Last Epiphany: Don’t Go Chasing Mountain Tops
By: The Rev. Laura Brekke
I am a university chaplain, and in my line of work, I get the special opportunity to act as a spiritual companion for young adults. Many of these young adults are Christians seeking a deeper understanding of their faith. They tell me of experiences of the closeness of God, or of the nearness of Jesus. They have spiritual highs after coming back to school from a summer at a Christian camp, or after a weekend retreat. They speak of the overwhelming feeling of God’s presence during Christian concerts, or in special fellowships. But they despair when that high fades and they are left back where they started, struggling to hold on to the nearness of God in the midst of a busy college life.
We call these highs “mountain top” experiences—moments when we are pulled out of ordinary life and transfigured in faith. Many of us have had them—I have, while riding along on a busy and winding mountain road in Guatemala. I felt as though I was an empty cup being filled by God’s warm grace. It was so powerful I have held onto that moment when doubts or stress creep in.
In the reading for today, Peter and James went to the mountain top with Jesus and had an experience of God. They saw Jesus physically transfigured before them, but the effect was to convert their own faith. Transfigure means to convert or alter, often (but not always) in order to glorify. Our mountain top experiences alter us toward deeper relationship with God—one that allows us to have a change of heart to glorify God.
But we can’t live on the mountain. This is a hard truth my students have to face. They can’t stay forever at summer camp or on retreat—just as I couldn’t make the bus stop so I could settle into life on the side of the road in Guatemala. We can’t build dwellings and stay. We must take that experience down into the world. In verse 7, Jesus tells Peter and James, “Get up and do not be afraid.” There is much to fear with a mountain top experience. What does it mean to have such an intense experience of Christ? What does it mean to hear God speak a word of faith? And, what does all of it mean for your life off the mountain?
It’s easy to become a person who seeks to stay on the mountain. We can chase the emotional high of the mountain top experience of closeness and assurance of God. We can count only the moments when we feel God’s awesome presence and discount all the quiet moments of service, of faithful reflection, or of deep contemplation. But that is not what God desires of us. God does not desire us to build dwellings, to honor that mountain top as sacred and stay there, trapped by our wonder and awe. God desires that we go down the mountain and into the world. God desires that we are transformed—transfigured—by our experience, and that we share it with all of God’s people.
Jesus led James and Peter back down the mountain and into the waiting crowds. We don’t know how long the “high” of the experience lasted. We don’t know exactly how their prayer life was changed when they came back to the valley. But we do know they didn’t chase the mountain top. Instead they shared their faith and love with the world. We too must not chase the mountain top; we too must share the grace of the experience with the world around us.
The Rev. Laura Brekke is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA) currently serving as a Campus Minister and Director of Religious Diversity at Santa Clara University, a Jesuit Catholic university in California. Her research and programmatic work are focused on interfaith dialogue and intersectional identity. She studied History and Creative Writing at Queens University of Charlotte, and earned her Master of Divinity from Emory University. When she’s not hurrying across campus, she is an avid reader, writer, and book reviewer.