson-Hartgrove, Okoro, Zondervan.
I was born and raised in the sight of water in Hampton, Virginia. I was baptized and nurtured in the Presbyterian church. There was never a time when weekly worship attendance, the giving of ...