Alone Together: Lent 2

Posted Fri, 02/26/2021 - 09:48 by Katharine

In the second blog of the series for Lent 2 former Interreligious Advisor to the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales Katharina Smith-Muller reflects on the Transfiguration:

In the Catholic tradition, the story of Jesus’ transfiguration follows the story of His temptation– a movement towards hope in the loneliness of the desert experience that is Lent. Thinking about being “alone together” I would like to take a closer look at the fringes of this story which has Christ at its centre.

At the very end of it, we are given an insight into how the disciples process the experience – they discuss it among themselves. Like us, and all humans, they are built to seek connection and dialogue to make sense of the world around them. Our experience in the pandemic has been shaped by finding new ways of connecting and making sense together – and in many of us it has heightened the appreciation of the ways in which we are still able to be together.

Another thing that has always charmed me about this passage is Peter’s reaction – “let us make three tents” – for want of anything better to say. For one, this reminds me of the busywork we can all fall into when we feel alone – maybe “doom scrolling” (checking and checking again for more bad news or a distraction on our phone), or maybe other distractions. Lent is a good time to remind ourselves that we are never entirely alone – we can rest from our busywork in the sure knowledge that we are held by Him whose love we do not have to earn.

But also, here is, in Peter, the man who the church will be built on – and he, the rock, is crumbling when he sees Jesus in all His divine glory. I find that an incredibly freeing moment: if even he is reduced to babbling, fear and confusion in a situation that is outside his normal experience, surely, we can give ourselves grace and understanding for all and any of our reactions in the unprecedented situation of a pandemic.

In fact, the whole passage, and particularly Peter’s fear, put me in mind of a quote from Saint Francis de Sales which I have had on display from the beginning of the pandemic as a constant reminder: “Be at peace, then, put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginations, and say continually: the Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart has trusted in Him and I am helped”.

Interestingly enough, Francis de Sales, with his theology grounded in the conviction that God is love, was also “an early proponent of accepting the Jews as one family with Christians” (Terence A McGoldrick). What if, having experienced the loneliness and the fear at the top of the mountain, we find ourselves changed when we take up our normal lives again? Having found God’s love even in confusion and chaos, we may be able to peg our tent even more firmly in the camp of those who believe that our faith connects, rather than divides, us – because there is no room for hate, or even distrust, when we know ourselves so loved.