Does everyone here know who Elizabeth Gilbert is? She wrote a little book called “Eat, Pray Love” you might have heard of…anyone? Yeah. Well, her newest project is called, “Letters from Love,” and it’s… amazing.
Elizabeth has been writing herself letters from Love for many years, and now she is inviting other people to join her.
This spiritual practice is as straightforward as it sounds. You basically sit yourself down, take a few deep breaths, open yourself up to the Divine or whatever higher power you believe in and start by asking, “Love, what would you have me know today?” Then you write what you hear in your heart.
Easy peasy, right? Well, maybe. Maybe not.
People often ask her how you can know that the words that come to you are from the Divine and not just yourself. That was definitely my first question and maybe it’s yours too. And Gilbert says… you don’t. This practice is as much an act of faith as any other.
But she advises us not to worry so much about it because she says that when we tune into love - whether it is the Love with a capital “L” that lies at the heart of the Universe or simply the most loving part of ourselves - we’re going to tap into something good and worth listening to.
And not for nothing, but most of us have no trouble tapping into our inner critic - right? - that voice that has a million different ways of telling us that we’re not good enough. Why might we be so quick to believe in that voice but not this one? Why give our inner critic so much space in our head when we could make space for Love to speak a deeper truth?
That’s all Gilbert wants us to do, but it’s hard because most of us don’t have a lot of practice. So to open ourselves up to that love, she encourages people to use sweet endearments for themselves as they write, tender names like my tiny acorn, my baby monkey, my little bug. We do that for people we love all the time, and it turns out that when we do that for ourselves it helps us open up to the reality that we are tenderly loved by whatever It is that dwells at the center of all things.
“Self-loathing,” she writes, “is a rampant virus in our contemporary culture — so prevalent as to have become the default setting in most of our minds. Seldom do we even stop to question whether it is normal or healthy to live within a consciousness that is constantly attacking, judging, and insulting itself.
But to condemn yourself as unlovable is to swallow a terrible lie. And to believe that you must earn love through perfectionism, or that you must seek love from others in order to become whole, turns all of us into hungry beggars.
I believe there is an ocean of warm, affectionate, and outrageously unconditional love available to us all — and that it is conveniently accessible from within. I don’t believe anyone is excluded from this ocean of love; it is only a question of learning how to hear it, how to feel it, how to trust it…. I have come to believe that there is a magnificent intelligence in the universe that is kind beyond measure, and that only seeks to know us and be known by us.")
And so Gilbert opens herself up to write these letters on a daily basis and she encourages others to do so as well. She shares all of these letters on her sub-stack and they are beautiful to read and quite mystical. It is clear to me that these folks are brushing up against something numinous and the love and grace that flows through their writing will take your breath away.
I was moved enough to try it and I know it worked, because as soon as I sat still in my favorite chair and opened my heart up to God I started to cry. Not in a bad way. Whenever I draw really close to God, I cry.
So I wrote a little and cried a lot. I wrote a little more and cried some more. I was sort of conscious of what I was writing, but mostly, as I allowed my tears to flow, I simply felt held in the light and love of God and it was good.
And then my people got home, so I put down the pad, dried my tears, and went downstairs to get on with life. But it was such a lovely experience that I was a little surprised when I sat down with my pad the next day to review what I had written.
Surprised because I thought I’d written, if not a lot, than at least a couple of lines. But all I had written, over and over again was “I’m here…You’re ok.” And then, a little further down the page, “You’re ok…. I’m here.” I didn’t even manage to call myself peanut or doodlebug. I flipped the page and there it was again: “I’m here…You’re ok.”
But the fact that I didn’t write more than that really was ok, because the truth is, what came through was exactly what I needed to hear and I’ve been holding on to those words ever since.
Well, I thought of this when I sat down to write about the transfiguration because as strange and wondrous as our reading for today is, I think it is Love, this same Love with a capital “L,” that lies at the heart of our story this morning.
We begin with the words, “Six days later,” so I should probably remind you that six days prior, Jesus told his disciples for the first time that his ultimate plan is to make his way to Jerusalem to suffer, die, and rise again. And friends, let me tell you: the disciples are not here for it.
They don’t really understand how this can be since they are 99% sure that Jesus is the messiah and the messiah’s number one job is to go to Jerusalem and cause his enemies to suffer and die… once and for all. The messiah’s job is to fight hard and rise above, not die terribly and rise again.
In fact, Peter was so outraged by the idea that he rebuked Jesus and Jesus rebuked him right back, saying…. Anyone? That’s right: “Get behind me Satan.”
Mark doesn’t record any reconciliation between the two, so things were probably still a little tense when Jesus tapped Peter, James, and John and asked them to accompany him up the mountain. But tense or not, they went with him anyway.
Together they climb, up, up, up, all the way to the top, and then it happens. Suddenly Jesus is shining like an angel. Out of nowhere, Moses and Elijah are there at his side. The disciples are terrified. A cloud overshadows them. A voice from heaven says, "This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” And then in a flash it is over as soon as it has begun.
As they make their way down the mountain, Jesus warns them to tell no one about what they have seen until the Son of Man is raised from the dead, and they ponder amongst themselves what “raised from the dead,” could even mean.
I think it is safe to say that they are as confused as ever about what is coming and why. And yet this experience - even if it doesn’t yield answers - is still a tremendous gift. For one brief shining moment, they have brushed up against something numinous. For one brief shining moment they have been given a glimpse of something More, a higher reality that exists beyond and behind all we think we know.
And the one thing this More wants them to know is that Jesus is beloved and they should listen to him. Perhaps listen when he assures them - all evidence to the contrary - that they are beloved as well, no matter what.
Because, you see, evidence to the contrary is about to pile up, and they will need to remember this moment if they are to make it through. They will need to be reminded that there is more to the story; that suffering and death, when it arrives - and it will! - is never the end of the story.
Scholars are quick to point out that this moment of transfiguration happens right in the middle of Mark’s gospel. For the first half of Mark, Jesus’ ministry has been gathering steam and gaining ground as he has moved about the countryside preaching and healing.
All that momentum literally peaks on this mountain. But after the transfiguration Jesus’ face is set firmly toward Jerusalem. It is all down hill from here as he makes his way to the cross.
Jesus and the disciples are about to embark on a very hard journey, a journey that will call all they believe into question. Things are going to get a hell of a lot worse before anything gets better and they will need to return to this moment to be reminded - all evidence to the contrary - that Jesus is beloved of God, held by God, precious to God.
They will need to be reminded, when suffering and death are at the door, that Jesus has not been abandoned by God, and neither have they.
We know that Peter especially struggled through Jesus’ last days, and faltered to the point of denying he even knew who Jesus was. For all the wonder of that mountaintop experience he lost the thread almost immediately, and the truth is, there will be days when we will too.
No matter how faithful we are, there will be days when we wonder how God could ever redeem what we are going through. Days when we will wonder if God is even real. Days when we will fail to follow Jesus as surely as Peter did.
And yet that moment on the mountain stayed with him. Year’s later, in his epistle, Peter wrote, “we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. …We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain. …You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts (2 Peter 1:16-21).
“You will do well to be attentive to this (voice)
as to a lamp shining in a dark place…”
Friends, when life gets hard, and it will, there are any number of voices we can listen to. As this season of epiphany is coming to an end and Lent is about to begin, as we make this journey with Jesus to the cross and beyond, as we grapple with all the unknowns that lie ahead, I want to invite you to avail yourself of practices that can open you up to this higher reality we have read about today.
I want to invite you to ground yourself in practices that allow the voice of Love to remind you that you are God’s beloved, that whatever suffering you are experiencing is not the whole story or even ever the end of the story.
Open yourself to practices that remind you that there is an “ocean of warm, affectionate, and outrageously unconditional love…a magnificent intelligence in the universe that is kind beyond measure” and that this being loves you more than you can scarce contain or imagine.
Come to worship, go up to Taize, come to Common Ground or centering prayer, write yourself a letter from Love or simply make it a practice to sit still long enough to come into the presence of God that you might listen, listen that you might hear, hear that you might know…know what Peter, James, and John came to understand on that holy mountain.
Sweet Pea, Doodlebug, little bear, no matter what trials might come …. you are not alone. You are held. You are beloved. You belong to Love, a Love that will never ever let you go. Amen.