Monday, December 4, 2017

"To Behold Is To Be Held"

Someone has finally gotten to the heart of Peter’s desire when, on the Mount of Transfiguration, he blurted out: “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” (Matthew 17:4; cf. Mark 9:5; Luke 9:33). That someone is Paul D. Scalia, author of the collection of essays titled, That Nothing May Be Lost. In his selection, “His Transfiguration, and Ours,” Scalia writes,

Perhaps Peter’s words are ill-timed. But his response shows how the human heart ought to respond in the light of Christ’s glory: “This is what I have always desired. . . . I was created for this. . . . I want to remain in this presence. To behold is to be held.”[1]

Those exclamations, “This is what I have always desired. . . . I was created for this. . . . I want to remain in this presence,” remind me of the response uttered by the unicorn Jewel when he arrived in Aslan’s Country in C. S. Lewis’ fantasy novel, The Last Battle: “I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now. . . . Come further up, come further in!”[2]

The final scenes in The Last Battle are among the few places where Lewis portrayed the fulfillment of this innate human desire. In reality, Lewis wrote mostly about the anticipation of such glory. For example, in his sermon “The Weight of Glory” Lewis acknowledges,

We do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words—to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.[3]

As my friend Wayne Martindale points out, “Lewis believed that every desire is at its root a desire for heaven.” Thus, Lewis picked up on King Solomon’s observation in Ecclesiastes (3:11), “that God has put eternity in our hearts,” and on St. Augustine’s assertion, “Our heart is restless, until it repose in thee.” Accordingly, “Nearly all of Lewis’s works . . . have the aim of arousing this desire for heaven or showing us how to live in proper anticipation of our true home.”[4]

Like Peter, we all, at times, are blessed by momentary, fleeting glimpses of glory that Lewis called Joy. In fact, those grace-filled moments played a part in his becoming a Christian.[5] And as a Christian, he put them in perspective.

I believe. . . that the old stab, the old bittersweet, has come to me as often and as sharply since my conversion as at any time of my life whatever. But I now know that the experience, considered as a state of my own mind, had never had the kind of importance I once gave it. It was valuable only as a pointer to something other and outer. While that other was in doubt, the pointer naturally loomed large in my thoughts. When we are lost in the woods the sight of a signpost is a great matter.[6]

Yet like Peter, we want to enshrine our mountain-top experiences, to live in them. But Scalia reminds us that a voice responded to Peter's desire: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” (Matthew 17:5).

Listen to him! Scalia writes that the command should bring to mind, first and foremost, our Lord’s Passion.

The journey up the mountain had followed Jesus’ first prophecy of His Passion: “Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Mt 16:21; cf. Mk 8:31; Lk 9:22).[7]

Peter hadn’t been able to listen to Jesus. He couldn’t comprehend Christ’s suffering and death; nor could he fathom the resurrection. Following Christ to Calvary was unimaginable. Thus, “Peter, who wants so much to remain on the mountain, must first learn the path of the Passion.”[8] Glory is the goal. The road to glory goes by way of  Calvary.

It’s true that Peter’s words were ill-timed. Yet, his response shows that we were created to desire the glory Christ revealed that day. Eventually Peter followed his Savior to the cross, and he came to that place where he would shout for joy: “This is what I have always desired. . . . I was created for this. . . . I want to remain in this presence. To behold is to be held.”

© Stan Bohall, December 4, 2017

[1] Paul D. Scalia, That Nothing May Be Lost (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2017), 171.
[2] Clive Staples Lewis, The Last Battle (New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1956), 162.
[3] Clive Staples Lewis, The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1949), 12-13.
[4] Wayne Martindale, Journey to the Celestial City: Glimpses of Heaven from Great Literary Classics (Chicago: Moody Press, 1995), 130-131.
[5] See Clive Staples Lewis, Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1955), vii-viii.
[6] Ibid., 238.
[7] Scalia, 172.
[8] Ibid.

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