How Much Can We Bear?
At times pop cultural, classical and ecclesiastical literature, music and art deal with the idea of awareness, openness and the ability to absorb “Light”. Christians might notice this theme, found in so many creative outlets, as being a hint or shadow of the deep truth found in the “Light” of the story of Jesus on Mount Tabor.
The psychiatrist and author M. Scott Peck deals with this Mount Tabor-like theme in The Road Less Traveled when he teaches that open, human interaction should involve truth-telling as we deal with others…IF a person can handle it. Well, THAT will sound familiar to Orthodox Christians who have celebrated the feast of The Transfiguration!
The Gospel of the feast tells of how Jesus took His three closest disciples with Him to Mount Tabor, while the song of the day proclaims that Jesus “revealed His glory to His disciples as much as they were able to bear.”
Three random cultural references make me begin to think that the theme of awareness of “light” and the revelation thereof might be somewhat ubiquitous. The play “Our Town,” Zombie movies in general, and the movie “The Matrix” jump out in my mind. These three and others articulate the idea of looking but not seeing, hearing but not listening, but most pointedly being alive but not living.
These examples seem to want to cajole us into WAKING UP or becoming TRULY alive and aware. These are honorable, worthy, and even prophetic messages. However, they seem to be a little at odds with the Mount Tabor message and Jesus’ example.
The Transfiguration story reveals that Jesus is out of “The Matrix,” so to speak, but the story is a counterpoint to the kind of chastising call of human literature to “WAKE UP!” Jesus, by action, not words, is charitable, merciful, and full of patience. The waking up and awareness of “Light” by SOME of His disciples to SOME degree is merely and mercifully “as much” as they can “bear” and seems to be contingent on their closeness to Jesus. (To quickly draw on another movie reference, I’m speaking here of “closeness” in the way that Eliot was close to E.T., not the way that the scientist was close to E.T.)
What if people don’t wake up? What if people are never “able to bear” Light? What if some of us or all of us won’t see “Light” until we die? Might this be a mercy?
Saintly Elder Paisios of Mount Athos says, “What I see around me would drive me insane if I did not know that no matter what happens, God will have the last word.” He seems to know that for many, there will be no awakening or light or sanity until that last, great passageway to eternity.
Is it OK for us to not be awake if, ultimately, “God will have the last word”? The merciful message of the Transfiguration’s Gospel and hymn echoed by the Elder would seem to have us believe this.
So, “Why bother?” some may ask. It may not be a matter of “bothering.” It may simply be that we are free. We are free to allow God’s Love and Light into ourselves on this side of the grave…or not. We are free to be close to Jesus, The Man who has loved us, taught us, and died for us…or not.
But, might the best scenario be to see clearly what Jesus has to say and who He is and then to decide freely if we want to be close to Him? Then, after we choose to want to be closer to Him, He will be the one to choose to reveal Himself to us as much as we can bear.
Image credit: Small Transfiguration icon above, left: Nicholas Papas