I'm enjoying a weekend away. On Friday evening I was with the MacInnes clan, celebrating David's 81st birthday. I love David & Clare - friends for many years, godly, fun, and wonderfully inspiring. Plus - great food. Always make sure your closest friends provide you with great food. A special treat to see Rob & Tamsin, and Harry & his boys, and a whole assortment of dogs too.
Then on to John & Clare Hayns, for more friendship therapy. Good people are the greatest gift.
Clare H is now curate in Woodstock, and I am looking forward to hearing her preach this morning. We spent some time chatting last night about the text for today - the Transfiguration - and what we find there.
The Transfiguration is a strange event. Speaking about it has issues. There are people who will say, (good Christian folk at that) "But I've never had an experience of God". How can we talk about a story that has such an immense experience at its heart to people for whom experience is a mystery?
Clare wondered if part of the issue is the way people sometimes apprehend experience. Do people 'have an experience' without realising it?
I wonder if in fact many of us are a bit like St Peter. He sees Moses & Elijah and the cloud & gets that something is going on, and wants to grab a hold of the thing and memorialise it there and then. "Let's build booths! One for each of you!" That's his response - and by the time he's stopped working out what to do, the moment has passed.
When I went to the Olympics, I was like everyone else. I had my iPhone out, snapping photos like they were going out of fashion. I even made a couple of audiboos. And then I realised a dynamic that was going on and put the thing away. For the mementos we take such care to create can put true experience at arm's length.
If we aren't careful, we don't really see a stadium, Usain Bolt, a crowd, a world record, the wonder of the greatest show on earth, if instead of using our eyes, ears, nose, taste, touch - if all we are using is the screen on those ubiquitous iPhones. They allow us see but a tiny part. The world made small. The experience mediated through a technological wonder, with memories limited because the actual experience was focussed around that rectangular black device.
People do it at weddings. Baptisms. Jubilees. Concerts. Parties. I've even seen it at funerals. Memories at one remove.
"But what did it smell like?"
"How hot was it?"
"What was the person next to you on the other side like?"
Blank looks. Didn't take those photos...
St Peter would've had an iPhone. He'd have been snapping away. He'd have been just like us.
Anglicans do it by creating services to memorialise something. It's not the thing, it's the service to commemorate the thing that we obsess about...
And experience of God is obtusely hard to find sometimes because actually it's obvious. It's now. Right now. In fact it's not magic or necessarily mystical, but immediate and here.
There's no need to capture the moment. Live it instead.
Jesus' promise is to be with us always, so one of the things we have to learn to do is believe the promise and (in faith) half-turn to him without losing sight of what we are looking at (try it, now) and say with a wondering smile - "Do you see that?"
When I was a kid I heard the phrase "arrow prayer". I suppose I'm talking about that. Except - "arrow prayer", as my old college Chaplain at Merton used to say, suggests that God is over there somewhere & we have to shoot our prayers with the hope they will hit the target occasionally.
He's not there. He's here. Experience is about trusting that, and then living like it.
And maybe, just maybe, we'll see and feel and know the answering smile from the Maker of all things. His touch. His nod. His shared wonder. His joy too.
And in the middle of the night, asleep or half awake, having thought about all of this, suddenly I felt the most enormous, deep sense of the presence of God. Perhaps I was still churning through all of this. Perhaps - a Saturday night habit I still find hard to kick even nearly two years after leaving Pontypridd - I was murmuring in prayer through the long dark hours. But suddenly, light, and glory. And a grand temptation immediately in the midst to reflect & describe it. Which, mercifully, I threw to one side. I simply enjoyed the moment.
As the glory faded, I was reminded of Psalm 103. I felt prompted to look it up. I mean, I can do the first verse or two from memory, and the bit about 'gracious & compassionate', but I felt strongly there would be words here that would be significant. And then I fell asleep properly.
I finally did look it up this morning, and it is of course a lovely Psalm. More than that, there are indeed words in here which speak to specific things I have been mulling over in these days. Things that I'm not going to speak of yet. Other tales of glory.
Experience is better without the camera sometimes; and I say this as someone who loves to click and tweet! There are moments just to let these things happen. For God promises to be with us - and we need to learn how to be with him. Not at one remove. Then we can see and hear the most wonderful things.