Our daughter lost her first tooth a few weeks ago. As I stared into that gaping hole in her mouth, I did the thing where you internally tear up and think, ‘where did my little baby go?’ in that wistful, nostalgic way. ‘It was only yesterday that I was holding her in my arms!’
A few hours later, still caught up in the memory wiped clean of those nights on end welcoming that same tooth into the world amidst screams, sobs and (for us) crazy gross poops, I realized that the memories of early childhood, nay babyhood, of my children are starting to fade. The evolutionary instincts have kicked in, ensuring that the tears I wept alongside my swollen gummed child, have started to fade, replaced with golden, imaginary, blissful recollections only. You know, the type of memories that people in the store hold in hand when they tell you that ‘These will be the best years of your life!’ right when one kid kicks you in the shin, and you discover that your wallet is still on the counter at home.
The Transfiguration is one of those feasts celebrated in the summer when church attendance is perhaps not at its highest. We make up for it by reading the story of Jesus’ Transfiguration in our yearly lectionary cycle a second time — on the last Sunday of Epiphany. It’s a summer AND winter reading for Episcopalians and all other Christians following the Revised Common Lectionary. For preachers, it can get old. But I am discovering as a parent, that it points again and again, in neat six-month-cycles, to the mystery of experience and memory.
Jesus ascends the mountain with his trusty friends, James, Peter and John. On top of the mountain, something miraculous happens — Jesus is raised up and transformed, becoming not the dusty preacher, but clothed in white, dazzling — those descriptions even make it into our terribly brief collect for the day. He is then flanked by two of the Old Testament greats, Moses and Elijah, their very presence attesting to the holiness of Jesus.
The three disciples are overwhelmed. In the midst of this deep clarity of Jesus’ nature, they ask if they can make three dwellings, so that this image, this proof, this evidence of the divinity of Jesus can stay among and with them. The transfiguration comes to an end when the prophets disappear, Jesus is as he was, and the disciples are left with the powerful memory and experience of a deep moment of transformation.
There are the moments as a parent, when I wish the experience would last forever. The warm, content child in your arms. The flicker of a milestone achieved. The first smile, first laugh. When you see or hear of them trying really hard at something, regardless of how it all ends up. When they are kind to another person. When they ask a question, and you had no idea that that cognition or wonder was there already.
Harnessing those memories comes in different ways. But each way I think more and more, is destined to fail or disappoint if I imagine that they will bring me back to that same place. I’ll take a photo or scrapbook the moment (hahaha, no, I won’t), or note it my planner, remaining bound up on paper or on a memory card. The golden ones remain preternaturally unsullied by the realities in which they joined, the gritty reality of day to day parenting and simply being.
I love the disciples in this story. PLEASE, Jesus, we need this moment. We want this to stay, to define us, to prove that we were right, they say.
Jesus responds to ALL of his disciples, reminding us that some moments can’t be harnessed, that we can’t all live in the beautiful profound places all the time. But these moments can change the way we live, and love, and hallow our memories. They are meant to transform us, not to transport us. To make the now better, rather than to provide an escape.
The living Christ knows that we’d prefer to cling to what we can see, rather than what we are promised. This feast makes both sacred. That we are given glimpses of the living God — scraps of the sacred —here and now, so that we might carry those beautiful moments through the darker ones. I doubt that the disciples were satisfied with this situation. It had been SO GOOD for that moment. But as they set out, towards Jerusalem, they had that glory and light in their hearts and minds and souls for strength.
How do you keep hold of memories?
How do you share them, or keep them, or remind yourself of them?