When things get shiny I start to cry. There is a medical reason for this. According to my eye doctor the thin film that covers the outside of my eye and that is replenished every time I blink is not lasting as long as it should. Eight to ten seconds would be optimal, mine lasts for three. Therefore every time it’s windy, or things get too shiny, my unprotected eyes go right to tears. My kids are fond of poking fun at me, “Crying again dad? Did the bully take your lunch money? Did your dog run away?”
It’s unfortunate that I cry at shiny things when other people get excited. Because of my condition I miss out on a lot. If I was on the mount of transfiguration I wouldn’t have asked Jesus to build tents, I’d have asked him to create the first pair of sunglasses, or maybe a well placed awning. If I was on the east bank of the Jordan when Elijah ascended in a whirlwind alongside a chariot of fire, I wouldn’t have watched said chariot fly out of sight and thus received a double portion of Elijah’s Spirit, I would have stared at the underneath rim of my NY Giants Super Bowl championship hat and, unlike Eli (Elisha I mean), walked away empty.
I would like it to be different, but if I don’t turn away at big shiny moments I throw a wet sob soaked blanket on everything. While others are celebrating the glittery flash my eyes are vomiting tears. Everybody stops and stares–it’s okay Jes, look it’s shining.
I know it is. Just leave me alone.
There are times when crying at shiny things comes in handy. Not everything that glitters is gold. If I was a fish, it would not be good for me to chase everything that shines in the water, especially the shiny things with three pronged hooks. Then again I’m not a fish. And some things that glitter are gold.
Thankfully I’m not the only one that cries at shiny things. Elisha was fairly well inconsolable. Elijah, his master, was on his way out and that meant that Elisha was alone in the world. He’d already kissed his parents goodbye and accepted the forlorn call of God’s prophet, a call so fraught with terrifying moments of self doubt and crises of faith that the thought of facing it in solitude was more than Elisha could handle. Folks were forthcoming with their consolations. Every time Elisha stopped for a brief respite they came out to the apprentice and asked him about his departing master. Elisha was not feeling it–be quiet, he told them, not now, I don’t want to talk about it.
When the moment finally came and a shiny fiery chariot and whirlwind whisked master Elijah away to the blissful azure (shiny and windy!) young Elisha tore his garment in two. You might not think it a big deal to tear your garment, but it was a big deal when you didn’t have a lot of clothes. If you prefer the cultural equivalent: when Elijah was taken away Elisha destroyed his own car with a sledgehammer. Tearing your garment in two is ancient talk for he cried his eyes out. You get the idea.
Peter too had his problems with shiny things. It was supposed to be a special moment–Peter, James, and John climbing an unnamed mountain with the Christ. But then things got weird. Suddenly two ghostly interlopers, Moses and Elijah, crashed the mountain top moment. That was paranormal enough, but the strangeness wasn’t over. Jesus started glowing, shimmering, shining! He shined so bright, says Mark, that he dazzled. And he dazzled so bright, says Mark, that his clothes were whiter than any person on earth could bleach them. Any person on earth! That’s the significance–this wasn’t earthly shining, this was heavenly shining. I can’t imagine. My eyes on that mountain would have cried so much they would have flooded the valleys. Peter didn’t know what to do. Mark, who is always candid about the disciples and their shortcomings, said that Peter started babbling because he didn’t know what to say. Some people becomes speechless in big moments, others become blabber mouths. Peter took the latter route and suggested that Jesus build three tents, right there, right then–one for Moses, one for Elijah, and one for Christ. Silly idea? Well, at least it’s better than crying.
What do we make of all these shiny moments? Why is it when heaven touches the earth things start to shine. Remember Moses coming down Mount Sinai and having to wear a veil? Remember shining faces of Angels, the dazzling lights of Ezekiel, the bright star pointing the way, Paul blinded on the road to Damascus? Remember when God said “Let there be light” and for the first time in all the known universe the absolute darkness was ripped through with the torch that God called ‘day’? Remember that at the darkest of all moments, in order to emphasize the great solemnity of the crucifixion, the sun turned black–that is, until the sun rose on Easter morning? It seems at every point of vital transition things get all shiny. Why?
Maybe because God knows a few things about the human condition. When things are gray for a long time we can become a pessimistic lot. Everyone comes out to us and says things like Did you know your master is leaving today? In a panic we reply, be quiet, not now, I don’t want to talk about it. I think we need shiny moments. We need heaven to touch earth, and for the gate that divides to be temporarily opened, just a crack, like Abby’s bedroom door at night–just enough to let the light shine through.
Elisha needed it. He saw the fiery chariots of Israel, and its horsemen! He couldn’t believe it. He started screaming Father, father! It was in seeing that moment of glory that he received a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. Elijah made it clear that without seeing it, he would have no portion. The glory shined forth because Elisha needed more than he could control or enact on his own. He needed the power of God. Without the shiny power of God what would he have done when he met up with the widow who was destitute and had nothing for sustenance, or Naaman the leper, or the Shunemite woman who lost her son? There would have been no endless oil, no healing, no resurrection. Not without God’s power.
What would have happened to Peter, James, and John if they did not see the glorified Christ on an unnamed mountain? Would they have tarried with Jesus to Jerusalem? Would they have stayed with him in the garden? Would they have recognized him in the resurrection? How many more Christians would Paul have imprisoned or killed if he did not see the blinding light on the road to Damascus?
We can’t live without the light. If things don’t get all shiny we are helpless and hopeless. Remember when the final wick gets snuffed out on the Christ candle during our Good Friday tenebrae service? Remember? It’s all dark in here. Each year Hu carries that candle, with its smoldering wick, and its hot melted wax, out of the dark sanctuary–Christ no longer with us! Remember on Easter morning, coming into the sanctuary, and seeing that wick dancing with dazzling flame once again? Remember on the joyful night of our advent celebration, when the soup has been served, and the scriptures read, and the children have sung, and Methel has played the harp, and the singers have blessed us, and the lights are dimmed, and in a moment of heaven’s glory we sing Joy To The World and pass light from one candle to another until our sanctuary dances with rosy flames and merry shadows. We can’t live without the light.
That’s why it’s so bothersome to me that I can’t look at bright things. What a terrible thorn in the flesh–this physical symbol of my perennial pessimism. Every time heaven touches earth, I cry.
Then again, maybe it’s not so wrong. When things get shiny it’s always for a reason. It’s because things have gotten so dull. Things are less than. Widows are starving. People are sick. Children are dying. Shiny moments show us all there is to hope for. And shiny moments tell us how far we have to come.
The first mention of the death and suffering of Christ is on the walk down the unnamed mountain of the transfiguration–the walk down! He walked down. You get all shiny, and then you walk down. You don’t build tents; you walk down. You don’t stay on the other side of the Jordan gawking at the sky; you cross back over. You walk down the mountain to find the demonic waiting for you. You cross back over the Jordan to meet up with the widow.
Shining is sweetness and pain. It’s a bright light of hope. You see it in all its glory and then you look away with a few tears in your eye. But the shining is for you. When things get all shiny it’s because you need it. You need more than you can control or enact on your own. You need the power of God. Because none us are here to hold on for life until the world stops spinning. We are here for the sake of others, those who can’t see the light.
And that “for the sake of others” business is the lenten journey we all are on before we get to Easter. You don’t get to stare long at the light, just three seconds, not eight or ten. Then come the tears. But the light will get you through. I know it will get you through. Because once you see it, you want it. When things get shiny God is advertizing. It’s like God’s bought up all those pricey commercial slots in the Super Bowl and God’s convincing all of us to believe in the product. When God said Let there be light God meant it. You can believe it. Go to the bank with it. It’s ours. It’s yours.
So let’s shine today–shine, shimmer, dazzle, glitter. For three seconds take it all in. Forget about the gray. No one on earth could make the Christ so gleaming white. That’s the point! And once we have seen the Christ let’s hold hands and walk down the mountain, and cross back over the Jordan. The people keep telling us that it won’t be long and they’ll take our master away. It won’t be long and Hu will be carrying that candle out of the sanctuary. But the master and the candle are coming back. Because when things get all shiny it reminds us of how shiny all things will get! I’m just glad that in God’s final kingdom God wipes every tear from every eye.