I remember the glimpse.
One of the hikers next to me suddenly said, “I think I see a large mammal over there!”
All four of us looked over there.
I saw it. The “large mammal” was maybe two hundred yards away: a bear.
On the third day of our church backpack, camped at 9,100 feet near a lake, and chatting after a leisurely lay-over day breakfast, we’d spotted a smallish bear. Call it St. Bernard-sized, probably a year or so old. Really, for a bear, being compared to a St. Bernard means that it’s small!
Epiphany – Transfiguration Sunday – for March 6, 2011
And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. (Matthew 17:2)
The Ursus Americanus—the Latin name I’m sure any self-respecting black bear would deny ever using—trotted along the lake’s shore, heading away from us. I knew, having explored that area yesterday, the bear headed for a granite-bound drop in elevation to a valley below our lake basin.
We spread out, cameras ready, seeking the bear.
No bear anywhere.
South, north, no bear. I looked up the ridge, down the ridge. No bear.
In the handful of seconds it took us to scurry to the bear’s last location, the bear had vanished. It seemed a daytime mystery, a sunlit ghost.
All we got was a glimpse. But the bear had been there. All of us had seen it. Four pairs of “there’s a bear!” eyes weren’t lying.
Glimpses are essential parts of our faith experiences. A glimpse of truth can last a lifetime. A sudden and singular idea—often depicted as a light bulb clicking on in a cartoon—can burn brightly in our minds for years until the irrepressible thought becomes reality.
Moses once glimpsed God’s derriere on Sinai. Jacob wrestled with the Holy for one dark night, seeking a blessing in the brief dawn light, limping the remainder of his days. A dove—metaphor or reality—circled above Jesus during his baptism. Like our bear, the winged creature was there and gone. The disciples saw Elijah and Moses on the mountain with Jesus during the transfiguration. And then there was only a cloud and a Holy voice. Then those were gone. Glimpses. Glances. A Holy Instant, seen at the corner of our eyes, and yet forever transforming our entire life.
Scripture claims we mere mortals cannot see God. Actually viewing the Divine Mystery with our eyes wide open, in all the glory and power of what capital “D” Divine and capital “M” Mystery means, would kill us. And so we are gifted with a whisper, an echo, or a sound that might be wind and might be more. Which is fine with me. I am leery of people who can describe, in great detail, their “religious experiences.” Maybe my reluctance to believe another person’s detailed accounts about God or Jesus or heaven’s neighborhoods or the date of the apocalypse is a failure of my own spirit, the meagerness of my soul. Nonetheless, because of the Bible’s bold reminders that God is often the “still small voice,” and because of my personal experiences where the glimpses of glory have mattered so much, I choose to trust fleeting hints over elaborate descriptions.
The bear had vanished.
I still remember the moment. It was a dark chocolate brown, with an easy gait over the broken granite, and seemingly oblivious to the humans who were suddenly so agitated.
I still remember my call to the ministry. It was a stirring moment of clarity, impossible to be tracked by human conceptions of time, where—at least this is how it felt to me—a window opened to the Holy. In an instant, and only for an instant, I knew I mattered to the Holy of Holies. I had purpose. It still thrills me. A glimpse. A shiver. A truth.
I still remember when my wife Jeanie said “yes” to marrying me. We were at her apartment, preparing tacos, with the tortillas sizzling noisily in an old cast iron skillet. Whoosh. I asked. She answered. A moment, a heartbeat, a transfiguration. Everything shifted and my world became brighter, clearer, and more hopeful.
The bear had vanished. But I remember. And I am still thrilled.
A glimpse can be enough.