When We Don’t Know What to Say
Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. – Mark 9:5-6 (NRSV)
When Jesus took Peter and James and John up the mountain with him on the fateful day of his Transfiguration, they had no prior experience of mountaintop meetings with the spirits of faith ancestors or the overshadowing of the Spirit of God. I cringe a little when Peter blurts out his desire to hold onto the moment. His reflection on the situation is exactly the kind we might offer ourselves when we don’t know what to say but feel the internal conversational pressure to say something, anything, anyway.
It makes me think of times I have tried to say words that are sympathetic, or friendly, or even wise, and instead said something insulting or clueless or not-so-bright sounding. It happens when we are in deeper than we realized, or in this case, up higher than we imagined. I think of Peter and remember the times I later wished I had said nothing or had waited for clearer understanding.
I love this story, because it points to God’s understanding, which is so much deeper than ours. Peter had an important part to play, yet to unfold, and beyond his imagining. Surely that time on the mountaintop came back to him in his ministry after the Resurrection. Even when we don’t understand yet, God gives us moments of connection to remember later—moments when we say, “Oh! Now I get it. Now I know what to say.”
Holy One, thank you for the understanding you give that comes with time. Amen.
Martha Spong is a UCC pastor, a clergy coach, and editor of The Words of Her Mouth: Psalms for the Struggle, from The Pilgrim Press.