A peak experience

A shot from 25 yards goes soaring past the defenders into the top left corner of the net. A tennis serve bullets into the corner of the box leaving the receiver totally wrong footed. Peak experiences come in different sizes but they all describe a moment of exhilaration such that a person is beyond

themselves with joy. It could be in sport, in music or just in ordinary life. Someone experiences something on a journey, cooking a meal or getting out of bed in the morning.
Karl Rahner was a renowned Catholic theologian of the twentieth century and an interviewer once challenged him by saying he had never had an experience of God. ‘I just don’t believe you,’ said Rahner, ‘there is no one who does not have at some time or other an experience that lifts them beyond themselves. That experience is a taste of the divine.’ (I cannot find the quotation of his exact words but this how I remember what he said).
The writers of the first three gospels all mention an incident in the life of Jesus where a veil is briefly lifted. (The writer of the fourth gospel doesn’t have to mention this event as his whole gospel serves this purpose). The incident is when Jesus takes three of his closest companions – Peter, James and John – up a mountain and he appears to them as utterly transformed. ‘As he prayed, the aspect of his face was changed and his clothing became brilliant as lightening’ (Luke 9:29). Then Peter spoke to Jesus: ‘Lord,’ he said ‘it is wonderful for us to be here’ (Matt 17:4). But a moment later it was all over. ‘They looked around and saw no one any more except Jesus.’
In the dynamic of the gospel story we understand this brief revelation was to prepare the disciples for the scandal of the Passion. It didn’t. When the Passion came they all fled and when Peter did manage to come back to ‘see what would happen’ (Matt 26:58) he ended up swearing three times that he knew nothing about the man. It was only years later, long after the truth had really sunk in, that Peter speaks of the glory ‘we had seen for ourselves … when we were with him on the holy mountain’ (2 Peter 1:16 -18).
It is a sad thing, but often peak experiences don’t seem to really make a difference. Hearing Prime Minister Elect, Robert Mugabe, dressed in a white suit, speak on the RTV about reconciliation and the future on the eve of independence, 1980, was, for this writer, a peak experience. Together with so many others I was exhilarated. But today, ‘years later,’ what has happened to me ‘peak experience’? It is in tatters.

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