Scripture Reflections, Feb. 25, 2024

Second Sunday of Lent

Genesis 22:1-2, 9, 10-13, 15-18

Romans 8:31-34

Mark 9:2-10

“Did I dream that, or did that really happen?” you say to yourself. So, you sort through the clutter of your memories, that drawer where you stuff the passing moments of life too treasured to toss away. And then you remember, “Yes it did,” and smile to yourself, wondering how it ever could have grown so fuzzy — or was that only yesterday?

Moments of faith, as well, can be laced with such clouded uncertainty. Over the years, when the occasion has seemed right or the conversation has drifted into posing the question, I will at such times ask someone if they have ever had a religious experience. Always, there’s been one of two responses. Some know immediately of what I ask. Without a moment’s hesitation, they begin to tell of a time when God seemed so real as if to break through, if only for a moment, that mystical veil that separates this life from the next, from head knowledge to soul knowing, from the reasonable to unmistakable surety of what cannot be proven but still known. Others, however, look at me with a bit of uncertainty, unsure of what I’m asking and wondering what it is I might mean. For them, I always suspect, such a moment has not taken place.

It is such moments, once enough time has passed, that a person may think back upon that time, when God seemed so real, and wonder whether that really did take place, or whether it might have been the fuzziness of one’s imagination. So ephemeral is such a moment and yet so real, not unlike falling in love, that to deny it would somehow deny the very God who came to be known.

Such moments do happen to so many, yet so many also never speak of those moments to others, unsure of what others may think of them, as if their imaginations have overtaken their clearheadedness. Then, too, the telling could never do justice to being there, never capture into words that known and felt moment when God stepped into their life and left a divine footprint.

Thomas Merton, the well-known Trappist monk, wrote much about spirituality and the movement of God in life as he came to know it. Merton wrote of such an experience that he had, and he recounts it taking place March 8, 1958, in his book “Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander.”

“In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all these people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world. … And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.”

Such was Merton’s moment when God broke into his life and shattered all his expectations and understandings of how God is present in the world.

Was that not such a moment, too, for Ss. Peter, James and John on Mt. Tabor when Jesus was transfigured before them? It was then that they somehow came to see Jesus as a new Moses leading them into a new promised land, and a new Elijah with a new prophetic call to love one another. And then, I wonder, did they come down from that mountain both so very sure of what had taken place and yet somewhat unsure as well, “keeping the matter to themselves, and questioning what rising from the dead meant.”

Might that not too have been such a moment for Abraham, believing God wanted him to sacrifice his son Isaac, so preposterous a thought and yet thinking it was what God wanted? And then to be touched by the Lord’s messenger with word that what Abraham was about to do was not at all what God wanted, that God was a God of life and not of death, and was never, could never, be interested in human sacrifice. It was a moment of revelation for Abraham, perhaps wondering how he could have gotten it all so wrong, only to now be so thankful that God had made it all so right, so new, so unbelievably wonderful to give him back his son.

At such moments, all of us come back to wondering, to asking ourselves: did I dream that, or did that really happen? Was that God or was that my imagination? And then, regardless of what others may think, we know with a new kind of unwavering certainty that we’ve seen a glimpse, if only for a moment, of the real life to which we’ve been called.


Have you ever had a religious experience? What was it like for you?

How is it different from or the same as falling in love?