In the story of the Transfiguration in the Bible, Jesus instructs the few disciples he has with them "not to talk about it." I've always wondered why that was. At one point, I thought it might be because Jesus knew that if they told the truth of what they saw and heard on that mountain, people would think they were insane and they would be rejected and stigmatized even more than they already were. At another reading, I thought perhaps Jesus was tired of people chasing after him. After all, he is/was human, and I'm sure he was worn out and tired. At yet another time, I thought perhaps it was reverse psychology - "Don't tell." Wink, wink. Today as I listened to another discussion of this event, it occurred to me. Perhaps none of these explanations make sense to me in the here and now. (Warning: this latest thought is subject to, and most likely will, change without warning.)
There are certain experiences in life humans get to have that are simply inexplicable. The birth of a child, the tragedy of great loss (whether to death or other circumstances), falling in love. These experiences are the subject of poetry, bad country music songs and much discussion. But really, nothing does them justice. It's just not possible to put into words, song or painting what it feels like to hold your newborn child in your arms. Breathing in her scent, gazing at him, feeling a child's weight in your arms for the first time. It is an experience that surpasses expression. It is not possible to explain it adequately to another person. No matter how artfully one tries, the experience is too rich, too textured, too beautiful to put into words that make sense to anyone who has not experienced the same event. And even someone who has experienced the same event will have a different experience and the words that I think are helpful in describing the experience may mean nothing to someone else.
I was reminded of this reality recently when it became clear to me I was falling in love again. It has been a very, very long time since I felt this way about a man. At first I wasn't even certain what to think or how to feel about it. I had the long-forgotten butterflies in my belly and I wasn't able to hold an ordinary thought in my head. I wasn't able to eat much and all I could think about was this man's voice in my mind. The term "falling" seemed to fit perfectly for this out-of-control state of being more than alive. The more I tried to be logical and resist these feelings, the more profoundly they became made manifest. Despite just having spent the past 5 minutes trying to explain how I have felt this past month, my words do not serve any real purpose. If you've ever fell in love, you might be able to relate...but your experience is undoubtedly different from mine. That's just part of being all too human. And mostly I don't want to try and express how I feel to anyone but my beloved, because it almost seems to cheapen the experience. How can one explain the fire in the belly that is part of falling in love? What words are there to use? If I were a painter, I could paint you a picture...but still my hues and designs would not bring to life how I feel about this man clearly enough.
All of this to say, I can't help but think that Jesus got this. I wonder when he told the disciples to "not tell anyone" if implicit in his instruction was the idea that no one else would get it. After all seeing some one's clothes change colors and seeing dead people wasn't what most of us would think of as an ordinary day. I think Jesus understood that some experiences in life are so amazing and incredible and beautiful...that all the discussion in the world will never do them justice. We can try to find the words, we can create a painting and write incredible melodies...but still we cannot fully put the experience into anything that makes sense to anyone but us and the other in our experience. I think Jesus lived his life fully alive...and therefore he had these sorts of experiences regularly. And yet he spent little time trying to explain the events of his life to others. The Bible indicates he wept at the death of his friend. That he sweated blood on the final night before his execution. That he expressed anger. But you don't find him waxing on eloquently about his life experiences. He doesn't appear to try and convince anyone about the amazing nature of life.
I suppose my latest thoughts about the Transfiguration are colored by my latest thoughts about finding love and then perhaps losing love in short order. But I can't help but think Jesus got it. Most simply put...there are no words. And so then why force them? Of course I recognize my "Peterish" way of looking at the world - I need to say something. I must try and stammer my way through explanations and lovely turns of phrase simply to ultimately admit there are no words to describe the feelings and experiences of life. I think Jesus got this, and rather than try and explain what was happening to him, he avoided the cliches and catchy phrases to describe what was indescribable. And he gave us an incredible gift in doing this...we can have the experiences for ourselves. We can create music and art and prose to try and expound on how we feel (perhaps being a little like Peter). And then we can find the silence where our own thoughts and feelings about the experiences of life are quieted, perhaps even suspended somewhere between earth and heaven. And we can be grateful for the experience in that suspended space.