My boys and I went outside to play Sunday afternoon at Grandma and Grandpa's. The sun was bright on the new snow and, halfway down the hill among the trees near the house, there was little wind. We flung ourselves down the hill on sleds then they settled in to play on the pile left by the plow. I walked downhill to the edge of the property, following the deer path, snow so deep I walked over the barbed-wire fence, hardly noticing it. I could hear the boys arguing and playing, their voices falling downhill easily. Then I turned and went back up the path, noticing the spot where the deer hairs lay in the snow, where the prints went off the path. I circled around the back of the house, listened to the boys more closely, then headed uphill beyond the protection of the trees.
At the top of the hill I walked southeast, facing the brilliant sun. Everything was white -- snow, sun -- except the blue of the sky. The wind was at my back and I felt I could walk forever, into the light. I remembered the scripture from worship that morning. The preacher referenced the story of the Transfiguration, Jesus' face and clothing shining with light while the disciples cowered, misunderstanding, under the voice of God on the mountain. I had sat in the church where I grew up with my son on one side and the mother of my childhood friend on the other. Zane managed the bulletin and hymnal well by himself but I kept track of where we were for my friend's mother, pointing to the next piece of liturgy, signing her name in the register. She lost her son, my friend, a few years ago, and her mind a little at a time, from the thief Alzheimers. The preacher spoke of the light and beauty on our faces, of being changed into glory one degree at a time. He had us turn to each other and say, "You are beautiful." I told my friend's mother, and she giggled and said, "That's nice."
I could have walked in the light forever but I knew I had to go back sooner or later. I tried walking backwards for a bit, but finally I turned northwest, into the incessant wind. It stung my eyes and burned my cheeks. The sun was behind me now, and I saw in front of me my shadow.
I wonder if that is what the disciples saw, coming down the mountain, the light behind them and the shadow in front, cold wind stinging them and making them cry. If that isn't how they felt they would soon enough. I always imagined it being a walk into a warm, green scene, but in winter the path from transfiguration is more likely this: facing straight into the wind, going where you must go, into the shadows that keep apace.
After worship that morning, after one of the rare Sundays when I don't lead worship but just sit and soak it all in, enjoying the welcome of people who have known me my whole life, singing the old hymns I love in a room where I first heard God's voice, I got a phone call from my church -- one of my congregation suffered a painful loss. Soon I was scheduling a memorial service, wondering how to bring comfort to people in yet another season of grief.
It's not that clear, really, the times of light and the times of shadow in our lives, the up and down the mountain, they come so close together.It isn't really like we take a little sunny vacation with Jesus and then come down to go to work. It's more like taking a walk with the wind against your back for a few moments, basking in the light of the white winter sun, knowing you have to turn the other way and face the sting too.
When I got down to the house, I lay on the snowbank awhile and watched the sky. It was a pure, cold blue, fierce and out of reach. Then I coaxed the boys inside for cocoa, checked them for frostbite, and went about the regular things that make up a day. We are changed, yes, but degree by degree, one windburn after another, one heartache to another, one afternoon of light and shadow to the next.